Monday with Mullen

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen held his weekly press conference Monday to discuss the Bulldogs’ loss at LSU and preview their road game against Massachusetts this week.

Opening Statement

“It’s going to be a tricky road trip for our guys this week playing against a good UMass team. They’ve already played an SEC team and ACC team and played pretty well, played pretty quick on defense, got a lot of quick guys, a lot of different pressure stunts and movements on the defensive side of the ball. They’ll try to create as much chaos as they can on the defensive side of the ball. Offensively, they throw the ball pretty well. They’ve got an explosive running back and a different environment, obviously a long road trip for us going up to the Northeast. (We) might have to get the heaters out even with how hot it’s been here. Even just looking at the weather forecast, I think it’s 30 degrees colder than any practice they we’re going to have this week. We’ve got to be prepared for that and get ready to just go play hard. It’s going to be a big key for our guys of staying focused with this being our second straight road game.”

On returning to his New England roots…

“I’m working here Thursday so I’m going to miss the [New England Patriots] game Thursday night, and the (Boston) Red Sox are out of town. It’s a shame because we follow it up with a bye week, so if the Red Sox were in town I might have thought about trying to stick around a little bit and catch a Sox game real quick to see Big Papi (David Ortiz) one more time. I have lots of friends and family coming. You’ll have to ask my wife. I think one of my group of friends said they were getting a head count in the 80s coming to the game or something like that, so I have a lot of family and friends at the game that will come watch us play. I may have somebody stop at the Backroom restaurant and pick up some chicken tenders for me with the duck sauce and bring it down.

“It’s a great place to grow up, [I have] a lot of great memories growing up there. It’s a beautiful type of year to be up there right now in this early fall. Foxborough is a little south so I don’t know how much foliage we’ll get around the stadium. If you head up a little further north you can see some nice foliage, so it’s a beautiful deal, a really neat experience, fun for me to get back towards home and play a game. For most of the guys on our team, if they do their state count they’ll be able to check off — I think we land in Rhode Island and we’ll play up in Massachusetts — so they’ll be able to check two states because I can guarantee you there’s very few people on our team that have been to either Rhode Island or Massachusetts. I bet some of our coaches are able to check those two off too that haven’t spent a whole lot of time up in the Northeast.”

On junior LB Dez Harris forcing two fumbles against LSU…

“You see what we’ve been hoping to see out of him for the last couple of years and obviously injuries have set back his development. For a guy that we expected early on in his career, he was a really good special teams player, which usually leads to you’re going to continue to grow, develop, become a good defensive player. Some of the injuries have cut that short for him. It’s good to see it. We’ve always expected a lot out of him. Hopefully, he can build on this now and start becoming more of a factor, role player on the defensive side on the ball.”

On mental errors regarding returns being dropped at the goal line nationally…

“Don’t do that. It’s a mental focus and discipline type of deal of finishing a play and finishing everything we do. On the defensive side of the ball, it’s the same thing. If there’s a ball on the ground pick it up, no matter what the situation is on defense. I’ve seen a bunch of that and those are just mental errors that you just can’t make. You’ve got to be focused. These are young kids. They’re 18 to 22 year-old kids and you have to keep unbelievable focus through the course of a game to be successful. I think it helps when they see other people make mistakes that they can learn from that mistake.”

On second half success against LSU…

“We played harder. We obviously played much better in the second half of the game overall, offense and defense, even special teams wise. I don’t know whether it was just our guys getting settled in, relaxing to a point, a rousing half time speech of just relax, play hard every single play. All of a sudden we started doing it and we started executing. I thought in the first half there were plays there to be made. We just weren’t making them, both run and pass, offense and defense, and maybe in the kicking game. We just weren’t making the plays that were there to be made. I think our guys settled down in the second half. We started making the plays that we expected to make and unfortunately dug ourselves a little bit too big a hole to dig out of at that point.”

On sophomore QB Nick Fitzgerald’s rushing performance against LSU…

“When you’re running option football, whether it’s zone read options or other things you’re just going to take what the defense gives you.

On junior QB Damian Williams’ effect on the game…

“We caught the ball. We were moving the ball in the second half pretty well. One-on-one situations we won a couple. We missed a couple early in the game, won some, missed some early in the game, and we kind of hit most of them in that second half, especially in the fourth quarter.”

On injured secondary…

“It’s hard because there are just so many guys going in with the injuries and all of that stuff. But they’re developing and you’re in a situation where you’re having to play guys a lot more and way earlier than they’re supposed to be playing at this point in their career. That’s what we’ve got. They’ve got to step up they’ve got to play. They’re just learning how to play hard, never mind their assignment or technique.”

On practice after facing LSU…

“They got after it. We’ve got to play again this week. I told them it’s six days before you kick it off again so you better buckle it up and get ready to go or else. That game’s over, got to get ready for the next one. If you don’t do that, you’re going to let one loss cause many losses for you.”

On facing UMass…

“They’re a very good football team. They’re very quick on defense and made a lot of movement and blitzes. They’re going to blitz all over the place and move and stunt guys around all over the place. Offensively, they like to throw the ball around and probably a little different than some teams that spread it to throw it, they don’t spread it to throw it. They’re going to go unbalanced, movements, shifts, some of that stuff, and throw the ball around that way. We’re going to have to be able to defend the pass on the back end, and we have to be able to get pressure on the quarterback. That’s one thing that we weren’t able to do last week on the defensive side of the ball. We have to be able to handle all the quick line movements and all the pressures and blitzes we’re going to see on offense.”

On quarterback play against LSU…

“I didn’t think Nick [Fitzgerald] struggled. I thought Nick played pretty well to be honest. [He] missed a throw or two here or there, so did Damian (Williams). But [we just have to] find a way to win. We’ve got to play better and find a way to win be better leaders. That’s the most important thing at the quarterback position – great leadership.”

On senior DL Will Coleman‘s possible return…

“It’s going to be right on the edge, not sure. He’ll still be questionable this week. It’ll be nice to get him back. We’ve got to see where he’s at, whether he’ll be back. We feel pretty confident that he’ll definitely be back for the Auburn game. It’s going to be close for this one though, but we’ll see how this week progresses with him.”

On other injury situations…

“We’re hoping to get [cornerback] Cedric Jiles back but that might, again, be Auburn as well.”

On difference between halves against LSU…

“I think we just played harder. I thought we played hard in the first half at times too, we just didn’t make plays. Guys were worried about too many things. When you have young players, they’re worried about everything. ‘Oh, we gave up a touchdown, oh what do we have to do, can we score, are we going to win the game, are we going to lose the game, how’s this going to affect the season?’ All of those things. They worry less about how hard they can go on the next play. To me, the biggest difference between the first half and the second half was I saw a look from guys that were just worried about all the wrong things. I don’t know what they have to worry about, just line up and play the next play as hard as you can play. For some reason everybody was worried about big picture things or outcomes of the game, instead of just ‘line up and go as hard as you can on the next play.’ I think if you watch us play, I don’t even think anybody even looked at the scoreboard until we recovered the onside kick, because all they worried about was how hard they could go on the next play. I think our guys bought into that and we did that in the second half of the game, and all of a sudden it’s a three-point game with three minutes to go. We outscore them 17-0 in the second half. That’s young players. They’ve got to learn to stop worrying about all the other stuff and worry about this play, ‘I’m putting my hand in the ground and going as hard as I can on this play.’ If that’s all we’re worried about, chances are we’re going to learn how to win football games and become really successful and stop with all the outside distractions. Who knows everything going through all their different minds were of that point, how they came about it, but you just saw a team that wasn’t focused on just that play.”

On Dak Prescott’s first NFL win…

“I watched some of the highlights last night late when I got home. I’m happy for him. I texted him congratulations. I’m really happy for him, hopefully he has a lot more. My wife said something about him and [Preston Smith], so I don’t know if Preston got to hit him or not because she was watching the game and she said Preston’s never been allowed to hit him before, so he was looking forward to hitting him. I saw a picture of Dak and Preston together after the game and you take a lot of pride in that. There’s two guys. They’re a four star between, you combine them both. I think they combine to be a four star, two each, and here they are living out their dreams in the NFL. They worked hard to do that. You having a little part of helping them develop and helping them grow and helping them live their dreams is pretty special.”

On developing young players…

“The best learning that you ever do is experiencing it. You’re constantly trying to coach it and get them to learn. For a lot of guys it’s the first time they’re in situations, so even though they might be able to tell you that before the game, ‘this is what we need to do,’ and they can tell you that, when they get put in that situation, how they react or respond is sometimes different. So you have to kind of help them through those situations and grow. We’ll see how we respond in practice this week. How we respond to it in a road game this coming week; are we learning from mistakes and issues that we’ve made? Every game seems to be different. In each of the first three games, we’ve played some really good halves of football and then through whatever different circumstances, we played a poorer other half of football. It’s been first and second, second and first, and I think it’s just learning how to deal with whatever situation you’re in and how to go respond to it.”

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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