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: 

It’s a great honor that Richie Brown was the SEC Defensive Player of the Week. He played a heck of a game. I know that’s the second time in his career that he’s won it. He won it last year against Texas A&M when he had three interceptions. I thought with the type of game he played, he was very deserving. I just wanted to congratulate him on that great honor. Coming out of that last game, we came out pretty healthy which is good. I thought it was a good, physical, hard-fought game. We found a way to win. It was a great team victory where everybody had to do some different things for us to win, and you can build a lot off that moving forward. I think our guys are healthy. I’m sure they’re tired. I think we’ve only had once this year where we’ve probably had the opportunity to be home before 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning. When you look at how that game went, I thought that we had a lot that we could build off in all three phases of the game. As a team, we did what we needed to do to win. Moving forward, that’s what we need to do to succeed. We have a tough opponent that we’re playing this week with Texas A&M, another top-25 team that we’re playing on the road in the largest stadium in the SEC. At night, you know it’s going to be a loud crowd and a raucous environment against a team that offensively has one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC and he has a lot of talent around him, a lot of playmakers. He has a lot of different guys he can get the ball to and they can do something with it afterwards. They have an extremely explosive offense and probably the best defense that we’ve faced so far with speed on the field. They have a lot of speed out there on the defensive side of the field and not just pass rushers. They have interior lineman with speed and linebackers that run well. They have a really fast secondary. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us. We’re going to have to play excellent team football to find a way to get a win, but that’s what we have to do. We have to go into tough road environments, stick together as a team, play great team football and find a way to win.”

On the recent play of junior linebacker Richie Brown…

He’s really developing and coming along. Last year, he was a guy that played a bunch, but he wasn’t the guy. As the mike linebacker out there for us this year, you want to see a guy who is going to make a bunch of plays. I think his athleticism really showed the other night, being able to run, not just tackling, but in between the tackles, and making those inside plays and his ability to go run plays down on the perimeter.”

On effort spent creating mismatches on the field…

“That’s the balance right there. We’re not going to change who we are. We’re going to build around our strengths. What we’re looking for is how we can utilize our strengths and the things that we do well that will cause them problems. I guess that’s why we work those long hours. If you checked my Twitter, you might think it was pretty simple, coaching. We actually do spend a lot of time trying to create those mismatches out there on the field.”

On preparing for a John Chavis led defense…

“The first time that I saw a John Chavis defense, I was coaching at Syracuse in 1998. We were playing Tennessee. He always tweaks. He has his package. He’s going to take his package and then build it around the strength of his players. They’re going to be very aggressive. I think having really athletic defensive ends plays to the strength of what his defense is. He has great man-coverage cornerbacks, and that plays to his strength. He can load the box with numbers, man you up on the outside and if you want to try to pass, he can get to you in a hurry.  I think the talent that he came into at A&M really helps his scheme. Those are the type of players I think he wants in his scheme.”

On facing Kevin Sumlin’s offense…

“Their playmakers are certainly that. Offensively, I think we have very similar philosophies, even though we may go about it differently. We’re trying to spread the field and get the ball into a playmakers hands in the open field. He does such a great job of that. Whether they have a guy with size and speed that they can get one-on-one vertically down the field or a guy that’s really fast that they get the ball to underneath in the open field, they’re going to spread you way out. They have an explosive running back that now has seams to run through. They try to create those matchups on the field where they have an advantage, where they have one of their better player on one of your weaker players, and they’re going to win that battle.”

On State’s lack of rushing attempts

We’re going do what we’re going do to win. A lot of people will still play us to stop the run first, and we’re able to throw the ball. That doesn’t concern me. I bet our total plays number is low, too, because we didn’t get to run a lot of plays Saturday night on offense or during game one. To me, when you look at those stats, especially early in the season, they can become really skewed one way or another. One game can really skew your stats early in the season. During the course of the season, that’ll balance out.”

On his confidence in sophomore kicker Westin Graves…

“He’s kicking the ball well and playing with a lot of consistency right now. We’ve even moved him back in practice a little bit. I think he’s done a good job with that. I don’t want him to have to change his form and technique just to lose the confidence that he has. I want to keep that consistent. Whereas, Devon Bell can hit the ball with the same leg swing as Westin Graves and the ball will go about 15 yards farther. When you go back and look at it, I would have felt comfortable with him kicking that field goal right where we were before I took the penalty if I hadn’t misjudged the wind and think that might even be a factor in that game. That’s where I made my mistake. I put too much stock in that. I think he’s really hitting the ball pretty well. Regarding that field goal to finish the LSU game, I don’t want to say that he can’t do it because I know that he would take that as a great challenge. You’re still pushing the limits of the possibility. What we didn’t want was for it to be short. You don’t want to leave the birdie putt short. We wanted to make sure that the ball had the opportunity to get there.”

On the possibility of a high-scoring game vs. Texas A&M… 

“What we want is to score at least one more point than they score. If it’s 42-41, or if it’s 3-2, I’m good either way. That’s one thing for me that I think everyone in our program understands. The offense’s responsibility is to score one more point than we give up, and the defense’s job is to hold them to one point below however many we score. Whichever direction that goes, it’s the team’s responsibility to make sure that happens. I think that’s part of the success that we’ve had here is that everyone understands the team aspect of a football game.”

On balance in play calling… 

“You know one thing that hasn’t been brought up in an offensive meeting? Balance. What’s brought up is how do we get first downs, how do we move the ball, how do we get the ball in the endzone. Whatever is working, I want to go with it. If we’re running the ball, we’re going to keep running. If we’re running it really well, see if you can stop us. If we’re throwing the ball really well, we’ll keep throwing it. I think Dak (Prescott) started 10-of-11 and we have some really good players on the perimeter. I think you look at that and say Dak started out hot and we have guys on the perimeter, let’s keep making some plays down the field and keep them on edge. Late in the game, we’re up two scores in the fourth quarter and we want to run the ball. They know that we want to run the ball, and everyone is standing on the line of scrimmage. That’s not the easiest situation to run the ball in. Plus we have an older quarterback. In those situations, I don’t mind throwing it and putting the game in his hands.”

On the tackling of the defense through the first four games…

“I think we’ve gotten better, especially with guys that have not played a lot of football because I don’t know how many game reps it takes to get tackling. It’s different on a Saturday night. For one, we have health reasons. We’re not sitting there tackling at every single practice. We’re doing tackling drills in every practice, but I’m talking about game tackling. You can’t simulate that in practice. I think the more that we’re playing, the more experience the younger guys are getting, the better tacklers we’re becoming. Obviously, we’re going to have to be a great tackling team this week with the athletes they’re going to put in the open field. If they make you miss, they can score in a hurry.”

On the success of Manny Diaz’ defenses in the red-zone…

“I think the aggressive style of play helps. He does a great job of trying to get you out of rhythm and taking away what you like to do. A lot of times, we create a negative play in the red zone and we put you off schedule, it’s harder to recover at that point, just because there’s not as much field to defend. If we can get you in longer down and distances in the red zone, it’s harder to punch the ball in.”

On the run-blocking of the offensive line against Auburn… 

“I think they’re doing a better job. I think Saturday was one of our better running nights with the offensive line. The numbers don’t show you. We just didn’t attempt that many runs. The ones we did attempt were late in the game running out the clock. I saw some things that I really liked with our run-blocking on Saturday. I thought our backs missed a couple of cuts. We had one or two quarterback runs that I didn’t think that we read properly, but I thought that the offensive line was moving in the right direction for us.”

On the big picture after an SEC road victory…

“I think for our guys that was a big game. I’m sure everyone wants to say that they’re going to win the SEC West, undefeated. That doesn’t happen very often. Once you start hitting two losses, especially earlier in the season, it’s harder to come back from. I think that win keeps you going in that direction. Now obviously, we have another tough test this week. I think for the spirits of the team getting that road win helps.”

On senior quarterback Dak Prescott’s overall performance against Auburn…

“I thought he did really well. I don’t think he made that many bad decisions. He missed a couple of throws here and there. Once or twice he didn’t have his feet set the right way. He threw off his back foot once or twice, just little things, but it’s not something easy to do. He did a nice job of taking what they gave us, getting through reads and distributing the ball. I don’t think he forced the ball anywhere on the field. I thought he played really well on Saturday night.”

On junior wide receiver De’Runnya Wilson’s big-game ability…

“I think he likes that. That’s just kind of him. He likes the big games. He’s from Alabama, so he’s going home to his home state, which is a big deal. When the lights are on, he wants to be a star player. He has that type of personality. In big games, he wants to make things happen. He has such great size that if you’re going to play him man-to-man, he’s a tough man-to-man matchup because he has size and ball skills.”

On limiting the Texas A&M pass rush this Saturday…

“Obviously, they’re talented. We’re going to have to make sure that we do a good job of protection. We have to get rid of the ball. The good thing is, if your quarterback is making good decisions and they have the opportunity to get rid of the ball quickly, it helps your pass protection as much as anything. We don’t want our quarterback holding the ball too long. A guy like Dak, who can get through his progression reads pretty quickly, helps keep those sack numbers down.”

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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