August 27, 2013 12:15:44 PM
STARKVILLE -- Les Koenning has learned in 32 years as a football coach the question he likes the least: Who is calling the offensive plays?
"I've said it for years, the most overrated aspect of what we're doing in a game is the calling of a play," Mississippi State University's offensive coordinator said Monday. "I don't mean this as a joke, but if you or anybody else went through our meetings, practice, and planning throughout a week, that person could call out our plays and be about 90 percent correct."
So while fans may try to determine if the laminated piece of paper in MSU coach Dan Mullen's hand means he's calling the plays, it doesn't concern Koenning. When MSU opens the season at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against No. 13 Oklahoma State University in the Texas Kickoff Classic at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, Koenning will focus on trying to get fifth-year quarterback Tyler Russell to run the game plan the coaches have devised.
"Does my quarterback understand what we're trying to accomplish and does he see what I'm seeing from the defense up in the booth?" Koenning said. "That's the most important thing we do in that coaching box. Neither of those things are solved with a perfect play."
Before becoming offensive coordinator at MSU in 2009, Koenning served in the same position at Texas A&M University, the University of Alabama, Texas Christian University, the University of Houston, and Duke University.
"It does not bother me if people think Dan is calling the plays or if they think I'm doing it or if they think a graduate assistant is calling plays," Koenning said. "The communication Dan and I have during a game has never drastically changed. The philosophy and goal has always been that if I (pass out) in the middle of a game then Dan could immediately call the game or (MSU tight ends coach) Scott Sallach could call the game."
Koenning said he isn't focused on trying to win the tempo battle against OSU's fast-paced passing offense. Last season, OSU relied on the big play and was fourth in the nation in yards per game (547). It also was 113th of 124 Division 1 schools in time of possession.
Last season, ran 424 pass attempts and run attempts and held the ball an average of 30 minutes, 1 second per game.
"You don't know when those opportunities in a game are going to come for you to score, so you want to score," Koenning said. "Is there a need to slow things down? You would say yes, but it's not one of these deals where I don't want to score until a certain amount of time."
Mullen and Koenning downplayed the talk about who calls the plays by saying most of what MSU does on offense on specific downs and distances is scripted. In fact, since Mullen has taken the job in Starkville, the first 15 plays the Bulldogs will use -- not the order in which they will be used -- have been scripted. Koenning's responsibility is to recognize what is working and to give feedback to Russell.
"You have to find a way to just stay in a rhythm when calling plays," Koenning said. "When you're off by just a hair in this league or the professional one, it separates a good play from a touchdown."
Mullen and Koenning won't concern themselves with playing backup quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott, a sophomore coming off spring toe surgery, saw action as a redshirt freshman in specific situational packages in 12 games last season. With experience no longer a problem for Prescott, Mullen said force feeding the 230-pounder playing time isn't a priority.
Prescott has spent a majority of fall camp running the second-string offense with the second-string units and has used training camp to regain his rhythm after offseason surgery.
"Getting him to know the whole game plan is important," Koenning said. "It's not just about having a Dak specific package anymore but having the whole game plan ready for him to do it."
Prescott's primary role this season likely will be as an emergency replacement for Russell rather than as a package specialist.
"We have to have him ready to play the game because he's a play away from going into the game," Mullen said. "Last year, we probably force fed Dak on the field more being a young player. He's thrown for touchdowns and ran for touchdowns in SEC games now."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter at: @mathewcstevens.
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