It wasn't the outcome that the Bulldogs wanted in their opening SEC game. State had their chances to pull off the upset but Dan Mullen mentioned on Monday that they didn't do enough things right to start the SEC season 1-0. Missed tackles had a lot to do with it and the occasional missed assignment here and there added up to one big outcome, another loss on the plains.
"One of our goals going into the game was not let them run the ball and we accomplished that goal," Mullen said about the defense's performance. "Unfortunately, the flip side of it is we had 18 missed tackles which netted about 180 yards for them. Most of that was in the passing game on quick screens. Give them credit, they made some nice throws and down-the-field plays on us and 85 of that came when our corner fell down. You take that 85 yards out of their passing game and the 120 missed tackles out and it's a different game. I thought we played very good on defense. A lot of those yards came on those quick screens and missing tackles. Within our plan that was the most disappointing thing. I thought we stopped the run, created some three and outs and got off the field on defense. I never thought tempo became a huge factor during the game, but I though that's where we lacked defensively."
Adjustments were made by the Bulldog defense in the middle of the first quarter after an 11-point deficit and Mullen and Geoff Collins liked what they saw.
"I think it's getting used to getting ready for the speed of the game and the type of talent that (Auburn) had. They spread us out, hit us with some quick screens and we missed some tackles. We were really stopping the run game really well. When you can stop the run against a team like Auburn that really wants to run it you break the momentum that they get going. I think we did that in the middle part of the game. Early in the game, they hit some screens and got some first downs."
The defense played an aggressive style for the most part of the game but conservative during the last possession which led to a long drive in less than two minutes for the win. It was heartbreaking for the players and coaches, but Mullen likes how his team is responding.
"I think the team's starting to develop their personality a little bit and I think this is a good week to test that development. The attitude in the locker room after the game- I was extremely upset after the game and our players were extremely upset after the game- I think was a good thing. For what happened, I liked the look and the emotion and the feeling that the guys had. That's the response that I wanted from them and we got that. Not wanting to be in that situation we were in Saturday, I liked how they reacted after the game. There were a lot of guys that were devastated. They wanted to win that game. You could see there were some guys that were hurt that we didn't win. A lot of guys will point fingers but you didn't see that. You saw a team of guys that, as a whole, everybody felt great disappoint. I want to see how we respond today."
"I think in every situation it's going to be different with just the personality of the guys," Mullen said about his young team. "I think anytime you have a loss, you're looking at every play. Unfortunately, my reality is it's never as good and it's never really as bad. If we make one play in that game we have all the answers and we're jumping up and down patting ourselves on the back. We're going to see how they come out and react at practice today. We're going to get back to work and hopefully they come out with a little chip on their shoulder. To be successful you have to come back and respond from that type of loss with the desire to get back on the field to get back to work and work harder."
Offensively, Mullen would like to get the ball out of Prescott's hands a little more and in the hands of other playmakers although he liked what he did while running the offense. Mullen said that there are lots of mouths to feed on the offensive front that should be seeing the ball more.
"We might have to go high-tempo so we run more plays because everybody wants the ball and there's only so many plays," Mullen joked. "It is something you look at. A lot of those plays are option plays and the defense is dictating who's getting the ball. I can only look at how they dictated and made the right reads. I think most of the time we made the right reads, we might have missed one or two. I don't know if their plan was if Tyler Russell is playing let's make sure he's the one carrying the ball to maybe get a hit on him and knock him out of the game, I don't know that game plan wise. It's always something that you want to look at. We want to make sure playmakers touch the ball. Jameon Lewis has gotten the ball a bunch and been able to do something with it. (Brandon) Holloway is a dynamic open-field player. Perkins is a guy that we probably need to get the ball to more but he didn't practice a whole lot last week coming back from that injury. On the report he's full-go today so you're going to feel a lot more comfortable having him on the game plan."
Now MSU tries to put the loss behind them and focus on the Troy Trojans who have gotten off to a solid 2-1 start coming up just short of Sun Belt-rival Arkansas State last week. Last season the Trojans put a scare into the Bulldogs with nearly 600 yards of offense put up by Corey Robinson and his squad. Robinson comes in with nearly every school and conference record on his belt and has even broken a single-game completion percentage record earlier this year completing 30 of his 32 passes for 93.8%.
"It'll be a great challenge for us this week with Troy. Last year, obviously it was a very exciting game against them coming right down to the wire and they have a lot of those guys coming back. Their quarterback especially is currently college football's leading passer and is a very explosive player. They've always been able to put up points in a hurry and creates a challenge for us. They play hard on defense. I think the fact that we played them last year they'll have confidence knowing our players and I think our guys know the type of challenge we're going to be in for in a game of this magnitude. Hopefully we'll get another sellout crowd; a great home field advantage for us."
Home field is a welcomed site for the Bulldogs and a place where Mullen has had lots of success over his career. He's hoping to have lots of success over the next month or so at home and get the ship righted and the fan base back on the ship.
"I've always said that it's very critical to win at home. That is a standard you have to set no matter who you're playing. You have to win your home games. You can see how difficult it is to play on the road in the SEC. You can look at the margin of error in last week's game. You're talking about one play in about 170 could have swung the result of that game either way. Having home field advantage always helps you swing that one play. That's important to have that."
Back-to-back week's the Bulldogs have been game planning for a fast-paced spread style but Mullen sees a lot of differences in the Tory offense than what he saw with Auburn's. Most importantly, Auburn didn't go to the pass because of game planning they went because of adjustments. Troy will use Robinson's arm as often as they need.
"There's a lot of similarities, but Troy goes about it a different way. They're going to throw the ball. I think Gus (Malzahn) wanted to run the ball a little more and throw the ball a little less than they did. A lot of their screens are part of run reads. Troy is going to be a lot more about throwing the football. They're going to spread you out. They'll be throw first mentality and then run it."
Robinson has presented a problem for many defenses over the last four years of his storied career including the Bulldogs. So what makes him so good?
"He's an extremely accurate passer, has a very quick release and being college football's active leader passing, he knows their system. The hard part is you want to get pressure on him but he gets rid of it quick and he knows exactly where he's going with the ball. If you want to spread him out all over the place, they're going to run the ball and they were able to do that to us last year. He makes very good decisions between run and pass and they have good athletes that catch passes and make plays after the catch. They have a good system, they know what they're doing in their system and they have good players that fit their system well. That makes them very dangerous. I guess if there's a positive light on giving up however many yards we did last year- which was an enormous amount- it is our guys coming into the game know what to expect from that type of team coming in."
On the injury front, the weekly question of "how's Russell?" was slightly answered. Mullen sounded as optimistic as last week which was pretty optimistic at that point. Russell was thought to have been okay to go on Saturday and was running through reps in pregame warm-ups and announced as a starter before not playing at all. Mullen said that the senior was cleared to go through reps and run and pass but not cleared by the doctors for contact which made the decision for the coach.
After Prescott's last two ball games where he ran the offense very well for career games in both, conversation has already heated up about a quarterback controversy. Mullen shoots down that idea but he is not interested in rushing Russell on to the field if he's not ready and feels comfortable enough in Prescott to run his offense.
"I want to see, if Tyler (Russell) is cleared, how he performs and how does he perform in practice for us. Is he as sharp as I want him to be when he gets cleared? If that's the case then he's good to go. Anybody can lose their job at any time. I have tremendous faith in Tyler and he's won some games for us and is our starting quarterback but we want to always train our guys. I like having multiple quarterbacks because you feel pretty comfortable with guys being in that situations ready to go play. I've never had a quarterback controversy in all my year's coaching. I've never had a tailback controversy, linebacker controversy or any of those. Within our (program), you do your job and what's asked of you to do."
Other injury notice: Justin Malone and Jay Hughes have both had their season-ending surgeries performed and will start rehabbing soon. Linebacker Ferlando Bohanna is still out after a concussion a week before the season occurred and will not play this week. Mullen is optimistic that he will be back for the LSU game after a bye week next week. Safety Dee Arrington has been hobbled by a hamstring injury that he had against Alcorn and is likely out again this week. Jamerson Love got banged up against Auburn but Mullen said he wasn't listed in the injury report and is good to go.