Mullen has high hopes for turnout

STARKVILLE – It’s hard to quantify the enthusiasm level of a fan base, but one way is by turnout.
Since being hired in December to lead Mississippi State’s football program, Dan Mullen has elicited plenty of enthusiasm, the measure of which will be on display at 5:30 p.m. today during the annual Maroon-White Spring Game at Davis-Wade Stadium.
Mullen has said he’d like to see at least 40,000 fans show up for the game, the centerpiece of the university’s Super Bulldog Weekend.
That’s pretty ambitious, considering last year’s crowd was 5,500, and athletics director Greg Byrne said 25,000 is the largest crowd to ever witness a spring game in Mississippi.
“We certainly have tried to promote it in every avenue that we can,” Byrne said. “We’d love to get 40,000, but hopefully just give everybody a great time while they’re here.”
The prospect of watching Mullen’s spread offense running wild is attractive. It would be hard not to improve on last year’s Maroon-White game, which the Maroon team won 6-0 … in overtime.
That proved to be a bad omen for a team that finished the 2008 season ranked 113th in the country in total offense. The 4-8 season (2-6 SEC), Sylvester Croom’s fifth and last as head coach, ended with a 45-0 loss to Ole Miss.
It’s been a grind for the Bulldogs to grasp this new offense, but progress has been made in the past week, and the players can’t wait to put last spring and last year behind them.
“I think that the score might be a little bit higher,” junior left tackle Derek Sherrod said with a laugh. “I, on behalf of our offense, can say we will do great things this Saturday at 5:30.”
Great things? Well, the defense will have some say in that. It looks better this year on paper – and last year’s was pretty good – and it’s dominated during previous scrimmages and most practices.
Linebacker Jamar Chaney, a senior, likes what he’s seeing from the offense, though. He said defending the spread is a pretty stiff test.
“Our offense the first couple days wasn’t looking good at all, but now they’re clicking, and we’re really seeing what the spread offense is all about on defense,” he said. “It’s helping us out, too, going against five-wide and four-wide and stuff like that.”
Mullen has said he won’t be using this game as a measuring stick so much as an exhibition. He put more importance on last Saturday’s scrimmage.
Case in point: It was his idea to auction off the head coaching positions for today’s game, so two fans will “be in charge” of their respective teams, Mullen said.
The motto for this weekend is “Spread the Fun,” and that’s what senior tailback Anthony Dixon plans on doing.
“We’re going to go out there on the field and show what we’ve worked on this summer,” he said, “show what we’ve been putting so much work into.”

Brad Locke/Daily Journal