Monday with Mullen

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen held his weekly press conference on Monday to discuss the Bulldogs’ 62-13 win over Northwestern State and preview their upcoming game against Auburn.

Opening Statement…

“Coming off last week’s game, I’m pretty happy. I thought we improved which was important for us as a team. We had a better week of practice last week than we did the week before, and it showed on the field. I think we played better than we did the week before. There are still a lot of little areas we need to improve at. Hopefully, we can do that this week at practice and have that translate into our performance on Saturday. We’re going to have our hands full.”

“Any time you play on the road in the Southeastern Conference it’s really tough to do. It’s going to be a hostile environment against a talented football team. It’s another top-25 team we have to play. You look at the different talent they have all over the field, they’re getting back to playing at home where they have a great home record. We’re really going to have our hands full. We’re going to have to play at a high level. Any time you go on the road you have to do that.”

 On younger players having experience in a road game at Southern Miss earlier this year…

“I think you can take some things from it. Obviously, we’re getting on a bus, traveling, it will be a night game. You’re going to be in a hostile environment. The great thing about playing at Southern Miss, it was a sold out stadium in a tough road environment. I think our guys handled that scene very well. It’s going to be a lot different at Auburn. You’re talking about maybe more than twice the size, louder, more difficult, all of those things. I do think some of our young players can take confidence in that they have already played a road game in a sold out stadium against a tough team.”

On running backs Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams getting more reps…

“We’ll see how practice goes this week. I thought they both played fairly well on Saturday. I think we knew coming into the season we have a talented backfield. I always said from the beginning, unless someone just flat-out separates themselves from everybody else, I think you’re going to see all of them play. If they continue to progress and practice well, I think we’re going to see that. All four of them are playing pretty well and it allows us to put them in the game.”

On tough series against Auburn the last few years…

“The last couple of years it has been the first SEC game. The first game can mean a lot and help propel you one way or the other. For both us this year, we’re both coming off a loss in conference. You don’t want to fall that far behind. We both, in conference play, are back-against-the-wall and have to come out to fight and ready to play.”

On Dak Prescott improving since first half of LSU game…

“Part of it is not just him, it’s the offense. The offense, for the most part, was clicking on Saturday. He does a great job of taking advantage of that and make sure he is playing within the system. It’s not a one-man show out there. We need everyone executing at a high level. When that happens, he’s got the talent to make the throws to get the ball to people, he has the experience to handle the situation and how we have to move the offense, and he has the intelligence to know where to go with the football. As you’re rolling offensively, it opens more options for us and he’s going to make sure we’re taking advantage of the best option on the field.”

On not having success playing at Auburn…

“It’s hard to win in the SEC on the road. Almost everyone wins most of their home games. It’s hard to win road games in this league and you’re going to have to play really well if you’re going to do that.”

On Auburn’s quarterback Jeremy Johnson compared to Nick Marshall…

“He’s a bigger guy. He can stand in the pocket a little bit more throwing the football because of his size. Nick moved around a lot. A lot of throws on the run, play action and movement throws. Jeremy is more of a guy that has the size to stand in the pocket. He has the athleticism to beat you, but he also has the size to be able to be a pocket passer as well.”

On Mullen and Manny Diaz having played against Auburn last year…

“We’re a different team and they’re a different team in a whole different season. I’ve played against them a lot and he got to play against them last year. There is a familiarity with you know what to expect and what you’re getting. We have to put a plan together that puts our guys in a position to win and I think we’re going to do that.”

On safety Kendrick Market…

“He’s cleared to practice. It’s just how we want to use him in practice. We had a lot of discussion on if he was going to practice four days this week or three days this week, but he will be playing on Saturday.”

On Auburn’s defense statistically…

“Statistics early in the season can be a little deceiving at times. They played an LSU team and LSU doesn’t really try to throw the ball. Statistically, it’s going to sway more toward the run game than pass game when you just look at those numbers. We’re going to have to be balanced. We’re going to need to make plays and attack because they have a lot of talented players on that defense. They have one of the best defensive tackles in the league in (Montravius) Adams. They have two of the best linebackers in the league. They have a lot of talent in that front seven.”

On playing backup quarterbacks Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley more often…

“We’ll see how it goes in the week at practice. I was really pleased with what I saw from both those guys. They got put in a game and both of them handled the situation well. You want to be pleased with the throws they make and the touchdown passes, but to me, it’s more of how they handle the snap and how they handled that stuff of getting experience of being out there on the field. Obviously, I’d love to get them in games but a lot of that is going to depend on situations where we are and what our gut feeling is going into the game.”

On snapper Hunter Bradley…

“He was a guy who was going to snap and play tight end for us. He got some injuries playing tight end so we said let’s just worry about snapping. He shows up every day to work hard, improve and do what he needs to do. He’s gotten experience in the past. Now, his number is called to be a starter, and he didn’t bat an eye. He jumped in ready to go and take that responsibility. You saw that even during the LSU game. His number was called and didn’t miss a beat.”

On Elgton Jenkins…

“I thought he did a decent job. He’s got a way to go. I’m glad we got him experience. These young guys we have to get in and you saw us force-feeding guys onto the field the other day. I think we’re going to continue to force-feed guys on the field because these guys have got to get experience and have to get ready to play. He’s one of those guys we’ve got to get ready to play. I thought he did a good job. He’s got potential. We just have to get him up to that level to perform to where we think his potential should be.”

On Staley and Fitzgerald’s performances…

“(I saw) calmness on the field, that’s what was most impressive to me. They both graded out as champions even though they didn’t get a lot of reps in the game. To me, they were confident and did what they were supposed to do. They didn’t go out of the field and try to do too much or try to impress They went out on the field and played quarterback. They tried to manage the game and make throws that were there to be made, make the right reads and execute at a high level.”

On preparing after a loss versus after a win…

“I think our guys show up ready every day. That’s part of our program. That’s what is instilled in them. It’s what we talk about in recruiting. It’s what we talk about in our offseason program.  Every day you have to show up willing to work hard and be the best you can be every single day. It’s more fun after a win. After the LSU game, if you change one play and we win, we still have a lot of problems, we just feel better about it. We still have a lot of problems today, but we feel better about them after a win. We’ve got to a lot of those issues and problems fixed.”

On if last year’s win against Auburn will be a point of focus in preparation…

“No, and it probably won’t be. This year’s game will mean a lot to our program too. We were a different team last year. They were a different team last year. We played under very different circumstances last year. Any time you play an SEC game it’s huge. Last year’s game doesn’t play in a lot to this year’s game.”

On next offensive lineman to potentially develop into an NFL talent…

“I think it depends on how they continue to develop. The one thing about all those guys (currently in the NFL), is they worked and they developed throughout their five-year careers here. They all redshirted, they all came in and showed up every day to give you everything they had. If guys are doing that, which I think we have a bunch of guys who have that opportunity or potential to do that, but you better show up every single day and continue to develop. I think a lot of it with our younger guys, they’re learning all that right now. That’s a process to learn. They don’t see the sense of urgency that possibly older guys see when they say, ‘hey, our career is coming to an end.’ They have to understand if you don’t have that sense of urgency every day, you’re not going to make it to that next level.”

On importance of avoiding 0-2 start in conference play…

“Every game is so huge in this league. That’s what makes it tough. Almost every game you play is against a top-25 team. Every game is critical to your season. There are really not many layup games in the Southeastern Conference. You have to show up every single game and play your butt off.”

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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