Spring fever: Mississippi State

New Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen is doing a pretty good impersonation of a Bulldog predecessor these days.

Like former MSU head man Jackie Sherrill (1991-2003), Mullen is relying on an infusion of junior college talent to plug the holes in MSU's roster.

Five jucos Mullen signed last winter earned first-team berths during the Dogs' recent spring practice – wide receiver Leon Berry, punter Heath Hutchins, kicker Sean Brauchle, defensive lineman Pernell McPhee and linebacker Chris White.

Berry caught 14 passes for 200 yards in Mississippi State's three major spring scrimmages. Brauchle booted 57-yard field goals in each of the last two scrimmages and White recorded eight tackles in the Maroon & White Game.

The player who turned the most heads during the spring, however, was track star O'Neal Wilder. The speedy wide receiver averaged better than 30 yards per catch (four receptions, 122 yards) in the spring game.

Senior quarterback Tyson Lee completed 19 of 33 passes for 251 yards in the Maroon & White Game, with sophomore Chris Relf connecting on 13 of 26 for 195 yards.

The strong passing numbers could be a credit to Mullen, who coordinated the Florida offenses that averaged 42.5 points per game in 2007 and 43.6 in 2008 en route to the national title. He was hired last winter to replace Sylvester Croom, whose 2008 offense ranked 10th among the 12 SEC teams in total offense (274.9 yards per game) and dead last in scoring (15.2 points per game).

If Lee and Wilder can give MSU a vertical passing game that would take a lot of pressure off of workhorse tailback Anthony Dixon. With one year of eligibility remaining he already is the Dogs' career leader in rushing attempts (645) and rushing touchdowns (30). Dixon needs just 627 yards to become the program's career rushing leader, despite averaging just 4.0 yards per carry.

The Bulldogs will miss standout defensive back/return man Derek Pegues but their run defense should be stout with a trio of burly linebackers – K.J. Wright (6-4, 245), Jamar Chaney (6-1, 245) and the afore-mentioned Chris White (6-3, 245).

Bottom line: Mullen fielded some explosive offenses at Florida but the talent in Starkville pales by comparison. The Bulldogs should make some strides this fall but they probably won't be big strides.

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