April 2, 2011 11:01:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- For Mississippi State''s past two spring football scrimmages, the defense ended each day with a decisive advantage against a sometimes sluggish and error-prone offense.
On Saturday in Davis-Wade Stadium, the offense responded with its most crisp performance of the spring, driving the ball at will and going three-and-out only once against MSU''s first-team defense.
The defense had just three three-and-outs in the two-hour scrimmage
Starting quarterback Chris Relf unofficially threw for 274 yards and two scores and added another on the ground to lead the offense. He threw one interception.
Second-string quarterback Tyler Russell had a touchdown pass, and redshirt freshman Dylan Favre had two touchdown passes and a touchdown run.
The offense made a statement on the opening play when Relf hit a wide open Chad Bumphis for a 65-yard touchdown over the middle.
"We''re a quarterback-driven offense, and those guys were on today," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "(They) did a great job managing and distributing the ball to receivers. When we''re throwing the ball like we did today, we''re going to have the ability to put up some numbers. It was evident from the first play."
Following Bumphis'' scoring grab, which caught safety Charles Mitchell out of position, defensive coordinator Chris Wilson challenged his most experienced defensive back for having a mental lapse on the play.
Defensive backs Dennis Thames and Corey Broomfield had interceptions, and linebacker Corvell Harrison-Gay had two sacks and a third-down pass breakup. Kaleb Eulls and Shane McCardell each had sacks, but MSU''s defense couldn''t capitalize on the big plays it made.
The defense lacked leadership and a response to giving up a huge play to start the scrimmage, Mullen said.
"They kind of let that be the theme of the day," Mullen said. "We''ll get that fixed."
Broomfield said the lack of vocal leadership was due in part to players not making enough plays on the field. He agreed with Mullen''s assessment that the big play out of the gates affected the play throughout the scrimmage.
"It was a real basic day today. You just line up and play and we didn''t come to play today. It''s that simple," Broomfield said. "We''re old enough now we should be able to know that one play doesn''t determine the whole game. We should be able to re-focus and we didn''t do that today."
While the defense left the field disappointed, MSU''s offense received a confidence boost, especially after a sloppy performance Thursday that included numerous botched snaps and missed blocks.
"It motivated us a whole lot," said running back LaDarius Perkins, who had a 23-yard scoring run and three other plays of more than 20 yards. "The defense has been getting the best of us, but today we got the best of them. It motivated us to make plays with high intensity today."
The Bulldogs have four more spring practices, including the Maroon-White Spring Game on Saturday, which will be a part of Super Bulldog Weekend.
Quarterbacks settled in
Once an area of uncertainty in Mullen''s offense, the quarterbacks took another step Saturday.
Relf capped his performance with a well-executed two-minute drive, which ended with a 10-yard pass to Brandon Heavens.
Dylan Favre capped the final two-minute drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Michael Carr, which ended the scrimmage with an emphatic statement from the quarterbacks.
"It''s just something we used to work on all the time last year," Relf said. "Coach Mullen puts a stress on making a play in the two-minute drill. If I could go back to one game last year it''d be the Auburn game when Leon Berry should have caught the ball. But me, I could have made another big play before that. Just eliminating mistakes, that''s all."
Relf said the offense developed an early rhythm because of the familiarity it has established from the end of last season, which carried over into the offseason and into spring practice.
The quarterbacks'' ability to move the ball through the air opened opportunities for running backs Vick Ballard, LaDarius Perkins, Robert Elliott, Adrian Marcus, and Sylvester Hemphill to spring big plays.
Marcus had a 38-yard scoring run, and Hemphill added a 5-yard score late in the scrimmage.
"The fact the quarterbacks were hitting, converting third downs, really managing the play-action game, taking shots when they needed to, taking the check-down when they needed to, really, to me, that''s what opened up the running game today," Mullen said.
Offensive line gets back on track
Of all the struggles the offense endured this week, none were more evident than those of the offensive line.
Whether it was procedural penalties, missed assignments, or bad snaps, MSU''s line play without starting guards Gabe Jackson (sprained knee) and Tobias Smith (shoulder) has suffered.
The frustration of rotating young players and working through James Carmon and Blaine Clausell trying to replace Derek Sherrod at tackle has made for an inconsistent group of veteran linemen, senior guard Quentin Saulsberry said. Saulsberry went so far as to call his grandmother for advice on how lift his compatriots out of their slump.
"I told her, ''I just don''t know what to do,'' " Saulsberry said. "I asked her what she did when she had a family and things weren''t going right, and she said, ''Since I was the oldest, if they came to me I told them. But if they took it or not, that''s on them.'' You got to be accountable for somebody, so if everyone takes that wisdom we get from each other we''ll be OK.
"We made a big improvement today, and this is something to build confidence from."
Saulsberry said he has harped on maintaining the standard set by last year''s line, which was led by seniors Sherrod and center J.C. Brignone.
Now, he is the player newcomers like Joey Trapp or redshirt freshmen Clausell and center Dillon Day come to for advice.
"Everybody goes through that phase when they hit that wall," he said. "But sometimes you got to have somebody there to lift you up over that wall."
1. Starkville High's Gay decommits from Ole Miss HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. Columbus basketball teams showcase Purple Madness HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. Heritage Academy will be back at home for playoffs HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
4. MSU searching for greater consistency COLLEGE SPORTS