September 6, 2011

Bulldogs have a better showing Tuesday

Mississippi State continued its preparations to go on the road and take on Auburn this week.

The Bulldogs returned to the practice field Monday afternoon after taking a weekend away from football and looked a little sloppy according to head coach Dan Mullen. But the team rebounded with a better effort on Tuesday.

"Today's practice was good, a little better than yesterday," Mullen said. "Yesterday's practice was a little sloppy. I don't think it was sloppy as far as execution or anything it was just sloppy because we'd given the guys a couple of days off and it always takes a jump start with some guys. We practiced Tuesday and were off Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But I thought today was much sharper and much crisper at practice."

Auburn struggled in its opening game against Utah State over the weekend but still managed to rally back with 14 points in the final two minutes to prevail 42-38 and preserve the nation's longest winning streak at 16-straight.

"I'm expecting them to be a much, much better football team than what we saw last weekend," Mullen said. "And I still think we saw a very good, talented, explosive football team that scored 42 points and found a way to win a football game."

The Bulldogs broke a 33-year old school record in its opener against Memphis by accumulating 645 yards on offense, 309 of which were gained on the ground. Mullen, who called the plays as the offensive coordinator for two national championship teams at Florida, understands that teams who find a way to grind out yards rushing tend to win in the Southeastern Conference.

"To win on the road in the SEC you've got to win the line of scrimmage battle," Mullen said. "That's always going to be a key component to the game. A team that goes on the road and runs that ball in this league has a really good chance at winning. It doesn't matter who you are. If you look at the games we lost at home last year - Arkansas and Auburn ran the football on the road. That is a key component for success is running the football. We're going to have to win the line of scrimmage battle if we are going to win the game."

Auburn had trouble containing the Aggies rushing attack last week surrendering 227 yards on the afternoon. But Mullen is expecting the Tigers coaching staff to be prepared this week at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"They do what they do," Mullen said. "Their coaches know what they are doing and are a well coached football team. If you look now they are a very young team out there on the field and played a very veteran unit in Utah State. I think when that happens you can see some of that on the field. Now that they have a game under their belt you're probably going to see a big improvement in a lot of their young players."

This weekend will be a homecoming of sorts for MSU senior quarterback Chris Relf. The Montgomery, Ala., native will have plenty of fan support coming over to nearby Auburn but Mullen feels it should not be a distraction for his signal caller.

"I think it was probably a bigger deal a couple of years ago than it is now," Mullen said. "He's played in a bunch of football games now. He played against them down there two years ago. I think that was probably a bigger homecoming deal. Now when you get to be a senior, you've already played a lot of games and you know how to block all that stuff out and focus on your job of winning the game."

Mullen has still not announced if any of the five players who were suspended for the Memphis game will be eligible to play on Saturday. Perhaps the biggest loss among that group is junior defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.

"It's a big advantage having a guy like Fletcher on the field," Mullen said. "I think you saw how young we were last week without him. If we get him back this week it's huge to have that. Behind him are inexperienced players. The benefit last week was inexperienced players being out there on the field."

No player on the State roster had a rollercoaster game quite like redshirt freshman receiver Jameon Lewis did last week. He led the team in receiving with four catches for 113 yards and had two touchdowns. But Lewis also stepped out of bounds at the 2-yard line twice returning kicks and also muffed a punt return that was recovered by the Tigers which led to a score.

Mullen has seen improvement from Lewis in the return game this week at practice.

"He's getting there," Mullen said. "He's getting better. It was the same on offense. He had a couple of nice catches but didn't grade out as a champion. Everybody looks at the one play where he broke a couple of tackles but you've got to look at the other 18."

On Tuesday afternoon the Bulldogs found out they were ranked 16th in the latest AP Poll. The ranking bumped Mississippi State ahead four spots from last week but it does not seem to have had any impact on the players themselves.

"I think they think it's neat for our guys but I don't think they make that big a deal," Mullen said. "I haven't noticed it anytime that we've been ranked. The only time I thought it was a big deal was the first time we were ranked. I think for a lot of kids it was the first time they've been ranked before."

Mullen's goal from day one has been to get the Bulldogs to Atlanta and the SEC Championship game. A win on Saturday over the defending champs would certainly go a long ways in making that ambition a reality.

"We are certainly planning on going in and beating Auburn," Mullen said. "That's why we're going to play the game and our whole attention for us is how do we go on the road and win that game. You can't win the West without going out and winning it and maybe you worry about another one after that."

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