It's a lot easier to be pleasant after a win.
The Bulldogs certainly didn't have their best performance in a 30-24 road victory over the Trojans on Saturday. But it was good enough to push Mississippi State (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) into The Associated Press college football poll for the first time this season.
"Both our staff and our players are a little disappointed with our performance," Mullen said on Sunday. "But to be disappointed and still come out with a win is a good thing with our program."
It's the first 3-0 start for the Bulldogs since 1999. In his fourth season at Mississippi State, Mullen has built a consistently competitive team. The Bulldogs have been ranked for at least part of the last three seasons.
But the narrow victory over Troy exposed some of the team's weaknesses — especially on defense. There will be plenty to fix as Mississippi State prepares to host FCS-level South Alabama on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium.
Mullen said he was pleased to sense a healthy mix of happiness and disappointment after Saturday's gritty effort. He said the next few days in practice will be important as he gauges the team's demeanor.
"I want to see how we come back — how we respond," Mullen said. "I want to look in their faces. I have a good feeling with our guys. They're not going to be very pleased with their performance. There are some coaching things to fix. Some of it is execution on our guys. We had a bunch of missed tackles."
But there were also plenty of positives. Tyler Russell continues his impressive junior season, leading the Bulldogs on a pair of crucial fourth-quarter drives that put the game away. Russell found Chad Bumphis, a former Tupelo High standout, for a 25-yard touchdown with seven minutes remaining that gave the Bulldogs a 30-21 lead.
Russell threw for 244 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He completed just 11 of 26 passes, but Mullen counted seven dropped passes by receivers.
Mullen said Russell did a good job keeping his composure, even when good passes fell incomplete because of bad drops. The consistent quarterback play is something the Bulldogs haven't enjoyed much in recent history.
"He continues to stick with his reads," Mullen said. "He continues to throw the ball where it's supposed to go."
Bumphis caught six passes for a career-high 180 yards and three touchdowns. He could have had an even bigger game if it weren't for a few dropped passes.
Mullen said Bumphis — a senior who has had an inconsistent career — did a good job of shaking off early mistakes and coming through when the Bulldogs needed him in the fourth quarter.
"The biggest thing you see with him is maturity," Mullen said. "... He expects when he's open to make plays. He expects to play at a top level."
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