It is also the beginning of a five-game November of conference competition. State finally passed one of their SEC tests last Thursday with a 28-22 home victory over Kentucky. Literally passed that is, as quarterback Dak Prescott posted season-bests for his still-young career. The sophomore was 23-of-34 for 268 yards, all highs, and tossed a pair of touchdowns while catching another on the popular throwback play from wideout Jameon Lewis.
But as the air game took flight last week, the ground game sputtered somewhat by State's season standards. And Koenning and club know they can't count on just throwing the ball around against the Gamecocks. Or, more to the point, continue their season's trend of not putting up points in second halves against BCS league defenses period.
In four such games the Bulldog offense has been out-scored 67 to 17 after intermission. Overall execution, particularly in fourth quarters, has been the main issue. But head Coach Dan Mullen has also second-guessed some of his own play-calling in the crunch-time series the past two games. Both were victories of course, just uncomfortably close at the end.
Koenning spoke briefly with media following Monday's practice, mostly about the play-making by Lewis in all his offensive roles and a few other offensive aspects he was asked about.
Talk about the versatility Jameon Lewis brings, he's got touchdowns passing, rushing, receiving in multiple games? "That's good, we like that a whole bunch! Again, he was a high school quarterback when we recruited him. so we knew he could throw the football a little bit. But he's vertically challenged if you know what I mean. He's a little shorter than most of our quarterbacks. So with his quickness and ability to catch the ball we knew he was a playmaker in high school, and he's showing us that he's making those plays again."
He played cornerback in high school too, did you claim him for offense when he came to campus? "Of course. He came in and with the ability to play on both sides of the ball. We saw him in high school, he was a quarterback and very versatile, he led his team to a state championship so there's a lot of qualities there that you look for. And with the ball in his hands it was really exciting."
"When you watch him he has a great change of direction and start-up, so he's really good. We're really happy to have him on offense."
Does your heart skip a beat when you call those trick plays? "Yeah, any time that happens you're kind of rolling the dice. It was great execution by Jameon and Dak (Prescott), when Dak caught the ball there was one guy still there, he was way back and Dak made him miss and got in the end zone. They executed the play."
How do you evaluate the offensive line, especially with the injuries? "They're doing good. We have a lot of new names, a lot of new people in there and they're doing a nice job. It's hard when you're sticking in different people because we've had some injuries, but they've done a nice job which we've got to keep going."
Talk about where Dak has come in his first two years? "He really has, he's done a nice job throwing the ball, he's making good reads. If you watch Dak the ball comes out of his hand quick, he doesn't hold on to it long. Which he has a gift for that, that's really good for him. The only thing we've kind of been on him, ragging him a little bit, is throwing the bubbles. He's thrown a couple of them in the dirt, a couple over here. But he's feeling better about them and we're working him so it's become better for him."
How has the process with you and Coach Mullen calling plays in the game been? "Absolutely great. You know, Dan calls the play, he'll ask me, I'll tell him and if he likes it it goes that way. And the thing we've got to do is keep everything going for our kids. And I've said this many a times, we go in that meeting room and go through it by every first down, third down, red zone, every situation. Our kids pretty know what is going to come out. I mean, it's a matter of execution."
"You go back and look at the beginning of the year compared to the end of the year, one of the things we mentioned to you guys is the large amount of MAs (missed assignments) early in the year. And we've deleted those. When you start deleting that you're giving a chance for a play to develop and happen."
The other receivers who aren't so vertically challenged, how are they stepping up? "They've done a good job. I mean they really have. They're young guys stepping in. I think all of them have done a nice job. We just have to keep improving. We're getting in to the meat of our schedule, we're starting to face some really good competition and it's about making plays. I wish I could tell you you put them in a position and go out there. Y'all know this, it's nothing crazy. You put them in position to make plays and you have to make plays."
Coach said Tyler Russell is limited this week, that isn't a big issue by now with practice? "He's a senior, it's one of those deals. Now Damian (Williams) kind of needs to keep getting a lot reps. He struggled a little bit today but he'll do better."
NOTE: Koenning was relieved to find out his healthy starting quarterback wasn't hurt in a bizarre off-field incident. Monday, while waiting for a ride to arrive after a morning class was cancelled, Prescott was approached by an unknown person. Prescott said he paid no attention, busy with his phone, when the person--apparently but not definitely known to be a student--came up and kicked Prescott in a shin.
"Yeah, it hurt!" Prescott said. "He just stopped and kicked me and kept walking, like nothing happened!"
Prescott was so surprised by the action that he had no immediate reaction, while the kicker went on into the campus health center. Prescott said he briefly thought about following, then decided just to let it go lest anything even stranger happen.
If that was possible.