Sunday Chat: Mullen Talks Big Win, Fourth-Down Call, Respect

This week’s game: Middle Tennessee State (4-2) at No. 15 MSU (6-0), Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2


Dan Mullen held his normal Sunday teleconference today, and I actually got to listen in for once. Before we get to that, though, some notes and links for you.

• Here’s my game story from last night’s 41-31 win over Tennessee.

• Here’s my notebook, leading with the 20-game sellout streak.

• Here’s a sidebar on fans’ long day of tailgating.

• MSU is up to No. 15 in this week’s AP poll.

Now, let’s hit up the full transcript from Mullen’s chat today.

Opening comment:

Obviously a great atmosphere last night. The fan base did an unbelievable job giving us home-field advantage. I loved how hard our kids played. I thought they played really well. We knew we’d be in a four-quarter battle and right from the beginning we knew it would be. Our kids played well for four quarters in all three phases of the game. There’s always going to be ups and downs. As a mature team, we handled those ups and downs very well to finish the game off and make the plays we need to make.

 What was hindering the offense late in second quarter and throughout third quarter?

We weren’t executing on first down. We missed some throws and we made some wrong reads in the throws and the margin for error, when you’re playing good teams, is very very small. When that happens, when you’re kind of missing a read or missing a throw or missing a block here and there, once you get out of a rhythm it’s hard to get into it. You have to execute at a very high level in the Southeastern Conference to perform.

How important was it for MSU when Tobias Smith got back on the field in the fourth quarter?

I think just a boost. He’s the captain of the team. Just his presence on the field brings a lot of leadership and that, to me, is so critical. His leadership out there on the field lifts the play of others around him.

Was that the best job Tyler Russell has done of spreading the ball around?

He was very balanced. The one thing with Tyler is he — I know people like to say he’s locked in on this guy or that guy — he’s never really locked in on a guy, he takes what the defense gives him. Fortunately, having a lot of senior receivers right now here, he’s got a lot of comfort with those guys and it give us flexibility to spread the ball around a bunch. Eight different people caught a pass. That, to me, is pretty balanced. And for other teams, it’s really hard to focus in if they’re going to take one aspect of it away, that’s fine, we’ll just go to another aspect. Seeing those guys perform, it keeps us balanced on offense.

Josh Robinson rushed for a TD, Dak Prescott threw a TD. Are you getting to a point where you can rely on the young players?

Early in the season, sometimes people wonder why do we force-feed guys onto the field. They need that experience, they need that development, they need to be able to grow, so as the year goes on, they’re ready to perform. Our guys showed that. As the year goes on more and more guys are able to step up and make plays. You’re going to need a lot of them to finish this season off.

On setting Prescott up in previous five games for his TD pass Saturday:

We were waiting for it. Everybody was like, I get all kinds of emails and Twitters and all that stuff about whether I’m a smart coach or not because, boy, if Dak is in, we’re just going to pound it in the middle. Sometimes we do but there are other things that go along with it. It’s when you call it that’s important. Les called it at just the right time. I thought our coaches did a great job in this game, too. Les (Koenning) called a great game in keeping them off balance, getting points on early and even once we started slumping, (he) broke us out of that slump.

Defensively we did a decent job again. We had a couple breakdowns here and there but created a bunch of three-and-outs and that’s critical if you’re going to win these types of games.

On Tennessee not sustaining many drives:

That’s a great job by our defense. That’s a team, especially a team that can throw the ball as well as they do, you have to do a good job of getting off the field on third down and prevent them from moving the ball. We did a great job of keeping them out of rhythm all night long and the guy started to get into a rhythm in the third quarter. And then we kind of stopped it. They came out in the third quarter, long drive, field goal, long drive, touchdown. Their next drives were four plays, three plays, two plays and a fumble. Those three stops were critical.

Was there any doubt you were gonna be aggressive on last 4th down:

Our thought was, it was fourth down, there was no way we were going to kick a field goal there. That would’ve put us up only six, and then we would’ve had to kick off to No. 84 again only up six. We had a discussion on the sideline, do we just turn and hand it off to make them – I think there would’ve only been about nine seconds for them to go 91 yards at that point. Fourth down, my thought was, I trust Tyler a lot. As long as we don’t throw an interception. We were coming off the timeout, so I told Tyler, I said, ‘Hey, you know what, instead of just handing the ball up the middle, let’s take a shot at the end zone. Just put it where our guy or nobody’s going to catch it, and I think that’ll take up as much time as running the ball up the middle.’ If it’s incomplete, then they’ve got the ball with nine seconds, 91 yards away from our end zone. That was our thought process on that play. He did, he threw it where almost nobody could catch it, and Malcolm went up and one-handed stab, made a spectacular catch there in the end zone.

How big a job to keep players focused on MTSU, not look ahead to Alabama:

It’s a major concern, and to me it’s not the job of the coaching staff. We’re coaches, and it sounds like coach talk, but that’s it. We’re watching Middle Tennessee State, that’s our whole focus, that’s our whole game plan as coaches. Kids on the other hand have a different deal. To me it’s going to be on the leadership of our team of making sure that they remain focused on the task at hand, and that task at hand is winning our homecoming game, protecting our home turf and getting us to 7-0. I do think we have the leadership. I think they will keep that focus on that game, and I think that’ll then trickle down to all the young guys.

Are games taking too long without timeouts, replay reviews, etc.:

I don’t know that TV timeouts and replays have much to do with it. If you have a game where every team’s going to run 120 plays and throw the ball all over the field, the clock rules – if you have two teams, and I didn’t see the game you were talking about (Texas A&M-Louisiana Tech), I saw some stat they ran 120 plays or something like that. Or 120 points, I don’t know how many plays, just ridiculous.

Texas A&M ran 101 plays, Tech 86:

That’s an awful lot of plays, and I’m sure there were all those passes, and any time there’s an incomplete pass the clock stops. A lot of those teams, the coaches coach those guys to run and get out of bounds to stop the clock more, and those are things that extend the game.

Do you coach game differently with longer games:

No, to me it’s more with our guys making sure they stay focused. The normal person loses interest in something after about 45 minutes, that’s how long they can focus on something. Most athletes I think have a little ADD in them right there. Our job is to make sure we try and keep them focused for the three-and-a-half hours of the game.

Players talked about respect last night, was that organic or did it come from coaches:

I think it was set by the players in their mind. I don’t worry about it. What my worry is, our team respects each other, they respect themselves, they respect each other, they respect the program. That to me is the most important thing, and that’s really all that matters. I think we have some good players on our team, and all they heard all week was how Tyler Bray was the best quarterback on the field, these receivers are  NFL receivers. You know, we have a pretty good quarterback, we have some good receivers, we have some good guys in the secondary. It was a great challenge, and we challenged them all week. They wanted to go out there and prove to themselves, hey, we’re not a half-bad team, we have some talent ourselves.

I am the online content coordinator for I also co-host The Memo and Prep Rally podcasts and host the Newsbreak program. Previously at the Journal, I covered Mississippi State athletics (2008-13), high schools (2004-08), and was on the copy desk (2002-04).

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  • MidTennDog

    I agree with Mullen’s decision to score the touchdown on the 4th down and go up two scores. Kicking off to Patterson or doing a pooch kick and giving Bray one chance at the end zone from around the 50 wasn’t very appealing to me. I disagree with Mullen on how well the defense played. I thought the secondary did a great job but WAY too many missed tackles by the line and linebackers, and of course on the kickoff return. Also, mentioned this last week… this is now the 4th game in a row that State has not won the 2nd half. This will bite them a few games from now if they don’t get it figured out.

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