Mullen addresses Florida rumors, UMass game at weekly news conference

Riding the momentum of a three-game winning streak, No. 21 Mississippi State welcomes UMass to Davis Wade Stadium this weekend as head coach Dan Mullen held his weekly press conference Monday.

Posted: Nov. 7, 2017 8:50 AM

STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) – Riding the momentum of a three-game winning streak, No. 21 Mississippi State welcomes UMass to Davis Wade Stadium this weekend as head coach Dan Mullen held his weekly press conference Monday. 

Mullen previewed the matchup against the Minutemen, winners of two in a row, and he looked back at the Bulldogs’ dominating victory at No. 24 Texas A&M. Kickoff for State (6-2) and UMass is 11 a.m. CT Saturday on SEC Network. The 2017 MSU Sports Hall of Fame Class will be unveiled in a pregame ceremony.

State will return to Southeastern Conference play next Saturday when it hosts top-ranked Alabama. Kickoff for that contest will either be 2:30 p.m. CT on CBS or 6 p.m. CT on ESPN. A game time will be announced Saturday evening following the completion of games.

Tickets for the UMass contest are still available at HailState.com/tickets, by calling 1-888-GO-DAWGS or in person at the MSU Athletic Ticket Office on the first floor of the Bryan Athletic Administration Building (288 Lakeview Drive), Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Below are Mullen’s quotes:

Head Coach Dan Mullen
October 30, 2017

 

Opening Statement …

 

“Last week was a big win for us, for our guys. I was pleased watching film and pleased with how we played, how we performed and how our team is growing. I think this week offers, to me, for us in our growth, the biggest challenge of the season so far. We’re playing against a team in UMass that, despite being 2-6, has been outscored on the season by a total of five points. Five points is their point differential on the season, so that’s not very indicative of their record. Every game basically comes down to the wire. They’ve been down here and played in SEC stadiums before. If their quarterback doesn’t get banged up at the end, they might have a great opportunity to go win the game. They’ve won two in a row. They always play tough. They have a very explosive offense that puts up almost 30 points a game and puts up a lot of yards. They have an aggressive defense; they’ve got some really good corners on the outside to cover you. For us, we’re coming off a big win with our players. I talk about us being a young team that’s starting to get older. We’ll see our maturity this week of how we handle the success. Last time we had a little bit of success on a big win, I don’t think our guys handled it very well. The challenge for us is the focus, the effort, the grind in practice, the attention to detail within our preparation to be ready for a very good football team, a game last year that came down to the final possession of the game when we played them. Hopefully that works in our favor for our guys in their attention to detail within the preparation, the growth and the maturity of our team. Have we improved from the last time we were in this situation, which would have been after LSU, before Georgia? Have we improved as a team? A big difference is we’re at home. Even though it’s an early-morning kickoff, I hope we get that home field, SEC advantage when our fans turn out and create a great environment with a lot of energy and juice and bring that extra oomph to help us win the game. It’s a great challenge for our guys this week. If we want to have a great season, we need to continue to take these steps to mature and continue to improve in every facet.”

On junior wide receiver Jesse Jackson…

 

“He really understands the position. He’s done a good job. We’re able to move him around because he’s very intelligent. With that experience, he knows how to play all the receiver positions. He knows not just what to do, but he also understands the technique and the route running of the different positions. With all the injuries we’ve had, there’s been a great opportunity for him. He’s taken advantage of that and gone out and made plays. You see the development that comes along with the program, and he’s done a really nice job this year.”

 

On the team finding and recognizing their identity…  

 

“I do think that the team does think we’ve got a physical mentality to us with defense and physical running of the football. I think the team takes some pride in that on both sides. You talk about the team with the physicality and the pride that’s with it. With Aeris Williams, look at his stat line on Saturday. It’s pretty impressive of taking the pride of pounding, pounding and getting the tough yards that eventually allowed for some of these big hits. He might not be always the guy getting the big hit, but he’s doing that. The offensive line takes pride in being able to run the football on people. I think that also goes with the defense. I don’t think we finished that well on Saturday. If you look at the fourth quarter, statistically, we didn’t at all. But I think even at different times during the game, putting together some of these longer drives, I think the team takes pride in that physicality, that physical mindset. With the defense, it’s like, ‘Okay, hey, why don’t you throw together one of those six to eight minute drives right now? We’re going to sit over here and catch our breaths for a little while, and you go pound on them and put some pressure on them. Then we’re going to come out and get after them again.’ I do think they’re starting to learn that identity.”

On building the program at Mississippi State and job openings…

 

“I’m in a great position here. I think we’ve been able to build this program up. I’ve had my hand in how the facility’s been built. We’ve been able to recruit the type of players we want to recruit into our system. I have unbelievable support from our athletic director, who is also a coach, so he has a great understanding of what we’re trying to do. I might be one of the most fortunate coaches in the country with our president of the university, who was a football player. There’s not a whole lot of presidents you’ll see that are dancing in locker rooms like our president after certain games. I think we’re very fortunate here too that through the university, they’ve allowed us to establish and build our program with the way of the vision that we have. We have everybody on the same page, so I’m very fortunate that way.”

On junior defensive lineman Montez Sweat…

 

“He came in as a great athlete. You look at his length and his athleticism, but he’s also put on the size and really worked to understand the game, not just saying, ‘Hey, I’m a good athlete that can rush the passer.’ He’s understanding how to fit, how to be a run stopper and how to be an every-down player. You see him constantly improving at that from one week to the next. It’s great to see, because I think he’s got a great future. As a junior for us, you let him soak it in and let him get through another offseason program next fall and then really understand how to be an every-down player. I think he’s going to have a great future.”

On how the team has developed since the open week…

 

“I think we’ve come along nicely. I think they’ve grown up. We’ll see. Again, this week is going to be a big challenge. We went into a tough environment Saturday night. I thought we had a good plan. The game didn’t start off exactly the way we wanted it to start off. You can see the maturity. The last time we were on the road was Auburn, and the game didn’t start off the way we wanted. We handled it very different on Saturday than we did the time before. I think you see the maturity of the team. They were loose on Saturday. I was a little nervous going in. I thought we had a great week of preparation, and I’m like, ‘Okay, we’re very confident and loose, or we’re a little nervous and loose. We were actually a little goofy as a team.’ Maybe it was a combination of all of it. But I looked at the guys, and when that foot hit the ball, they were ready to go play in all three phases. I think that also gets back to the identity of the team, finding themselves. Here’s what matters most: when that foot hits the ball on Saturday night, we’re going hard. All 11 guys on the field are going hard, and all the guys on the sidelines waiting to go on the field are going hard. If dancing, if sitting quietly, if talking pregame – whatever it is that makes us prepare the right way and have a great week of practice and as we’re preparing to go play hard – I’m great with it.”

On open coaching positions…

 

“I’m really happy here. Look at what we have as a program with administration and the direction of where this program is headed right now. I haven’t really thought much about it, except really worrying about UMass. I don’t like to speculate on that stuff. I’ve been here long enough; everybody knows that. As the year goes on, it gets into that silly season of who’s going where and what’s going to happen and all that. Our focus is completely on UMass this week because they’re an excellent football team. I’m very happy with what we’re building here. We’re building for a great future right now.”

On if coaching searches across the country create a distraction…

 

“I think it used to be a lot more than it is now. The fact that it’s happened in the past – I’m still here. I’m still coaching and hopefully continuing to win a lot of football games. I think it’s a lot less of a distraction because I think the players on the team, they know. It’s always a distraction for recruiting. You’ve got to have recruiting meetings to make sure that everybody’s on the same page. They haven’t been through it, the guys in recruiting. You’re on the phone, reassuring all the recruits. With the guys on our team and in our building, it’s not as much of a distraction because it’s happened before. If you ask older guys, the same thing seems to pop up every year. I will say this: you’re on your way out because you’re not winning, or you’re on your way out because you’re winning. Those are the rumors that spread. I’ll take the way out because you’re winning. Every guy in our building will take that. In our league, it seems one or the other in a lot of different ways. I’ll take the winning side of that. That’s why with the guys in our program, it doesn’t really become a distraction for any of our players anymore.”

On being on schedule through eight games…

 

“There’s a lot of football to be played still. I do like how we’re playing. I do like how we’re growing and developing. I really do like the attitude of our team and how it’s shifted. Maybe some of the things we lost last year – a little bit of the edge, a little bit of the chip on our shoulder and our attitude that we really didn’t play with last year – they’ve bought back into it. I just like the attitude; I don’t know if there’s really a schedule. When you walk out to the practice field, there’s a certain standard of expectations that we have. When you show up on Saturday, there’s a standard of expectations that we have. Our guys are playing to that standard right now.”

On if the upcoming early signing period effects midseason coaching change decisions…

 

“I’ll be honest; I don’t know about that. The issue with early signing this year is that it’s the first time. In the future, I think people might have more of an idea. I don’t know how it’s going to play out; I really don’t. I have no idea how many guys are going to want to sign early, who’s going to want to wait, who’s going to want to do this with visits – just how that plays out for the recruiting cycle of things. In college football in general, I think there are so many unanswered questions with the early signing period for everybody, so many unknowns. I don’t know that it’s going to have that much effect on it. It could down the road, in years to come, depending on how this early signing plays out.”

On commits choosing to not sign in the early signing period…

 

“Again, I don’t know how it’s going to play out. You assume someone’s committed. They’re committed to you to come play here, and you’re committed to honor their scholarship. That doesn’t always happen. If the kid throws hats and flips around and ultimately ruins a dream for another kid – once signing day hits, you can’t replace that scholarship because the guys that are next on the list have all signed elsewhere even though they wanted to come to your school. Or the coach pulls the scholarship on the kid late – so it’s okay for the kid to do it but not the coach to do it – I don’t think that’s right. It kind of gets off all on the wrong foot. I’m asking our guys to be committed to tremendous work ethic when they get here. You hope during recruiting that they understand what we’re asking them to do and what that commitment means. A lot of people call it a reservation in recruiting, like not showing up for dinner. They don’t punish you. Seinfeld episode, right? You get there, and you expect the car to be there. If you don’t show up, they don’t penalize you, but you expect the car to be there when you show up. If they’re committed to us, you expect them to sign and they expect to have a scholarship.”

On the sideline chain carried for achievements…

 

“Nick Savage had it in there and said, ‘Hey, we’re on the road, and we’ve really worked hard. I’ve got a steel chain that shows it’s all of us in there together. It’s unbreakable if we all work – offense, defense, kicking team – together.’ He talked to the team at breakfast about that and handed it to the captains, and they kind of handed it around to somebody else during the course of the game. They got the message though, because I thought we did play well in all three phases of the game.”

On the “silly season” of coaching searches …

 

“I think Nick [Saban] and Alabama have done a great job with their program. When you talk about program building and you look at the cycle - if a school hasn’t been doing that well, you come in and you start winning and you start going to bowl games. Next thing, you start competing for conference championships. You win a conference championship and go to a New Year’s bowl. The next, all of a sudden, you’re competing for a national championship. What’s happened over the last 12 years in the SEC for the most part, with an exception of a year or two here or there, you miss all the steps. You go from, ‘Okay, we’re going to build the program; the next step is a national title.’ Whoever’s won the SEC West has won, in the last 12 years, a majority of the national titles. So that ‘I’m going to build the program, compete for the West title, win the West title, compete for the SEC title, win the SEC title, go to a big-time bowl game’ – all of that gets skipped over because a majority of the national champions have come from the SEC West. All the steps that you used to have to build a program aren’t there anymore. Build the program, start winning, go to some bowl games. Step two is a national title, and all the ones in between are gone. I think that puts a lot of pressure on the people in this league and puts a lot of expectations on the fan bases. They want to win. They want to see you continually taking those steps, continually moving forward, continually getting better and competing to be a championship team. In this league, that’s a big next step.”

On uncharacteristic behaviors with punting and delay of game penalties in the Texas A&M game…

 

“You look at a guy with Logan [Cooke]. We tried to do some different things, but they have the best punt returner in the country. I don’t know that we executed that perfectly, and that was part of it. I give him credit because he did an amazing job at kickoff coverage. We didn’t give up a return, which was ultimate goal number one, but we didn’t really get the statistical yardage we wanted out of our kicks. We didn’t give up the game breaker. I think it was more of that. You put a great punt returner in that can change the game at any time back there, they’re going to have an effect on the game. He did have effect on certain field position battles with us not being as consistent on punts. With the delay of games, one was right after a turnover. It seemed like it got going quick. I didn’t look up and see right away if they went to 0:40 when they should have bumped it up. Oh, the funny one! I tried to get a timeout. He didn’t hear me, he said. Shocking, right? Because you people see me; I am somewhat emotional on the sidelines. I have people up in the stands saying, ‘I can hear what you say; remember that every once in a while.’ And then the punt one, I think we were checking in. Two of them are me not getting people on the field fast enough in that situation.”

On freshman offensive lineman Greg Eiland’s growth in the absence of Martinas Rankin…

 

“He’s really grown. He got the opportunity to get on the field and have some experience, maybe not play great, but then get in to a bye week and realize, ‘I’m going to be a starter.’ He really embraced that, and he’s played well. Martinas was cleared to play, and our plan was to only use him in emergency situations so we can try to get him back to 100 percent. He was good to play and was ready to go into the game, but we sat him. We expect to see him back at 100 percent. He’ll play this weekend. I think Greg’s development allows us that opportunity to roll Martinas through a little bit to get him back into playing speed, instead of going zero to 60, for the final stretch of the season.”

On injury updates…

 

“Donald [Gray]’s getting an MRI today. Gabe [Myles] will be doubtful again with the foot. We expect Dez [Harris] to be ready to play this weekend. Michael Story should be back this weekend. There was a chance they thought he could be ready last weekend, but he wasn’t. We’re hoping he’s back this week. I saw him down in the training room yesterday, and he felt better. Hopefully we’ll get him back on the practice field this week, but he’ll be on the edge. I don’t think he’ll be 100 percent for this game, but I think he’ll be available.”

On the running back rotation…

 

“You have to ask Greg [Knox]. I like rolling the guys through. Now, we will have specific personnel groupings to get certain guys on the field at certain times. That’s probably why it looks something different sometimes. There are certain personnel groups that we’ll put this back in, but there are others where it doesn’t matter what back is in. Greg rolls them through of what we’re doing, situationally. It’s a great situation for the young guys on Saturday. You put the ball in some of the young guys’ hands, and they’re pretty dynamic. There are some other things going on. It’s learning for them of really understanding that you’ve got to be ready to be an every-down player. I think Nick Gibson blocked a punt on a quick kick, not on our punt-block team. That’s something that he has to be ready for as a player. Hey, you’re going to be in the game, and we’re going to do this in these situations. I know when we put the ball in your hand and out of the backfield, cuts and running routes, but you have to be ready to do those things as well and not freak out when we’re doing something outside of the box.”

On UMass’ head coach Mark Whipple…

 

“I’ve known Mark Whipple for a long time. He’s obviously an excellent football coach. He led UMass to a national title before they made the move to FBS level, an FCS national title. He was a great coach when I was growing up. I remember him. He’s a very innovative, offensive coach. He was the head coach at Brown when I was coaching at Columbia early on in my coaching career, and they were very innovative offensively. He has an NFL background and has been around. He’s a really good football coach. Being an independent is a different deal, too. Every game is a big game for them. They’re not always looking at the big picture of how this plays out within the conference. It’s a big game for them. You see them play with that sort of edge to them when they’re on film. When you really statistically look at them, how their games have gone, they’re an excellent football team. Some of the breaks haven’t bounced their way at different times. It didn’t matter who they’re playing. They went up to Knoxville and didn’t back down from anybody and had a chance to win the game in a four-point game at the end. I think that’s what we have to make sure of, that our mindset is prepared for the type of team we’re going to get coming in here.”

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