Mullen Using Bye-Week On Bulldog Basics

Mississippi State returned to the practice field Tuesday afternoon, for the first of their abbreviated open-week workouts. The Bulldogs have been off since last Saturday afternoon's home game, and will have just three practice days before taking a real weekend break.

Coach Dan Mullen met with media following the afternoon session, to give a quick overview of where Mississippi State (3-4, 0-4 SEC) stands and how the coaching staff will use the change of pace to prepare for the remaining five games. Though, as Mullen said, today's task had nothing to do with their October 29 date at Kentucky or any other specific contest. "Just working on a lot of fundamentals," he called it.

"A lot of basic stuff, getting some reps for younger guys. For us a lot of the younger guys are guys that are playing in games, so just getting them hopefully accelerated. We can't sit off a week with those guys, they need to continue to improve."

How have the players responded after a tough loss? "Good. We didn't practice Sunday, we just met. But at the mid-point of the season now we're not exactly where we want to be. Every team we've lost to was ranked in the top 25 nationally, and we're not far off from winning some of those games. Now obviously to have the program we want to have we have to win all of those games. But for our guys I think they see there's a lot of good that could still come our way this season. And we just have to keep going down the same direction, keep improving and getting a little better every day."

What are the main points of the self-scouting you talked about? "It's just looking at what we're doing well, what we're doing poorly. Are there things that, one, are we tipping our hand with anything?"

Two, are we not executing something really well but we still keep calling it over and over and over again either offense, defense, or kicking game? And are we putting our guys in good positions to make plays. And, how people are playing us."

What specifically did you see Tyler Russell do well in the game? "He made some throws, he made some plays scrambling around. They're a pretty good pass-rush team and he moved sometimes in the pocket, made some good throws."

"He missed a couple of throws that I think he should have pulled the trigger and he didn't. I'm OK with that, I'm almost more on the conservative side early on than just throw it up for grabs for anybody to catch. And he's got to do a better job with his eyes, looking people off and holding defenders, not just staring down receivers."

How much of his last play was just the safety making a play? "It was a combination of a lot of things. Tyler stared it down, I think our guard got beat and it kind of disrupted his throw a little bit and caused it to float through the air. And the kid made a heck of a play. Put all that together and recipe for disaster for us and a victory for them."

What has Chris Smith's development been like? "It's good, Chris is a good blocker, a good physical receiver, a good possession receiver. And he's getting continually better as a route runner which he has to be, because he's not a ‘speed' receiver with elite speed. When he works he has the opportunity to be one of our top receivers. He's got size and he's got strength and he's got good body control and good ball skills. He's doing well."

Do you feel there have been times the last few games you have been tipping your hand on offense? "Offense, defense, kicking, I just check on all of it, know what I mean? One of the big things is you look at the gameplan, and the gameplan is usually going to be very balanced when you go in."

"But at the end of the game there is the reality of what you actually called. I have this run out of this formation, this play-action and this counter off of it; but you don't always end up getting to call all of those. So we do a lot of that just to see if hey, we're always in this formation do we ever get to the counter-play off it, do we ever get to the play-action off of it? That type of stuff. Defensively, when are we pressuring them, on certain down-and-distances are we always running certain pressures. And the same with special teams, are we giving away returns, blocks, all of that stuff."

The defense has been impressive of late after not having high expectations? "Yeah, and we thought that. Like we said all along I think coming into this year is we felt we had SEC players on defense but we weren't quite SEC-ready yet. And they're starting to get there at the midpoint of the season. Just in the first half of the season you're playing four top-25 teams, you have to speed up that development. I think they're getting up to that level."

"Unfortunately because there are some injuries on offense, now the offensive guys are so young they're even a little bit behind that."

Are you catching up there with just seven offensive points the last three SEC games? "Yeah, we're getting there. Oh, yeah. You watch, it's things you've got to execute cleaner. And make plays. When you play in this league I think you watch these games in this league you're going to play those tough games. Look at our success last year, those were games we were able to win. When you win 10-7 (with Florida), you win a close game with Georgia, I mean LSU is a 9-6 game in the fourth quarter, that's right where we wanted the game to be. I don't think you want to get into a shootout and trying to score fifty points against LSU!"

"So I think we've done a good job of following that plan of what we want to do. Now we just have to make some more plays."

Did you think of putting Chris Relf in Saturday for the goal-line, do something different offensively? "No, I wasn't changing our calls at all. It wasn't any hesitation on the first call, we had (Chad) Bumphis, our top receiver on their linebacker one-on-one, we just missed it off his fingertips. You so second down, we're giving the ball to (Vick) Ballard which is who we want to give it to; we missed a block on the front-side linebacker, if we block the front-side linebacker he walks into the end zone. And third down we had a miss-read by the quarterback."

Is it just a matter of finishing plays and finishing drives? "That's what it is. You can find on every play, we watch our cut-ups and you see a lot of great things. Then you'll see oh, the right tackle fell down; oh, the left guard missed a block; oh, receiver missed his block; oh, quarterback made the wrong read; oh, drop."

"As a team, that's why this week we're really getting back to those fundaments, of getting everybody to execute at a high level. You have to do that in this league, if you don't you're not going to win. If you're making a mistake on every play of the game you're not going to win."

Is part of this week re-establishing what you want to do on offense and being a physical team? "Yeah, we got after it in practice today. We're always going to play hard and have that toughness and demeanor about us. I mean, we went after it today pretty hard."

Did you think you got away from the run game? "No. When you look at some of the games when you're 2nd-down and twelve, or you have a penalty or a negative yardage play or a missed block or you're in a long-yardage situation, you're not doing what you want to do to establish the run. If you want to establish the run you're going to run the ball for four or five yards every single snap of the game, just pound away at people. And if you're going to do that you can't have negative plays."

"Negative plays have been more a result of usually a single breakdown. One of the big focuses is how we recover from that. That's where we have not done a great job this year, is recovering from negative yardage plays."

Are you not recovering as well as last year or were you not in as many last year? "We probably had a little less negative plays last year. I think that's probably what it is, you probably had just a little bit less negative yard plays. But we won with toughness and defense last year, that's really how you win in this league. You watch teams that win, that's how the top teams in this league (win), with defense. And we've put ourselves in position in a couple of games to win with defense. Just making a couple of mistakes here and there on offense we need to fix."

How has the offensive line graded out, are they coming together? "They're OK. They're OK. There's still some inconsistencies for us where we have got to be better, be more efficient running the ball. We're still not efficient running the ball, and that's a key for us to be efficient. And a lot of what that is, is on the offensive line. But they're going to keep getting better, you know, they're going to keep getting better as we continue to move forward."

Did you know Kent Hull? "Yeah, I just heard coming off the practice field he passed away. It's a really sad deal, I played in his golf tournament out there. A great guy."

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