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Mullen Addresses Media In Weekly Press Conference

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Mississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen
Photo Courtesy of John R. Cade

STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State hosts its second straight Conference USA opponent at 1 p.m. Saturday when UAB visits Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. The game will be televised live on Fox Sports Net South.

The Bulldogs (1-0), who received votes in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls, are coming off a season-opening 49-0 shutout of Southern Miss last Saturday in Starkville. It was the first shutout by MSU since 1999.

UAB (1-0) dominated Troy in its season-opener, 48-10. The Blazers return eight starters on both sides of the ball.

MSU head coach Dan Mullen previewed UAB at his weekly press conference:

Opening Statement…

“First let me say all our prayers in our program are with Jameon Lewis and his family with a tough situation they’re dealing with right now, and the tragedy they’re dealing with in the loss of his brother. I know that’s really tough on him. He’s been home. He just got back to campus this morning. It’s great to have him back for our football family here to put their arms around him and show him the love of our family here.”

“On the football side of things for us, we’re pretty excited. If you look back at last week, I’m pleased with how we came out and performed in our first game. There are a lot of things I think we could have done better. I think our guys look at that, and a lot of little things we can clean up, but in a game one I thought we executed pretty cleanly. We had three penalties, no false starts. A lot of little things in areas you see in game one that you don’t want to see as a coach. I thought our guys showed good mental discipline to avoid those errors. Obviously, the two turnovers on offense are unacceptable so we can’t have those. Our execution as a whole, I think, was pretty clean. We got to play a lot of players, which is something we want to do, and not just in the circumstance of the game play a lot of game players throughout the course of the game, roll a lot of guys through, get guys experience, come back and grade them all and see whether they deserve more or less game reps as we move forward.”

“This week is a great challenge for us. Obviously a different team. UAB looks like a very different team than they look like on film last year. As you get ready for this game, it’s always a challenge when you’re watching a team now that’s only played one game as a program with their coaching staff that they have so there’s not a lot to see of what they’re doing and how they’re going to try to execute and how their players execute their system. You did see a team that believes in what they do. They play hard. They had two back with over 100 yards rushing last week. They’re going to try to be a physical power team and run the ball at us. We have to be stout there, but you also have to be very sound for all the play action shots and screens that are going to come off of it. To fit right on defense we really have to tackle well. And even that, we have to be physical. They have a big running back that’s going to pound away at you and get those extra couple yards with every carry with some speed going down the field. They show a lot of multiple looks on defense, and they’re going to try to confuse you with a lot of different looks coming in a lot of different directions. We’re going to have to execute on the offensive side of the ball as well in this game.”

“We have a different atmosphere playing with a 1 p.m. kick this time of year. Last week we ended up with a rainy, wet thunderstorm night, and now we’re going to have a nice hot afternoon to go play in a different atmosphere. We need our fan base, which was unbelievable last week, we need that same home-field advantage from everybody this week as well.”

On Preston Smith’s off- season progression…

“You see with a lot of players this year, this is it. This is his senior year, and there’s a desperateness about that. I think guys look almost at every level and know that this is it. They see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s a tough deal. It’s not always a great light because it’s the end of college football for you. As underclassmen, a lot of times you think it’s going to go on forever, then all of a sudden you come in to your senior year and that’s it. I saw a guy like him that understood where he was, understood this was his last chance. I think he’s a guy that understands he would like to play football beyond college, and if he’s going to do that he better take himself to another level and have a great year to help our team and finish his year that right way. I think he’s had his best offseason. His work ethic has been great and doing a lot of extra little things to make himself better. I thought he played fairly well on Saturday night. He was named SEC defensive lineman of the week, but I think a lot of that to me becomes about play making. He made some big plays in the game, but on top of that I think he played consistently well which is important to me as a coach. It’s important to make some plays, but I want to see consistency out of you as well.”

On Preston Smith’s specific areas of improvement…

“One has got to be in pass rush, but a lot of that comes from understanding the game. When you get different reads. Are you rushing the passer and reacting to the run? Are you stopping the run and reacting to the pass rush? An overall understanding of the game, I think, is really huge of how you’re putting yourself in a position to make plays in our system. You look last week at his interception, they cut him. He felt soft, felt the back leak out, got cut, well, that’s going to be a screen. So what do you do? Don’t rush the passer. He stopped, got his hands up in the air, tipped the ball, was able to tip it to himself and make an interception. That’s just some general football knowledge of guys as they get older really paying attention to learn the game and do things the right way all the time.”

On execution of hurry-up offense…

“I thought our tempo was good. It’s something we’re going to look at. Again, with some depth we have an advantage to change up tempo and go fast. It lets a lot more guys play. I thought we did a pretty good job of that. There are decisions that I think we can make better. I don’t know if we made bad decisions, but I think there are some we can make even better moving forward.”

On tackling…

“The problem was we had a bunch of missed tackles, but a lot of our missed tackles came on the same play. We had three or four missed tackles on two different plays, which really added up to them getting yards after contact, which is what we don’t want to give up. Overall, I think defensively this week we need to tackle better than last week and make sure the first guy is getting him on the ground. I think we ought to run to the football a little bit better as a team. I think we made a lot of plays defensively, but I do think there are a little things we have to do. We have to be better tacklers and we have to run to the football better than we did last week.”

On tight end group…

“Malcolm Johnson is a steady player for us and does a good job. Brandon Hill, we have to keep getting him consistent all the time. He’s a fifth-year senior now so his potential is just about up. When he’s doing things right, because he’s a physically blocker, really strong at the point of attack, has good ball skills, is athletic and can run, he’s just got to do it all the time consistently. With (Darrion) Hutcherson, it was good to see him get in the game. As a big guy that has a lot of potential, we have to get him ready to play SEC football. There’s always that big transition coming from junior college to SEC. It’s just a different game you’re playing out there. Hopefully, he’s going to make big improvements now that he’s been out there on the field.”

On Dak Prescott’s designed run plays…

“He didn’t play tons. He played the first series of the second half, and he didn’t play one series of the first half, so basically he played half a game. That was by design. Fortunately, we got ahead and I wanted to force Damian (Williams) into some situations and get him on the field. I think there were only two quarterback runs called in the course of the game. I think we were running the ball well with our backs, and when they’re running well I’d rather feed them than Dak. We just didn’t really need to get in to many quarterback runs.”

On Dak Prescott avoiding hits…

“It’s just being smart. When you’re a physical player, it’s hard to slide sometimes. It’s almost more dangerous to slide than to go run somebody over. To me, the point of emphasis for him is when you’re doing it. It was a play he had gotten the first down already. We don’t need to drop our pads and fight for that extra yard. In that situation, get down and play the next play.”

On relationship with UAB’s running back coach Jody Wright…

“Jody did a great job when he was here with us. Jody’s a real go-getter. From the first day, one of the first things Jody did that impressed me, I mean, I walked into the office knowing nobody here. He came in day one and had a lot of things written down and had a lot of things organized. He was the grad assistant at the time, and he sat down with me and said, ‘coach here’s a lot of stuff that’s been organized recruiting for us. Here are some things going on name wise.’ He went through all the players on the roster with me. From day one he was a go-getter. When you have that kind of characteristic in you, you’re going to be successful. I’m really happy for him to see the success he’s had and how that’s translating into him having a successful career.”

On balancing hurry-up offense with time of possession…

“The time of possession in first half I think we won even though we had really good tempo going. I was great with that. In the second half, we started rotating some players, and didn’t get first downs we needed to keep the time of possession in the second half. That’s part of it. I’ll take points over time of possession, but that’s a stat we want to make sure we’re controlling the tempo of the game and we’re controlling the football.”

On De’Runnya Wilson’s potential…

“I see a lot of improvement from him from last year to this year in being a wide receiver on every down, not just a play maker. I know he’s got good size and decent speed, and he’s got great ball skills, but understanding the fundamentals and becoming an all-around player. I think our receivers as a whole are much better, and he’s one of those even as a young player that’s really bought in to what we’re doing. I’ve seen significant improvement on the practice field, and it’s good to see that start translating into the games as well.”

On making improvements for UAB game…

“I don’t want to turn the ball over at all on offense. I wasn’t pleased with that. We had three drives that started on the plus-side of the field and got zero points out of those three drives. That’s not good, and it can’t happen. When you get the ball in good field position, you have to take advantage of that. I want to see us do the same things. I want to see us roll players through a bunch. I’d like for us to be able to do that throughout the course of the season. It brings comfort. Hopefully we’ll stay injury free all year. If you opportunity to win and have a great season, you’ve got to be injury free. But I think by us getting used to playing different players, if we are hit with an injury, guys are used to this other guy already being on the field because he’s played a bunch or he’s rotated in with different groups on both sided of the ball. I think that helps you, and it keeps guys fresh. We did not have any defensive player play more than 32 snaps in the game. We had a lot play that amount, but nobody played more than 32 defensive snaps in the game, which for us is what we want – guys that are fresh being able to play for four quarters and being able play at very high speed and high level for four quarters.”

On UAB’s improved defense…

“I see an improved complete football program coming into this Saturday. They run the ball very well and that helps you play defense because you’re flipping field position, you’re controlling the tempo of the game and you’re wearing people down. On the defensive side of the ball, I saw a very aggressive defense with guys making plays on the field. They give a lot of different looks to try to confuse you. This is a completely different team than you saw last year.”

On place kicking…

“One hit four extra points, and one hit three extra points. We had one field goal opportunity but had a bad snap on it. It was hard to evaluate because he had no chance just off the snap. It’s pretty much were it was last week. They both went 4-for-5 in live situations yesterday in practice so pretty much status quo at this point. It was good to get to see them both kick in a game and both get experience. That seemed to work for us last week so we might do that this week and see how the rest of the practice week goes.”

On Jameon Lewis’s return…

“He just got back today. We’ll see how he does with everything. Fortunately he’s a fifth-year senior. He knows the offense. He’ll pick up the game plan really fast. I don’t worry as much about the missed time on the football side of things. We just want to see how he is emotionally and see how he’ll emotionally handle things for us, and be there for him. A lot of times football is a great escape when you’re dealing with awful situations. That field is your safe place in the world, and it’s where guys feel most comfortable. We’ll see how he does in handling it in practice today.”


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