Monday with Mullen

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen held his weekly press conference on Monday to discuss the Bulldogs’ season opener at Southern Miss.

Opening Statement

“We are excited getting ready to start the season. You work hard for these moments and now we are in game week. We have been bashing into each other for quite a while so the opportunity for us to get on the field and play another opponent is really exciting. Our guys, they’re practicing year-round for these opportunities. There are not many opportunities to go play in the game. They’re practicing nonstop to prepare themselves for these moments and we have to go take advantage of it. We have to go enjoy it. Excited to get this season kicked off, get us underway, get us on the field and go see what type of team we have. You don’t really know what type of team you have until you get to go play somebody else. We are going to find out next Saturday night.”

On the season being different …

“Always early in the season, I think it is hard. This year’s teams are going to be very different than last year’s teams. We are a very different team this year than we were last year. In the early games the important part is really focusing on yourself. Making sure that we’re executing at a very high level and that we are putting guys in a position to go make plays. It’s hard to see what type of guys you’re going to be playing against because they have a ton of guys transferred in. It is going to be a lot of different faces that we are playing against this year. That is going to be the case in the first couple of game. I think all of those early in the year games, you end up focusing on your personal execution.”

On replacing Josh Robinson …

“They have done pretty well. When you have that guy stepping into a starting role for the first time that is a little different. I think Ashton Shumpert has played a bunch and Brandon Holloway has played a whole bunch, but when you step into a starting role that can be a little different so we will see how they adjust to that. I have been pretty pleased with the physicality of our running backs and how we have been running the ball. That is something to me that when we have some bigger backs, we have to play really physical.”

On the offensive line …

“They are coming. That is a position where you’re breaking in a bunch of new guys that you want to stay healthy. What I want to do is to be able to control the rotation of the guys and how they gain experience, grow and develop without being forced to do it. I am pleased with our guys up front. We have the opportunity to have some good depth on the offensive line if we can take our time to develop them to the point where guys are ready to go play games. We have a lot of new faces playing in the game on the offensive line. How they handle games situations will be a lot different than how they handle practice situations so we will see how they do.”

On playing Southern Miss …

“I think it is a great for us to have the opportunity to go play this game, especially to kickoff this season. It is a huge game in the state of Mississippi to the people here. I know the opportunity to get this game played for the fans on both sides. This is a game that can have a lot of tradition to it and a lot of people in the state of Mississippi that take a lot of pride. I know that everybody has so much pride in their schools, so the opportunity when the schools get to play each other is huge. We are fortunate to be able to be a part of it and I am happy for us to be able to renew the rivalry.”

On Coach Manny Diaz’s return …

“He has done a good job. Manny has grown a lot since the last time he was here, I know I have as a head coach. Our working together has been great. It will be another transition for him getting back on track to how our game week works, what our schedule is, what our expectations are and how we go through the process. He has been through it before here, so even though things are a little bit different there is going to be a lot of carry over to that. I think it will be a pretty easy and comfortable transition. We know he is a good football coach so I am not worried about that. Our defense will be ready to play come Saturday.”

On last year …

“We had an experienced unit starting coming out last year. That always helps in game one when you have guys that aren’t breaking into the game mode, but you have guys who are ready to get back to game mode. We have a bunch of new faces out there. We have to see how they adjust to the situation. We are playing on the road in a tough, hostile environment with a late night kickoff. All of those things added to see how we come out and execute on offense. Last year we executed fairly well on offense with the exception of the red zone. We weren’t very good in the red zone. Three of our first four red zone possessions we came away with no points. We can’t do that and expect to win this year, especially being on the road. We have to make sure we execute in the red zone against Southern Miss this year.”

On the late kickoff …

“It makes us not get a whole lot of sleep because we will be practicing late at night just to try to get the body clock ready to go. We are on the field from 7:30 to 9:30 tonight. It changes your whole routine in a game week. We have to get ready to play. I don’t particularly care to start a game that late. These are young college students. We will make sure we are ready to play and we will just adjust our schedules around it.”

On Ashton Shumpert and Brandon Holloway …

“The fact that they have played a bunch of football certainly helps. They have played in games. It is just making reads and understanding pass protections. We recruit these guys because we know that when they put the ball in their hands they can do good things with it. There is so much more to it like playing without the ball, being able to run routes, more importantly being able to pass protect, understanding the blocking schemes and looking at where plays are going to hit and not just relying on pure natural ability while you’re out there running the football. The fact that they have done it, they both have several years in our system right now where they can understand those things and really progress to make plays within the system.”

On keeping players focused …

“This week is different. The whole schedule changes, the whole practice schedule changes. What we do within practices changes. The meetings change. That allows them to get into the focus of game mode. You are out of training camp and all of those other things to practice. You are putting a specific plan together for this week. You are getting into your game routine. That allows them to stay focused throughout the week with the excitement of building up to it. I’m sure everybody is ready to get the schedule changed to get into the game week mode.”

On running back rotation …

“We are going to try to play a bunch of guys. The guys have worked hard. When you look at the amount that guys put in through off-season conditioning, spring practice, summer conditioning and training camp, these guys have put in time to deserve to get on the field to go play. When that is the case, you want to give them that opportunity to get on the field and be rewarded for their efforts on the practice field and all of their preparation. We want to play as many guys as we can play. This week we want to look in preparation that they are prepared for that moment and that opportunity to go into a game. We will make decisions throughout the week on who is prepared. Hopefully we can play a lot of guys.”

On punter/kicker Logan Cooke …

“He has been solid in working with fundamentals and working his techniques. We have tweaked a little of his technique work. When it comes to the kicking situation, a lot of that I go through the game week. Those guys can get streaky. We take a huge statistical analyzes look at come game day to see where everybody is at. Even through warmups to make sure that they are hitting the ball and that they are on when it comes to game day to see who is going to do what.”

On Elijah Staley’s comeback …

“The day before our last scrimmage he got cleared to go out there and practice full. He has taken some good reps over the last couple of weeks and has done some really good things with that. He is a little bit behind the other guys just in total number of reps, but I do think he jumped on the opportunities we gave him during training camp. He can make things happen when he is out there on the field. He is strong armed, big and physical. You look at the guy who have had game experience, the other guys can never get enough reps. Elijah is a guy that has to continue to get reps and develop for when he gets his opportunity.”

On settling down …

“I think there are different maturity levels with guys. For some of the younger guys it is a good adjustment level on getting back into game preparations. All that we put into, all of the time and the effort that we put into it, this is why you do that to get the opportunities to go play the game on Saturday. Hopefully the older guys will have to easier transition into game week but they have to lead the way for the younger guys to make sure they understand that we have to focus on the task at hand.”

On having four starters who are graduates …

“I think being here now for seven years, our plan is in place for these guys academically to get their degree. We are not trying to keep guys eligible, push them through or do the bare minimum. We love for guys to graduate in three and a half years if the plan works out the right way. If you are a guy who happens to redshirt, you have to opportunity to go for a master’s degree. That is a plan that we have set up in place. We expect all of our guys to get their degree.”

On the team’s health …

“We are actually really healthy. We do not have anybody out with any health issues or anybody that is out an extended period of time. I’m sure guys are bumped and bruised a little bit from coming out of training camp but I expect everybody to play in the game.”

On starting potentially 22 juniors and seniors …

“To me, we are a program that is based on developing young men more than just trying to be a feeder system to the NFL. Guys come here to develop, get a degree and learn how to become champions in life. There are a lot of guys out there that want the fastest way to get into the NFL. That is not really our program. It is good for us that we have those older guys. We are always playing with veteran teams or teams that have guy who have been in the program and have developed. The young guys that we will rotate in, hopefully they are continuing to develop and will get the opportunity to become starters sometimes down the road. When they do get that opportunity, they already have a bit of experience on the field.”

On time he spends with the defense …

“In season it is different. Most of my time spent with defense is post practice. I don’t mess with the plan as much. They will put the plan together and my chime in is making the adjustments. I meet with them a lot post practice more than game planning. We are going to have 11 guys running the football as hard as we can. Get there with bad intentions and play extremely physical. I want to be aggressive within our plan to keep people on edge and I want to be extremely sound. I want to make sure that all three of those things are happening”

On true freshmen making the trip …

“It is not a conference game so we can travel more. We might have a lot of guys make the trip. I don’t know who is going to play but we are trying to have a lot of guys making the trip. It is a big in state rivalry game. After all of the hard work, the guys have earned the opportunity to be on the sidelines and be a part of it. Games are the reward. That is why these guys put in the extra time. They deserve that reward at the end.”

On emotions of the first game from his first year as a head coach to now …

“Year one it is your first time as a head coach. You only get one opportunity at that. Every year is a lot easier than year one. For me, game one you are always on edge because you are out of your routine. We have a huge checklist of things that by game seven you are in your routine and you are rolling with what is going on. We haven’t prepared for a game since last January right now. You are just going through your checklist. You are going through every little detail making sure every detail has taken care of.”

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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