This week is a bye week for the Bulldogs but that didn't stop them from going through things as usual in practice on Tuesday afternoon. Mullen joined us media folk on the outside of the Seal Complex and briefed us on the state of the program at this point. A minimal amount of news, yes, but news nonetheless.
"We've got a lot of work to do and we've got to obviously get a lot better," Mullen said after practice. "We've improved every single week so far from game-to-game and we need to continue to do that to have a successful season."
The off week comes at a great time for the Bulldogs who have taken their share of bumps in the first four weeks losing two starters for the season and several others have been hobbled. The extra week gives some of those a chance to heal up for a big challenge but also allows for the Bulldogs to clean up mistakes. Boy are there a lot of mistakes according to their coach.
"There's an awful lot for us (to clean up)," Mullen said. "You look at our third downs, we did okay last week but on the year we're not so great, so we clean those up. We've got to clean things up in pass protections that we've got to get better at. Route running, we've still got a couple of drops and a couple of missed throws on offense. On the defensive side of the ball, we still have some misfits that are out there and we've always got to get pressure with the front four on the quarterback. So there's a lot of things that we have to work on."
There's some things that the defense can work on for the Bulldogs but Mullen and company are going to find it hard to find a whole lot from the Troy game to improve on as the defense held one of the top offenses in the country to nearly 400 yards below their average and 40 points below it. He likes what he sees from his young group.
"You turn on the film and there are a lot of young guys on the field. You've got to be at least 30 deep on the field on defense if you want to be really good in this league, at least 22 deep and roll guys through," Mullen said about the defense. "We've been playing guys and we've got to play guys to have a chance in the SEC so there's a lot of opportunities for guys to get on the field."
A lot of those young players on the field defensively are on the defensive line where players like Chris Jones, Nelson Adams, A.J. Jefferson and Ryan Brown are having solid performances.
"They have great work ethic and they're getting their opportunities and taking advantage, that's what's huge right now," Mullen said on the young defensive linemen. "There's going to be opportunities to get on the field and play and you've got to take advantage of those."
Those other youngsters making noise on defense lie in the secondary where there has already been a season-ending injury and two other nagging injuries making depth tough to come by. Mullen still sees players stepping up to the call.
"We knew that we had some good, young players out there," Mullen said of his secondary. "They were getting their opportunity to make plays and probably more of them with all of the injuries than we expected. That's part of it with our guys. You get your chance and you've got to be able to seize that opportunity and make those plays."
Making plays has been a big reason why MSU's defense has taken a big step forward this season after a rough year a season ago. They have struggled in some games during the early possessions but one constant remains, they adjust. Youth might play a factor here as well, Mullen thinks.
"I think sometimes with young players it's about getting into the flow of the game. There's a lot to that," Mullen said of adjustments during the game. "Against Troy if we could have eliminated some stupid penalties that kept their drives alive and some missed tackles they did well and adjusted to the speed of the game."
It's a challenging week for the Bulldogs even without a game in a few games. Preparation is no different than any other week for the coaches and players and Mullen is interested in how they react.
"We've just got to continue to get better and that's an interesting challenge for us this week," Mullen said. "We lose a game where we don't play very well in the first game and we responded and got better and played a really good game. We actually still improved the next game even though it was a really tough loss but we responded from that and improved again. If we don't continue to improve every week we won't win any more games."
"We just look at what we've done well, what we haven't done well and why we haven't done those things well," Mullen said of the bye week. "We get a little bit more time to do that (this week) but, hey, you also get a little bit more time to prepare for LSU."
A lot has been made about quarterback Dak Prescott's work under center for MSU ever since Tyler Russell has been out. The sophomore has lit up the internet, the stands and the field with his play on the field and he and his teammate Jameon Lewis even made SEC history by becoming the first duo to run, pass and catch a touchdown last week. Still, Mullen sees senior Russell as the team's quarterback and for good reason, as it would not be quite fair for him to lose his job just from injury. Mullen stuck to that on Tuesday.
"You see this week you get a lot of different reps, but that's still the plan," Mullen bluntly on Russell.
So Mullen hopes to get a really good week out of his players and set up for game-week focus next week. At least he hopes the team has three good days, he doesn't even care which days those are.
"We're going to have three good practices this week. I don't know how many days it's going to take to have three good days but they've already had a day off on Sunday," Mullen said. "They got a lift in on Monday so we'll have three good practices."