October 6, 2009 11:21:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The rhythm of the Famous Maroon Band''s drum section doesn''t catch the attention of Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen most on game day.
When Mullen talks about rhythm he''s referring to the offense, especially early in games.
The Bulldogs have had a difficult time with consistency on offense.
That''s something Mullen hopes to correct prior to 11:30 a.m. Saturday when MSU will play host to the University of Houston (ESPNU).
MSU is averaging 381.8 yards per game, but Mullen is concerned that the Bulldogs aren''t generating much of an offense in the initial stages of a game.
"That''s forcing us to play catchup and that''s not what you want to do," Mullen said. "You''re not keeping (an opponent''s) defense on edge when you are in catchup mode."
Playing from behind also prevents Mullen from rotating quarterback Tyson Lee and Chris Relf like he wants.
Mullen has been forced to play the senior Lee later in games to take advantage of his passing ability. Relf, a redshirt sophomore, has the reputation of being a better runner than thrower.
Relf was rendered ineffective late Saturday in a 42-31 loss to Georgia Tech when the Bulldogs fell behind 35-17 in the third quarter.
"When we put him back in there, he did a nice job of running the ball, but we''re running behind," Mullen said. "We needed to throw and make some plays. Tyson was already in the rhythm of the game."
MSU (2-3, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) has only scored three offensive touchdowns in the first quarter this season, and only one through the air. Relf hit freshman wide receiver Chad Bumphis with a 15-yard pass against Jackson State.
Lee would like to change that statistic against Houston.
"We need to establish something early," Lee said. "If you can do it (in the first quarter), you can definitely move the ball, get confidence, and put some points on the board."
Using Bumphis more
The Bulldogs are beginning to find ways to get Bumphis the football.
Lee completed a 69-yard touchdown to Bumphis in the fourth quarter against Georgia Tech. Bumphis also rushed for a 10-yard touchdown against the Yellow Jackets.
Mullen was encouraged to see Bumphis (MSU''s leading receiving with 16 catches, 192 yards) get open.
"He had some good one-on-one situations and was able to make plays," Mullen said. "He was much better fundamentally. Some mistakes he made the prior week, he corrected and ran better routes. As a result, he was open instead of covered on a play we ran the week before.
"That''s some things we need to see out of him. He did some things much better, but has a long way to go and still has a lot of improvement to make. It''s important to see that from week to week."
Bumphis has also been known to take a pitch and attempt to pass out of formations in the spread offense.
Will Lee be the recipient of a pass from Bumphis to the quarterback?
"We''ll see," Lee said with a grin.
Fullbacks or tailbacks?
Mullen said the best fullbacks in the spread offense could be tailbacks.
The Bulldogs haven''t hesitated to use seniors Christian Ducre'', Arnil Stallworth, or Anthony Dixon at fullback. Junior Patrick Hanrahan and redshirt freshman Sylvester Hemphill are considered more true fullbacks.
There''s not a spot on the depth chart for fullbacks, but when one is needed, all of the running backs get into the mix.
"We just roll all of those guys through," Mullen said. "It''s fitting the personnel. When you have the big tailbacks who can be crossover guys, you get to use them in both sets of letting them be the tailback and then on the next play, keeping the same guys on the field and have somebody be the fullback for you."
No redshirting yet
Mullen said it''s premature to determine who will receive a redshirt season.
After five games, there are still several players, in particular freshman quarterback Tyler Russell, who haven''t played.
"We''re getting there (on deciding redshirts), but it''s still a long season," Mullen said. "We still have seven games ahead of us. (Redshirts) will be determined by injuries we might face and some other things that come up."
It isn''t known if junior defensive back Maurice Langston will play on defense this season. He has played two games this season on special teams.
"He didn''t get to go through spring practice or summer conditioning, so he''s way behind even our freshmen," Mullen said. "He''s coming along slowly but surely."
Back to back at 11:30 a.m.
MSU announced its next two games will be televised by ESPNU at 11:30 a.m.
The road game at Middle Tennessee game was moved up to accommodate the change in broadcast. It was originally set for 3 p.m. and to be broadcast on Comcast.
Both games are also available on ESPNGamePlan and ESPN360.com.
Banged up Bulldogs
Mullen said several players were "dinged up" and didn''t practice Monday, but he didn''t name the players.
He expects most of the Bulldogs to be ready to play Saturday against Houston, but he won''t know for sure until later in the week. Monday was a light practice in helmets only.
"We''ll have a better idea Wednesday where everyone will be," Mullen said.