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Mullen Expects Most Hurting Dogs to be Ready by Alabama

COLUMBIA, MO -- Open dates are when teams try to get healthy. It didn’t work out that way for Mississippi State. “We might be the only team in America that came off a bye week much more banged-up than we went in,” Coach Dan Mullen said.

The coach could afford to be just a little flip about his team’s health. #20 Mississippi State had just taken care of Missouri 31-13, earning a fourth-straight victory and going over break-even in SEC play for the first time this season.

For a while though it seemed Mississippi State was just trying to survive as much as succeed. And even in the win, there was added injury insult for a while. On the next-to-last play before halftime an attempt to get into striking distance almost cost the Dogs dearly.

First because QB Dak Prescott fumbled when hit. OG Justin Malone caught the ball in-air to keep possession, but behind the play OT Rufus Warren was down. The left tackle had to be helped to the sideline and carted to the locker room.

Any loss on this offensive line is big trouble. But for this week, having Warren sidelined was double-trouble. His own backup, for that matter the Dog who started at left tackle when Warren was hurt at Texas A&M, wasn’t available.

That was Elgton Jenkins, one of several players hurt during practices. Jenkins did make the trip, but did not dress out.

“We brought him thinking he might be able to play as a game-time decision,” Mullen said. However, “Talking to trainers they said he might be able to play some but it would probably hurt him for next week. We said let’s just try to get through this one.”

Which was fine right up to the moment Warren went down. Instead of bringing in another tackle, Coach John Hevesy shuffled the deck. Left guard Malone moved to tackle, right guard Devon Desper swapped sides, and #2 OG Deion Calhoun stepped in at right guard. They took care of all second-half snaps while Warren watched.

Watched in uniform, too, sometimes seated on the rehab bike but not peddling. The twist here was, Mullen said, Warren had been hurt before the game already.

“He got dinged-up in practice. So we were kind of ready for that. They don’t think it’s anything bad so hopefully we have both Rufus and Elgton back for next week’s game.”

Despite Warren’s work-week dinging, Mullen said Malone didn’t do much practicing at tackle. “Pretty minimal.” Twice in the second half Prescott took hard sacks from the blind, i.e. left side, though only review will show if that was a breakdown in back-side protection or some other issue.

“But he’s an older guy, plays left guard. He really can play any position on the offensive line for us. He knows the calls and knows what to do. He got a couple of reps here and there in the week.”

What Mullen was not going to do was activate another tackle. Juco transfer Martinas Rankin has dressed for every game, this one included. Mullen said playing the redshirting Rankin was not considered.

“No, no. It was Justin, or we had a couple of other options. But at this point we weren’t going to play Martinas.”

Two more Dogs did not play due to practice injuries. Neither WR Malik Dear and RB Dontavian Lee made the trip, with unspecified issues. “It happened in game-prep, so it happened this week,” Mullen said. Dear is rated possible for next week; Lee sounds doubtful at this point.

So it was not exactly a rest-and-recuperate bye week after all. “It seemed like very day something kept happening. Guys are getting rolled-up or twisted, a really weird deal. I’m like holy cow…”

There was a little encouraging news about injuries. WR Gabe Myles returned from a three-game absence with an ankle injured at Texas A&M. TE Gus Walley was back after missing one game with a head-to-head hit by Louisiana Tech. Both played, though with not much to show on the stat sheet for it as each looked rusty. Still they are playing again, as is RB Ashton Shumpert in his regular job again after some back tightness.

Mullen already meant to give the team Saturday off. Now even with Alabama week looming, it’s worth wondering if the coaches will dial back practice intensity to avoid any more injuries. All recall that starting CB Will Redmond was lost for the season two weeks ago in a non-contact drill knee injury.

Or, will State treat it all as simply the risks of practicing for physical SEC matchups? Maybe Mullen answered when, talking about the strange run of practice problems, “It must just be that type of year.”

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