STARKVILLE – (AP) Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen wasn’t quite sure if his defense was that good or his offense was that bad.
Regardless, he did know one thing after Friday’s first full scrimmage of spring workouts: There’s still a lot of work to do.
“I don’t know that I ever get to really be happy after a scrimmage,” Mullen said.
It wasn’t all bad for Mullen’s revamped offense that includes new starting quarterback Tyler Russell and new feature running backs LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin. There were a few encouraging signs – like Russell’s two touchdown passes and no turnovers during the nearly 150-play scrimmage – but there were also dropped passes, bad reads and ineffective stretches that plagued the marathon 2 1/2 hour scrimmage.
In other words, the kind of things that won’t allow Mississippi State to win in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference Western Division that includes Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Arkansas.
“I want to see cleanness and consistency … I think only four of our 13 drives had more than one first down and you can’t have that,” Mullen said. “That’s not moving the ball. That’s not playing the field position the game. Obviously, the defense really dominated.”
Russell unofficially completed 22 of 44 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns during Friday’s scrimmage. The 6-foot-5 junior from Meridian, played quite a bit last season while splitting time with senior Chris Relf, but now that Relf is gone, Russell will play a much more prominent role.
Backup Dak Prescott completed 17 of 32 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
Russell started out with a crisp first drive on Friday, completing 5 of 7 passes for 65 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Chris Smith.
But then the Bulldogs bogged down.
It wasn’t all the fault of the offense. Mississippi State’s veteran defense had something to say about it too.
Senior linebacker Cameron Lawrence discussed the defense’s good day as the offense ran sprints in the background – which was punishment for losing.
“We had a chip on our shoulder,” Lawrence said. “We didn’t want to be doing what they’re doing right now.”
The Bulldogs are replacing a few key starters on defense, but still return veterans like defensive tackle Josh Boyd, cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield and Lawrence. It’s a group that’s played together for four years, so it’s not particularly surprising they were usually a step ahead of the younger offense.
Mullen was pleased that the defense is starting to develop some depth and that there’s not such a huge difference between the first and second unit.
“You watch the top teams in this league and they’re rolling two or three deep in on game day,” Mullen said. “So we want to get to that point eventually. You’re starting to see guys get there.”
But Russell wasn’t using that as an excuse.
“We stop ourselves,” Russell said. “The defense played well today, but there’s nothing we haven’t seen. We’ve just got to come out here and be on the same page.”
Mullen has tweaked Mississippi State’s offense some in the offseason to take advantage of Russell’s strong arm. Offensive coordinator Les Koenning said Russell’s biggest challenge is learning the right time to take his shots downfield.
“The thing we’ve got to work with Tyler is the management of the game,” Koenning said. “He gets to where he wants to make a big play, and you’ve just got to be patient. It’s about moving the football, getting first downs, and taking your shots when you can.”