Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen really wasn't surprised to hear that one of his former players was expected to get his first start in the National Football League this weekend.
Due to injuries in the Indianapolis Colts backfield this season, former Bulldog Vick Ballard has been given the starting nod for Sunday's game against the New York Jets.
Indianapolis interim coach Bruce Arians, ironically a former MSU offensive coordinator, made the announcement on Wednesday.
Mullen said Ballard has always been a player that has taken advantage of an opportunity.
"He is one of the hardest working guys I've ever been around," Mullen said during Wednesday's Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference. "He's a young man coming out of high school that was overlooked by a lot of people and went on to junior college. Even though he was an All-American in junior college, he was overlooked by many colleges. I think we were really his only scholarship offer."
Mullen admitted that the Bulldogs really didn't know what they were getting from Ballard, but needed an immediate replacement for departed all-time leading rusher Anthony Dixon.
Upon the advice of Ballard's former high school and junior college coach, Mullen was willing to bring Ballard in.
"He came, performed and averaged over 1,000 yards rushing in the two seasons here with us in the Southeastern Conference," Mullen said. "Everyone was always focused on what Vick couldn't do instead of what he does, which is go out, work hard and do his job every single day to the best of his ability. I'm sure it will help make him successful during his NFL career as well."
In a limited role with the Colts so far this season, Ballard has 42 yards on 21 carries.
Smith an inspiration
as leader of Bulldogs
Senior offensive lineman Tobias Smith from Columbus is respected as a leader at Mississippi State whether he's able to play or not.
A series of leg injuries throughout his career have kept Smith from performing at the level that he wants, but Mullen said that hasn't kept the team from voting him as a captain this year.
"He has that unique ability to lead when he's not on the field," Mullen said.
Mullen said MSU was "fortunate" that Smith got to play against Auburn and it was able to come away with its first Southeastern Conference win of the season.
Smith has been very limited in practice since that point and has been rusty, but Mullen has reason to believe that is about to change.
"He's gotten that out of his system and has been practicing this week," Mullen said. "We expect him to play a bunch for us on Saturday. Hopefully, he gets back now in his routine with him being back on the field and that makes him even more of a leader in the eyes of our guys. It's an inspiration to our guys that they know what he's gone through and how hard he's worked in order to be a part of this football team."
MSU record at 5-0,
The Bulldogs are off to a 5-0 start and there have only been three other starts better in school history in 1919 (6-0), 1944 (6-0) and 1999 (8-0).
MSU can match the early year 6-0 marks with a victory against Tennessee on Saturday.
If that happens the Bulldogs will become bowl eligible for the third-straight season.
Mullen said it's not his practice to look any further ahead than this week's game against the Vols.
"If we win this weekend, it will put us in a position to continue forward and that's really all I've looked at so far," Mullen said. "It's still so early in the season and I know people like to project what's going to happen, but to me, all I'm worried about is improving this football team and winning our home game this Saturday."
Bad or Good-bye
Mullen said it remains to be seen whether the bye week for Tennessee helps or hurts it when it comes to Saturday's game.
The Bulldogs had a bye week prior to their game with Kentucky and they were able to win in Lexington 27-14.
For the most part, Mullen said a bye week can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on the situation.
"Last week, it ended up being an advantage for us," Mullen said. "It throws you out of your weekly routine that you get into during the season sometimes and it changes up that routine. How it will effect that I have no idea."
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