BRAD LOCKE: It's time for MSU's veterans to elevate their games

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

Dan Mullen is not the excuse-making sort, but he was treading dangerously close to that line on Monday.
Mullen is trying to fill holes at linebacker and patch up an injury-wracked offensive line. Those are challenges that can be cited as legitimate reasons for MSU’s struggles during a 2-2 start.
The Bulldogs were upset at Auburn, when two offensive linemen got hurt. They were manhandled by LSU’s defense, which was constantly getting after quarterback Chris Relf. State nearly coughed up a game to Louisiana Tech, and I really can’t think of a good reason for that happening.
That last game highlighted some issues that are hard to explain – like the play of Relf, who has been off target more often than not on downfield throws this fall. He was 14 of 29 against Louisiana Tech.
“He is still a young player,” Mullen said Monday, “he is only a second-year starter, so even though he has experience, he doesn’t have a lot of experience, and we’ve just got to coach him through these situations.”
Yes, he’s a second-year starter, but Relf is a fifth-year senior and 22 years old. It’s his third season in Mullen’s offense, and he had a strong 2010, especially at the end. He should be even better this year.
The offensive line, which couldn’t get a push up the middle against Tech, is being further shuffled this week. Left tackle James Carmon, out the last two games with a knee injury, could move to right guard for Georgia.
“It’s harder because he’s a first-year player,” said Mullen.
Drive for five
I’ll give him that, because Carmon played defense last year. But if line coach John Hevesy is as good as we think, MSU should be able to cobble together an effective starting five. Depth is another issue, and one MSU can’t control right now.
On the other side of the line, MSU hasn’t quite gotten what it needs from junior tackles Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox. They were relatively quiet Saturday.
Yet Mullen said, “They’re still young players. They’ve been through two offseasons, they’re true juniors, and they both have a lot of improving still to do.”
Boyd and Cox are veterans – 37 career starts between them – and supposedly one of the best tackle combos in the SEC. They need to start playing like it.
Likewise, Relf needs to start playing like the legit SEC quarterback we thought he was, and Carmon has to raise his level of play wherever he lines up. And State has to beat Georgia this week to avoid an 0-3 SEC start.
No excuses.
Brad Locke (brad.locke@journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.