Mullen: "A Lot Of Fundamentals Getting Done"

Mississippi State returned to work Tuesday, as part of the open-date schedule. Coach Dan Mullen has the Bulldogs on a short week of three practices, with the corresponding goals of A) keeping the veterans just sharp enough and B) giving the second and third teamers camp-style snaps for their development.

The break might seem early for #21 Mississippi State, after just four games. But Mullen takes this as good timing, counting August camp and September games as half of the 2012 season. Besides, after a couple of less-than-polished performances in wins over Troy and South Alabama, the Bulldogs (4-0, 1-0 SEC) could use some mental down-time. Because next week resumes conference season with a trip to Kentucky…and the much-anticipated showdown with Tennessee already looming.

Mullen opened the Tuesday media meeting by updating some health questions.

"Who's injured, let's see. Cedric Jiles is doubtful for the next game with a broken hand. Devin Jones has a sprained shoulder, he'll be questionable. Malcolm Johnson is going to move up to questionable for the next game. I keep Tobias Smith questionable, we'll just see how it goes. We've rested him a whole bunch so I guess he'd probably be more probable that he'll play in this game, just because we've given him a bunch of rest. But I want to make sure he's feeling good before he goes on the field."

Is Tyler Russell healthy? "He's fine."

With Smith do you look at the schedule and say this game yes, that game no, and so on? "Well, we looked at possibly doing that. But with the trainers it's so tough. Because I actually look at them and I'm the one who wants to say this week yes, the next week yes, the next week yes, the next week yes… It was big getting him playing in the Auburn game."

"The original script was to get him to play in the Auburn game, let's see how he does after that game. And he was sore, then we decided to rest him a little bit more because that was probably a little soon to bring him back. But we wanted him to play in that game, he wanted to play in that game, and we did. Now to be honest I'd like to see if he could go multiple weeks in a row, and we give him a little bit of rest. But it's such a play-it-by-ear deal."

The last two games Marcus Green has had no catches, have you gone away from him? "It's just how people play us. You look at the last two weeks, we've slowed down the passing game. We had people open against Troy, we just didn't catch it. And it wasn't like we didn't have people open last week, we just overthrew them. Or underthrew them, or didn't get it out there."

"You watch the film, we have three guys running open deep down the field, I think maybe four actually. If we'd thrown it to them and thrown it accurately it would have been another four touchdowns. And I don't think we had a touchdown pass, did we? So we would have had four of them when you watch the film if we'd thrown it accurately."

"But not by design, it's just how people play us. They give us the tight end we're going to take it; if they don't and they leave the outside receivers open we're going to take it."

When Johnson does get back how important is it to do some things with him and Green and Brandon Hill? "Well, it's a weapon. It's a mismatch. And Malcolm is a tough mismatch on people. So it will be great to get him back and get him out there and repping. He was out in full pads today, I mean very limited in what he did. And it will make you expand the package even more because you have the depth now to do so."

How has use of the tight end expanded in your time at Mississippi State? "I'm a big fan of using the tight ends I'm a big fan of creating mismatches. So you've got to find who can be mismatches. And one of the things we've found here is find those big receivers, or like Malcolm and Brandon and as Marcus was when we got here, none of those guys played tight end in high school. Rufus Warren did, and he has that size. They're kind of mismatches to the defense. And anywhere offensively that's what you want to find."

"If you have a really big running quarterback, a Tim Tebow or Cam Newton, that's a mismatch. If you have a receiver that you can put in the slot to play at tailback or running back, that's a mismatch. And if you have a tailback at slot receiver that's a mismatch on people of how they defend them. Tight end is the same way, he's kind of a receiver but he can block and be an insert-type tight end or on the line tight end. Those are mismatches. So I love using those guys, as many as we can."

Was there any difficulty getting the team motivated the last two games? "Yeah, I don't know. You've got to remember these kids are still 18-to-22-year-old kids. The focus, the maturity and the focus has slipped. I don't want to say we're not motivated for the games, but I even think during the games I see that, where we'll play a great offensive half and then a bad offensive half; and we'll play a great defensive half and then a bad defensive half. Play a couple of really good series, and then look terrible for three straight series, that that focus kind of drops a little bit."

"It is hard sometimes, you try to fight against the kids looking up at the scoreboard and saying, hey coach, we're up big. All of a sudden, a team comes back on you a bunch and you don't feel comfortable about it. We went out last week and I think our first two possessions we had negative-ten yards net on the offense. We went ten yards backwards. Just complete lack of focus, thinking maybe that we're going to score every time we have the ball or something like that. And sometimes it's not just that, it is, I want to score a touchdown every time I touch it; instead of, I'm going to follow my read, and we might only get five or six yards. You start seeing guys running around backwards and stopping—I'm going to try to spin out and go the other way and take it 90, and it ends up minus-five. Or if they'd just hit the hole, it would've been a good play and kept the ball moving down the field. Those things happen sometimes in those type of games."

Are the wide receivers getting open more from experience or defenses can't focus on one or two? "We don't worry, we put all those guys out there, someone's always going to be. They can't double everybody, and they can't bracket everybody. Somebody's got to be left alone, and those guys, we have trust in those guys to be able to get open. They've done a decent job of it. And you have some experience there, you have some guys that know how to get open now in games."

How have you worked this bye-week? "I spoke all over the place yesterday. We evaluated the film Sunday, and I spoke all over the place yesterday, and they showed up today."

"What we're doing is getting reps for guys. Today we went a longer practice than we normally do on game week. A lot of that is because we expanded individually, get some more individual work. You use this week, there's a lot of stuff when you get into game weeks that you don't get to do in practice, stuff that gets shortened down. We've expanded upon those things that get shortened down in game week. When we go live reps, there's a bunch of guys that aren't taking live reps this week. They're going to do individual, they're going to do pass skill, they're going to do some of that group work. We go live 11-on-11, we're going to force a lot of other players to go earn more reps on Saturday and show what they can do."

Will you focus a lot on the freshmen who have played? "The same as everybody else. This is a big week for the twos, the guys that are one-and-a-halfs and twos, guys that are rotating twenty reps a game. This is a big week for them. Banks is going to get minimum work when we go 11-on-11. I know what he can do, and he'll be ready. He's working his fundamentals, he's working in seven-on-seven drills to keep going. I'm not going to let him do a lot of 11-on-11 because I want to see the other guys have to step up and do that. That's what we're doing with those guys."

Watching film with Russell, does he know what is going wrong on throws? "They (SA) gave a couple of different looks we hadn't seen them give before, and then I think he held onto the ball a couple of times too much of trying to make the perfect throws. When you start trying to make perfect throws, you start aiming the ball. You start aiming it, you start missing. I think to him, that was some of it. But nothing that's not going to be corrected."

"Even the throw, he hit Arceto Clark down the middle of the field wide open. I'm like, hey, I bet you'd like to have that one back. He was like, yeah, you know, he was so wide open I didn't want to overthrow him. So he ends up way underthrowing him. Those types of things, where instead of just playing he was thinking and trying to kind of be perfect, when he (needs to) just go play."

Is he holding the ball too long to take those hits? "It was holding on the ball ‘til everybody is wide open. He was like ‘I'm going to wait till he's wide open'. And I think a lot of our guys are trying to hit that home run. A lot of the guys are seeing that there is the crease and the kids are saying ‘well, I'm trying to hit the home run' instead of hitting the single. I got an easy single here but I'm going to go swing for the fences. I think in those games that happens sometimes. When you play in that league play, you're doing the ball control and getting that first down because you know it's going be such a tough game."

Was that what happened on his interception? "The pick was a horrendous route. You get in those games (and) Arceto ran his route and I don't think he thought he was getting the ball. If you see him run his route fine but he didn't shove his guy one way. And the ball was actually pretty good. He was just going through the motions down the field and turn around thinking probably that the ball was going somewhere else. That's something we haven't done. That's a lack of focus."

"We're going to do some individual stuff that you don't get to do in a normal game week. There's a lot of fundamentals that you're getting done in a bye week that you haven't done since camp."

How do you see Nickoe Whitley's play coming off the injury? "The confidence about being back out there is better and he's comfortable. He was still limited a little bit during training camp and he didn't go through spring. He got cleared and you still protected him. It's not one of those where you're good and so okay, good 100 percent. We tried to limit him during training camp. So I just think he's getting back to where he was."

He hasn't got a penalty for hits to the head, either. "With the emphasis in the rules of college football, you got to be smart on those (hits) too."

Is there a different feeling being 4-0 now at Mississippi State? "You know what I noticed though? I noticed this more with our fan base now. It's almost like this was expected. Which is actually good and I like that. I like that type of feeling. Not that our fans take it for granted, not that the fans in town or our student body or our team takes it for granted but I do feel that way. I would've said four years ago, if we'd have started 4-0 then the feeling would be a lot different than starting 4-0 right now. I think people have come to think ‘okay it's what we what to do for a team?'. This is where I planned us to be. I was planning on being 4-0 and the fan base of our people are a similar way. I don't know. I don't get out much!"

Is there an opening to climb in the SEC West this year? "We've certainly put ourselves in a position to take that step. We've got an opportunity with a lot of football left to be played. Now, people aren't going to let us just take it. We're going to fight for it."

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