Bulldog Saturday Scrimmage Recap

It was by no means a perfect practice. For that matter the defense made it 2-for-2 with another spring victory. Yet Saturday's game-type scrimmage was far more entertaining to observers and participants…and more satisfactory in the only opinion that mattered. "Everybody's performance was better today than the last scrimmage," said Dan Mullen. "Which is really what you want."

In fact Mississippi State's coach got to see a lot of what he wanted out of the Bulldogs in the morning session at Scott Field. There were big plays on both sides of the ball, as well as by both the first and second units involved. The #1 offense scored a touchdown in full-field work; so did the first defense. Red zone and goal-line plays saw scores, as well as stops. Which meant the scrimmage provided proof of progress in each team direction and neither side dominated, as had been the case in last week's more controlled situation session.

Still under Mullen there must be winning and losing sides. And once again it was the offense staying later to do additional running as a price of failure. But, for a change, it wasn't as much their failure to produce that meant defeat by a final margin, per Mullen and players, of three points. It was turnovers, two of them not even by the offense itself. Twice punts were dropped, by players who happen to wear offensive maroon shirts. These meant points awarded to the defense.

Added to the fumble-return touchdown by MLB Chris White, and the coaching-count scoreboard finally tilted to the defense.

"I thought we worked hard out there," Mullen summarized. "It was much cleaner, last week we really controlled a lot more and today we tried to put a lot more game situations in there so you could feel the effect of everything that happened during the course of the scrimmage. So that was the big difference."

Scrimmaging began from the 30-yard line with ones-vs.-ones and the first offense operating from a single-back set (RB Robert Elliot), TE Marcus Green and three wide receivers. The #1 rotation was Chad Bumphis at X and split ends Leon Berry and Chris Smith. The second trio was X-man Brandon Heavens, Ricco Sanders, and Charles Bailey. Per the script, the offenses would go from the lone-back set to a fullback/halfback combo in the second series; and finally split halfbacks for two more turns.

After going three-and-out in their initial turn, the #1 offense did better in a standard I-set and produced a pair of first downs by pounding the ball inside. FB Patrick Hanrahan surprising the defense for one move of the chains, then it was Elliott's turn to get another first down before a punt. The second defense got their first move-of-chains in the second turn also, but by Russell throwing a pair of completions. Then he was sacked by blitzing #2 WLB Terrell Johnson to stop the series.

The third time was the scoring-charm for the first offense. On a third-and-15 after a penalty and sack, Relf got time against a prevent package and found Berry on a post pattern. Berry first beat CB Louis Watson to make room, then pulled in the throw around ankle-height and was gone for a 68-yard touchdown. The second offense failed to score in their first four chances.

After one of the fumbled punts, Mullen let the ball stay on the 44-yard line going-in with the first offense. Berry ran a reverse for one first down, and Elliott converted on a 4th-and-1 to the 20. An option pitch to RB Vick Ballard produced first-and-goal at the seven, but on 4th-and-goal at the three Relf tried a naked bootleg against a stacked defense. S Jonathan Banks smelled it out and caught the quarterback for a loss.

For goal-line defense, State pulled both cornerbacks and inserted big DT James Carmon at a nose position and added #2 MLB Brandon Wilson as a fourth linebacker. For long third downs, DT Josh Boyd and SLB Cam Lawrence were replaced two more safeties, the second pair of Wade Bonner and Zach Smith.

After the first offense was stopped the second unit had to take over at the three, coming out. On 3rd-and-short SLB Emmanuel Gatling came in to sack Russell and the punt only got to the 36…and was dropped. The second offense stayed on the field with the fresh start but Relf was in charge. Penalties aborted this drive and the punt was caught at the 15-yard line. Russell took over the first offense against the one-defense. A sideline pass got one first down and Elliott broke a draw for big yards out to near midfield. S Charles Mitchell broke up Russell's third-down pass for TE Marcus Green.

Still running the second offense against the same defense, Relf froze coverage and got a break as MLB Wilson fell down when TE Brandon Henderson made a middle-of-field cut. Relf hit his tight end in stride for a gain down to the 28. Daniel Stegall was run in to try to complete the drive but Gatling got another sack to stop things and PK Derek DePasquale was wide-left from about 40 yards out.

Though not technically supposed to hit the quarterback, nobody blew a whistle to keep an interior rush from tagging Russell and knocking the ball free. #1 MLB White scooped up the loose pigskin and rambled 28 yards into the end zone for a defensive touchdown that would prove decisive to the final scoring.

After a period working only third-and-short plays with no move of chains, Mullen returned to game-type settings by spotting the ball on the 25 going-in. Relf threw to Berry for a 22-yard completion and in goal line with the stacked set in the box Relf called a pitch-sweep that Elliott got to the right pylon for a touchdown. The second offense got their touchdown even faster as Heavens turned a flanker reverse into a 25-yard burst to the same corner of the end zone.

DE Pernell McPhee asserted himself on consecutive red zone plays, harassing Relf into an incompletion and sack, and Brauchle missed his field goal. Russell had better luck against the #2 defense with a bootleg pass to favored target Henderson in the end zone.

Switching to first-and-goal at the five, the first offense (Relf) scored immediately as Ballard went pitch-left for an untouched touchdown. Russell took five snaps, aided by a defensive offsides, to answer; and he did hit himself by keeping at left tackle and bouncing off Gatling at the goal line. State worked on two-point conversions as well and both quarterbacks failed their chances; a reverse-pass by Bumphis was off Green's hands in the end zone, and Russell underthrew Berry.

The scrimmage concluded with two-minute offense; or more exactly 1:30 offense as each unit had one chance and ninety seconds to go 60 yards for a touchdown. The first unit came close, or closest at least. Relf got a first down and stopped the clock with a sideline completion to Henderson across midfield; but he lost time having to keep and get tackled—literally this time as CB Watson dropped him hard. This was against a prevent package of three linemen (nose Fletcher Cox and ends McPhee and Nick Bell), linebackers K.J. Wright and White, and four safeties. Relf ran for a first down and got out of bounds at the 15 with one second left. Under Wright's blitz he had to throw falling-back and left it short of Smith at the goal line. CB Maurice Langston intercepted.

Russell's turn only lasted four plays, as CB Watson got away with a likely hold on WR Sanders on second down; and on 4th-and-short the out-throw was low-and-away.

The morning opened with full kickoff return and coverage practices, stopping short of tackling. Brauchle did the kicking-off and two return men were used each time with a first tandem of Bumphis and Berry; LaDarius Perkins and Langston the second; and Heavens and Elliott the third pair. Fullback Hanrahan was the last blocker in front of the returners, with cohorts Shumpert and Williams the next line-up.

Elliott netted 52 rushing yards on 13 counted carries with a touchdown, and Relf was right behind with 49 yards on 12 totes. Perkins netted 22 yards on 15 attempts and Ballard 20 on 10 with a score. Reserve RB Adrian Marcus got 46 yards on ten carries, and while Russell only gained four yards on two real rushes he did score once. RB Montrell Conner did not scrimmage with a knee bruised in week-two of camp.

Relf was 12-of-23 passing for 210 yards, a touchdown, and the lone pick of the day. Russell was 12-of-26 for 120 yards and one score. Henderson was the favorite target for everyone with 91 yards on six catches, but Berry's one big play led to a total 121 yards on three grabs. Green and Smith had three catches each for 23 and 22 yards, and Sanders was good for 41 yards on his three catches.

State got through the scrimmage with no injuries of note. The only spring casualty so far has been walk-on WR Sam Williams with a torn ACL. His loss for the second half of camp has moved #2 cornerback and former wideout Arceto Clark to receiver again, and he worked in the third rotation today. First CB Corey Broomfield was held out of contact again to protect his recovering shoulder. This allowed Marvin Bure to get many of the second-team snaps at right corner, opposite Damein Anderson.

Backup lineman Templeton Hardy got all the second-team snaps at right tackle and some third-team work as well. The usual #2 man, spring freshman Blaine Clausell, was excused from today's scrimmage so he could attend his high school senior prom. Otherwise the first and second o-lines were unchanged, with Sam Watts taking care of all second and even third team work at center while veteran D.J. Looney is sidelined this spring.

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