Monday Bulldog Football Notebook

For anyone who witnessed the game itself, Monday's SEC release merely confirmed the expected as Chris White was tabbed league Defensive Player of the Week. Given how Mississippi State shut down Florida some Bulldog defender was certain to earn this weekly recognition, and middle linebacker White was the only choice.

If anyone at all was surprised, in fact, it was White himself. "It's just a great feeling, I feel honored to get the award."

The award would have been dis-honored going to anyone else this week, as the Dog defense held Florida to its fewest points in five years. White led that charge with 11 total tackles, 4.5 of them for losses and 2.5 credited sacks. Those baggings cost Florida 16 yards, and equaled White's total sacks for the previous six games.

Except, White says, there was nothing out of the ordinary in how he went about his business. "It's just going to the game with the mindset I'm going play the best that I can and run to the ball as hard as I can. Just trying to play hard, really."

When White is playing that hard and that well recognition follows. He has taken a lead in this year's team tackle race over weak-side LB K.J. Wright, 57 stops to 52, and ranks 8th in this week's SEC statistics for tackles per-game at 8.1. Of course White was no slouch a season ago playing weak-side himself, with 75 total tackles.

Moving to the central slot though has opened up the entire field for White to make his plays. "At middle linebacker you can go left and right, both sides of the field. That's really the main difference. But it's a mindset thing if you want to go out there and make some plays you can."

What impresses fans and foes alike is not just the effort White brings to the game. The 6-4, 245 pounder looks like a defensive end yet runs like a safety, covering a startling amount of ground. The phrase about roaming ‘sideline to sideline' is usually cliché but in White's case is absolutely true. Some of his tackles at Florida required him to get from the opposite hashmark all the way to a sideline to chase down Gator runners, no speed slouches at all.

Yet there is one other aspect to how White gets his job done. He claims the key is, well, slowing himself down. Really.

"To tell you the truth, the faster you play the less stuff you see; and the slower you play probably the more you see. So you've kind of got to find that medium where you can see stuff and play fast." Call it counter-intuitive or whatever, but White really insists he has learned to pace himself and not go flying after the initial notion of where that football appears to be heading.

"It's kind of hard to read the offense when your trying to play fast. So it's good to play slow at first but when you see what's going on go at full speed."

KEEPING FOCUSED: Meanwhile things are speeding up, so to speak, for the Bulldog program. Knocking off Florida has earned Mississippi State's team respect in the form of enough votes to break into both national polls at #24. It is MSU's first such ranking since September of 2001.

For White and company such newfound status is just fine. "It's great fun for us being ranked," he said, before adding "We just can't let it get in our heads."

Coach Dan Mullen agrees. Well, actually, it is the boss giving such orders in what shapes up as an interesting new experience for his program. "This is going to be a good week for us, a different week in what we do," Mullen said. "We're coming off a little success in what we do, and its important we keep our focus."

As in, don't take yourselves too seriously just yet. Mullen has only been here one full season and half another, but he's also experienced enough in the profession to know how dangerous that first flush of real success can be to a still-building ball club. "I mean, there's nothing wrong with being happy. We won a big game. But it's time to get back to work."

That time actually began Sunday; less than 18 hours after returning in triumph from Gainesville, the Bulldogs were really working, and not just a normal weekend practice. They were turned over to the best man for the re-focus message, strength coach Matt Balis. The result?

"There were some interesting faces walking out of that weightroom yesterday," Mullen smiled. "He got his point across!" White seconds that notion.

"Coach Balis was talking about don't take the pats on the back, tell them to get off," said White. "And this week there's going to be a bunch of pats on the back, we can't listen to all that stuff." Admittedly his came from a coach not noted for kind weightroom words, yet White said today Balis has been known to pat one's back…occasionally. Well, rarely. OK, almost never.

"He does, but you've got to do something special!" White said. Which of course Mississippi State just did, so Balis made clear Sunday the goal wasn't bringing the Bulldogs down as much as getting them on firmer footing for Alabama-Birmingham. "He knows what he's doing and he's right. We'll be disappointed this Saturday night if we're worried about beating Florida," White said.

"We have to take this game as the best team in the country. And they have some very explosive players on offense, if we take them lightly they can put up some big numbers." Which would prevent Dog defenders from following White's lead in earning POTW honors next week.

Mullen certainly wants nothing to trip State up en route to securing bowl status sometime Saturday evening. "You succeed because you work hard and prepare. That can't change in the future," Mullen said. He also is preaching that this team is not so much 5-2 at the moment as 0-0 in games playing for bowl eligibility.

"If we can go 1-0 Saturday night and be the best team on the field, we've reached our goal. Beyond that… If you concentrate on the present a lot of good things will happen in the future. And our guys have done a good job focusing. This is going to be a tougher game than last week's game."

That last line may not read well in Gainesville this week, but then Mullen's audience is the one being prepped for UAB. The Bulldog coach offered the usual praise for the opponent. "We're playing a tough team, a team playing with confidence coming off a big win for them." That would be a 21-6 victory over UTEP which makes the Blazers 2-4, 1-2 CUSA. Mullen was more impressed by tape of UAB's effort, albeit not rewarded as due, in taking Tennessee into overtime. "They played a SEC team on the road and really should have won," he said. And he did catch some of the Blazer-Central Florida game two Wednesday's ago.

"They have a two quarterback system, one of them is dinged-up but both bring different skill sets to the table. They've been in every game, been close but one. That one they didn't get dominated, they moved up and down the field. Those are things that concern you."

Oh, and one other item of Mullen's concern: the driving goal of every CUSA program to score a success against their bigger SEC cousins. Or what Mullen called "a chip on their shoulder."

Thus, "What we have to make sure is we improve," Mullen said. "The only way for us to move forward is to improve on what we did Saturday night, and take care of business."

INJURY UPDATES: Mullen confirmed Monday that SS Charles Mitchell suffered a concussion before halftime at Florida; what the coach called "dinged" immediately after the game. Mitchell missed the entire second half with S Wade Bonner and/or Zach Smith taking his place in various packages. As for this week, "He's day to day," Mullen said. "We'll hold him out of contact (Tuesday) and see as the week progresses."

TB Vick Ballard hurt his left ankle in the fourth quarter at Florida, when by his account somebody fell on the back of his leg after a tackle. Ballard had the ankle re-wrapped and would have gone back on the field had State needed one more drive, but Florida missed the field goal attempt to tie. Ballard wore a boot to Monday interviews as precaution; his practice schedule will be controlled this week.

OC J.C. Brignone missed the second half at Houston with a left knee sprain and sat out all of Florida, though dressed for the game. He did warm up pre-game with starting QB Chris Relf as usual and Mullen said Brignone could have played in an emergency that fortunately never arose. "He would not have been 100%," Mullen said, adding he is "pretty confident" every injured Dog can play this weekend.

Mississippi State also provided a statement Monday from Dr. Allen Sills, who performed surgery three weeks ago on DE Nick Bell to remove a mass on his brain. Bell developed headaches and hand weakness that led to the surgery to take care of both the mass that was discovered and bleeding on the brain.

"Tests indicate that this mass is a form of skin cancer which is related to a lesion that was removed from his forehead two years ago," Dr. Sills said in the provided statement. "Nick will be undergoing further treatment for this mass in the weeks and months ahead." Sills added that physicians hope Bell can return to playing in the future after treatments but that he is done for this season.

NOTES: The MSU-Kentucky game next week has been scheduled for 6:00 telecast by ESPNU...TB Vick Ballard is now tied for the SEC scoring lead with both South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore and Auburn's Cam Newton at 72 points each...The Bulldog defense ranks 13th in the NCAA scoring statistics this week...MSU is going for a sweep of non-conference games for the first time since the 2000 season...For the first time since opening night, the Bulldogs have a positive takeaway/giveaway ratio of +1, after producing an interception and a fumble at Florida.

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