Dan Mullen spoke with members of the media during his weekly appearance on the SEC coaches’ teleconference.
Here’s a transcript of the call…
Mullen: “We’re ready to get after it coming off the bye week now. We had an opportunity to get our guys rested up and a little bit of a breather and a break. We’ve had a good week of practice and just excited to kick it off. We should have a great and another sellout crowd and a great environment for a big time game on Saturday night.”
A lot has been written and said about how much LSU has lost. How do they look different to you?
Mullen: “Oh boy, it doesn’t look like they lost many guys. They’ve got four and five-star guys as back-ups right now. They look as talented as they’ve ever been.”
Zach Mettenberger played one of his better games at Georgia. Can you evaluate him and what he brings to the table?
Mullen: “He’s always been talented dating all the way to high school. He was a great high school recruit and real big, strong armed player who can make all the throws. You see a guy now who’s very comfortable in the system but also very comfortable playing on the field and playing in the SEC against the defenses that he’s going to face. He’s very calm and collected out there. He obviously has the talent to make the throws and now he has the confidence to do it.”
How big an advantage is it to be at home and what kind of atmosphere do you need from your crowd?
Mullen: “We need a huge one. Home field advantage is always critical anywhere in the Southeastern Conference. I think this will be our 26th consecutive sellout so we need it loud and have our fans cheering and motivating our guys. Hopefully that will create problems for LSU. That’s the big advantage of playing at home in this conference.”
How healthy are you entering the game?
Mullen: “Coming off a bye week we’ve got everybody pretty much healthy.”
Mississippi State is viewed as a program that’s trying to play catch up to some of its peers in the conference. With the new football building and stadium expansion and athletic budget going up, does it feel like the financial commitment has caught up to the enthusiasm?
Mullen: “It’s huge. I think we have a great administration and personable athletic director that believes in our football program and have shown support. This is the most competitive league in every aspect – on the field, recruiting, facilities and budgets. I think the commitment they’ve made has been fantastic. When I got here four years ago, we talked to our fans about selling out the stadium.
“Here we are in year five and we have the longest sellout streak in school history, so much so that we’re adding 10,000 seats. We have one of the premier facilities in the conference that we just moved into. Going to three straight bowl games have been huge with two of them being on New Year’s Day.
“We’ve certainly raised expectations around here outside the program. Our expectations have always been high since the day I got here. But as we live up to them, we see that the expectations are very high within our fan base and alumni and whole university.”
When you got there and assessed the program, what were some of the off the field things that you needed right away to cash in on the potential of the program?
Mullen: “No. 1 was getting our fans involved. Our fans didn’t know how important they were to the program. We came in and told them if they sellout the stadium, we’ll start winning games there and be able to recruit better players. That first year I think we went 2-5 at home. Since that time we’ve had a great home record. That’s when the sellout streak started near the end of that first year.
“That all continues to build and we had to get facilities that were competitive in the league so when kids come on campus they can see in recruiting that we have facilities they can improve in. Facilities just aren’t about recruiting. They are about developing and making sure we create a great learning and development environment for our players. We’ve been able to increase the facilities and get the brand new football facility that’s spectacular. All of that stuff has certainly helped build to where we are now.”
After a couple of days at practice, how is Tyler Russell looking and is it still the plan to have him start Saturday?
Mullen: “That’s the plan. We’re good. Dak (Prescott) has looked good and we’ve had a pretty good week of practice with both guys. But that is still the plan and we’ll see how it goes Saturday.”
It’s been 13 years since MSU has beaten LSU. Is that something you mention to your team and use in a positive way or something you stay away from entirely?
Mullen: “That’s always tough. We only have six seniors on our two-deep. We have a lot more freshmen on our two-deep than seniors. When you have such a young team, they don’t know that. They only know that last year they beat us down at their place. That the extent of what most of our team knows. They don’t remember the 4th-and-goal stop four years ago or any of that stuff. They just look at they beat us last year and find a way to correct that and get a win this year.”
How do you deal with the challenge of playing two quarterbacks?
Mullen: “It’s a great thing to have because you’re one play away, as we found out in week 1, from your No. 2 quarterback being your No. 1 quarterback. You want to always make sure you have at least two guys ready to go play in the game.
“Through my years of coaching there were a lot of times where we used one quarterback and a lot of times we’ve used two quarterbacks. If you know how to manage the situation and get everybody the right reps then you get everybody prepared. You always have to have two guys prepared because you’re only one play away from the next guy being in the game anyways.
“With me doing it through the years, I’m very comfortable doing it. I know how to rotate guys and get everybody the reps they need and getting guys ready to play.”