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Mullen delivers fun, Maroon squad delivers win

 

Matthew Stevens

 

STARKVILLE --Dan Mullen summarized the 2014 Maroon-White spring football game in four words.  

 

"Well, that was fun," the Mississippi State sixth-year head coach said with a smile.  

 

One hundred, thirty-five days following the Thanksgiving miracle provided by Dak Prescott in the 17-10 overtime victory over rival Ole Miss, the 21,710 in attendance got to see the Bulldogs again in as organized structure as possible for a few hours.  

 

"You see a lot of teams not doing spring games any more," Mullen said. "Can we get more out of a closed practice or something that we're very controlled practice-wise? But I tell you what, our guys work hard (and) they have a lot of fun doing this." 

 

Organized is a loose term when it's considered former MSU player and current tailback in the National Football League Anthony Dixon snuck on the field in street clothes. Early in the second quarter, Dixon, the school's all-time leader in rushing yardage, walked on the field to catch a 60-yard pass from MSU backup quarterback Damian Williams for the White team.  

 

A 28-yard field goal with time expiring by Evan Sobiesk ended the spring game with the Maroon team winning 41-38. Mullen joked about the spring game tradition of the White team having to clean the stadium this morning. 

 

"We almost had both teams here, you know (because) a tie means both teams would have been cleaning up the stadium tomorrow," Mullen said. "But by executing that we'll see the White team out bright and early." 

 

Sobiesk was 2 of 3 on field goals during the day and said the fire drill action of the final kick gave him an adrenaline rush that can't be match during simulated sessions of the 14 spring practices.  

 

"I didn't know we were still rolling the clock there so I had to hustle to get on the field so I was breathing heavy before I kicked it," Sobiesk said. "Maybe I kick better when I'm exhausted." 

 

Mullen promised fun for the folks that used their Saturday to see some football and delivered on that vow with trick plays, lots of scoring and big plays on both sides of the ball. The first offensive play for the White team was an attempted wide receiver pass by former Starkville quarterback Gabe Myles. It was the only time the former Dispatch Offensive Player of the year would touch the football.  

 

"It's an opportunity to play a game where it's not offense against defense with a weird point system that nobody can figure out," Mullen said referencing the scoring for Ole Miss' Grove Bowl last week. "It lets our fans come out, friends and families of all our players come out and watch them go out and play in this stadium and have fun. I think that's pretty valuable for our guys." 

 

The defense from both teams combined for five sacks and 15 tackles for loss as the first and second team defensive lines had their way with the offensive line in front of whoever was at quarterback for MSU.  

 

"CHRIS JONES" 

 

As the actual football that was played, nobody on the MSU coaching staff was likely as concerned with the crowd on hand at Davis Wade Stadium. The fact no player left left the playing surface with a injury was seen as a success.  

 

Unlike last year, MSU had more than one scholarship quarterback active for the spring game and therefore, fans got to witness the present and future of the signal calling position on the same team in Starkville. Prescott went 7 of 9 for 131 yards in limited action before giving way to freshman sensation Nick Fitzgerald.  

 

Prescott's first pass was a bullet through double coverage to a target he hopes to find early and often in the 2014 season: De'Runnya Wilson. The sophomore receiver finished his basketball season and didn't physically or mentally find much rust to his game throughout the 15 practices of the spring season.  

 

Wilson finished with 87 yards on four catches including a 42-yard bomb on the pitch and catch from Prescott in the game's opening drive. 

 

"I feel good about how my spring worked out because I needed to work on my technique and fine tuning my route running," Wilson said Thursday after the final full practice before the game this weekend. "After getting the experience last season, it's so much better to come to practice knowing what you're doing." 

 

The receiving group was led by a breakout performance by sophomore Fred Brown. The Jackson native was the primary target of Damian Williams with 219 yards on 10 catches and two touchdowns.  

 

"We're a confident group of receivers because we all hang out and we all want each other to have a great game," Brown said. "We understand it's not going to be everybody's day but when somebody is going well, we want that guy to keep getting the ball his way." 

 

Fitzgerald, the freshman quarterback who graduated early from Richmond Hill (Ga.) High School to participate in bowl preparations practices in December, trotted on the field to a standing ovation to the masses likely getting their first look at his 6-foot-5 frame. Fitzgerald finished with a pair of touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) and 170 total yards as he continues to learn Mullen's spread-option philosophy and won't be expected to see playing time until Prescott graduates in two years.  

 

"You're talking about somebody who I think his high school prom was supposed to be today," Prescott said about the freshman quarterback. "I think he might have even had more fun today than he would've at his prom." 

 

In what he called Thursday "the best spring season" since he arrived to Starkville from Florida, Mullen was pleased with the development of second string units on both offense and defense. The increased depth at certain spots where injures revenged the Bulldogs last season provided Mullen with the comfort of evaluating two sets of players on both sides of the ball. 

 

"The guys coming back have shown great leadership, a great push from themselves, a drive every single day to get better," Mullen said. "This team has pretty high expectations of themselves, our players have high expectations of themselves but they come out and work and try to push themselves and get better every single day. That to me is what you need to do and what you want from an experienced unit." 

 

Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.

 

 

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