Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen joined the rest of the league coaches on the SEC Teleconference on Wednesday.
Here is a transcript of Mullen’s time on the call:
Mullen: “I want to start by saying we’re going to have a ceremony for Keith Joseph and his father on our campus tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. It is open to everybody and going to be held in Humphrey Coliseum. We have the opportunity for our players and people close to the Mississippi State family to celebrate both Keith and his father’s life and what they meant as individuals to our program and university.
“On the football side of things, we’ve had a pretty good week of practice so far. We have a huge challenge playing one of – if not the – best team in the country. If you look at their team, they have great depth at every position. They have five-star talent at every single position across the board. I’ve said they have more four and five-star guys sitting on the bench than we have on our roster.
“It’s a huge challenge for us. We’re going to have to play at an extremely high level in all three phases, execute and find a way to make plays against a team the caliber of Alabama.”
Dak Prescott has been more of a factor in the running game in the last three games. Is that by design?
Mullen: “I think it’s more of how teams play us. Dak has done a fabulous job taking advantage of what teams give him. I think early in the year people were really loading up trying to stop him from running the football. I think since we’ve had some success throwing it, that really softened things up and opened up the running lanes for him.
“I don’t think we’ve called more quarterback runs in any one game more than another but it’s kind of how it plays out whether its zone options or him scrambling or coverages that they’re playing. It just sort of worked out that way.”
You always seem to be really good defensively in the red zone regardless of the coordinator. What do you credit that to?
Mullen: “The No. 1 part of our program in our plan to win is to play great defense. Part of that is red zone scoring on both sides of the ball – scoring touchdowns on offense and holding teams to field goals on defense.
“As a head coach, that’s something that I’ve preached and what we’ve tried to build on from Day 1. That’s always going to be the identity of our team and program, no matter who the offensive or defensive coordinators are.”
What’s been the difference with Dak Prescott this year and what have you seen from Jake Coker?
Mullen: “Starting with Dak, I think he’s done a fabulous job continuing to develop this season at what I like to call unspectacular things. A lot of people are used to watching Dak Prescott go out there and make these great plays – breaking tackles and scrambling around the field.
“Now you’re seeing a guy that understands the offense and understands defenses. He understands our offense and what we’re trying to get accomplished. He’s able to stay in the pocket and deliver the ball more efficiently and quickly or hold onto the ball a little bit to get to his third or fourth progression instead of just taking off and running.
“Jacob Coker, I’ve seen very similar things. I see a guy that’s really developed. Coming in there last year, I think he came under very high expectations and learn an offense for the first time. You can see maybe from last year to this year him becoming more and more comfortable within the system and making better decisions.”
How has Prescott become a more polished passer in the pocket?
Mullen: “When you look at him from last year, he was a playmaker. When you look at him this year, I think the whole season he’s really worked. Coming into the season, everybody wanted to know what I expected out of Dak. I said a guy that might not make all the big plays that he’s made in the past or all these highlight level plays but a much more efficient player which his decision making.
“I think that’s really what we’ve seen, a guy that right from Day 1 has been really comfortable in the situations that he’s in and making really good decisions out on the field. That has led to the productivity that he’s had and certainly the productivity we’ve had as a football team.”
Are you surprised Prescott is not a Heisman Trophy contender?
Mullen: “You guys vote on that stuff. You guys look at that and see if he’s worthy or not. It’s like all the polls and all that stuff. I like to wait until the end of the season to see what everybody’s done and produced. If he plays really well, I wouldn’t see why not.
“But I’m trying to win an SEC West championship and the same people that think he’s not worthy of that award are the same people that said we were supposed to finish last in the SEC so I try not to pay attention.”
Has anyone in the football community reached out to you about the death of Keith Joseph?
Mullen: “Just a lot of prayers and text messages from coaches that they are thinking about us because it is a pretty tight community. When something like that happens, one of the hardest things for coaches is to ask ‘what if that would’ve happened in our program?’. When you think those thoughts it really hits home about our responsibilities as coaches to help develop these young people in life and build a family within a program more than just wins and losses.”
How have you seen Prescott grow as a person off the field after the incident in the spring and has that translated on the field?
Mullen: “I don’t know that it has translated on the field. But I do think off the field he’s a little bit more reserved and a little more private in his life. He’s cautious of his surroundings. Dak wants to be a regular college student and I think the one thing he learned is as a quarterback within the Southeastern Conference, there’s a lot of great things that come with that but there’s also a responsibility and a lot of other things that come with it like not being allowed to be a regular college student.
“You have to be a little more guarded of who you’re around and what you’re doing. He’s really done that socially.”
Has that experience helped him enjoy what’s happened on the field more this year?
Mullen: “Football-wise, he’s the same guy on the field. He’s one of the most competitive guys you’re ever going to see. He’s always pushing and always working trying to get better at what he’s doing.
“Fortunately, there was no lasting affect of that incident. Long term if he has the opportunity to play in the NFL, I think that will help put him in a better position to handle all the attention that comes with that role as well moving down the road.”
Do you feel your players sense less pressure going into this game this year?
Mullen: “I do. I think our guys looked that this is potentially a big game for us. It might not seem as big as last year’s game but could have very similar implications. For our guys, they’ve been in this situation so I think they’ve experienced it.
“I don’t know that it’s a different type of pressure. I think it’s maybe more relaxed or confident feeling about having to play this time. Maybe it’s a lack of pressure that they feel because they’ve been in this situation before instead of that pressure of not knowing what to expect and how do I act in these situations.
“Our guys have played in big games in November now and I think they know how to handle those situations better.”
What have you seen from Alabama’s secondary?
Mullen: “They certainly have playmakers. I think they lead the SEC in interceptions returned for touchdowns. Their guys are extremely athletic. They’ve got two five-star players that don’t even start for them that roll in and try to get some reps here and there.
“When you have that much talent and that much depth it allows you to play a bunch of guys and rotate in to keep guys fresh. They always have guys who are great playmakers.”
How physical are your practices now that you’re in November?
Mullen: “We’re a pretty physical team. We play a tough brand of football and like to build ourselves up as sort of a tough program. I don’t watch everybody else but you are cautious about how physical you are this time of year because we’ve been doing it for quite a while already this season.”