MSU's Mullen looks for upset in familiar place
For Dan Mullen, it’s really a simple plan.
Mississippi State’s second-year head coach is hoping to turn past success in Gainesville, Fla., into his first major upset wearing different colors at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“I've been very successful there, so I hope my success continues this weekend," Mullen said.
The mood has gone through a role reversal as Mississippi State (4-2, 1-2 in SEC) comes in with the momentum fresh off three straight victories but still searching for that defining Southeastern Conference win while the 22nd-ranked Gators (4-2, 2-2) are trying to get their dominate mentality again after coming off back-to-back losses to Alabama and LSU.
“I can't stand it. That's something that you never want to get used to, obviously,” Florida head coach Urban Meyer said. “We've been very fortunate around here that we haven't had to deal with it very often,”
One thing Florida has had to deal with early and often during the 2010 season is injuries that have included quarterback John Brantley’s ribs, thumb and shoulder along with the sprained left foot of tailback Jeff Demps.
“We played two good teams (Alabama and LSU), two excellent defenses and we've got to get better,” Meyer said. “We went into those two games without our starting tailback, our receivers were dinged up a little bit, our offensive line was dinged up and now we're starting to get everybody back healthy. And the real positive to me is our quarterback showed he's tough.”
The only injury concern for Mississippi State this week when they face the Gators (6 p.m., ESPNU) is if J.C. Brignone’s streak of 27 consecutive starts at center continues after suffering what team officials are calling a sprained knee in last week’s win at Houston.
“We plan on having J.C. for the game,” Mullen said Monday. “That was told by the end of the game and nothing has changed since then. If he’s still sore throughout the week and can’t go, somebody will have to step up.”
Mullen has publicly stated he has experience at least with the visiting locker room and running out of the visitors tunnel.
On Monday, Mullen said during his tenure as offensive coordinator his wife, Megan, would drop him off at visitors' entrance where he would walk through the opposing locker room before taking their dog, Heisman, for a morning jog in the stadium known as The Swamp.
In his first return to Gainesville since leaving Meyer’s staff to take the Bulldogs head coaching position, Mullen will try to get State’s first victory in Gainesville since 1965.
Mississippi State will try and drum up some of the excitement from last year’s record-setting crowd at Davis-Wade Stadium that watched Florida leave Starkville with a 29-19 victory.
“When the game ended in our locker room I saw a look in (the players') eyes and they realized we could have won that football game," Mullen said. "Every single individual in there thought, 'If I had made another play or two, we would have won that game.’”
The key to that loss was that Florida defense has been only team to keep Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State offense from an 100-yard rushing effort in his 18-game head coaching career.
Junior running back Vick Ballard leads the rushing attack for MSU in 2010 by being just four touchdowns shy of the school’s single-season touchdown record with 12. Ballard currently leads the SEC and is fourth nationally in scoring, averaging 12 points a game.
“When we recruited Vick (out of Gulf Coast Community College), we thought he would be a very steady player because all the things we had heard about him, including his work ethic,” Mullen said.
Since Mullen left town, the Gators faithful have been a bit irritated with new offensive coordinator Steve Addazio using words like predictable, mundane and boring to describe his play-calling.
“I would tell you that we've got a great staff here," Meyer said. "This has never been about a guy, me or anybody else for that matter. We don't operate that way. There are great coaches here with great input and great ideas and segments that they are responsible for and I think they are doing a great job with that.”
Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz says his front seven is excited about the opportunity to harass Brantley not because he’s reportedly hurt but because he describes the Florida quarterback as “the first classic, drop-back passer we’ve seen this year.”
“I still believe it’s a dynamic of who we’re playing,” Diaz said. “Not the quality of competition but the athletic ability of the quarterback. We’ve made quarterbacks run for their life all year.”
By pulling off the upset in Florida, Mullen could get only his second victory against a ranked team since taking the job in Starkville (the 41-27 win in the Egg Bowl was against No. 25 Ole Miss) after losing seven of his first eight attempts including their two defeats this year to Auburn and LSU.
"Our guys can win now - they believe they're going to win the game," Mullen said. "Now that we believe we're going to win, we're learning to make the plays to make that happen."