A Rivalry By Any Name; Relf Ready To Rotate

Dan Mullen wasted no time showing he was in a fine post-practice mood Tuesday, when as circling scribes gathered the coach jumped that snap-count. "Want me to ask the question?" quipped Mullen, before supplying his own answer as well. "It was a good practice. Our guys came out and practiced."

Which might not count as any sort of scoop or rippled across the national wires, of course. But as the Bulldogs prepare to conclude the 2009 season with the weekend's arch-rivalry matchup of Mississippi State and Ole Miss their coach takes such a seemingly-basic thing not a bit for granted. Not as he wraps up the first season in a long-term rebuilding project.

"And the one thing I've been pleased with these guys is their focus, their competitive focus every single week," Mullen said after Tuesday's session. "We've had some ups and downs this season but they come in locked in and they work hard every day." And, it seems even a little harder this particular day. The Bulldogs showed a bit more snap in the step arriving for and departing from the practice that couldn't be credited just to the end of classes for a Thanksgiving break, or the ideal late-fall conditions outdoors.

"Obviously it's a big game this week. The biggest game of the year for us. It's easy to get up for that," said Mullen.

"It's a game that might not define every season but can certainly define a season for you. And for our team this year, obviously not getting to a bowl game, this is kind of a defining game of the season."

THE NAME GAME: Since his hiring last December, Mullen has kept their season-ending rivalry match in Mississippi State minds via all sorts of methods and means. As notebooked Monday one way was the countdown clock in the locker room, ticking off second-by-second the days up to this Saturday's showdown.

Another has been Mullen's consistent non-use of the rival's official title. Or for that matter their unofficial labels. Any reference has consisted of That School (or Team) Up North. Of course many Bulldog fans have jumped on this as something new and different. But the fact is, Mullen was doing the same thing long before he became a head coach.

"I really took it from something I've used at different places I've been that goes all the way back to Woody Hayes," he said, referencing the legendary Ohio State coach's refusal to dignify their rivalry with Michigan by school name. So at most every stop along his coaching way Mullen has tweaked his employer's defined rival with a geographic label only. Such as when he was at Utah; what did Mullen call Brigham Young?

"The school down south," he said. As a Florida aide, Florida State was "the school out East". And exactly who was Bowling Green's big rival when Mullen and Urban Meyer began their professional partnership? "The school up north," said Mullen, not even dignifying a former foe with a name still but only offering "They play this weekend, it begins with a ‘T' and is a city in northern Ohio." By which of course he meant Toledo, which another former MAC man at Mississippi State confirmed.

The compass may change but Mullen's approach to rivalries remains fixed in a distinct direction. All the more so now that he is head coach and his first Mississippi State is about to play…That Team Up North.

"I just don't like referring to them by name. I think it adds more. We could call them Mississippi, I heard that one a lot. But I think we represent the people of the state, it's the People's University, we're the State University so we don't want to give them credit for that."

TRIGGER MEN: Titles and labels are fodder for rivalry fun. But for Bulldog fans the week's hotter topic is who Mullen will name as starting quarterback Saturday. Will Tyson Lee make the 12th first-snap of his senior season, of might soph Chris Relf get the opening assignment? Mullen is not exactly tipping his hand on that starting call.

"No, we'll play both guys as we've been doing most of the time," he said after Tuesday's practice. "And if one guy we think is real hot we'll just stick with him. If not we'll keep playing two. And maybe two Mediums will make Hot!"

As only a few opening minutes of practice was open to media observation, there were no clues offered by how Lee and Relf took snaps in a couple of early periods. But Relf did say he sensed some difference in the rotation this time. "Yes, they let us go every other snap. So I guess I'm going to get a lot of time this week."

Which is not the same as saying State's offensive staff plans to alternate by play or by series or any such scripting. Nor does Relf really care to know where he stands in the Egg Bowl pecking order either.

"No, I'd rather be surprised! I'm just going to go out there and do my thing Saturday." Still the younger quarterback is more confident here at season's end and comfortable with his place in the gameplan.

"It feels good right now," Relf said. "We're trying to get this one in, try to get the Egg Bowl win."

INJURY UPDATE: RB Christian Ducre (leg bone bruise) continues to do some running work but his status remains very questionable for the final game of his senior season. DE Brandon Cooper (back) was practicing Tuesday, as was OG Tobias Smith (ankle). Mullen said that backup LB Mike Hunt (shoulder) is out after a shoulder procedure.


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","mobileBody":"Which might not count as any sort of scoop or rippled across the national wires, of course. But as the Bulldogs prepare to conclude the 2009 season with the weekend's arch-rivalry matchup of Mississippi State and Ole Miss their coach takes such a seemingly-basic thing not a bit for granted. Not as he wraps up the first season in a long-term rebuilding project.

\"And the one thing I've been pleased with these guys is their focus, their competitive focus every single week,\" Mullen said after Tuesday's session. \"We've had some ups and downs this season but they come in locked in and they work hard every day.\" And, it seems even a little harder this particular day. The Bulldogs showed a bit more snap in the step arriving for and departing from the practice that couldn't be credited just to the end of classes for a Thanksgiving break, or the ideal late-fall conditions outdoors.

\"Obviously it's a big game this week. The biggest game of the year for us. It's easy to get up for that,\" said Mullen.

\"It's a game that might not define every season but can certainly define a season for you. And for our team this year, obviously not getting to a bowl game, this is kind of a defining game of the season.\"

THE NAME GAME: Since his hiring last December, Mullen has kept their season-ending rivalry match in Mississippi State minds via all sorts of methods and means. As notebooked Monday one way was the countdown clock in the locker room, ticking off second-by-second the days up to this Saturday's showdown.

Another has been Mullen's consistent non-use of the rival's official title. Or for that matter their unofficial labels. Any reference has consisted of That School (or Team) Up North. Of course many Bulldog fans have jumped on this as something new and different. But the fact is, Mullen was doing the same thing long before he became a head coach.

\"I really took it from something I've used at different places I've been that goes all the way back to Woody Hayes,\" he said, referencing the legendary Ohio State coach's refusal to dignify their rivalry with Michigan by school name. So at most every stop along his coaching way Mullen has tweaked his employer's defined rival with a geographic label only. Such as when he was at Utah; what did Mullen call Brigham Young?

\"The school down south,\" he said. As a Florida aide, Florida State was \"the school out East\". And exactly who was Bowling Green's big rival when Mullen and Urban Meyer began their professional partnership? \"The school up north,\" said Mullen, not even dignifying a former foe with a name still but only offering \"They play this weekend, it begins with a ‘T' and is a city in northern Ohio.\" By which of course he meant Toledo, which another former MAC man at Mississippi State confirmed.

The compass may change but Mullen's approach to rivalries remains fixed in a distinct direction. All the more so now that he is head coach and his first Mississippi State is about to play…That Team Up North.

\"I just don't like referring to them by name. I think it adds more. We could call them Mississippi, I heard that one a lot. But I think we represent the people of the state, it's the People's University, we're the State University so we don't want to give them credit for that.\"

TRIGGER MEN: Titles and labels are fodder for rivalry fun. But for Bulldog fans the week's hotter topic is who Mullen will name as starting quarterback Saturday. Will Tyson Lee make the 12th first-snap of his senior season, of might soph Chris Relf get the opening assignment? Mullen is not exactly tipping his hand on that starting call.

\"No, we'll play both guys as we've been doing most of the time,\" he said after Tuesday's practice. \"And if one guy we think is real hot we'll just stick with him. If not we'll keep playing two. And maybe two Mediums will make Hot!\"

As only a few opening minutes of practice was open to media observation, there were no clues offered by how Lee and Relf took snaps in a couple of early periods. But Relf did say he sensed some difference in the rotation this time. \"Yes, they let us go every other snap. So I guess I'm going to get a lot of time this week.\"

Which is not the same as saying State's offensive staff plans to alternate by play or by series or any such scripting. Nor does Relf really care to know where he stands in the Egg Bowl pecking order either.

\"No, I'd rather be surprised! I'm just going to go out there and do my thing Saturday.\" Still the younger quarterback is more confident here at season's end and comfortable with his place in the gameplan.

\"It feels good right now,\" Relf said. \"We're trying to get this one in, try to get the Egg Bowl win.\"

INJURY UPDATE: RB Christian Ducre (leg bone bruise) continues to do some running work but his status remains very questionable for the final game of his senior season. DE Brandon Cooper (back) was practicing Tuesday, as was OG Tobias Smith (ankle). Mullen said that backup LB Mike Hunt (shoulder) is out after a shoulder procedure.

[MEDIA:752869]

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