"Offensively a lot of balance. They've got a quarterback who can make a lot of plays with his arm, he can throw it all over the place and keep plays alive. A talented running back. A different type of receivers than we've seen, a lot of big receives, real tall guys to create miss-match advantages. And a pretty good offensive line. Close to I think 500 yards a game on offense so they're an explosive offense. When you match that with the experience on defense you can see why they're 5-1 and probably the top team in the MAC conference this year. So it will be a great challenge for us."
Talk about De'Runnya Wilson and Chris Jones, in the past you haven't needed to have true freshmen take over? "This year, no, we haven't. It was good to see those guys. They're starting to grow. De'Runnya is starting to get better, doing a nice job of learning how to play the game. Chris obviously is a guy that has a lot of athletic potential, very talented athlete, but still you can see he's really learning fundamentals and learning how to be a good every-down football player."
You talked at Houston about not finishing, what has changed with that? "Everything changes from every single week. An awful lot has improved since then. When you go back to the start of the season, you look at the missed assignments, we had more missed assignments. The only other game was the Egg Bowl last year where he had close to that many missed assignments on offense from the first game of the season. Where I think we were down 18 total in the game in all three phases this weekend. So fundamentally sound, we played much better. You look at this week's game, the missed tackles; I think we each had the same number of missed tackles, they had twice as yards on missed tackles afterwards. They had more negative yards plays than we did but they had more explosive plays than we had, too."
"So little things like that I think come out. There were a lot of big plays made in that game, both negative yards and positive yardage on Saturday. But there are so many different things (its) hard to go into, every single player, every single detail it's totally different now than it was at beginning of the season."
Injuries "We expect everybody to play this week. But we'll see. As the week goes on there will be a lot of guys limited at practice all during the week. But nobody has been ruled-out for the game on Saturday, or nobody new has been ruled-out for the game on Saturday."
What does it take building a program at Bowling Green? "They've done a great job. Obviously you have to know who you're competing against. It's interesting, a lot of that conference are schools in Ohio with Akron, Kent, Toledo, Miami, the university of Ohio, the Bobcats! I've got a proud alum in my house! So I think at Bowling Green you're competing against those schools, not against the big school in the state."
"But I think when you look at it, what they've done there, they've been able to win pretty consistently, build a solid foundation. It's a great school, kids have a great time going there, now they've built some really facilities, all new facilities since I was there, so they have a lot to sell as a university. And it's pretty accessible to a lot of places as far as travel and distance-wise. They've done a good job, they've been pretty consistent doing a good job there. It just shows the type of team."
Is the ‘chip on shoulder' mentality over-rated? "No, I think everybody tries to use that. We use that here, we have a chip on our shoulder here, you know, for a lot of our guys and within our conference. I'm sure they use all that stuff. And for their guys, when I was there we went undefeated against BCS schools. So I think their kids really look forward to playing in these games. The chip on the shoulder is the opportunity to play a SEC school. We get to do it eight times a year, they get to do it once so it's a pretty big opportunity for those guys."
How is Ashton Shumpert's progression? "He's done a real good job for us. You look, I think in the running-back position he has the second-most carries. (LaDarius) Perkins has 39 carries, he's got 29 carries. As a true freshman coming in, he's done a really good job. And we talk about development of players, it is that. He's obviously been accelerated playing as a freshman getting on the field. He's getting the ball in his hands, learning how to be a back, learning how to do pass protections, how to block, carry out fakes. Not just running the football but also learning. I think part of that translates, when you get into special teams you're learning the importance of your assignment and fundamentals and technique, to become successful. And he's done a really good job of doing those things for us."
On his first play back Tyler Russell took a sack, talk about the poise he showed to come back and throw the touchdown? "Yeah, the touchdown pass was a great play. He changed the play at the line of scrimmage, changed the protection, the route. He saw a certain pressure coming and wanted to change the play and get to something different. That just kind of shows his experience. Unfortunately he's been sacked a bunch during his career. If you stick around long enough and you're playing this fourth year, getting sacked isn't going to affect him. When you've played as much as he has, you take positives, negatives in stride. He's been sacked, he's thrown interceptions; he's now the school's all-time leading touchdown passer. All those things come in stride of him, which you always want. Which is take what's happened on that play and translate into what you can do on the next play or future plays in the game. He's done a good job of that for us."
Were you happy when he kept the option? "On the option play? It was a great run, that was a right read, he took the ball. Lower his pads and go get the yards, that's what he's supposed to do."
Do you worry about him taking the hit? "No, he's a tough kid. I'll be honest, quarterbacks take more hits in the pocket than they do running the ball. Running the ball you're usually are a weapon. I imagine as many guys get hurt sliding or trying to get down or in the pocket as they do when they're running the ball. When he's running the ball he has the defender coming right at him and he can kind of be the aggressor. The hammer, not the nail."
Where would you be without your time at Bowling Green? "Boy, who knows? That was my first full-time job. I'd been a restricted-earnings and grad assistant at different schools before then. But it was my first full-time coaching position. I learned an awful lot there. I've learned an awful lot here as the head coach, but everywhere you go you can learn a lot. I met my wife there, it changed a lot about who you are. I grew up a lot while I was there, and I think personally and football-wise. So it was a good time, a good experience for me."
"You look at life, what was that about 12 years ago now? Say where will I be ten years from now, well within ten years of leaving Bowling Green I was head coach here. I will be honest with you, where will you be ten years from now? Being head coach at Mississippi State was not the first thing that jumped out! I'd loved to have been a head coach. But we did some good things, we had some really good players and had a lot of success. And it helped a lot of different people get to where they are today."
You've talked about players trying to do other jobs than their own, is that a specific area? "I don't know about trying to do other guys' jobs. I think trying too hard to make plays, at times, is what it was. And when that happens, a lot of times on the defensive side of the ball you get out of ‘fits'. I'm going to try to go make a big play right here when my job was to be in the A-gap; I'm not in the A-gap because I was trying to make a big play. That stuff happens with experience. Hey, I'm just trying to get open even though I'm not running my route the right way; or I'm trying to ball in where I don't need to force it into."
"I think that stuff happens sometimes, especially with some younger players that are looking and saying hey, boy, it's the fourth quarter, I need to go make a play. And you have to understand that yeah, you have to make a play within your job and making sure you're doing your job and then make a play on top of that is important."
You want them to stay aggressive but keep under control? "It's about them learning how to do that. Which is very, very important. I mean everybody has a specific role to do and if you don't do your job the right way then it can affect a lot of other people. I love guys wanting to make plays. I think that's something we look for with a young group, you need guys to step up to want to do that. You learn how to make plays within the system and within doing your job."
How does this game differ from facing Florida? "Well, I knew most of the guys on the team at Florida and recruited a lot of them, coached a lot of them. I don't know any of the players at Bowling Green right now. But I know a lot of the alums and former players there. It will be fun, it's a neat deal. While coaching there I met my wife, it's your first full-time coaching job, I got to coach guys like Josh Harris who was just awesome, our quarterbacks there, Omar Jacobs, really good guys. I still talk to Josh a bunch, I haven't talked to Omar in a while, I saw him a couple of years ago when we were in Florida."
"It's kind of neat deal going back. I have to keep an eye around the office, John Clark, our assistant is a proud alum so he asked me if he was going to get the week off this week. I said no, we're just going to keep very close eyes on what you do and what meetings you're allowed in."
Talk about the red zone production? "It is huge. Red zone offense on both sides of the ball is critical, it's a huge part of winning the football game. The stat to me is, obviously kicking is always a concern but to me it's point potential. We were minus-11 point potential on Saturday, where we had two field goals and a missed field goal; and we held them to a field goal one time. So they lost four points in the red zone they potentially could have gotten, we lost more than that.'
"I think that is always huge, you've got to hold people to field goals and field goal attempts, where you have to score touchdowns. Red zone scoring to me is proportionate to touchdowns in the red zones, not as much field goals. When you get down there you have to get touchdowns. I see a lot of red zone where you score this percent of time; that's irrelevant to me. How much of your potential points have you scored? You look at potential being seven."
So red zone points are potential touchdowns? "You're plus as many as you can possibly get. And every time they get down there you hold them to zero or three and you get seven every time you get down there. We went for two one time, which would have been a bonus, we had the guy wide-open (and) we missed the throw. So we were like minus-16 on offense and only plus-four on defense. I guess we were at -12 because I forgot about the two-point conversion. So you look at us, we left 16 potential points on the board in the red zone, and we only held them to 4 fewer points than what would be expected in the red zone."
In Bowling Green's loss they threw more and ran less than they wanted, how important is it to get ahead and take them out of their offense? "Well, that'd be great! The further you get ahead the better! The faster I can get ahead a lot the happier I usually am. That worked well for us in the Troy game and Alcorn game this year."
"No, obviously any time you play at home you want to have momentum at home. And you want to keep the crowd, homefield advantage it's so important having that crowd alive and involved, making it difficult on the other team. I think that is always huge so it's critical our fan base are loud, on their feet, making noise for four quarters for us. That's as important a part of the game as anything else."
If you could tell Dan Mullen 12 years ago what you about life and coaching? "Boy, I don't know. I like my right now, so I don't know if I want to mess with it too much. I'm pretty happy now, I'm very fortunate. I've got a great wife, I have two great kids, I have a job that I love, I'm around great people and coach great kids here. So I'd be scared to, you know if you look at the movies, if they go back in time and I alter something the shock waves into the future could change everything right there, like Michael J. Fox! Back to the Future. So I wouldn't want to mess with that too much because I really like my life right now."
On defense are you looking for the balance with being aggressive and also not getting beat deep? "I think when people look at it, you can't confuse aggression with just blitzing and being unsound. When we look at mayhem there are a lot of points, a lot of different things involved in it. And you don't have to blitz or any of that stuff to have mayhem."
"Being aggressive is a style. Forcing negative yardage plays, having tipped balls, potential to create turnovers, putting teams in long-distance situations. Those are all things that we want to do with that in an aggressive style. You're going to aggressively disguise on defense and still drop eight, that's still very aggressive to me in that how you're doing things."
"A lot of people hear aggressive, we're going to be an aggressive defense, doesn't mean you're going to blitz. Aggressive to me it means I want to have 11 guys flying to the football every time and causing confusion to the offense and playing with unbelievable effort. That to me is the stuff that we look for more than hey, we're going to run like a Joe Lee Dunn defense where we have guys coming from every different direction, we're playing two d-linemen and rushing six linebackers from one side and dropping the other side. That was some great stuff, it was really neat stuff to watch and a real pain in the butt when you're on offense. But we've just not that style. That's not the definition of aggressive to me, aggressive is the demeanor in which your guys play with."