October 20, 2013 2:06:34 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- All signs say Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen is sticking with sophomore kicker Devon Bell.
The fifth-year coach, who coaches the special teams at MSU, said he worked with Bell on a technical issue with his plant leg, his left leg, this week in practice, the Bulldogs' bye week. Mullen and Bell hope the change will translate in games.
"He's a pretty mentally tough kid," Mullen said Tuesday after practice. "He's done a really good job this week in practice. He's been really worried about his technique and fundamentals. We changed one little thing this week on his plant foot, and when you talk to him, he's very professional about doing his job. It's not like the world is coming to a end. We changed one thing on his plant foot, and it seems to have helped tremendously."
Bell missed another field goal last week in a 21-20 victory against Bowling Green to create more discussion about him and the MSU special teams unit. Fans and message board chatter have encouraged MSU to turn to walk-on kicker Evan Sobiesk.
Bell hit the right upright on a 44-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that would've put MSU (3-3) up four points with 13 minutes left to go. Bell is 5 of 10 on field goals. More than 75 percent of his kicks go out of the end zone. For his career, Bell is 19 of 31 on field goals and 7 of 14 on field goals from 30 to 39 yards.
"I get I'm the one that's got to put the ball through the uprights for my team and put points on the board," Bell said Sept. 16. "That's my job."
Bell has a better percentage on field goals beyond 40 yards (5 of 9) in his college career. MSU recruited him from Warren Central High School in Vicksburg based on the strength of his leg.
In high school, Bell earned first-team All-America status from Sports Illustrated. He kicked four field goals in his best prep game, including a career-long 55 yard attempt against Jim Hill High. He also connected on a 30-yard field goal in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game. Bell was the first kicker recruited by Mullen's staff at MSU. He picked MSU over Ole Miss, Auburn, and Florida State.
Leading 21-20 in the final minutes against Bowling Green, MSU elected not to have Bell try what would've been a 24-yard field goal. Instead, the Bulldogs opted to have quarterback Dak Prescott run up the middle on fourth-and-3. Prescott was stopped short at the 5-yard line. The stop gave the Falcons one more opportunity to win the game.
"It's not a mental problem I need to overcome. I am not nervous and I'm not thinking about other things," Bell said Monday. "I'm simply kicking the ball too hard. It's an easy fix."
Mullen was asked if his decision not to have Bell kick the field goal late in the fourth quarter had anything to do with his lack of confidence in Bell.
"None," Mullen said. "He would've made that kick. ... If we would've lost the game, I would've been called a dummy. I guess I looked smart. Whether I looked smart or not, it was a gut feeling I had in the situation. I felt like, 'Hey, I want to go for it and I think we can get it.' Almost did."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.