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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Two-A-Days: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Over the past few weeks, I've traded emails with beat writers for each SEC team, along with Georgia's three other BCS-conference opponents to get some insider insight into what fans can expect from UGA's competition in 2009.

Each day, we'll preview two teams, culminating with a big-picture look at the SEC and a deeper look at the biggest issues facing your Georgia Bulldogs. To submit a question for the Georgia entry in Two-A-Days, send me an email with the subject line "Two-A-Days" and I'll do my best to find you an answer.

To read the previous entries in the series, click HERE.

The 14th entry in the series is the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Head coach: Dan Mullen (1st season)
2008 Record: 4-8 (2-6 SEC)
Total Offense: 274.92 (10th SEC, 113th overall)
Total Defense: 327.5 ypg (10th SEC, 35th overall)
On the docket: Mississippi State opens the 2009 season Sept. 5 against Jackson State. The Bulldogs won't play Georgia this season, but they do have a home date against Georgia Tech on Oct. 3.

At the end of 2007, Sly Croom was the SEC's coach of the year, leading Mississippi State back to a bowl game after a long postseason absence. A year later, he was fired after one of the ugliest Egg Bowl performances in years. While Croom was old school (series of tubes?) his replacement is just the opposite. So will Dan Mullen be able to recreate the same exciting offenses he had at Florida in Starkville? To find out, I went to Brad Locke of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

David Hale: It's a new regime in Starkville. What are the biggest changes Dan Mullen has implemented this spring since taking over the program?

Brad Locke:
The biggest change is the offensive scheme. Sylvester Croom's West Coast offense, which never produced, has been replaced by the spread that Mullen has worked wonders with at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. He's also raised the intensity level – a reflection of his personality – in the weight room and on the practice field.

DH: Even during the successful season of 2007, Mississippi State wasn't exactly an offensive powerhouse. Things got worse last year, and from the look of the spring game, there won't be a lot of fireworks in 2009. What are the biggest keys to finding some offensive production for the Bulldogs in 2009? Does Mullen's spread offense have a chance to be successful in Year 1?

Don't count on the Bulldogs lighting it up. Year 1 will most likely be painful. Mullen picked up some good, fast receivers in the 2009 recruiting class and will have to use some of them, if not all. He also picked up a stud quarterback, Meridian's Tyler Russell, who is the future of the program but won't be handed a redshirt. Mullen's willing to be flexible and will fit the scheme around the personnel, something Croom did a poor job of.

DH: Linebacker Jamar Chaney is well known around here, having nearly ended up at Georgia. He was lost for the season last year with an injury. How much was he missed defensively for MSU last year, and what will having him back in the lineup in 2009 mean to the defense?

He wasn't missed as much as one would have thought. Dominic Douglas slid into the middle and performed beautifully, but that left a hole on the outside, so Chaney's impact had an effect. Having him back is huge, especially with K.J. Wright returning and juco transfer Chris White stepping in. Linebacker should be the strongest position on the team.

DH: Obviously Mullen had a lot of success at Florida, but the job of turning things around at MSU is a bit tougher. Still, the Bulldogs' in-state rivals made a pretty quick turnaround last year under first-year coach Houston Nutt. What's an appropriate level of expectation for MSU this year? Minor improvement, bowl game, competitive in the SEC West?

Reasonable? Four wins. Nobody's expecting a Houston Nutt-like turnaround, simply because there isn't nearly as much talent in Starkville as there was in Oxford last year. This is a complete overhaul. Fans are expecting a significant improvement within 3-4 years.

DH: After seeing the team in its first spring under Mullen, what jumped out at you about this spring in a positive way, and what would you say are the biggest questions MSU still needs to answer before the season begins?

Positives: Mullen lets nothing slide and has brought the aforementioned intensity. He's won over most of the players and has opened up competition at every position. A healthy sense of realism has helped balance it all. Negatives: So many holes to fill. MSU was short on receivers in the spring – they had five at the most at one time – and injuries forced Mullen to use fullbacks, tight ends and late walk-ons during drills. Hard to install the spread with so few parts.

* Brad Locke has been at the Daily Journal since 2002 and began covering Mississippi State last year. You can read his Bulldogs coverage HERE or find his blog HERE. You can also follow him on Twitter HERE.

NEXT UP: We'll have the final installment of Two-A-Days tomorrow.

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