September 18, 2011

Bulldogs dig an early SEC West hole

Following back-to-back losses to Auburn and LSU, Mississippi State finds itself in an early 0-2 hole in the SEC West race.

The Bulldogs lost to Auburn on a last second goal line stand then dropped a 19-6 decision to LSU this past week in their home opener on national television. But head coach Dan Mullen feels like his squad has been able to gain valuable experiences despite the losses which will help their chances in the future.

"Obviously we played a very physical game last week and that's what you get in this conference," Mullen said. "You've got to rebound from those games. We've had two tough games and I've seen improvement from our players in the last couple of weeks and seen some things that our young players are improving on which is important. We need to see continued growth and improvement from our older players as we move forward into this season."

After giving up 235 yards on the ground to Auburn with several missed tackles in week two, MSU's defense was able to cut that number down to 148 against LSU and allowed just one touchdown.

"I saw some improvements out of that," Mullen said. "I still expect Fletcher Cox to play at a higher level than he did this game but he played better in this game than he did the week before. Kaleb Eulls made a couple of tackles for loss and you can see him getting used to the SEC speed right now. We're still not exactly where I want us to be on the defensive front and the front seven as a whole but I do think when you watch that film there is a lot more positives that I saw than the negatives I saw against Auburn."

The Bulldog wide receivers however were not much of a factor offensively on Thursday. The wideouts combined to catch only five passes for 39 yards to go along with tight end Macolm Johnson's 22-yard grab.

"I'd like to get the ball in their hands a little bit more," Mullen said. "A lot of times coverages and defenses dictate who gets the ball in the passing game."

Mullen also made the decision to remove senior quarterback Chris Relf trailing 16-6 with 10 minutes to play and replace him with sophomore Tyler Russell for the final three possessions of the contsest.

"Chris Relf is our starter and I have a ton of confidence in him," Mullen said. "Chris played decent and actually played well through the course of the game. We were just real stagnant on offense and looking for anything to get a spark. We weren't moving the ball very well or efficiently, time was clicking away quickly and we'd gone a couple straight three-and-outs. I was trying to create a spark or something different to spark us on the offense."

One quarterback who has yet to take a snap in his career is redshirt freshman Dylan Favre. Although Favre has seen action on special teams the past two weeks, he felt like he should have gotten a chance behind center.

Following Thursday's game Favre tweeted "Is an opportunity too much 2 ask for?" from his personal Twitter account. Shortly after doing so he contacted Mullen to apologize.

"He called me afterwards and said 'Coach I messed up'," Mullen said. "My response to that is that it's a maturity issue for him. I certainly would prefer that tweet than 'I'm happy standing on the sidelines'. I want guys who want to be out there on the field. Dylan is a guy who calls me and says 'Coach I made a mistake. I'm frustrated. I want to play. I want to be on the field and help the team'. He's fiery.

"He was frustrated and expressed his frustration the wrong way by doing it publically. He knows that right away. I learned about it from him not from anywhere but him which is how you want it to be."

The third year head coach is hoping for an opportunity to use Favre, a former Parade All-American who threw for 5,589 yards and 63 touchdowns as a high school senior, behind center sooner rather than later.

"If he keeps developing in practice I'd love to get him on the field," Mullen said. "If you've seen him, he's on the punt block team and starting to play some special teams. Right now I'm not forced to put him in at quarterback because I have two guys with experience right now that have played in game situations. I want to get him on the field just to get him used to be on the field in whatever role that is. If I have to increase his role on special teams I'll do that. If the opportunity presents itself to get him snaps at quarterback we will certainly get him on the field to give him that experience."

The Bulldogs did have some discouraging injury news from week three losing junior right guard Tobias Smith to a knee injury for the season. This is the third major injury Smith has suffered in his four years in Starkville.

"You just feel terrible for him," Mullen said. "You know how hard he's worked and how much he means to this team not just as a player but as a leader."

Mullen did announce Sunday that he hoped to have senior left tackle James Carmon back available for the game this week against Louisiana Tech. Carmon went down with a knee injury during the first half against Auburn.

With Smith and Carmon out of action for most of the LSU game, redshirt freshmen Blaine Clausell and Dillon Day were pressed into action. Clausell started at left tackle while Day got most of the reps at center when senior Quentin Saulsberry moved over to guard to replace Smith.

"They were okay," Mullen said of Clausell and Day. "We have a standard by which we play by here. I'm not going to say they played poorly but we do need them now to step up because when you're playing the top teams in the country week-in and week-out, you have to play at a very, very, very high level. That's what we need them to do now on our line."

Despite State having a few extra days to prepare for the upcoming Louisiana Tech matchup this week, Mullen instead opted to allow his squad time to heal and rest before getting back on the practice fields Monday.

"We gave our kids off Friday, Saturday and Sunday because of the tough run that we've been through so far and the physical-ness of playing two top 25 teams within five days and the beating that puts on your body," Mullen said. "We wanted to give our guys time off so I don't know if it gives us an advantage. If there is an advantage hopefully it's that our guys got a little bit more rest."

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