Dan Mullen Monday Media Conference

"We're excited for the home opener this week. It's great to get back and play at home. There's just such an excited feel on campus when you get to play that first game. You get out there in the Junction, all the tents are up, all that stuff. You can feel that excitement. In my Friday routine I usually try to go for a jog around campus on Friday and feel that energy and excitement on campus."

"Obviously it will be a tough opponent with Alcorn State, they have the guts and confidence, last week a huge win over Edwin Waters, but put up a lot of points, played some really good defense. They always are going to have great athletes, we played them here a couple of years ago and they battled us in a real tough deal with a lot of great athletes on the field, made a bunch of big plays. And the fact that it's in-state game, I always think that makes it a lot of fun. I mean for a lot of their kids, this is their Super Bowl."

We talk about playing with a chip on our shoulder, I know our guys are going to play with a chip on their shoulder this week because I don't think they're pleased with their overall performance. I think they're pleased with a lot of things we did last week but not overall. (And) There are a lot of kids on their team with a chip on their shoulder saying hey, I want to show what I can do against a SEC school. So their guys are going to come in with that chip, wanting to plays in this big environment that they're going to be in. It should be a neat game."

"The in-state games, the fact that a lot of people come to the game, both sides of the ball know people on the other sides of the ball. It's guys that played against each other and guys that played with each other in high school and growing up, that are on different teams. A lot of fans that come, our fans from their home town know guys on Alcorn's team and there's Alcorn fans coming up, they're going to know guys on our team from their home town. So I think that in-state aspect of the rivalry makes it kind of a neat deal."

"So we're excited for it, I know we're going to get a great week of practice in and get some things improved on from last week and get ready to go."

Can you update Tyler Russell and Jay Hughes? "Injuries, if you play a big, physical game like that against a top team you're going to be a banged-up team."

"I'd say Tyler is going to be doubtful for this week. We'll see at the end of the week, just the concussion from that game. We don't expect him to practice this week, if he might be cleared for the game we'll make that decision if he is cleared for the game whether he plays."

"Jay Hughes has a torn achilles, he's going to have surgery and he's going to be out for the whole year. Which is a huge loss for us, not just as a great player but as one of the top leaders on our team and really to me a face of the program-type guy. Maybe not in popularity cultures but there's somebody you want to put up that really is what our program is all about, is Jay Hughes. So that's a huge loss for us."

"Ferlando Bohanna, a linebacker with a concussion still doubtful for this week. Who else is really banged-up, they just went through it with me, there's a long list of guys. Justin Malone, he'll be doubtful for this week at the line position. Jamerson Love is more questionable I think. They said he has a chance to be ready for Saturday for the game. Matt Wells came back in, he's going to be fine to go. A couple of other guys with bumps and bruises but significant injury-wise that's really it. The report always get longer but the significant ones are the ones that are important."

What is the concussion process? "They have a baseline, they do concussion testing and everyone on the team gets kind-of tested on it, baseline before the season starts. I'll be honest, I haven't done it in a while, I probably should do it just to see. They said it's really hard to pass if you're healthy, you know what I mean? So it's a tough deal."

"But we're always going to be extra-cautious with that stuff. And one of the things too, you have to space out the testing. So both of those guys aren't going to be cleared to practice this week. And we probably won't test them, because you only test them every couple of days. You can't test them that often, because if they don't pass the test you want to give them a couple of days to make sure that you're not getting a false test back. So it will be something we'll probably test those guys late in the week, Thursday or Friday, to see where they're at and see if they're going to be able to dress."

"The thing with both of those guys, is being veteran players if they are cleared for the game you make a determination at that point how much they play, or if they play even without having practiced during the week."

What did you see from Dak Prescott Saturday you liked? "It's a great opportunity for him. In looking at it today, it will probably be his first start for his career. Which is just a little bit different. I didn't think we skipped a beat. There wasn't a feeling that we skipped a beat. It wasn't like ‘Oh goodness, what do we have to take out of the gameplan? What can't we call?' It was hey Dak's in, Dak you just go run the offense. Stepping into the huddle, that confidence he brings and stepping into the huddle, the leadership he brings there wasn't a panic in any of the coaches and not a panic in any of the players. That to me just shows a lot of what Dak is how, he's prepared himself and he has performed during training camp. He has a lot of trust in his teammates."

The offense Saturday, was it the execution, was it play calling? "There is a little bit of everything in there. I'm disappointed in myself. In the situations we put ourselves in, we watched it as a whole team today, finish is going to be a real big thing for us. I know that kind of sounds like coach-talk."

"But you look at just overall finish for us in everything, throughout course of that game. We had a couple of opportunities for some big plays, where we didn't maybe finish a block down field to finish the play. We had a couple of opportunities for some big plays where maybe I didn't finish calling a great (play). They gave us something, I never got to it. You were waiting on it. With a lot of play calling you're waiting on situations sometimes. We should have gotten to stuff early to go finish. You look at us in drives, especially early in the game, we didn't finish drives. We had some great production, made some great plays, a bunch of big plays during the course of the game, moved the ball fairly well early in the game. Not only did we not finish the game offensively and hit that kind of that slump, when we were doing really well offensively, we didn't finish those drives."

"Defensively there first five possessions they had 46 yards. That is the #1 offense in the country. Then we don't finish off with stuff. They make an adjustment. That starts with obviously us. Making the right adjustments during the course of the game so that we do put our players in position to go finish things. With our mental toughness as we go and have success, we can't think OK we're good right now. It's the next play is always the most important play. All that kind of falls on me in making sure as a whole that we get that done."

Were you concerned how the defense played the zone-read option? "Not that we weren't ready for the zone reads, it's how they did it in getting basically three tight end formations, bunching it all in to do it. I think with what we saw, we didn't do a great job adjusting to it with coaches fast enough and then getting the adjustment in with the players and translating that adjustment into performance on the field. If that makes sense to you. It's the three-tiered effect which is one: we get the transition done as a coaching staff. Two, we get it taught exactly to fit how we're going to see something we've never seen before to the players on the field. And then three them actually executing that."

"Which is sometimes one of the hardest ones. Because (we do) one with the quarterback, it never seems to fail, hey if they play this look they're giving you the post, throw the post. The next time he comes out and he calls that play they don't give you that look. But he's throwing the post no matter what because it's hey, look for this. So sometimes is that adjustment with guys on the field, say hey if they do this here is the adjustment; if they don't do that we don't have to adjust. And I think that part is a lot of learning for players. We put 14 freshmen in the game so that is part of the learning, how do we make sure we're getting the in-game adjustments right."

With five other SEC schools that run this, it isn't as basic as a problem defending this? "No because I think the stuff, all the zone read stuff that they had run before the non-three tight end stuff, I thought we defended it really well. You know, it's just making that adjustment. The benefit it, now we've seen it. We're going to see other teams run that stuff. And now we actually have clips of us defending it, a lot of different variations."

Can you access the play of the 14 freshmen? "I thought they played pretty well, handled themselves pretty well out there on the field. A lot of guys, that's a big first step. There wasn't a lot of times, sometimes in openers or first games, you know you kind of script you try to script something really easy for a true freshman. Or you hope they get it in the fourth quarter, they're getting their time, just about every one of those guys was playing, I mean the whole game was meaningful in the type of game that we played so you know they got their first reps of their careers as meaningful reps."

"And was overall very pleased. I think as you move forward those are guys you hear a lot of, your biggest improvement is maybe from the first game to the second game. I don't know. I don't always buy that with Gabe Jackson and all. I don't think between this week and last this Saturday is actually his biggest improvement."

"For some of those freshmen it will. Now they've been through a game week. They've been through game preparation. They've got to understand what it is to go and prepare and then go execute it on the field. The speed of which it happens. The pandemonium of game day which is, with the crowd and all the excitement, the length of gameday. You know most of these, in high school games, we play a basically what it amounts to a whole extra quarter in time wise and they don't have TV timeouts and all the other stuff in high school games. That's what I tell them. We've got to play hard for 60 minutes is the easy one. You've got to play hard for a good three and half hours is the reality of what it is and for young guys and learning all that stuff. I see them really, those guys, a lot of those guys who played are going to continue to play and take big strides here in the next two to three weeks."

Is Damian Williams the backup quarterback this week? "He is. He's the guy. So he's got to be ready to go. You know. One of the things, thank goodness it wasn't in a game one. But he had to do it in the hotel, sit down there and Friday night, sit there and say, OK we're going to you on Saturday, what are the 10 plays that you feel that that you're going to go in there and execute at a very high level. Obviously now as the backup, you're looking at what are the 20-30 plays that you're going to feel very, very comfortable with, going in as an inexperienced backup into the course of the game. But I think, he's going to get a lot of reps, a lot more reps this week than he got last week as the No. 2 guy. I think that preparation is going to be good for him. He's a serious guy, played on a championship team, knows how do things, knows how to handle himself and I think he'll be fine."

After your comments that not taking more shots was on you, do you take more responsibility for calling plays this week? "I always take responsibility for all the play calling on offense. I'm an offensive-oriented coach, so to me that all falls on my shoulders. I have a lot of input on the offense. As the head coach it kind of goes on me."

"I do think in looking back on it, I do think there were times we could've taken some more shots down the field. We had some good one-on-one matchups and didn't take as many shots as we needed to. That's something we need to address and as we continue to move forward we will address trying to take advantage of some of those shots downfield and get them called. It wasn't that we didn't want to call them, it was when we get in this situation let's go make the call. And I did a bad job of waiting too long at times to get in that situation."

Did the rhythm of the game lead to more conservative play calling? "At times. But there are different times to do that. We had four three-and-outs on offense. I think that's what really gets you out of rhythm. Sometimes you want to get that first first down and get rolling. When you look at when we had success, sometimes it was our first first down was off a big play and then we had success; instead of trying to grind out the first first down to get rolling in the flow of the game. And the drives that we were successful we just didn't finish them."

"To me overall the game kind of played out the way we went in wanting it to play out. If you go in at halftime, obviously very disappointed. I thought we could've scored 17 to 21 points in the first half. Just finishing drives and us making sure we're getting guys in the right situation to make plays to finish drives as coaches. How the game played out, the ball control with that, and keep them out of their tempo game and what they wanted to do, I thought it played out really how we went into it, in what we wanted to do. I didn't get us to finish those drives get those points. When you're in a game like that against a top team, we've got to finish and take advantage when we're in the red zone."

"We had opportunities without the penalties to be inside the ten-yard-line twice before the end of the game, where we would have had the ball. As it played out if (we score) just touchdowns on those last two drives at 21-14 with the ball with six minutes to go. That's a game, if you would have told me that's how the game is going to play out I would have said that had been perfect for us."

How does Russell's relationship with Prescott help in this process? "I think a lot, the fact they play off each other in a lot of different things. Even the leadership roles, in the off-season, in the weightroom. Where Tyler is more of the business approach, get it done; and Dak is a rah-rah guy. So Dak has had a leadership role amongst our team already."

"So when the players look and Dak goes to rally the team as a leader, they're used to seeing that. They're also used to seeing Tyler as the leader, and the guy hey, the Xs-and-Os, this is exactly how I want you to run these routes. So I think the fact Dak is prepared, when he goes in the guys it's not like OK who is this new guy coming in to lead us right now. He's a guy been in that leadership role all year." What is the situation for Nick James and Quay Evans this week? "We're looking to see if they're going to be ready to go this week."

It's not an injury thing? "No. We just have to be sure they're ready to go play for us. Nick was a possibility of redshirting this year for us. Quay had a really good week of practice though last week. I met with him yesterday about it. I mean he's on the right path, the key is he stays on the right path to see him on the field and play to where our expectations levels of him to play are."

Gene's Page Top Stories