Mississippi State went full pads for the first time on Tuesday morning in preparation for the Belk Bowl. Afterwards, head coach Dan Mullen discussed the first five days of bowl prep, his invitation to Tony Hughes and redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
What is your evaluation of these first days in bowl camp? “It went pretty well I think. I like the attitude the guys had, and we improved over the last couple of days. A lot of different things going on in practice when you’re at this stage. So a lot of stuff that these guys are going to be able to come back, and younger guys maybe now they’re going to scout team, get to come back in January, watch themselves on film, and do some of that stuff. But overall, generally pleased with how everybody did.”
Will Tony Hughes be coaching in the bowl game? “He and I have talked about it. He’s invited to, and I think he wants to. But you know, I’ve been in that role. It’s certainly not easy, so why don’t you just go get your feet on the ground (at Jackson State), see what’s going on with it all. If it works we’d love to have you and if not I think everybody understands that as well. So I think he’s going to try to get himself going this week and then we’ll go from there.”
Filling that role, will it be a safeties coach or take over recruiting, how do you envision that? “I’m going to look at what’s available, look at where we are in the program and see what steps we need to take moving forward.”
Do you feel everyone will be available except Ryan Brown and Gus Walley? “Ryan and Gus will be out. Yeah, it seems like everyone else should be right now. I mean everybody is probably sore from practicing a couple of days in a row here. But everybody should be good moving forward.”
How valuable is this film for the younger guys getting bowl reps? “We’ll use a lot of it moving forward in January and February before spring practice. You know, it’s one thing watching cut-ups of the games which are important. But also they like to watch themselves so they have film of themselves out there doing it. Which is pretty good.”
Looking at going to six straight bowl games, what has been the biggest key? “I just think everyone has bought in to what we’re trying to do in the program right here. We’ve got guys to come in and a bunch of players come in that work their tail off, believe in our program and what we do. Because of that we’ve been able to have a lot of success.
“But that’s really everybody; our administration, our fans, everybody getting on the same page has just let us build a successful program.”
What have you seen out of Nick Fitzgerald, how has he progressed? “I think he’s done a really good job. I think he’s a guy right now that getting to watch how Dak (Prescott) does stuff has really I think learned during the season how to prepare the right way. I think he’s done a pretty good job in these practices being ready to step into the role and understanding how important that role is to the team. Not just that you go out there and do your job, but the leadership, all the other things that go along with being the quarterback out there on the field. I think he has a better understanding of that.”
Fitzgerald said he’d specifically been working on footwork, what did he need to work on? “Well you’re always doing that. Your balance throwing the football, I mean there’s so much. One thing that helps him with the run game in the offense is (he was) a wishbone quarterback in high school. So the option aspect of things he has really a great understanding of it.
“But throwing the football is a skill. And being on balance where your foot placement is, your stride length, weight transfer, all of those. There are so many things that go on that you constantly have to work on to become a really accurate passer.”
How is Fitzgerald in that leadership role? “He’s coming along. One thing, people can get lazy when you have a guy like Dak. I mean everybody on the team because you have such a great leader and personality in that one guy. But all of a sudden he’s not going to be there, and there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for other people.
“But I don’t expect one person to pick up all of Dak’s leadership. But there’s a lot of opportunities for other guys to pick up Dak’s leadership.”
With all the practice to watch and the season to evaluate, do any recruiting goals change? “No, we want to try to go get the best players we possibly can get. And guys that are great players, great students, really high-character young men that want to work hard and develop to be great. That’s what we look for.”
“When we look at that, and after the season we’ll spend a lot of time in spring evaluating what type of team we have and how to put those guys in the best position to be successful.”
What would a win in the bowl game mean? “Well it’s always huge for a win. Because you want to finish the season off the right way for us. I mean, after the bowl game we don’t get to play for nine months. So I want to have a smile on my face coming off a win for those nine months. That’s always the best way to do it.”
For a guy like Will Coleman who had to sit out last year how will that help him having the time? “Well I think there’s a couple of factors. Especially any time you do that. When you’re coming up to this level the opportunity one to develop physically, to get your body ready to play at the Southeastern Conference level. And then two, mentally. To adapt to not just the speed of the game but all the different defensive schemes that we use or offensive schemes on the other side of the ball for Will, a guy on defense.
“And I think there’s that comfort level of not being forced into go play until you’re ready to go play. So ti was a great opportunity. One of the things, if he had had to play right away this would be his last game. Now all of a sudden he’s going to have another whole year under his belt to come back and try to really take another step forward as an excellent football player.”
Fred Ross set the record for season catches, has an opportunity for the yards as well. What did he do that allowed him have that big of a season? “His job? Just how we were built was to throw the ball a lot more this year. One thing about Fred you always watch, he does a great job of doing his job.
“If he’s got to block, he blocks. Running routes underneath or catching screens or running the ball, he does that. He can go vertically down the field. He doesn’t worry about doing too much, he worries about doing his job and doing it to the best of his ability. Because of that you see the success that he’s had, that he’s worried about that and not how many catches or yards. Do my job to the best of my ability and great things will come my way.”