Wednesday Bulldog Football Notebook

Wednesday Bulldog Football Notebook

TRUE COLORS: For a moment one wondered if Brandon McRae had changed jobs. Because early this week he reported to practice wearing not his normal maroon worn by offensive players, or yellow born by injured Dogs from that roster. No, the wide receiver was in…red? The no-contact shade reserved for quarterbacks and kickers? "Oh, I'm switching to quarterback now!" McRae claimed.

Of course the straight face didn't last long before McRae grinned at the image, of a catcher-turned-pitcher. Seriously, though, Mississippi State's leading wideout is protecting a banged-up shoulder, even if he can't recall when the minor injury occurred. "I don't really know how I hurt it, just after the game it was in pain after all the adrenalin went away." He will be in the starting lineup for the Middle Tennessee game as usual.

The real post-game pain wasn't in the shoulder, though. It was watching that first-quarter bomb from QB Tyson Lee land a stride beyond McRae's reach after he'd made a perfect cut on a deep post pattern and gotten open for what clearly should have been the game's first touchdown.

"I can still see it," McRae said. "I get mad every time I see it on the game film, if I had just kept on my break faster or tried harder or ran faster or something." But really McRae did all he could have done on the play; Lee simply led him a step too far. In fact everyone who has reviewed the play is still impressed, as much as they are frustrated, at the arm-strength Lee showed given wrong foot-placement and stance. It took a real shot to over-lead McRae on that play.

"I was surprised, too! It caught me off-guard!" the junior wideout said. "But now I do know I can run deeper and Tyson can throw that far."

The bigger point of course is that in another SEC loss Mississippi State failed to score a touchdown of any sort. Long routes and strong arms are good starting points, but McRae understands the real issue. That such opportunities must, must be seized if the Bulldogs are to turn their 2008 season around.

"We've got to get those plays made. Because we've got to put some points on the board, take the pressure off the defense. Make plays, and score, just to help the defense out." And McRae, along with his catching-corps partners, think this is a good week to start. Middle Tennessee State's defense has secondary speed, and puts a lot of faith in single coverage as a result.

"I see they play a lot of man so I'm going to have fun with that…well, not fun!" he hastily adjusted the risky verbal course. "But I like when somebody lines up man-to-man."

BREAKERS, BREAKERS: McRae, as well as WRs Aubrey Bell and Jamyel Smith, did beat Tennessee's man-coverage just often enough, to show State has the parts to bite off bigger chunks of yardage. Especially now that Lee has demonstrated the arm to wing it their way downfield. It's an aspect Mississippi State has lacked for years, and one this staff knows must be utilized. Especially because the running game isn't likely to provide many big bursts such as HB Anthony Dixon managed at Georgia Tech.

"Anthony will give us a plus-20 yard run occasionally," Coach Sylvester Croom said. But that's not the ‘home run' threat this offense needs from the backfield, and speed HB Robert Elliot was lost for the year three weeks ago. Croom has often lamented the unavailability of TE Marcus Green, too. His 50-yard, grab-and-go in the SE Louisiana game showed why the converted tailback was expected to be the best deep-threat in the area between the hashes.

"Other than B-Mac, we don't have a home-run hitter," Croom said. Though, he added, "We may have one more guy that we may insert into the package to try to see if we can get something from him. Of course you're not going to get the name!" And since media doesn't watch 11-on-11 drills it makes for interesting speculations.

Then again there aren't all that many unknown candidates who might fit that description, if the coach means someone who can take the ball a long way in a short time. Freshman WR Delmon Robinson is someone State's staff wants to get in play-making positions more often. With five games left another rookie, such as WR Arceto Clark or Charles Bailey, could be activated if there is reason to think they can help win a game. What Croom has ruled out is moving any defensive players to offense. "If we thought that would work, we'd have done it a long time ago," he said Wednesday afternoon.

More likely, though, Croom means working a couple of current backs into more of the mix. Arnil Stallworth has certainly seen his duties increased of late, since the junior can fill two roles along with his special-teams duties. "He's really done well," backfield Coach Rockey Felker said. "He's catching the ball well, he's a guy who can play fullback and play tailback. I think his tailback skills have improved, too. It's just valuable to have a guy like him who can play any position."

Stallworth also has an extra half-step on Dixon, making him a potential coverage mis-match on the shorter patterns. For the longer stuff? Croom is still looking for the lineup best able to swing for the fences. "We've got to continue to find ways to get some big plays on offense. Of course we'll continue to run the ball, but we have to create some ways to get some big plays in the offense. A lot of our attack built around completing passes and guys making plays after the catch. If you throw downfield it's got to be one- or two-man routes. But we'll continue to take more shots down the field as those opportunities present themselves."

WADE-ING GAME: And there is one more name that could be called out more often, if HB Wade Bonner works his way into the rotation. Rather, into the spot Elliot was expected to fill up until that knee injury at LSU. Now Bonner is the best chance of adding new speed to the backfield and he is getting practice snaps as the #3 man behind Dixon and Christian Ducre.

"It's feeling great. I just thank God for having this opportunity," Bonner said. Actually he's not feeling 100% great at the moment with some back pains that cost him some Tuesday practice reps. Still, "Wade was coming on and we were wanting to get him more involved, but obviously if he's in there he takes reps away from Arnil and Ducre," Felker said.

"We feel we have four good guys there but we'd like to get Wade in the mix more. He's really doing a heck of a job as a receiver out of the backfield, in pass-protection and catching the ball. That's his strengths. He's improved hitting the holes and being a little more of a down-hill runner which is something we have to continue to work on."

Bonner was signed as a safety before conversion during his redshirt season. Elliot's greater experience on offense gave him the edge up to the injury. Now it's Bonner's big chance. "Me and Robert were real close," he said. "I hate it for him, but that's just part of the game. Somebody has to step it up."

Though as Felker noted, any handoff Bonner gets is one less for his elders, Dixon and Ducre have taken it on themselves to help the kid learn his way around this system. Dixon in particular has been an example. "He's a wonderful cat, man!" Bonner said. "I mean I've learned so much from him, and just love being around him. When he leaves I've got to step up in a big role." Then again Bonner might get some of that role sooner than later if he can give the offense some big-play boost.

And besides, it's not as if Bonner is standing on the sideline all the time. His former life as a DB comes in handy as he works on the kickoff cover team. He's even practiced kickoff return some, just in case.

"I feel I can play any position on the field," Bonner said. "I just play football, that's all I try to do. I'm trying to do whatever for the team."

INJURY UPDATE: OC J. C. Brignone was held entirely out of practice Wednesday, as a precaution for any after-effects of the concussion he suffered at Tennessee. The starting center is expected to be lining up as usual by this weekend.

TE Brandon Henderson and DE Jimmie Holmes were limited in some drills today but practicing with their groups, and both should participate in the Homecoming game.

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