Mullen Delighted With Points, Crowd For Game

With all the aspects he could have been concerned with, team and individual, one idea overrode everything else in Coach Dan Mullen's mind preparing for the Maroon-White Game. "My thoughts were, I hope we score some points!" he said. "You know what I mean? With a lot of fans coming to the game I'm thinking to myself we better get some points on the board so they leave happy!"

The coach can be content on all counts. When walk-on kicker Derek DePasquale booted his 24-yard field goal through on the final snap of the evening, the Maroons were able to celebrate their 24-21 victory over the Whites. And Mullen was finally able to fully enjoy his first spring game at Mississippi State as a success on all counts. Both of the divided-roster squads put up points, and even better a record crowd—officially listed at 31,606—fans turned out to watch.

And cheer, which also was exactly what Mullen had hoped for. While over the winter the new head coach talked of drawing 40,000 to Scott Field for this first spring event, the actual turnout was as satisfactory (especially with weather threatening) as the score and statistics. In fact there was even more of the latter with the separate teams piling up yardage.

The final scoreboard was a bit deceptive since the ‘game' began with a 5-3 lead for the White team based on ‘bullring' matchups prior to team competition. The Whites also drew first scoring-blood there as PK Sean Brauchle hit a 28-yard field goal. After DePasquale hit from 34 yards, Brauchle made it 11-6 with his 46-yard effort at the end of the first quarter.

The second period produced the first touchdowns, one for each team as White HB Anthony Dixon bolted four yards for a score. That one was set up by a bomb thrown from QB Chris Relf to WR O'Neal Wilder, aided by Maroon CB Marvin Bure getting caught out of position. The Maroons came back before halftime with QB Tyson Lee directing a drive capped by HB Sylvester Hemphill's three-yard drive.

The Maroons went ahead in the third period as Lee hooked up with TE Kendrick Cook for a five-yard pattern to the left pylon. They went for two points and got it with Lee finding WR Terrance Davis open in the end zone.

The fourth quarter belonged to kickers again. Brauchle tied it up at 10:21 of the running clock with a 47-yard make, and the ensuing Maroon series ended with DePasquale missing at four minutes. But the Whites played to win and paid for it as QB Riley Saunders' throw was intercepted by LB Tyler Gregory at the 30-yard line. FB Tyler Hardin turned a draw handoff from QB Aaron Encalade into a 21-yard gainer, and after Encalade, known as ‘Hot Sauce' toted the ball to center it up DePasquale came through with the winner.

While the whole team assembled in front of the band to sing along with both the alma mater and fight song, the Maroons were happier. They don't have to report back to the stadium Sunday afternoon for cleanup duties as do the losing Whites. That has to hurt WR Kyle Roberts, who changed sides during the game from Maroon by coach's orders.

Lee put up the numbers, completing 19 of 33 passes for 251 yards with one score and no turnovers. His favored target was WR Leon Berry with 125 yards on eight catches, while Davis had five grabs for 69 yards and Cook five as well for 44 yards and the touchdown. Hemphill got 33 yards on eight carries and FB Patrick Hanrahan 44 yards on five totes.

For the Whites, Relf was 13-of-26 for 195 yards. Wilder caught four balls for 122 yards, and WR Delmon Robinson five balls for 63 yards. Dixon mustered 59 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown.

LB Chris White had a team-tops eight tackles for the Maroons, while DE Sean Ferguson had four sacks—two in just one series—of Relf for loss of 17 yards. S Zach Smith added five stops. WLB Terrell Johnson had eight tackles for the Whites with seven more for MLB Brandon Wilson. DE Devin Jones and DT Charles Burns had a sack each. The teams had been chosen by draft Friday, though at many positions balance dictated matching picks; especially at quarterback and halfback.

Both teams escaped unscathed as far as injuries though DT Kyle Love had to be helped up at one point.

Following the game, a happy—and relieved—Mullen met with the media.

Did you get what you wanted out of the spring game? "Yeah, I think our guys came out and did a pretty good job. They played well and were able to execute on both sides, that's what we wanted. More importantly for our guys I think they had a great time and they had an opportunity to come out in front of their friends and family, and all these Mississippi State fans came out to support us today. And they put on a show."

Did you get what you hoped form the spring as a whole? "Yeah. I mean, you always want more. I'm someone that's not usually satisfied. But I was pleased with the effort, I'm pleased that we're coming out of the spring with a foundation of the offense, a foundation of the defense and special teams. And more importantly a foundation of what we expect effort-wise from our guys out on the field."

Talk about your receivers, obviously Leon Berry is a go-to guy now? "I think each team had a couple of guys they were trying to get the ball to. They had that in the draft. I'm looking for we've got to stay healthy at that receiver position, get a couple more guys, hopefully get Brandon McRae back for the fall. If we do that I think we'll be able to put a decent receiving corps out there on the field with our one offense."

Individually did anyone stand out? "Ahhh, boy, I don't know. We'll go back and watch the film. It's hard to see out there today. It's kind of big to have our kickers be able to come out and kick in a live situation in front of fans. It's pretty easy to do it in practice when you're standing off to the side; when you have to do it in front of 30,000 people with the game on the line it's good to see them come out and have to be put under that pressure."

Is there any way you can quantify how much of your offense is installed? "No. We're only going to run certain parts of our offense because it doesn't apply to our personnel in other parts of it. What we have to do now is go back as a staff and really evaluate each one of our players and see what we feel they do well, and make sure we're really honed-in and running the right type of offense for our players."

What is next up for you guys? "Well, this is the last week of school then finals, so it's a lot of academics this week making sure we stay on top of those things. Then our staff is heading out on the road recruiting so we've got to really get out there and start recruiting this 2010 class to get in here for us. Then we'll come back after recruiting; they don't let me go recruit so I'm stuck, frustrating our whole coaching staff because I'll evaluate a lot of things and have a lot of good ideas up on the board for them to deal with when they get back!"

What was the main thing you wanted to tell the team in the locker room after the game? "That I appreciate their effort this spring and this whole off-season. I came in in January and for the last four months they've done nothing but try to buy-in to everything we've asked them to do. So I wanted to make sure we, myself and our coaching staff, appreciate the effort that they've given us on the field, in the off-season conditioning, even in the classroom and in the community."

Can you talk about the improvement the quarterbacks made in the last week or two? "They still have a ways to go. But both of them have some athletic ability, so when we put a regular jersey on them and let them run around and do some things they do well, make more plays with their feet, you might see even a little bit more production out of them."

What were you impressed with today? "The first thing I was impressed with was all the Mississippi State fans coming out and supporting us. That was the most impressive thing I saw. But offensively I was pleased we had a clean scrimmage. You know, you come out here and put our product on the field for the first time in front of all these fans, we wanted to make sure we weren't sloppy, fumbling the ball all over the place, jumping off-sides all night long. So our guys, you put them in a pressure situation here in front of a lot of fans, they came out and just executed on a fairly-well basis."

Were you under any pressure yourself? "My thoughts were, I hope we score some points! You know what I mean? With a lot of fans coming to the game I'm thinking to myself we better get some points on the board so they leave happy! But I wanted to and I think we came out of the scrimmage healthy today and that was important for us. We also had the opportunity for some young guys to come out here for the first time to play in front of a packed house, that's a lot different than when you play out at practice on the practice field to be able to make those plays in the stadium when it's full of people."

And no turnovers until the end? "It was a big one at the end. But they'll learn off of that. But yeah, I was pleased with that. I mean it's important for us to take care of the ball. But there will be a lot of good lessons learned from this scrimmage today."

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