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MSU shows depth, promise at QB in spring game

 

David Miller

 

STARKVILLE -- The name says it all.  

 

Dylan Favre spent his first season as a Mississippi State quarterback tucked behind Chris Relf and Tyler Russell.  

 

He wasn''t used to sitting the bench. He was a standout high school player and a Parade All-American. As the nephew of future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, his namesake precedes him wherever he goes.  

 

On Saturday during MSU''s Maroon-White spring game, Favre gave 36,357 Bulldog fans -- a state record attendance for a spring football game -- a glimpse of what''s to come.  

 

The redshirt freshman was 17 of 26 for 199 yards and a touchdown. He also had 41 rushing yards on 10 carries to lead the Maroon team to a 23-20 victory against the White team.  

 

"I thought I made some plays with my feet," Favre said. "I didn''t throw the ball as well as I wanted to. I understand the offense, but again I''m only a freshman, so I''m learning." 

 

Though he didn''t face starting defensive linemen Fletcher Cox, Josh Boyd, and Sean Ferguson -- White team quarterback Tyler Russell was sacked four times -- Favre showed accuracy, the ability to make plays when the pocket broke down, and the poise to lead a team to a game-winning drive with less than two minutes to go.  

 

"For (Favre) just to be on this field in this situation because of the crowd we have and the atmosphere of what it is, he''s had some live game reps without having to be a real game now," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "Hopefully that experience helps him go into next season." 

 

Ever-confident and quick to trash talk on the practice field, Favre is blunt about where he''s at as a quarterback in MSU''s spread system. He admits he''s at a bit of a disadvantage in challenging Russell for the No. 2 job because of his lack of experience. 

 

"As soon as I think I know it, coach Mullen or (offensive coordinator) coach (Les) Koenning will hit me with a question I don''t have an answer to," Favre said.  

 

Experience aside, Favre''s ability to generate yards on the ground might be his biggest asset as a 5-foot-10 quarterback. 

 

Favre took over for starter Chris Relf, who went 4 for 8 for 68 yards, on the Maroon team''s fourth drive and showed a knack for escaping the rush. Favre dropped back and was pressured by Jeff Howie, but took a jab step one way and spun back the opposite direction to escape for an 8-yard run.  

 

He added 30 yards on three carries on his second drive, which ended in a 23-yard touchdown pass to Robert Johnson.  

 

"Today it helped me, but I didn''t throw the ball as well as I''d like," Favre said. "With my height, my mobility, and the ability to make plays with my feet I think it kind of compensates for it." 

 

Favre''s competition for the No. 2 job, Russell, enjoyed a stellar day, going 15 of 26 for 210 yards and a touchdown. Working against mainly MSU''s first-team defensive line, Russell was hit early and often. But he developed a quick connection with sophomore Ricco Sanders, who didn''t record his first catch of his career until the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1. Sanders had four catches for 96 yards. 

 

"The nice thing about him today, he had some ups and downs but he continued to have some ups and downs even though he wasn''t as crisp as he''s been," Mullen said. "You can see with some experience he didn''t let it bother him. He just gets on to the next play." 

 

Russell said he feels like he''s ahead of Favre, and that his job isn''t necessarily to compete with Favre for the No. 2 spot as much as it is to push Relf.  

 

With the receivers'' improved maturity and his evolution in the past two years, he has a chance to focus on the intricacies of the position.  

 

"I can focus on the little things as far as footwork, where I want to release the ball, and stuff like that," Russell said. "I should already know what the defense is doing when I walk to the line. I should already know exactly where I want to go with the ball and what checks I want to make. I think I''ve gotten better with that.  

 

 

 

Cox primed for major leap 

 

As freshmen, defensive tackles Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox were thrust into a situation interior linemen don''t encounter often in the Southeastern Conference: Starting roles.  

 

The coaches had confidence they could handle it, as both were consensus four-star recruits and gems of Mullen''s first recruiting class.  

 

With spring practice coming to a close Monday, Boyd and Cox will be relied on even more and expected to be All-SEC type players.  

 

On Saturday, they each had their way with the White team''s offensive line, racking up one-and-a-half sacks and three-and-a-half tackles for a loss between them in mostly first-half work.  

 

They played against just two starters -- Gabe Jackson and Quentin Saulsberry - but Mullen didn''t hide the fact Boyd and Cox are hitting their prime as college players.  

 

"A lot of the guys, when they''re not going against the one O-line as a whole, that''s what you want to see out of Cox and Josh Boyd," Mullen said. "They''re experienced. They should dominate." 

 

The biggest step, according to Cox, has been in the pass rush department. He has played in two systems in his first two seasons and finally feels comfortable playing the quarterback first and reacting to the run second.  

 

"Just being more fluid with my rush, knowing how to set up a guy and knowing is he''s light on his hands," Cox said. "I''m really just studying a lot of film of who I''m going against. Me and Josh, we live together and are always talking about how we can get better." 

 

 

 

Specialists shine 

 

There was concern entering spring practice about how MSU would replace all but one of their specialists.  

 

Punter Heath Hutchins, kickoff man Sean Brauchle, holder Chris Cameron, and snapper Aaron Feld anchored the 2010 special teams unit. 

 

On Saturday, the cast of new faces left a good impression with Mullen.  

 

Heritage Academy graduate Baker Swedenburg had three punts for 151 yards, including a long of 63. He nailed one inside the 20 for the White team. 

 

Walk-on Josh Morris dropped two inside the 20 and averaged 41.2 yards per punt for the Maroon team. 

 

Senior kicker Derek DePasquale had field goals of 47 and 54 yards for the White team. 

 

"I figured we''d snap a couple of punts over people''s heads, guys would get nervous and start fumbling some kicks, but I was pleased with the execution," Mullen said. 

 

 

 

Permanent Scott Field Legends announced  

 

Mississippi State Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin announced last month the football program would honor its football legends at Davis Wade Stadium in the fall and would announce the four during the Maroon-White game. 

 

At halftime, MSU announced former broadcaster Jack Cristil, quarterback Jackie Parker, linebacker D.D. Lewis, and defensive end Johnie Cooks will be the first four permanent honorees at Davis Wade Stadium.  

 

Cristil, who served as MSU''s football radio broadcaster for 58 years, stepped away from the microphone this basketball season due to health complications. He began his broadcasting career at MSU with a 34-6 win against Memphis on Sept. 19, 1953. 

 

Parker was a quarterback at MSU from 1952-53 and later became Canadian Football League MVP three times in the ''50s.  

 

Lewis played linebacker from 1965-67 and was a two-time All-SEC selection. He was an all-American in ''67 and played 12 years with the Dallas Cowboys before being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in ''91.  

 

Cooks, who resides in Starkville, played at MSU from 1977-81 and helped MSU to back-to-back bowl berths in ''80 and ''81. He was a three-time All-SEC player and an All-American in ''81. He played 10 years in the NFL after being drafted No. 2 overall in ''82. He won a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants.

 

 

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