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November 4, 2013

Mullen's Monday Musings: Bulldogs Stand Behind Prescott in his Mother's Loss

Starkville and the campus of Mississippi State University had a different feel to it on Monday afternoon. It wasn't the Saturday loss that had spirits down but a much bigger loss that occurred within the program. This kind of loss transcends any victory or any defeat that sports encompass. This loss was the team's emotional leader and quarterback Dak Prescott's loss. The sophomore's mother finally gave in to her long, heroic battle to cancer on Sunday morning.

We've all experienced this loss. Cancer has hit home with every one of us no matter school affiliation, race or gender. Peggy Prescott was her son's hero and it was just as prevalent vice versa. The loveable passer showed it on and off the field as he shaved head this season in support of his mother and it's been clear that their relationship was one that was unbreakable, impeccable and long-lasting. That's why the loss hit the team and the head coach particularly hard as they now get behind Prescott as he goes through the toughest of times.

"A tough week for us outside of football with Dak Prescott's mom Peggy passing away early Sunday morning. I know within the program, obviously we're a very tight knit family program and when someone in our family has to go through something like that it's always a very difficult situation," Mullen said. "Our prayers are always with him and with the whole family and I thank everybody out there that have been sharing their prayers with Dak and his whole family. I know that's much appreciated and I know they thank everyone for respecting their privacy and everything they have to go through as a family right now. It's a very difficult situation for all of us to see. Fortunately, both of my parents are still alive but to see a young man that we care about go through this is very, very difficult."

Mullen stood at the podium during his opening statements and was as somber as he has ever been since coming to Mississippi State. He nearly choked up talking about the group of players that are supporting Prescott and the mark that Prescott's mother had on his life as well as the coach's.

"I know all of his teammates are supporting him and he's been able to get back and spend time with his family. We were able to get him there yesterday," Mullen said. "She was a very strong mom. The best way I can judge someone is how they raised their son. I hope my son turns out like Dak. He's a guy that's a great student, football player, effort guy and leader. He does everything the right way and as hard as he possibly can. Going through everything that she's had to go through, the love that she has not only for Dak but all of her sons is pretty amazing. I look in to knowing her in recruiting and how strong she was, with him and how strong he was in belief in coming here, she wanted him here. She's been amazing and very supportive of him all along. A great mom."

The coach was asked about the week for Prescott moving forward and if he would be planning to play on Saturday. Mullen hasn't thought further than getting Prescott to his family and letting him have time to heal.

"I haven't thought anything about that yet, as it regards to Dak," Mullen said. "It's with the family and I know they're going to look at the funeral arrangements and all of that stuff. He'll just have our full support."

As tough as it is to think about something other than Prescott's best interests in a tough time, Mullen and his team now shift their focus on taking on their toughest opponent of the season when they travel to College Station, Texas to take on Texas A&M and the defending Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel.

"The game for us this week is obviously going to be a very tough challenge playing one of the best, if not the best, offenses in the country. You say that from a consistency standpoint because I think one of the lowest points they've scored in a game was 41," Mullen said of A&M. "Obviously they're a very explosive offense with a lot of talented players. They've had several first round draft picks last year and it looks like they're going to have more first round draft picks this year. They're an extremely talented football team that we have to go play against the defending Heisman Trophy winner. Last week we went from playing the best defensive player in the country to playing probably the best offensive player in the country."

Speaking of that offensive player, it was tough to gauge what Manziel was going to be able to do this season and if he could top or duplicate the season he had a year ago. With a tumultuous off season off the field and the thought that defenses in the SEC would figure him out, it appears he's poised to chase another Heisman. He provides a tough task for Geoff Collins and his defense.

"There's a little bit of everything. There's his ability to run the football, to throw the football and the third one is his ability to improvise. In improvising he can run or throw and that is where the difficult problem comes in," Mullen said about Manziel. "If you defend him in the run game and slow them down, you have to be able to defend their receivers. Those are the type of things that make the offense such a problem."


Manziel has a partner in crime that he improvises with in big-target receiver Mike Evans. The two have become one of the most explosive 1-2 combos in the country and an unstoppable force for even great defenses like Alabama. Mullen doesn't want to give any plays away to either of them.

"You can only put so many guys on so many people. They have some great, explosive, big-time running backs that they can hand the ball off to. They have a very good receiving core of not just one guy but multiple guys," Mullen said. "So if you put two guys on Manziel and two guys on Evans, the other seven take the rest of the nine and we're too short. You look at all of the talent that they have and that makes it very difficult. What you have to do is execute at a very high level. If Johnny Manziel scrambles around and throws one up and Evans jumps up and catches the ball, there's not a whole lot you can do about that. What you have to avoid is him scrambling around and no one is around Mike Evans. We have to go make the play."

As far as looking back at the last game, Mullen saw some positives in the game. Prescott had a rough day turning the ball over four times out of the five total turnovers but Mullen credits the defense for forcing those turnovers.

"You look at each one of them, there was a different reason for each one of them happening," Mullen said about turnovers. "Give South Carolina credit, their defenders were running to the football. Usually when you play hard and run to the ball good things happen. I'm a big believer that the ball bounces to those that go hard not just the one that was lucky."

One thing that MSU set out to do in that game was to stop one of the country's top defensive playmakers in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The phenom was in the backfield on occasions and recorded three tackles and a pass breakup, but left tackle Blaine Clausell seemed to handle him well throughout the game and got help from Gabe Jackson. Honestly, Mullen was pleasantly surprised as he believed that Clowney was going to make his plays regardless.

"In looking at it, I was wrong talking to our team that he was going to make the play and not let the big play affect us. He still had a couple of tackles and a tipped ball, but I think overall our guys handled situations well whether they were one-on-one with him or getting help with him. The thing I was happiest with was the execution of the plan. Our guys really did a good understanding where the help was. A lot of times a player like that is still going to win. I guess you could say they contained his impact on the game."

On the defensive side of the ball, MSU played as well a defensive game than South Carolina had faced all year with the short field being the only thing that hurt them for the most part with the exception of a couple of drives. The Bulldogs sent USC off the field seven times without a first down, the most this year by any defense.

"Defensively, 50 percent of their possessions were three-and-outs which is what you want. Unfortunately we gave them the ball three times deep in our territory which is hard to defend from. We had a couple of actual drives where we gave up big plays. On a second and long we blitz and don't get home and they make a screen. Then we missed the safety coming over the top and they scored. They have a 40 or 50-yard run where we had a tackle for loss and we miss and it turns into a big play."

"Defensively you look at that stuff and there's a lot of positives. I think we moved the ball. We had almost double the number of first downs that they had. We had more yards than they had and we turned it over five times. You can see a lot of the things. There's nothing good about a loss and losses are terrible. Wins are great. Now how you get to them is usually pretty close. The end result is drastically different but the process of getting there is very close."

There were no new injuries to report from Mullen other than the players already done for the season with Torrey Dale, Dee Arrington and Jordan Washington ruled out for the week in addition. Tyler Russell sat out this past week with an ankle injury but Mullen expects him to be ready to go this week. He said that the fact that he didn't play against USC helped him get to 100 percent this week.


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