Mississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen, right, talks with tight end Malcolm Johnson during a game last season. Mullen likes the way his staff develops young players and gets them ready for game action. (Photo by Rogelio V. Solis, AP)
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen had no choice last year, but to burn redshirts for some true freshmen.
The Bulldogs were battling injuries and graduated a senior class in 2012 that featured many starters on both sides of the ball. MSU lost two starters, offensive lineman Justin Malone and safety Jay Hughes, for the season in the opener. Starting quarterback Tyler Russell went down with an injury in that first game against Oklahoma State and was never the same. Backup Dak Prescott played in 11 games, but battled injuries throughout the season.
Starting running back LaDarius Perkins didn't play in week two due to an injury. All the injuries and inexperience led to several true freshmen finding playing time.
This season that won't be the case with veterans and starters returning, but a few true freshman could play this season.
"I think our staff has done a good job of developing players," Mullen said on Wednesday's Southeastern Conference teleconference. "We'll play a lot of young guys, but being able to really develop within our program and reward that development is fantastic. We'll have a lot of young guys go play for us."
This week's depth chart for the opener against Southern Miss features one redshirt freshman and two true freshmen.
Former Starkville High School quarterback and redshirt freshman Gabe Myles is listed as Jameon Lewis' backup at the slot wide receiver with true freshmen Westin Graves the backup field goal kicker and Logan Cooke the No. 2 punter.Â
Myles made the move from defensive back to wide receiver during last year's bowl preparation.Â
Bulldog defensive coordinator Geoff Collins has said numerous times that he doesn't have a depth chart. He will rotate guys in and out if they are "above the line."Â
For Mullen, a pregame depth chart doesn't mean anything to him for both sides of the ball.
"I always look at the depth chart postgame and see who played the most plays," he said. "That to me is where a depth chart really has some weight, looking at who played the most amount of plays for you in a game. That's what guys are competing to do on our team."
Targeting rule changes
There was much talk about injuries occurring in football from big hits over the middle by defensive players.
Last year college football implemented a new rule where players could be ejected for a targeting hit. A 15-yard penalty was also assessed, but an ejection could be overturned with a replay.Â
This year the 15-yard penalty will be called off if a player is not ejected for targeting upon further review, but coaches are still stressing how to go about making big plays over the middle to defensive players.
"We didn't want the penalty before so we always talked about not doing it," Mullen said. "The only strategy we really imposed in practice was we showed situations where you would be disqualified with that play and in that situation.Â
"In the end, it had a lot of impact on certain games. There were some plays where you had some pretty significant players not be able to finish a game because of that rule."
Many coaches and fans were not happy with the penalty still being assessed after the player was not ejected from the game.
"I certainly agree they have done the right thing, to where if it is not truly targeting, they are picking up the 15 yards," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "That didn't make sense to anyone to penalize the team."
There were 19 targeting calls in the SEC last season, with seven disqualifications overturned on replay.Â
Quarterbacks have new layer of protection this season. Defensive players cannot hit the quarterback below the knee while he's in a passing posture.
"Any hit that is designed with an intent to injure is a bad hit," Mullen said. "If a guy's crawling on the ground, rolling and goes low on the quarterback, you have no problem with that. A guy coming to take a shot on a quarterback and going with an intent to injure, that's where we have to protect people."
to track timelines
Mississippi State will be one of the schools using new technology when the 2014 season kicks off this week.
Along with Texas A&M tonight, Navy and Nebraska, the teams will be using smart-chip footballs this season, a revolutionary technology used to track historical timelines of individual pigskins.
According to a press release, Big Game USA, the official manufacturer of official FBS college game balls, has embedded a âgametagâ near the footballâs laces and can track the ball from the moment it leaves the factory using an app developed byÂ Prova Group. Once tracking begins, the history of the ball is recorded and all activity is sent to a secure database operated by Prova.
âGametag is cutting-edge technology that immediately changes the way game balls are authenticated, while also improving quality control of official college footballs we produce,â said Chris Calandro, founder of Big Game USA. âWe love the idea that the life of our footballs can now be tracked and preserved alongside the history of the game.â
Provaâs technology can determine each footballâs history including manufacturing date, whether or not it was used in practice or in a game and its total number of big plays. Provaâs app download will soon be available free via Google Play and later this fall in the Apple App store.
âThe days of marking footballs with ankle tape and Sharpies are long gone,â said Haroon Alvi, CEO of Prova Group. âThe concept of smart chipping footballs leaves no room for error and is a game-changer for football, its fans and sports memorabilia collectors.â
Rebel backup QBs
Ole Miss starting quarterback Bo Wallace is one of the top returners in the SEC as far as stats go.
His job is not in question, but this is his last season in Oxford and Freeze wants to develop his younger signal callers. Devante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan both redshirted last season and will fight to be the backup.
Freeze wants to use both quarterbacks at some point in time this season.
"Devante is an athletic kid and it wouldn't shock me to see him taking some snaps and doing things we think he is gifted to do," Freeze said. "If we had to stand in the pocket and make throws, Ryan is more gifted at doing that. I'm really impressed with their improvement."
The Rebels open the season tonight against Boise State in Atlanta.
Missouri plays all four non-conference games before it plays an SEC opponent this season.
The Tigers open the season with South Dakota State Saturday, then play at Toledo, Central Florida at home and Indiana in Columbia, Mo. Most all other SEC schools break up non-conference games and have them sprinkled throughout the schedule.
"That's what we did in the Big 12," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said of playing all non-conference games early in the season. "Scheduling for us â even in the next couple of years â is very challenging because we had so many of these things set already."
The Tigers play eight-straight SEC games, starting with South Carolina on the road and ending with Arkansas at home.
to be honored by Auburn
Former Auburn Tigers Phillip Lutzenkirchen and David Langer, who passed away this recently, will be honored with a moment of silence before Saturday's game against Arkansas.
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Lutzenkirchen died this summer due to a car crash, while Langer lost his battle with cancer in the spring. Lutzenkirchen played for the Tigers from 2009-11 with current head coach Gus Malzahn as the offensive coordinator. Malzahn will wear a bracelet honoring Lutzenkirchen.Â
Langer played for the Tigers in the early 70s and is most remembered for running back two blocked punts for touchdowns in a 17-16 win over Alabama in 1972.