Bulldogs' leaders need to speak up

STARKVILLE – As Mississippi State’s offense searches for its identity, it’s also searching for its voice.
MSU has had its share of issues on offense from an execution standpoint, and its two-quarterback system is still a work-in-progress, but there is another element that’s been noticeably absent: vocal leadership.
For a young offense with lots of potential, that’s a big missing piece, and there doesn’t seem to be much talking going on beyond the quarterback calling plays in the huddle.
“We have some great senior leaders by example; we need some leaders that are vocal, to stand up and communicate to the rest of the team what needs to be done,” coach Dan Mullen said Monday at his weekly press conference.
MSU is 1-2 overall, 0-2 in SEC play heading into this week’s home game with Georgia (1-2, 0-2). Communication, especially among the offensive linemen, has been a culprit in the Bulldogs managing to score only 21 points over the past two games while committing seven turnovers.
“We need somebody to step up out of the bunch, step up and be a leader and take control of the offensive team,” said Robert Elliott, the junior tailback from Okolona.
Elliott himself is not that vocal. MSU’s offense is heavily populated by such players, who have experience and talent but are regularly described as “by-example” leaders, guys like senior left tackle Derek Sherrod and junior quarterback Chris Relf.
So someone will have to step out of his comfort zone, and Elliott claimed he’s willing to do so.
“I’m not really a rah-rah guy, I like to lead by example on the field,” he said. “If that’s what I need to do, then that’s what I’m going to step up and do.”
On different pages
• The lack of a vocal leader could help explain the offensive line’s struggles. Even though MSU has given up just four sacks, Relf and Tyler Russell have felt plenty of heat this season, and Mullen has noted several missed blocking assignments.
It’s a troubling trend for a unit that returns four starters from 2009, three of which are in their third year as starters.
“It is a little bit (surprising),” Sherrod said. “Every offensive line throughout the country, whether it’s us or anybody else, you have to have communication for everybody for every position, working together and having everybody on the same page.”
Those words – “same page” – were uttered often Monday by coaches and players. When the offensive linemen are all on that same page, good things happen.
Mullen looked at the film and noted that on MSU’s lone touchdown drive against LSU, all five linemen received a ‘S’ grade – satisfactory – on nine of the 13 plays.
“For an experienced group, we just are not communicating very well,” Mullen said. “Everybody is kind of taking care of themselves instead of taking care of the line. We need all five guys to play together.”
Injuries update
• Relf took a hit to the helmet on the opening drive of the third quarter Saturday and did not return to the game. Mullen said he’ll be fine.
“He got dinged, I saw him, he looked a little groggy coming off (the field), and Tyler did a good job,” Mullen said.
Tight end Marcus Green missed the LSU game with a knee injury. His backup, Brandon Henderson, banged up his left knee during the game.
Mullen said both players ran at practice Sunday, and Henderson said he’s OK to play against Georgia.
Bulldog bites
• MSU and Georgia are both 0-2 in SEC play, and all of those losses have come against top-20 teams. … MSU ranks fourth in the SEC in pass defense (150.3 yards per game) but eighth in pass-efficiency defense (121.4 rating). … Georgia is allowing 85.3 rushing yards per game, third in the SEC.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@djournal.com

BRAD LOCKE / NEMS Daily Journal