April 10, 2010 11:14:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- "Cleaner" is how Mississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen described his team''s second spring scrimmage Saturday.
Just one week after bemoaning the sloppiness of the team''s first full scrimmage, the second-year head coach was pleased on all fronts as most questions following the two-and-a-half hour session were aimed at the offensive line, which paved the way for 251 rushing yards.
About the only area Mullen wasn''t pleased with was the return game, which saw fumbles by Chad Bumphis and Brandon Heavens drop points for the offense.
"I was most disappointed with the turnovers," Mullen said. "Dropping two punts lost the scrimmage for the offense. They would have won the scrimmage if they didn''t drop those two punts and they got to feel the effect of turnovers today."
Mullen said he altered Saturday''s scrimmage from last week to make mistakes cost each team more in an effort to get the scrimmage closer to a game atmosphere. Playing at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday was another attempt to simulate that setting.
The MSU coach said he wasn''t sure, from a position standpoint, who stood out until he watches the film.
"Last week, we really controlled a lot more and today we tried to put a lot more game situations in there so you could feel the effect of everything that happened during the course of the scrimmage," Mullen said. "This was our biggest scrimmage of the spring."
This coming Saturday''s Maroon-White spring game during Super Bulldog Weekend will be the final scrimmage, though Mullen said he considers that scrimmage as a "celebration."
Saturday, quarterback Tyler Russell received extended repetitions with the first team offense and finished with 120 yards on 12-of-26 completions and a touchdown.
Chris Relf was 12 of 23 for 210 yards and a touchdown, a 68-yard pass to Leon Berry that opened the scoring.
The most anticipated position battle of the spring produced another solid scrimmage in the eyes of the both quarterbacks as both noted the improved play of the offensive line from last week.
"I think we picked it up from last week, executing and working on the little things," Relf said. "Offensive line played real well, we made some good plays and made some bad plays.
"I think my throwing was a little bit better than last week. We ran the ball more, and basically, we were working on the running game this week."
With practices set for Tuesday and Thursday, along with a light walk-through Friday, Mullen hopes for the team to have its best practices of the spring ahead of next Saturday''s "showcase."
"Tuesday and Thursday are critical practices for us," Mullen said. "Those should be our two best practices of the whole spring and the spring game is a celebration of all the hard work they''ve put in. We have to have our two best practices."
Defense scores; racks up 5 sacks
Much of the spring talk has been about Mississippi State''s defensive line and the domination that it''s shown so far.
Saturday, the Bulldogs got a pair of sacks from redshirt freshman Johnathan McKenzie and one from Josh Boyd. Linebacker Chris White recorded a sack and safety Emmanuel Gatling had a pair.
White had the biggest defensive play of the scrimmage, sacking Russell, forcing a fumble and returning it 28 yards for a touchdown.
Mississippi State''s defensive results Saturday were the results of increased pressure from defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
"We put in a new package and we''re blitzing a lot more, even more than what we did last time," White said. "You get a lot more chances to sack the quarterback and get in the backfield when you''re blitzing, so that''s pretty much what we''re doing."
While Mississippi State''s defense stopped a two-minute drill scoring opportunity for Relf via interception by Maurice Langston, offensive personnel all agree that the defense''s shine through the spring will make for a stronger offense in the fall.
"I feel like we''re going to have the best defense in the SEC and with all the looks they''re giving us," Russell said. "If you see the best defense in the SEC every day in practice, that''s just going to make you that much better for Saturdays."
Russell, Relf deal with pressure
The looks Russell and Relf saw Saturday forced them to quickly make checks at the line and deal with blitzes from every angle.
Russell said the coaches put an emphasis on operating at a higher tempo than last week, doubling the difficulty with Mississippi State''s increased blitzes.
"Everybody walking around, you don''t know who''s going to blitz and who''s not," Russell said. "But my job is to find who''s going to be the high guy, who''s going to blitz and try and get the team in the best possible play."
Mullen said this week of practice should see both quarterbacks "accelerating at very fast steps" as no new plays will be installed.
But while there were some plays left on the field, Mullen again went back to the inexperience at receiver.
"We''re still very, very inexperienced at the receiver position and lacking the depth we need," Mullen said. "I would bet more of the (mistakes) is on the receivers than the quarterbacks today. We just got to get that stuff cleaned up."
1. Insell family readies for father-son matchup in Oxford COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Ole Miss shut out at Arkansas COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Starkville Academy falls in state championship game HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
4. MSU Notebook: Holmes making habit of finding end zone COLLEGE SPORTS
5. Starkville defense swarms all over Southaven HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS