Offense Pulls Out 'Win' To Cap Scrimmaging

If the first contact practice of this regime is any indication, Mississippi State fans can foresee down-to-the-wire action come fall. Because this spring Saturday's competition went down to the last snap. "The offense found a way to win the scrimmage there at the end, even though the defense was up big," Coach Dan Mullen said. "I was pleased to see that."

Pleased? Mullen was openly grinning after HB Christian Ducre, in the grasp of S Zach Smith, still muscled his way across the goal line to give the offensive team a comeback ‘win' at the very end of Saturday's session. Up to that point the defensive Bulldogs had led for the entire morning as scored by the coaches over the course of the two-and-a-half hour practice; the first in full-pads this camp. It took a touchdown pass in goal-line from QB Tyson Lee to TE Nelson Hurst just to make it a ‘one play game.' And then had Ducre not gotten to the left corner, it would have been the offense running gassers.

Instead the guys in maroon jerseys were celebrating while their white-shirted counterparts did the extra sprinting. Even Smith was able to smile after the energetic and at times entertaining morning's work; though the junior safety stressed Ducre didn't drag him across the line. "We met on the one and he fell in!" Nor did the halfback have far to go since the ball had been spotted inside the two-yard line.

"I think the defense dominated," Smith noted about the practice as a whole. "They made that number up at the end and made it come down to one play." Of course given Mississippi State's struggles in short-yard and goal-line settings over recent years, the entire team was able to celebrate this example of offensive success. Even the guys running extra.

Mullen appeared happiest of all, particularly after how the offense had sputtered midway in situations spotted at midfield. "I was really disappointed with the execution in the first-down scrimmage we had. But they really toughened up when we got down to the goal line, punched the ball in a whole bunch.

"And that was the whole deal today. Playing upfield on first downs is a big part but when you get to the goal line that's crunch time and the offense came through and made a bunch of plays at the end."

Yet it's likely Mullen and staff would have been enjoying their first pads and hitting session of spring regardless of which side won or lost. The new head coach even compared this working day to a holiday.

"It's like Christmas morning right now! We get to go in and see what hand we've been dealt and see who can play and who likes contact and who is physical. The first couple of days is learning but when you're not in pads you can't tell that much."

Whereas from the opening minutes Saturday the coaches were getting to see their Dog-deck in physical action. The session even began 20 minutes before the scheduled time, and it opened just as it ended with goal-line work. It took two snaps for the first offense to score on the #1 defense with HB Anthony Dixon taking an option-pitch from Lee around right end and in. When the twos squared off it was HB Arnil Stallworth scoring, again on second down from the two, out of a full-house backfield going up the middle. Later walk-on FB Patrick Hanrahan caught a Lee lob in the end zone against the first-defense.

The defense might have had more reason for annoyance as on the whole they did, like Smith said, largely control most action. Smith even picked off Lee in a first-down drill on a throw towards TE Kendrick Cook. Defensive Dogs didn't shy from hitting guys in hands-off red jerseys either as backup WLB Terrell Johnson put a stick on Chris Relf after the #2 quarterback had stepped out of bounds. For that matter backup safety Robert Gurley hit Dixon on the same sideline and at knees-level, though the senior halfback shook him off.

It showed the sort of pursuit demanded by coordinator Carl Torbush on this opening day of contact. "Everybody was running to the ball and making plays," S Chris Mitchell said. "That's what we're really stressing right now, running to the ball."

No serious damage was done today, though there was an anxious moment when starting RT Addison Lawrence went down on the fifth snap of mid-field, first-down scrimmaging holding a knee. Fortunately the soph was soon back at his first spot no worse for wear. Rotation WR Terrance Davis and #3 S T.J. Patterson went out halfway through with what Mullen called muscle tweaks. But this didn't mean time-off, instead they went to another field and worked out for the strength staff.

"To me that's guys not preparing coming into practice," Mullen said. "Maybe there are certain guys that held back in the off-season, now they're out on the field trying to go full speed."

Some other players were held out for existing re-hab issues, such as WR Brandon McRae, HB Robert Elliot, and KS Eric Richards. Their main work consisted of piling up more miles on the exer-bikes, though McRae and Elliot have participated in non-pads drills this week and showed no problems. TE Marcus Green also increased his participation today, not taking any hits but working in some team plays for an encouraging change.

In fact the active roster grew by one today as after missing the first two dates with illness Mark Melichar was in pads and practicing. But not at tackle, where he started twice last season. He worked at both right and left guard spots.

If Mullen had a single serious concern Saturday it was at the wideout positions, especially once Davis joined McRae and Delmon Robinson (thigh) on the sideline. "I looked over today, we three scholarship and two walk-on receivers practicing. It's hard to run a spread offense when you only have five receivers on the entire team. So we need to get some receivers here soon."

This didn't make it a bad day necessarily, and there were promising plays made by the available wideouts. Transfer Leon Berry has established himself with the first group, and after spending a year on defense Tay Bowser is not just back on offense but a number-one guy. O'Neal Wilder is also in the first-rotation and moving well on a healed knee. During this first week youngsters like Davis and Charles Bailey have had their turns too, but on the whole this area has much to work on.

"The problem is they have to learn a lot of fundamentals at the position, and we're throwing an awful lot at them," Mullen said. "Then we had a couple of guys get dinged today so we having to jump around positions and it really slows the learning curve for them."

Mullen is more pleased so far with quarterbacking. Lee and Relf haven't been brilliant this week but all in all the coach said they have been doing good work.

"Tyson obviously has a lot more experience so it's a little easier for him in adjusting. But Chris did some nice things today running around, he made a couple of plays. And I think as Chris gains his confidence and some experience he'll have the opportunity to help us this year." Indeed Relf was much more effective and decisive when throwing on the move; from the pocket his passes were more easily broken up. True freshman Cameron Lawrence did not do any scrimmaging with the top two units but he's still in a good #3 position already.

One reason the offense was more effective around the goal line was that the defense could come after the passers out in the open field situations; not to tackle but to pressure. That took a toll on the passing and resulted in more on-the-move throws. Starting from the two- or one-yard lines the offense became the aggressor. And, the line didn't have to protect as long or as well. Blocking is a work-in-progress this camp, as expected, though Mullen has seen some hopeful signs here already.

"We're getting there. They did a nice job at times today, then they'd just go the wrong way a couple of times. Not really anybody getting beat, more guys just making mental errors. Once we get that fixed and that stuff corrected I expect good things from them."

For their part the defensive team has shown good things every day this initial week of work. Saturday saw a few adjustments on the front, as with Charles Burns absent Kyle Love moved up to first at left d-tackle; and early on in drills LaMarcus Williams was bumped up to second at right tackle when Rodney Prince incurred the ire of line boss David Turner. Redshirt tackle Devin Jones has also moved out to end and is on the third group. The first two units at all three linebacker slots has not changed this week, nor on the corners.

What has changed is the practice tempo. "I like the pace of things," Smith said. "I like Coach Torbush a lot and he has good control of the defense. And the offense looked good, I'd say they looked great for the third day out here."

There, again, was an encouraging word about the Bulldog offense even by the guys trying to stop them. Just don't mistake positive talk for taking it easy on the other side of the locker room. "It's been nothing but compete since these coaches got here!" Smith added.

With their third day of camp done the Bulldog players are enjoying an easy weekend afternoon. Not so their coaches. This is one spring ‘Christmas' morning that Mullen wants to last on into a long evening at the office. How long?

"It depends on how excited everybody gets watching. I might have to buy dinner for the staff today!"

SATURDAY PRACTICE DEPTH LIST: (L-limited) Offensive Right Tackle: Addison Lawrence, Phillip Freeman, Dakota Merritt

Right Guard: Quentin Saulsberry, Craig Jenkins, Mark Melichar

Center: J. C. Brignone, D.J. Looney, Sam Watts

Left Guard: Tobias Smith, Templeton Hardy, Mark Melichar, John McMillan

Left Tackle: Derek Sherrod, Chris Spencer, Michael Bufkin

Tight Ends: Kendrick Cook, Nelson Hurst, Brandon Henderson, Thomas Webb, Austin Wilbanks, Marcus Green(L)

Quarterbacks: Tyson Lee, Chris Relf, Cameron Lawrence

Halfbacks: Christian Ducre, Arnil Stallworth, Anthony Dixon, Robert Elliot(L)

Fullbacks: Sylvester Hemphill, Patrick Hanrahan, Ryan Lester, Allen Tolbert

Receivers: Tay Bowser, Leon Berry, O'Neal Wilder, Charles Bailey, Major Sosebee, Blake Edwards, Delmon Robinson(L), Brandon McRae(L)

Defensive Right End: Brandon Cooper, Trevor Stigers, Nick Bell

Right Tackle: Pernell McPhee, LaMarcus Williams, Rodney Prince

Left Tackle: Charles Burns, Kyle Love, Reggie Odom, Joshua Jackson

Left End: Sean Ferguson, Shane McCardell, Devin Jones, Renaldo Buck

Middle Linebacker: Jamar Chaney, Bo Walters, Jamie Jones

Strongside Linebacker: K.J. Wright, Mike Hunt, Mark Lynn

Weakside Linebacker: Chris White, Terrell Johnson, Karlin Brown, Tyler Gregory

Safety: Zach Smith, Emmanuel Gatling, ToJo Patterson

Safety: Charles Mitchell, Wade Bonner, Christ Cameron

Right Cornerback: Marcus Washington, Corey Broomfield, Marvin Bure

Left Cornerback: Damein Anderson, Louis Watson, Jarvis Williams

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