This was indeed serious stuff…or as serious as anything could be with WR Brandon McRae struggling to straight-face his way through a stand-up. LB Jamar Chaney was calmer and controlled for his ‘segment' in Stallworth's show as they fielded routine queries from a teammate. Nor has Stallworth settled simply for questioning his peers, either. "I interviewed Coach Mullen, Coach Torbush, Coach Koenning," he said. All of whom cooperated with the sports communications major. And was the player nervous about putting camera and microphone on State's senior staff members?
"Not really, because I'm around them every day. So it's second-nature to me. They were probably more nervous than I was! Because me asking questions, they were probably caught off-guard. They're used to yelling at me but now I was in control!" That's not an exaggeration, either. Staffers might get away with coach-speak to media, but one of their own players knows the real score.
"Oh yeah, I can set them up!" Stallworth grinned. "But I wasn't going to do that to them. I pretty much told them what I was going to ask them so they were pretty prepared for it."
Teammates gets a similar sort of break from this interrogator, too, since the point is getting words on video for the instructor's approval. Not that there isn't a fair share of foolishness involved before Stallworth has enough video safely stocked for the editing process.
"Coaches are easy to talk to because they keep straight faces," said Stallworth. "But the players know I goof around and laugh a lot so when they look at me they bust out laughing too. So it's even funnier." Still he manages to get the assignment done. And even Stallworth appreciates the irony of working on the other end of a camera or microphone at this point in his college career, having been the one answering queries for so long.
"I'm kind of used to it, I've been doing it since high school so it's kind of second nature to me. But it's funny reversing it and doing it with other people, my teammates are like…what are you doing?! It's for a class, so it's kind of fun. And that's what makes it easier. I know the questions that are asked to me, and I can just ask other players and coaches the same things. That makes it a lot easier."
Not that he's picked an easy profession to find footing in these competitive days. And yes, the 5-9, 205-pound back acknowledges, it might help if he were, say, 6-1, skinny, and blonde. But he is enjoying his major and these initial experiences as a reporter/videographer. "Actually I'm trying to be a sports commentator, but this is where it's going to start and lead up to there. And it could be a possible career.
"I just like communicating with people. For my internship hopefully I'll be able to secure that in Atlanta with CNN so I'll be able to branch out and meet the people. But I just like talking to people in general."
He also likes watching how the pros go about the job, whether in studio or on sideline, to ‘scout' how they look for stories, how they present questions, control interviews, build on tips. "And I'll try to take stuff from them. You know, I'm just starting off and trying to work at it and get better at it." Not to worry, Bulldog fans. While waiting his turn on the field as a runner-receiver on offense as well as with special teams return and coverage, Stallworth isn't doing any sideline interviewing.
Oh, he might catch himself looking at events around him from an observer's standpoint "Just a little bit," he admits, "but I'll be trying to focus on the game."
AND, IN THE AIR: While things are competitive on the ground, there's no doubting who leads the SEC in aerial action. Arkansas is so far ahead, averaging 310 yards to the next-nearest 241 of South Carolina, that they don't even seem part of this league this year. But, the score is almost equally disproportionate on the other side of the ball where the Razorbacks allow foes to throw for a league-worst 279 yards.
It's the same in completion percentage (59.2) and yards-per-throw (8.4). So, obviously, Mississippi State will come out slinging Saturday morning? QB Tyson Lee isn't getting caught up in that mindset trap. "For us it's establishing the running game first of all, and always off that be able to throw the ball. Going into this week that will probably be gameplan just as usual."
Then again Mississippi State's last two meetings with Arkansas have not been so routine. In 2007 Wesley Carroll had a career, and nearly program, record day throwing for 421 yards and four touchdowns, though State lost 45-31. Last season at Scott Field though the Bulldogs came out ahead 31-28; while Anthony Dixon pounded out 179 yards for one score, he got two more touchdowns catching Lee throws of one and nine yards. Lee was 23-of-40 against the Razorbacks for 219 yards.
Set another way: in the last two meetings State has thrown 91 passes against ‘just' 46 rushes. So given statistical trends both Lee and QB Chris Relf expect more opportunities to air it out in the 11th game of the season. As of Monday's interview Lee had not yet seen the in-depth scouting report on the Razorback defense. "I watched them a little bit yesterday, not a lot. But I think last year they ran a lot of similar schemes."
Whereas in their last few contests the Bulldogs have made an honest effort to expand the passing repertoire beyond quick square-outs and selective slants. Lee hooked up with WR O'Neal Wilder for the game-changing 67-yard touchdown at Kentucky; against Alabama the Bulldogs were looking longer more often. It didn't pay off but three times there were big-hitters for the making, including when Lee underthrew an open Wilder on the opening play down a sideline.
Later Lee, then Relf each went long to Wilder at the goal line only to have each broken up. At least those tosses were on target and pretty well-timed, affirming Lee's statement that "We have the potential to make big plays. We've got guys like O'Neal who can stretch the field, and Coach wants to give those guys the opportunity. Going into this week we'll continue to do that and defenses have to be aware of that which once again keeps the safeties back, keeps the corners back which gives the running game a bigger opportunity."
In fact Wilder has emerged as the go-to Dog on anything more than 15-20 yards downfield, to the exclusion of other potential producers. WR Leon Berry hasn't caught a ball in four games for one; TE Marcus Green has one grab the last two times out, WR Brandon McRae the same. At least rookie WR Chad Bumphis keeps involved with four catches and 48 yards in the past two contests.
But Lee sees the need to look for more available targets…though it won't hurt to have defenses "worry on O'Neal and open those other guys up." For that matter Lee made good use of Dixon in the last game as the back got a career-best six catches and 59 yards.
At the same time Lee has to do his part getting the ball to the right people in their best places…and not let it end up in the wrong hands. The senior has been intercepted seven times in the last three games against one touchdown; and for the season the ratio is 13 picks to four scores. Coach Dan Mullen excused one pick in the Alabama game as having gone off the receiver's hands, but not the other. For his part Lee accepts responsibility for both, as well as some incompletes that could have turned the contest.
"Any time you look at your mistakes you wish you could have it back. But the biggest thing is not let it happen again, if I get the opportunity again to make a play. If you look at the games we've lost it's just a matter of us doing our part." By ‘us' meaning himself and Relf, who are working back into more of a regular rotation again after the soph served his mid-season suspension. Relf is still primarily a running quarterback trying to find a passing groove. Lee is the more seasoned thrower but struggling with interceptions. Technically that is, not emotionally.
"I'd rather have all touchdowns than interceptions but that's just the nature of the game. One thing about quarterback, you can't worry about that. Interceptions happen. You have to learn from them but don't let it get you down because it will keep you down and guys on the team lose confidence in you. And then you lose confidence in yourself."
This, Lee won't allow. Not with two games left in his college career, or more meaningfully with two games needed for the Bulldogs to end Mullen's first campaign with a bowl trip. The numbers aren't where Lee wants them to be but the mindset remains firm. "To get better and continue to compete. I won't change my competition level and how I prepare. Hopefully my execution level will increase the next two games and get two wins."
Also, while Relf is the regular threat to run, Lee has flashed some nifty footwork of his own this year with touchdown jaunts against Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee. Those were read-and-keep calls at the line of scrimmage; otherwise Lee only runs when flushed and forced. But he sees a chance to get back to ground-gaining this way…and to avoid forcing risky throws.
"In some gameplans we've put it in for me to run, and in other gameplans its just up to me to run and in the past few weeks it hasn't been there. When it has been I haven't been able to make the plays. Going into this week we might change it up a little bit to keep Arkansas on their toes since they haven't seen it in a while." INJURY UPDATE: Mullen said Monday that FB Patrick Hanrahan had surgery today for the hand broken in the first quarter against Alabama. The junior fullback not only played the rest of the game with the broken bone, but practiced Sunday as well. So there are no concerns about his availability for this weekend. RB Christian Ducre also practiced Sunday, having not played in the game. The senior suffered bone bruising in his left knee at Kentucky and did work out some last week. He is expected back to work Tuesday. PK Sean Brauchle could have kicked Saturday, much like the previous week, but was held out again as Mullen said the junior has not practiced 100% yet. OG Tobias Smith is listed as having played in the Alabama game, his first action since Houston.