|April 04, 2009||Baseball: MSU 8, Auburn 3||no comments|
|April 04, 2009||Football Scrimmage: Defense Wins Big||no comments|
|April 03, 2009||Baseball: Auburn 9, MSU 8||no comments|
|April 03, 2009||Blog Bag Bonus||no comments|
|April 03, 2009||Hogue: 'I Wish I Was a Freshman'||no comments|
|April 02, 2009||Anthony Johnson to Transfer||4 comments|
|April 02, 2009||Varnado Seeking NBA Feeback||no comments|
|April 02, 2009||Baseball: Bulldogs Try to Bounce Back||2 comments|
|April 01, 2009||Football Season Tickets Going Fast||1 comments|
|April 01, 2009||Raw Audio: Tyson Lee||1 comments|
True freshman Nick Routt threw a complete game – his third straight – as MSU bounced back from Friday's heart-breaking 9-8 setback to even the series. Game 3 is 1:30 p.m. Sunday, with Forrest Moore (2-0, 2.60) the likely starter for State.
In nine innings of work, Routt (4-1) yielded three earned runs on eight hits, struck out a career-high 12, walked one and threw 119 pitches.
"We knew that if we came out with intensity that the wins would come," said center fielder Grant Hogue, who was 3-for-5 with an RBI. "And Nick Routt, you can’t say anything else about that. He’s unreal."
Over his last three starts, in which he's totaled 24 innings, Routt has yielded 10 earned runs on 22 hits, whiffed 27, walked six and averaged 117 pitches.
"The best thing he’s got going for him is his brain, because his brain just simplifies the game: I go to strike, I’m going to force you to put balls in play, we’re going to make plays behind (me)," said MSU coach John Cohen.
State (16-14, 4-7 SEC) collected 12 hits, eight of them off Auburn starter Jon Luke Jacobs (3-1). Hogue, slowed early in the season by a shoulder injury, is 13-for-17 over his last four games. Third baseman Russ Sneed, who struck out three times Friday, was 4-for-4 with a solo home run in the fifth that made it 5-0.
"I’m changing my swing around a little bit right now, and I’ve got my timing with it a little bit better today," he said.
MSU put up a four spot in the first inning, highlighted by Connor Powers' two-run home run to left. Coming out of the gates fast helped the Bulldogs put Friday's debacle behind them.
"I think our kids needed that," Cohen said. "Before I met with you guys last night, I ran in there and I really wanted to tell our kids, ‘Hey, you played hard.’ I thought we had great focus, our kids gave it everything they had, and some things just didn’t happen for us late in the game."
Right fielder Ryan Collins was 2-for-3 for State with two runs and an RBI double in a two-run eighth.
More thoughts from MSU, starting with Cohen:
• On Routt: "I think Nick Routt was the story of this game. He put our whole club on his shoulders and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this game today.'"
• On Powers' HR: "That just tells you how strong that guy is. If he can find barrell, even with an effortless type swing like that, he’s going to hit balls out of the yard here. We need to get his barrel in a better position more often so he can do that type of thing."
• On his HR: "The pitcher threw me a first-pitch changeup the entire day, and I was just looking changeup, and I got it up and over the plate and luckily put a good swing on it."
• On doing the little things: "I think we got every bunt down today, we had runners on third with less than two outs a few times, we got them in. That’s what happens whenever you execute the game."
• On his recent surge: "I’m not going to blame it on the shoulder or whatnot, but I feel better now, and I thank God for that."
• "They take a lot of pitches early in the count, so that’s probably why I had 12 strikeouts."
• "Maybe toward the end of the game I feel a little fatigue, probably, but you’ve just got to push through it and keep pitching."
Mississippi State scrimmaged for just over two hours this morning, and it was dominated by the defense. The D made three interceptions and eight "sacks" (QBs in red, of course), and cornerback Damein Anderson returned a fumble 80 yards for a touchdown.
"Defense won, not even close today," coach Dan Mullen said. "I was happy with our defense, came out and played hard. At the end right there, I think we called out the score, and they were up big, and I think at the end they kind of slacked off a little bit, the offense got to punch a couple in."
The offense did score four TDs late, but all in first-and-goal situations from the 5-yard line. Nevertheless, the defense wasn't happy with the finish. "For a good defense, you’ve got to shut them down," linebacker Jamar Chaney said. "When you’ve got them down, you’ve got to keep them down, and we didn’t do that today."
The offense scored only two other touchdowns otherwise – a 12-yard pass from Tyson Lee to Delmon Robinson (drive started at defense's 40), and a 25-yard run by Anthony Dixon (started at defense's 25). Lee finished 9-for-19 for 91 yards and one interception (by safety Zach Smith), while backup Chris Relf was 5-for-18 for 29 yards and picked twice (by linebackers Bo Walters and Jamie Jones). He had no TD passes.
"I’m real disappointed with the offense’s performance today, right from front to back," Mullen said. "The offensive line has been working solid, they were just turning guys free in protection today, going the wrong way." So why the struggles? Said Lee, "I think right now we’re trying to learn it and make it second nature, but we’re trying to think too much. When it’s not second nature, you can’t really think and then make a play."
Some more thoughts from Mullen and his players, starting with Mullen:
• On the defense deflecting several passes, getting pressure: "The defense did a real good job of that stuff today. They did a good job getting some pressure, really the first half saw us getting some real good pressure on the quarterback."
• "I thought our backs ran hard, but you just see the obvious lack of playmakers. We just need to get some playmakers here."
• On not playing in the first-and-goal situations: "I kind of wish I was up in there at the end to help my team, that was kind of depressing. But they called it a defensive win, so we’ve got to go with that. He’s the boss."
• On his 25-yard TD run, during which he hurdled two defenders: "I was just reading my defenders. I’ve been playing running back for a minute, so I know when they get in that little squat stance, they’re trying to get that little angle at my knees, they’re trying to cut me. That was just me using my technique, that’s all it was, and getting in the end zone."
From linebacker K.J. Wright:
• On depth at LB: "One thing we do have is depth. We’re trying to get the buys behind us more competition. The guys behind you get you better, that’s what we’ve got in that linebacking group."
• On juco transfer Chris White: "He’s learning, he’s starting at Will (weakside), he’s playing real good so far."
• On learning the offense: "I think it’s just totally opposite from what a lot of guys are used to. I think it’s a blessing I went to junior college and I ran somewhat of a spread offense. Guys that have been in the I (formation) or been in something like that, it’s a total change to the spread offense."
Mississippi State blew one tonight, letting a 6-3 lead evaporate in the ninth inning and losing 9-8 to Auburn at Dudy Noble Field. All six runs were off closer Chad Crosswhite (0-3). The killer blow was a three-run home run by Joseph Sanders with two outs. MSU (15-14, 3-7 SEC) staged a rally in the bottom half of the inning but left the winning run on first base.
"We’re not good enough to win these games yet. We will be, but we’re not good enough yet," MSU coach John Cohen said.
State had seized control after Connor Powers' two-run homer broke a 3-3 tie in the seventh, and Luke Adkins added an RBI double in the eighth. Powers was 2-for-4 with three RBIs, while Adkins finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs.
"We had it right there at the end and gave it away," Adkins said. "But I think we showed we’ve still got a lot of fight in us, even coming back in the bottom of the ninth."
MSU aided Auburn's cause with a defensive mishap. Justin Hargett's ground ball got past shortstop Ryan Powers, who was slow to react, and left fielder Ryan Collins – who'd just come in for Adkins – let the ball get away from him. That error allowed the tying run to score.
"When it rains, it pours for you," Cohen said. "But what we didn’t do – and this is something that I think is different – we didn’t say, ‘The world’s against, we’re down three, they just scored a six spot, we’re going to lay down and quit.’"
Auburn (19-9, 5-5) collected 18 hits to MSU's 15. Sanders, Tony Caldwell and Ben Jones had three hits apiece for the Tigers.
The finish overshadowed a strong outing by State starting pitcher Tyler Whitney. The junior left-hander threw 6.1 innings, striking out a career-high nine batters while scattering 10 hits and yielding three runs.
MSU's bullpen gave up six runs Wednesday in a 7-1 loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
"For right now, we’ve got to be the scrappy bunch that has to overcome everything," Cohen said. "Tonight we fell short in that area."
We're live at Dudy Noble Field for some Mississippi State-Auburn baseball (follow my updates on Twitter at bradlocke), but I've got some football for you. The Bulldogs just finished up practice about 6 p.m. (started at 2:45).
There were few Blog Bag questions this week, all football-related, so I'll wrap them up into this report. Those questions were:
Q: I had heard that Templeton Hardy played both OL and DL during his redshirt year last year. Can you tell us which position he is currently at?
A: Hardy is playing on the offensive line right now.
Q: How is the true freshman (forgot his name) that switched to QB from safety looking?
A: I assume you mean Cameron Lawrence. He's been spending time at quarterback, but lately at receiver as well because of a shortage there due to injuries. Said coach Dan Mullen of Lawrence: "I don’t know if he’s going to end up being a receiver for us, but you know what he’s doing is he’s building a lot of different skill sets right now, and that’s real important for him. … I think he’ll be playing another position again before the spring’s out."
Q: From what you've seen, whats the possibilities of not having to waste QB Tyler Russell's freshman year this upcoming season.
A: Good question. Mullen won't really commit to an answer – he doesn't have enough depth at QB to do so – but he has said he never plans on redshirting anyone. I imagine it'll be hard for Russell to take over the job with so few reps.
Q: Will Anthony Dixon be catching more passes out of backfield?
A: He's going to have to, with the aforementioned depth issues. Mullen likes versatility in his backs, and Dixon's been lining up at receiver in practice.
Some more thoughts from Mullen today:
• On Saturday's scrimmage-like practice: "Tomorrow’s going to be a big, big scrimmage for us. We need to have a big day, so we don’t need to blow them out today."
• On CB Marcus Washington: "We still need some more depth, but those guys are really following Marcus’ lead, and hopefully he’s really going to set the example to develop those young guys." Note: I'll be writing about the cornerbacks in Sunday's Journal.
• On the shortage of WRs and RBs: "There were some new walk-ons and stuff, we just threw them out here today. Coach Hud’s (Mark Hudspeth) getting in shape trying to chase them around and just trying to get them lined up and what route to run, just so we can run a play out here."
Mississippi State's baseball team returns home this weekend for a three-game series against Auburn (link), with Game 1 set for 6:30 p.m. today. The Bulldogs (15-13, 3-6) are in last place in the SEC Western Division, which is where they finished last year. They do not want to finish there again, but they're bolstered by what they think coach John Cohen can bring in the future.
Senior outfielder Grant Hogue said it's a bittersweet time for him. "I kind of do look at the time and wish I was a freshman now, because those guys have a very bright future for sure," he said. How bright? Said Hogue, "It’s going to be special before he leaves here. It may take a few years, but he’s going to bring championships here for sure."
Of immediate concern is getting on track this season. MSU lost five straight SEC games before salvaging Game 3 against Arkansas on Sunday. The Bulldogs then lost to Louisiana-Monroe, 7-1, on Wednesday. State's pitching has been up and down, and its hitting almost non-existent.
"You look at LSU last year, LSU was right with us early in the year and got hot, won five or six SEC series in a row," Hogue said (it was actually three series). "There’s time left for sure. As a team, we’ve gone through too much to let up. We’ve worked too hard to write if off."
In football news, we of course had the Anthony Johnson thing (link) that I reported on. And the team practiced yesterday and will do so again today (3:30 p.m.) and Saturday (10 a.m.). I plan on reporting from both sessions.
To hoops: As I reported here yesterday, Jarvis Varnado is seeking feedback from the NBA on his draft status. Also, Georgia has finally found a new basketball coach – Mark Fox. Who? Yeah, here is the link.
Anthony Johnson, whose football career at Mississippi State began with so much promise, plans to transfer to another school. MSU compliance guru Bracky Brett confirmed the rumor moments ago. "He remains in school for the rest of the semester, but he will be transferring," Brett said.
Johnson, a cornerback, has been suspended from the team since his involvement in a shooting incident in March 2008, after his stellar freshman season. He started 11 of 12 games and had 52 tackles and three interceptions. He is best remembered for his 103-yard interception return for touchdown against Alabama (link).
Brett said he has does not know what school or schools Johnson is considering transferring to. He hasn't even spoken with Johnson about it; Brett find out about the transfer when talking with head coach Dan Mullen a few days ago. Mullen had left the door open for Johnson to return to the team. Brett said Johnson is on track to leave MSU with his academic eligibility intact.
Johnson's brother, Kenyatta Johnson, is a senior at Provine. He said through Provine assistant coach Leon Sherrod that he didn't know anything about his brother's transfer plans. A call to the home of Johnson's father, Anthony Perkins, went unanswered.
Johnson's loss hurts even more because of MSU's lack of depth at cornerback. Another candidate for that position, juco transfer Maurice Langston, is suspended from the team after his arrest on a drug charge Feb. 28.
Mississippi State junior center Jarvis Varnado has filed paperwork to seek feeback from the NBA about his draft status. He signed the paperwork, which comes from the NBA advisory committee, Monday night after accepting the Howell Trophy in Jackson, according to his father, Winston Varnado.
This is not the same as declaring for the draft, but it's a step in that direction. Doing this allows players to speak with NBA vice-president of operations Stu Jackson and get an idea of where they would go in the draft, and with that a “very honest look at the strengths and weaknesses of their games at this point in time”, said MSU compliance guru Bracky Brett. All the while remaining in compliance with NCAA eligibility rules, of course.
The elder Varnado said a decision by his son is probably still a ways off, especially after Jarvis' maternal grandmother passed away Wednesday night. "He’s focusing on just now and not thinking about what he’s going to do," Winston said.
Winston said it's a very tough decision for Jarvis, who led the Bulldogs in scoring (12.9 ppg), rebounding (8.8 rpg) and blocks (4.7 bpg) this season. He's loving his role on the team and the college life in general. "He loves Mississippi State; he doesn’t want to leave. He wants to come back for his senior year. I told him, 'It’s your decision, whatever you decide, I’ll support you.'
"He wants to try it, but then again he doesn’t want to try it, because he wants to come back to Mississippi State. … I told him, you won’t get your college years back."
If he does declare for the draft – which he must do by April 26 – Varnado will not hire an agent so as to retain his eligibility. (He would have until June 15 to withdraw his name.) Winston Varnado plans on speaking with Jackson in about two weeks, and it might not be until then that his son decides what to do.
"Then again, he may go home this weekend and talk with his mom and me and say, ‘I want to do this.’"
The MSU baseball suffered a road loss at Louisiana-Monroe last night, 7-1. Looks bad, but ULM got six of its runs in the seventh inning off relievers Greg Houston (1-1) and Jared Wesson. Starter Forrest Moore was solid through six innings, allowing one run on two hits with 11 strikeouts and five walks. Tough no-decision there. State's batters collected seven hits and left six men on base.
"It’s not like our kids aren’t trying, they just really struggle to meet the demands of what it’s going to take," coach John Cohen said this morning. He cited as an example his players' inability to stay under the pitches of ULM pitcher Don Williams last night.
MSU (15-13, 3-6 SEC) hosts Auburn this weekend. The rotation: Tyler Whitney on Friday, Nick Routt on Saturday, TBA Sunday. The Bulldogs have been on the road two straight weekends, so they'll take any edge they can find.
"Where you are where we are right now, taking a deep breath after every pitch, we need some good things to happen for us," Cohen said.
The Tigers (18-9, 4-5) also have a first-year coach, John Pawlowski. "We continue to be a work in progress," he said. "As we progress through conference and through the season, our goal is to keep our head above water in the SEC right now."
In other news, got a football notebook for you in today's Journal (link). The Bulldogs return to the practice field today at 3:30 p.m., and the way the weather's looking (70 percent chance of rain at that time, says The Weather Channel), they might be inside the Palmeiro Center. They also practice Friday and Saturday.
And in softball, Lady Bulldog Chelsea Bramlett, a junior catcher, has been named one of 25 finalists for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. Bramlett, a finalist last year as well, is hitting .505 with 33 runs scored. By the way, MSU lost to Ole Miss last night, 8-3, in the annual M&F Bank Fastpitch Softball Classic in Madison.
Football season tickets are being sold at a pretty good rate, according to AD Greg Byrne. He couldn't provide me with a specific figure, but he said sales are ahead of what they were this time last year, when State was coming off a Liberty Bowl win. "We’ve been very pleased with our fans’ response, especially considering the economy," he said. "People have been pleased by Coach (Dan) Mullen and what he’s bringing to the table for our football program."
As with any coaching change, there's going to be some excitement and an increase in ticket sales. Methinks Mullen's ability to sell both himself and his vision has helped even further.
"We certainly have sold some new season tickets," Byrne said. "To be honest with you, with the economy (struggling), if you can maintain and grow a little bit on top of that, you can be successful. And we’re on pace to do that."
Can State sell out its season ticket packages? Scott Stricklin, associate AD for external affairs, said doing that would mean selling 38,000 to 40,000 packages. "I think we’ll have a good number this year. I think we’ll be the mid-to-upper 30s," said Stricklin, who added that MSU sold about 26,000 packages last year.
MSU capitalized on Mullen's hiring by sending out renewal applications around National Signing Day in February, a couple of months earlier than normal. That makes it hard for Stricklin to project what the final total will be, but one figure that can be quantified in context is the number of pledges that are made in conjunction with season ticket purchases.
"We’re probably 10-15 percent ahead financially on donations coming in this year than this time last year," he said. Given the current state of the economy, I'd say that's pretty remarkable. But as Stricklin pointed out, this is the South we're talking about.
"Even though it’s expendable income, in this part of the country, college football is probably going to be the last entertainment dollar (families) eliminate from their budget. They may cut out vacation, but they’re going to keep their football season tickets."
Bulldog Club members need to buy their packages by 5 p.m. today if they want their pledges to count toward such things as priority parking and seat change requests. The deadline for everyone is May 15.
Finally, I am able to bring y'all audio of interviews, which I think is pretty cool. Thanks to online editor Todd Vinyard for helping me figure out how to do it. This is kind of a test run, but it should work (let me know if you have any problems, and if you'd like it to be a regular feature on this blog).
This is an interview with MSU quarterback Tyson Lee following Tuesday's practice. The first part is Aaron Seidlitz of the Starkville Daily News asking Lee about the coaching staff; the rest is me asking about practice and the quarterbacks' offseason work. (Note: Lee mentioned throwing three days a week in the offseason; as he was leaving, he corrected himself, saying it was five days with weekends included.)