The Mississippi State football team’s trip to Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, announced as a sellout Tuesday, will be a homecoming for left tackle Blaine Clausell.
A starter at tackle since his redshirt freshman season, Clausell played football at Baker High School in Mobile, where he became the school’s first player to sign with a Southeastern Conference school. Now a senior, Clausell will play at home for the first time.
“It’s a good feeling,” Clausell said. “I have a lot of family and friends that are going to try to be there. I think I have about 30 ticket requests. They all want to see me and come talk to me while I’m down there, but, at the same time, it’s a business trip for us. I want to see everybody and have fun, but mainly I’m just focused on playing the game.”
Clausell, a 6-foot-7, 325-pounder, said this will be his first trip to Ladd Peebles Stadium since his team played Davidson High.
“It will be cool to come back,” Clausell said.
While MSU coach Dan Mullen has rotated his quarterbacks often, South Alabama’s players and coaches remain focused on stopping starter Dak Prescott.
The Jaguars have kept a sense of humor about it. When asked about his game plan to slow Prescott, South Alabama coach Joey Jones drew laughs at his weekly press conference by saying, “Not yet. Do you guys have any ideas?”
Prescott has directed an offense that’s averaging 48 points in two games, the highest average after two games for the Bulldogs since 1914.
“They are doing a heck of a job averaging 530 yards per game,” Jones said. “(Mullen) is calling plays now, and really does a great job. I really respect him as a coach; he understands offense. Their quarterback does a good job, too. He really makes it all go.”
South Alabama, which has won four-straight games, looked strong defensively last week in a season-opening 23-13 win at Kent State. Still, Prescott presents a unique challenge.
Some Jaguars think the hype about Prescott and MSU might be a tad overblown.
“They have a very good quarterback. They’re a pretty explosive offense,” South Alabama linebacker Maleki Harris said. “But we have been facing an explosive offense through spring practice and camp. I feel like our offense is just as good, if not better, than theirs.”
Setting the pace
On the day MSU’s players reported for fall camp, Prescott and starting offensive guard Ben Beckwith let the press in on a little secret, as both talked about MSU’s work toward establishing a no-huddle, up-tempo offense.
A day later, Mullen denied the reports, saying, “We are a ball-control offense and will continue to be a ball-control offense.”
After two games the secret is out. MSU has moved the ball at a lightning pace, establishing a new identity with its a no-huddle attack. Through two games, nine of MSU’s 12 touchdown drives have taken three minutes or less. Five of those drives have taken less than two minutes and two, including the opening drive last week against Alabama-Birmingham, have reached the end zone in less than a minute. MSU’s average scoring drive this season checks in at a little more than two minutes.
Senior safety Justin Cox, a former All-American at East Mississippi Community College and a product of West Point High School, pulled up lame after attempting to make a tackle against UAB. The result was a mild injury that has Cox questionable for MSU’s game Saturday at South Alabama.
If Cox can’t go, it could mean more opportunities for young safeties like Kivon Coman, who blocked a punt against UAB, and Deontay Evans.
Jay Hughes, MSU’s other starting safety, isn’t worried.
“I trust all of our guys back there,” Hughes said. “Kivon, Deontay, Justin … I don’t think there’s a big change when one of us goes down.”
MSU defensive lineman Preston Smith could run out of ways to top himself. Smith, a 6-foot-6, 267-pound defensive end, has been so good that he has won both Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week awards this season. Those honors go with the Defensive MVP award he won at the Liberty Bowl to end last season.
Through two games, Smith leads Football Bowl Subdivision with two interceptions. He also has played a key role in both of MSU’s defensive scores. In the opener against Southern Miss, Smith blocked a field goal that was returned for a score by Hughes. He had a 21-yard interception return for a score against UAB.
Asked if Smith can continue to improve, MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said, “Absolutely. He has so much talent, so much raw ability. Every day he’s with (defensive line coach David Turner), he gets a little better. We haven’t seen the best of Preston Smith yet.”