This week’s game: South Alabama (1-2) at No. 23 MSU (3-0), Saturday, 6 p.m., PPV
Before we get to the Sunday chat with Dan Mullen, let’s give you some links and a bit of news. First, here’s my coverage of MSU’s 30-24 win over Troy, as found in today’s Journal.
As for the news, State has moved into the rankings this week. It’s No. 23 in both the AP and USA Today coaches polls. Now, for Mullen, whom I was able to listen to while driving back from Montgomery (made it in less than 3 1/2 hours!). Here’s the entire transcript.
DM: You’re leaving that game, I’ve very pleased. That’s a very difficult place to go and play. You look at the home record coach (Larry) Blakeney‘s had there. I think we’re fortunate we got a win in a very tough environment. A lot of things that we can come teach off of that game. As we look at our guys, both our staff and our players are a little disappointed in our performance. It’s great for us to have that learning moment, to be disappointed in our performance and still come out of it with a win. There’s a lot you can learn and a lot you can improve on as a team because of it.
Q: Nice to be ranked despite issues last night?
DM: I hope within the leadership of our team, which we’re going to stress today, that can be a real positive. That you look, we’ve jumped into the polls, and we did not perform at our best. I hope it’s a real motivating factor for our guys to go out and turn it around. I want us to play our best game we’ve played on Saturday. You need to continually improve throughout the season, and hopefully we can use that as a motivating factor for us to do that and have a great week of practice getting ready for the game.
Q: What’s the attitude of the defensive players?
DM: I want to see how we come back, how our guys respond. I’ve got to look in their faces when we get out to practice tomorrow to see the demeanor in which they take it. I have a good feeling with a lot of the guys – and it’s going to depend on the leadership – that they’re not going to be very pleased with their performance. A lot of it was, a lot of it some coaching things we have to get fixed, making sure we’re putting our guys in a little bit better position to make plays. And some of it is execution on our guys. We had a bunch of missed tackles. That was one thing, you’re going to play a team that we played, it was a big emphasis for us, you’re going to play a team that spreads you out across the field, and one of the reasons they spread you out is to get you in one-on-one situations out there across the field, you’ve got to make tackles. And we missed way too many tackles. Those things we’ll really kind of emphasize in practice – not that we don’t every week, but those will be the stresses, that hey, when you’re in a situation to go make a tackle, you’re in a situation, you’re fitting your gap, you’re doing your job, you need to be exact on it at all times. When you get in games with those teams that spread you out, that’s what you have to do.
Q: Chris Wilson thinks that two or three years ago y’all would’ve lost that game. Is there something different about this team finding a way?
DM: I do. That comes with a little bit of belief in our guys. You get in the locker room last night, and the trip home, I think our guys are a little disappointed in the locker room. Now, by the time we’re on the bus and on the way home, a lot of guys were happy we won the game, because it’s hard to win games. Their home record there is some ridiculous number, so it’s not like it’s an easy place to win, so you have to enjoy those victories. And our guys certainly did that, even though they weren’t pleased with their performance. I am happy, our guys, even the last two weeks now, there’s been situations and things happen in the game where we could’ve gone the other direction, and both weeks we found a way to win the game. When we needed to make things happen to win the game, we did. We needed an offensive drive last night, we got it. (Last week) they return a kickoff, we respond with an offensive drive, we need defensive stops, and we get them. Those are the things a good football team does to win games.
Q: What’s made Bumphis so consistent?
DM: As a senior, I think he’s really focused, wants to play well. He already called me this morning saying, hey, I was really disappointed in how I played in the first half and disappointed dropping that pass in the fourth quarter at a key moment. The biggest thing that you see with him is maturity. Instead of saying, well, his first thought was, I scored three touchdowns and I had a great game, it’s his maturity of focusing, that’he’s expected when he’s open to make plays, and he did. His maturity and of looking at what he has to continually improve on to play at a top level. That’s probably where you’re seeing the most improvement.
Q: Was Tyler Russell‘s leadership a big factor in the fourth quarter?
DM: It was. It was a great learning (experience) for Tyler. I thought Tyler was confident, played very well all night long. But I did think, I thought it was a good leadership learning moment for him. He was making all the throws, he was making the plays we needed him to make, and guys were dropping the ball on him. That’s great leadership. I saw him one time kind of like he was getting mad, which I don’t mind getting mad. But hey, getting mad’s not going to make them catch the ball. Go be a leader, go talk them through it, go throw a couple of balls to them so they can catch a couple right now before they go back out on the field. Those are the things that I think it was a great learning experience for him, and I like he kept his composure all night long. A lot of times guys, if guys start dropping balls, they’re just going to look to other guys, and Tyler doesn’t do that. He continues to stick with his reads, he trusts his receivers, and he continues to throw the ball where it’s supposed to go.
Q: Russell had a big run on that drive.
DM: Great read. Those are things to me that is critical to him. He’s not a dynamic running quarterback, but he can run. What I mean by not a dynamic guy is you watch some of these guys that are quarterback runners where they snap it and he’s going to single wing and run it, that’s not him. If you misread him and you give him a lane, he knows how to read the plays, he understands the defense, understands the offense. When he keeps the ball, he usually has pretty wide-open running lanes, so that they have to defend him.
Q: After reviewing the film, how many dropped passes did you count?
DM: One or two that would be close, but I had seven, is what I had. And I think you could’ve gone six or eight, but I went to seven. There were one or two that you say, well, that would’ve been a really good catch if he caught it. To me, I had seven.
Q: Is it especially concerning when the guys are so wide open?
DM: I think in a lot of ways those are the hardest ones to catch at times. That’s where the discipline and your focus comes in, you know what I mean. That is at practice, that is a guy doing drills. And you watch guys doing drills, and if they just kind of go through the motions in drills, all of a sudden they’re wide open, that’s where they’ll get lazy again.When they’re in between coverage and a tight throw in the middle of the field, they’re locked in. It’s when they get open, sometimes they lose that focus for a second, And that comes back to, are you always focused during practice? If you can lose focus during practice, you can lose focus in a game. We try to eliminate that. You can’t; that’s part of the teaching. There’s only one way to do it, and to be completely focused on doing your job, no matter if you’re out there by yourself. If someone throws you a can of Gatorade in the locker room as a receiver, you’re focused on catching it. You don’t ever take anything for granted. That’s something that becomes a mindset that we are always preaching to these guys. Hopefully, especially the younger guys, especially the Joe Morrow and the Robert Johnson, Jameon Lewis, who have now done it in games. You can explain it and teach it to guys all you want and talk about it all you want. Now it’s happened to him in a real game, and fortunately we still won the game. Hopefully now they’ve learned and you see a little bit different maturity out of them in practice.
Q: Any reason why Nick Griffin and Derrick Milton got no carries?
DM: Yeah, because LaDarius Perkins got a bunch and was doing pretty good. (laughs)
Q: How good to see Perkins get 20-plus carries and still have some juice late?
DM: It was. That’s what you want. He’s the leader of that group, you know what I mean. Key moments in the game, and that’s what we talk about, when you get in the key moment, you get in the game-winning drive, really our last two drives of the game where we scored the touchdown and then we were able to run out the clock, those are when your guys have to step up. And Perkins certainly did in those situations.