STARKVILLE, Miss. - Mississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen holds his weekly press conference Monday afternoons in the Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex. Free on-demand video of each week's press conference will be posted in the story rotation (main and football pages only) on HailState.com, along with an associated transcript.
Dan Mullen Press Conference Transcript - 11/18/13
What is the quarterback injury situation?
“We’ve got to see what’s going on with those guys as the week goes on. They came in. They’re getting better and they get treatments today. We don’t practice again until tomorrow afternoon. So we’ll see where everybody is at at that point.
How did Damian Williams play Saturday against Alabama?
“You sit there sometimes, scratch your head and wonder if it was right to play Damian [Williams] at all this year. And at this point, it’s looking like it was the right decision. Thank goodness we did that for a situation.
"Give him a lot of credit on Saturday night. To sit there and say, "hey, go get it big guy." To come in and perform [was impressive]. Obviously we would have liked to have seen him perform at even a higher level. But he came in and the stage wasn’t too big for him. He was ready to go, came in and made a couple of nice throws and filled in for us.
"I think in his mindset, he’ll get himself ready to play this week if he’s got to be our guy and start for us depending on the health of the other guys.”
What about the other injuries on the team?
“The rest of the injury status for us this week is pretty much status-quo. Talking to the trainers there wasn’t a whole lot. We have a couple of guys with the flu out right now, but that happens this time of year. Deontae Skinner, they said again is day-to-day. They think he should be good, that he was really close to playing. But you have to look out for the health of young men and long-term futures. Hopefully all of his symptoms all go down and he’s able to play this week, which would be the thought."
What challenges does Arkansas present?
“This week's game is a great, challenging game for us. You look at the type of team they have right now and Bret [Bielema] is a first-year coach. He’s trying to build right his program there. It looks like they’re playing a lot of young players and have some very talented guys.
"They have two extremely talented running backs and a big, big physical offensive line. They are one of the better running teams in the conference, and have ran the ball on everybody. You look at the average, and sometimes averages can be deceiving statistically speaking, but they’ve had success running the ball on every team in the league. So that’s a challenge on that side of the ball.
“Defensively they’ve got a great front that can cause a lot of pressure on you. You watch them on film and I think they’ve played good defense. They’ve been bit a lot by big plays. You watch them play good defense, play good defense and then all of a sudden there are three big plays and they’re giving up points.
"The challenge part with that is that I don’t think you can go into a game saying we’re just going to go bombs away and hope we get the three 80-yard touchdown passes. You want to play consistent offense. I think they’re going to be physical outfit, a big physical front. We’re going to have some challenges moving the ball on them.”
How many first-team reps has Damian Williams had this season?
“I think he had nine or ten first-team reps Saturday night. He hasn’t gotten a lot of first-team reps. He got a couple last night, but those are also watered-down first-team reps because the first team really doesn’t practice much on Sunday.
“We’ll see. I think a lot will depend on tomorrow, and a lot depends on that available or being able to play question that comes up. It always sounds iffy. A trainer says he’s available but he’s not going to be very effective out there on the field; that’s a tough decision to make.
"To me, I have to make decisions as a coach almost as a parent. That’s your son you want to put out there. For me, myself, I’ll chop my finger off and go play. We’re that crazy and nuts sometimes. But looking at kids, we treat these guys like they’re our kids. You’re a lot more cautious with them than I am with myself. You want to try not to let them play. If Damian’s healthy and the other guys aren’t, well, we’ll go with Damian.”
Do you have a goal-line running back this season?
“Well, LaDarius Perkins does a good job. Perk has had a lot of good short-yardage runs for us. We had a second-and-one play and missed a block up front. It didn’t matter how big of a back we had in. It wasn't a missed assignment, but we just missed a block. When you have a 310-pound guy four-yards deep in the backfield, not much is going to happen for you in that situation.
“Third down we went to the pass and ended up with a penalty. On third down, honestly we were planning on going for it there on fourth down. I was hoping to score on third down, but if that didn’t work we were planning on going for it in that situation.
"The question came up of why they took the penalty. I think they thought we were going to go for it again on fourth-and-one and Alabama thought, let’s make it where we have to stop them on third down where they’re definitely going to take the field goal."
You mentioned Bret Bielema’s note sent to you after Nick Bell’s passing. How much of a surprise was that? “It was. You are surprised. You get calls from different people, and you have things that go on. You get a call from Nick [Saban] or Les Miles or something like that, but they’re in the conference. You see them all the time. They both gave me a quick call wishing the best.
"But to get that [note] and to take the time to write a full letter out and send another thing with it, I thought that was a really neat deal. I think I’d met him once at the Fiesta Frolic type of deal they used to have. It just shows the type of character he is.
"It’s little things like that I tell our guys. I try to think that way in my life. You don’t know how you’re impacting other people but trying to do the right thing. He probably doesn’t even remember writing the letter. But it had an impact on me and I think that just shows the character he has as a coach and how I think all of us for the most part try to live our lives.”
How does the defense build on what might have been their best game?
“Well, play better. It wasn’t good enough. I mean, a great defensive game is to hold them to one less point than we scored. A great offensive game is score one more point than we give up. That's how you look at it.
“But I thought we played physical. And the matchup, I don’t know how much it a relates to this week’s game. They like to run the ball and they’re a big, physical running team. I think last game and this game can tie together.
"We’ve got to get in the cold tank and get all the bruises healed up and everybody kind of healthy and get ready for another punch-in-the-mouth, physical game. The last game of the season, I think they’re a little bit more of a spread you out, run around and present more of an open field game.
"But every game has its own way and has its uniqueness. You kind of know what you’re getting when you’re playing Alabama. You knew that going in. And we’re expecting a physical game this week.”
What makes Little Rock a difficult place to play?
“I think anywhere on the road is tough to play in the SEC. I don’t know that it’s more difficult there than it is in Tuscaloosa or Baton Rouge or Auburn, or here in Starkville. I think a lot of people think it’s awfully tough to come here to play. And a lot of that is the passion of the fan base.
“Obviously I’m not happy that we didn’t win the game [Saturday] compared to other games, but a lot of people have said we played well on Saturday. It was our best environment, loudest crowd and best recruiting weekend. All of these things tie-in together. It’s amazing how that works.
“You’re going to Little Rock, a place where the fans are very passionate about playing. It’s a loud, hostile environment and that always gives you a great homefield advantage in this league and it makes it always very difficult. Our fans gave us that Saturday night and made it difficult for Alabama and inspired our kids to play at a high level. Certainly that helps you in recruiting an awful lot as well.”
Do players seem more focused and encouraged by the progress they see?
“I think it’s important for us as we’re building the program and continue to build the program in the future. There are a couple of things I want when you have young players. One is you have to get them to understand to expect to make the plays. Don’t look around for other guys to make the plays.
“I go back to last season on defense. A lot of times, guys would be looking around at a key moment of the game. One that really jumps out to you from the whole season is when Tennessee got all the momentum. They’re making play, play and play. And then there’s Johnthan Banks, ripping the ball out, recovering the fumble and doing everything all on his own. And everyone thought that’s why you’re the captain. That’s why you’re here. He’s the guy to make the play.
“And I think young guys sometimes are looking to find who is that guy, instead of saying, 'hold on, that guy is me. I’m the guy that is going to make a big play to win the game and I expect to do that.'
"That is a step that you come forward. I do think with our young guys, that also is important. They look at this, and again it might sound funny, as we’re 4-6 and saying that we’re not that far off. I think our guys look and are realizing we’re not that far off.
"They're starting to think, 'stop looking for somebody else. I’m the one that needs to make this play.' And when a young team starts thinking that way instead of getting discouraged, instead of saying what the problem is, when they look and can say we’re really not that far off and I’m going to be the guy to expect to make the plays moving in the future, great things can happen to you. I do think that shows bright for us as we continue to build the program here."
With the talk swirling at Southern Cal and Texas A&M, or with Florida, how do coaches deal with what the last couple of weeks and all the stuff surrounding other jobs when you have jobs to handle?
“You always just have to completely block that out. Like one question, are you on the hot seat? Well, I hate to break it to you, if you’re coaching in the Southeastern Conference, I've been on the hot seat here for five years now. Go over to Tuscaloosa and ask. You might not think it, but wait until they lose a game. If we had won on Saturday night, he’d [Nick Saban] be on the hot seat! You’re about a game away in this league from that situation.
“The SEC and the passion in the SEC, moreso than everywhere else maybe except for the NFL [is intense]. But you can still lose six games in the NFL and win a Super Bowl. That just comes with the territory. I think you have to accept that as part of coaching in this league.
"To be honest with you, with all that stuff, the toughest part is not on the coaches. I’m in my office from 7:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night. One of things I think is always tough on us is families. Will [Muschamp's] kid has to go to school, my wife has to go to the grocery store and Bret’s wife goes out for dinner. When you get in this league sometimes your families are out there in public a lot more, and that is a huge stress to me.
"If I ever think about one thing, I’m much more concerned about any impact it has on my family than it has on me. I deal in the realities. I’m so far past last Saturday’s game and into this week’s game. Some ask if I think of our record. I have to think about what our record right now to be able to answer and that takes your focus off the task at hand, which is beating Arkansas.
“I think it is tough on families sometimes around the league. And with Kevin [Sumlin], I’ll put it this way: you’re either on your way out the door because you’re winning or on the way out the door because you’re losing. I guess for Kevin you’d rather be out the door for winning than losing."
Do you and Bret Bielema have the same personality?
“I don’t know that. But I will say this, I think to survive as a coach in the Southeastern Conference you’d better have some confidence. I think I’m a pretty shy and introverted person in some ways. A pretty humble guy. If you ask some people who know me, they’d think the complete opposite!
“But when you come in, and very much like me, you’re trying to put your personality into your program. People often say to me maybe I don’t needle as much the school up north or other people much as I used to. I haven’t changed that. I think it just comes off that I’m not new and out-there all that much. They know where we are so the program is a little bit more established. Bret is not going to change who he is and the type of football they play. That’s his personality. He’s that type of coach. Now three years from now it will sound a little differently to everybody."
What did you see from Evan Sobiesk’s missed field goal?
“I was more disappointed with his extra point than his field goal. I might sound crazy right there. I think he hit the field goal clean. He just aimed the wrong way. We were on an angle and he aimed way too far [of] an angle. He had great height and great explosion. It was dead-straight kick.
"So in the ways of coaching that right there, he kicked it with a lot of confidence. The PAT was a little bit shakier. The second kick after he missed the first one looked a little shakier, even though he made that one.
“The one thing the guys know is we do have confidence. Those are little things that we’re always working to fix. And you look, you have a true sophomore and a redshirt freshman kicking for you a lot. They’re young guys coming in big situations and are still trying to figure it out. Both of them, Devon [Bell] and Evan, have enough talent that when they get 100 percent on their technique and 100 percent on their confidence, we could have some of the better kickers in the league.
"Right now, they’re kind of dealing with making sure the technique is right and then with the confidence issue on top of that. That’s always huge. That comes from outside. They know inside the building we have confidence in them."
What is the mindset of the team needing two wins to go to a bowl game?
“We just need to win on Saturday. With them, the focus obviously is all about this. We talked about how the Texas A&M game was a great learning experience. I know we needed to come back and score a couple of touchdowns, but you can’t score the second TD until you score the first one. And then we scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. You’ve got to score the first one and then worry about the second one next. Our guys have been able to do that.
“Historically speaking of things this team can accomplish, if we win the next two games and finish 6-6, that probably doesn’t seem like a banner season. But we will have won in the state of Arkansas against Arkansas for the first time in the history of Mississippi State football. That’s pretty historical.
"If we win two, we’d have gone to four consecutive bowl games for the first time Mississippi State football. In a historical context, there’s an awful lot of things this team can accomplish. They’re not going to be the next team to go win something, they’re going to be the first team to do something.
“So our guys in the motivation of winning this week and finding a way to get to a bowl game is if we’re able to win this game, there’s an awful lot to play for in every game. Never winning in Arkansas before and we’ve won four out of five Egg Bowls.
"In the historical context of the team we talk about that. As we want to build a championship team we’re building a foundation. There are a lot of programs out there where the foundation was built and they’re doing something that’s been done before. We’re trying to build a foundation to do things that haven’t been done before. I think our kids really can understand that and see the positives and the opportunity to go do that. They want to take advantage of it.”