Mullen previews MSU's homecoming matchup with Kentucky

Mullen is 7-1 against Kentucky.

Posted: Nov 7, 2017 8:36 AM

STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) – Homecoming week has arrived in Starkville as Mississippi State football returns to Southeastern Conference play against Kentucky at 3 p.m. CT Saturday in Davis Wade Stadium. Bulldog head coach Dan Mullen met with members of the media on Monday at his weekly news conference.

State (4-2, 1-2 SEC) plays its first SEC home game in over a month and will welcome an SEC school for Homecoming for the first time since defeating LSU in 1999. Kentucky (5-1, 2-1) is coming off its open week and currently sits in second place in the SEC Eastern Division standings.

In addition, the league office announced that the Bulldogs’ Oct. 28 road game at No. 24 Texas A&M will kick off at 6:15 p.m. CT live on ESPN. It will be State’s fourth ESPN primetime contest of the year.

Opening Statement…

“It’s a big challenge for us this week getting back into conference play. You never can control how the schedule plays out. This year we ended up playing the two top teams in the SEC East. That rotates, so that just happens sometimes with scheduling. Obviously, it is a huge challenge against an excellent football team. They are a play away really from being undefeated and a Top 25 team easily nationally coming in here. It will be a great challenge for us. They have a lot of talent. On the field, Mark (Stoops) does a good job of having them believe they can win football games. They do a good job mixing it up, run, and pass. It’s a very physical defense, so the guys understand their scheme and what they are supposed to do. They attack you from a lot of different directions and give you a lot of defensive looks. Offensively, they spread the ball around and have some very good running backs, so it will be a big challenge for us. Obviously, it was a tough game for us last year, up there, it went right down to the wire. We seem to have very tough battles with them, year in and year out. Hopefully for us, the benefit will be being at home for the second week in a row. Hopefully we will have a huge crowd with our fans giving us that home field advantage that we need to make it hard on the opposing team.”

On Kentucky’s defensive fronts unique to their scheme…

“They are very multiple. They will be three-down or three-down. They will pressure you, move different directions, blitz a lot of different guys, and show a lot of different coverage looks. We have a lot of length on the outside with the corner positions, so they pose some unique challenges with how multiple they are.” 

On SEC quarterback play this season…

“I don’t see everybody lining up to play all the teams in the SEC, not conference wise. With quarterbacks, running backs, defense, skill positions there are a lot of new players out there from one year to the next. However people want to judge it, there are some very good players in this league.” 

On the close games last year, including the Kentucky game…

“Beginning to end, there were a lot of things they did to make plays to win the game, and we did things to make plays to win the game. They just made one more play than we did. A kicker kicks a career-long field goal as time expires, so it was a tough game back and forth. I’m sure there are things we could have done better, and I’m sure they look at it and say, ‘there are things we could have done better’, too and maybe not make it come down to the final play of the game.”

On the current cross-division scheduling…

“I have not thought about that much. In my mind, I am great with however we do it. I don’t know that I have the solution to that. You can say you want to play more teams from the East, and we’ve played South Alabama and Louisiana Tech the same amount as we have played Vanderbilt and Tennessee combined since I’ve been here in nine years. We play the SEC West and Kentucky. Everything else I view as a non-conference game, and you don’t play them very often. I would have to sit down and study it and see if it is two rotating cross-overs, do cross-overs rotate all the time so that you have opportunities to play more? You’ve heard all different options. You could have no divisions, and one or two permanent teams you play as a rival and everyone else gets to rotate getting to play everybody. I have my hands full trying to get ready to win football games for us, not trying to figure out the mathematics of scheduling. You can make arguments either way. I think people get worried about the loss of rivalries. You also miss out on the opportunities to play teams from the other side of the league.”

On how Aeris Williams gets stronger as the game goes on…

“He is a big and physical back. He gets into the flow of the game and understands how people are going to play. Just because you see it on film doesn’t mean that’s all they are going to do. BYU played us very differently than what they’ve shown on film. You need to get into the flow of the game and understand how the reads are going to be made. Fortunately, he is a guy that is a very conditioned athlete and is going to continue to get stronger. As the game goes on and he is more comfortable with the reads and understanding what is going on, he’s still going to be in great shape going into the fourth quarter.”

On impressions of Greg Eiland’s first career start at left tackle…

“I thought he did a pretty solid job. A couple things here and there he needs to improve on, but to me a solid first career start. The thing that impressed me was his demeanor during the game. You never saw him get flustered. You see what he can do and the potential he has during practice and expect him to do things. When you get into a live game situation it’s very different. I think he handled himself very well on the field, and never got himself flustered.”

On other backups on the offensive line…

“There are a lot of different ways that we would go. You have the potential of Evans Wilkerson going in at tackle. We could go with Harrison Moon to center and Elton Jacobs out to tackle. Michael Story was not available last game, but we could move him out to guard and move one of the guards out to tackle. It is depending on where we are in the game and what we are trying to get done. There is not one answer because you’re going to be moving things as well.”

On if he would burn the redshirt of offensive lineman Tyre Phillips …  

“Probably not, unless the NCAA changed it to where you could play four games and then redshirt, then absolutely. If that was the case then he would be competing to start right now. Not at this point, not with expecting Martinas back. You play one game and lose an entire year of eligibility, which is not fair to the student-athlete. I don’t want to sacrifice the future of a student-athlete just for us to get through a game. I don’t think that’s right to do to the student-athletes, and hopefully the NCAA recognizes that that’s not right, and really takes action on what is the best interest of the student -athletes.”

On Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson’s development…

“I believe, experience. He’s played now, he’s understanding his offense, and understanding his reads. He is a great athlete and can make plays with his feet, but also has the maturity of knowing when not to. Younger guys sometimes make plays with their feet first and then they learn how to throw second. He seems to have that balance and understanding of what they are trying to accomplish.”

On wide receiver Deddrick Thomas this season…

“He has done a good job, grown a lot, and been able to play multiple positions for us. He had two drops on Saturday, which is kind of uncharacteristic of him. I think he has done a great job of being a route runner. He catches the ball well. He’s done a great job after the catch of making your miss and getting some extra yardage in. He has been one of our better guys at doing that this season.”

On Darryl Williams’ injury last year at Kentucky…

“Obviously, he has grown a lot. You worry about the individual that’s there. Especially when it looks like it’s a significant injury, instead of an ankle sprain, which is something that you know. When it is something more serious, the first thing you want to do is find out where the doctor says it’s at. You don’t want to guess. You want to make sure the family is well informed as well. Last year with Darryl, I believe (Assistant AD/Football Operations) Jon Clark had gotten in touch with his family before he had even left the field. He talked to his mom just so they could make contact and know. It is much scarier for the family than it is for the coaches. It is hard, because you watch guys put in work and they are part of your family. They are a part of our family, so if you see one of them get hurt you’re obviously very concerned. It’s great that he has come back, because he really worked hard at becoming a starter and has done a great job with that this year.”

On competing against Kentucky when they know they can win late…

“Mark (Stoops) had done a good job. It looks a lot like how we built our program. Getting guys to believe and they play really hard and then putting them in a system where they can be successful. They are flexible in what they do, both offensively and defensively. They play really hard and their guys believe that they are going to win. That’s a lot of how we’ve built our program here, as you can see. There will be a lot of similarities between our two programs. I guess I had a couple of years head start on them, but you see they are starting to get that way. This year, being the No. 2 team in the East, and they haven’t played the No. 1 team. They still control their own destiny. We’ve played the best two teams, I don’t know what team is one or two yet, but they haven’t played each other to figure that out yet.”

On getting the ball to wide receiver Keith Mixon more last Saturday…

“I think it’s what they were giving us. I think (Nick) Fitz made some good decisions. They were giving us that, we took advantage of it, but Fitz didn’t force the ball either. He did a nice job managing and a bunch of the throws were short and quick to him, but that is Fitz not trying to force it down the field.”

On offensive lineman Michael Story returning from injury… 

“He tweaked his knee late in the week during practice. He was cleared to play the game, but he didn’t practice later in the week. He didn’t feel 100 percent, and it wasn’t a medical thing holding him back, but they just didn’t think he would be ready to play. We expect him back this week.”

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