We got to chat with Dan Mullen one last time before Saturday’s SEC opener against Auburn (11 a.m., ESPN), and we spoke with Auburn coach Gene Chizik, too. It was the SEC coaches teleconference, of course, and I have some highlights for you.
Let’s start with Mullen, who talked about how big this game is, Auburn’s defensive ends, the relevancy of last year’s game tape, and more.
• On the importance of winning the SEC opener: “Right there it can give you a huge momentum swing or a huge momentum knock in that first conference game. That was a tough loss last year at their place, and not just because of the game, but because of the fact that you lost the game is such a tough loss. We’re here to try to win the SEC West, and part of that is to win your home games and really win that conference opener to start you off on the right foot.”
• On Auburn’s defensive ends, who combined for three sacks last week vs. Clemson: “They’re explosive players. They have tremendous speed off the edge. It is one of the things we try to do is create matchups in pass rush in practice this week to simulate the speed we’re going to see on Saturday, so our guys aren’t shocked by the explosiveness of their two starting ends (Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier). They can really rush the passer. They really get off the ball well.”
• On whether he’s looked at why Auburn WR Emory Blake had such a good game vs. MSU last year (108 yards, TD): “No, because they have a whole new scheme they’re running with new coordinators. We look back at last year’s game a little bit, but they run a new offense and a new defense, so that game has really lost a lot of relevancy in preparing for this week’s game.”
• On what he thought of QB Tyler Russell in the opener vs. Jackson State: “I always am going to want my quarterbacks to play better. I don’t know if I can pick a game throughout my career that I’ve said, OK, I’m great with how you played the entire game. I’m always looking for things for quarterbacks to improve from. I really liked how he handled it, how his game-day demeanor was, not just how it was on the field but how he was on the sidelines and every adjustment we made during the game, how he handled that.”
Now for some thoughts from Chiz-nit.
• On MSU: “We’re expecting pretty much what we’ve expected the past two years, a really close game. This is a very good football team.”
• On MSU’s veteran receiving corps: “You’ve got (Chris) Smith, (Chad) Bumphis and (Arceto) Clark, and they’re all very good receivers and have played a lot. It’s obvious that they’ve got a little different idea when it comes to throwing the ball and how much they want to throw it. Obviously Tyler feels very comfortable back there doing that. Even two years ago when we went there, he played some when the game was on line. He was back there throwing the ball to a lot of these same guys. They’ve got a lot of experience together.”
• On the first start of his new QB, Kiehl Frazier: “He handled everything well. He’s really in a good place in the fact that he got the first start out of the way, which for a quarterback is big. It gives him a little peace of mind, to be honest with you, now that we’ve plowed through that first game as a starter.”
• On MSU’s offensive tackles versus his defensive ends: “I wouldn’t get too caught up in youth or inexperience of those guys. They’re very big and they’re very athletic, and that’s what we’ve noticed on film. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”