Monday with Mullen

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen held his weekly press conference on Monday to discuss the Bulldogs’ 30-17 loss at Texas A&M and preview their upcoming game against Troy.

Opening statement…

“It’s great coming back home. We just had a tough stretch in the schedule playing three of the first five games on the road. Obviously, that’s a tough way to start off playing three top-25 teams. Within that stretch, I thought our guys battled. I think we’ve improved a little bit from week to week. Last week, I didn’t think we played great. Texas A&M played very well and I thought all the things we did to win on the road at Auburn, (Texas A&M) did to beat us in that game. It was pretty simple to see when you were going to win, how you’re going to win and why you’re going to win. But we’re back at home now. We’ve got a tough game this week against Troy. They have a new head coach and guys that are believing in the system and what they’re doing. They play really hard and run the football well. We’ve played them a couple of times in some close games. It will be a good challenge for us. One of the things in college football that you see week-to-week is that if you don’t play well you’re not going to win. It doesn’t matter if you’re the No. 1 team in the country or if you haven’t won a game. If you play really well, you’re going to have an opportunity to win. We are going to need improvement as a team, as individuals, as position groups and offensive, defensive and kicking units. We will need to come out and play at a high level this week to have a chance to win on Saturday.”

On injuries to players that left Saturday’s game…

Kendrick Market will be out for the year with a torn ACL, which is a big loss for us. Gabe Myles and Rufus Warren are both questionable, so we’ll see how they feel. We rested a lot of those guys (on Sunday). Joe Morrow will be questionable this week, as well. Will (Redmond) didn’t practice (on Sunday). We’ll see Tuesday for those guys. The only significant injury was Kendrick. Our trainers felt pretty positive about everybody else. Gus Walley didn’t play Saturday. He hurt his hand in practice earlier in the week. We held him out Saturday to see if he would have the opportunity to play this week.”

On the depth and the ability to fill holes left by injury…

“I think guys understand that they have to step up. In the short-term, a guy will possibly step up because you know someone is coming back. In Kendrick’s case, I don’t know because he’s such a great leader and a really good player for us. He’s not the most talented guy or a superstar out there, but he’s just good all-around. We’ve built a program with some depth so when you have an injury, the drop-off in talent hopefully will be as much as it was six or seven years ago.”

On Brandon Bryant’s role with Market’s injury…

“All the safeties’ roles will have to increase. (Market) is the one you want to play every snap of the game and have the other guys rotate at the other safety position. But that guy goes away now, so everybody’s role will have to increase and guys will have to grow up in a hurry at that position. For three of our safeties—Brandon Bryant, Jamal Peters and Mark McLaurin, this is their first year playing college football. With that lack of experience, they will have to grow up in a hurry, especially with the explosive offenses we will be playing against.”

On Deion Calhoun’s and Elgton Jenkins’ progress…

“We like to get those guys in. They’re the first two guys off the bench on the offensive line. To get them on the field to get that experience helps a lot. As you progress through the season and guys get banged up you’ll have to play more players, guys will have to be ready to step up. It’s our job as coaches to put them in a position to be ready. The more we can get those guys in, the more we can evaluate how they play in games. Hopefully they (keep) playing well enough to earn more reps each week. That keeps guys fresh. The more guys you can rotate, the better off you will be.”

On the running game’s progress…

“I think we still have a ways to go. Statistically, we ran the ball okay. We were just under 200 yards. I like to be over 200 every game. I still think it’s coming along. There were some situations in that game that dictated what we did a little bit. We fell behind early and missed some opportunities early on offense. We kind of dug ourselves into a hole. We want to keep progressing. I want to be balanced. There are years that we run more than we throw. Sometimes that is situation-oriented. An ideal day is 50-50 run/pass with 40-something points and 500-something yards on offense with a pretty even balance between the two.”

On how playing in the spring helped freshman Malik Dear…

“I think it helped a lot, especially in physical conditioning. He came in a little heavy and started working to get himself in shape. Over the summer he started getting in shape. That opportunity was huge because you install an offense in the spring, and a lot of the new guys come in during the summer and are trying to pick up what they can. Malik, who already has an idea of what’s going on in training camp, there’s recollection (from what he learned in the spring). Anytime you graduate high school early, it puts you in a much better position to play as a freshman. I’ve seen him progress over the past couple of weeks. When you put the ball in his hands, good things usually happen. He’s become more comfortable with blocking, running routes and catching balls. Coming in the spring really helped with his confidence on offense.”

On Aeris Williams’ play…

“Aeris gives great effort. He plays a lot of special teams for us. He’s a freshman and was out of position on one special teams play which gave them their big return. He does a great job on kickoff return. On kickoff coverage, he strains and runs hard down the field. He’s progressing at running back. He’s a young player that’s learning. He makes a mistake in a big game, and how you respond to that is critical in your development. It won’t be his last mistake. I would love to say it wouldn’t be.  How he reacts to this will be big in taking steps forward.”

On Troy and their new head coach…

“You see a lot of similarities (from their new coach Neal Brown and former coach Larry Blakeney). Coach Blakeney had done a great job building that program, getting a lot of coaches out through the years and developing coaches. There’s not a different philosophy, but there is different personality.”

On if a feature running back has emerged…

“I don’t know if one has jumped out to me or if one has fallen behind. We’re going to keep playing them. I like to play the young guys and keep giving them reps so the comfort level will increase moving forward. As a whole, we have to play more players. We’re not rotating enough on offense or defense right now. We have to aware, as coaches, of the proper rep count for guys in games so they can perform at a maximum level.”

On tight end Darrion Hutcherson…

“The one thing with (Hutcherson) is that he came in and played right away last year but in a limited role. You’re starting to see him take steps forward. I wish he had another year left after this. He’s got great size and athleticism and is a tough matchup out there. He’s starting to develop into a better player. He was just forced into action last year because of injuries.”

On the fumbles…

“You worry if it’s in one situation or just one player. The worst, to me, are the two by running backs going into the end zone. Those two jump out at you. There’s not a pattern. It’s seven different players in seven different scenarios. That’s the frustrating part. Red zone scoring in games will often determine the outcome.”

On the possibility of a medical redshirt for Kendrick Market…

“He can’t. That was the fifth game of this year so that’s beyond the limit. Unfortunately, that was probably the last play of his career for a man that’s done so much. He’s been an impact player in the SEC.

On the defense and creating turnovers…

“A lot of it is because a lot of times they come in bunches. We’ve missed a couple of interceptions. We have to do a better job of getting pressure on the quarterback. In causing fumbles, we have to continue to run to the football. Rotating players will help us a lot in that. They’ll come in bunches, and we’ll have to take advantage of them.”

On what he’s learned the most about the team five weeks into the season…

“We have guys that will fight and play hard. The one thing we have to learn how to do is to go expect to make plays. We have guys expecting to make plays, but we have a lot of guys who are looking around at somebody else to go make plays. As we go forward, they will get a lot less worried about ‘am I doing the right thing’ and just letting it go and playing at 100 miles an hour. If we get 50 guys playing that way, we’ll be a really good team.”

On evaluating the defense…

“Statistically, some things can get swayed a little bit on who you’re playing. Our pass defense stats are better this year. Through five games last year, we were blowing a few teams out. I look it at ‘how are we playing on defense’ and points are a big factor. There are things we need to improve on. We didn’t get off the field enough. We need to create more three-and-outs and get the ball back faster on offense. Overall, I think we’re playing pretty good defense.”

On defensive end A.J. Jefferson’s hot start to the season…

“Last year we started seeing maturity in becoming an every-down player. He can make some plays. He’s not waiting for somebody else to make a play. He’s looking to make a play.”

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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