STARKVILLE — Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen understands why Auburn coach Gus Malzahn relinquished his play-calling duties.
Malzahn, who admitted his play calling hadn’t been very good in Auburn’s two losses, handed the duties over to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee before his team defeated LSU 18-13 on Saturday. Lashlee will call the plays the rest of the season.
Mullen, who was an offensive coordinator at Florida from 2005-08, has been calling the plays the last couple of seasons for MSU. But he said it’s “tricky” to call plays and to be in charge of the entire team.
“If I’m actually doing head coaching things, I don’t think we miss a beat with somebody else calling the plays,” Mullen said Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference teleconference. “Even though I call a bunch of the plays, they’ll be times where I click over and say, ‘Hey, I need to do something with the defense, call the plays,’ and then somebody else is calling them.”
Mullen and MSU (2-2, 1-1 SEC) are off this week. They will play host to Auburn (2-2, 1-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 8 (SEC Network), at Davis Wade Stadium. Mullen said Tuesday he is using this week to clean up some problems and get some regular players some rest so they can heal up.
MSU offensive line coach John Hevesy and wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales serve as the co-offensive coordinators. Les Koenning, who is the offensive coordinator at Alabama-Birmingham, served as the MSU offensive coordinator from 2009-13.
Mullen was asked if he has contemplated giving up play calling, but he said he doesn’t want to mess with the current setup.
“I love and enjoy calling plays,” Mullen said. “There’s been years here where I haven’t called plays. Some years I have and some years I’ve called part of them. The last couple of years I’ve called the plays and I think we’ve done pretty well offensively, so I’ve kind of wanted to stick with that.”
In that time, Mullen had quarterback Dak Prescott as his starting quarterback. Prescott, who is starting for the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, broke 38 school records. In 2014, MSU averaged 513.8 yards and 36.9 points per game. Last season, Prescott helped the Bulldogs average 460.5 yards and 34.4 ppg.
MSU has been trying to find its way on offense with sophomore Nick Fitzgerald as the new quarterback. In four games, MSU is averaging 433.8 yards and 28.5 ppg.
In Auburn’s two losses (19-13 to Clemson and 29-16 to Texas A&M) the offense had 661 yards.
“It hit me pretty hard after the first game (against Clemson),” Malzahn said Tuesday. “That’s how we got to this point. It was very refreshing last week during practice, during preparations. I wasn’t coaching angry out there Saturday, and I think that was very big. It was very refreshing, and that’s what I’m going to do moving forward.”
Daniel Carlson made six field goals to help Auburn, which had 388 yards of offense, gain its first SEC win.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze served as Steve Roberts’ offense coordinator at Arkansas State in 2010. Freeze said he is involved in play calling in certain situations like the red zone and when the offense goes up tempo, but he lets the staff handle the rest.
“It’s very difficult to consistently every week game plan to where you have the same knowledge as somebody else who sits in that room constantly,” Freeze said Wednesday on the SEC teleconference. “I know when I was an offensive coordinator, that’s all I did. I didn’t worry about interviews, I worried about my room and getting plays that were sound. It changes dramatically when you get to this level and become a head coach.”
Mullen will continue to call the plays, but he is in a different situation than Malzahn.
“I understand where he comes from,” Mullen said. “As a head coach, there’s an awful lot to manage during the course of the game.”
n In related news, MSU senior linebacker Richie Brown was named Wednesday a semifinalist for the 2016 William V. Campbell Trophy, the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF).
The award recognizes the nation’s best football scholar-athlete.
Brown is the second Bulldog in as many years to be considered for the award. Cornerback Taveze Calhoun was a finalist for the award last season. He was the only finalist from the SEC.
Brown graduated this past spring with a degree in industrial technology, earning a 3.52 grade-point average. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration.
Brown has a team-high 28 tackles (two-and-a-half for loss), one sack, and one quarterback hurry.
The NFF will announce 12-14 finalists Nov. 1, and each will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship as a member of the 2016 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class, presented by Fidelity. The winner will be named Dec. 6 at the 59th NFF Annual Awards Dinner in New York City. The winner will receive a $25,000 postgraduate scholarship.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.