Technically of course Robinson nor the Bulldogs are ‘done’ with Gator Bowl preparations, or not as Coach Dan Mullen defines them. That starts with tomorrow’s practice session when Mississippi State starts installing specific schemes for their New Years Day date with Northwestern. So to Mullen’s mind what is ‘done’ was the mini-camp portion.
To Robinson? Call it what one will, the eight-working-day stretch which concluded Sunday was the heaviest workload he and Mississippi State has booked for their campus bowl schedule. It makes sense since Robinson was among the larger roster of Dogs who did labor longer, while the starting squad had a light workload.
So light that Mullen allowed them, upon veterans request, to observe the scrimmaging out-of-uniform. Out of any game gear for that matter, with a few exceptions such as Tyler Russell. The starting quarterback didn’t have a jersey but was in game-britches and cleats, with the right ankle he sprained in the Egg Bowl taped as if for a game. It was better than wearing the protective brace or full-wrap Russell had to work in up to now, and an encouraging sign he will be ready to roll Monday.
Otherwise the starters pulled on whatever fit their mood and stood off to the side watching underclassmen and all go at each other for about 90 minutes. The scrimmage was moved indoors due to day-long rain, which the State staff seems to have expected as Scott Field has not been re-marked since the last home game or apparently mowed in recent days. Mullen was not going to delay the scrimmaging though with Monday-through-Thursday booked as a game week schedule.
“It was good, fun,” Mullen said. “The guys had fun out there playing and that’s what this is about, these guys wrapping this up. Because tomorrow the whole focus of everything we do changes. It’s kind of like a little mini-camp we had, and you get to wrap it up with a fun scrimmage for these guys. I wish we could have gone outside, in the stadium. But it’s good and a lot of parents got to come watch their sons play. So, a fun day.”
Playing inside did have some impact on scrimmaging, with no run-off room to speak off. Tight end Rufus Warren found this out the hard way on a touchdown catch when he was run into the wall beside the end zone. All series began around the 30 or 35 yard line as there is not quite a full 100-yard layout in the Palmeiro anyway.
Cramped quarters didn’t appear to impact any moods though. Just the opposite in fact, or else Robinson’s attitude rubbed-off on everyone. The hitting was serious, even worrisome at times. The scariest moment came when WR Joe Morrow caught an over-the-middle toss. DE Ryan Brown got a grip and spun the receiver, right into the path of charging CB Taveze Calhoun for a straight-flush collision. Both stayed down dazed briefly and Morrow was helped off.
Not surprisingly for a scrimmage matching twos-on-twos and threes-on-threes, with minimal substituting by anyone in the alternating series, defense had the better showing overall. It took nine offensive series, most of them three-and-throughs, before either of the offenses could score. Both defensive units notched sacks of QB Dak Prescott and the walk-on passers, and three balls were intercepted.
One of those came on the second series as QB Jamil Golden was intercepted by LB Zach Jackson, the first of two picks by the backup linebacker. It wasn’t until the fourth overall series that either side registered a first down; it was by the temporary #1 offense as Prescott threw successfully to WR Jameon Lewis for 11 yards. On the next third down the two hooked-up again, for 17 more yards and another move of chains. But a bad snap cost a dozen yards and OG Templeton Hardy jumped the snap count for five more; on 3rd-and-24 Prescott overthrew WR Robert Johnson to end a eight-play series.
The second unit got a nice drive going on their third drive, until WR Fred Brown broke off his route too early as Golden threw long. S Quadry Antoine was where the route apparently called for as he made the interception. A series later Prescott had a pass first tipped at the line, then batted up by S Jay Hughes, and finally caught by a diving S Kendrick Market.
A third-down catch by WR Brandon Holloway was good for over 20 yards and 15 more were added as LB Beniquez Brown facemasked him. But Golden was sacked by DT Nick James, who got to do what he later called his ‘Shaq Dance’ in celebration, and the drive stopped. DE John Harris hurried QB Sam Cowart into a third-down incompletion.
It took Robinson turning a dump-off throw into a 30-yard gain to the four-yard line to set up the day’s first touchdown. On first-and-goal Prescott’s play fake got time for TE Malcolm Johnson to slip open into the end zone for a score.
A 39-yard pass to WR Fred Brown should have set up another scoring opportunity but LB Richie Brown blitzed and sacked Golden on second down. The 35-yard field goal try by Evan Sobiesk was good, and the walk-on took care of what few PATs were needed.
Golden was able to get his squad on the mythical scoreboard with a 16-yard touchdown tossed to Morrow. Later though he was intercepted again by Jackson, this a very easy catch thrown right to the linebacker with no obvious receiver in the vicinity.
Robinson broke another big run, this time of 38 yards, to set up a score. Though it needed a 4th-and-two conversion at the five-yard line to keep this drive going; TE Brandon Hill caught Prescott’s four-yard flip to do so. Robinson did the touchdown honors though he also fumbled the handoff before contact; fortunately he fell on the loose ball in the end zone too. And Golden was able to cap the afternoon with his rollout-left and throw to Warren for the last score.
Mullen gave his impressions in a post-scrimmage meeting with media.
Did you like what you saw from the defense? “Yeah, it looked like I liked what I saw from everybody. They were playing hard, a good effort, enjoying playing the game. It looks like everybody played pretty hard.”
You gave the starters the day-off to watch? “Well, we were scrimmaging and they weren’t going to get any reps at this. So I think it was Bump (Chad Bumphis) who came and said hey Coach, since we’re not doing anything do we have to get in full pads? I guess I must be getting soft or something so I said that’s fine, you guys can come out in sweats and all that stuff and get ready to go. Because like I said, tomorrow is a complete change of our approach. You get into game week, and it’s Monday of game week.”
Do you like how the veterans seem to be taking younger players under their wing and coaching them? “Well, we talked to them about doing that, and making sure they are coaching and passing along knowledge and advice to the younger guys. And the older guys that didn’t practice today that are going to be back next year, that are seniors, I think that helps them in the leadership role for them as we move forward.”
Did you look at guys to do good things in third down and red zone, the way we saw Lewis do? “Yeah, Jameon made some nice plays. But you expect them to. When you do this, the guys that actually rotate and play a lot, you expect they should stand out for you a little bit more out here on the field.”
What do you see from Gus Walley, that so many people talk about him now? “Yeah, he does a nice job. He has to physically continue to develop, get a little bigger and stronger. But he’s a good route-runner, has good hands, makes a lot of plays, has made plays in the scout team. And he’s done that in this mini-camp, he’s made some nice plays too.”
How did you think Prescott handled the offense today? “Dak I think did a great job handling it with the checks, with the huddle, with the leadership, all that stuff. He was off on some throws, made some nice throws. But we’ve got to (have) consistency throwing the football. I mean that is where he has to be good. I know he’s good running, we don’t have any quarterback run in when we do this stuff here, just force him to throw it. And he did some nice things. But he also has to be more consistent.”
Does game planning start tomorrow? “For us game planning started already, for the coaching staff. But tomorrow we’ll start with our scouting report meetings. And just like we would a regular game week, except it’s better because there’s no school or any other distractions for us.”
Will Tyler Russell be ready to go Monday? “Should be. They had him come out today taped-up so he could move around a little bit without that big boot thing on tomorrow, and get ready to go for bowl prep.”
Is there a player in the past you’ve had with the energy of Josh Robinson? “No, I mean he’s always had that. Had it in recruiting, has it all the time. And he loves to play. But he’s that excited about life, he’s a great kid and you love just his attitude.”
UNOFFICIAL SCRIMMAGE STATISTICS:
RUSHING: Josh Robinson 11-59 yards, 1 TD; Derrick Milton 8-37 yards; Kasey Akins 7-9; Justin Rogers 14-44.
PASSING: Dak Prescott 11-24, 103 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; Jamil Golden 17-27, 171 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT;
Sam Cowart 1-3 21 yards; John Hand 0-1; Roberts 2-4 16 yards.
RECEIVING: Jameon Lewis 5-67; Brandon Holloway 3-40; Joe Morrow 3-21, 1 TD; Fred Brown 2-50; Brandon Hill 3-11, Malcolm Johnson 2-11, 1 TD; Kasey Akins 2-4; Josh Robinson 1-30; Michael Hodges 1-21; Gus Walley 1-17, Christian Holmes 1-10; Sanders 1-8; Rufus Warren 1-6, 1 TD; Robert Johnson 1-4; Derrick Milton 1-1; Rogers 1-0.
LEADING TACKLERS: Deontay Evans 7, Matthew Wells 5, Taveze Calhoun 3, Ryan Brown 3, Redmond 3.
SACKS: John Harris 2, Nick James 1, Preston Smith 1, Ryan Brown 1, Richie Brown 1.
HURRIES: Preston Smith 3, John Harris 1, Richie Brown 1.
INTERCEPTIONS: Zach Jackson, Quadry Antoine, Kendrick Market.
PASS BREAKUPS: Deontay Evans 2, Taveze Calhoun 1.