It probably was not the sort of matchup Brandon Holloway envisioned when introduced to pass…
Speaking to the conference press corps showed some inevitable differences. There wasn't a lot of specific enquiries about personnel by the outsiders. They are more interested in a general ‘state of State' as Mullen heads into his fifth year in Starkville. By any historic standards his first four seasons have been happy days for Bulldog football.
This also makes 2013 something of a crossroads for the coach and program. Because as Mullen said, the successes so-far have only established a foundation. Or, a baseline for what is expected of Bulldog teams today and from now on.
Coach Dan Mullen: "It was a real good spring for us. You know, we have a young football team with only 11 seniors on the roster next year. So it was a great opportunity for a lot of young players to get a lot of reps to gain some experience out there on the field. And to start to build a foundation of what will be our 2013 football season."
Who were some younger players that stood out in spring? "I think some of the young linebackers. I was pleased with the play of Richie and Beniquez and Zach Jackson stepping up. Because they add to a crew with Benardrick McKinney, Deonte Skinner, Matt Wells, Ferlando Bohanna, Chris Hughes. They really added some good depth right there for us."
"I'm also excited with some of the young secondary players. You look at Jamerson Love and Justin Cox, Cedric Jiles, and Will Redmond. Those guys in the secondary really showed some athletic abilities, showed some talent, showed that they have the potential to do a lot of good things for us."
"Our key is to really accelerate them and get them SEC-ready by the ball. I think they showed they have the ability to do it, now we just have to get them the maturity and experience to get them ready for this fall."
How is Dak Prescott's rehabilitation going? "Yeah, he should be cleared full-go by the beginning of July. He'll have a whole month of being fully-cleared before the start of training camp, so everything should be on schedule for him."
How important is having a veteran quarterback like Tyler Russell? "It's huge. I think there's a lot of experienced quarterbacks coming back this year, that's great for our whole league. But as far as Tyler goes, I mean a fifth-year senior, he's a guy that has experience on the field. He's played in just about every stadium that we're going to play in this year on the road. He understands the pressures and the expectations of being a Southeastern Conference quarterback."
"And that's just kind of the periphery right there. On the inside he knows our offense inside-and-out, understands why we're trying to do things. His input whether it be gameplanning, his input on checks, his input on decision-making over all is huge because of that experience he has, because of the understanding and grasp he has. So we expect him to have a huge year this year."
Can you compare this season to your first season in terms of a rebuilding program? "I don't think so. With the first year everything was new for everybody. It's not really comparable to that because that is a year-one deal because everybody is trying to figure out what our expectations are in the program. I think our guys understand the expectations. I think when you have a small senior class your seniors, those are the guys that are desperate. They know that this is the end for them. And they kind of play, they lead, and everything they do with is with their career winding down."
"I think some younger guys sometimes always think I have more time so they're not quite as desperate on the field. That motivating fact is getting everybody to play as if they are seniors is a key component. So unlike the first year I think our guys understand the program, they understand our expectations. We as a coaching staff just have to do a great job making sure everybody plays with that desperate mindset. That this is the most important year, this is the year that matters."
You've had bowl victories before, was it different coming off a loss in a bowl? "Yeah, this is the first year that we haven't won the last game of our season. But I do think with a lot of guys here it is a motivating factor for them coming in this spring. That they're not pleased with how the last year ended."
"And I think sometimes it will put a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. That they go out there with a little more oomph to them with a chip on their shoulder with how last year ended."
Have the offensive tackles progressed, especially going against athletic defensive ends? "Oh yeah, that's going to be a strong point. You're looking at three guys with experience coming back for us at that position from last year. And only one of them right now is a senior, so that's a real positive for us as we move forward in the program."
"I see those guys all getting comfortable. I guess it's hard to say, we have potentially three starting tackles which is a good position for us to be in going into the season. Not just that there is a competition, that we could see some rotation of guys as well making sure that everybody is getting the playing time they deserve."
"I think there's a lot of guys that have been together for a while, they understand what we're doing. And they're playing with a little bit more confidence, which certainly is a big plus."
With the way expectations are raised, what is most important in taking the next step? "I think what we've created here is a level of stability, and a level of high expectations. Where I think when I first got here the expectations were boy, I hope we go to a bowl game. Now that's become the norm for us."
"I believe to win a championship you have to have a solid foundation. That's not just going to come from nowhere. So you have that solid foundation built and those are steps towards us progressing to win a championship. When you win consistently, the next step for us is obviously to compete for a championship consistently. And when you do that you're going to find that you do win a championship. That to me is the progress that we've built in this program, the expectations that I have of our program, and those expectations have really spread to our fan base. I mean inside the program we have real high expectations but it is starting to spread outside as well."