Monday with Mullen

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen held his weekly press conference on Monday to discuss the top-ranked Bulldogs bye week and preview their match-up at Kentucky this weekend.

The following is a transcript of Mullen’s time at the podium.

Opening Statement

“We had a good bye week. We were able to get some guys rested and work on some things. Obviously, there are a lot of things we can improve on as a team. Bye weeks really offer a training camp mentality because we focus on fundamentals.”

“Today is a very, very important day. I always think the Monday practice after a bye week is huge. We had a great Monday practice after the last bye week. We were not sluggish, which can happen when guys haven’t been out on the field in a few days. We have to hit the field 100 miles per hour and ready to go. We have to have a great week of practice and be a much better team than we were before the bye week or when we got off of the field against Auburn.”

“The Kentucky game this week is going to be very challenging. There are a lot of similarities with both teams. In our game against them last year, it came right down to the final play. They have a lot of star players back from last year, and we have a lot of guys back too. So I know they are going to have a lot of confidence. Anytime you are on the road in the SEC, it is going to be a huge challenge.”

“I don’t know if you can judge any team by how they perform on a Saturday night in ‘Death Valley’. They had a tough game last week and some things went wrong for them, but if you look at their overall body of work on the season, they have very talented players. [Patrick] Towles really throws the ball well and has the size to be able to stand in the pocket and throw it. He is very deceptively athletic. He is a much better runner than he gets credit for. They rotate their running backs through and they all bring something different to the table. They have some explosive wide receivers. They certainly have a lot of big time players on their team. Our focus is to get a fourth SEC win this week, and that is really what it is all about.”

On keeping players motivated during the open week:

“If we are going to be successful, it doesn’t need to be me doing that. That comes from within. I think our guys understand how much we have to improve and that we have to get better. They also understand that the only way to do that is through hard work. That has to come from within the team. If I have to be a cheerleader at practice, we are going to have problems. We are last in the SEC in total defense and passing defense. We are last in the SEC in our red zone offense, so there are a lot of little things we have to improve on as a football team moving forward. I think, especially for our older guys, it is important to see that. To see that and also to look beyond the statistics. They have to realize that we might not be as bad as some statistics say we are and aren’t as good as some statistics say we are. I think our guys look at that and can really see the areas we need to improve. If you go through the motions you certainly are not going to improve.”

On the improvement of Kentucky:

“I think Mark Stoops has done a great job. The first thing you start with is getting guys to play hard. You can get the talent, but the guys have to play hard. They are playing hard and with a lot of energy. There are guys stepping up and making big plays for them when they need them. That is a sign that they have bought in to what Coach Stoops is trying to build. I think you are seeing those steps pay off on the field for them this year. They are 5-2, with both losses coming on the road in the SEC. One was a triple- overtime game. When you look at the improvement that they have made, they can compete with anyone.”

On staying focused week to week:

“Playing in the SEC gives you a bigger game every week. This is the biggest game we have played of the season. I said the Auburn game was the biggest game ever played in the state of Mississippi. This game is bigger now. Now we are a team that has a target on our back. We have to go on the road in a hostile environment and play one of the hottest and most improved teams in college football. Our guys better learn how to handle that and realize how big of a game this really is.”

On the timing of the open week after facing three top-10 opponents:

“I always say that in the SEC, it is not about one game. It is the cumulative effect of playing in this conference. Four of the top five teams in the country are in the SEC. There are probably a couple of teams in every conference that, if they played one game, could beat any one of those four teams. What our league is about, and what our guys have to understand, is that it is not just one week. It is every single week. I think our guys took advantage of the bye week, because they know now we have to play six straight to end the season. They know what that grind is going to be like, so they made sure they were physically and mentally rested enough to be able to handle that. In this league you have to bring your A game every single week.”

On the similarities between [Benardrick] McKinney and [Bud] Dupree:

“I think they both play very different games. They have similar physical characteristics. I think [Benardrick] is more of a physical force on the inside, and [Bud] Dupree is more of an edge player and is explosive off the edge. They are both future NFL players. They are both going to make plays that will impact the outcome of the game.”

On Jameon Lewis:

“We expect to have him back. We will probably ease him in today, and build a little bit at practice each day. It is going to be great to have him and his experience back on the field playing for us.”

On being the ‘hunted’ vs. being the ‘hunter’

“I just enjoy the hunt itself. I like being out there and going to play. The bye week was great, but I am starting to get antsy. I am ready to get going again. I had fun playing back yard football with my kids and getting to spend quality time with my wife, but I am ready to get out there and go play. I just want our team to be out there ready to play.”

On freshmen filling in for [Jameon] Lewis:

“I think that is huge. It shows that everyone in our program has to be ready when their number is called. When someone has gone down, someone else stepped up. I think that gets contagious around a team. When guys see someone get an opportunity, seize that opportunity, and be successful while helping the team, I think that helps everyone. That motivates everyone to be ready when their number is called.”

On what having [Jameon] Lewis back means for the team:

“We have our most explosive player coming back. That just adds another weapon that the defense has to be concerned about. I think that is going to cause more concern for the defense to know exactly where he is because they know what he can do with the ball in his hands.”

On offensive line depth:

“I think they have done a very good job. Everyone wonders why we mix and match guys throughout the season, but we try to get as many of them developed as we can for different situations. That is a position where you do not want to deal with injuries. You want to give guys the opportunity to develop before they are thrown into the fire. With all the injuries we suffered last year, there are a lot of guys who have more experience this year than they otherwise would have.”

On players getting used to more attention:

“I think it has actually calmed down a little bit more each week since the Texas A&M game. That was the busiest week we have had. I think our guys now have really adjusted to it well.”

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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