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October 18, 2010Mississippi State has found a way to bounce back after several close losses over the past two seasons.
But now the Bulldogs will have to see how things are from the other perspective coming off a narrow victory on the road at Florida and ranked No. 24 in the country.
"We're going to see what we've got to deal with," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen. "This may be a different type of adversity. Our players have done a tremendous job of dealing with the adversity of defeat and getting back on the field, working hard, regaining their focus and coming back the next week and playing hard. Now we're going to see how we deal with some success."
The Bulldogs returned to the practice fields less than 24 hours following their 10-7 victory at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium but had a quick reality check before doing so.
"Before they practice they have a lift with Matt Balis, our strength coach," Mullen said. "I can promise you this, he will wipe out all memories about them being ranked and all thoughts about how good they are when they get through with his weight workout. He'll remind them of why we have gotten here so far and if we want to stay where we are and enjoy where we're at you'd better get back to work. We're a young team so this is a challenging coaching job this week for myself and our staff to remind the kids that the number one reason we are here is through hard work and the only way to stay here is to work even harder."
Mullen's message during Sunday's practice was simple.
"We didn't cross the finish line at the University of Florida," Mullen said. "We're in the race and maybe got a second jolt of energy for us to keep going in this season."
In fact, Mullen was quick to point out to his players that there is still plenty of room for improvement. He felt like there were plays left to be made and that the team needed to clean up missed executions and sloppy penalties at inopportune times.
"The game shouldn't have been as close as it was," Mullen said. "We had some opportunities to put that game away early and had some opportunities to put the game away late. We made some mistakes offensively and put ourselves in bad situations. Our defense plays that well and shouldn't have had to make that stop at the end the way that they did. The special teams came out and did a great job pinning them deep when we needed to pin them deep. The defense made plays all night and they made the final play they needed to at the end that kept them from making a field goal long enough that it wasn't a chip shot."
State players appeared to be in awe walking onto Florida Field for the first time in their careers but did not let that or the 90,517 fans in attendance defer them from their objective.
"When our kids walked into the stadium they looked around with a wow factor," Mullen said. "But they did a great job and believed that we were going to win that game. They believed it starting with the first practice last week all the way through until the clock hit zero. For our kids, we didn't think it was that much of an upset. We expected to win."
The Bulldogs finished the game with only 245 yards on offense, 212 of which came on the ground. Mississippi State only attempted one pass in the second half which ended up losing five yards.
"We got conservative in things but the game led us to do that," Mullen said. "We were running the ball pretty well and were ready to take some opportunities. But we were playing against an opportunistic defense and third down and long is not when you want to take your shots down the field against a Florida team. They are one of the top teams in the nation in most interceptions and make the big plays."
When the Bulldogs arrived back in Starkville around 1 a.m. Sunday morning they were not alone. The maroon and white faithful showed up at the Templeton Athletic Academic Center to show their appreciation for their latest accomplishment.
"It was great, just a wild scene of fans and students," Mullen said. "What a great experience for our young people. There was a great crowd there and people were just excited. It's great to see this football program in the state of Mississippi excited for us being ranked and getting back in the right direction."
On the injury front, junior running back Vick Ballard could have returned to the game Saturday night after suffering a sprained ankle. Junior safety Charles Mitchell's will continue to be evaluated as the week progresses following a head injury suffered in the first half. Senior center J.C. Brignone made the trip to Florida and was cleared to play but was held out as a precautionary measure due to a sprained knee.
Junior Quentin Saulsberry filled in at center during Brignone's absence. Saulsberry has made 18 starts at guard, 12 at tackle but it was his first time starting as the Bulldogs snapper.
"When you come in and your first start at center is in a place like the Swamp, that's a quick learning curve to make," Mullen said. "I was real proud of the way Quentin played, handled himself and was a leader up front."