Monday with Mullen

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen held his weekly press conference inside the Seal Football Complex Monday to recap the Bulldogs win over UAB last week and look ahead to their upcoming battle with South Alabama.

Here’s a transcript of Mullen’s press conference…

Opening Statement…
“Let me start with sending our condolences out to Jack Cristil’s family. I know that’s a huge loss for everybody at Mississippi State with its history and all that he had done. He called 636 games. That’s an awful long time. I think so many memories of people and Bulldogs, when that stuff happens people everywhere will have their memories of him and his moments and all the things he has done. He was an institution at this university. Bulldogs everywhere have a heavy heart today with his passing. He will be remembered by everybody. That’s a Bulldog forever. Our condolences and our prayers with his family. It’s a big loss for all of us.”

“As we get into football for us right now Justin Cox will be questionable this week with leg (injury), but everyone else is good to go. Coming off the last game, starting 2-0, we’re pretty excited about that. Our goal is to peak. At the end of November and early December is when we really want to peak, so there are a lot of things we need to improve on that I think we can improve on. If you look at the last game, in 69 plays on defense we gave up 113 yards, and on 10 plays we gave up 415. There are some great things we can get corrected, and we want to play all of our plays like the other 69 and not like the 10. On the defensive side of the ball, a lot of things to look at to get fixed, making sure guys are in the right position and getting them coached to be in the right position. Offensively, I want us to be more consistent. You look at that game, they had more plays than we did. That’s not something we want to be. We want to have kind of an explosive offense and put up big plays, but I will say this, I think we controlled the ball well. I thought in the second half we did some much better things. We were 0-for on third down in the first half, and above 50 percent in the second half. We got some things fixed at half time and came out and executed well. We were able to put up points and the points we needed to win.”

“If you look at individual performances, guys are doing some good things. We want consistent play. As I said after the game, and if you look at it, guys are making big plays. Preston Smith I think he should be looked at for the Thorpe Award now with two interceptions. He goes and makes a big play. We score two non-offensive touchdowns in two games, those are game changers. You look at some of the big catches and big plays and touchdowns. Four different guys have touchdown catches in the game on Saturday, and that’s huge for us. Six different guys have touchdown catches in the first two games for us. We’re not having one guy step up, we’re having a lot of guys step up and make plays, and we need to continue to do that.”

“It’s a real challenge for us this week playing South Alabama. You look at a team right now, they’re on a four-game winning streak. They had a big road win to start the season against Kent (State) this past week. You look at their two-deep on offense and defense, they have 16 senior starters on offense and defense. That has to be one of the most veteran teams in the country with guys that have played a lot of football, that have been in the program throughout their career and have really believed, right from the foundations of the program, these guys have been there and building it up to where they need to get to. You see that as a veteran group. They don’t just have veterans, they have playmakers. They have a quarterback that can beat you with his arm and his legs. A lot of experienced guys with some playmakers at receiver, a good hard-nosed running back. Defensively with all senior leadership, they have a really solid line backing corps. All their secondary is back from last year. Certainly going to be a very tough challenge for us as we get into this game and get ready to go travel on the road, which is also for our first time. Even though we have veteran players, for a lot of guys it will be their first road trip. It’s the first road trip of the year for us. It’s the first true road game since the Arkansas game last November, so just making that adjustment to the routine of a Friday of loading up a bus, traveling, staying in a different hotel, getting that road game experience is going to be huge. We expect a huge crowd. We expect a lot of Bulldogs there, but we expect a huge crowd at the game and a great environment.”

On freshman Jamoral Graham and utilizing freshmen talent…
“A lot of that depends on situations. If we’re going to play them, we’re going to play them. Jamoral did a nice job, and did a decent job with some punt returns for us. I’d like to get his role increased in the offense now that we’re going to play him, and a lot of that is on him as well. I said to him, ‘You’re playing now. You showed what you can do in the return game and special teams. We might increase that role for you. We also have to see now your performance on the offensive side of the ball, not just as a guy we find to hand you the ball, but as an every-down consistent player.’ As far as other guys go, a lot of the other circumstances within the program, whether it be injuries or for depth reasons, all of those things would determine if we play other guys.”

On relationship and experience with Cristil…
“In just my short time, he was always super friendly to me and welcoming to me. Here is a guy who has been a part of the university so long, a much bigger investment than almost anybody out there in the university and what he put in. As a new person coming in, a newcomer coming in, he was always really welcoming. He wanted to take care of you and was friendly with everything he did. In doing the TV show, we were pretty good at getting it done in one take. He was maybe as ready to go home as much as I was every once in a while. It would be amazing because they would say, ‘We have four minutes to tape here,’ and as soon as we were done he would say, ‘How long was that?’ They’d say it was three minutes and 59 seconds. I don’t know how you keep track of that in your head, but I thought it was pretty neat.

On Cristil’s legacy…
“You grow up to him call the games and listening to it on the radio, those are all memories people have. Especially as a kid into being older, you pass stuff along from generation to generation. Part of college football, to me, and sports that brings people together is the generational gaps that it brings together from one to the next. When you have someone that says ‘When I was a kid I listened to Jack Cristil call the games, and when I had my kids I listened and I listen with my grandkids.’ That’s something that pulls people together and is a pretty special thing.

On seeing USA quarterback Brandon Bridge play since transferring from Alcorn State…
“I remember him running him like wild up and down the field. I do remember a blur of him running by me on the sidelines that day. I think what you see in him is more of a quarterback. He was a guy there running around making plays. He’s a guy now that is playing like a quarterback. You see in his decision-making process, he’s not out there just trying to make plays, he’s trying to manage the offense, make good decision, get to his third and fourth reads in progression and being a quarterback more than just an athlete out there that was running around on the field.”

On the benefits of non-conference road games…
“When you look at scheduling these games, we’re doing our philosophy which is to schedule games our fans can get to. Most important to me is our player’s families can go watch them play. We have a pretty big parent turnout every single week to watch their sons play. When you’re going to Mobile,  for most people, it’s still a drivable distance where they can afford to go watch their sons play. That’s why we want to schedule these games. Obviously it will be our first time going there and playing there, so it will be a new environment for us, new atmosphere and new stadium. That’s the philosophy we took in scheduling this type of opponent when we’re going to play road game.”

On multiple wide receivers with receptions…
“We’re trying to rotate and play a lot of players. It’s a long season. When you look at rep counts, especially when we’ve been a little bit more up-tempo in game, you might get more plays and we want to rotate players. I think quarterbacks do a good job. What we’ve done is run the offense and take what the defense gives you. You’re not trying to force it to a specific receiver. We don’t do that. We’ve been rolling players through, and whatever it calls for someone to get the ball, they go get the ball. I think it’s been fantastic for us and the guys within the program. I think when they know they’re going to have the opportunity to go play, when they know they’re number is going to be call, they’re going to be prepared. I think the guys on the team now look at it, and through two games, say, ‘Coach, you can say that all you want in practice, and when it doesn’t happen in a game, it’s something different; but when we’re rolling through all these different guys that are getting plays and getting reps, I know I have to be ready for when my number is called.’”

On Blaine Clausell…
“He brings a lot of experience. With Dillon Day, too, this is the type of game you need them to step up. For Blaine, this is huge for him going home being from Mobile, and the opportunity to go home and play at home. But also, with that first road game, that’s where you want your veteran players. You don’t want the atmosphere, the situation, the crowd, all of those different things that become possible distractions. When you’re on the road, veteran players know how they’ve been in those situations before. They know what to expect. Those are the guys who have to set the standard and lead us while we’re on the road.”

On improvements after meeting with defensive staff…
“There are a couple of situations. Every play is unique, and for us looking at situations how each time we got ourselves out of position; then the decision making. Will Redmond, I love it, going for a pick and going to be aggressive on that play. Somehow the ball went right threw his hands and into their hands for an 80-yard touchdown. If instead of the pick, he could have knocked it away. I think with a 20-point lead, just knock it away and play the next play and let’s get off the field on defense. It’s knowing the situation you’re in and what to expect from that situation, and making sure also, putting ourselves with each coverage, making sure we have the right guy in the right position to go make plays. We’re going to get all of that stuff fixed. They’ll get it done at practice. We’ll rep it all out at practice and make sure we have guys in better positions.”

On what he sees in Preston Smith…
“One thing, he has such length. Something that makes him tough on offenses is that. He’s always had that length. He’s tall with long arms and can cover so much ground, get off the ball, tipped balls, all of those things make it tough. The thing he’s changed this year, he’s added the size and strength to be a really good every-down player where he can be strong and physical now at the point of attack. He’s explosive off the edge in pass rushing. You add that to his natural length and size that he has. I’m pleased with how he’s been playing. We need to continue to see him progress. He’s far from a finished product, far where we want him to be as a player. He’s put in a lot of work coming into this season, now he’s seeing some of the rewards of that hard work, and so are some of the other guys, and it will encourage them to work hard.”

On the offensive line and replacing injured Damien Robinson…
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job. Rufus Warren got some reps, Justin Senior certainly did a decent job for us. I think he’s gaining experience in the course of playing. In that experience, one of the things is always the transitioning. How are you transitioning our plan or our offense to the opponent we’re going to play? We saw defenses on Saturday we haven’t really gone against yet, and if it is, you got a couple reps here and there in practice, you watched it on film getting ready for the game. As an older guy when you’re used to how to translate that stuff and do it, it’s a little bit easier. Guys that are a little less experience transitioning, seeing everything, processing the information and making sure you are doing your job relative to what defenses you’re seeing, is huge. I want to see a lot more continued improvement. I think we still have a long way to go there, but overall I haven’t seen any glaring errors either. I think we can get a lot better, but I don’t think we have seen anything that is reason for concern.”

On Dak Prescott’s development…
“Very well. I don’t worry about that. His preparation is excellent. His in-game demeanor is excellent. His adjustments in game have been very good. (There are) one or two things we still have to constantly work on for him. I think we missed a couple throws Saturday. There are a couple things we could have done better with completions. They were running a lot of funky blitzes, and several times they left guys completely uncovered. That’s one of the hardest things for a quarterback, it doesn’t compute. You’re sitting out there for a defense thinking they’re not going to not cover somebody. That’s not very sound. But when he sees the guys you’re not covering, that’s a bad deal for the defense. Some of those things of him seeing even if the defense makes what should be a catastrophic mistake on defense, there we’re there to take advantage of it. I think with a couple of throws, we could be consistent that way and take advantage of those mistakes on defense.”

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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