Defense Wins Scrimmage … Barely

MSU held its second full scrimmage of the spring this morning, and coach Dan Mullen let his players loose a little bit. The defense won, but it was close.

“Last week we really controlled a lot more, and today we tried to put a lot more game situations in there so you could feel the effect of everything that happened in the course of the scrimmage,” Mullen said.

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz wasn’t exacty thrilled with the “victory.”

“For two straight weeks we’ve given up a long play, and we haven’t been all that good in the red zone,” he said. “There’s enough for our guys to feel good about, in terms of making plays, but those are two major, major fixes that if we have any intention of being what we want to be on defense, that have to be corrected.”

The long play Diaz referred to was a 68-yard touchdown pass from Chris Relf to Leon Berry. And in the red zone, the offense scored several times, mostly on the ground.

Mullen said the only reason the offense lost the day was because of a couple of muffed punts, by Chad Bumphis and Brandon Heavens. The run game looked pretty strong at times, but the receiving corps’ lack of depth was quite apparent.

“I thought they played pretty well all day today, the quarterbacks,” Mullen said. “I know we’re still very, very inexperienced at the receiver position, not very deep at all. I’d bet more of it’s probably on the receivers than on the quarterbacks even today.”

Chris Relf was 12 of 23 for 210 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Tyler Russell was 12 of 26 for 120 yards and two TDs.

Said Russell, “Overall, I did better in my last scrimmage last week. But today they wanted us to go fast, keep up the tempo real fast, get the defense on their toes, and try to make some plays. At times I did, at times I didn’t.”

In the running game, Robert Elliott gained 52 yards on 13 carries, while Vick Ballard had 10 totes for 20 yards and a score.

Some highlights, stats, notes and quotes from today’s action.

• The offense ran 118 plays for a total of 581 yards.

• Diaz put in some new blitz looks today, and that paid off for MLB Chris White, who stripped Russell, scooped up the ball and ran 28 yards for a TD.

• TE Brandon Henderson had a nice day. Known more as a blocker, the 6-foot-2, 245-pound senior had six catches for 91 yards.

• The fullbacks got quite a few carries. They combined for 78 yards on 15 carries, with walk-on Adrian Marcus gaining 46 on 10 attempts. “For us, we’re not going to ask our fullbacks to be real dynamic runners, but if they can be physical between the tackles and give us a tough four or five yards, we’re going to be happy,” Mullen said.

• When the first-teamers ran the two-minute drill – actually, they were given 90 seconds from the offense’s 35-yard line – the drive ended with a Maurice Langston interception at the goal line. But the offense did a good job getting down into field goal range.

• FS Johnthan Banks made a nice stop of Relf on a fourth-and-goal from the 3. Relf faked a handoff and sprinted left but was met by Banks in the backfield.

• Mullen, on next week’s practices: “Tuesday, Thursday are going to be critical, critical practices for us. They should be our two best practices of the whole spring.”

• Russell, on next week: “Next week is just keep going over all my plays. We’re not putting in any more new plays, so it’s just grinding, trying to figure out and learn.”

• Russell, on MSU’s defense (keep in mind, he’s not played SEC ball yet): “I feel like we’re going to have the best defense in the SEC with all the looks they’re giving us right now.”

• Berry, who had 121 yards on three receptions, on his TD catch: “We already knew our defense, they sometimes leave the seam open.”

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