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August 21, 2013Eight days from now there will be real-life football that counts on our television screens. We've finally gotten to that point in our lives where the depravity from the pageantry of college football is about to be relinquished. Just two days following that opening kickoff of Vanderbilt and Ole Miss in Nashville, Bulldog fans will get their taste of the pigskin pleasure with one of the biggest opening games in recent memory for MSU. With the countdown nearing single digits, the Bulldog football team is changing their approach and working towards their game-week preparations next week.
"It's kind of like a bye week right now," Head Coach Dan Mullen said. "You're working on a bunch on Oklahoma State, but you're also working on a bunch of other fundamentals like cleaning things up and getting things fixed."
With this week their supposed "bye week", next week the team prepares to go full throttle gearing up for the national stage in Houston against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, a perennial top-15 team and preseason pick to win the Big 12. Mullen said that now is the time to get adjusted to that new schedule of how this team will do things going through the season.
"It's a different schedule for everybody so you have to break that in," Mullen said of his team's new approach with the practice schedule. "Now it's different preparation. You're not 100% game-week, you're cleaning some stuff up from camp, but it's a lot more game-week orientation. Training camp is over so now it's focusing on getting ready to play the game."
Part of what Mullen is counting on in his preparation is for players to step up and lead the way for younger guys to follow suit.
"That's the focus," Mullen said of the team shifting to game-week mode. "With leaders like (Jay Hughes), they need to take charge and make sure that we're transitioning ourselves that way. With school going on, guys aren't showing up here until 2:15 with classes all day. So it's getting used to that transition and getting used to going to school and not focusing on football all the time."
The main focal point of MSU's plan moving forward against the Cowboys is adjusting to what the opposition will do offensively. Averaging over 40 points and 500 yards per game in 2012, OSU provides enough headaches for Mullen and his staff as they try to prepare.
"They run so many plays and that's a huge deal," Mullen said of his opening opponent. "All their quarterbacks that they play are very accurate and they spread it around with their different receivers. One of the things they do very well, and I've always believed in, is not always focusing on one guy. Their offense isn't designed on getting the ball to one guy, it's designed to spread it around and take what the defense gives you. When you do that, it gives you a good opportunity to be successful."
Part of what will give MSU their chance to be successful against the big-play offense of OSU is constantly getting a solid rotation of players in and out of the game to keep the defense on their toes and fresh. Mullen mentioned, with an offense that runs so many plays, that is key.
With Jon Banks and Darius Slay now gone, most of the talk around Starkville has been how exactly those players will be replaced. The coaches and players lose no sleep at night over that and feel prepared enough for the next big challenge. With that said, Mullen knows there's no way of knowing just how good his crop of defenders will be until the first snap.
"They're doing good," Mullen said of his young secondary. "I mean we'll find out when we go live (against Oklahoma State). It's a different offense than what they see in training camp so that's going to be the interesting thing and it will be a different challenge for them facing an offense like that."
On the flip side of the ball lies the other question mark that Bulldog fans have had since the loss of their top three targets from 2012. Mullen offered nothing more than that he wants to see lots of different faces making plays and stepping to the plate as he said he needs six to eight receivers ready to play for game one regardless of experience. So who can State fans count on down the stretch?
"Coach (Billy) Gonzales," Mullen said with a smirk. "I mean, RoJo (Robert Johnson) and Jameon (Lewis) have been around and they're not the most vocal guys, but they've been around for awhile. When you watch them, they're very comfortable leading by example and doing things the right way. They know how to prepare and how to do things the right way and that helps."
Mullen and company have also started working scout team in practice the last couple of days in preparation for the high-powering offensive attack of OSU. The team has been working the scout team after scrimmaging but aren't quite going full-game week mode. And, of course, replicating the speed of the Cowboy offense is something that is difficult to do for Mullen's group.
"It's tough. There's a lot of different ways you can teach it and you different drills that are maybe even more speed-oriented than execution-oriented drills so they try to go even more fast so they're used to the speed. There's a lot of different variables that we'll use."
Mullen didn't offer any hints at injured players and their progress but instead mentioned that, at this point, it's the point of preparation that players are getting back on the field to get their reps and getting ready to play the game.
The team is now at the regular practice fields for the duration of the season and on a much more organized schedule moving forward as practice is around 4:30 every day with team meetings immediately following.
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