Smith column: Many Bulldogs get in on fun in the opener
MSU head coach Dan Mullen (left) and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz (right) greets defensive players Emmanuel Gatling (48), Johnthan Banks (13) and others as they come off the field. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
The musical chairs that is Mississippi State football under head coach Dan Mullen was certainly on display Saturday night.
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It didn't matter if it was at quarterback, running back or even kicker, the Bulldogs had to be on call for just about any situation during the 49-7 victory against the University of Memphis at Davis-Wade Stadium.
If you went to the game wanting to see Chris Relf play quarterback and throw a touchdown pass, then you didn't have to wait long. He hit former East Mississippi Community College player Leon Berry with a 55-yard score with 10:14 left in the first quarter.
It was a credit to Mullen to go back to Relf immediately after having some early adversity.
After throwing an interception on the first offensive possession for MSU, Relf came back to complete a first-down pass of 12 yards to Chad Bumphis and the touchdown to Berry.
If you wanted to see Tyler Russell get his first opportunity as a signal caller at MSU, that happened also and he threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Heavens at the 6:11 mark of the first quarter.
Relf and Russell alternated series to start the second half.
After Russell started the second half and threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Heavens, Relf came in, ran a nifty option play where he pitched to LaDarius Perkins and Vick Ballard capped the drive with a 1-yard scoring run.
While we're in the backfield, let's see how the running backs were used.
Robert Elliott started and had a carry or two, then Perkins had some nice runs in the second quarter.
The biggest carry for the Bulldogs came with 1:58 remaining in the second quarter when Ballard broke loose for a 51-yard touchdown.
Before Ballard's score, it's not like MSU had a comfortable lead while making all of these changes. It appeared that Mullen was experimenting on the fly. He seemed to interchange at will with no rhyme or reason as to why he was doing it.
Mullen said it was all part of the plan.
"Basically we got what we wanted," Mullen said. "We had great balance throughout the game. The running backs played well and we tried to split up the carries. Both quarterbacks did well and we had a lot of guys making catches."
Heavens had five catches for 112 yards, Berry added five grabs for 91 yards and Chad Bumphis received four for an even 100 yards.
Ballard was the leading rusher with seven carries for 60 yards, while Perkins added 57 yards on eight attempts and Elliott carried the ball the most with 11 attempts for 39 yards.
Russell came back from a struggle in the spring game to complete 13 of 16 pass attempts for 256 yards and four touchdowns. Relf completed 7 of 9 for 116 yards and a TD.
There was really no clue as to when Mullen was going to make a change at quarterback, running back, or kicker. Both Sean Brauchle and Derek DePasquale were used on extra point and field goals. Brauchle missed a 38-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter and as the special teams coach, I'm sure Mullen wasn't smiling about that result.
A missed field goal or some other mistake could be the difference between winning or losing when the Bulldogs host the Auburn Tigers Thursday night.
The competition steps up tremendously as MSU enters Southeastern Conference play.
Whether the Bulldogs showed everything they had defensively against Memphis or not, they're going to have to come up with a completely different package against former commitment and Auburn signal caller Cam Newton.
It certainly seems like Mullen is going to keep everyone guessing.
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.