In college athletics, your program having a number placed to the left of its name usually follows success.
For the first time in nine years, Mississippi State gets to know that feeling.
MSU is ranked 24th in both The Associated Press and USA Today coaches’ poll for the first time since week three of the 2001 season.
“We're going to see a little different type of adversity I'll say that,” Mullen said. “I thought our program has done a tremendous job dealing with of the emotion of defeats. Now we'll see how we deal with some success.”
Following State’s 10-7 victory at Florida, the roles reversed for both programs as the road teams wearing maroon and white found itself among the nation’s elite and the host Gators lost three in a row to fall out of the rankings for the first time since 2004.
“We're going to enjoy this win but need to improve a lot of the mistakes we make if this program is to have continued success,” Mullen said. “We didn't cross the finish line (Saturday) night at the University of Florida.”
Mullen stressed with the media during his weekly teleconference that the Bulldogs first victory in Gainesville since 1965 was not a fluke and shouldn’t be considered an upset.
“The game shouldn't have been as close as it was,” Mullen said. “We made some mistakes on offense and when our defense plays like that we shouldn't have had to make that last stop when we did.”
When the team buses arrived at the Templeton Athletic Center in the early morning hours on Sunday, nearly 1,000 fans greeted the players with an impromptu pep rally that turned into a mini-parade down the stretch of campus road that borders Dudy Noble Field and Humphrey Coliseum.
"This moment is just great for our kids no doubt about it," Mississippi State offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "To see this many people out here so late to meet us back here makes our kids so happy. It just means the world to them."
Saturday night was first Mississippi State road win when scoring 10 or fewer since a 10-6 win at Vanderbilt in 1972.
The Bulldogs second-year head coach mentioned his team’s offensive play-calling, which included 58 total plays and only nine through the air, as “conservative” but agreed junior quarterback Chris Relf will still be counted on to be more productive in the passing game when called upon.
“We're going to have to do that,” Mullen said. “We were conservative last night but the game led us to do that. When you're playing against a quality opponent, third and long is when most interceptions happen (and) where we make mistakes. We've got to stop putting ourselves in those long distance situations.”
Mullen commented that the training staff expects to have junior tailback Vick Ballard (ankle) and senior offensive lineman J.C. Brignone healthy enough to play when State hosts UAB (6 p.m., ESPNU) for its Homecoming weekend game this Saturday,
Ballard came out of the final series for Mississippi State and had to get his ankles taped again but was ready to come back in the game immediately. MSU’s leading rusher and the SEC’s leading scorer heading into last week finished with 98 yards on 20 carries.
Brignone, MSU’s starting center, suffered a knee injury in its 47-24 victory at Houston two weeks ago and was held of the Florida contest despite making the trip to Gainesville.
“We took Vick out to get a breather and he got his ankle taped but I told him we may need him for one last drive...that turned out to not be the case," Mullen said. "Unless we had to play (Brignone) this week, we weren't going to. Our training staff felt better if we sat him for this past game that we can get him back this week."
After 27 starts at center, Mullen and the offensive staff turned to guard Quentin Saulsberry to make his first start in Brignone’s spot in front of 90,517 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“Quentin Saulsberry did an excellent job with his first start at center in a hostile environment,” Mullen said. “That's a quick learning curve.”