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September 30, 2013

Mullen, Bulldogs, Healed from Bye Week; Ready for Tigers

Dan Mullen was happy to see the bye week come but he might be as excited to get back into the swing of things after the momentum of a 60+-point offensive performance against Troy. Still, the off week was much needed as the Bulldogs tried to heal injured pups and get Tyler Russell back to game speed.

"I haven't seen everybody since they all went home last week. We didn't have any major academic issues for guys being punished this weekend so everybody got a chance to go home and see their families and get a little breather getting away. We're looking forward to getting everybody back today for practice."

Mullen said that he expects everyone healthy for the game this week which includes Russell and linebacker Ferlando Bohanna who has missed the first four games due to a concussion. Bohanna hasn't had a symptom in the last couple of weeks, Mullen said, and should be cleared for contact starting today.

For Russell, Mullen is ready to have him back in the swing of things as the quarterback. He has mentioned several times in the last two weeks that Russell is the team's starter and they are behind him.

"He's played a lot of football. It's one thing if he hasn't played a lot of games but he's played a lot of football," Mullen said on his senior quarterback. "He's been in big games so obviously I see it differently than if he was an inexperienced quarterback. He had a pretty good game against LSU last year."

Russell has played lots of football indeed but the darling of the fan base right now is Dak Prescott. It might not be totally fair to throw Russell out to dry for MSU fans and his partner Prescott told us last week he's behind Russell and following his lead. Mullen stays with that as well but the protocol for the starting position is a bit sketchier than that.

"We'll figure it out as we go the same way we do Perk and Josh Robinson and Preston Smith and Ryan Brown, it's all the same. Guys have got to be ready to play. You've seen already, a guy is one snap away from getting in the game it doesn't matter if it's the quarterback position it's any position. We'll balance out the reps to make sure we have two quarterback ready to play and the spare for the third one. We'll balance the reps in practice."

Russell actually might give the Bulldogs a bit more of a threat in the passing game against a defense that is still stout but not near the level they have played with in the past. You can also look back at what Russell has been able to do against the Tigers in the previous three years. He had one of the best games of his career throwing for 295 yards on 26-38 with a touchdown and an interception. As a freshman in Baton Rouge he performed okay although he threw three interceptions. Despite that, Mullen sees a quarterback fully capable of a big game because of his approach to each practice, game and rep.

"I think with Tyler it's just his personality in meetings and how he handles himself on the field that you love. Tyler loves to work and is a hard worker but he has a good time while he does it. If he's able to laugh and joke and be serious, then you know he's back to normal. He's not goofy or silly he's professional in his preparation he just has a good time doing it."

MSU has a huge challenge facing an LSU team that has more threats than they have had under Les Miles. Speaking of Miles, the larger-than-life coach has been known for a lot more than his coaching whether it be grazing the turf at Tiger Stadium or his always-entertaining quotes. Mullen sees passed all of that and admires his ability to just win.

"We all have our quirks, right? I think he's a very good coach that has a lot of personality. Sometimes that can come off a different way but we all have our quirks. I guess I chew my gameplan sometimes and wear a visor so I have my quirks. Everybody has those and I think to be in this league as long as he's been here and to see the success that they've had, I think that shows how great a coach that he is. It's not like it's been one staff. He's had turnovers with different offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators and still it's a lot of success over a long period of time. He runs a great program and he's one of the best coaches out there."

The Tigers are coming off an emotional loss at Georgia in a back-and-forth affair that everyone around the SEC thoroughly enjoyed. If anything, that game worried Mullen more than encouraged him about this Saturday.

"I don't know that watching that game was encouraging. One thing is we saw two of the best teams in the country battle it down to the wire last weekend. One thing you look at is the explosiveness of LSU's offense; we're going to have to score some points. To do that we're going to have to execute at a very high level and make a lot of plays against a talented defense."

LSU has been known for grounding and pounding the ball offensively with an under-center approach occasionally using the shotgun to run it. With the evolution of Zach Mettenburger, they've added a new dimension and have become scarier for opposing SEC teams. Mullen thinks they've made it tougher to compete against but their background hasn't changed.

"They're still a power running team. They've done a good job. They have two NFL wide receivers and a NFL quarterback with a big arm to get them the ball. That causes a dilemma. How do you stop the run which forces everyone in the box to now one-on-one with a bunch of NFL players in the perimeter? You can see now they've done a really good job of making plays when they need to make plays and when you leave them one-on-one they can be explosive in the passing game."

With those receivers ability will come tougher play needed from the cornerbacks who have had trouble at times but have answered the call as well. With injuries and youth covering the depth chart in the backfield, Jamerson Love has had to take control and he's done so in the first part of the season trying to heal from a nagging injury himself.

"I think he's the most experience corner we have which isn't a whole lot of experience," Mullen said about Love. "In these situations there's a whole lot that these guys can learn from how he plays and how he performs as your most experienced guy. He's got a lot of speed, which helps him and allows him to keep up with most everybody out there which is important when you want to play man coverage."

The versatility of the team adds a threat for Mullen and company that he hopes he can use against the Tigers coming up this week. Jameon Lewis is a weapon that Mullen has utilized often this year and became the first player in MSU history to throw, run and receive a touchdown against Troy.

"That was neat," Mullen said of Lewis' pass. "You look at a lot of our guys that were high school quarterbacks, they're guys that are attractive to everybody because in high school they're putting their best athlete at quarterback. The fact that they come in and they've thrown passes before, it'll give you some flexibility. A guy like Jameon Lewis knows how to run the ball as a high school running quarterback but has thrown the ball and taken snaps. The one transition is beginning the position that they play at receiver, where he's spending most of the time working at. We have several guys on our team that have been former high school quarterbacks and they bring a lot of versatility to the table in the big picture in everything that they do."

Scoring points is key for the Bulldogs against an LSU team that has become much more of a threat when they have the ball. Getting stops might be just as crucial for MSU than scoring lots of points.

"You look at last week's game and you say take away the run and what do they throw for, 450 yards? A big, big number. You can watch some of their other games and try to take away the pass and they're just going to run the ball up and down the field on you with a big physical offensive line and a talented group of running backs. It always makes a challenge for us because they're a very balanced team. They love to run the ball but the balance in the pass game makes them so difficult to defend."

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