"Doing that gives you confidence going into the next game or when times get tough and you need points, you know what you can do," said Lee. "It's just a matter of when it will happen."
Or for whom it will happen. Saturday night it was Lee, making his first college start and taking every offensive snap, making things happen. Head Coach Sylvester Croom told media after Thursday's practice that State would probably use multiple quarterbacks; but after a couple of series it was clear junior transfer Lee was making the most of his opportunity. He finished with 175 yards and a touchdown passing, completing 17 of 26 throws without a turnover. Lee also scrambled for 18 net yards on four carries, including a 16-yard scamper in the second quarter that set up State's first touchdown of the evening.
Lee has had two days (State took Monday off from practicing) to evaluate his play. Except when asked, the quarterback turned ‘he' into ‘we.' "That's how it is. It's not about me, it's about what we can do as a team. That's the biggest thing about this. What I do doesn't mean anything, each guy here makes up a whole team."
Alright then, what was Lee's evaluation of the ‘we' work at Baton Rouge? "We still need to get better. We looked at the film and we did some things right, but we didn't do enough things right. Hopefully this week will kind of be a week we can fine-tune things and get ready for Vanderbilt." That would be the #19-ranked Commodores (4-0, 2-0 SEC) who are coming off their own open date and preparing to host Auburn.
Meanwhile Lee, who backed up veteran Wesley Carroll the first four games, is spending his open-date as the recognized starter. Not that he is taking anything for granted about top status, which can be won or lost in off-week drills just as quickly as in a game. Carroll certainly isn't stepping off the stage, and redshirt frosh Chris Relf has made strides lately since the offensive staff pared-down the overall package.
"You just treat it the same way," Lee said of being the newest #1 quarterback. "Each practice try to get better, each meeting try to learn." And Lee admits he still has much left to grasp about this system, even with the benefit of having come to campus in January. "I got the playbook, and it took me probably the whole spring to get everything together. And even now you still see things to learn each day, each practice."
So Lee doesn't mind an open date agenda that Croom said will stress fundamentals, more along the lines of pre-season camp than in-season routine. Nor is he worried spending this first full week as top-Dog practicing basic stuff instead of prepping for an opponent. This open date, the first of two for State, is a welcome break. "We have a lot of guys who are banged-up or kind of injured, it gives us an opportunity to recuperate and get ready to go to play a good team." And, a chance to ‘scout' the Commodores as they play a team State battled on near-equal terms in a 3-2 home loss. Lee said he'll sit back and relax with the TV. Because there won't be much relaxing once the next four-game stretch begins.
"It's excitement. It's still that believing thing. We believe. We've got seven games left and we believe we can win the next seven games on our schedule. Right now we're looking at a new beginning, this is our week to get ready for Vanderbilt and here-on-out we're looking for a great season."
THE PRACTICE SCHEDULE for this week has the Bulldogs working afternoon sessions Tuesday and Wednesday; a 6:00 am practice Thursday; and a Friday morning conditioning period before they get the weekend off. During these three practice days Croom said there will be attention to fundamentals mostly, though some aspects of the Vanderbilt game-plan such as first-down plays will be installed.
"But more than anything else get the fundamentals down and make sure guys understand exactly what their assignments are. So we can eliminate mistakes, because that's what has hurt us in this first half of the season as anything else. Missed assignments have hurt us on both sides of the football."
Also, Croom said this week is an opportunity to get a number of activated freshmen or young backups more serious practice snaps than they normally receive. "There are a couple of guys that we have played that we really want to get better. (S) Charles Mitchell, we need to get him a lot more work. (TE) Kendrick Cook is a guy who I think can help us down the stretch. (WR) Delmon Robinson really needs to get some work. And (HB) Wade Bonner now has got to step up and help us and give us some depth at running back. And we're still waiting for an appearance by (KS) Eric Richards."
At this point Croom does not forsee activating any of the freshmen who have yet to play. "It's pretty much done right now."
THE NEED FOR redshirt Bonner to step it up now is because classmate HB Robert Elliot has been lost for the season. Elliot damaged ligaments in his left knee at LSU and will undergo surgery next week, Croom said. "They do some things to stretch the muscles and get all the swelling out before they operate."
Elliot had worked his way up to essentially the co-#2 halfback with junior Christian Ducre and in the Georgia Tech and LSU games had shown why he was such a touted prospect out of high school. Now after sitting out one whole year, Elliot will miss two whole months of this season and have to hustle to be ready for 2009 spring camp. But Croom said the freshman is not devastated by the bad break.
"He's as fine as you can be, very up-beat about it. He's disappointed of course, as anybody would be. We're all disappointed for him because he's put so much into it. But he'll come back."
S Derek Pegues came out of the LSU with a bum left shoulder that had him sidelined today, that arm in a sling. Also missing practices were DT Jessie Bowman, S De'Mon Glanton, and a few others with lesser problems. Meanwhile OG Mike Gates was taking snaps with the #2 offensive line and should be ready by next week. Croom is less certain if TE Marcus Green will be able to play.
"I'm not planning on it, if he is he is. It's going to have to be a day-to-day thing, until it's 100% I'm not putting him back out there."