September 12, 2011

Monday with Mullen

As disappointing as Saturday's loss to Auburn on the final play was, Mississippi State will not have time to dwell on it.

The 25th ranked Bulldogs only have five days to prepare for No. 3 LSU coming to town Thursday night.

"You've got to put it behind you and move on," Mullen said. "You can't do anything to change the game that happened. There is nothing that can happen to change the outcome of that football game. You've got to play another one here in a couple of days. We have to put that one away and start getting ready right away for an even tougher opponent this week."

MSU failed to score on the final play against Auburn Saturday when quarterback Chris Relf was stopped on the goal line as time expired giving the Tigers a 41-34 victory. It was the third time during his tenure that one of Mullen's squads have lost a game on a goal line play with the first coming against LSU two years ago.

"I think last time we lost a game on a goal line stand I got a lot of praises and emails from people all excited," Mullen said. "I've gotten a lot of hate emails in the last couple of days. I guess that's a very positive culture change. Our people expect us to win games now. Before they were impressed that we competed and now they expect us to win. That's good, that's where we want to be. Those are the expectations all along. I said since day one when I got here that I expect to win and that's never going to change for me."

Part of the Bulldogs problem this past weekend was on kickoff coverage. Auburn's average starting field position was their own 31-yard line which was 11 yards better than the Bulldogs average start.

Mullen, who also serves as State's special teams coordinator, was not pleased with the missed tackles on the kickoff team.

"We've just got to go harder on the kicking game," Mullen said. "I think we missed eight tackles in the kicking game and their guys missed zero. We've got to run down harder and get into a football position like we've worked on from January until today."

Currently the Bulldogs ranked seventh in the SEC in total defense but are 11th against the run allowing 199.5 yards on the ground. But Mullen still has faith in his defense headed up by new coordinator Chris Wilson.

"I think we're doing a good job, we caused some negative yardage plays," Mullen said. "We're still attacking people and made some big plays on defense. When you take some inexperienced players and put them in bigger game situations, we have to make sure we're not putting them in bad situations and putting them in easy decision-making situations."

Mississippi State has been strong running the football in its first two contests gaining an average of 321 yards, which tops the league. Senior Vick Ballard leads the conference with 301 yards on 31 attempts and four touchdowns while Relf ranks ninth with 157 yards on 40 carries.

"I think we have good balance and our offensive line does a good job creating seams and gaps," Mullen said. "We have good balance. We involve the quarterback in the run game. We have a couple of running backs that we use in the run game, we use receivers in the run game. Hopefully we keep defenses off balance that they don't know where it's coming."

The Bulldogs have some questions heading into the week concerning the status of two of their offensive linemen. Senior left tackle James Carmon and senior center Quentin Saulsberry both left Saturday's game with knee injuries but neither required surgery.

Mullen stated Monday that he hoped to have Saulsberry back but that Carmon was day-to-day. The senior duo is backed up by a pair of redshirt freshmen in tackle Blaine Clausell and center Dillon Day.

"We have a lot of freshman out there backing them up on the offensive line," Mullen said. "We get young very, very quickly and inexperienced very quickly. When you put them all in at one time that's not a good thing."

LSU enters the week's game at 2-0 after downing Oregon 40-27 in the opener and Northwestern State 49-3 last week.

"LSU is really, really fast," Mullen said. "They took a team that played in the national championship game last year with a lot of returning starters and ranked number three in the nation and pretty much blew them out. If you're dominant against the number three team in the nation where does that rank you? That's where they are. We'll have our hands full against them. We'll have to play 60-minutes of really good football to find a way to win."

The Bulldogs have had their struggles against LSU of late losing 11 straight times to the Tigers. Mullen has lost both of his meetings to the Tigers.

"We went down there last year and turned the ball over five times," Mullen said. "We played solid at times during the game but turned it over a bunch and made critical mistakes. The year before that we had the opportunity to beat them here and came up a play short."

Senior Jarrett Lee has directed the LSU offense this season following the suspension of Jordan Jefferson in the preseason. Lee has completed 19-of-32 passing for 231 yards and two touchdowns on the year.

"He's played a lot of football for them," Mullen said. "People look back at the beginning of his career when he was a freshman and everybody knows you don't want to play too many freshmen quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference. That's not a recipe for success. I think now as an older, veteran guy he understands the league and is a great manager of the game. He makes all the throws he needs to throw in the key situations. He puts them in great positions to win football games."

The Tigers defense is missing All-American Patrick Peterson, who has tormented State the past two years on defense and the return game the past two years. But Mullen feels like the secondary might be even stronger this fall even without Peterson's services.

"Believe it or not but with him gone they are probably better in the secondary," Mullen said. "He's gone but a bunch of other talented guys are a year older and more experienced. I believe they are even better this year than last year in the secondary."

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