October 13, 2009 10:46:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen isn''t going to play a freshman until he''s ready.
Bulldogs like safety Johnthan Banks, of East Webster High School in Maben, and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox have been good enough to play, and in Banks'' case, start this season.
Quarterback Tyler Russell isn''t ready.
Mullen will continue to put his offense in the hands of quarterbacks Tyson Lee, a senior from Columbus, and sophomore Chris Relf.
Relf''s status for the 11:30 a.m. game Saturday at Middle Tennessee (ESPNU) remains unclear.
Relf, who was suspended for MSU''s 31-24 loss to the University of Houston last Saturday, appears to have a better chance of playing against MTSU than Russell.
Mullen, who has said the situation and the freshman''s strengths will determine a player''s chance to see playing time, has reservations about Russell running the offense, and he won''t put him into a game until he develops that understanding.
"There''s not a package in place for Tyler like it is for Tyson or Chris," Mullen said. "You don''t put Tyler in to run the ball because that''s not his strong point. Tyler''s strong point is standing and throwing the football."
Mullen and his coaches want to put freshmen into situations they can be successful. That''s why the coaches try to be honest with players they recruit.
Mullen also wants prospects to know they have a chance to get on the field and don''t have to wait one or two years to make an impact.
Cox (11 tackles, one sack) learned by the end of preseason practice he would have the opportunity to play right away, and he received encouragement from defensive line coach David Turner.
"Coach Turner always told me it wouldn''t be his decision if I played, but my decision," Cox said. "It was always my decision to go out and practice hard every day."
One year ago, Banks was playing quarterback and defensive back for coach Jimmy Carden and the Wolverines.
Banks went from playing every down in high school to fighting to get on to the field for the Bulldogs.
After committing himself to hard work in the preseason and in the first half of the regular season, Banks earned his first career start last Saturday against Houston.
Banks (six tackles) felt he had a good chance at playing after he intercepted several passes and batted down others in practice.
"(Mullen) tells everyone hard work is going to pay off for us one day," Banks said. "If you cut corners, it''s going to show."
Weathering the storm?
Prior to Monday''s press conference, Mullen looked out the window, saw the rain, and compared it to how he was feeling.
"The weather around here seems to fit my mood a little bit these days," Mullen said.
Mullen won''t be satisfied unless the Bulldogs do everything it takes to win consistently.
The three-game losing streak that has pushed MSU to 2-4 has disappointed Mullen, but he said the players aren''t giving up.
Mullen said the Bulldogs practiced Monday and worked like they have all season.
"They''ve bought in and I think they realize just how close they are," Mullen said. "If they continue to give great effort and fight for four quarters, they are going to have opportunities to win football games. I think they have accepted that fact and believe in that."
MSU has lost the past three games by a total of 22 points -- LSU (30-26), Georgia Tech (42-31) and Houston (31-24).
Sophomore offensive tackle Addison Lawrence admits those defeats have been tough, but he knows the Bulldogs have to avoid mistakes.
"It''s hard to keep your head up and keep fighting, but we know we are just shooting ourselves in the foot," Lawrence said. "We''re physically beating every team we play, but we''re not coming up with points, and that''s the only thing people look at."
MSU also has committed 13 turnovers and has allowed an average of 372.5 yards in the past three weeks.
Mullen said one player or group isn''t responsible for the losses, so everyone must pull together (position coaches, coordinators, offense, defense, and special teams).
"Everyone has to be 100 percent right on detail for what they need to do for us to execute and for us to win a game," Mullen said.
Mullen listed senior defensive tackle Charles Burns (knee) as doubtful for the Middle Tennessee game.
Junior safety Zach Smith is day to day with a concussion. Mullen was amazed with the amount of attention his injury received.
"After the game, it was still on 60 minutes," Mullen said.
Mullen also said that backup free safety Wade Bonner was in the hospital to have an infection cut from his elbow. He didn''t think Bonner''s situation was serious.
"They had to test and make sure the infection is out of his system," Mullen said. "We expect everyone to practice (today) except for Charles Burns."
Kickoff set for MSU-UF
MSU''s home game on Oct. 25 against the University of Florida has been set for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff.
The game will be televised by ESPN or ESPN2. That determination will be made after this weekend''s games.
Mullen was the offensive coordinator for four seasons at Florida for coach Urban Meyer before taking over at MSU last December.