October 14, 2013 10:38:54 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- In less than six days, the Mississippi State football team's public injury report went from a non-issue to a serious problem.
Prior to his team's game Saturday against Bowling Green, MSU coach Dan Mullen said he expected everyone without a season-ending injury to play. Following a 21-20 victory against the Falcons, Mullen mentioned the Bulldogs' injured offensive lineman without solicitation.
"We were really banged up front all week," Mullen said when asked if Bowling Green changed anything on defensive in the second half. "At one point, we had six starters (from last season) out on the offensive line."
Junior left tackle Blaine Clausell was out with a undisclosed leg injury after he was removed from the game against No. 10 LSU two weeks ago. Clausell, who had started five-straight games at left tackle and played in 22 career games, wore a protective boot on his injured foot all week but wasn't named on the injury report by Mullen.
"We expect everybody to play this week, but we'll see," Mullen said Monday following his team's 59-26 loss to LSU. "As the week goes on there will be a lot of guys limited at practice, but nobody has been ruled out for the game on Saturday, or nobody new has been ruled out for the game on Saturday."
By the time MSU was ready to play Bowling Green, the injury story from MSU's fifth-year coach had changed drastically.
"Gabe Jackson out, Ben Beckwith out, Justin Malone out, Tobias Smith out, Charles Siddoway out, Blaine Clausell out this week in practice," Mullen said Saturday night. "Blaine didn't play at all, and the rest of the guys kind of limped through the game."
Justin Senior received his first start in place of Clausell. Senior, a Montreal, Quebec native, has only played four years of organized football after transferring from Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., two years ago.
"We have to find a way to make some corrections and get some combinations together," Mullen said.
Senior struggled to gain confidence in pass protections and received two false start penalties with senior Tyler Russell behind center.
"I don't know if (the offensive line injuries) played a big part in the struggles, but I was honestly glad to see some younger guys get in to earn that experience," Russell said. "They might make mistakes, but understand I put so much on me as far as protections and who to identify out there at the line."
Russell took just two snaps in the second half. Bowling Green also blitzed sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott more than Russell, Bulldogs' fifth-year senior.
"The offensive lineman need to know you have confidence in them when you're in there, and I don't think either of us say, 'Dang, what's going on?' to them," Russell said. "They can't be thinking, 'I don't want to let Tyler down', or 'I don't want to let Dak down', but I thought we eliminated some mistakes in practice before we got to the game."
Despite the offensive line injury issues, MSU (3-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) is still sixth in the Southeastern Conference in rushing offense (214.33 yards per game) and has allowed just 11 sacks. However, the quarterbacks and tailbacks are still trying to develop chemistry and to communicate with their young offensive linemen.
"It was a little different. I'll give you that, but it wasn't frustrating because those new guys are in on every meeting, too, so they're still learning," MSU senior tailback LaDarius Perkins said about the offensive line injuries. "It's the same offense they've been running since fall camp, so they just need to execute like they're supposed to and concentrate on those details."
MSU entered the season with four returning starters on the offensive line even after Columbus native Tobias Smith elected to waive his sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. After season-ending injuries to junior right guard Justin Malone and Clausell, MSU is playing two inexperienced players at right guard (Ben Beckwith) and left tackle (Senior).
"It's a position we had some depth coming into the season but has just been devastated by injury," Mullen said. "That depth we had going in is no longer depth when you start getting banged up."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.