Mullen isn’t being coy on the topic nearly so much as he is monitoring the daily condition of all three of his varsity quarterbacks. Only one of them is known to be 100% healthy with less than 30 hours to count down before Thursday’s 6:31 kickoff at Scott Field. So as of now, true freshman Damian Williams is listed as number-one Dog.
Meanwhile senior Tyler Russell and sophomore Dak Prescott continue making repeated trips to the training room as their injuries are attended to. Russell re-injured the throwing right shoulder separated at Texas A&M on a late-game sack at Little Rock. He’d come back from that first injury to start and play most of the victory over Arkansas before going down on the next-to-last snap of regulation.
Mullen did confirm that Russell has returned to practices during this short week; in fact the coach was speaking from Wednesday’s noontime practice session. As for exact status, that was unchanged…but Mullen reminded the same situation was true last week and Russell was able to go by game-time and turn in a strong performance under the conditions.
Prescott’s situation wasn’t addressed directly. The younger quarterback, who has started half this season due to repeated injuries to Russell, damaged a nerve in his left (non-throwing) arm on a late-game hit at College Station. He has not played since, and while Prescott made the Arkansas trip he did not dress out or warm up.
Mullen said at Little Rock that Prescott “probably” was out until a potential bowl game; and Monday said he was not referring to the Egg Bowl in that sense. The damaged nerve limits Prescott’s range of motions on that side rather than causes pain.
So the safest speculation at this point is Williams getting his first college start, in the Battle for the Golden Egg no less. Mullen is not concerned to all appearances, and the true frosh came up big in overtime last Saturday as he scored the winning touchdown on a 25-yard keeper.
“Damian has done a good job,” said Mullen of this week’s work so far, crediting in large part the fact that the youngest quarterback of the bunch took practically all the first-team snaps last week.
Mullen said Monday none of the players injured and ruled out were going to return this week, with WR Fred Ross (shoulder) added to that list. Senior RB LaDarius Perkins bruised ribs and hurt a hand scoring State’s first touchdown at Little Rock and missed the second half but is expected to play his last home game.
Whoever is calling cadence Thursday evening (6:31) the stakes couldn’t be higher for him and team. The Bulldogs are 5-6 and must win this home-field finale to extend their season into bowl season. Indications are a victory would send Mississippi State to Memphis and a fourth appearance in the Liberty Bowl.
On top of that, a bowl berth in 2013 would make Mississippi State history with a fourth-consecutive post-season appearance. “We’re trying to do something here that’s never been done before,” said Mullen, who has directed Dog teams twice to the Gator Bowl (2010, ’12) and the Music City Bowl (2011). In that latter case, State came into the Egg Bowl needing a win to play in the holidays.
“We had to win two years ago to get there, this year we have to win again to get there,” Mullen said. “It’s just kind of how it plays out, and it seems it has a lot to do with the end of the season.” It does indeed…yet it is the nature of college players that only the immediate matters. Mullen has seen it from his squad all week in fact.
“Winning the game is focus number-one. I know our guys would rather win this game than go to a bowl game.”
Of course if the Bulldogs do defend the home field successfully, they get to do both.
Related to Egg Bowl week, senior offensive guard Gabe Jackson was announced Wednesday as inaugural winner of the Kent Hull Trophy. The award, given to the state's top college lineman, memorializes all-time Mississippi State great an All-Pro center Kent Hull.
Jackson, a fifth-year senior and left guard, will make his 51st consecutive start for State Thursday which will tie for first in the nation among active players.