Q: What can you do to practice tackling Trent Richardson? "You try to. I mean, you've just got to wrap guys up, you have to ‘thud' them up. You have to exaggerate things. We don't have a tailback that runs a 4.3 and benches 500 pounds; I don't think we have a guy on our team like that. You can't simulate it, what you have to do is make sure you're over-exaggerating every sort of tackle and eleven guys running to the ball. Not that you don't always want to do that, but in extra. I mean, if it's close you can count it's going to be a missed tackle. You just have to coach through that."
Q: How is Tobias Smith handling his injury? "His attitude is great, he's just a long, long way away. He's in the weightroom every day re-habbing and lifting and working out. He's been through it before. But he still has a great attitude and a ‘fight' to try to get back. And hopefully we'll have him back next fall."
Q: Is it different with an offensive lineman and a running back? "It is different. His injury is a little bit more severe than a regular ACL, so how he gets back is going to be tougher. But their job description is so different. You can play a lot more effectively probably a little bit hurt on the offensive line, than you are going to be at tailback cutting off that leg. You're not doing a lot of that on the o-line."
Q: It has looked at times Vick Ballard has taken it on himself to lead the team, is this something you see? "I think he tries to every day in practice. He's not the most vocal leader but certainly in practice you're not going to find a guy who goes harder than Vick does, at everything he does. In workouts he's always pushing himself as hard as he can go."
Q: Some Alabama players say they expect a ‘country battle' in the trenches this week? "Know what, I take that as a compliment! We like to play a physical game, we know they play physical. And they're a smash-mouth team, if they think it's going to be a physical game I'll take that as a compliment to our style. And hopefully it is a very knock-you-in-the-mouth, drag-out brawl. That's kind of the football we like to play."
Q: You signed a lot of receivers in 2009, are you surprised Arceto Clark has stepped to the front lately? "Well, I think he played receiver as a freshman (in 2008)? And we were trying to find a home for him, obviously he sat out the one season (at cornerback). But I am pleased, I think he is the most natural where he is now and that's really why we ended up moving him back. And he's done a good job, he's made some big plays. I think he works to be as fundamentally good a receiver, which he needs to because he's not a big guy and he's not a 4.2 guy. But those aren't qualifications to being a great receiver. Being a great receiver is being fundamentally very sound, catching balls, running routes. And he really works hard to do those little things the right way."
Q: Are you surprised at Jamerson Love's progress at cornerback being so new to the position? "No, because I remember seeing him play d.b. in the state championship game. He came to camps and worked as a d.b., and to me that was where he was most natural. I've been really pleased, maybe it took him a little more time to get used to doing it or…I'm not going to say ‘buy in' because he never fought against it. But just believing he could be the type of player. And I think he still has a lot of good things ahead of him."
Q: Now that Tyler Russell has been in the starting role do you see him going through a maturing process? "Yeah. I think the good thing is Tyler is pretty serious. Even in practice today I thought he did some really good things, was sharp at times. We need to fix some things up, but I do think he is critical of himself. Which that is a very important thing, of a guy that wants to be better and doesn't like making mistakes. When you can be critical of yourself and do things good, you still want to be better, you have the opportunity to improve. And that's what he's been able to do."
Q: John Banks was nominated for the Conerly Trophy, are you satisfied with him being ‘poster boy' for this team? "Yeah, we talk about that. I don't know, very much like last year it's hard. We're a very solid football team I think top-to-bottom. When you are, individual awards are kind of hard to pick out guys. There are probably a couple of different guys we could have put up for it this year. Just the same as there were last year. Hopefully no pressure on Banks, hopefully he has a couple of big games to wrap up the end of the year and keeps the streak alive."
RATINGS GAME: Alabama's overtime loss to LSU pushed the Crimson Tide down just a couple of slots in the rankings, to a consensus #4 in voting polls and #3 in the more meaningful B.C.S. rankings. So there will not be a #1-ranked team coming to Scott Field this season. Of course the current top team has already been here as LSU now sits in first place.
State last hosted a #1 in 2009 when defending champions Florida won 29-19. In 2008, Alabama was ranked first and won 32-7. Of course from 2006-through-2009 Bulldog teams faced off with top-ten-ranked opponents no less than 13 times, ten of them home games. The top-ten run didn't continue in 2010 as while State played five ranked teams during the regular schedule none were ranked 10th or better at the time. Of course Auburn vaulted all the way to #1 after the season with LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas all top-15 in the final polls. Where the 9-4 Bulldogs were #15 themselves.
So far this year State has faced three teams ranked at the time (LSU, Auburn, South Carolina) with Georgia now back in the polls; and of course Alabama and Arkansas directly ahead. So even had the Tide climbed atop all polls for this week, there'd be a degree of same-old, same-old for the Bulldogs per Mullen.
"We play a lot of top-ten teams. I think for a lot of teams you get one big game a year to play in. For us with six games against top-20 teams we're used to playing in these big games against high-profile teams. And we've been close, we've been close a bunch. We just have to take that next step and find a way to finish it off."
State's most recent win over a ranked foe was topping then-#22 Florida last year in Gainesville. Otherwise Mullen is now 2-11 in games with ranked teams, including a 2009 victory over #25 Ole Miss.
PRIME TIME: Mississippi State's three-game run of evening kickoffs mercifully ends next weekend. CBS has scheduled the Bulldog-Arkansas meeting for their 2:30 prime spot. It is the first time since 2005 that State has been tabbed by the big-eye network.
"We thank the guys at CBS for finally doing it," Mullen said. "They could have put on last year against Arkansas, that was a pretty exciting game!" Indeed, as the Razorbacks survived in overtime at Scott Field. "They might have had some good ratings that day!," Mullen said. "Hopefully it's a good game."
Another game that will now bring greater outside interest than usual is the schedule-ending home date with Mississippi, now that a coaching change is coming in Oxford. The emphasis here is on outside interest, because Mullen foresees no letdown by either of the rivals just because of uncertainty on the visiting sideline.
"I imagine it will be just as passionate as it always is." Mullen will be going for his third-straight win in this Egg Bowl, something not done by a Bulldog coach since 1940-42.