Monday with Mullen

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen held his weekly press conference on Monday to discuss the Bulldogs’ 45-20 home win over Louisiana Tech and preview their game against Kentucky.

Opening Statement:

“It’s good for us to get back into conference play and last week’s game was huge to get a win to wrap up the non-conference schedule. This is the third game in that middle stretch, and we have a bye week coming up afterwards, so it’s really important. We were talking to our guys. We want them to try to win all three games during this home stretch right now and we’ve won the first two. We have that opportunity now, playing a very tough game, a very tough Kentucky team, a team that has improved every year we have played them. Under Mark Stoops, you can just see that he has recruited a bunch of talent. They have a lot of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, led by a quarterback that had a big game against us last year. We got to see everything he could do last year, running, throwing, everything. You watch the guys that just understand their defense. You watch how hard they play on defense. They run the ball. They play stout physical defense. In similar ways, like us, they lost some guys on the defense side of the ball to the NFL last year but you see guys stepping in and just making plays. They don’t really seem to miss a beat on that defensive side of the ball with those guys out. It is going to be a huge challenge for us this week. Obviously, being at home in this conference is a big advantage. We need all our crew. We need the fans there. To have that home field advantage, creating the crowd noise and environment, the excitement, and the energy in the stadium, give you the home field advantage.”

On the Kentucky rivalry:

“I think anytime that you have your crossover games, a team that you are going to play as your locked-in crossover, there becomes a little bit of a rivalry with that. That’s the team from the East that we are going to play every single year, so you know that team, you kind of know each other and I think that it brings a little different edge. When you play other SEC West teams, there is that edge because you play each other every year, then you crossover to the East who you play every year. I think it just makes it a little bit different and it is. If you watch the games over all six games, they are pretty close exciting games. It has come down to the wire every single year. I think that speaks to the nature of how both teams view the rivalry.”

On coaching Dak Prescott’s run-throw balance:

You do coach it. There is feel and then there is coaching to it. There are some coaching ones where you get certain coverage where you know there is potential running lanes within that they are playing where no one really has the quarterback or they are spying the quarterback. How are they playing that coverage where all of a sudden you don’t see a read but you see a lane open? No one is going to have you. You are going to be running for a while. Then there is the feel where you can look at a play on Saturday where Dak hit Fred Brown on a long pass, where he went one way, scrambled the other way and probably could have ran for 10 or 15 yards. In my mind I am thinking, “Run. Run. Run”, but I am watching more of the protection aspect of it all and what is going on up front and inside. You can hear Brian (Johnson) on the headsets like, “Throw. Throw. Throw”, but that is that balance of “hey do I go and keep my eyes down field or do I go take the 10-yard run or do I try to hit the homerun deep down the field?” That’s the feel.

On defensive end A.J. Jefferson’s development:

“As part of our program, we are developmental program and he is a guy that is really young in his career, trying to figure it out, learn what’s going on within the program. Over the last year, he is a guy to me that has bought in to what our program is all about. The hard work, the sacrifice committed to doing and being the absolute best he can be every single day when he shows up to work. He is physically developed. He has developed himself with technique and his understanding of the game and how to make plays on the field. I think that is just part of the developmental process of what we want in our program as guys buy-in and he is a perfect example of that.”

On the injured players:

Fred Ross is going to be good to go this week. Gus (Walley) will be a later in the week decision for us. Joe Morrow and Gabe Myles: we talked to the trainers today they think they are way ahead of schedule and should be available for this weekend. (Ashton) Shumpert is another guy, but we think he should be available this weekend. Jamal (Peters) has worked out for the last two days so I don’t think he is going to be an issue. As of today, with the trainer report, guys like Gus, Joe, and Gabe we will see as the week progresses. The trainers feel they should be available for Saturday. Dez Harris tore his ACL so he will be out for the year.”

On Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles:

“He is a quarterback. He is going to step up in big games. They know this is a big game. He tried to put the team on his shoulders last year, running and throwing. He had a huge game at their place. The best way to trump any quarterback is to have home field advantage, to our student body and fans on their feet making an awful lot of noise, and making it uncomfortable for the visiting quarterback to communicate at the line of scrimmage and just to be in that hostile environment. “

On the improvement of the team this season:

“We are a lot different. At that point of the year, that’s so early in the season that you are trying to figure out who you are as a team. Guys have gotten more comfortable playing. We rotate more players now that guys are getting experience on the field and playing more. There are guys who are a lot more comfortable within the system. Young players more comfortable in the system, making plays. Older players looking at what we are doing well, offensively and defensively. We look at what is working within our package and what we are executing at a high level to utilize our talents.  We are going to have a little more identity of what our team is this year at this point.”

On wide receiver Fred Brown:

“He is another developmental guy. Fred came in. He wasn’t highly recruited out of high school. He didn’t have huge numbers coming out of high school down in Jackson. He came to our camp. We saw that there was a guy that has a lot of potential, came in early in his career, trying to figure it out, maybe not always doing the right thing all the time in his actions but his maturity started with making good off the field decisions. All of sudden you see the maturity go from off the field into the classroom and then you see his GPA improve, doing an excellent job with that. It switches into his practice habits and how he trains in the off-season. All of a sudden for a young guy, he starts having all this success on the field. I think that is part of the learning process and that it is really easy for these young men to come in and realize that “hey if I start doing the right thing and working as hard as I can all the time, I’m going to have a lot of success in every facet of my life.” That is what our program is all about; to help these young people succeed and understand, not just in football but also in life. Fred is an example of that type of guy. Buy into the program and all of sudden he has success in a lot of different aspects of his life.”

On coaching the younger running backs:

It’s mistakes. Pass protection is No. 1. You got to be able to protect the quarterback. You protect the quarterback and you protect the ball. Those are the two things that you have to do. A lot of guys have cool highlight videos from high school but this is the Southeastern Conference, so what they need to do is learn to be all around football players. They are getting better at that as they get experience, as they get reps, as they make mistakes. The biggest one to me is that it is okay to make a mistake. Don’t make the same mistake twice. That is a lack of mental discipline on their part. As you are making mistakes, I want to see them grow and develop after making that mistake. I don’t want to see it happen again. I want to see them improve and move forward. They need to understand how they made that mistake, why they made that mistake, and know what we are going to do to fix it.”

On the growth process of the younger players:

“There is confidence. I think that those guys are growing with that confidence with the more experience they get. On game day, one thing you don’t want to do is worry about making mistakes and doing all that stuff. Go out there and make plays. If you practice with a level of intensity, you are going to be ready on game day at that point to go out there and do your job at a high level. You can relax and have fun and go make those plays and that’s how you end up winning the big games. If you look at Saturday, we fell behind 14-0.  I mean to Dak that’s like “yeah whatever we are good, we will get the ball back, let’s go. Give me the ball.” But there are other guys looking around like “uh-oh we are down 14-0. What do we do now?”  Instead of just being out there and understanding that you have to go play for four quarters, be the guy that expects to make the play not worried about making a mistake. Be out there having fun and expecting to make great things happen on the field. I think that just comes with a lot of practice and with the confidence you gain from doing it at practice over and over, that when you get their Saturday you feel great that you are going to be able to do it at a mature high level on the field.”

On using other games to improve coaching skills:

“There are a lot of different things that go on with that because all the kids normally see it. You can use it just to show your kids different opportunities, but more for our coaches in those situations making sure that you have covered every base of the situation. As coaches, you are always trying to cover every different facet, no matter what you would do in that situation as a coach. If something goes wrong, are you coaching the guys on the field to make sure that they are doing the right thing in that situation? I guarantee that we work on covering field goals a lot more than we used to and just asking sure that it’s not just something that we cover once and then move on. A lot of times with stuff that happens you just go to your checklist and ask if you have covered every possible aspect of what could happen out there on the field in every situation.”

On whether the winner of SEC West can have losses:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the winner of the West went undefeated, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had three losses. With how the division is, I think with the level of play and the teams, everybody is pretty close. Where we are at, all our games are conferences games. If we play well we have a chance to win the rest of our games. If we play poorly, we won’t win anymore. You have to come out and play at an extremely high level to have an opportunity to win when you are playing SEC games. Within this conference the margin of error is so small that there are little things that you can do. Playing well doesn’t mean you are going to win. You have to play well and make plays. If both teams play well, you are going to have a pretty exciting football game. There isn’t a team in the West that can go out there and play poorly while the other team plays well and expect to win the game. I don’t think there is much separation of the teams where that can happen.”

On safety Brandon Bryant:

“He could be scoring a whole lot too because he recovered a fumble on the punt. He could have had two touchdowns on Saturday. I guess he felt bad for Dak and wanted to make sure he got another touchdown. We thought that he was going to be a really good player for us. I think he worked very hard in the spring and he has taken advantage of his opportunities. He has a long way to go, but I think he is a guy that is making some big plays that I want to see, which I love. He makes some mistakes that he might not see on the film. I think he is understanding and really learning that “if I play as hard as I can play at this certain speed, I am going to make plays.” Don’t slow down to try to think about doing everything the right way. Play at full speed and your reps are going to get you to that level and that is going to help.”

On Kentucky’s Thursday night game:

“One thing that helped us was that we played at 11 a.m. this week. We had the film graded by seven o’clock Saturday night from that game.  You come in Sunday and you are a little bit ahead of schedule at that point and you are rested.  I came in Sunday and I was ready to get to work off more than two or three hours of sleep. I think for them playing Thursday that they got to do that Friday. They got to start on us on Saturday and be rested. Their players get a couple of days off, couple more days to heal bumps and bruises. I imagine that they are practicing today coming off a Thursday game and a bye, so if they come out to practice today, they don’t have guys that are still limping around or are still on the injury report or aren’t available until midweek. They’ve had guys that have had 72 hours of rest coming out fresh to practice. I think there is an advantage to that.”

On what Kentucky taught them last year:

“He (Towles) made some huge throws. He was very accurate with the ball, got it out of his hands, scrambled around, made things happen, and ran physically. I don’t know if there is something different we would have done. I think they have a guy that’s on fire at the quarterback position that is tough to stop. I don’t think there is much different we would have done. For him, he just played an outstanding game.”

On Brandon Bryant’s growth during Louisiana Tech:

“As you start to make plays the confidence comes in and you get used to the speed. You can try all you want to simulate a game at practice but it’s the game. Every snap I would expect him to improve. He hasn’t played that many snaps in games. It is hard to simulate a game at practice. Throughout the course, you don’t get surprised when you see that as a guy who starts the game maybe isn’t used to the speed, where you can take a Dak Prescott and he is going to know what game speed is right on snap one. (Taveze) Calhoun is going to know what game speed is right on snap one; guys that have started for years for us. That change from walk through to preparation to kickoff and how to go play full speed there is a learning curve.”

On Dak Prescott becoming one of only three SEC players in history to throw for 50 touchdowns and run for 30 touchdowns:

“I got the 50/30 badge as a coach. Our offense puts guys in a position to do those types of things. We are an offense that highlights the strengths of quarterbacks.  If you are going to play quarterback at Mississippi State, you are going to have the opportunity to be a special player, to get a lot of accolades, and other things because we do put a lot on our quarterback within our system. A lot of that is on Dak with his development, his growth, and what he has been able to do because it’s not easy to do. That is a lot of touchdowns that he is responsible for on the field. If you talk to him I’m sure he will be very humble about it. He has thrown over 50 touchdown passes but someone had to catch them.  He’s responsible for 90 total. That’s a lot. Someone had to throw it to him. People had to block for him. He had to throw it and someone had to catch it. It’s a lot for the team but a lot of it is on him and the success we have had offensively because of his growth and playmaking ability.

On opponents starting fast:

“It’s adjusting to the game speed extremely quickly. Younger players are getting out there and not adjusting to the speed of the game as quickly as the need to. If you look at Saturday’s game, in the first eight minutes of the game we give up two touchdowns and then we give up six points the rest of the way. It is just getting out there, getting a fast start and getting into the flow of the game immediately. That is a part of transitioning into running out of the tunnel to the foot hitting the ball, where they be ready to go 100 miles per hour to play at their absolute best at that second.”

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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