By MATTHEW STEVENS
During the play of the 2011 Gator Bowl, fans will hear the names Chis Relf and Denard Robinson an awful lot.
During the two weeks of bowl practices, both teams are using unknown commodities to simulate the starting quarterbacks of the New Year’s Day contest.
At the workouts in Starkville, Mississippi State (8-4) is comfortable using freshman athlete Jameon Lewis to simulate the dual-threat capabilities of Robinson, Michigan’s sophomore signal caller.
“(Jameon is) just a similar style player as Denard is," Mullen said. "I don't know. You can't simulate his speed. I don't know if we have anyone as fast as him so it's hard to simulate his speed. But he does a pretty good job with quickness."
Mullen admitted that Robinson, originally from Deerfield Beach, Fla., attended his high school summer camp for quarterbacks at the University of Florida where he ran a 40-yard-dash time of 4.3 seconds.
Robinson, who was an early favorite for the Heisman Trophy before missing games with injuries, is simply using this 35-day gap in between games to get healthy after suffering a sprained knee, an injury to his right shoulder, two dislocated fingers in his left hand and concussion-like symptoms.
“His legs seem fresher," Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez told the media this week. "He had a lingering shoulder problem, and his shoulder and arm feel a lot better, as well."
Robinson finished the season with 3,959 total yards of offense (2,316 passing and 1,643 rushing) while now holding seven of the top eight record spots in Michigan single-game total offense history.
“(Robinson) doesn't have the size to run between the tackles, but he's a good physical player,” Mullen said. “What makes him dangerous is when he gets into the open field - see you later.”
Lewis, a 5-foot-9 and 175-pound speedster, Lewis was three-star prospect coming out of Tylertown High School after being named the Mississippi Association of Coaches Offensive Player of the Year in Class 3A two years ago as a high school junior. The freshman, who will be redshirted after this season is completed, nicknamed ‘Tubby’ has already replicated Auburn's Heisman Trophy winner Cameron Newton, Florida's Trey Burton, and Kentucky's Randall Cobb on the Bulldogs scout team.
“We’ve got all those wild cat packages to put somebody back there and obviously he’s got the hair,” Mississippi State offensive coordinator Les Koenning joked Monday.
Michigan is trying to replicate Relf’s speed under center and his 683 yards on the ground with a much smaller player in redshirt freshman kick return specialist Jeremy Gallon. Gallon stands 8 inches shorter and roughly 60 pounds lighter than the Mississippi State quarterback but Rodriguez feels he can simulate Relf’s production in practice.
“Because he's a good runner, and they have a good running quarterback," Rodriguez stated about why they’re using Gallon.
The problem the Wolverines have in the scout team department is the player that looks physically to the eye most similar to Relf on Michigan’s quarterback depth chart is freshman Devin Gardner but the freshman from Detroit has been fighting an unknown illness these last couple of weeks along with seeking a medical redhsirt due to a back injury.
State worried about layoff time till Gator Bowl
It'll be 35 days until Mississippi State plays a football game and don't think the Bulldog coaching staff isn't worried about the rust come game time.
"You dog gone right we worry about that because their is a a fine line between getting well and losing the timing," Koenning said. "If it were a mature team, you wouldn't worry about it but with young guys out there, you got to do it over and over again."
One of the major concerns for Koenning is facing a quirky system in Michigan's 3-3-5 defense as their stacked, confusing fronts are more unusual than the Bulldogs have seen throughout the 2010 season.
"They're an odd-stacked football team and we see a lot of that on third down in our league," Koenning said. "They just do it on first, second and third down. We've seen odd packages with everybody but they just start differently than anybody else we've played."
The Wolverines have struggled defensively throughout the 2010 season ranking 108th in total defense and have allowed nearly 450 yards per contest.
MSU players go on shopping spree for charity before bowl game
A group of nearly 40 Mississippi State football players used the gift cards given to them as part of their bowl gifts to support a spending spree for local charities around the state.
The players boarded a charter bus after practice Monday headed to Wal-Mart and from there purchase gifts for children at local charities and ministries.
“Going to a New Year’s Day bowl is a great reward for our kids, and the gifts and other perks that go with it are nice,” Mullen said. “But this time of year is really about giving more than it is about getting, and for our players to do this for kids around the state of Mississippi is really a special deal.”
Following Tuesday’s practice, players began donating the gifts to charities that included Mississippi Children’s Cancer Clinic in Jackson, Tupelo Children’s Mansion, the Boys and Girls Club of Starkville and The Father’s Child Ministry, an inner-city ministry in Columbus.
Several players led by Tupelo native Chad Bumphis along with veterans K.J. Wright, Quentin Saulsberry and other players delivered gifts to the Tupelo Children's Mansion.
This morning assistant strength and conditioning coach James Townsend and a few players are scheduled to deliver gifts to the Mississippi Children's Cancer Clinic in Jackson.
The entire MSU team will report to Jacksonville the day after Christmas and begin bowl week activities that afternoon.
Kickoff for the 2011 Gator Bowl is set for 1:30 p.m. (ET) on New Year’s Day, and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.