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September 19, 2011Following back-to-back losses to begin league play Mississippi State took a three-day weekend to heal up after two brutal Southeastern Conference battles.
But the break ends this afternoon for the Bulldogs as they go back to work to start preparations for Louisiana Tech coming in this weekend.
"We've been in positions before where we've had to respond and we've always been able to do that," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen. "In talking with our guys I expect a group that is very, very anxious to get back on the practice field and ready to get back out there and play a better football game this week than we did last week and get a win back on the board.
"I think our guys are ready to get back to work and ready to get back out on the field. There are a lot of things we want to accomplish as a team this year that are still ahead of us. Most importantly it's becoming a better football team. That is an everyday, daily process. I know we're excited to get back on the field and get to work today."
Like 2010, the Bulldogs are off to a 1-2 start. State won the opener both years against Memphis and dropped consecutive games to Auburn and LSU.
Last fall the Bulldogs were able to reel off six straight wins after the sluggish start and that is something Mullen hopes repeats itself this year as well.
"I think last year we started 1-2 with a close, close home loss to Auburn right at the very end very similar to this year," Mullen said. "Then we go play LSU in a tight battle and turned the ball over a bunch at their place. They made some plays and we don't make some plays. It was very similar and then we take a big step forward the next week and build off that momentum the rest of the year. So I think we are in that same position. We need to make some improvements this week and make some plays in the game and have guys step up to make some plays as well as our guys developing into solid player roles. If that happens I see it could be very similar to what we had last year."
This week's game against Louisiana Tech is a rematch from the 2008 opener when Mississippi State fell 22-14 in Ruston. In fact, Louisiana Tech has won the last two meetings in the series also winning 38-23 in Starkville in 1996.
"We have a tough game this week," Mullen said. "Louisiana Tech is a team that has been in three close games. All of them have come down to the wire. They won an overtime game and lost two really close, heartbreaking games - one to a top 25 team in Houston. We know how explosive they are as a team. They are coming in with some confidence and a team that knows they can play with anybody in the country. They've just got to find a way to win and there are a lot of similarities to us right now."
Louisiana Tech's offense features 17-year old true freshman quarterback Nick Isham. The six-foot, 185-pounder has completed 59.6-percent of his passes on the year for 693 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
"He's from California so obviously we don't know a lot about him," Mullen said. "He's a guy who obviously ran a similar system in high school so it's a pretty easy adaptation getting into the college game of running the same offense he ran in high school. That would be my guess because he looks very comfortable last year. He makes good throws and is a good decision maker within their system. He distributes the ball and doesn't look like a freshman trying to figure out the offense on the field. He looks kind of relaxed."
MSU's offense has struggled in the passing game of late. The Bulldogs have been held to under 200-passing in each of the past two games.
"We are just off the fingertips on a couple of throws," Mullen said. "I don't know if it's a concern with the timing as much, we've just got to be cleaner doing those things. Again, we are not missing on every throw, we're just missing a couple deep throws here and there. Holding the ball a little bit too long last week on some things. We're playing talented guys and your timing is going to be different when you've got guys in your face and trying to beat man coverage."
Mullen also stated he would like to see more from his wide receiving corps, especially the veterans. Last week the wideouts made only five catches for 39 yards in the 19-6 loss to LSU.
"We're so-so," Mullen said. "I'd expect some more especially from our older guys that I expect to be playmakers for us like Chad (Bumphis, Arceto (Clark) and Chris Smith. I expect them to be the plamakers more so than depending on all of our younger guys that are still getting used to being on the field."
The Bulldogs are also having to made due with a patched up offensive line. Senior left tackle James Carmon went down with a knee injury in the first half against Auburn and junior right tackle Tobias Smith was lost for the year on the first series against LSU.
To make due last week, true freshmen Blaine Clausell and Dillon Day were inserted in. Clausell started at left tackle while Day subbed in at center moving senior Quentin Saulsberry to guard in Smith's spot.
Mullen mentioned that may not necessarily be the starting unit this Saturday against Louisiana Tech.
"We want our best five guys out there on the field," Mullen said. "Damien (Robinson)is in the mix and everybody is in the mix right now for us. With James coming back, who are our best five and how do we mix and match them we're going to have to see as the week and season progresses."
One freshman that continues to progress and find success each week is Kaleb Eulls. The former four-star recruit has recorded six tackles on the year including two stops for loss and a sack last week against LSU.
"You're not going to find a higher character kid," Mullen said. "He cares about football and gives everything he has every day as a student. He's a great man. He's a guy who played quarterback and defensive end in high school, redshirted a year and because of our depth on the defensive line was thrust into a starting position immediately. He is coming along and I think you see big improvements from him from week-to-week."
Sophomore punter Baker Swedenburg also continues to find consistent success. So far this season the Columbus, Miss., native has averaged 39.3 yards on 17 punts including seven inside the 20-yard line.
"He's done very good," Mullen said. "Baker's been very consistent. You haven't seen him boom some but we've done a good job in the field position game in pinning teams deep inside their own territory. He's had good get off times and decent hang times with distance. I think he'd like some more bigger plays but more importantly, and he knows this, is to be consistent more than a big one and then a bad one."
On the injury front, Mullen stated that Tobias Smith and freshman running back Josh Robinson (ankle sprain) were out this week. He also mentioned that redshirt freshman running back Nick Griffin has been cleared to play and that redshirt freshman safety Ivan Muniz was back practicing. Carmon will also practice on a limited basis this week.