‘Work' and ‘bye' need not be contrary concepts for Mississippi State. Certainly not just one month into a season that has produced a 2-2 overall record and 0-1 SEC start. Though the loss at Auburn was competitive on both sides of the ball, and the progress shown there clearly accelerated in a blowout of Troy this past Saturday. So those are positive steps to Mullen's mind.
But, "We've got to obviously get a lot better. We've improved every single week from game-to-game so far and we need to continue to do that to have successful season."
Mullen was speaking after a Tuesday practice that began in rain and ended under clearer conditions. He has booked practices for Wednesday and Thursday as well before giving the Bulldogs a couple of down-days…though in the course of his comments the coach also noted his plan was to have three good practices even if it required extending this schedule.
How have the young defensive linemen and defensive backs contributed? "It's huge. You turn on the film, there's a lot of young guys on the field. But you've got to be 30-deep on defense if you want to be really good in this league, at least 22-deep at every position to roll guys through. But if you've got two-and-a-half at each position you're probably in good shape. So we've been playing guys, we've got to play guys to survive in the SEC. So I mean, that gives just a lot of opportunities for guys to get on the field."
What is it you want to clean-up this week? "Holy cow, there's an awful lot. I mean there's an awful lot right there for us. We've got to still look at our third downs, we did OK last week. But on the year so far we're not great. Clean up the little things in pass protections that we have to get better at. Route running, you know, guys catching. We saw a couple of drops, a couple of missed throws on offense."
"Defensive side of the ball, we still have some missed fits that were out there. We've still always got to work to get more pressure, especially with our front four on the quarterbacks."
Are you pleased with how some new players are performing? "We knew we had some good young players out there. They just were getting their opportunity to go make plays. Probably more of them than we expected with all the injuries we've had to deal with so far this year in the secondary."
Are you pleasantly surprised how guys have stepped-in after injuries? "But that's part of it for our guys. You get your chance, someone goes down and you get your opportunity, you've got to be ready to go seize that moment and make that play."
The defensive line seems to have progressed after the first game? "Yeah, they're working. They're working. Everything is a work in progress. For us, we look like we have a good game last week but there's still a lot of things we have to fix from that game and before the next game."
After two tough losses and two blowout wins what have you told the team about consistency? "I told them we just have to continue to get better. I mean it's an interesting challenge for us this week, you know. We lose a game where we don't play very well in the first game, and we respond and get better and come play a real good game. We responded from playing a good game and actually still improved the next week; but then had a really tough loss. But we responded from that and improved again. And if we don't continue to improve from week to week we'll never expect to win any more games."
How do you approach an open date when you know you're going to be gameplanning most of the rest of the season? "Well, we get another one with that ten-day game, there's a little breather, time to get a lot of research done in the middle of it. But you just look what we've done well, what we haven't done well, and why haven't we done those things well. You get a little bit more time to do that. But also you get a little more time to prepare for LSU."
After Auburn and Troy moved the ball early, what did the defense do to adjust? "I think sometimes with young players it's that getting into the flow of the game, you know? And there's a lot to that. And to be honest with you that first drive against Troy, if you eliminated some stupid penalties that we had that kept their drives alive and some missed tackles… I think their first drive even though they moved the ball we had a penalty that kept the drive alive, the next drive we had a couple of missed tackles (and) would have been off the field. They executed pretty well that other drive, scored a touchdown. After that I think our guys adjusted to the speed of the game and we were rolling at that point."
You said Saturday Tyler Russell would be your starter for LSU, is he with the ones right now? "Well, you see everybody this week you get a lot of different reps. But that's still the plan."
Could you see a difference in the guys after an impressive win how they approach this open date? "Yeah, well you have a young team, so they're trying to figure out how to approach it. But we're going to have three good practices this week; I don't know how many days it's going to take us to have three good practices! But they already had their day-off on Sunday, they got a lift in on Monday. And we'll have three good practices."
How much will you work to get LaDarius Perkins into that offense? "A lot. We really want to get him the ball, get him rolling through. You look at the different scenarios though in games that we've been in, and the two big wins (it) hasn't been a whole lot of need. Then against Auburn they really kind of made a conscious effort, we were still able to run the ball very effectively but they made a conscious effort to get the ball out of his hands. So we're still always working that. If they're going to take the ball out of his hands then we're still going to go run for over 200 yards I guess we'll have to take it!"
With Dak Prescott at quarterback does that present more challenge getting Perkins the ball? "No, probably more of a challenge sometimes to the defense. Because they're worried about Dak running the ball. But if they're going to let Dak run we'll let Dak run, I guess. He had another good game running on Saturday night, and I think he only had five carries so it wasn't like he had a lot of carries in that game. So if people are going to let our quarterbacks just go run for big yards we'll take that."