Monday with Mullen

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen held his weekly press conference on Monday to discuss the Bulldogs’ 31-13 win at Missouri and preview their game against Alabama.

Opening statement …

“We ask everybody to keep the Joseph family in their prayers as well as our players and everybody in our football family. Losing a family member like that, there is nothing more devastating that is going to happen to you as a coach, a football team, or a program. Keith (Joseph Jr.) was such a great young man. He gave unbelievable effort in everything he was doing. He was a 4.0 student here at Mississippi State. He was the scout team player of the week every week. We had to share the award with other people just because it wouldn’t have been fair. He was the guy that gave everything that he had at whatever it was that he was doing. He gave his absolute best every single day. It is just a tragedy to lose such a great young man.”

“This week’s game will be a tough matchup playing Alabama. They have five star players across the board. They have a pretty explosive offense and great playmakers in the perimeter. They have a big, physical running back. Their quarterback manages in the right situation. They have all-star offensive linemen. They have the best defense in America to go along with it. It is going to be a huge challenge for us. We have improved every week with a young football team. I know over the last four games we have seen significant improvement from one week to the next. We are going to have to take another huge step forward this Saturday and play at an extremely high level to put ourselves in a position to win.”

On making the team aware of Keith Joseph Jr. …

“I was recruiting at a high school game when I got a phone call from coach (Rockey) Felker to let me know. He had a state trooper, Keith’s uncle, call me to explain the situation. We immediately wrote up something because all of our players were gone for the weekend. I wanted them to hear from us but I wanted to make sure we respected the family first. We sent out a group message to the entire team about what had happened. We had all of the coaching staff contacting the players on our team, especially a lot of the freshmen. Jamal Peters and Mark McLaurin had just dropped him off with his dad. We gathered the team last night to meet for the first time together as a team.”

On football providing an escape for the team …

“Unfortunately, through somewhat experience, I think for all of these young men, football is their safe place. For any problem our players are dealing with, when they step on the football field that is when a lot of things disappear. They are getting to do what they love. I do think that for players it is a comforting, safe place to be when dealing with this situation.”

On meeting with the team Sunday night …

“I know last night they were back in the dorms for the first time and they were nervous about being there. The freshman group wanted to stay together. We made a game plan to meet and go to the dorms. My wife had all of the freshman over to the house so they could be together. One of the things you see when you look at these guys, whenever they are in a tough situation, they are just 18-year old kids who just lost a very close friend and family member. To keep them together, I thought, was really important. I think they really enjoyed being around each other instead of being alone.”

On last year’s game against Alabama …

“We had not been in that big of a game before in this program. I think we came out and played a little tight in the first quarter and a half of trying to almost be too perfect, instead of just going out and playing football. I think that is one thing all of the guys learn. A lot of that is on me. I’m making sure that they are ready to go play in the situation they are going to go play in. Our guys needed to be loose. I think after the middle of the second quarter there was a real change in demeanor of everybody. I have to make sure we have that feeling from the beginning. I had our guys a little worried about being too perfect. When you are in a big game situation, the last thing you want to do is play uptight.”

On wide receiver De’Runnya Wilson …

“He has grown and matured. He knows that how defenses play, he might not get his number called all of the time or they might try to do things to take him away. Going into last week’s game, I did not think he was going to be much of a part of the game from what we had seen from them on film. They played differently than we expected them to play. For a guy like Wilson who wasn’t expecting to be a major factor, but he ended up being one, it gave him confidence knowing that he had a quarterback who could get him the ball.”

On success scoring touchdowns in the redzone …

“A lot comes to the experience in the quarterback and receiver position in the perimeter. We have a quarterback who can run the ball down in the redzone so you add an extra player on the field in that way. We out a huge emphasis on them in practice on both sides of ball. We spend a lot of time practicing in the redzone. I think it is such a telling factor in games. We have been able to be a little more consistent with our redzone packages.”

On the offensive line …

“We are prepared to do any shuffling we are needing to do on the offensive line. I wasn’t hoping to shuffle the way we had to last week. I think our guys performed really well. They stepped up and did a good job. We do mix combinations in practice, because you never know what is going to happen. It is a great deal if we never have to deal with an injury and we can control the offensive line rotation. You have to be ready for situations like what happened last week where all of the sudden you are down two left tackles against one of the best pass rushes in the league.”

On Chris Jones being named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week…

“I think he played the best game I have seen him play here. There is also that maturing factor. He is a guy who came in as a freshman with a lot of hype. He was talented and made some things happen. Sophomore year he realized he had to be a football player. This year he has really worked on being a better football player in every aspect of the game. That takes time. Jones is playing better from week to week. He is beginning to understand a little more about the development. He is understanding that he has to play with technique and understand the scheme to help others, but himself as well.”

On Alabama forcing sacks and interceptions …

“They can get pressure, they cause issues for the quarterback off the edge and up inside. They have guys who can make things happen on the backend as well. They play with a lead a lot. When you play with a lead, then the other team is pressing. When you have to start pressing on offense that’s when mistakes begin to happen.”

On last year’s game sticking with them this year …

“I think we are two different teams right now, but I think for our guys they look at it the same way. I think the confidence part of that with our guys is maybe the disappointment that if we would have started better maybe we would have had a good chance to go win the game last year. The guys who played in the game last year, it will stick with them.”

On if not being ranked No. 1 makes a difference in the game…

“I would love to have that No. 1 ranking next to our name right now. I think last year, that was the first big game of the season. This is a big game this year, but our guys were worried that they weren’t going to get that opportunity. It is probably a bigger game than most people thought it would be coming into this season.”

On Alabama quarterback Jake Coker …

“I think when you look at him, as a guy who is dedicated to the game, you are going to see a continuing improvement. You have seen that in him. He has a great work ethic. I think they do a great job. Coach Lane Kiffin is an excellent football coach. You are going to see a guy who has a great work ethic, a desire to improve and coaches that are going to help him improve, then you will see a much better player than you did when he came out of high school.”

On being successful in the fourth quarter …

“Our guys have a good mindset about that on the defensive side of the ball. We have guys who are disappointed because we have given up some drives. I think the guys get on the sideline and use that as a motivating factor to make sure that we don’t let people in the endzone after we give up a score.”

On suffering two losses in the first month of the season …

“It was a tough deal. I thought Texas A&M played really well that night. We did things that when you do those, you are not going to win a football game. A lot of our older guys get that and they help the younger guys with instead of just the pure emotion of a loss, the matter of fact is this is why we lost the game. I think once everybody understood that, we really took off and started to improve.”

On linebacker Richie Brown…

“He got a lot of experience playing last year. He is a guy who played a bunch last year. The transition into being the guy as the start was a little easier for him and it gave him a certain amount of confidence to be able to go do that. When you have that confidence as a player, you understand that you are going in the game to be you. Being Richie Brown is enough for us the win. When you have that mindset, it helps with the transition. A lot of guys look and feel like they are replacing somebody, but you don’t have to be that guy. You have to be the best player you can be. When you have that mindset, you are going to be a lot more successful.”

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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