Tuesday with Mullen

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen held his weekly press conference on Tuesday to discuss the Bulldogs’ 34-16 season-opening win at Southern Miss and upcoming SEC outing against LSU.

Opening statement …

“We are excited. Obviously home openers are really exciting. It is going to be a sold-out stadium. We love playing at home and to do it against a top-15 team. It is going to be a big conference game. The first conference game of the year is always such a huge game. It can really catapult you into a great year. Kind of put you behind the eight-ball a little bit where you have to play catchup the rest of the year. It’s a big game for us against a really tough opponent. We have to make a lot of improvements off of last week. Obviously, we want to see a big jump in guys, not so much maybe the older guys. Our older guys played well. Why did they play well? What did they do positive? What did they do that wasn’t as great? Where were their mistakes? A lot of the older guys, they identify those mistakes anyways. They are going to tell you what their mistakes were, things they did well and things they did poorly. We have to make a huge improvement with a lot of the guys who haven’t played a lot. This was a lot of guy’s first opportunity to be out there in a game or taking a lot of meaningful snaps. They get to watch themselves and see how different games are than practice. That’s where you want to see guys take a huge step forward, not just in their preparation but also in their performance on Saturday. That is going to be a pretty big deal for us. We are excited. We are fired up. It should be an exciting week on campus with everything going on.

On LSU not playing its regularly scheduled opener due to weather …

“I don’t know that there is an advantage or a disadvantage. The advantage for us is that our guys played in a very tough road environment against, to me, what is an in-state rivalry. For our younger guys it is great to get a game under our belt. They (LSU) also have the advantage that they are fresh. They didn’t have to play last week. Their players are all fresher and ready to go. They have a new defensive staff and you don’t get to see what they are doing on defense. You don’t get to see where all of their new guys are positioned. They have a bunch of new starters and you don’t get to see how they are going to utilize those players. I think there are probably advantages and disadvantages on both sides. I don’t know that one really outweighs the other.”

On preparation …

“You are looking at all kind of different things. You are going through last year’s films to watch personal. You are going through Alabama’s stuff to look at more scheme of where they came from. You can peek at USC stuff with Ed Orgeron as the defensive line coach.  You are not real sure what they are going to draw from it schematically and then personnel, you’re watching the players play but you do not know how they are going to do something in a different scheme. On that aspect of us on the offensive side of the ball, it is really hard to prepare for. Most of our focus has to be on ourselves and our own execution. We have to do what we do well.”

On the impact of this year’s game …

“It’s the conference opener for the second straight year. If you win this game, it puts you in first place in the (SEC) West. It puts you two games ahead of LSU and you’re only two weeks into the season.  I think for a confidence thing for the team it is huge. I have always believed that if you win your first conference game it is a huge boost moving into the rest of the season. You are off to that hot start. You don’t want to have to start climbing uphill to whole year after one week of conference play. I think that is really what it is all about for us. If you get this conference win, it puts you in first place in the SEC West and that is a fun place to play from.”

On the defensive rotation …

“I think that they were using a lot of different personal. They were showing some things they had not shown in the past. The tweaks we have made on defense and then doing all of the things we had not seen on film for us to go prepare for, I think we were a little bit more conservative within our rotation in the defensive line. I think a lot of it was how the game dictated it. We ran four offensive plays in the first quarter and we were down. We have two special teams turnover in the first quarter. Those types of things you get a little more conservative in making sure you are putting guys in position where we had to win the game and we did not get to rotate as freely as we wanted to. A lot of guys wanted to touch the ball on offense in the first quarter. There were only four plays for that to happen so that kind of limited that from happening.”

On the secondary issues …

“They had a lot of run/pass conflict with plays. They were running pass plays, releasing linemen downfield and our backers were stepping up to stop the run then they would pull the ball down and throw it over their head. That was a lot of the stuff we saw in the secondary. Majority of their big plays were those situations. We should have had a backer underneath it and we didn’t.”

On Brandon Holloway …

“I think with us, within our rotation, he comes in with more flash because he is different than any other backs. He comes in with this burst of speed that other guys don’t really bring to the table. I think if we needed to rely on him, he would run the ball. He runs physical. You know he is not the biggest guy. He plays a lot more physical than he is. I don’t think he would have a problem adjusting to that role.”

On the three offensive linemen debuts …

Jamaal Clayborn did an excellent job of managing the game from the center position. You are on the road having to deal with crowd noise and having to make all of the calls in that tough environment. I feel he handled the situation very well. Rufus Warren as an older player and Devon Desper, I think he started a game before for us. He has been in some situations. I thought those guys played very well. They had a little more experience. I was really pleased with how Jamaal handled the moment more than overall performance. I thought we played solid upfront. I don’t know that we were great or poor. I think that we played solid on the offensive line. There is a lot that we can grow and approve off of it. I think for three new starters, they handled the situation fairly well.”

On week two as SEC opener …

“You have to play them at some point. This year, we have a younger team and you would love the get more games where guys are getting rotations at the beginning of the year. We don’t control any of that stuff. It is how it plays out. I guess if we win on Saturday night, it would be a great time to play them. If we don’t, maybe it would have been a bad time to play them. I don’t know that there is a huge advantage or disadvantage either way.”

On preparation for LSU running back Leonard Fournette

“He is someone that is hard to prepare for because you don’t have a guy like him in practice. If I don’t have a guy like him, it is hard for us to see the actual speed, size and physicality that he plays with. You just have to go get ready. Make sure you give a lot of guys the ball. Don’t assume that the first guy is going to make the tackle. You want to try to contain him as much as possible and not let him get into the wide open field where he is so dangerous cause of his size and his speed.”

On finishing out last year’s LSU game …

“I learned an awful lot. I don’t think, for me as a coach, that I put us in the best situation in the fourth quarter. There were a couple of things that I could have done. We had a drive in the redzone late and I had our backups in. We could have used one more score in that situation. We ended up giving up a quick touchdown against our backups, then I left our backups in another series. I really should not have done, especially on the road in that environment with an as talented and explosive team as LSU. We have to make sure we finish the game. I thought our guys competed the entire 60 minutes. It was much more me than our players. I put us in a poor situation.”

On tight end touchdowns …

“Those guys I thought they did a really good job. Gus Walley is a guy that has been in the program and has played his dues. He has really developed into what we expect out of our program as a guy who is ready to go perform his junior year. Justin Johnson, I am really happy for what he did. He played in a great high school program at Hoover and he played in a lot of big games. I don’t think the moment was too big for him. We had a meeting during the summer. He really did embrace the mindset that he was getting ready to go play. He had that opportunity at tight end and took full advantage of it. His first three plays he had a third down conversion and a touchdown catch. He must have been thinking that this college stuff was pretty easy. He prepared the right way for that and when he had the opportunity he took the most of it.”

On defensive tackle Nick James …

“I think that’s the best I have ever seen him play, including practice. I really was pleased with a lot of the way he played. There is a lot that he can take a grown off of. Obviously we need him to play at a much higher level than that. When he gets to watch himself on tape, he can see how he needs to play with the effort he needs to play with and do a lot of things better. Hopefully that will be a huge stepping stone for him moving forward. He is so emotional that he gets carried away with things sometimes. I don’t want him to lose his emotion because that is who he is, but I think he has got to learn how to channel his emotions into positive play making things instead of some silly stuff at times on the field.”

On Dak Prescott running the ball last Saturday …

“I didn’t call a lot of quarterback runs. There were some option plays where he had the option to pull it and I think we called two quarterback run the whole night. One he scored on and then one he didn’t. Most were option reads to where if he kept the ball then he kept the ball. We had some in the game plan, we just didn’t get to them. I thought we were running the ball at decent times. We didn’t have many opportunities on the offense side of the ball. That was probably one of the fewest number of plays we have run in a game in a long time. One of the things that helps is he in an older guy. He can come out throwing. He is ready to go play with that experience. I think that takes some of it off. It is whatever the defense is giving us, we are going to take. If they want him to run the ball then he is going to run the ball and I am sure he will do a great job. If they don’t take his runs away then other guys will run the football for us.”

 

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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