By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dan Mullen made sure his team hit the ground running.
Mississippi State reported Wednesday to resume preparations for its New Year’s Day tilt with No. 21 Northwestern in the Gator Bowl. The Bulldogs (8-4) will begin practices today at the University of North Florida.
“We had them out running around today to kind of get some of that Christmas eating out of their system – sweat, stretch a little bit,” Mullen said. “Guys had a lot of energy today. I think they’re excited to be back and be back at work.”
MSU returns to work minus cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith, who two days ago took the same position at Auburn. Safeties coach Tony Hughes will coach the entire secondary this week.
Mullen said he’ll look at a potential replacement for Smith after the bowl game, and he said it’s possible Hughes could continue coaching the secondary, which would allow Mullen to hire someone at another position.
“There’s still a lot of options out there,” he said.
This is MSU’s third consecutive bowl appearance, and it won the last two. Mullen is going to mostly stick with the normal bowl week routine.
The game plan was installed before Christmas break. Same goes for Northwestern (9-3), which is making its fifth straight bowl appearance under coach Pat Fitzgerald. He’s 0-4.
“It’s incredibly motivating, but you look at the games,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve gone toe to toe and got into some slobberknockers, street fights or whatever what you want to call them. We just haven’t had ended up on the right end.
“So hopefully we give our guys a good plan, and if we do we’ll be all right.”