Mississippi State took the football field against the Trojans of Troy, Ala. and when the game was over, the Bulldogs left the field with a six-point win and a game film that would provide the teachable lessons coach Dan Mullen was looking for.
“Leaving that game, I’m very pleased," Mullen said during his Sunday teleconference. "That’s a difficult place to go play. You look at their home record that coach (Larry) Blakeney has had there, (and) he’s had a good time. We got a win in a tough environment and we got some things that we can go teach off of that game.
"Both our staff and our players were disappointed in our performance and it is great for us to have that learning moment, to be disappointed in our performance and still come out of it as a win.”
The performance may not have impressed Mullen very much, but the 3-0 start to the season has landed Mississippi State into The Associated Press and USA Today polls at No. 23.
Despite the recognition, Mullen's message was consistent no matter the question as he visited with the media on Sunday. He knows the Bulldogs have to use the Troy game as a learning experience.
“I want to see how our guys perform, (and) I want to see the looks on their faces when we get back to practice (today) to see the demeanor in which they take it,” said Mullen of his defensive unit. “I don’t think a lot of them are going to be pleased with their effort. You know a lot of it was coaching things that we have to get fixed. We have to make sure we are putting our guys in a little bit better position to make plays. Some of it is execution on our guys, (because) we had a lot of missed tackles.”
For the Bulldogs, the game certainly wasn’t pretty but Mullen felt like the game was something his quarterback needed to go through.
“That was a great learning moment for Tyler," said Mullen. "I thought Tyler was confident and played well all night long but I thought it was a good leadership learning moment for him. He was making all the throws and making the plays we needed him to make and guys were dropping the footballs on him. I saw him one time getting mad. I don’t mind him getting mad, but getting mad isn’t going to make them catch the ball. Go be a leader, (and) go throw a couple of footballs to them before you go back in there.
“Those are the learning things for him and I like that he kept his composure all night long. A lot of times when guys start dropping footballs, you’ll start going to different guys, but he doesn’t do that. He trusts his reads, trusts his receivers and continues to throw the ball where it is supposed to go.”
One of the receivers Russell turned to for big plays was veteran Chad Bumphis. The Tupelo native caught six passes for 180 yards and three scores, but wasn’t pleased with his effort.
“He has already called me (Sunday) morning to say he was really disappointed how he played in the first half and dropping that pass in a key moment in the fourth quarter,” Mullen said. “The biggest think you see with him is maturity. He expects when he is open to make plays.”
At the end of the day, Mullen sees his team making strides each week and certainly over years past.
“In the locker room and on the ride home, our guys were a little disappointed, but by the time we were on the buses, we were glad we won the game,” Mullen said. “That’s two weeks in a row now that things didn’t go our way and we found ways to win the game. We needed an offensive drive (Saturday) night, (and) we got it. Two weeks ago, (Auburn) returns a kickoff and we need a drive and some defensive stops and we got it. Those are the things a good football team does to win games.”