Dress Rehearsal With "Little Bit Of Football"

They really practice for the games, after all. So why not spend a day working as if it were a real game? That was Mississippi State's plan Saturday morning, from having players take to Scott Field escorted by cheerleaders and serenaded by (recorded) music to lining up in defined down-and-distance situations. A dress rehearsal, as Coach Dan Mullen called it. "As well as a little bit of football."

Make that a lot of football, based on the reported 120 scrimmage snaps run in Saturday's session. It had to be reported as the scrimmage, and all other game-type rehearsing, was closed to public view…though folk around campus could certainly hear the new p.a. voice Jonathan Holmes going through is own pre-season of sorts. This was the designated day for State to put a whole lot of game-day aspects into practice, with the only missing elements being a paying crowd, the band, and the press corps. And if the latter group would have added little to the operations aspect, at least reporters did get to discuss the morning's events with Mullen at a late afternoon briefing.

This was the second and final scrimmage of Mississippi State's preseason with very much to get done in that "little bit" of football work. Unlike last week, live snaps pitting first-teammers against each other were relatively limited; the heaviest hitting was done by #1s against second-team squads on both sides of the ball. The rest of the script followed the previous scrimmage with specific full-field series starting on first downs; mandatory down-and-distance situations to convert; short yardage and goal line work; and lots of full-speed kicking practices. In short, almost every position the Bulldogs could expect to find in a normal game.

The Bulldogs have some time to recover from this day's work as well as the preceding four practices, all but one full-contact. Fortunately no new injuries were reported from the scrimmage, though that will be updated tomorrow evening when the head coach and requested players talk to reporters. Sunday's schedule also calls for team chapel and afternoon meetings, with a free Monday for everyone prior to resuming practices Tuesday.

Following is the transcript of Coach Dan Mullen's afternoon briefing:

"Today was a good day to get everything done. I mean as far as how we get dressed at the stadium, how we walk out when we go out for our warm-ups; the order of how everybody goes and where they go on game-day to do things; how we talk the field, how we go in at halftime, where we go to meet at halftime; when we come back how we run back on the field in the second half. We got all those things done, as well as a little bit of football. And we had a good work day." Q: So it was like a dress rehearsal today? "That's really what it was for us. As far as it goes, I'm really glad that we did it. With the coaches and communication, we had all the headphones out, everybody off the field as far as wrist-banding plays and signaling everything in, all that stuff."

Q: Did any particular players stand out? "Hmmm. I don't know because I haven't watched the film yet, and I don't usually pay attention to much until after I watch the film, who really stands out. Because I'm looking at so many different things, not really individuals."

Q: How was execution on offense? "At times it was good, and then it was a little bit herky-jerky. They came out and started strong, got real bad, and finished strong. Which is good, that's kind of two days in a row. For yesterday's practice we didn't start very good but finished strong, and that's something I hadn't seen out of this team. When things started to not look too good, whether it be offense, defense, or special teams, it kind of just stayed that way; no one stood up and made a difference. I think what happened today was the offense started real slow but then finished strong at the end."

Q: Will looking at this tape give a better idea who is starting? "Yeah, a little bit. To me the starting word I guess is not really a relevant word for us; it's who is ready to play? This, today, will give us an idea hopefully of who we have ready to play. For some of the kids it was their first opportunity to play in the stadium. And it is a different feel in there, even though its empty today its still a different feel for them. So you just have to see who can step up when the lights come on."

Q: What were some things the offense did well to start and finish? "I think starting off we ran the ball pretty well. Then we got away from that which was on-purpose; I didn't want to sit there and just say we're going to run it all day long and pat ourselves on the back and feel good about it and go home. We wanted to work on every part of it."

"But I'll tell you what, the thing I thought we did well at the end, we did two-minute at the end and executed pretty well in the two-minute drive. And that's the best I've seen us execute that."

Q: Injuries? "I didn't see any injuries today. Which is great for us, to get through an over-hundred-play live scrimmage and walk away…we've had two live scrimmages and walked away pretty healthy. That is a step in the right direction."

Q: Did anyone participate today that did not in the first scrimmage? "Derek Sherrod was out there today, he did some today, we rolled him through and he did OK I guess. I didn't notice good or bad so I guess that means he did OK!"

Q: How is the secondary doing? "At times they're doing pretty good. I think the thing that worries me, we have to make sure we're executing at a high level passing the football on offense so that we get a good look at the secondary. And I don't know if we're at a high-enough level throwing the football yet on offense to know the secondary is where they need to be."

Q: How have you been working the kickers and punters and what are your impressions? "In the other scrimmages we've kind of had a set time we punt; this one we punted like a game situation. They had to come on and off and do those things. That was a little bit different. So today we kicked field goals, we kicked extra points, punted in different situations, covered the punt, a guy had to catch the punt. We put the special teams, instead of more a section of the scrimmage, as a game-like situations. Kickoff, punt, punt return, all that stuff."

Q: What is your reasoning of being your own special teams coach? "The whole reason to me is most of these players come here to play offense or defense. They come to play receiver, they come to play linebacker, they come to play tailback. They don't come to play the left guard on the punt team or the ‘missile' on the kickoff team. So if I don't put the biggest emphasis on it as the head coach coaching it, our players probably aren't going to take the biggest emphasis in it."

"So that's the real reason. You look at most successful programs, the head coach coaches the special teams I guess. Everywhere I've been and what I've seen the head coach is involved in the special teams as a critical thing if you want to be good. That part of it is how I was brought up, I wouldn't know any other way to really do it."

Q: Has Leon Berry shown he can be a go-to receiver? "You know, I think he had a nice day today. I don't know if any of the receivers have jumped up at this point to me to say that's our go-to-guy. What I hope, if we can get four guys that we can kind of go to we don't need one go-to guy; (we can) just take what the defense gives us and disperse the ball around the field. He's improved. The neat thing about Leon, I guess it's hard saying he's only been here since January, he's our most experienced wide receiver out there. So he's the one that can play different positions on the field. We kind of depend on him to do the most things, we can play him at multiple positions because he's the most experienced really running our offense."

Q: Is the kicker competition still between Sean Brauchle and Derek DePasquale? "Yeah. The thing is, and I'm going to go back and review all the charts; I've made a point to just let them keep kicking and not form my opinion really probably even through this week. we're going to keep charting kicking and then I'm going to go back statistically and do it. Sometimes you might look at it on the field and think one thing, then you go look at the statistics and its something else. But they each do their own thing well. I would say Brauchle has the much stronger leg, but then I want to see; if DePasquale is more accurate we might use multiple kickers."

Q: How are your coaches divided up between press box and sideline? "Let's see. On the defensive side of the ball you've got Carl Torbush upstairs and Tony Hughes, with Marquase Lovings our graduate assistant; everybody else is on the field. On offense, Les Koenning is upstairs and Scott Sallach with Angelo Mirando our g.a. for offense. Everybody else is on the field."

Q: Can you talk about the strength of the home schedule…? "Yeah, get your tickets fast! Nobody in the country has a better home schedule than we do so you'd better get your tickets fast!"

Q. …And how do you plan to use that to your advantage? "Well, one of our things, when you're in the Southeastern Conference you need to win your home football games. For us to complete our goal, which is to find a way to get to Atlanta and win the SEC West we have to win our home games. If we win all our home games, at that point we've taken a great step in the right direction especially with the strength of schedule we have at home to reaching our goal. Which is to get to Atlanta."

Q: What is your thinking behind changing practice schedule to morning practices this week? "Just to keep it mixed-up on and keep them on their toes. I'm not sure I'm going to do it, I'm going to meet with our coaches tomorrow and we'll discuss what we want to do."

"But when we get into game week there's a very distinct routine, of what we do each day at practice, kicking meetings start at 2:15. And one of the things you don't want to do, to me, is get into that routine too early. Even though game week is only a week away I don't want that to become a routine already."

Q. Can you update Tobias Smith's status? "We won't know much until Monday when the cast comes off. So we should know a lot more on Monday."

"And student tickets are on sale Monday!"


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