Tuesday Evening Bulldog Football Notebook

Hat? Long pants? And…gloves? What gives with proud New Hampshire native Dan Mullen bundling up merely for mid-40 temperatures and a moderate windchill? "I'm a Southerner now!" the Mississippi State coach laughed. "My blood's thinned-out."

Maybe so, but Mullen still expected his Bulldogs to be hot on the practice trail Tuesday as #22-ranked Mississippi State resumed preparations for #13 Arkansas. And if it was a bit chilly for mid-November, the coach had more than a few good reasons to keep the squad on the field, and more to the point under the lights.

"I think our last two games are 6:00 games so when you get to this time of year it's actually good to get out here and make sure we're practicing around our gametime, so our guys get used to playing." Kickoff is shortly after 6:00 both this Saturday and next.

Otherwise, "For us just a regular Tuesday, get back in our game routine," Mullen said. "It was first down/play action mix, full pads, good hitting (he actually hittin' in a further sign of learned Southerness). We did some tackling but we didn't change a routine that's been very successful for us. So it was get out here, get after them, get back into that mindset of what we need to do to win."

Routine is a matter of some MSU significance to this coach. Maybe more than hitting, even, since Mullen has few concerns about these Bulldogs being bodily prepared for another SEC matchup. And up to a week ago the mindset was just fine, too, during State's six consecutive wins.

"We got in a great routine in that winning streak, had a bunch of other things happen to get us out of that routine," Mullen said. "Now we're trying to get back on focus."

LONG AND SHORT OF IT: The Bulldog defense is definitely focusing on the top Hog, Razorback super-slinger Ryan Mallett. Most weeks this season the scout team offense has been directed by either Brantley Adams, a drop-back passer; or wideout Jameon Lewis to mimic runner/throwers and ‘wild' quarterbacks.

This week though State needs an even stronger arm than either of those rookies offer, so Dylan Favre has taken on scout team duty in addition to his own preparations as the #3 quarterback. That status will only change with injury as the true frosh is being redshirted. The record-setting prep passer can fulfill much of Mallett's resume on the practice field…with one very obvious exception.

"Mallett is 6-7," Mullen said. "And Favre is listed--generously listed!—I think at 5-11." But then Favre can do something almost as well as his taller peer as his shorter frame carries a cannon right arm. "He can throw it!" Mullen agreed.

As far as State's own passing plans, Mullen said today that starting quarterback Chris Relf and offensive staff have gone through last Saturday's loss at Alabama. Even with that outcome review has confirmed some positive points, and shown what specifically to correct this time around.

"Chris saw the chances," Mullen said. "We went back and looked, he was 8-of-16 with four drops, two open receivers that he missed. So there were a lot of opportunities there, and for the receivers, everybody. We had a chance to watch it and see; in our winning games we were making those plays. If you don't make them you're not going to, against great teams."

NO DENYING: Mullen also said today that S Zach Smith (ankle) was held out of Tuesday's practice, including special teams work. But Saturday is Senior Night for Smith. "And he's adamant that he is playing, to me." Mullen added that Smith was offended today to see the locker room practice depth charts with his name not listed first on some special squads. Even the head coach would hesitate to try to hold this senior out of the home field finale.

"You can joke with him but he doesn't even think it's funny to joke with him," said Mullen. "It was like ‘how come I'm not listed #1 on the punt team today?'" I said it's because you're not practicing. He said but I'm playing, so list me as #1."

POLL POSITION: Mississippi State will kick it off Saturday evening as the #22 team on both major national polls, making this a matchup of ranked opponents…the first at Scott Field since September 20, 2001. That game was remarkable for a much larger reason as the first college contest played after the events of 9-11-2001.

For their part Arkansas arrives ranked #13. Without demeaning such status…this is something the Bulldogs shrug off. Not because they have a ranking of their own, though returning to the polls after a nine-year absence has been well worth cheering. Simply, it is just oh-so-familiar by now after tangles with (their then-ranking) #20 Auburn, #12 LSU, #22 Florida, and #11 Alabama. For that matter Georgia spent two September weeks in the top-25 before facing State; and at one time Houston was getting pollster respect.

The overriding fact remains, Mississippi State has to match up more often with ranked rivals than not. That, the Dogs are used to; but here in 2010 it is even more remarkable for how stout the Western Division stands in comparison to, well, anyone else.

"I don't think there are many conferences with five teams ranked," Mullen said. "We have five on just our side." This week the Big (so to speak) XII does have five ranked members, but the coach's comment holds. It hasn't escaped MSU fan notice that this year's slate includes the last three B.C.S. champions either. Nor is the 2010 degree of Dog-difficulty really that remarkable. After all, it was only last fall—Mullen's first—where State played what most rated the nation's toughest slate both in- and out-of-conference.

"It makes it tough because you have to play tough teams, you're not in a one-game season," Mullen said. "Some teams circle the big game of their season, we have a lot of them around here." By the same token, admits the competitive coach… "It makes it a lot of fun. It's the best conference in college football for fans, for people watching on TV, and to coach in and play in."

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