Not that Mullen was going to let Mississippi State get knocked off their stride as preparations for next Thursday's opener at Memphis pick up steam. It was not an entirely blue-tinted working schedule just yet; there were still some remaining areas of offense and defense the State staff wanted to test in live conditions.
But no mistake, the Bulldogs are talking a lot of Tiger these days and that will only increase tomorrow. As for today's results…
Q: What was the practice focus? "The main team focus was red zone, doing a lot of red zone stuff. When you're inside it doesn't become much of an issue because you're working on that part of the field."
Q: How did they look? "Good. The offense looked good sometimes, the defense looked good sometimes. I worry about effort and I thought the effort was much better today than yesterday, I was pleased with the effort our guys gave. We kind of got after them a little bit after yesterday's practice that we needed to see a certain level of effort out there in practice. And we saw it today."
"That's what I was pleased with. The execution, we get all that cleaned up; but the effort you can't get cleaned up."
Q: You mentioned maybe tinkering around with Fletcher Cox going on offense? "Yeah, that's something we work with to get him ready just to have another big body back there whether it be a tight end or a fullback. Just because he's so athletic. And he can catch, and he probably can run! He's fast, he probably doesn't look like the Fridge; he could probably run like one of our tailbacks."
Q: You've said Charles Mitchell is your best player, what makes him that? "Just his attitude. His preparation for games. His work ethic on the practice field, how he trains, practices, prepares. And then you watch him on film and he follows through with it. He might not be the flashiest player in the world, but when you look at the grades he's always grading out. He does his job, he's always where he's supposed to be and makes the plays he's supposed to make."
"If we can get all our guys to play on that level we'll be in good shape."
Q: The previous staff said when Charles came in he ‘looked like a SEC guy'. What was your first impression? "The same. Charles is Charles. He doesn't need motivation, he's a winner. And a winner in life, whatever he is going to do in his life he's going to win at. You just see those guys that have that ‘it'. He has it, whether it's going to school, whether it's playing the piano, whether it's being captain of the football team, he's got that ‘it' that he's going to be successful."
Q: He plays it well? "Really well. Big time, actually. If there is a piano at the hotel on Friday night, he's playing."
Q: What makes Tyler Russell different this preseason? "One, he's played in games. So the shock of the game doesn't get to him, when things happen on the field there's no confused look, no ‘what happened?' to me or wow this is going too fast. He understands everything that is happening out there on the field. And when he makes a mistake he usually knows that he's made a mistake before you even tell him. Those are the type of things you want and that you know you can put him out there and go win."
Q: Will you really get into preparations for Memphis tomorrow? "Really Friday. I mean we've started preparation already, but it goes wholesale Friday-Sunday."
Q: How do you do it without accurate tape on them? "Well, you have to look at what they did last year, check their personality last year, and that's kind of what you plan off of."
Q: How much do you keep up with their quarterback race? "I read it a little bit every day. And our G.A.s have books of every article that's ever written that they scan and pull off highlights for us."
Q: What do you communicate to last year's redshirts before this first game? "That this is what you've worked hard for. You've worked really hard for that moment. Football is a sport where we work year-round for 12 opportunities; hopefully if you win enough then you get 13 or 14 opportunities. For those guys now is time to take advantage of it. You'd better love that situation or go harder than you ever did running the stadium steps or in the mat drills or any of those things. Because this is one of twelve opportunities you prepare all year for."
Q: Is there any position you worried about going into camp that now you're OK with? "Boy, I don't know. I'm worried about every position…but I'm confident in our guys! That's tough because I'm panicked about everything, know what I mean? I'm panicked about our tailbacks and you probably wouldn't think that. I'm panicked about our quarterbacks, I'm just kind a perfectionist that way. I don't know if there is one that jumps out to me that is ahead or behind of what we thought it would be. Because my expectations are really high, that's what makes it tough to say."
Q: Has the left tackle story been overblown? "No. I mean, I'm not concerned about it. Because the players that are going to play, I don't expect them to go be Derek Sherrod. My concern is them getting ready to play in a game situation, not their ability to do a job. It's getting them experience as fast as possible."
ORGANIZING THE CHAOS: He means no insult to the late, great Walter Matthau. But that is not the sort of coaching role Dan Mullen plans to play next week. So he will have Mississippi State run through a ‘mock' game this Friday evening at Scott Field to fine-tune many things for the real kickoff at Memphis. "So we don't look like the ‘Bad News Bears'," he jokes.
This will not be a scrimmage game, such as Mississippi State put on last Friday. That 150-snap session, including kicking plays, was genuinely game-type action. What Mullen has in mind this time is much more focused on aspects around the game, or at least around the playing field.
"This is how we line up in the tunnel," he explains. "These are the stretch lines, this is where the band is." Not that the Famous Maroon Band will be on the field…though were it practical Mullen wouldn't mind utilizing them either. What the head coach wants done is a run-through of how the Bulldogs will get ready in the locker room both as position units and as teams; then what order everyone exits there for finding the right warm-up locations.
Sideline organization is included as well, since this is fraught with potential for confusion for everyone. "I just call out ‘opening kickoff' and the defense runs out," Mullen said. Hmmm, did he just tip the coaching-hand as to what State will do should the captains win the first coin toss? Mullen laughs at the suggestions and muses he might take the ball first for a change this time. Maybe.
It is a mock game and yes, there is bound to be some mockery involved. "The older guys kind of laugh," admits Mullen. "But the younger guys have to know where to stand for stretch." After all, pre-game time is scripted minute-by-minute and not to be wasted with impatient position coaches yelling at pups—surely caught up in the newness and the noise and the simple thrill of opening evening—to get their Bulldog behinds over there.
Because that would be Bad News indeed.