Coach Dan Mullen Monday Press Conference

Dan Mullen did address the business of the week. But at the same time Mississippi State’s football coach attended to the story of this day, and the passing of Jack Cristil. The legendary Voice of the Bulldogs, honored around conference and country, signed-off late Sunday evening. “That’s a Bulldog forever,” Mullen said.

Cristil of course retired from the Bulldog radio booth in spring of 2011, having broadcast a reported 636 Mississippi State games. His name is already permanently displayed on Davis Wade Stadium; his voice will echo on in memories for fans fortunate to have heard him wrap many a game in Maroon and White.

”He was an institution here at the University, so I know Bulldogs everywhere have a heavy heart today,” said Mullen. Services will be held this week as announced by the family and Mississippi State.

At the same time Mullen continues preparing his 2-0 team for the third game, and first road trip of 2014. He began that subject with a brief injury update.

”Only Justin Cox will be questionable this week with the leg. But everybody else is good to go at this point.”

“Coming off of last game, starting the season off 2-0 we’re pretty excited about that. Our goal is to peak at the end of November or early December, so there’s a lot of things we really need to improve on that I think we can improve on.”

”You look at the last game, I think in 69 plays on defense we gave up 113 yards; and on ten plays we gave up 415. So there are some great things we can get corrected and we want to play all of our plays like the other 69, not like the ten. On the defensive side of the ball, there’s a lot of things we’ll look at to get fixed. Making sure guys are in the right position, that we get them coached to be in the right position and do those things.”

”Offensively, just want us to be more consistent. You look at that game, they (UAB) had more explosive plays than we did. That’s not something we want to be, we want to have kind of an explosive offense and put up big plays. But I will say this, I did think we controlled the ball well. I thought the second half we did some much better things. We were 0-for on third down in the first half; above 50% in the second half. So we got some things fixed at halftime. We came out and executed well and were able to put up points and the points we needed to win.”

”You look at individual performances, guys are doing some good things. We want consistent play as I said after the game. You look at it, buys are making big plays. Preston Smith I think should be looked at for the Thorpe Award now that he has two interceptions on the year! But he goes and makes a big play. We’ve scored two non-offensive touchdowns in two games, those are game-changers.”

”You look at some of the big catches and big plays. Four different guys have touchdown catches in the game Saturday, that’s huge for us. And I think six different guys have touchdown catches in the first two games for us now. So it’s not that we’re having one guy step up, we’re having a lot of guys step up and make plays and we need to continue to do that.”

“A real challenge for us this week, playing South Alabama. They’re on a four-game winning streak, they had a big road win to start the season at Kent this past week. You look at their two-deep on offense and defense, they have 16 senior starters on offense and defense. They have to be one of the most veteran teams in the country with guys that have played a lot football, that have been in the program throughout their career and really believed right from the foundations of the program. These guys have been there in building it up to where they need to get to. You see that as a veteran group.”

”They don’t just have veterans, they have playmakers. They have a quarterback that can beat you with his arm and his legs. A lot of experienced guys, some playmakers at receiver, a good, hard-nosed running back. Defensively with all the senior leadership they have, a really solid linebacking corps. All their secondary is back from last year. So it certainly going to be a very, very tough challenge for us as we get into this game and get ready to go travel on the road.”

”Which is also for our first time. Even though we have veteran players, a lot of guys this will be their first road trip of the year for us. So a lot for our guys just to change; it will be our first true road trip since the Arkansas game last November. So just making that adjustment to the routine of a Friday, of loading up the bus, travelling, staying in a different hotel; getting that road game experience is going to be huge.”

”And we expect a lot of Bulldogs there, a huge crowd at the game and a great environment.”

How did Jamoral Graham play in kick return, and could any more freshmen be activated? “Absolutely. A lot of that depends on situations. Like I always say, if we’re going to play them, we’re going to play them. And Jamoral did a nice job, I thought he did a decent job with some punt returns for us. I’d like to get his role increased in the offense now that we’re going to play him. But a lot of that is on him as well. I said to him you’re playing now, you showed what you can do in the return game and some special teams; we might increase that role for you. We also have to see your performance on the offensive side of the ball, not just a guy that hey we’ll find a way to hand you the ball. But as an every-down, consistent player.”

”As far as other guys go, a lot of circumstances within the program—whether it be injuries or for depth reasons, all of those things would determine if we play other guys.”

You saw Brandon Bridge play for Alcorn State, do you see improvement since then? “I remember him just running like wild up and down the field. I did remember a blur of him running by me on the sideline that day! But what you’re seeing is more of a quarterback. He was a guy there out just making plays, running around making plays. He’s a guy now that is playing like a quarterback. You see in his decision making process he’s not out there just trying to make plays. He’s trying to manage the offense, make good decisions, get to his third and fourth reads and progression and being a quarterback more than just an athlete that was running around on the field.”

It’s not common for a major conference team to go on the road this year, why did you want this game? “When we looked at scheduling these games we’re doing our philosophy. Which is to schedule games our fans can get to, that we can travel to. Most important to me is our players’ families can go watch them play. I know we have a pretty big parent turnout every single week to watch their sons play. When you’re going to Mobile for most people it’s a drivable distance where they can afford to go watch their sons play.”

”That’s why we want to schedule these games. Obviously it will be the first time going there and playing there so it will be a new environment for us, a new atmosphere, a new stadium, all of those things will be done. That’s kind of always the philosophy we took in scheduling, is always to schedule this type of opponent when we’re going to play road games.”

With 12 players who have caught a ball, is that on purpose or just evolved out of the talent you have? “Well, we’re trying to rotate and play a lot of players. I mean it’s a long season when you look at rep counts. Especially we’ve been a little bit more up-tempo in games so you might get some more plays, we want to rotate players in the course of the game.”

”And I think the quarterbacks do a good job. What we’ve done is run the offense, take what the defense gives you, not trying to force it to a specific receiver. We don’t do that. We’ve been rolling players through and whenever it calls for someone to get the ball they go get the ball. I think it’s been fantastic for us, and the guys within the program. Because I think it holds more guys…well, we always hold them accountable for everything. But when they know that they’re going to have the opportunity to go play, when they know their number is going to be called, they’re going to be prepared. And I think the guys on the team now look at it and now through two games say Coach can say that all you want in practice and when it doesn’t happen in a game, it’s something different. But when we’re rolling through all these different guys that have rotated and are getting plays, getting reps, I know I have to be ready for when my number is called.”

What has Blaine Clausell brought as far as veteran leadership? “Just a lot of experience. With Dillon Day, too. And this is the type of game you need them to step up. Blaine, this is huge for him going home, being from Mobile the opportunity to play at home. But also with that first road game right now, that’s where you want your veteran players. You don’t want all the atmosphere, the situation, the crowd, all those differ things involved that become possible distractions when you’re on the road. The veteran players know. They’ve been in those situations before, they know what to expect, and those are guys that have to set the standard and lead us while we’re on the road.”

You said there would be a meeting Sunday with the defensive staff, how did it go and what improvements do you want to see? “You know, there’s a couple of situations. Every play is unique and for us it is looking at situations of how each time we got ourselves out of position. And then the decision-making. You know, Will Redmond, I love it going for a pick and going to be aggressive on that play. Somehow the ball went right through his hands into their hands for a 80-yard touchdown. Where instead of the pick you could have just knocked it away. With a 20-point lead let’s just knock it away and play the next play and let’s get off the field on defense. Of knowing the situation you’re in and what to expect from that situation.”

”And making sure with each coverage we have the right guy in the right position to go make plays. And we’re going to get all that stuff fixed, we’re going to look through it. They’ll get it done in practice, we’ll rep it all out in practice and make sure we have guys in better positions.”

What do you see in Preston Smith, what is good about him? “One thing, he has such length. It’s something that makes him tough on offenses. But he’s always had that length, he’s tall with long arms and can cover so much ground and get off the ball, I mean tipped balls. All of those things make it tough for them.”

”But the thing he’s really changed this year is he’s added the size and the strength to be a really good, every-down player point of attack. Where he can be strong and physical now at the point of attack, he’s explosive off the edge in pass rushing. You add that to his natural and size, I’m pleased how he’s playing. We need to continue to see him progress though. I mean he’s far from a finished product, far from where we want him to be as a player. But he’s put in a lot of work coming into this season, now he’s seeing some of the rewards of that hard work and so do the other guys. And it will encourage them to work harder.”

Two weeks in, what have you seen from the offensive line without Damien Robinson? “I think we’ve done a pretty good job. Rufus Warren got some reps. Justin Senior certainly did a decent job for us, right now I think he is gaining experience in the course of playing. And one of the things always is away how are you transitioning our plan or our offense to the opponent we’re going to play? We saw defenses on Saturday we hadn’t really gone against yet. You get a couple of reps here and there at practice, you watched it on film, getting ready for the game.”

”As an older guys you’re used how to translate that stuff and do it, it’s a little bit easier. Guys that are a little less experienced, transitioning and seeing everything, processing the information, making sure you’re doing your job relative to what defenses you’re seeing is huge. So I want to see a lot more continued improvement, I still think we have a long way to go there. But overall I haven’t seen any real glaring errors, either. I think we can get a lot better but I haven’t seen anything that is reason for concern.”

You said the missed PATs didn’t resemble how those guys practiced. What have you seen on film? “The same deal. I don’t know what they were doing but kicking the football is not it. Sobes’ (Evan Sobiesk) just came off the toe, that’s why it pushed to the right. (Westin) Graves, I don’t even know what he was doing. And there was a kickoff, I mean with Devon we had one bad kickoff. He came to the sideline, I looked at him and he’s like, ‘?’ I mean he’s got his feet all tangled up and messed up and he took a giant jump before he kicked the ball. I’m like what was that?! I guess it would be like going out to a PGA Tour event and Tiger Woods gets up, he walks back and Happy Gilmore runs up and swings, like what was that?!”

“Part of it is those are young players. Devon has through it all now, Devon has very high expectations of himself, I think we’re seeing a lot more consistency out of him doing his job. The two other guys are young players with a lot of pressure on them. I think Sobiesk is 50% on his career for field goals, hit some huge ones, been in some tough situations. And kind of gets a lot of negative aura around him. Graves, his first time kicking. I told them we believe in them, we see it in practice, you just have to have the confidence to be able to do it and not buy into whatever negative perception on the outside is about all these guys. Westin Graves has had one field goal attempt in his career, that was a horrendously bad snap that we were lucky we even got the kick off that was a 47-someyard field goal. So the chances of anybody making it were going to be slim I don’t care who you are. And there’s this horrendous negative aura around it.”

”Sobiesk went out in the Egg Bowl last year and missed a game-winner. Everybody forgets he had a much harder one to tie the game, to send it to overtime, a huge pressure kick and split the uprights with it. But they don’t talk about that one. So we have to get rid of the negative aura around them and them stop putting the negative aura on themselves and hearing it from everywhere. Because they’re doing a pretty darned good job. If we can get rid of that then you’ll see the confidence what they do, when they’re supposed to do it, not just these out-of-nowhere kicks or somewhere where they just kind of freak-out, they let the pressure get to them.”

Two games, how do you assess how Dak Prescott has handled being ‘the guy’? “Oh, very well. I don’t worry about that. His preparation for the game is excellent, his in-game demeanor is excellent. His adjustment in games has been very good. One or two things we still have to constantly work on for him. I think we missed a couple of throws, a couple of things we could have done better Saturday with completions.”

”But again they were running a lot of funky blitzes. Several times they left guys completely un-covered. That’s one of the hardest things for a quarterback, it doesn’t compute. I mean for defense you think they’re not just going to not cover somebody, that’s not very sound. So you can get a quarterback every once in a while by doing that. Now if he sees the guy you’re not covering that’s a bad deal for the defense! So some of those things, of just seeing if the defense makes what should be a catastrophic mistake that we’re there to take advantage of it, if they just leave guys completely uncovered. I think on a couple of throws we could be more consistent that way and take advantage of those mistakes on defense.”

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