September 1, 2009 11:54:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State sophomore offensive guard Quentin Saulsberry knows it will be important for the Bulldogs to establish a running game this season.
Even though MSU is set to run a spread offense with coach Dan Mullen, Saulsberry said that doesn''t mean there will be more pass than run.
"The running game plays a big part in it," Saulsberry said. "You don''t want to be one-dimensional. You want to be able to run so you can open up the passing game."
Although there needs to be balance, MSU senior center J.C. Brignone said the satisfaction for the offensive line is to see a running back have a big game.
"It''s always good to have a little running game in there," Brignone said.
Even though Anthony Dixon and Christian Ducre'' have rushed for more than 100 yards in a game in their careers, they are still looking for that breakout game.
The last time a Bulldog rushed for more than 200 yards was 2005 (Jerious Norwood, 204 against Ole Miss).
MSU averaged only 101.7 yards on the ground per game last season, which ranked 11th in the Southeastern Conference.
Saulsberry, the projected starter at left guard for the Bulldogs, said the offensive line worked hard in the offseason and in preseason camp to improve the running game.
MSU offensive line coach John Hevesy saw the development.
"I give them credit for picking up all the little things," Hevesy said. "We''ve still got a ways to go, but they are absorbing what we ask them to absorb."
Senior running back Arnil Stallworth likes the offensive line''s progress under Hevesy.
"He''s doing a good job with them," Stallworth said. "This is the best line since I''ve been here and they''ve learned the offense very well. You can see them all coming together and getting their timing down.
"When everyone executes their job on one play, it''s just beautiful, and we''ve been doing that a lot lately (in practice)."
Saulsberry said the key for the offensive line is to block and to move your opponent in any offense.
That''s something Hevesy has tried to stress to his unit.
"The running game is the running game whether it''s the I-formation or spread offense," Hevesy said. "You''ve still have to account for all the guys that are there."
Injuries have slowed the progress of some of Hevesy''s guys. Brignone has missed time with a twisted ankle, senior left tackle Derek Sherrod, of Caledonia, was out for a brief time with a knee problem, and redshirt freshman right guard Tobias Smith, of Columbus, has missed the past three weeks with torn ligaments in his ankle.
Mullen said the injuries have given younger offensive linemen some experience and at different positions.
"We''ve had a lot more guys play with the first team," Mullen said. "I think once you play in that first huddle on the offense your level of play is picked up by those around you."
Despite being banged up, Brignone and Sherrod are expected to start at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against Jackson State, while junior Mark Melichar is slated to start for Smith.
Saulsberry and junior right tackle Phillip Freeman will be the other starters.
Even though Mullen said in the preseason the offensive line has a long way to go, senior quarterback Tyson Lee, of Columbus, said the unit has been working hard.
With the nature of the spread, Lee expects there to be more holes and lanes for the running backs.
Lee appreciates the leadership and intensity the offensive line has provided.
"Whenever something needs to be said or done, they step up and say something," Lee said.
1. New Hope boys' basketball falls in Class 5A playoffs HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. Starkville boys denied return trip to Jackson HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. West Lowndes boys earn third straight trip to Jackson HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS