By Brad Locke
STARKVILLE – Dan Mullen raised some eyebrows when he said earlier this spring that he wanted to see 40,000 fans show up at Davis-Wade Stadium for Saturday’s Maroon-White spring game.
More eyebrows are bound to be raised after an announced crowd of 31,606 turned up to watch the new-look Bulldogs, who didn’t disappoint in a game won by the White, 24-21.
Last year, only 5,500 watched a 6-0 overtime game.
“You can just tell the fans are real excited about Mississippi State football this year, and that’s just making us more excited,” senior linebacker Jamar Chaney said. “You have that kind of turnout, it makes it more exciting for us to play the game.”
There were plenty of big plays to excite the fans. O’Neal Wilder made two big catches – a 21-yard tip-drill grab in the first quarter, and a 63-yard snag over a defender to set up a second-quarter touchdown for the White team.
Receiver Terrance Davis showed some slick moves in the open field, and quarterbacks Tyson Lee and Chris Relf flashed their running and scrambling abilities.
“As football players,” Lee said, “the crowd makes the football what it is.”
He’s Berry good
– With such a dearth of receivers, there’s a desperate need for someone to be the go-to guy. Right now, Leon Berry is filling that role.
The junior college transfer led all receivers Saturday with eight catches for 125 yards for the Maroon squad. Does he think he’s the quarterbacks’ primary target?
“From the looks of it tonight, I think I am,” Berry said. “I came out, ran good routes. We had to get our timing down; when we did, we executed real nice.”
MSU is going to need to find some depth at receiver, though. A strong class of recruits will arrive in August, but they will need to be placed on top of an already solid foundation.
Wilder showed he can catch after all, Davis stood out with his moves, and the tight ends were heavily involved, with Kendrick Cook catching a 5-yard touchdown pass from Lee.
The cornerstone, though, is Berry.
“He’s done a tremendous job since he’s got here,” Lee said. “He’s giving 110 percent on the field and off the field. It was evident today in the way he played and the plays he made.”
– Relf, Lee’s backup, has at times looked lost this spring. But he had a better start than Lee on Saturday and was solid overall, throwing for 195 yards and a score – with no interceptions – on 13-of-26 passing.
“I think I’ve made a lot of progress. I think I’m at about 85 percent,” he said. “It’s just a lot work we’ve got to do in the summer on timing.”
Mullen likes what he saw out of both QBs.
“Both of them I think have some athletic ability,” he said, “so if we put a regular jersey on them and let them run around and do some things they do well, let them make some more plays with their feet, you might even see some more production out of them.”
– Mullen was asked after the game if he could quantify how much of the offense has been installed.
“No, because we’re only going to run certain parts of our offense, because it doesn’t apply to our personnel, other parts of it,” he said.
What’s next, he added, is evaluating the players and refining the offense based on their abilities.
Of what’s been put in so far, though, the Bulldogs seem to be catching on.
“We learned as much as he gave us,” senior tailback Anthony Dixon said. “I think we’ve got it down pat, what he asked us to do.”
Brad Locke/Daily Journal