Coach Dan Mullen Bye-Week Press Conference

What is the approach for this second open date? “Very similar to the first open date for us right now. Getting a lot of guys reps, going back to work a lot of fundamentals and technique and base stuff; in the kicking game, offense, defense. You don’t always get all those reps during the week of a regular game, within the game preparation and the planning and the scheming.”

“And a lot of reps for other guys. One of the things we’ve done a great with is when guys’ numbers have been called, they’ve stepped in and made big plays and performed at a high level. So a lot of the focus, I think guys see that now and understand that. So there’s a lot of guys that might not get as many reps on Saturday, had the opportunity to come out today and they know they’ve got to work. Because when that number’s called they’ve got to be ready to go.”

“I mean guys like a Quad Antoine that number’s called (on kickoff coverage), makes a big play. Like a Devon Desper, who this week didn’t take a snap on the o-line; but last week plays a whole game and helps us beat Texas A&M. So you never know when that’s going to be called. So the number of guys and some of our younger guys, that preparation that comes into it that they’re getting ready for their moment. And they know this is a huge week for them to get those reps and get ready to go.”

Have most redshirt decisions been made? “It’s tough. We had an injury Saturday, Dez Harris is out for the rest of the year, ACL. So that’s something there, we have some young linebackers that are sitting right there that are good players that I think are good enough to play. Now there might be opportunities for them to go play this year. We’re still at the half-way point, we’re getting close where I don’t like to after this. But, it will be in the next two weeks probably you decide, but there’s always that opportunity for guys to go play and make significant impact.”

Does this team have any weaknesses? “Well we have tons of weaknesses. I watched the game film! We turned the ball over four times, we weren’t very good on third down in the second half. We gave up a 99-yard touchdown drive during the game. There’s a lot of things I think we need to really improve on as a football team.”

”But I do think what the team does is play very well together as a team. That the offense picks up the defense, defense picks up the offense, special teams. Everybody plays very well together as a team, and when we need things to happen they happen. When we need a big drive the offense usually comes up with a big drive; when we need a big stop we get a big stop on defense.”

”And I think the guys all believe in each other as a team that way. And that’s one of the things that’s helped us succeed so far.”

Talking about finding ways to win, do you relate that to last year at Arkansas? “I do. Well, it’s a couple of situations last year, and you look at the team; we have a lot of the same guys here that played a lot of really good teams really close and then at the end found ways to win those games.”

”And I think that confidence really picked everybody up in the spring. I think what happened was a lot of guys were playing and were looking for Nickoe Whitely or someone like that to go make the play to win the game for us. Or (LaDarius) Perkins. I think the guys this year, all those guys that have played, they said Ok now it’s my turn to go make plays. And it’s not one or two, it’s just a large number of them. When that’s the expectation at practice I think you see it trickles down to more and more people just expect to go make plays when their number is called.”

Can you update Devon and Jameon (Lewis)? “Devon Desper was punting today…oh, Devon Bell I mean! It wasn’t very good! No I’m sorry, Devon Bell was punting today, should start kicking on Thursday so he should be cleared to go. Jameon we’re resting again this week, but part of that is he’s expected to be 100% next Monday when we start game week preparation. Part of that deal was we met with all the team doctors, by not playing last week for Kentucky they’d expect him to be back 100% instead of him kinda-maybe not getting there for an extended period of time. So we made that decision not to play him.”

This is the fastest rise in the polls in college history, have you reflected on that journey? “I guess my biggest reflection is to make sure it’s not the fastest fall, either! I mean that’s our focus right now, play one game at a time.”

”The polls and all that stuff is kind of neat, it’s cool. It doesn’t mean much. We could be home this week and then drop in the polls. Sitting at home on my couch playing with my kids, and all of a sudden we drop in the polls, I don’t know if we did anything bad! The last bye week I sat at home and played with my kids and we jumped up, it was pretty cool, it was awesome, we didn’t have to do anything and we rose in the polls!”

”So I think that aspect of it to us, I think our kids enjoy it. I think it’s a neat deal, it’s a great experience. I think it’s bigger for the people of Mississippi. Because there’s a lot of rankings and polls and all that stuff done on everything that you possibly can find out there. And for the people of Mississippi to say hey, we’re #1 in something that’s really, really important to us, football, is really special in our fan base. I think that’s really neat and really special.”

”Within our program I think we understand that it’s just a poll and we’re really going to be judged in how we do in SEC play.”

Has it become more difficult to keep the players focused when it’s hard to get away from it, than it was at Florida? “No, you lived in a glass house at Florida too. I think when you get here, we talked to our guys about that, it’s just always around. But I tell them to embrace it, right? I like the line I have, they can feel like #1 out there but when they come in here we make them feel like they’re #2 when they leave. The metaphor on that! So they walk out the building, they know that it’s all back to hard work. That aspect of it I think it does keep a lot in check for them, that they know we’ve accomplished so much but really also so little. And that there’s an awful lot of work to be done.”

What is it with this defense in the red zone? “Well we practice a lot in the red zone and spend a lot of time. You look at our four steps in the plan to win. Red zone scoring is a huge one. That was the difference in the game Saturday. If we get down there we have to get touchdowns; the other team gets down there we hold them to field goal attempts. Or nothing at all.”

”And we spend a lot of time on that in training camp, in practice in the week within our plan because that is a critical aspect of the game. Play great defense number one, is always the most important; red zone scoring, turnovers, and special teams. Those are how you win football games and that to me is a huge part to the program.”

I don’t know how much you follow the news, with Todd Gurley and Jameis Winston do you worry about autographs and tell them about different things? “I thought you asking about ISIS or something! We worry about all that stuff. We cover it all the time with our guys, in training camp and multiple times. We had a meeting Monday about it all, because it’s a bye week we covered it. When you have time, maybe not regular game week, when you’re in that routine but have extra time to do stuff, you cover every aspect of things that are out there.”

“And it’s a shame. Because these guys are 18-to-22-year old kids. I don’t want to make excuses for them, that they should know better in a lot of these situations. But there are a lot of people out there trying to come take advantage of these kids. I think that’s a shame. Because, they’re just college kids, you know? I don’t think there’s a lot of people out trying to scam everybody at the Sigma Chi house tonight. But there’s people out there going to try to see what they can do about the football players.”

”So I think that aspect, is you always have to remind them. Because for our guys right now with all this attention, that they do get special attention. I mean they are treated special on campus. Right? There’s probably girls talking to them that wouldn’t talk to them normally. Or people cheering for them, or professors that oh it’s so great that you’re doing all this. But with that comes tremendous responsibilities, that everybody has an eye on everything that you do and everything that you say. And to reminds kids like that, we try to all the time and try to protect them.”

”But in the end they’re still college kids. I mean, I still do dumb things and I’m 42. You should have seen all the dumb things that I was doing when I was 21.”

Do you try to limit their autographs specifically? “I mean I do, personally. But with our guys, we have Fan Days. If you want an autograph come to Fan Day. We do special things for all of that stuff with people.”

”But we also tell them, if there’s a little kid… I was talking to Jay Hughes, if you’re going to home to the Oak Grove High School football game and a kid’s got his Oak Grove hat and is like oh my goodness it’s Jay Hughes, sign my high school football hat? Chances are it’s good. If a guy’s got a big duffle back with six things in it and he says no to you; and two minutes later there’s another little kid running up to hey can you do this, he just paid money as a runner to try to sell it on Ebay that’s bad. And you know, I think you can tell the difference with all that stuff.”

“But I tell our guys there’s time we do that and there’s times we don’t. And you don’t have to do it all the time.”

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