By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dan Mullen liked what he saw out of his Mississippi State team leading up to the Gator Bowl two years ago. He likes what he’s seen this past week even more.
The Bulldogs hammered Michigan in the 2011 game, 52-14, after what Mullen called a week of good focus in practice.
“I think our focus has been better this week than it was two years ago, overall focus while we’ve been at practice,” Mullen said Monday. “But our coaches and seniors have understood that and done a great job of keeping that attention of our team – when it’s time to work, we work.”
As with any bowl week, players have had a chance to have fun off the field, including team excursions to the beach and a local entertainment venue. Senior cornerback Johnthan Banks said he’s “100 percent” ready.
“We wouldn’t want to let our team come down here as a team and embarrass ourselves,” he said. “And we know how coach is about coming back and having fun and not going to work; this is a business trip, we’ve come here to play football, we haven’t come here to party around.
“We came here to win a football game.”
MSU has been preparing without Melvin Smith, the cornerbacks coach who left for the same job at Auburn the day before State arrived here. Banks said there have been no ill effects at practice.
In fact, Banks said, “I’ve probably had the best week of practice since I’ve been at Mississippi State.”
Northwestern’s three losses this season – to Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska – came by a total of 18 points. Coach Pat Fitzgerald said his team played its best games after each of those losses.
“This team has been incredibly resilient,” he said. “We’ve had some very difficult setbacks throughout the course of the year as far as on-the-field results. We’ve come back the next week and had our best focus and our best preparation and then played some pretty darn good football teams.”
After the losses, Northwestern defeated Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan State respectively. After beating Michigan State, the Wildcats finished the regular season strong with a 50-14 whipping of rival Illinois.
Fitzgerald believes his team has good momentum heading into today’s game.
“We set a goal to put an exclamation point on the season, and down the stretch, outside of a really tough game that we ended up on the short end up in Ann Arbor, that’s one little hiccup in the road where we finished as strong as maybe any of the teams I’ve coached,” Fitzgerald said.
Ready for cowbells
MSU fans are allowed to bring cowbells into EverBank Field today, but they have been asked to abide by the SEC’s policy set forth for home games. That means fans should only ring when the ball isn’t in play.
Enforcing the policy is another matter. Fitzgerald called the cowbells a “great tradition” and doesn’t expect his players to be distracted by them.
“We have crowd noise and just absolutely terrible music that plays every day from warmup all the way through the end of practice,” he said with a smile. “We think we’ve prepared our guys for any sort of distractions that may happen in an arena based on bad music on a day-to-day basis.”