"They're very sound," offensive coordinator Les Koenning said, adding as an aside how Tech is especially better-prepped with their ‘fits' against any option plays "because they see it every week! They really do a good job in their back-end with coverage.
"They've changed (sets) a little bit at times, depending on who they have healthy just like the rest of us. You can expect them in a four-man line, a three-man line at times, and you just have to go with it."
Koenning and company did a good job going with what LSU's defensive approach offered, at least right up to the decisive four-play stretch beginning six feet from the goal line. Those snaps have been hashed and slashed sufficiently inside the team and unit meeting rooms, to the point "The best remedy for us is to get another game" as Koenning says. And, to keep on doing what is working for this particular Bulldog lineup.
Primarily at the quarterback position where Tyson Lee and Chris Relf will continue to take their turns as assigned. Though Koenning, as does everyone else, calls it a ‘rotation' the fact is shuffling the triggermen is not scripted in the traditional sense; that is, one takes a series then watches the other get the next. Mullen has even called it going by gut-feeling at times, though that is a bit of an exaggeration. But only a bit.
"We use that rotation to our advantage," says Koenning. "There's no rhyme or reason to why we'd like to say we do it, because people would know what our strengths and weaknesses are! But what we'd like to make sure is we have the opportunity to move the football." Not just series-by-series, either, but at times play-by-play. Already this season there have been situations where the quarterback who got a drive going was replaced mid-series, and twice this has produced Dog touchdowns.
"That's the system," says Koenning. "It doesn't matter, when the play is called you have to get in there and go run it. I mean, whoever the person we send out there is who we like then in that situation." Though, the quarterback coach is certainly practicing both his alternates to be able to execute equally in as many situations as possible to, again, avoid tipping off defenders. That process will continue all this first season in the overall system, of course.
"So each week we evaluate the plays, what they can do, and go out and put them in those situations." Koenning is justifiably pleased with how his guys have been able to perform in most situations so far…until the reporter points out a presumably positive point. Specifically, that even since going to a no-huddle set the Bulldog offense has yet to be flagged for delay-of-game.
"Oh, don't even bring that up, that's the worst thing you can do!" Koenning says, only half-joking. "You're right, but we've been close!"
GREEN FOR GO: A year ago WR Brandon McRae was the undisputed favored target for Bulldog passers, pulling down 51 balls or almost one-quarter of 2008's receptions. While State is still far from a passing powerhouse the ball is being distributed much more evenly this season out of a spread set. Three Dogs have ten receptions each, paced by TE Marcus Green with 166 yards and a pair of touchdown catches. In the LSU game Green matched his entire '08 output with a single 50-yard catch and run, though this one made it into the end zone.
"It was a designed play we'd been working on, get a three-second count and get open," Green said. "I just slid back-side." And all the way down the sideline to the end zone for his second score of the season.
"Marcus has done a good job all season," said QB Tyson Lee. "He worked hard, really worked hard. Through that he's got confidence in himself and also got confidence in other guys on the team, and obviously from us as quarterbacks." Green rewarded that confidence with five total catches against the Tigers, in a literal case of taking what the defense gave according to passer Lee. A zone defense left openings for Green to exploit.
Then again, the quarterback's eyes light up when he sees a foe putting a single defender on #32. "Because when you go man a lot of times you have a ‘backer on the tight end, and Green is an athletic kind of guy. You'll take that opportunity."
"Yeah, I do to!" Green grins about such situations. "When they play man I kind of take advantage of it! I think we've got the best linebackers in the country so they make me work every day, working off them I've got no choice but get better. Whatever you do in practice you're going to do on the field. My motto is get better every day, so I feel like when I'm out there on the field I'm at practice, it's no different other than a team in another jersey."
"Marcus is a guy we like to use and create matchups with," says Mullen. "The fact he's a solid blocking tight end that has a lot of ability in the passing game, that's what we look at. Dual-threat guys that can cause problems in the run and passing game. We were able to find some good matchups and he was able to make some good plays."
For further comparison purposes, Green's ten catches this season match the total catches by four State tight ends in all of 2008. Naturally he—and every Bulldog-body—wish it were 11 catches, that a wide-open Green had gotten a chance to grab Lee's third-down flip at the goal line which was batted away. For that matter the tight end let a well-executed two-point pass go off his hands at Auburn, so there remain aspects of his game to continue refining.
But those chances are sure to come up again given Green's ability to make plays. "I'm feeling real confident, taking one day at a time and getting ready for the next game," he said. We have this big game coming up so I'm just focused on that."
BERRY, BERRY GOOD: Green might be the only tight end to catch a pass this season, but he isn't the only eligible receiver making good plays. Tied with him, and WR Chad Bumphis, for the catches-lead is WR Leon Berry. The junior transfer hasn't produced any points off his ten grabs and 119 yards, but this seems only a matter of time and continued opportunity.
Though one of the new wideouts in town, junior transfer Berry didn't take long to jump to the front of the rotation. The only reason he isn't technically a ‘starter' in some cases is that he also returns kickoffs and, based on where he ends up with the ball, Berry either needs a quick break or the first play doesn't necessarily need his services. But it's clear Berry has assumed a top Dog status in State's game planning. For more reasons than just talent, Mullen says.
"The thing that allows Leon to be a little bit of a leader is he's the only one that went through the spring that's playing for us! He plays that way and we utilize him and move him around a little bit. Because he's the guy most comfortable with the system."
Counting his contributions in the return game, Berry is netting 131.8 all-purpose yards each week.
MSU-ELLANEOUS NOTES: During his Wednesday morning league teleconference, Mullen said OG Tobias Smith is coming along "really good" this week and there is a good chance he will play Saturday. The redshirt frosh is still coming back from an early-August ankle injury and procedure and has yet to see the field in a real game…Asked about possible changes in the defensive secondary lineup, Mullen would only offer "We're going to roll some guys through and do what we've been doing." At Tuesday's practice redshirt frosh CBs Louis Watson and Corey Broomfield were taking turns with regular starters Damien Anderson and Marcus Washington, respectively…Having moved back into the A.P. polling this week, Georgia Tech is the second –straight ranked foe on State's 2009 slate. "It's another top-25 opponent this week," Mullen said. "So we have to get ready to compete at a high level. It's a big deal, any time getting ready to play a nationally-ranked team." LSU was 7th ranked at Saturday's game with State, and moved up to 4th this week after losses ahead of them. Next week's opponent, Houston, has moved up to 12th in the latest A.P. poll, with future foe Florida is #1; Alabama #3; and Ole Miss #21.