Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen joined the rest of the league’s head coaches on the SEC coaches’ teleconference to talk about the Bulldogs’ upcoming game against Alabama.
Here is a transcript of Mullen’s time on the call…
Mullen: “Our guys have had a good week at practice this week. I think they’re locked in and focused. This is what you work for to play in these big games. Here it is late in the season and we have the opportunity to play in big games. That’s the type of team you want to have and the program we want to build we’re playing in these types of games every single year.
“I like how our guys have prepared. We have a huge challenge obviously with a great team in Alabama.”
Is the challenge of going undefeated getting harder?
Mullen: “I don’t know. Anytime you go undefeated in any sport is hard. The challenge in college football is that these are young kids. These are 18 to 22 year old kids. They have to keep that mindset and that focus and perform every single week. That’s huge, especially you’re in a conference like the Southeastern Confernece and in the SEC West.
“We have more ranked teams in the SEC West than any other conference has total. In other conferences, you get some breather games if you’re the top team. In this league you don’t. You have to have that focus every single week and that mental toughness to perform at a high level in the SEC West.”
How much of what you see in practice manifests itself on game day?
Mullen: “I always tell our guys that they’re going to play like they practice. Your performance on Saturday will mimic what you look like all week in practice with the intensity, attention to detail and mental focus. That’s a huge part of it.
“If you practice tight, you’re going to play tight. If you’re trying to fake your way through practice, then you’re going to look like you’re faking your way through a game. If you have unbelievable energy, juice and guys flying around and locked in all week at practice, you’re going to perform that way on Saturday.
“It does replicate. What you see at practice is what you see on Saturday.”
Can you get an accurate read on why you have less turnovers in your last couple of games as opposed to earlier in the year?
Mullen: “No. It’s how teams have played us and who we’ve played has something to do with it. Last week we dropped three interceptions, which you can’t do. We’ve done that in the last few games.
“But for the last three weeks we’re getting the absolute A-game from everybody that we’ve played. Early into the season we were the underdog coming into a game and for the last three games we’re the No. 1 team in the country with a huge target on our back.
“This week we’ll go back to being the underdog. I think that has a lot to do with it because you’re getting teams absolute best shot and best performance of the year.”
How have you addressed all of these big games with your team this year?
Mullen: “They love it. This is what they came to school here for. They wanted to put us in a position to where we’re on the national stage here at Mississippi State.
“In the past Mississippi State has played in some big games here and there throughout history on the national stage but I don’t know about consistently. For us, we want to consistently be on that national stage playing in these big games.
“We tell our guys that when you win a game in SEC that you’re only reward is a bigger one the next week. We’ve been playing in bigger games the next week now for a whole season. Our guys have embraced that and understand that. I don’t think they deal with any issues besides knowing that this is bigger than the last game.
“If we can win this one then next week will be even bigger again.”
How much confidence did your team gain by beating Auburn since that was also billed as the biggest game ever?
Mullen: “A bunch of games gave our guys confidence. We were in a big game against Auburn, a No. 2 versus No. 3 match-up. They were No. 2 in the country at the time and our guys came out and played at a really high level with energy, juice and played at a high level for four quarters.
“We also went down to LSU and played really well in a really hostile environment. We’ll be getting that on Saturday. I think guys draw back and look at what they’ve done throughout the year in different environments.
“Obviously, this is a very different team than those two teams. But the situation and environment they are used to handling.”
How much do you trust your own evaluations in recruiting and not get caught up on how highly he’s rated?
Mullen: “That’s the most important thing. You can hurt your program by doing that. If you get too caught up in the hype of recruiting and spend too much time trying to win signing day instead of getting the guys that you need in your program, in the end you can hurt your program and send yourself off in the wrong direction.
“Obviously it’s great if you win signing day and you have all these great players. That can help you an awful lot but you have to make sure they are great players in your evaluation and not just recruiting stars.”
Are you surprised your team is an underdog being ranked No. 1 going into this game?
Mullen: “No. Alabama is an excellent team and an excellent program. They’re at home and it’s always tough to win on the road in this league. If you look in conference play, the home team usually has an advantage so that doesn’t surprise me at all.”