SERIOUS FUN: Yes, they are all about business this week. Yet the intensity of Egg Bowl preparations can't keep the Bulldogs from having some practice fun, even at their own expense. Such as the session when Eric Butler pulled in a pass. "And Coach Croom and everybody started screaming and yelling!" the tight end reported, smiling at both the incident and about himself.
Because Butler is still irked about not grabbing another pass. Specifically, the swing-out throw in the first quarter of the Arkansas game that would have produced at least 20 yards and quite likely a touchdown on the day's opening possession. QB Wesley Carroll laid the ball into Butler's hands only to have it bounce off.
And yes, it was part of the post-game post-mortem. "I mean, the catch I was supposed to have, it was wide-open, I don't have words for it," Butler said. "I took the full blame for it, but it probably could have changed the whole game around at the beginning."
But by Monday's practice there were no hard feelings about a missed chance, one of many for State in that game. All funning aside, though, while Butler has been forgiven he isn't forgetting…or planning on a repeat. "If one comes to my hands I've got to catch it. I don't care if I have to fall, as long as I catch it. I just shook it off, it's just part of the game."
"But," he added, "I know for-sure I won't let one go this week!"
*Butler did get one catch at Arkansas, giving him eight for this senior season for 71 yards. That's half as many receptions as classmate Jason Husband who has emerged as the primary tight end target of 2007. Husband has 16 catches and 193 yards…and both touchdowns the TE position has accounted for. "Jason stepped up big last Saturday," Butler said.
And his cohort doesn't mind Husband stepping to the fore this senior season. "I mean, however gets the job done. Jason was getting it done last week and we kept going to him. When a player's hot you have to give him the ball. Like (WR) Jamayel Smith. And we had a pretty big day throwing the ball, it was distributed to a lot of people."
Certainly Carroll has been able to get the ball to plenty of people since taking over at quarterback, mixing it to backs, wideouts, and yes the tight ends. All of them in fact. "Even Dez has caught a pass!" Butler quips about Dezmond Sherrod, who had a 10-yard reception in the Alabama win. Which has the third senior TE of the group, who has made a career of blocking for others, wanting something more at the end of his career. "We're trying to get Dez into the end zone, that's what he wants and talks about all the time," Butler says. "He has something special planned for that day!"
In any event Mississippi State has a pretty special collection of upperclassmen tight ends who all want to make the last day of their last regular season even more special. Particularly Butler, who would love nothing more than another chance to make a big catch-and-run for the Scott Field folk. Perhaps attention to Husband is the key, he ponders.
"He's done pretty good the past few weeks, and probably people are starting looking at him and stopping him. And hopefully I can get open a little more!"
DOUBLE-DUTY: Mississippi State's defense recognizes the game-planning challenge of this week. While Ole Miss is expected to start Brent Schaeffer at quarterback, eleven-game starter Seth Adams is quite likely to see action as well. These two triggermen couldn't be much more disparate in styles and tendencies, so the Bulldogs have to be ready for completely different schemes at any point.
Yet after their own eleven contests of 2007, DE Titus Brown says this is just another week's work. "We've seen any and all offenses this year so it won't be hard to adjust to it, not even during a game."
Now ‘adjusting' does not automatically mean ‘stopping' so it shouldn't be inferred the Dog defense is taking this task lightly. But according to SLB Gabe O'Neal every game-plan starts from the same point. "Any team, first we have to stop the run. We have to make them one-dimensional." Easier said than done with Schaeffer, a runner/thrower who can create with his feet and arm alike. Adams is the more typical pocket-passer of the pair with the arm to go long if given time…time that usually comes from defenses hanging-in to contain back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
O'Neal and Brown both are anticipating facing Schaeffer first and most, after his big effort off the bench against LSU. "Last week they were able to move the ball a lot," O'Neal said. "But it's nothing we haven't seen all year, a lot of teams try to spread us out and try to dink the ball around and get in the open field, things like that."
With Schaeffer, "They run a similar offense to what we saw at West Virginia," Brown explained. The experience at Morgantown will come in handy trying to stay disciplined against the ride-option. It's also comparable to what the defense faced earlier in the year when Auburn went from the starting pocket-passer to an option-runner quarterback. By the third quarter State had adjusted to that, though Auburn's running quarterback was not nearly the thrower Schaeffer can be.
"We've seen the gun-back, the riding-and-pitching option play, all of that," Brown said. "We've seen all the tricks of the trade during the course of the year." That includes some pass-oriented attacks, too, which has O'Neal recalling experience in the win at Kentucky. "I think it's going to be similar to that game. That quarterback didn't run a lot but he was a great passer. Alabama had a great passer but not a great runner. So we've been through it this year. Through the year with a lot of teams like Arkansas and West Virginia, games like that are going to help us. Now we can game-plan for both (styles) instead of one."