"And it's frustrating, you get a little edgy coming off the practice field as a coach with noise blaring in your ear two hours at practice!" Mullen admitted.
Using recorded sound is nothing new at State of course as Mullen's predecessors have done the same for a couple of decades now. At least this week the Bulldogs have one modest mercy: good weather means practicing outdoors each day unless Mullen suddenly opts to take them inside the Palmeiro Center. Then things get really, really loud as veteran practice observers, including some media, can attest.
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS: Then again, good weather is a relative term. Here in mid-September the morning and evening conditions are indeed pleasant, which seems to have led a few Bulldogs to relax on their hydration regimen. Because a number of Bulldogs went down with cramps Tuesday when afternoon temperatures were standard Southern summertime.
"It's still warm out there," Mullen said after practice. By the way, the coach himself might need some training room time. He admitted Tuesday to having some back tightness, the result of watching a lot of game tape and trying to stand up too quickly.
Mullen and staff have had more time to review State games, and scout the upcoming opponent as well, thanks to having played last Thursday. Yes, a short turnaround week was rough getting ready for Auburn. But the flip-side is showing up this week, with a revised preparation schedule Mullen said. Particularly Wednesday's working plans.
"Tomorrow is our ‘bonus' practice to tidy some things up, make some corrections within the gameplan. We'll meet as a staff and see what we need a little extra work on and add or delete to Wednesday's practice." According to some players, part of this week's revised schedule was more 7-on-7 squad work than usual for game preparation.
It seems fair to speculate that many Bulldogs would still suffer lingering deflation from the Auburn loss, given how much emotion was invested over spring, summer, and preseason in the SEC opener. Thus a long weekend should have helped re-set the mindset. Mullen agrees with the idea but said he has not noticed anything to cause such concern from this squad.
"I give them credit, since I've been here they respond well to that. They come right back out and get to work. I think this team has very high expectations of themselves. (Monday) you could see it at our first real ‘get after it' practice after the game. There was a little bit of disappointment still but today they were right back to work."
SWAT II? No, he isn't likely to pile up the hundreds of blocked balls as a certain State center did in the Hump. But Fletcher Cox is standing taller in opponents' placekicking plans after stuffing an Auburn field goal attempt. It was the second such block of his college career, after Cox swatted a Houston kick as a freshman.
Most collegians go an entire career feeling fortunate if they get a hand on one placekick; now Cox has collected two blocks in 14 games. There must be some special technique he uses, right? "Well as rushers we just get our hands up," he said. "By the time I know the ball is coming off the tee I just get my hands up."
Drat, so much for deep secret tactics. Still for all the supposed simplicity this really is a worthwhile story since it reflects the emphasis Mississippi State puts on every aspect of special teams play.
"It's just something I do in practice," said Cox. "I did it all during two-a-days, so I figure my time will come. Just like last year against Houston, I blocked a field goal by doing what I did in practice. I guess my time came and it played a big part in the game." It kept his team within a field goal of overtime, he meant.
Cox stresses that the MSU way is simple in approach, and demanding to actually do. After all, the big bodies he's crashing into aren't disposed to allow easy access to that ball coming off the tee. So Mullen and staff set the center section of the line based on where the kick is to be spotted, the goal being getting the maximum surge at center. There are other rushers coming the long way from outside but trickery must always be considered.
And Cox can line up either left or right of center. "Whatever side we set, it changes," he said. "It depends on the guys that are in the middle. I'm on the inside-rush so if the guys in the middle get a lot of push then the field goal can be blocked."
Oh, and one other somewhat disappointing tid-bit: this Bulldog does not study specific kickers, either. No searching for clues on timing and elevation and the like.
"No, it's just how you do it! It depends on the middle guy going hard and the inside guys coming off and blocking it." Which sophomore Cox has already done twice now, with more opportunities surely to come. By the way, doesn't he hope someday to find one of those blocks bouncing back into his own hands for a return? Nice thought, he said, but...
"Most of the time if I'm blocking it, it would be a guy on the corner picking it up. But it's still my ball!"
TAKING THEIR TURNS: Mullen nipped any budding speculation about changes to the quarterback rotation Monday by stating Chris Relf would indeed start. It will be his third opening-snap but first in a SEC road game, or anywhere away from home for that matter. Relf was on the road roster but did not play at LSU in 2008 as a second-year freshman.
Relf said Tuesday that while Mullen's compliments on how he directed State's last, if unsuccessful, drive against Auburn were welcome. But they did not alter his assurance one way or the other.
"I'm always confident. I have to be confident as a team leader. I have to go out and just do what I do." Which also means do it in rotation with Tyler Russell. While the opening game with Memphis was strictly scripted for the first half, the Auburn game was played a little more freely. Like any starter, Relf would rather go in and stay in.
"It's been pretty difficult but it's something I have to deal with right now," he said of the ongoing alternation. "I know when my time comes I have to come in and make a play and that's what I always try to do. And then it's just being a leader on the side, pumping Tyler up when he goes out there." Besides, he said, "We're running the same stuff, basically."
For his part Russell is comfortable with how the rotation has played out thus far. And, he said, whether starting or subbing, one fact of quarterbacking is constant. "You have to be great leaders. It shouldn't be any different when I get in the game or when Chris gets in the game. The offense has to have confidence in both of us and I think that's something we contribute to the team."
And at his second-fall stage, Russell's confidence comes with action on the field whether it wins or not. He's certainly pleased with the progress made after two turns on the live field.
"It was a great learning experience, I did some things good and some things not so good. But I think I made huge strides from the spring game. I didn't have a really good spring game and I wanted to do really good. I worked on the things I didn't do and got better."
Getting better is very much a theme this week for the guys Relf and Russell are aiming at. Mullen said going into the week things would not be pleasant for receivers if passes were hitting the ground very often. Two days into drills the coach seems satisfied.
"The quarterbacks have been throwing the ball pretty well," he said. "And it's not just the receivers because they made some great catches in the game. It's the total focus of the team. If guys are playing forty plays a game you'd better be completely focused for your forty plays to be right on the mark."