So, Mississippi State’s coach and crew have been thumping Bulldog helmets daily about preparing to play their best this weekend against Northwestern State. Game time is 3:01 on Scott Field for the SEC Network. It is the first Bulldog day game of 2015.
It is also a bounce-back sort of game after a 21-19 loss to LSU. The last-chance field goal that went wide right is the easiest part to remember. But in keeping with Mullen’s mandate to be best-prepared, it was a sputtering start and two-touchdown deficit that really spoiled State’s home opener.
For that matter the Bulldogs (1-1, 0-1 SEC) stumbled out of the opening-night gate at Southern Mississippi. All Mullen really should need do today is show his team the first-quarter scores total of 24 for the foes, 7 for State, to make his point.
It’s unlikely another such sluggish start would doom the Dogs against NWLa (0-2). But it would force the home team to expend more energy and emotion for more quarters than necessary. Especially as Mullen and staff really want to get lots more backups and yet-unused players live snaps now that could prove useful evaluating both the depth chart the rest of this season and revising recruiting priorities in winter.
So, Mullen is doing what SEC coaches do. He’s selling the Demons as a threat.
“We have a tough game this week for us. It will be a good challenge for our team this week. They have a bunch of solid players.”
Such as Z receiver Ed Eagan, titled ‘Epic Ed’ in the game notes. Once a defensive back, he moved to offense and in two years has put himself in position to own all sorts of receiving records. The running back group doesn’t have great per-carry rates, but manage to break one or two great big carries and drive defensive coordinators crazy.
Along that line, in just two games four, count ‘em four quarterbacks have played. Soph Joel Blumenthal (8-of-12, one touchdown and one turnover) is listed first. State still has to scheme for the entire quartet, one of whom was moderately recruited here.
“They are a very aggressive defense,” Mullen said. “They’ll blitz much more than any team we’ve seen this season, they will really come at you from a lot of different directions.” That’s standard procedure for out-matched teams of course, to roll the defensive dice. It also has been proven to work and throw the big-league teams off their game.
So, Mullen is serious. “We’re going to have to execute at a very high level and just handle all the different things that are going to be thrown at us on Saturday.”
Bulldog fans will come to town wanting to see some different things from their team, too. Obviously getting live looks at lots of younger players is the attraction. Such as, the four redshirt freshmen in the offensive backfield. With the MSU ground game far from smooth through two games, this should be the chance for Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams to haul the ball. Of course classmate quarterback Nick Fitzgerald took four snaps in the opening game’s mop-up minutes. He should take the field much sooner this time, and as the ‘play away’ quarterback this is a real deal for State’s offensive staff. The coaches will be of mixed minds too when, even if to replace Fitzgerald with yet-to-play classmate Elijah Staley.
On defense, it is increasingly important to get ends Will Coleman and Jonathan Calvin more work; ditto tackles Cory Thomas and Braxton Hoyette. In a long season more tested depth at the point of contact is priceless. The linebackers and cornerbacks already have something of individual rotations going, and redshirt Brandon Bryant is getting prime-time snaps at safety already. With the health of starter Kendrick Market uncertain Bryant may get even more work.
And after debuting both on special teams, true frosh Jamal Peters and Mark McClaurin might have their chances to play their primary safety positions as well. But, the entirely depends on the first-team taking care of business early and in a bigger way than seen so far. Those looking for clues to how State might be adjusting a few offensive issues—quarterback called runs, blocking upgrades at both tackles with possible use of tight ends to help—will probably not have their questions answered. Not until next week at Auburn.
For now, Mullen does remind home fans they have a chance to enjoy a more normal sort of game day on campus. “Fortunately we get to play in the daytime this week,” he quipped, saying fans should be home far, far earlier than last week’s midnight conclusion. Day play will also surely help with traffic mashups from last week, inevitable when over 60,000 folk stay to the very last snap in a SEC brawl.
For all the post-game issues outside the stadium, in it “We had an unbelievable atmosphere last Saturday,” Mullen said. The second-largest crowd ever on campus made it so, and thousands more without tickets were enjoying the atmosphere second-hand as well. That was for ancient SEC rival LSU.
This Louisiana team has no such history with State. It should not matter, per Mullen.
“Any time you play at home we expect to have that same type of crowd and atmosphere.”
BULLDOG NOTES ‘n NUMBERS
*This weekend, Mississippi State honors the 1980 Bulldog team. There is a Friday reunion for the squad and staff, and Saturday at halftime they will be recognized on Scott Field.
*Mississippi State has not lost a home non-conference game since 2009, Dan Mullen’s first season. The current streak is 13 victories.
*Mullen’s seven teams are now 25-5 playing outside the SEC, including bowl games. The regular season record in non-conference is 22-3.
*State is 42-6 playing un-ranked opponents during Mullen’s tenure.
*True freshman S Mark McLaurin played in last week’s LSU game, his first varsity action. That makes four 2015 signee freshmen who have played this year already, joining S Jamal Peters, WR Malik Dear, TE Justin Johnson.
*Redshirted 2014 freshmen yet to be activated are QB Elijah Staley, DE Grant Harris, OG Ronald Cochran.
*OT Justin Senior owns the active games-started streak at 15.
*PK Westin Graves missed his only field goal attempt of 2014. Now he has made all four attempts of the sophomore season, as well as all five PAT kicks. Graves did not attempt the game-winner last week as 52 yards was judged outside his ideal range.
*State has split the punting evenly so far. P/KO Devon Bell has six punts for a 40.7 average; P/KO Logan Cooke six as well for a 36.8 rate. Both have three fair-catches and a touchback apiece, too.
*Bell has kicked off 11 of the 12 opportunities so far this season.
*MLB Richie Brown has notched 22 total tackles with a double-digit account both games. That hasn’t happened at State since Mario Haggan in 2003.
*A dozen Dogs have caught at least one pass already this season.
*The largest share of receptions belongs two WR Fred Ross. He’s leading the SEC after two weeks at 7.0 grabs per game, and is 14th in the NCAA this week.
*At least some balls are coming Ross’ way because WR De’Runnya Wilson is the defensive coverage focus. Junior Wilson is still having a good September, with ten balls. And while he’s four catches behind Ross, he is dead-even in yardage at 141 each.
*With his tough touchdown catch last Saturday, Wilson moved to a tie for 5th on the MSU career list with 13 touchdowns.
*Eleven of those were thrown by QB Dak Prescott, who has found 15 other Bulldogs for touchdowns in four seasons. Prescott now holds the MSU mark for career scoring passes with 44.
*That gives Prescott a total of 18 Bulldog records (12 season, 6 career). So, which is the next mark to fall? Career passing yards is the obvious choice. Prescott (6,155) needs 182 yards to surpass Wayne Madkin’s 6,336 tallied 1998-2001.
*Prescott already has the most career completions (474). It will take another month though to match the record for completions, 887 by Madkin. Kevin Fant had 866 as well. Prescott has had 782 of his throws caught.
*This is why Prescott is the only Bulldog quarterback of more than a season to surpass the 60% completions rate. He is currently at 60.6%. Tyson Lee was good for 58.8% in second place.
*Each week moves Prescott up some SEC ladders as well. He is now 15th in touchdowns-responsible at 77. Of course the record is 145 by somebody who Mullen used to coach at Florida, forget the name…
*Prescott is one good carry from becoming only the fifth SEC quarterback to top 2,000 rushing yards. He’s at 1,984 going into Saturday.
*Prescott has a touchdown pass in his last 16 games, behind only TCU’s Trevone Boykin at 17 games.