Sunday Chat: Mullen Talks Auburn, Defense, Running Backs

The day after MSU’s 56-9 victory over Jackson State to open the season, head coach Dan Mullen held his regular Sunday teleconference. And per usual, I missed it due to the noon start. But I listened to the recording and will present it to you in full below. Most of the questions were asked by the usual suspects, Brandon Marcello, Matthew Stevens and David Murray.

First, though, let’s give you some links in case you’ve not seen them (just click on each one):

JSU-MSU game story

JSU-MSU sidebar on Jameon Lewis

JSU-MSU notebook

Now, to Mullen.

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Q: Are the guys extra motivated for Auburn based on what’s happened in the past?

DM: We’ve been right there, had opportunities to win, and didn’t pull it out. Our guys are motivated, they know how big it is, and we always put that emphasis on the first game of the season. That first conference game of the season is so important. I think they’ll be ready to go, they’ll be fired up and ready to play, and I know they’re going to be ready to find a way to pull it out here in the end finally this year.

Q: Auburn passed a lot in last night’s loss to Clemson. What do you make of that?

DM: I don’t know. I think they’re finding themselves. They have two new coordinators – they’ve got a new offense, they’ve got a new defense. I think they’re just still working out the kinks and trying to find what their identity is going to be with this year’s team. I think you’ll see some things similar possibly, some new things we didn’t see yesterday.

Q: Regarding big plays on defense last night, how much of that is coached up vs. the players’ skills?

DM: I think it’s probably a little bit of both. We try to get them in a position to make plays. I think our staff does a good job of putting our guys in a position to make plays. Then it becomes their athletic ability. If we put them in that spot, then they have the ability to make a play, and we were able to do that. Once the ball’s in their hands, then a lot of recruiting takes over. It’s obviously good your defense makes big plays, your defense can score points, that’s going to be a huge, huge deal for you. Hopefully we continue that. Hopefully we get a bunch of defensive scores throughout the season.

Q: Have you settled on anything with your kickers?

DM: What I’m happy with is everybody did a pretty good job. I want to see how they all do this week. You had Charlie Grandfield did a good job with PATs, and (Brian) Egan did a good job kicking off, and obviously Devon Bell did a great job with doing both. So we’ll see how this week goes and how their preparation goes, and it’s good to know we have some guys that can go kick the ball.

Q: You talked about wanting to see improvement in QB Tyler Russell after last night. Anything else about last night you want to see improved on?

DM: With Tyler, I just think, I think, I want him to, I was happy really with his leadership on the field. I was happy with his demeanor during the course of the game. I didn’t see him get flustered. When he made a bad throw, I think he understood and was trying to make adjustments off of it. I think when he sees that stuff, he’s going to want to correct it and fix a couple of things up this week. But overall his performance, I thought it was pretty solid, but I still expect more. I’m always going to expect more out of him because I want, that’s a position we want to be the best to lead us where we need to go.

Q: What’s the status of the three suspended players (P.J. Jones, Jamerson Love and Ricco Sanders)?

DM: Like I said, they’re suspended indefinitely, in the statement. If guys are going to be suspended next week, we’ll always announce that on Saturday morning.

Q: Tailback Derrick Milton had some good runs after coming in. Will you just go with the hot hand at running back?

DM: I think all the guys ran pretty well. That leaves you to have that comfort to rotate them into the game. Really, I think you’ll see us play a bunch of them, because I want to keep those guys fresh throughout the game and keep them fresh and explosive. That’s why I think you saw some explosiveness out of the backs, because they were fresh. Throughout the night we were able to rotate them in and keep guys fresh. When they got kind of on a roll, you let them go and keep playing. I think you’ll see all four play throughout the year.

Q: What do you know about Auburn’s QB, Khiel Frazier?

DM: You know what, he’s a really good quarterback. I remember him out of high school, great kid, really nice kid who we recruited him out of high school. But has all the skills. You watch him, he has the size and the skill to be a drop-back passer, but he also has that extra edge of athletic ability that he can create and keep plays alive with his feet. I know he did that some last night, and I’ve seen him do it in the past. I think last year I remember they used him a little bit more kind of running the ball, but in those situations just to get him comfortable. Now he’s kind of a polished product and ready to be the every-down quarterback, and I think you saw that in last night’s game