Mississippi State's kickers better be ready at a moments notice because their coach still isn’t sure who will be going into Saturday’s game.
After competing through spring ball, summer workouts and preseason training camp, MSU head coach Dan Mullen admitted Monday that while he has a good idea in his mind what he’ll do with his duo of kickers, the competition may come down to a Saturday afternoon warm-up contest.
“I have a good idea right now going into the game,” Mullen said. “After warm-ups on Saturday, I may change that. If you're watching them warm up and one of them hits the zone they're in - we may go with that guy. I feel very comfortable with either of them being on the field.”
Both Sean Brauchle and Derek DePasquale have said during the preseason that type of game-time decision by the Mississippi State coaching staff doesn’t affect their mindset going into Saturday night’s opening contest against Memphis (6 p.m. on ESPN).
“Last season practice was so tense but we feel like this year we have to make sure when we’re out there to chill out and not worry about so much," Brauchle said.
This duo has embraced the mental component of their task on Saturdays without trying to worry too much about the technical aspects of the kicking movements.
“It’s different especially during pre-game where everybody is a little tense and focused,” DePasquale said. “We’re just trying to stay loose and have fun throughout.”
Brauchle, the senior from Biloxi, won the job last fall but was forced to watch the final half of the season with a crippling leg injury while DePasquale made 10 of 12 field goal attempts including a 48-yarder in the season finale against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.
“It may be the middle of the third quarter when they're going in. They don't really worry too much about it,” Mullen said. “They’re both very focused on improving themselves and I think that is the whole key. It's about how can I improve myself to be a better kicker? That's been our whole focus through training camp. I feel very comfortable with either of them being on the field.”
Heath Hutchins looks to be the projected starting punter after backup Baker Swedenburg was mentioned as “probable” on Mullen’s new injury policy Monday. Hutchins, a senior, had a 39.7 yards per punt average and had 11 punts downed inside the opponents 20-yard-line in 2009.
Hutchins had worked with Mullen this preseason on some technical changes that he compared to the idea of golfer’s conversation with a swing coach.
“It can make a huge difference,” Hutchins said. “It’s just like you take a driver on a golf swing, the same concept. You know what I’m saying, it’s a big difference in a 300-yard drive and a 200-yard drive.”
Mullen said Monday having at least four lettermen in the return game could give the Bulldogs an opportunity for significant improvement in that area of play. The MSU head coach listed seniors Leon Berry and Maurice Langston along with explosive sophomore Chad Bumphis and redshirt freshman Ladarius Perkins could be in the mix to be starting returners.
“I feel comfortable with the return game because we do have experience,” Mullen said. “There's guys that have returned kicks, there's guys that have returned punts in games before.”
SEC coaches defend non-conference scheduling
Certain coaches in the Southeastern Conference were on the defensive Wednesday when asked to give its opinion on its non-conference slate.
After a Birmingham News piece by SEC reporter Jon Solomon came out Wednesday morning that discussed a lack of big-time non-conference opponents for SEC schools, coaches came out in the weekly teleconference strongly against that philosophy being treated as trend.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt, whose Bulldogs play BCS schools Colorado and Georgia Tech in its 2010 non-league schedule, suggested that a weaker non-conference slate doesn’t necessarily mean the league is weaker as a result.
“Well, let me ask you this – who has won the last four national championships?,” said Richt. “I don’t think those teams have gone overboard playing schools out of conference."
It was Mullen, whose team played one of the country's most difficult schedules in 2009, who took quick exception to the idea.
"You must not have researched our schedule," Mullen said. "Last year, we played the hardest schedule in college football schedule. I have no idea what you're talking about man but you might want to research that. Last year, we played the hardest schedule in the country, I don't know how we could beef it up any more than that."
When Glier attempted to clarify his question referring to the Birmingham News' stats that should the league as a whole played less Top 10 teams, had the second-lowest FBS winning percentage among non-conference opponents and the least amount of away games - Mullen said he wasn't aware of what other schools were doing.
"I don’t really look much at that," Mullen said.
MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin gave his non-conference scheduling philosophy in May during a one-on-one interview with the Starkville Daily News that gave a similar viewpoint to most of the SEC head coaches.
“My hope is we play a really good high-profile non-conference opponent every December or January," Stricklin said in May. "I want to schedule in a way that allows us the opportunity to do that."
MSU names captains for 2010 season
Mullen announced Tuesday after practice the program had picked its four captains for the 2010 season as linebackers K.J. Wright and Chris White, offensive tackle Derek Sherrod and defensive end Pernell McPhee were selected by the players
“I just think it shows some of the leadership (on defense) and we’re still a young offensive team,” Mullen said. “Sometimes some of the younger players need to step into those roles and hopefully down the road they’ll develop that way.”
Having captains for the 2010 season shows a different way of thinking from last year when Mullen didn’t publicly mention his game captains until the week before the season-ending Egg Bowl win over Ole Miss.
“In the second year in the program, (it's) a lot easier to name captains because they understand what the leadership's about, what our players are expected to do, and what we're looking for in a team,” Mullen said.
Chris Relf injury update
The status on Mississippi State junior quarterback Chris Relf has not changed over the last three days.
With players not being made available to the media after Tuesday’s practice, only physical observations could be made as the team made its way off the field and into the Holliman Center. As Relf walked into the building the 6-foot-4, 240-pound signal caller was not wearing any protective item such as tape, or a splint or even gloves on either hand.
The MSU coaching staff and players were consistent in their views Monday that Relf, who is projected to be the starting quarterback, would play and likely start in the 2010 season opener against Memphis.
“(Chris) has a very calm head,” Sherrod said. “We’re just looking to go in ready for this very anticipated game with Memphis, and we’re all just going to enjoy it."
Sherrod admitted Monday that he talked with Relf both days this past weekend but deflected his response when asked specifically about Relf’s injured finger.
“I think I’ll let coach Mullen handle answering that,” Sherrod said.