Defense holds edge

On a windy and sometimes rainy Saturday afternoon, Mississippi State held its first scrimmage setting during spring drills. In the end, it was the defense holding a slight edge and avoiding post-practice sprints. But as expected, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said he saw inconsistencies and changes of momentum on both sides of the ball.
"And that is what happens," said Mullen. "In spring ball there is going to be inconsistency because you are not in the specific game plan. Part of that is learning how to deal with momentum in games. The offense did some great things and then got really sloppy. The defense then jumped way up in points in the scrimmage and then the offense comes back and scores on four or five straight possessions in the red zone.
"It's just that back and forth of learning how to finish it off if you are up big. So there were some real good performances and there were some real bad performances."
To help settle the score, the MSU defense held firm on the final play near the goal line and that stop set off a huge celebration by the Bulldog's entire defensive roster.
"That was the big one in the end and the score was pretty close," said Mullen. "That is a key part of the game but we got a lot of situations in. We got a third-down scrimmage in and then our backs against the wall scrimmage in and our driving the ball scrimmage in and then the red-zone stuff in.
"Next week's scrimmage is going to be much more just all game situations all day and playing where the ball is live and not kinda controlled of where we place it."
The offense got rolling during one stretch of the red-zone situations and had three scores on three straight drives. Tyler Russell hit Chris Smith for a touchdown from 20 yards out to start the scoring stretch. Brandon Heavens then scored on a receiver reverse and that was followed by a Vick Ballard touchdown run.
Despite wearing red jerseys for protection, the MSU quarterbacks still took their share of hard hits on Saturday.
"They were supposed to have red jerseys but people started hitting them so it looked like it was working," said Mullen with a smile. "They didn't seem to complain too much. They figured out they were getting hit and were getting rid of the ball and lowering their pads. But we blew the (whistle) a little early on them so they were not totally live.
"They were not really live until those last series at the end. They were probably three-quarters live."
Chris Relf again took the bulk of first-team reps and Mullen complimented Relf's demeanor in the pocket on Saturday.
"I see (Relf) a lot more relaxed in the pocket throwing the football," said Mullen. "Whereas last year he would look down the field quickly but also having the run in the back of his mind. I see him really now standing in there relaxed looking for his reads and progressions."
And concerning Relf, Russell and Dylan Favre, Mullen said all three threw well at times and he noticed the steady improvement displayed by the receiving corps as well.
"They were executing and getting a little bit older and a little bit more experienced," said Mullen of the receivers. "You know, Chris and Tyler and Dylan threw the ball well today. As that gets going, it makes the whole passing game and the receivers look better."
The MSU receivers, including Chris Smith on two plays, were also able to draw contact on third-down plays to earn first downs via the penalty flags.
"A couple of (pass interferences) I was disappointed with," said Mullen. "Those are plays they can't give up, especially those more experienced guys. Just in watching it, they were in position but just got a little bit lazy and didn't finish the play off. So it resulted in a penalty but we will get that stuff cleaned up."
The Bulldogs will return to spring practice on Tuesday. Between now and then, Mullen said he plans to watch a lot of film from today's scrimmage and noted one area he was going to heavily observe.
"I look for effort," said Mullen. "I know all our coaches are gonna look for technique work and assignment work. But to me, I really want to see guys running
to the football and that play hard in all three phases."
From an injury standpoint, sophomore linebacker Chris Hughes took a shot and was on the ground for a few moments but returned to action. Redshirt freshman Nick Griffin injured his knee on Friday and did not scrimmage. Mullen said Griffin's injury was possibly a sprained knee but it would be checked on later. Tight end Marcus Green also did not practice and was held out of contact for cautionary reasons, said Mullen.