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Sunday Talk with Dan Mullen - Bulldogs coach discusses LSU, his QB plan and perception about spread offense on 3rd down




Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE - Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen now says having two stable, starting quarterbacks on his depth chart "is a good problem to have".  


After stating emphatically over the last week that fifth-year senior Tyler Russell would get the starting nod when No. 10 LSU (4-1, 1-1 in Southeastern Conference) arrived in Starkville Saturday night, Mullen was less resounding when asked Sunday about his quarterback situation.  


"It's always going to change from game-to-game," Mullen said in his weekly media teleconference. "We'll figure that out on game day when we have the final plan ready for LSU." 


Minutes after a 62-7 victory over Troy, Mullen made sure everybody was clear on who was the starting quarterback of his football. The problem was the person he named didn't play in the 55-point blowout at Davis Wade Stadium. 


"Tyler (Russell) is our starting quarterback," Mullen said Saturday. "We plan on Tyler being the starter against LSU and going forward." 


On Sunday Mullen stated he felt better about the quarterback scenario with sophomore backup Dak Prescott having had three straight starts to his resume against Alcorn State, Auburn and Troy.  


Prescott, who has been listed in front of Russell on the official depth chart for two weeks, finished with 13 of 21 through the air for 233 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago against Troy. The 240-pound quarterback also led MSU in rushing in the first half with 53 yards a two scores. In just over 12 minutes directing the MSU offense, Prescott accounted for a career-high 296 all-purpose yards. MSU never punted once in the blowout win and Prescott's energy is what many consider to be the catalyst to such a dominating offensive performance. 


"I do feel a lot more comfortable now that Dak has got a couple of starts under his belt," Mullen said. "Having two starting quarterbacks is a good problem to have. I feel pretty comfortable with both guys." 


In the season-opening loss to then-No. 13 Oklahoma State in Houston, Russell suffered a concussion after being taken down by Cowboys defensive tackle James Castleman while sophomore linebacker Ryan Simmons finished the play. The replays shown on the stadium jumbo-tron and on the television broadcast appear to show inadvertent contact between Simmons' leg and Russell head. Minutes later, Russell was being led off the field by the MSU training staff and would later be diagnosed with a concussion that would cause him to miss the following three games. 


Through four games, Prescott is fourth among Southeastern Conference quarterbacks in rushing and ninth among all players in total offense with 231 yards per game. However, the defenses Prescott has faced in the last three games were a Football Championship subdivision opponent, 96th (Auburn) and 85th (Troy) in the nation. 


"Tyler got cleared to play but it was late in the week and since Dak had taken all the live reps against the (first-string) defense, we thought we'd give Dak the start," Mullen said after the victory over Troy. "Tyler had done seven on seven and scout team stuff but hadn't taken a live rep with the ones. That's what led to the decision." 




Here's a few other noteworthy items from Mullen's teleconference: 




- Mullen was able to watch Georgia's 44-41 home victory over LSU Saturday with friends and family and said he was able to take some things from it to the game plan this weekend because "Georgia will still spread you out offensively". 


"I got to watch all of it," Mullen said. "I got some family time with my kids and my wife, but I did get to see a whole bunch of it. The biggest thing I got out of it, LSU's really good. So is Georgia. We'll have hands full." 




- The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog also asked Mullen about this perception or knee-jerk reaction fans and analysts have against the spread offense when it comes to third-and-short situations during games. The common thought process is it makes it more difficult for the offense to pick up a third-and-short conversion because the quarterback isn't under center and the tempo is slowed down tremendously.  


During Saturday's games, ESPN analyst Todd Blackledge spoke of this perception repeatedly during Alabama's 25-0 win over Ole Miss, especially when Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace was stopped for a loss out of the shotgun resulting in the safety in the fourth quarter.  


Mullen quickly refuted that assertion about a certain offense's productivity on third downs. MSU is converting only 36.84 percent (21 of 57) of their third down conversions this season, which is good for 86th nationally and 13th in the SEC. The Bulldogs have only ranked in the Top 80 once during Mullen's tenure (2010, Tied for 25th). 


"Just look statistically who the top third down offensive teams are in the country and that will give you your answer" Mullen said. "There's a lot of spread teams that are really good on third down." 


NOTE: Now, The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog did take Mullen up on this request and the Bulldogs fifth-year head coach is correct. In fact, I was surprised to note how diverse the offensive schemes were in the Top 20 on third-down conversions this season (the graphic chart is just a click away located in the top left). For example, Stanford, which primarily runs a two tight end set, and Baylor, which runs a read-option passing attack, have the exact same percentage of conversions on third down.  


"If there's was a perfect offense or perfect defense in every scenario, then people would just run that and nobody would be able to stop it or move the ball against it," Mullen said. "I've run spread and we've been unbelievable on third down and run spread and we've had issues on third down. I've had I-formation teams where we've been great on third down and I-formation teams where we've had issues too." 




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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