Mullen Cheers Spring Game Success

Dan Mullen halted just short of the waiting media circle to look around. "Anybody got the stats, so I can see who did good?" he asked. To which one writer suggested there was no need as the head coach had had the foremost of front-seats for the Maroon team's victory over the White in split-squad action.

"Yeah, it was pretty good," agreed Mullen. "And a great crowd today, you just felt the excitement. Everybody was awesome."

Strong statements, but then Mississippi State's 2010 spring game had much worth cheering…and a lot of folk ready to do so. An official attendance of 34,127 (re-read the last four digits carefully) in the Davis Wade Stadium seats and suites were practically co-participants with those Maroon and White guys on the field to Mullen's eye. And ears. So even if the ideal of 40,000 folk wasn't reached, nothing else about the afternoon event came up the least bit short.

Well, other than a White squad unable to keep up. A pair of first-half touchdowns staked the Maroons to a lead never really endangered en route to a margin of 21-10 victory. Though, the scoreboard itself showed counts of 26 and 13 including as it did pre-game points tallied by each team in one-on-one bullring battles.

The ‘victory' wasn't a major surprise under the circumstances of who had been drafted by the respective staffs and honorary head coaches. Choosing by position, the Maroon staff had first dibs on the foremost position and used it on veteran quarterback Chris Relf. He rewarded that faith by throwing a pair of touchdown passes; a 20-yard strike on the second Maroon possession to wideout Brandon Heavens, and a third-quarter connection with tight end Marcus Green that made the lead 21-3.

Relf was 13-of-24 passing for 184 yards and the two scores, and was not intercepted though a couple of his tosses came close enough to turnovers. Green (5 catches, 56 yards) and Heavens (4, 63) were his preferred targets with wideout Charles Bailey (2, 15) and back Montrell Conner (1, 30) taking other tosses. Conner, in fact, might have been the day's real standout. Limited for two whole practice weeks by a bruised knee and only activated for more contact last Thursday, he impressed from the first carry and finished with 60 yards on nine runs, a 6.7 average.

Vick Ballard was leading rusher with 73 yards on 14 attempts, and it was his one-yard plunge just before halftime that gave the Maroons a 14-3 intermission lead. Relf ran four times for 21 yards with whistles preventing any true tackles of the red-jersied quarterback.

There was more to Maroon domination though than having the top quarterback and good runners, though. "The line on the Maroon team was much better than the White team," noted Mullen. "There's a lotttt to that draft!" Because the Maroon staff was able to secure both the top blockers, C J.C. Brignone and LT Derek Sherrod. That, and Relf's mobility, meant no sacks of the starter.

White QB Tyler Russell wasn't so blessed and would take a trio of true sacks and some other forced keepers. Nor did Russell get much help from the ground game; in fact the Whites ran the ball just 18 times, scrambles included, for a net 25 yards compared to 172 on 41 runs by the Maroons. First RB Robert Elliott saw very brief duty, one carry for a loss of three, as the Whites went to the air early and often. Russell, the touted redshirt making his first public appearance at Scott Field, was 12-of-27 passing for 125 yards. Two of his tosses were intercepted.

Walk-on receiver Jamal Gandy caught four balls for 48 yards and veteran Chad Bumphis three for 45, while tight ends Brandon Henderson and Kendrick Cook had a pair of grabs each and 49 combined yards.

The White scoring came on a 40-yard field goal by Sean Brauchle after an eight-play drive in the first period; and a eight-yard run by LaDarius Perkins 78 seconds before the final horn. That drive was run by backup QB Daniel Stegall who ran four times for 25 net yards himself and was 2-of-5 passing for 32 yards with two sacks. Maroon backup Riley Saunders did not throw a pass.

The Bulldogs came out of the game with no new injuries. For that matter it was a good spring session health-wise with the lone true injury a torn knee ligament to walk-on WR Sam Williams.

Mullen spoke with media after the game, with the transcript following.

Q: Did Chris Relf establish himself as number-one quarterback? "I don't know. I mean it's so long before we play. I think what you saw today was a guy who has been in a game situation in front of a big crowd, playing in this type of atmosphere before; and a guy who hadn't. That's the biggest difference that I saw today between the two. It's a long time before we have to play a game, but our job is to keep developing both of those guys and we'll see. Whoever deserves playing time is going to play; if it's one it's one and if it's two it's two."

Q: Would you play two quarterbacks in a game? "Sure, I love playing two. We'll play whoever is ready. I think I've played two at Bowling Green, played two at Utah at one point, not as much; played two at Florida. Everywhere I've been coaching pretty much we've had opportunities to do that. When we've had that luxury, more than the opportunity, you can play both guys and you gain critical experience doing it."

Q: What do you think you got accomplished at running backs this spring? "I think we found some depth in those guys. Montrell Conner, the injury set him back a little bit, it was great the last couple of days and even today to get out here, run the ball, and do some different things. When you have a guy like Anthony Dixon who you can turn and hand the ball to thirty-something times a game and he walks away, you'd better have some depth of some guys that can come in and fill that out. I think we found some depth at the running back position and guys we feel comfortable putting in the game."

Q: Did lack of proven depth at receiver put more emphasis on the tight ends today? "Well, I mean we have to, just the lack of playmaking at the receiver position. You see that when we split the team in half there's not a whole lot of playmaking ability. There's really three, maybe four guys that can make some plays out there on the field, then you split them up on the two teams and it's pretty easy to take away (defensively). So we're going to count on some freshmen coming in to add some depth at that position, and hopefully we hit the road this spring recruiting hard to get more in the future to get our receivers where they need to be."

Q: Did you want the defense playing as aggressively as they did? "Yeah, I like our defense. We kept it a little simple today for them and just let them play and execute. We played a lot of players, I think just about everybody on the roster got in the game today.

"And that's really what this is about. It's a celebration for them, their families, their fans, to really have a reward for all the work they've put in since January."

Q: What have you seen from Brandon Heavens this spring? "Brandon has made some plays. Brandon has some play-making ability. The biggest thing for him now, we know he can make plays now we need the consistency of making those plays. He made some plays today, he missed some plays. And that's the consistency that is going to come with maturity. Hopefully we get that corrected by next September."

Q: Is there any one player or group of players that surprised you most this spring? "No, I don't know for the whole spring. Today guys I kept noticing were Nickoe Whitley, Dennis Thames, which is great for us at that safety position. Even though we're young we need more depth back there because it gives you the luxury to move a Jon Banks around if we have those young safeties developed."

Q: Are there things you can take off film of this game and use in preparation for the season? "There's a lot of good things you can take. There's a lot of corrections. You know, one part of developing yourself as a great football player is being able to watch somebody else and see the mistakes they're making, to make sure you don't make them. So there's a lot we'll be able to get off this film."

Q: What did you tell them in the locker room after the game? "I'm just proud of their efforts this spring. And when you have a day like today on campus they should get out and go enjoy it with the student body."

Q: Do the losers have to run extra? "No, they have to clean up the stadium, see all that trash in the stands? They'll be here at ten in the morning!"

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