Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen held his weekly press conference on Monday to discuss the top-ranked Bulldogs win over Arkansas and preview their homecoming game against UT-Martin.
The following is a transcript of Mullen’s time at the podium.
“Looking back, Saturday was a great win for us. We have had to win games a lot of different ways, and we knew we were going to have to coming into this season. Before the game we actually talked to our team about that. We have won some high scoring games, and now we have won a low scoring game. We have won by holding on to leads, and now we have won by coming from behind. We have won running the ball well, and we have won games where we had to throw the ball well. We have won with goal line stands, and we have had to make offensive plays to win games. I am proud of our guys, and I think they understand all the ways they are going to have to win. Our guys continue to battle and play with confidence. This week is going to be a challenge for us. We have played UT Martin before. I know their head coach Jason Simpson well. They are a very well coached football team. They are a little unorthodox at times. They will come at you on defense from a lot of different directions. They run an up-tempo offense. They are on a four-game winning streak right now, and they have dominated their last two opponents. Their team is playing with a lot of confidence and obviously this is a big opportunity for them. They are going to come in with a chip on their shoulder and it will present a huge challenge. We are very fortunate to get a 3 p.m. kickoff for Homecoming. I do not know if there is a better time to play a Homecoming game. We have had an unbelievable home field advantage this year and I think that has helped us win several games this year. Having a sold out and loud stadium has created issues for the opposing team, and we need that again this Saturday. There are Homecoming activities in the morning and homecoming activities at night, with a football game right in the middle. You cannot ask for a better time to play a football game. We hope everyone gives us that home field advantage again this week because it has been so important to us throughout the year. This is the first Homecoming game where we have been ranked No. 1, which is exciting.”
On players stepping up and making plays this season:
“During the course of the season we really have seen that. I think the attitude coming off of how we finished last year helped a lot of guys realize that they have experience and that they are guys that can make plays. If you look at the receiver position, with all of those guys coming back, they realized they have been in these situations before. They realize they are the ones who have to make plays. I think going into an off season as a veteran and playing in games gives them that confidence.”
On the team’s play over the past three weeks:
“I think, because of veteran players, you do not see drastic improvements from week to week. Sometimes with a young team you see a big jump from one week to the next. I want to see slight improvements from us. We did some things Saturday that we cannot do. When we were losing at halftime I told our guys that we had a great opportunity in front of us. I saw a stat that said we had only been trailing for seven minutes the entire season. Here we were trailing almost an entire game, and we still found a way to win. That is something that we improved on. We did not improve on protecting the football or winning the turnover ratio. Those are things we look at from week to week. We found a way to win a game in a different situation than we had previously, and we came out on top.
On turnovers this season as compared to previous seasons:
“We take a lot of pride in protecting the football. I am obviously not very happy to have almost two years worth of turnovers in eight games. We go back and look at the turnovers, and I thought both interceptions were really bad interceptions Saturday. Some of the interceptions he has thrown were just him trying to give guys the opportunity to make plays. Those were not that way. His interceptions Saturday were poor reads. Obviously the fumbled punts are a major concern, because that is a skill. It is not like they played great defense to force those turnovers. That is us making a mistake. Saturday, I think we made mistakes on all of the turnovers. Most of the year I do not think our turnovers have been that way. The defenses have made great plays. We also realize that we are no longer the hunters and are now the hunted. People are going to throw the kitchen sink at us, and we are going to get things in games that we have not seen before. Our guys have to do a good job of managing the game because we are going to get everyone’s best shot coming in here.”
On true freshman LB [J.T.] Gray:
“He had three tackles on four plays. We went in to the game and were not sure if he was going to play or not. We talked about it earlier in the week and told him it was not a definite. He was ready to go and wanted to play, and on the opening kickoff had an assisted tackle during his first college snap. We tell our younger guys that you play how you practice, and he has been a maniac on the scout kick off team. Our young guys practice so hard because they want to play hard one day. His opportunity happened to be Saturday, and when his number was called he was ready to go.
On WR [Jamoral] Graham:
“We will see how things go at practice. He was in that position because at practice he was the best at returning punts. Saturday he had a shot at a return and took his eyes off the ball before he caught it. You are not going to catch balls that way. Those are little things that he has to continue to improve on.”
On RB [Josh] Robinson:
“It seems every year in the SEC there are big, physical players at every position across the conference. [Josh] Robinson is a guy that can bring a lot of different things to the table. If we need him to get 20 carries he can do that. If he is getting less touches he is still going to be a really good blocker. This Saturday, he was a really big weapon in the pass game. His size and skill set allows him to be an every down player because he is a threat to run the ball, a threat to catch the ball, and a threat to block.”
On advanced scouting of opponents later in the season:
“We are always doing that. We have guys that are breaking down the film. I saw today that they were breaking down all of the Vanderbilt film and the school up north film. I have never done that, because I want my focus to be on beating UT Martin this week. We do have guys breaking down the film because I need all of that ready to go game week. Those guys are always scouting out two or three weeks in advance.”
On how a previous performance affects the team’s game plan:
“A lot of times the defense is so different from week to week, and on the other side of the ball the offense can be so different from week to week. Even though a play might work well against a certain coverage, the next team might not run that coverage. We look at things that we do well and we scout ourselves to figure out what our tendencies are. I am constantly trying to look at our tendencies in game because a lot of times you will get in to a rhythm in a game and have a tendency. We have to be careful about that.”
On the mixing of 1A and 1B defenses:
“It worked out pretty well in terms of points. We made some big plays on defense and did not give up points. In the end, that is the most important aspect of it. We still gave up yards. I still think we want to get off the field more. If you look at a team like Arkansas, they are a ball control team. They did a good job of keeping our offense off the field. They had the plan in place to win. They did the things they needed to do to win, and for us to overcome that we had to make a big play. We had a goal line stand and an interception in the end zone. Statistically speaking, we would like to be a little different defensively but we are doing the things we have to do to win games.”
On [Devon] Bell:
“His punt at the end of the game was huge. We had a bad snap and he snatched the ball out of the air. He used all of his 13 inch vertical leap to go up and get that ball. Those were huge plays for him. [Devon] Bell is a very competitive guy. He is a very hard worker and is dedicated to his craft. When we needed the big play from him he was there to do it. We only punted a couple of times but all of his plays were excellent plays.”
On playing against [Dylan] Favre:
“He is a play maker. I know that. We always knew that when he was here. If you put him out there exciting things are going to happen. Some good and some bad. I do not know if it gives us much of an advantage. He is going to be used to this environment. He has played in this stadium and has been in that environment before.”