November 18, 2013 10:52:25 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is optimistic about the injury status of quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell.
Even though the fifth-year coach isn't sure who will be healthy in time to play Arkansas at 11:21 a.m. Saturday (WCBI), Mullen is preparing for the possibility of having to go with Prescott, Russell, or Damian Williams.
"If Tyler or Dak are healthy, either of those two would be the starter," Mullen said. "I'm a pretty optimistic person generally in life, so I'm optimistic they'll both be healthy this week, but I'm not a doctor so that's not my call."
Russell was 15 of 24 for 144 yards and one interception Saturday in a 20-7 loss to No. 1 Alabama on Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium. He was forced to leave the game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent shoulder injury.
Freshman Damian Williams saw his first action since a 62-7 blowout victory against Troy on Sept. 21. In what Mullen described as a "unfair situation" the three-star product from Louisiana was 0-for-5 and was sacked once while leading the final two drives.
The last time MSU started a freshman quarterback was 2007 when Wesley Carroll started against Gardner-Webb in a 31-15 victory. Carroll led MSU with 1,392 passing yards and nine touchdowns in the season that culminated with a 2007 Liberty Bowl victory.
"We trust Damian," Mullen said Sunday afternoon. "He has gotten reps and played in games, and he led his team to a state championship last year. That's a really tough situation to put a true freshman into, but I'm proud of how he handled that situation. Didn't bat a eye and did his job when his number is called. Depending on the injury report, he could be the guy."
Mullen ruled Prescott inactive after the sophomore suffered a pinched nerve in his left arm last week in a loss at Texas A&M. He said Prescott was watching warmups in sweatpants more than an hour before the opening kickoff.
Mullen said he felt the issues with Prescott and Russell were "a day to day" issue, and that his staff would check with the training staff every day to see if either player was cleared medically to return to practice.
Mullen said Sunday his staff wouldn't consider using a base Wildcat formation with Jameon Lewis at quarterback. Lewis is the only player in Division I football with four or more receiving touchdowns, three or more rushing touchdowns, and two or more passing touchdowns this season.
Mullen would've gone for it in first half vs. Alabama on fourth-and-1 from the 2-yard-line Saturday
Mullen was prepared to go for the touchdown when it was fourth-and-1 from the 2-yard-line, and said the Bulldogs had the play dialed in.
Alabama accepted a penalty and pushed MSU back for a third-and-6. The drive ended with redshirt freshman kicker Evan Sobiesk missing a 23-yard field goal.
"I was going for it," Mullen said. "They're a tough defense, and in terms of stuff, fourth-and-1 from the 2- or 3-yard-line gives us a array of options. It is a tough call, but we were going to go for it there and felt good about the play call. Worked out pretty good for them and not for us."
Alabama coach Nick Saban explained his decision to push MSU back 5 yards and give the Bulldogs another shot to take a 7-3 lead.
"With fourth-and-1 from the 1, the percentages are with the offense," Saban said. "We go for it every time if it's fourth-and-1 at the 1, and I can't remember the last time we've been stopped. At the 6, the field is shrunk and you have a lot better chance of being successful, so we had some big stops down there."
Mullen describes being touched by Bielema's letter after Nick Bell tragedy
Mullen shared the story of a handwritten letter he received from then-Wisconsin coach Brett Bielema when were dealing with the death of Nick Bell.
"I really have a lot of respect for Brett. ... The one thing I really appreciate is we had a player on our team pass away named Nick Bell and I got a really nice handwritten letter with thoughts and other stuff from Brett in that situation," Mullen said.
Mullen said he doesn't know Bielema, now the first-year coach at Arkansas, but the letter meant very much to him, and he called it "a class act" from somebody else in the coaching profession.
Bell, 20, died on Nov. 2, 2010, at University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital after undergoing emergency surgery to treat a form of skin cancer that had metastasized. MSU went through a bye week before playing No. 1 Alabama the week after Bell's death.
"To have somebody in the profession to take the time out from his schedule, didn't know who I was, not in our conference, to write myself and my team a note was a real class act, and I have a lot of respect for him for doing that," Mullen said. "Not just respect as a great football coach with all the Rose Bowls, but as a man to take the time to do that. That left a mark with me. That'll always stay with me."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.