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SMITH COLUMN: Mullen handles signal callers in his own way

November 16, 2011

By DANNY P. SMITH
Sports Editor
sdnsports@bellsouth.net

Here is a message for all of the armchair quarterbacks who follow Mississippi State football.
MSU football coach Dan Mullen believes the right way to handle signal callers is to rotate them in and out of games, just like running backs and wide receivers. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.
That's not enough of a reason for him to change his plan concerning the players that line up behind center.
When asked at his Monday press conference if he thought quarterbacks were unique, Mullen's answer was, "you do. I don't."
Mullen treats the signal callers the same as any other position on the field. Practice dictates which quarterback starts or plays most of the game for the Bulldogs.
The MSU coaching staff was criticized by some with the way they used Chris Relf, Tyler Russell and Dylan Favre in last Saturday's 24-7 loss to Alabama.
Relf started against the Tide because he graded out the best of the three during practice, but the Bulldogs ran three plays and punted. It was the same result on the second series with Russell at quarterback.
MSU played all three quarterbacks with very little success. Relf got knocked out of the game with a concussion, while Russell threw a touchdown pass to Chris Smith for the only points in the fourth quarter.
For sure, it seems to be difficult for a quarterback to get in any kind of rhythm when they are being yanked in and out of games, but that's what you get with a Mullen-coached spread offense.
It was the same when Mullen had Chris Leak and Tim Tebow as the offensive coordinator at Florida and it was the same two years ago with Bulldogs Tyson Lee and Relf.
MSU's offensive coaches seem to be on board with Mullen's way of thinking and know it can be a good way to confuse opponents.
"It's a great way to mix it up," Bulldogs offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "It's hard for defensive coordinators to get in a rhythm and know exactly who's in the game and what they can expect. I think it's to our advantage that you can have two that can play, especially when one got dinged up and the other one comes in, you don't feel near as bad. If you only had one and had everything in, it's pretty tough."
Koenning said Russell understood why Relf started against Alabama, but also knew he was going to play at some point and Relf knew he was going to play as well.
"When your number is called, you go in and do your job," Mullen said.
It was not made clear early in the week whether Relf's head would be clear enough to play against Arkansas on Saturday.
If Relf isn't available, it will be interesting to see how MSU choses to use Russell and Favre in a rotation.
We may see more of the craziness that occurred on the sixth and 10th offensive possessions against Alabama when most of the offensive line went out wide along with a wide receiver Arceto Clark, Favre and center Dillon Day were in the middle and the field and the other receiver Chris Smith was on the other side.
The Bulldogs have a name for that formation, but Koenning would not share that "one word" with the media.
"It's something that our kids know," Koenning said. "The reason I'm not saying is one word tells them all what to do and it's pretty instrumental to us. If we use it again, it will be great for those kids because when they hear one word, they know exactly who goes in the game, where to line up and what play we're going to run."
Everything MSU does on offense is to cause opposing defenses to think.
Let's just hope the Bulldogs aren't trying to out-think themselves.

Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.

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