September 7, 2010 12:40:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Brandon Heavens is no longer a secret.
The sophomore wide receiver, who played sparingly last season, broke out Saturday with a five catch, 112-yard performance in the Mississippi State football team''s 49-7 victory against Memphis.
Heavens scored two touchdowns while splitting repetitions with Chad Bumphis, who also eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark against the Tigers.
Heavens'' emergence was anticipated, though, as players and coaches noted his improvement and playmaking ability in fall camp. And as MSU prepares to welcome Auburn to Starkville for Thursday night''s ESPN-televised game, the Bessemer, Ala., native, who gave a verbal commitment to Auburn, is happy to have started the season on a successful note.
Offensive coordinator Les Koenning, who is overseeing a young group of skill players in the team''s second year running the spread offense, is just as pleased.
"When you watch Brandon Heavens on the football field, he is hard to tackle and cover because he separates so well," Koenning said. "He has great speed, can get in and out of a cut, does great job of catching the football. Chad and Brandon have matured in their route running. Now they''re starting to step on people, turn people, understanding that in this league if you''re not technically sound you''re probably not going to get open."
Both of Heavens'' touchdown receptions came from quarterback Tyler Russell. Heavens said he worked hard in the spring with Russell to accelerate his timing and rhythm. Although Heavens feels comfortable with Chris Relf and Russell at quarterback, he said he has a better rapport with Russell.
"This summer, this spring, me and Tyler used to stay after practice sometimes and just go over routes because we knew we would have to contribute this year," Heavens said. "We knew it was going to be mostly with the twos, so we kind of got a little connection going on."
Heavens and Bumphis play the same position, and the latter ran four more plays against Memphis. Mullen said he''d keep the rotation "50-50" between the receivers against Auburn, opting to keep both playmakers fresh in MSU''s up-tempo system.
Heavens, who said he has received plenty of tips and tools from Bumphis, doesn''t mind splitting repetitions even if it might limit his number of touches in a game.
"I look up to Chad like a leader. I just used to pay attention and watch what he did," Heavens said. "I''m fine. It keeps one of us on the field at times. Sometimes it''s five plays, or every possession,"
Mullen coy on Cam Newton recruitment
To say Dan Mullen is familiar with Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton is a major understatement.
He was Newton''s offensive coordinator at the University of Florida for two seasons after recruiting the College Park, Ga., native to be Tim Tebow''s successor.
Mullen''s first year at MSU was also Newton''s only season at Blinn Junior College, where he became an All-American and the most coveted junior college prospect last season.
The familiarity led Mullen and the Bulldogs to court the dual-threat quarterback. They even had him visit Starkville to see MSU''s victory against the University of Mississippi in the Egg Bowl.
Numerous recruiting websites listed Auburn and Mississippi State as the frontrunners to sign Newton before he opted to play in Gus Malzahn''s offense at Auburn.
When asked Monday about the second round of Newton''s recruitment, Mullen offered little details and squashed the idea of feeling confident Newton would land in Starkville before he''d made it official.
"I''m never confident until we get a paper come through the fax machine on a recruit," Mullen said. "I recruited him hard when I was at Florida out of West Lake High School, and we recruited out of Blinn. He decided, I guess, to go closer to home."
Newton, however, describes the decision to choose Auburn over MSU as "one of the hardest" he''s had to make in his life. He told Auburn reporters the decision was especially difficult because of his relationship with Mullen''s wife, Megan.
"Not just telling him because we had a good relationship but having to tell his wife -- Ms. Megan -- that was one of the hardest things because, I don''t know, we had such a close relationship," Newton said. "This decision wasn''t just merely all my decision. I have to clear it with the whole nine yards. Not just how I feel but I got to go through so many people to see what they think whether it be my family and the close people towards me."
Kickers draw criticism
Dan Mullen held nothing back when describing the performances of MSU''s kickers against Memphis, describing the short, low-hanging kickoffs as the "biggest disappointment" of an otherwise joyous night.
Kickers Derek DePasquale and Sean Brauchle averaged just 61.9 yards per kickoff and 38.9 net yards, and Brauchle missed a 38-yard field goal.
The low kickoff averages didn''t give the coverage team ample time to get down the field, which is a point of emphasis this week as MSU prepares to face speedy Auburn return man Edmond Washington. The senior led the Southeastern Conference and was sixth in the country with 31.1 yards per return last year.
"It''s something that if you felt the best about coming out of training camp, it was the performance of our two kickers," Mullen said. "Our coverage team was pretty solid, but our kickers didn''t give them much of a chance. We''re trying to get down the field and we''re at the 40-yard line and the ball''s already being returned up the field. If the ball''s starting to come back up the field it has to be around the 25 or 20 to set our coverage. We''re not getting the hang time or the distance we need on our kickoffs."
Mullen said kickoffs would be a focus in practice and didn''t indicate how kickoff duties will break down. Last week, he said kicker selection would be a game-time decision. Brauchle showed the stronger leg Saturday with a 63.5 yard average to DePasquale''s 57.
Wright probable for Thursday
MSU senior outside linebacker K.J. Wright''s sprained ankle won''t keep him from playing against Auburn, Mullen said.
Wright''s "minor" sprain forced him to miss two-and-a-half quarters against Memphis. Mullen said Wright could have returned if needed.
Mullen officially listed Wright, the only player he mentioned in MSU''s injury report, as probable for Thursday''s game.
"Just met with our trainers and we think he''ll be fine to play," Mullen said.