MSU's talent is Spread thin

There's good news and bad news for Southeastern Conference defenses this fall:

The bad news: Dan Mullen, who helped originate the Spread Option that propelled the Florida Gators to national titles in 2006 and 2008, is now installing the unique attack for another SEC program.

The good news: That program is Mississippi State, which has nowhere near the weapons that Mullen had at his disposal during a four-year stint (2005-08) as Florida's offensive coordinator. The Bulldog roster features no one even remotely comparable to Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy, Cornelius Ingram, Chris Rainey or Jeff Demps.

The obvious question: Can the spread option be effective without superior talent and speed at the skill positions? Mullen thinks it can. After all, he and Urban Meyer won big at Bowling Green and Utah without a glut of world-class athletes.

"I want to make sure the defense has to defend the entire field, sideline to sideline," Mullen said during SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. "Through personnel and through formations, we want to create advantageous one-on-one matchups, where I get a player in the open field matched up against someone that he's better than. That's the Spread Offense, the offense we're going to run.

"The biggest thing we have to do is make sure our personnel fits that."

Mullen should have at least one player suited to the Spread Option. That would be senior quarterback Tyson Lee.

"That was the offense he had run in high school and junior college," Mullen noted. "Last year was his first year in a non-spread offense, so that adjustment for him (is minimal and) I think makes life a little bit easier."

Lee is no lock to be the No. 1 quarterback, however. He ranked ninth among league QBs in passing yards (138.1 per game) and eighth in passing efficiency (113.0) as a junior last fall. As a result, he is being pushed for the first-team job by Chris Relf and Tyler Russell.

"I think the competition at that position is going to be pretty stiff for us," Mullen said.

Although Lee lacks great athleticism, his coach said that's not critical for a Spread QB.

"That position is not really about how you throw, how you run and those things," Mullen said. "It's about the leadership and the demeanor that you present, how you manage your team to victories because that team is going to take on a lot of personality of that quarterback in how they play.

"So we really need Tyson Lee to step up for us, to give that leadership. We might rotate the other guys and play more than one quarterback, but we do need him as a senior to be a steady leader and a winner for us out there on the field, to get our program going in the right direction."

Another complication Mullen has in Starkville is a lack of explosiveness at tailback. Whereas Florida had 4.3 speedsters Rainey and Demps to carry the ball last fall, MSU's top tailbacks are Anthony Dixon (6-1, 240) and Christian Ducre (6-0, 222) - two guys recruited to play Sylvester Croom's between-the-tackles style of football.

Mullen, though, believes Mississippi State can spread the field without having world-class sprinters at tailback and the wideout spots.

"You don't have to be five receivers or four receivers to run a Spread Offense," he said. "You can run it with three backs, two tight ends, get in the wishbone formation one time and spread the field to create the matchups the next time."

Because Mississippi State's offensive weaponry does not compare to what he had at Florida, Mullen will spend the weeks ahead trying to figure out how to modify his attack to best fit the Bulldogs.

"We use about 60 percent of our offense each year," the first-year head man said. "If you take our playbook, only 60 percent of it applies to the given team you have.

"What we have to do is make sure we pick the right 60 percent of it to apply to the personnel that we have, then use that 60 percent to the best of our ability and have our players execute at a high level. If we do, we'll have the opportunity to be successful."

If not, this could be another long year in Starkville.

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