Tuesday Bulldog Football Notebook

ROOKIE REPORT: It will likely be the most celebrated incompletion of the season. Still WR Chad Bumphis would have preferred his flanker-reverse/option pass on State's opening snap of 2009 been completed. As it was his long down-the-middle shot for cohort O'Neal Wilder got broken up.

"I might have thrown it just a little bit early," the freshman said after having seen the replay. "But it kind of crossed my mind to run, I had so much time back there." As it was Bumphis might wish he had tucked and toted, given what the full-time passers think. "They haven't said anything yet, I'm expecting it!" Bumphis laughed.

Of course running is always a real option for Bumphis, who netted over 1,300 yards carrying the ball at Tupelo High School. And he proved a completely capable quarterback at the prep level, too. But then the biggest portion of his playbook involves running routes and catching passes. Bumphis snared a pair in his college debut, both producing Bulldog touchdowns. The first really showed what strengths this rookie brings to the gameplan, as he took a quick toss over the middle and darted around and through traffic for a 15-yard score.

The second found Bumphis fending off double-coverage in the corner of the end zone for a seven-yard strike. Both TDs came off the strong arm of QB Chris Relf, though Bumphis said it could just as easily been starter Tyson Lee making the connections.

"I think they did great. We're so used to it from practice because we go with both of them in practice and they both bring different stuff. Tyson is so smart, it's hard to confuse him I guess; and Relf can throw it and is just mobile and can move around."

As productive as the debut was, this kid has no illusions about the quality of competition faced…or more to the point, what they are about to face this Saturday at Auburn. Just in case though the elders are reminding State's frosh. "Brandon (McRae) and the seniors have told us it's going to be a totally different game, nothing like last week." Still, he adds, "I'm expecting to go in and just play."

Bumphis was the lone true-frosh on the field for the first snap this year. He is just the fourth newcomer to open a game for State, though the second in as many years since DE Sean Ferguson got a first-snap assignment last year at Louisiana Tech. Prior to that it was then-S Quinton Culberson in 2003. By virtue of his immediate impact, Bumphis also became the first 2009 freshman Bulldog allowed to speak with media so far, an ‘honor' he seems to be taking lightly enough at Monday's press conference.

"I hadn't thought about it! It'll be a bunch of them in here next week, I'm thinking! We've got a good class and all of us are able to make plays, so I expect a bunch of us to be in here soon."

Besides Bumphis, six more 2009 freshmen saw action in the opener. Two of his fellow rookie receivers, Chris Smith and Brandon Heavens, caught passes, while DTs Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd both had two tackles. CB Jonathan Banks got late-game duty at left corner and participate on kicking teams, and DB Cameron Lawrence got special teams work.

CRANK IT UP: The Bulldogs practiced Tuesday with recorded band music and crowd noise, something Coach Dan Mullen has had done a few days previously in August camp. This time, though, the volume dial must have been turned to 11. "Y'all can hear it from here," Mullen noted, standing at the post-practice interview area by Holliman. "Go stand right in the middle of those speakers, I don't think it's going to get much louder than that!"

Not that this is any new trick of course. And while working in noisy conditions is obviously a help in on-field play calling, Mullen likes the little bit of edge it puts on the overall practice ambiance. "Just to kind of put that ‘frenzy' going on always around them at practice."

Fortunately Mississippi State put in a sound practice effort Tuesday as Mullen gave the effort a positive review. "We've got a lot of clean-up obviously tomorrow but it was a good, hard day today." Which is the goal of day-two practices in game week, actually. While day-one was devoted to ground-game work and thus more physical, Tuesday is when the detailed parts of a gameplan are emphasized.

"We just give a lot of hard looks on Tuesday, give everybody the toughest deal and put them in the toughest situation. And I thought our guys fought pretty hard through practice."

UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Sunday afternoon the MSU stat-staff realized something, or things, weren't adding up in the final numbers. A review turned up the Bulldog offense had been shorted three plays; two rushes and a completed pass. Those three additional plays netted 61 yards. Thus the total offense thus was 410 yards with an average gain of 5.9 per-snap.

The individual benefitting most was RB Robert Elliot, who went from gaining 60 to 80 rushing yards. WR Brandon Heavens went from one tote and a two-yard loss to two rushes and 14 yards of net-gain. And QB Tyson Lee's line improved by a completed pass, to 9-of-14 for 97 yards.

Also, while JSU's total plays tally was correct, the tackle stats were off one. LB K.J. Wright had been shorted a solo tackle.

PICKUP IN PICKOFFS: Coming into the season, Mississippi State's secondary—starters, backups, reserves, everyone—had the grand total of one interception amongst them. And that lone pick had come in 2007, when CB Marcus Washington was a sophomore. The '09 senior wasn't able to pick off any balls from Jackson State but a pair of his cohorts did.

SS Charles Mitchell intercepted the third pass of the third quarter to set up a short touchdown drive. Backup CB Corey Broomfield did even better in the last period as he turned an interception into a 43-yard touchdown return. Not only were those the first picks for both young Dogs (Mitchell a true soph, Broomfield a redshirt frosh), but they provided the first defensive points for State since the 2007 Alabama game.

Old-Dog Washington wasn't aware how few intercepts his unit owned coming into the year. "But hopefully we can change that. Interceptions are definitely something we've been harping on through summer, through two-a-days; is ball skills. Like you said, last year we didn't get a hand on too many balls and that's something we've tried to focus on. We're on the jugs gun, catching balls every day and working on our skills."

As the lone senior in the secondary, Washington has become something of an extra coach for the defense by passing along—or often just interpreting—what Coach Melvin Smith asks in terms of pass coverage. "I've been with Coach Smith since 2006 and he trusts me to pass on my knowledge to the younger guys. Of course I want to win more games but the whole process of learning how to win and working hard and giving all I've got has been a great experience for me."

Of course his elder Statesman status also means Washington has won some games; such as the crucial success at Auburn in 2007 that became the real starting-point in a Liberty Bowl year. He had four tackles as a starting cornerback that day and was covering his man when the Tigers' fourth-down throw in the end zone fell short to secure State's victory. That video has been part of this year's scouting.

"It's crazy, when I started watching the film I got the feeling, I started thinking back to the last time we were there. It was tough, it wasn't easy at all, we had to execute on the offense, defense, and special teams. But we did get the job done."

Getting it done this year will be at least as tough a task. Washington also recalls last September's 3-2 loss at Scott Field when Auburn completed three deep post-pattern strikes off the arm of quarterback Chris Todd. None produced points directly or even indirectly, but they did keep the field position turned against State all evening. Todd is back for more this fall and the Tigers have a different offense to make use of his throwing touch. Washington has a good idea what is in store for State's defense all over the field.

"I know one thing about Auburn, they're going to play tough, hard-nosed football. And I expect a battle royale from the get-go." As for the Tiger wideouts, "They've got some speed. Jackson State had some pretty good athletes but these guys here got some speed on them, they can move."

INJURY UPDATE: TE Brandon Henderson (sprained right ankle) arrived at practice on a golf cart with crutches, but fully-dressed . His status for Auburn is doubtful at this point. "He was out there watching," Mullen said, "very very limited. But we should have a good answer by tomorrow."

OG Tobias Smith (ankle) returned to practices Monday for the first time since his August 7 injury and surgery. He is still limited after the long layoff and the right ankle is heavily taped. Smith was first right guard before the injury. Craig Jenkins and Mark Melichar are 1-2 at his position for now.

Mullen also said that QB Tyson Lee handled the first day of real passing drills well, showing no ill-effects of the shoulder spasms that sidelined him for the second half Saturday. "He did everything we asked him to do and was find. He's got a lot to clean up but health-wise there were no issues."

Gene's Page Top Stories