By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – A season weighted with expectation is finally here, but Mississippi State isn’t looking at the bigger picture quite the way it used to.
As he enters his fourth season at the helm – it begins against Jackson State at 6 p.m. today – head coach Dan Mullen has altered his offseason approach. In the past, part of MSU’s preseason training camp has involved the incorporation of game-plan elements for opponents a few weeks down the road.
Not so this year. Mullen is worried more about fundamentals and player development, and he’s also concerned that the retention level isn’t high enough to justify working ahead on game plans.
“I thought it would be a lot more beneficial for us to focus, if we take 80 percent of our base offense that we know we’re going to use, and we get really great at it, then the 20 percent game plan week to week, we can spend a little bit more time doing those things and making the adjustments we need to make for each opponent,” Mullen said.
He also pointed out that with teams changing year to year – new players, new coaches, new schemes, etc. – it’s hard to get a good read on an early-season opponent just from film.
“So your No. 1 focus is if you go out and you execute at a high level, especially early in the season – you’re clean, no penalties, no turnovers, you cut down on missed assignments and play sound football – you have a chance to be very successful,” Mullen said.
Players have taken well to the change
“When we first started out we made sure we’ve got the foundation down first – the right footwork, technique and hand placement,” offensive guard Gabe Jackson said. “Just the basic rules. Then when it comes to game week and you start playing different people, you have to learn to prepare for what you’re going to go against for just that week.”
This tweaked approach might also prevent MSU from looking beyond this weekend’s game. Auburn comes calling a week from now and could be the most important game of the year for State.
“If you start worrying about two or three games down the line, further than that, you can get your mind too clustered,” Jackson said.
Safety Corey Broomfield used an appropriate metaphor in explaining the importance of this approach:
“Little things make the big things happen,” he said. You put your foot in the right place, a ball will come to you. You’ve got your eyes in the right place, your man won’t get away from you.
“So you do the little things, and the big things occur. You can’t build a stadium until you put the bricks in place.”