September 22, 2010 10:03:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State''s offensive line has placed greater emphasis on improving communication to shore up protection issues.
Set to face their first 3-4 defense of the season, the Bulldogs (1-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) aren''t worrying about Georgia''s front as much as their own progress.
Starting center J.C. Brignone said the notion of preparing for a traditional four-man front as opposed to facing a three-man line isn''t overrated, but his experience practicing against MSU''s multiple fronts gives him an advantage.
"Our defense runs a lot more funky stuff than they do, but they play more of a base three front," Brignone said. "Like I said, it''s us coming out and executing and knowing what''s going on. If they get in a three front, we know what to do. If they four front, we know what to do. But we need to go out and execute it."
Executing against Southeastern Competition has proven more challenging than expected with starters returning from last year''s squad. State''s offense has been held under 270 yards in each of the team''s last two games.
Expectations were highest for State''s offensive line, and position coach John Hevesy''s displeasure with the lack of mental focus and discipline displayed against LSU has provided spark for a pivotal weekend.
State risks the chance of exiting the weekend at 1-3 overall and 0-3 in league play -- a precarious position for a team hoping to become bowl eligible.
"I have no problems with what we''re doing," Brignone said. "I just think we can be 150 times better than we''ve been. So anything that we''ve done, I''m not happy with it because I know we can be better. That''s why we''ve got to make a statement this week of us coming out.
Mullen challenges seniors
After a disappointing loss in which coaches and players felt they had their worst performance of the year, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen needed a good response in the team''s most important practice.
Tuesdays, under normal game weeks, are typically days when the when the bulk of the game plan for Saturday''s opponent is laid out.
Having had long and short game weeks to prepare after playing Auburn on a Thursday night, Mullen said he welcomes the normal game week routine. He was also pleased with Tuesday''s practice coming off an off-day.
"I like our team''s intensity. I like how we came out and worked," Mullen said. "Today''s a work day, so it''s not a rah-rah day. I think our guys worked, focusing on the game plan."
Though much of the team''s focus Tuesday was on Georgia, Mullen reiterated his need for leaders to emerge in wake of the team''s 1-2 start.
Mullen said players like senior defensive end Pernell McPhee take on a greater leadership role, but explains the team''s leaders and more experienced players aren''t making a conscious effort to vocal leaders.
"Part of it, I think a lot of guys worry about themselves and worry about their personal performance," Mullen said. "A lot of them lead by example, and that''s not always good enough. You go after them and be a vocal leader as well."
Tight ends practice; status up in air
Dan Mullen felt confident his top two tight ends would make enough progress to make a decision on their availability for Saturday''s game.
That was Monday -- the team''s off-day -- and after Tuesday''s practice Mullen didn''t feel Marcus Green and Brandon Henderson could be declared fit from the respective knee injuries for the Georgia clash.
He said both players ran and "looked OK" under the supervision of team trainers.
"That''s going to be an evaluation throughout the week," Mullen said. "They''re going to be a lot different Saturday than they are today, for sure. They did stuff today, but tomorrow is going to be a good indicator of how they feel after working out today.
There''s a possibility of Green and/or Henderson missing Saturday''s match, and Mullen admits the offense will be limited in some ways.
However, he expressed confidence in backups Kendrick Cook and Thomas Webb.
"Webb''s back now for us, and we have a couple tight ends (with) Kendrick Cook," Mullen said. "Both those guys have played some football. You''re four-deep with upperclassmen at that position, so we still have two tight ends ready to go right now."
1. Season opener at Columbus Speedway a success LOCAL SPORTS
2. Tennessee routs No. 3 Mississippi State COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Tennessee's win against MSU flips script LOCAL COLUMNS
5. Starkville Academy boys fall in state title game HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS