Monday with Mullen

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen held his weekly press conference Monday to discuss the Bulldogs’ season opener against South Alabama.

Opening Statement…

“I’m excited to get into game week right now. The transition for our guys is what you work for. You get 12 opportunities a year, and our guys have worked hard. I am excited to see how our guys will handle it. Not the guys that have played a lot of football, but the younger guys. Last week was that transitional week where you are transitioning between camp and game week, but now it’s going on the field. There are guys on scout team learning how to give looks of other teams. Our guys are learning how to take offense, defense and special teams and apply it to a different opponent. I’m excited to see us get out there, go play, and let our guys go do what they enjoy to do.  It’s going into year eight for me as the head coach, and I’m fired up. I’m excited. I can’t wait to go run out of that tunnel. It’s going to be a nice, warm day. We got a chance to compete with the last time we played South Alabama, which we played them last time down in Mobile. I know it was a huge game the last time we went down there. It was probably similar weather conditions. I think it was the hottest I’ve ever been during a game was down there on the turf that day. It was a hot day, and we expect another one on Saturday. We are playing an excellent football team. I think they have some questions that we have with a new quarterback starting. They have a veteran receiver back, a veteran tailback. There are a lot of similarities between the two teams. I know that we have some defensive injuries and they have suffered a couple of defensive injuries during camp. I know Joey (Jones) does a great job with that team and how he’s built that program up. It should be an exciting game on Saturday.”

On announcing a starting quarterback…

“I was hoping to be ready. Again, I am waiting for the clarity for us. I will be perfectly honest with you, we are going to play more than one quarterback, and we are probably going to play more than one in the first quarter. I was hoping to have complete clarity in there being a definite No. 1, and I don’t think there is one yet.  I don’t want to say ‘This guy is going to be the guy,’ and series two another guy comes in and plays better and mess it up that way. I plan on us playing more than one in the first quarter.”

On what changed with the quarterback situation…

“Nothing. I hoped that it would be really sorted out for me, but we have guys that are competitive and continue to compete and improve. Also, you have younger guys, so you see things. You see guys do some great things; you see them make some mistakes. I want to see how guys are going to handle the next two to three days implementing a game plan now for this week. I need to see if one guy handles it much better than another guy, or if another guy really struggles with it. Then, I’ve got to be ready with the guy that is going to give us the best opportunity to win on Saturday.”

On quarterbacks needing to see game action for the ‘light’ to come on…

“I don’t know that Dak (Prescott) was that way. Dak came to work every day and gave everything he had every single day. He was also a guy that was not going to shy away from the spotlight, and I think everyone can see that in him now and how he is performing now. He’s going to handle the spotlight very easily. It is with these guys. I know with Damian (Williams), he had to start in a tough situation as a freshman. (Nick) Fitzgerald last year played a bunch. I believe it was the Troy game. I woke up, and was told ‘Dak can’t play today. He’s been throwing up all night long.’ Even though we got him to start, and he played the first two series, we got him out with an illness. I think both of those guys have been thrown into tough situations, and both performed well in the situations they got thrown into. I want to give the guys an opportunity and see how they are going to perform on Saturday.”

On how not having a defined starter affects practice…

“Part of it is that you have to get more than one guy ready. I think the fact with our guys is that ones and twos get reps, and rotating between the groups. There is a comfort level with both guys repping with the ones. I don’t think it is going to be that big of an issue.”

On the running back competition…

“It’s going to be who deserves reps for us on the field. We have two seniors, two redshirt freshmen and they have done a decent job, but (Brandon) Holloway and (Ashton) Shumpert are going to get the majority of reps for us. If we run out of reps, there are special teams reps. Right now, I think a lot of the young guys are really going to figure out how critical special teams are. In the home game this week where we dress a lot is one thing, but when we start packing it up on the road and traveling 70 guys, we’re not going to take six tailbacks to a game. I might take four tailbacks and a special teams player, so we’ve got to see who are the guys that are standing out on special teams.”

On coming into his eighth year as a head coach…

“I am just as excited today as I was year one. I’m probably more experienced. I am more understanding of what I am getting myself into with this season than I was eight years ago, and more understanding of what is going to get thrown onto my plate this week. I am just as excited as I was eight years ago. You think about it in that time frame, where we were eight years ago and where we are today in every aspect of the program, players and all of the former players that come back. You get to spend time with them, and you realize we have had a ton of different guys come through the program that have gone on to be very successful. It’s a lot of fun, and I am excited to get out there.”

On South Alabama running back Xavier Johnson…

“He’s got some size, speed and power. He’s a well versed all-around back. He’s dangerous in the return game in the open field. I think when you have a guy with his versatility, that’s 5-11 and 180 pounds, he’s got the size to be a power guy. He’s not maybe a big bruiser, but you watch him in the return game and how he can play in the open field. He’s an all-around player and can hurt you in multi facets. For that, he’s someone you’ve got to stop and there is not just one way to stop him. You can’t stop him between the tackles. You’ve got to stop him in multiple facets of the game.”

On Dak Prescott being named the starting QB for the Dallas Cowboys…

“Like any coach, and like any player, I’m sure this is not how he wants to become the opening day starter, but knowing a guy like Dak, I know he’s going to be 100 percent prepared for that moment. I think the great thing with a guy like Dak is he’s going to handle the moment well. He’s been in a lot of pressure situations. He’s going to prepare the right way. However, knowing Dak I think he would have prepared the same way if he went in during the second play of the game. He’s going to give everything he has to that team, and help the team be in a position to win. When I see what he does, I’m just proud of him, proud of what he’s accomplished. Just to even have the opportunity to play for the Cowboys is an honor.”

On the competition for quarterback position…

“Really (Nick) Fitzgerald and Damian (Williams) are the two that are going to get a majority of the reps. Nick Tiano is still going to get some reps for us at this point. I think he has a bright future. I think in the short term, the other two guys being a little older, having more reps, put them in a position to be a little bit more ready to play game one right now.”

On injuries at cornerback…

“As guys do often in our program, there’s the opportunity there, and you need to take advantage of your opportunity. Guys work hard in our program. We like to play a lot of players. You look at our fall camp schedule, and most of the way through the training camp, the ones and the threes get the same amount of reps. Everyone has the same opportunity to improve, develop and grow. Now the last two weeks, that’s limited. At the time when those injuries occurred, everyone at the corner position had the same reps. Now, they were given a different opportunity, and they need to be ready to take advantage of it.”

On the progress of the defense…

“I think it’s going pretty well. During camp it progressed well, and now I want to see how our guys adapt into the game week transition. In theory, game week should be easier. The package is cut down. Instead of having an entire menu of what you can do, you have the blue plate special. There are only a couple of selections you’ll use in this game, to put it in Mississippi terms. The menu’s cut down for the week. With it being cut down, these guys are going to have to adapt. Even though the package is going to be smaller, how are they going apply it to a team that is going to be running different formations, motions and things that are different from what they’ve seen in training camp?”

On an emerging compliment to Brandon Holloway…

“I think (Ashton) Shumpert is a guy because he has a lot of experience. Aeris Williams is kind of a mix between the two. Where Holloway is going to be a speed guy on the edge, Shumpert can pound it up on the inside. Williams has the dynamic speed on the edge, maybe not as fast as Holloway. He is going to be physical on the tackle, maybe not as thick as Shumpert. He is in the mix between those two for us, and I think he has done a good job in training camp. When he comes in, he brings even a third picture of diversity to the backs.”

On versatility on the defense…

“A lot of it’s going to be game plan and putting the guys in. A lot is going to be who’s ready to play. It’s not just the ones, it’s the depth. Will Coleman, he’s going to be out. He will be out for two weeks for something that happened early in camp. I think it happened the second week of practice. It’s just a lower back issue that he’s been dealing with. I think part of it is the versatility in being able to move guys. I think it gives us flexibility in the defensive scheme to be able to change size and athleticism in positions out there on the field depending on who we are playing. There are different schemes we are going to be playing this year, and that will determine who is on the field playing for us.”

On South Alabama schematically…

“There are a lot of unknowns. They’ve got a lot of new players playing. They’ve lost some guys, and they have a new defensive staff. When you look at that, you’re looking at their players. The schemes and personality are going to be different. A lot of times in game one, you’re playing yourself. You’re playing game one to go out there clean, execute at a high level and try not to make many mistakes. Here it is a lot of new guys playing. If you are at practice and make a mistake, it’s practice. If you are in a game and make a mistake, it can be very costly. How guys are going to react to success, adversity, all of those different things, that’s how you play yourself in game one. Both teams are very undefined right now. Both teams are going to find their personality. It is the first game for both teams. No matter how many guys you have returning or lost, it’s always a new team and a new year.”

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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