This week’s game: No. 13 MSU (7-0, 3-0 SEC) at No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0), Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN (Brad Nessler play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst, Holly Rowe sideline)
Dan Mullen held his weekly press conference today, and since it’s Alabama week and all – oh what the heck, I’m gonna give y’all the whole dang transcript to sift through. Please enjoy.
Coming off last week’s game, after watching the film I’m pleased with the way our guys performed in all three phases. There are obviously some things we still need to continually improve on. But as a season goes you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse, you’re never staying the same as a team. So we’re always trying to constantly improve and I think we improved on some things from the week before, which is what I want to see. We still have a lot of improving to do.
It should be a great challenge for us, playing a team that doesn’t show a lot of weaknesses. Very good, very well-coached, very disciplined, filled with talent at every position across the board. They have I think the top recruiting class each of the last four years, five years, so everybody on their roster is a four- or five-star prospect for the most part. And those guys, they get them in position to make plays.
They’re a very physical team, they don’t make many mistakes, they don’t turn the ball over on the offensive side of the ball very often. You see in a lot of what they’ve done, they pound away at people. They pound away and pound away and wait for you to make a mistake, and then pounce as the game goes on.
So it should be a great challenge for our guys. We’re going to have to play our best game of the year. Obviously going into a hostile environment it will be a big challenge for us. And our guys should be ready to roll.
Do you play the respect card this week at all?
You know, I look at it for our guys…they kind of say that because they hear everybody asking them that question. And they think oh yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re going to get respect when you ask them that question. For our guys, to me, the respect issue comes down to our guys respect themselves, they respect each other. And that’s really the only respect you need in a football team.
What people outside our building say about us is their opinion. We have to worry about what we think about each other inside. And I think our guys have a lot of respect for the leaders on our team. And they respect how everybody on the team works, and they respect each other and they respect our program. So they give great effort in those regards because of those things, and that’s really all that matters.
What can you do to try to force A.J. McCarron into mistakes?
You don’t always force people into mistakes. They make mistakes. And he does a good job of not doing it. He doesn’t force balls into bad situations. I think a lot of protection helps that, the experience and the talent on the offensive line. A lot of times you’ll see interceptions come after a sack, after there’s been a bunch of pressure, a guy is trying to get rid of the ball too soon or getting a ball tipped. They don’t do much of that.
They run the ball very well, they protect him well, and he does a nice job of getting the ball out of his hands when he needs to. And when it’s not there he throws it away and goes on to the next play. They don’t make mistakes that way. I guess you have to get them flustered, which they haven’t been this year. You have to put them in that situation if you’re going to expect them to make mistakes.
Do you think he’s the best quarterback in the SEC?
Statistically he’s the best one we’ve played so far. There’s a bunch I haven’t seen this year but he’s the best we’ve seen so far.
Is Tyler Russell more comfortable because of maturation or having played with guys for years?
I think it’s a little bit of everything. He has a lot of confidence in the guys around him because they’ve been playing together for a couple of years. The guys that are around him are comfortable in what we’re doing offensively. So a lot of times you’re going to see they’re getting open, they’re getting in the right position, getting where they need to be. I think he is very comfortable with our system and what we ask him to do.
And he has experience being out there on the field. So I think in game situations he’s been hit a bunch, he’s had pressure come after him, he’s played in hostile environments. So he’s been through those situations. And I think once you’ve been through it you learn, I don’t think he panics very often. And when you start panicking that’s usually when you throw interceptions and make mistakes.
What is your philosophy in maintaining consistency?
As a coach you have to be consistent and our players know that. When they come in, we try to be consistent in recruiting in what we tell our guys, what it’s going to be like and what our program is and what the expectations are. Those expectations don’t change from whether I’m sitting in a parent’s living room to their freshman year to their senior year, we expect our guys to work really hard and to be committed to our program and be willing to sacrifice to become successful. That work ethic is why guys want to come here. We push them in every aspect of their life and the football part is the easy part to me. We push them in the classroom, we push them in the community, how they behave, how they act, how they train in the offseason. Because we stay very consistent that way with them, you see consistent results on the field.
How do you personally feel about being a 20-plus point underdog?
I don’t. I don’t put any money on games, so that doesn’t really affect me. I’d feel great if we walked in the stadium and it said 24-0 before the game started, whatever they say it is. Someone told me that, right? They’re going to spot us those point before we start, I feel great, but because I don’t bet it doesn’t really affect me too much.
Do think there’s a philosophical difference between the two programs, where you take 2- or 3-star kids from Mississippi and develop them while Alabama has 4- or 5-star kids?
I guess. It’s a product of your environment in some ways. They get top prospects around the country automatically. It’s neat. I’ve been at some schools that, when you walk in if you have a certain logo on your shirt, you can go to Alaska and everyone wants to hear what you have to say. They have that there with the tradition they have. Hopefully one day here we have that type of tradition and we build our program that way. That makes it a little bit easier on them but you build your program on what you are. We came here and our deal is we’re going to develop players and we’ve had a lot of success doing it. That’s how we’ve kind of followed it. I look at their roster and they get a lot of great players, but give them credit, they do a good job developing their players, too, because there are a lot of guys who are four- or five-star type guys you never hear from again or end up being busts. Their guys are very successful, so it’s a tribute to their staff. They do a good job developing players.
Do you feel there’s a philosophical difference to how you approach recruiting, though?
Yeah, I think there has to be, I guess. I don’t know how they do it. I’ve never worked for Nick (Saban) or any of that stuff or been around him or how he runs his program. Everything I know about him, I’ve always been on the opposite sideline so they don’t share very much information on how they do things.
Why is Alabama so good on both sides of the line?
They have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. On the offensive side of the ball, they’ve got a lot of experience, some great leadership and you take a Barrett Jones, a couple-time All-American and he’s the leader of that whole group. You have that all that and it always helps to have great leadership, especially on the offensive line. You take talent that they have and they have great size, they develop that size, they have some veteran players up there and they do a pretty good job of it. It always helps to have really good players.
Barrett Jones playing different positions:
Just his flexibility. He’s a great player, and it just shows that he’s a great player, him being a center this year. It just shows the leadership that he has; that’s where you want the leader of your offensive line if you can, put him at center. He leads the rest of the crew on what they’re doing. He’s obviously the total package.
Do you treat this week any differently, like Ole Miss week?
No. We’re going to go play. It’s a big game, but I’ll be honest with you, if we practice and prepare really well, there’s a chance we’ll play really well. You play as you prepare. For us hopefully our goal is we needed to prepare a little better last week than we did the week before, and we were able to do that. We need to prepare better this week than we did last week so we can continue improving in every facet. If we do that, we’re going to have an opportunity to win. If we don’t, we don’t prepare very well at practice, we’re not going to play very well. And if you don’t play very well, you’re certainly not going to win, especially against the No. 1 team in the country.
Has offense hit its stride last 2-3 games:
I guess. They’ve made plays, done what we needed them to do. I think he’s – we’re executing at a little bit higher level maybe than we have in some of those other games. We’re not making the mistakes that really kill drives. That’s why we’ve been able to score. When you look, even last weekend, the two drives in the first half we don’t get points, we have a penalty, and then we have a guy go the wrong way. And then the next drive we have a turnover. Those are the things that, those errors that kill you on drives that have really slowed us down. The last couple of weeks we’ve kind of eliminated a lot of that stuff.
Russell having ability to win a game with his arm:
I’m sure there’s, as he’s done every week, there’s going to be some times in this game where he’s going to have to make those plays for us to win the game. He’s been able to do it. You look at the benefit, though, he’s played in that stadium before. He’s been on the field. There’s a comfort factor. He’s played against, this’ll be his third time playing against Alabama, and I think it might be his first start against them. I know it’s the third time he’s played against them. There’s some familiarity with him being out there on the field and doing that. There’s a lot more comfort in that. It certainly helps, because when you go on a road environment, your leadership really has to come up big for you on the team and just keeping everybody focused. Really it’s our 70 guys against their 105,000. You have to really band together and have great leadership.
On Alabama being a physical game:
We think so. Alabama is a physical team and we like those games. We like to consider ourselves somewhat of a physical program as well and you’re going to line it up and punch each other in the face. Our guys like those type of games. That matchup part of it I kind of like. When it gets down to being physical and tough, we like those type of games.
On building depth:
We’ll we’re going to try to be (fresh at the end of the game). A lot of it is based on team football and doing it on both sides of the ball. You have to be able to control the tempo some so you’re not putting your team in poor situations and that’s when they get worn out a lot. You keep putting them in bad situations in the game and vise versa, the offense has to have to be on the field a lot. We get to this part of the season knowing that guys are going to have to play some football. We’re pretty healthy now but you go SEC game after SEC game after SEC, that’s where the depth has to come up. Not just in one game but in many games over the stretch of a season.
On using trick plays and gadget plays against top-tier teams:
We’re in it to win it. We’re going to whatever it takes to win the game. If that takes us having some deception plays or takes us taking some chances and the one thing you don’t want to do in a big game it get too conservative. You want to let our guys go play and give them an opportunity the best they can to win the game.
Johnthan Banks and the injury report:
Banks is going to be okay. At this time of the year on the injury report we’re commonly banged up with a lot of guys sore, battered and bruised but that’s not going to change and nobody we expect not to play Saturday.
If Banks was at Bama, would he be in Heisman hunt?
I don’t think it matters who we’re playing, every week he wants to go prove himself. He’s the leader of our team and we need him to be. I don’t know if he looks at this game any different than in this game than other games. When you look at the leader, he’s going to set the standard for the rest of the team. We need John Banks to set that performance standard now and pull everybody up to his level. He’s done that most of the year and we think it’ll continue this week.
The guy on the golf course that says Mississippi State never beats Alabama:
I think if we win, we’ll be halfway through the season and in first place in the West. That’s about as much as I think about it. We’ve beaten them before. I haven’t beaten them in my three years here but I’ve beaten them before.
Do you show the team the 1980 win over Alabama for inspiration?
I don’t know if it would be motivating as much as laughing at the haircuts and uniforms sort of thing. It would more than funny than motivating.