Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen joined the rest of the league’s head coaches on the SEC coaches’ teleconference to preview the Bulldogs upcoming battle with No. 2 Auburn.
Here is a transcript of Mullen’s time on the call…
Mullen: “Our guys are fired up. We’ve had a couple of good days of practice so far. We need to keep that focus and keep that attention. I think our guys have done a great job of that and understand all the work that we still have ahead of us and what a huge challenge it is playing Auburn.
“Auburn is No. 2 and a team that a lot of people think is the No. 1 team in the country. They are the defending conference champion. It’s a huge challenge for us and our program. I think our guys are really fired up about the game this weekend. They get to play at home and this could be the biggest game ever in the history of Mississippi if you combine the two team’s rankings.
“That’s pretty exciting for us. Our guys understand that we have a long way to go, a lot of work and a great challenge ahead of us.”
Are you concerned with your team managing success?
Mullen: “No, because we really haven’t accomplished all that much. We’re only 2-0 in the SEC and I think we want to win a lot more than that in the SEC this year than those two games. I think our guys really understand that focus. The attention is kind of cool and neat but has nothing to do with our goal of winning the SEC West.
“That has always been our focus. To do that, you have to win your home games and beat the defending champions. There’s a lot at stake this week for us to continue down the path with the goals that we want to achieve.”
How did you arrive at the program having the success it’s had so far?
Mullen: “It’s been a lot of building. We came here to build a program and be a consistent winner. We’ve been to four straight bowl games coming into this season. We’ve had four straight winning seasons. If you can consistently win then you’ll have the opportunity to have a special season.
“It’s too early to tell if we’ve had that yet. We’ve put ourselves in a good position so far. Our program is built on developing players. We might not have a whole lot of superstar, household names or five-star recruits across the board. We tell our guys they might not come in as a five-star but it’s their job to leave as a five-star.
“That’s how hard we’re going to push them and how hard they’re going to have to work here. If they buy into that and believe in that then you’ll have an opportunity to have success. We have guys that have worked to that point to where we have some pretty good team players on our team. They’ve worked really hard.
“We have some great leadership on our team that keeps everybody focused. We understand that hard work is the key to success more than anything else.”
How big a challege will your corners face against what Auburn does on the ground as well as Sammie Coates and D’haquille Williams?
Mullen: “They do such a good job running the ball and misdirection. You see they’re very efficient in their pass game. The strength of their pass game is playaction. That leaves corners on an island a bunch because of formations and schemes.
“They’re going to have to step up and play a really good game. I think in these types of games both teams are going to have an opportunity to create one-on-one matchups. You’re going to have to win those one-on-one matchups if you want to win the game.”
Are there some players who deserve credit in helping you make the transition to where the program is now?
Mullen: “There’s an awful lot of them. When I got here, I was so happy that guys bought in from the beginning. Guys just decided they wanted to work hard like Jamar Chaney and Anthony Dixon. That whole class that year had a bunch of guys like Pernell McPhee, K.J. Wright, Derek Sherrod and Chris White.
“Guys really bought in and knew they had to come to work every single day. The guys who were the hardest working on our team always ended up being our star players. Then we had guys like Charles Michell and Vick Ballard, who weren’t household names but became successful.
“Although Fletcher Cox and Johnthan Banks ended up being big NFL players and All-Americans, they were some of the hardest working guys in the offseason and every single day at practice. That foundation set and example for our younger players. All of those guys have helped build the program to where it is today.”
What areas of improvement have you seen from Nick Marshall?
Mullen: “’He played well against every team last year as well. He most certainly did when we played them. What I’ve seen is a guy who is very, very confident. He understands their offense and how it applies against teams that you’re playing within a specific game plan.
“When you have a quarterback who’s very confident, you see them take huge strides because they’re almost like a chess player. They are seeing a couple moves in advance when you have that confidence. He might not be setting you up for a specific play but might be setting you up for something down the road to take advantage of how you’re defending them.
“That confidence and understanding of what he’s applying in their offense against defenses is much improved.”
With the significance of this game, is it already looking different on campus or in town?
Mullen: “That’s what I hear is that there’s excitement around campus and around town. That’s what my wife tells me. I don’t get outside of the (Seal) building much. I get in early and go home late so I don’t get to see what it’s like around town. People have told me there’s a lot of excitement around town this week.
“I can’t imagine with ‘GameDay’ what it’s going to be like this weekend. It’s going to be crazy here come this weekend.”
Have you had to change your schedule for players with more interviews?
Mullen: “Not really. Last week was a lot crazier than this week for us. I guess we got an awful lot of attention last week too. Since we got the attention last week then this is kind of just another game. I haven’t really noticed it being that bad for us.
“We monitor our players closely and making sure that it doesn’t. All the great attention and everybody patting you on the back around campus is fantastic. But I told our players to leave that outside. Once they get in this building we have to prepare.
“Auburn is the best team we’ve played so far. We have to be better than we’ve been any other week in our preparation. We’ve got to work harder if we want to improve. That’s the way our team had better show up to this building every single day.”
What do you remember about last year’s game against Auburn?
Mullen: “We needed to make a couple of plays to win the game. We were right there and had a couple of opportunities. Did I make the best calls or put our guys in the right situations? We needed a stop at the end. They scored with about 18 seconds left in the game when we’d been ahead most of the second half.
“All of that gets into my mind. This is going to be a four quarter battle. It was last year and we’re planning on it being the same thing this year. We’ve just got to find a way to win the game at the end and make the plays that we didn’t make last season.”
Do you wonder what it would have been like had you won that game last year?
Mullen: “For both team it would have changed the outcome of the season a whole lot. (Auburn) took confidence from winning that game throughout the course of the season and for our guys it took a couple of weeks to get it back.
“This year it’s a very different matchup than it was last year. I think there’s perception and reality. The perception is you’re one play away from winning that game last year. The reality is you went 7-6 and they played for a national championship.
“That one play could’ve changed so much for a lot of people. But the reality of it is it’s just the way it is. We didn’t finish those plays. The difference between a very successful season and an average season might not be as far off as people might think.”
What is it about the MSU-Auburn game that’s made it so close?
Mullen: “I don’t know. I think it’s just two teams that play each other really hard. The style of play and matchups lead it to come right down to the wire. We’ve certainly kept it exciting every single year in this matchup. It’s great for the fans and the atmosphere and all the players and coaches involved.
“It’s a lot of fun to play in those games when you play for 60 minutes and it comes right down to the wire and you have to go make a play to win a game.”