Bulldogs press on, prepare for tilt against LSU
By LEE ADAMS
After two weeks on the road, the No. 25 Mississippi State Bulldogs finally get to play a game at Davis Wade Stadium. However, the home opener will not be an easy task as No. 3 LSU comes to town.
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"We have a great challenge this week with one of the best, if not the best team in the country coming here for our home opener," said Mullen. "We're expecting an exciting crowd and it will be fun to play a football game at home again."
The last time the Tigers came to Starkville, the game ended much like MSU's loss to Auburn on Saturday, but a lot of things have changed since that game including the culture of the fans.
"The last time I lost a game on a goal-line stand, I got a lot of praises in emails and people where excited," said Mullen. "I've gotten a lot of hate emails over the last couple of days, so it's a positive that the culture has changed because our fans expect us to win games now. Before they were just impressed that we competed and now they expect us to win and I think that's good."
As for last week's heartbreaking loss, the Bulldogs are not going to dwell on it.
"You got to put it behind you and move on," said Mullen. "You can't do anything to change that game or what happened and nothing is going to happen to change the outcome of that game. We have to play another one in a couple of days, so we had to put that one away and get ready right away for an even tougher opponent this week."
A tougher opponent is for sure as the Tigers have dominated the first two weeks of the season. Last week might have been a pushover game, but week one wasn't as they took on and defeated the Oregon Ducks. Mullen was asked about the ability of the Tigers and he jokingly said ""I'm sure they'd win the NFC East this year." After watching film from LSU's week one win, Mullen learned a lot about the Tigers and knows what his team will have to do to compete.
"LSU is really, really fast," said Mullen. "They took a team that played in the national championship last year with a lot of returning starters and were No. 3 in the nation at the time, and pretty much blew them out. We'll have our hands full against them and we'll have to play 60 minutes of really good football to find a way to win."
One thing the Bulldogs will do to try to win is try to continue the success of their running game. MSU is No. 1 in rushing offense in the SEC with 642 yards. Mullen believes the reason for the running game's success is "balance."
"Our offensive line does a good job creating seams and gaps," said Mullen. We involve the quarterback in the run game and we have a couple different backs and we use our receivers so it hopefully keeps defenses off balance."
Continuing the success of the running game will be a challenge as they will be going against the No. 1 rush defense in the SEC. LSU has allowed only 91 yards on 55 carries in two games. A lot of the Tiger's rush defense's success is because of their line and Mullen didn't have much to say about them but what he said was enough.
"They're big, fast, physical, strong and great football players," said Mullen.
He went on to say that "They are a team loaded full of NFL players", so the Bulldog offense will be tested again this week.
Another thing that could hurt the Bulldog offense is Quentin Saulsberry and James Carmon both going down with knee injuries in Auburn. It is unclear if they will be able to play on Thursday, but Mullen is hopeful because there is not much depth on the offensive line.
"We hope they're going to play in the game," said Mullen. "We get young in a hurry because we have a lot of freshmen backing up on the offensive line."
While the offensive line deals with injuries, the defensive line was back to its original lineup in Auburn as Fletcher Cox returned after his suspension in week one. Having missed the Memphis game, it took Cox a little while to get back into the flow of the game.
"Early in the second quarter I started getting back in game mode," said Cox. "I think I played pretty well, but I know I can play at a higher level."
Mullen agrees that Cox played pretty well, but still sees room for improvement.
"He did okay, but he's still got a way to go to get better," said Mullen. "We expect a lot out of him and he did some good things, but he's got some things he needs to clean up."
Cox and the Bulldog defense will be trying to stop LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee, who won the starting job after Jordan Jefferson was suspended. Lee may not have been the scheduled starter at the beginning of the season, but he's not as inexperienced as most back-ups would have been, so he knows the game.
"He's played a lot of football," said Mullen. "As a veteran guy he understands this league and he's a great manager of the game. He makes all the throws he needs in the key situations and puts his team in great position to win football games."
Stopping Lee and the rest of the LSU offense could be difficult due to LSU head coach Les Miles seeming to always have a trick up his sleeve. Miles' "gadget" plays are hard to prepare for so Mullen is getting his guys ready for whatever the Tigers bring.
"The thing he does a great job at isn't having the gadget play, it's knowing when to use it and executing it cleanly," said Mullen. "They do a good job of that and they use them at very opportune times. We have to play sound defense and be ready for everything."