Though it isn't convenient for many fans unable to get away, Mullen doesn't mind kicking off a season on Thursday compared to playing weeknights during the regular season. "It's certainly easy preparing this week, because you're not coming off a Saturday game," he said today. "So when you're doing it, it is a different schedule playing a midweek game coming off a Saturday game."
Of course in two weeks State will be doing just that, turning around immediately from their SEC opener at Auburn for another Thursday game. This one against a much bigger bunch of Tigers as LSU comes to Scott Field on September 15. MSU and Mullen accepted the tradeoff of national TV exposure for the home debut against a quick turnaround, which was made slightly easier with the SEC assisting in booking a morning kickoff at Auburn.
The bottom line is that the first three games of 2011 don't fit the standard schedule, but there are benefits for the Bulldogs…such as two extra days to prep for that crucial SEC debut. And as Mullen said of starting on a Thursday, no big deal. "This week we don't notice it because we have a whole week preparing for the game."
TAKING HIS TURN: Tyler Russell surely recalls his college debut fondly. A four-touchdown pass evening would be hard to forget in any circumstance, especially as it tied the Mississippi State game record. Here a year later the third-fall sophomore hopes to have a similar hand in another win over Memphis.
Just as in 2010 though Russell will do so as backup to starter Chris Relf. For that matter unlike last fall he has real competition at second quarterback. Dylan Favre has completed the same sort of redshirt stint as Russell in 2009, and since spring ball it's been a genuine contest between them. So much so that no matter what the official depth chart shows these are almost co-#2s.
Almost. For his part Russell thinks too much gets made of the backup battle as if it were personal. Nope, just business.
"My job is to push Chris, then Dylan's job is to push me," Russell said. "And I said it last year: the best player is going to play. Our job is to compete and that's what we're doing. But at the end of the day you've got to win games. And whoever can win games is the person that is going to play and be put in that position."
Which for the record includes Relf. After all, when the starter struggled at Alabama last year it was Russell accounting for the only MSU touchdown with a 33-yard strike to WR Chad Bumphis. Earlier in the year Russell had taken over when Relf was knocked-out at LSU. So the soph is always ready for the call. In fact he hears all the calls.
"When I'm not in the game I have the headset on. I'm watching the defense, sometimes I see things on the sideline that Chris can't see and we communicate back and forth. ‘Look, this is what this cornerback is doing every time you do this'. We just communicate back-and-forth." Presumably this year Favre will be on the same frequency as Russell, where last season the true frosh was one of the Dogs signaling in plays to the offense. Or, the decoy waver; only Relf knew which to watch.
Meanwhile Russell keeps tuned-into the action, even before it starts. "I always get a mental rep of the play, I watch the play and always hear what the coaches talk about as far as the play, what we're trying to do, the reason why we called this play.
"That helps me out a lot to sit back and watch, so when you get in the situation in the game and they've done it to Chris you don't have to guess. You already know what is going to happen."
And talking about knowing in-advance, Russell is in perfect position to see how the Mississippi State offensive approach has developed in his two-plus years here with Mullen and coordinator Les Koenning. This has been a much, much more efficient preseason he says, though it is only what should be expected of a maturing squad. Particularly in the passing plans.
"It's just guys being on the same page, getting the plays in faster. The wide receivers knowing who they're ‘hot' off of, we're not having to point to who they're hot off of this year. It's just everything being more crisp." Not just crisper, but quicker too as Mullen has emphasized a ‘tempo' approach in preseason. Not exactly hurry-up, understand, just a brisker pace to plays. And for an interesting additional reason, per Russell.
"Mainly it's just for conditioning, you want to be in the best shape you can be in. you want to be more mentally prepared and more conditioned than the other teams. So when the fourth quarter comes around you're not tired; the other team looks at you and says ohhhh, these guys are still kicking."
WEATHER WATCHING: We Mississippians can find some amusement in the hyper-hyped coverage of Hurricane—by now tropical blow—Irene as it works up the east coast. Still there are a few Bulldogs with kin along the storm's path, such as Baltimore native James Carmon. The #1 left tackle, by the way, was not amused Saturday when he found his seat at the autograph table placed him directly behind a sign saying this was the area for Specialists. Carmon looked ready to kick someone for that coincidence.
Mullen has kept an eye on the northeast weather, with not much worry fortunately. "I talked to my Mom, and she was fine at home," the coach said today. "They live pretty far inland."
But Dan has other concerns on his mind as wife Megan and son Canon flew up to Pittsburgh today for the funeral of her 97-year-old grandmother. At Saturday's Bulldog Club general meeting, Megan Mullen recounted how her granny had made one visit to Mississippi State for a game. She kept the pass to that game, which Megan said was the most exciting event of the lady's life, and lanyard for the funeral.
ASK ME NO QUESTIONS AND…: Mullen makes it a general, if not permanent, policy of not commenting on injuries; especially in preseason. He might on occasion drop some such health info, such as a week ago when he said freshman DB Taveze Calhoun had had shoulder surgery and would redshirt. And in the case of a game injury updates will be provided.
But mostly it is a subject media are advised not to attempt, at least not in general terms. Such as today when Mullen was asked if he had any injuries or health situtations of concern going into game week. The entire answer?
CLICHÉ ALERT: It would not be a football season, at any level, if somebody did not say the obligatory line. Sure enough, Mullen offered it without even being asked during the Sunday teleconference.
"I know there's a lot of excitement on our team, our guys are tired of hitting each other and ready to go hit somebody else."
There. It is finally, officially game week; let the 2011 season begin.