September 5, 2011

Monday with Mullen

After a record setting win over Memphis last week Mississippi State will begin conference play on Saturday against the defending national champion Auburn Tigers.

Auburn has won 16-straight games overall and three consecutive times against the Bulldogs.

"I'm ready to get into SEC play this week," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen. "It's kind of the real start to the fall now when you're getting into conference play and games that are critical for our season and how it shakes out. We have a real tough opponent, a team that has the longest win streak in the nation. I think everybody saw last week they know how to win games no matter what the situation is. They will find a way to win and obviously anytime you go on the road in the SEC it's going to be a tough challenge."

Mullen is 0-2 against Auburn during his tenure at MSU and is just 2-8 against the SEC West in his first two seasons. Mullen's only wins versus the West have been back-to-back Egg Bowl victories over instate rival Ole Miss.

"We have to win these games to win the SEC West," Mullen said. "That's our incentive. I'm not worried about anything else. If I only win three I hope it's another one against the school up north against the West if I can only pick one but our goal is always to win the West."

In his two-plus seasons in Starkville, Mullen has posted a 7-4 record on the road but one of those losses came in the first road game of his career a 49-24 loss to the Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"For us to be successful we're going to have to play really hard and execute at a very high level," Mullen said. "If you do those things on the road in the SEC then you're going to have an opportunity. If we make mistakes when you're playing on the road in this league it's tough to win games."

Auburn also won last year's matchup narrowly edging the Bulldogs 17-14 at Davis Wade Stadium. Mullen admitted he would watch the film of the 2010 contest in which State had its chances to knock off the Tigers but that he was more concerned about his own film from this year.

"I look at last year's game to see how we can improve," Mullen said. "I'm looking at last week's game at some dropped passes and missed tackles and those things that we can improve on more so than last year. If you look at it those are issues that we can control."

The Tigers had a tough time with its opening week opponent by rallying back to down Utah State 42-38 in the final two minutes at home. Mullen is close with the Aggies head coach Gary Anderson working with him while the two served as coordinators at Utah. The two spoke on the phone Sunday night about Auburn.

Mullen was quick to credit what a quality opponent Utah State can be.

"I know a lot of the coaches on their staff," Mullen said. "They are a very well coached football team and a very, very good football team. They are very physical on their front seven and on their o-line. I'd be shocked if they don't win the WAC this year with that team."

Mississippi State broke a school record by amassing 645 yards of offense in their 59-14 opening week win against Memphis. But despite the lopsided score, Mullen believes his players have a lot to work on at practice this week.

"Watching film there are a good little things we can clean up," Mullen said. "It's great winning a game and having a lot of teaching moments. You can actually get after them a little bit harder after a win because when you're yelling and screaming at the after a win they can think in the back of their mind we still won the game. If we can win the game and make mistakes and improve those mistakes look how much better we can get."

One thing that Mullen is proud of is that his team does want to get better. Naturally a big win where the offense breaks a record that has stood for 33-years it opens the door for complacency. But Mullen stated that his team has not been willing to rest on their laurels from last week.

"One thing I did learn from that game is that we have high expectations of ourselves," Mullen said. "You look at guys on the team and think the offense might pat themselves on the back this week breaking school records. But in their mind is 'how can we get better? How can we execute at a higher level? How can we cleanup and be more efficient?'. We had four three-and-outs in that game.

"Defensively it's the same way. Defensively we've got some young kids that got to play a game and there are some older guys that now we're going to hold them more accountable because we didn't play good enough on defense. There were way too many yards, didn't cause enough three-and-outs, gave up a couple of long drives. They got into the red zone twice and scored twice. Those are things where the older guys are really going to jump on the younger guys that aren't acceptable with our defense."

Quarterback Chris Relf had a solid senior debut against Memphis. Relf completed 13-of-21 passing for 202 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks. He also gained 51 yards on 13 carries and played sparingly in the second half giving way to Tyler Russell.

"Chris has done a much better job of managing the game for us in every aspect," Mullen said. "He gets us into the right play, gets us in position and not forcing things that don't need to be forced."

The Bulldogs will have nine days to prepare for Auburn but took the weekend off to get away from football for really the first time since the beginning of the summer.

"Playing Thursday night allowed us to hopefully get some rest especially with a day out of school today," Mullen said. "It allows us to get some extra little work done and allowed them to get away longer which I think is a big advantage. These guys went to summer school and then it kind of bled into camp. When that happens you have a lot of guys who really haven't had a break and don't get away much and need to get home."

Mullen stated that there were no new injuries from the Memphis game and that he would announce if the five players suspended would return just before kickoff on Saturday.

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