So, what makes Florida the league-leader this week in scoring defense, rushing defense, and passing defense? "Everything," shrugs Lee. "Their front four is good, and their d.b.'s can man-up." Lee's coach, who had the pleasure of watching this defense from the safer sideline the last few years, agrees. "They're number-one in almost every defensive category in the nation, or at least the SEC," Coach Dan Mullen said. "They're a strong run defense and we like to run the football, they're going to crowd the box and do their best to make sure we don't run effectively like we've been doing. They've got some corners who can play one-on-one on the outside which helps their ability to load the box."
Despite obvious temptation, Lee reminds, the Bulldog can't abandon the basic gameplan or take on an alternative offensive identity. But neither can State count on handing off to RB Anthony Dixon every first- and second-down with reasonable hope of success. The key appears to be what is happening farthest from the football. "Our receivers have to be able to go against the coverage and win a lot of one-on-ones," Lee said.
"We'll have to be able to run the ball. In order to pass the ball you have got to run the ball, and that's what we do this year. This week you can't change. We have to establish the line of scrimmage and the offensive line understands that, the backs understand that. If we can establish the running game and open up the passing game it will give us a chance to really move the ball."
Which also includes further study for any perceptible openings in a brutally efficient Florida defensive. Here Lee has hopes that Mullen can call upon some old inside-information. "He has an idea of what they're doing," said the quarterback. "Obviously he was there for a while, and it's only going to help us. At practice we went over a few things but I expect to be a lot more detailed for Saturday."
WELL-MET, WELL-MATCHED MEN: Lee also expects Saturday to make a long-awaited acquaintance with his famed Florida counterpart. State's senior quarterback isn't the least bit shy to acknowledge his feelings about first meeting and then competing with Tebow.
"It's an honor. I was thinking about that last night, about the game coming up. It's an extreme honor to be on the same field as Tebow. And a lot of other potential NFL players obviously! But a guy of his stature and just the person he is, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I can't wait to meet him and play on the field Saturday."
Besides playing the same position, albeit with greatly-differing degrees of notoriety, the two triggermen share an unabashed expression of their Christian faith and over the course(s) of their disparate college careers neither has shamed the Name. "He's consistent with his faith and as a person, you have to respect a man like that," Lee said.
Just don't get the idea Lee is looking at this as a quarterback competition since, after all, he won't be out there attempting to tackle the 240-pound Tebow. Not that Lee won't contend with other famed Florida folk in his own line of work. "That is true, they do have guys like Brandon Spikes!"
TICK, TICK, TICK: Mississippi State is still drawing more penalties than Mullen prefers. The Bulldogs check in 9th this week in SEC penalty yardage, 62.3 per game or twice as much as the 31.8 yards Tennessee loses weekly to flags. Florida is third for the week at 45.2 yards.
Yet of all the flags earned, the Bulldogs have not run afoul of one rule yet: in seven weeks the offense has not been penalized for delay-of-game. That is rather remarkable, based both on problems with beating the play-clock the past few seasons and the fact State is operating out of an entirely different offense. Especially the latter, since there's a whole lotta reading going on at the line of scrimmage and calls being adjusted right up to the hike.
Lee admits he's cut it close many times this first season in a ‘spread' offense. Certainly fans have gotten nervous, and often vocal, as the last couple of seconds ticked off and Lee was only beginning to call for the ball. But so far—and the reporter enquiring admitted this was probably a ‘jinx' question—the only delay penalties on State have come in punting situations and at least a couple of those by intent.
For that matter Lee has not had to burn many timeouts to beat that clock, as happened too often last year and prior seasons when State operated from a different sort of philosophy. "I guess just focusing in practice," said Lee. "The biggest thing, especially in the spread offense, is get up to the line of scrimmage so you have time on the clock. We've been able to do that this year, and we have to continue that so we can continue to check ourselves into the right play and keep the defense on their toes, too."
WHAT'S ON SECOND? Lee has also taken every snap the last two games while alternate QB Chris Relf has been suspended for violation of an unspecified team policy. Nor is Mullen saying when, or if, Relf will be reactivated, but the sophomore does continue to practice as usual with the first offense this week…just as he did last week.
"We'll figure that out as the week goes," Mullen said following Tuesday's practice. "All of those guys need to get reps to stay up with what's going on." Those other guys being walk-on Daniel Stegall and true frosh Tyler Russell who also prepare to play if needed.
Mullen is satisfied Lee has proved himself as well as improved himself week to week, "So we see him being the guy, the other guys are getting ready. We'll be smart." That is referring to activating Russell, who has dressed for every game this freshman year and even done some casual sideline tossing without losing the redshirt. Not yet. And based on previous Mullen statements, not likely barring injury to Lee. As the coach said last week, Russell is not a ‘package' quarterback to be used in specified settings.
"If we play Tyler Russell, we're going to play Tyler Russell," Mullen stated.
TUESDAY PRACTICE, INJURY UPDATES: The Bulldogs ran through a full-pads Tuesday practice, with a handful of players limited. DT Charles Burns (knee) was in shorts again and is questionable for the Florida game after missing the last two contests. OG Tobias Smith (ankle) did not play in the Middle Tennessee game as he continues to cope with swelling following every game or practice on the right ankle that was operated on in early August. He was held out of Tuesday work and his status for the weekend remains unsettled.
Coach Dan Mullen said RB Christian Ducre (bruised upper leg) is improving after a tough week that saw him limited in the second half at Middle Tennessee. "I don't know that he's 100% but I thought he had a pretty good day today. He certainly wasn't 100% on Saturday but coming out of that game he's much healthier than when he went in. "We expect him to be fine and full-go on Saturday."
As for FS Zach Smith (concussion) the outlook is less optimistic. The five-game starter has missed the last two contests and as of now seems unlikely to return anytime soon. "It might the end of this season at this point with him," said Mullen. "But we never know and that's going to be a couple more weeks, probably after the bye-week before we have any idea."
After worrying about some players being slowed this week from flu, Mullen said today that everyone was back at practice as usual. For that matter the session itself seemed the right sort of routine to the head coach. "The attitude was great today, we came out and worked. A lot of things we've still got to clean-up, obviously, but I thought it was a really good work day."