Mississippi State is happy to have teaching points the week after a victory that just as easy could’ve been a disappointing loss.
“We didn’t play our best game,” Mullen said Sunday during his weekly media teleconference.
One of the lessons will be with junior quarterback Chris Relf and trying to elevate his confidence in the passing game after only completing 19 passes in the last three games including a sputtering 8-of-19 performance for 107 yards Saturday in Mississippi State’s 29-24 victory over UAB.
“There’s still going to be smiles in the meeting room that we won the game, but also some relief that we won the game because of the mistakes that were made,” Mullen said.
Relf was able to hit big plays down the field occasionally including a 40-yard pass to sophomore Brandon Heavens in the third quarter that set up one of Derek DePasquale’s five field goals for the night.
“He did some great things managing the game, made some big-time throws in that game now,” Mullen said. “And our receivers, we had some big mistakes with the receivers. Between him and the receivers, we’ve got to get that stuff really cleaned up.”
One of the things Mullen and the offensive staff noticed was Relf’s inability to showcase some of the major fundamentals they’d tried to get him to replicate throughout a spring and summer process where he was battling for the starting job with redshirt freshman Tyler Russell.
“It’s just getting his feet set and getting him in that rhythm to make those underneath throws and being accurate," Mullen said. "That’s going to be the key this week. Les (Koenning) does a good job of working with him.”
With UAB walking an eighth or sometimes ninth defender to the line of scrimmage, Mississippi State thought the only throw open was the deep ball so Relf was asked to take more chances in the passing game Saturday night.
Another issue to Relf’s uneasiness in the pocket was the fact MSU, who is now ranked 23rd in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches’ polls, was without starting offensive lineman J.C. Brignone and Tobias Smith with knee injuries.
“Tobias Smith should be full speed, ready to go,” Mullen said. “J.C. Brignone told me after the game nothing re-tweaked him or aggravated him during the game, so hopefully he’s going to be healthy for this week of practice.”
Brignone didn’t play a snap in the first half as Quentin Saulsberry once again moved over from guard but Brignone went to the coaching staff to request he get in the game at halftime.
“He said he was 100 percent,” Mullen said after the game.
In the second half, State had only one of its six possessions end without points and the Bulldogs run game produced 271 yards on the ground on 53 carries.
The final thing Mullen said that would be different early in practice starting yesterday is what he called “old hat” of increased expectations involved in all aspects of the program that go with national rankings.
“They were focused during the week, but you know it happens, not just from the students on campus and their families back home, just in the kids’ minds,” he said. “It was great to get through that game with a win, because now all that’s behind us. We’ve been ranked before, that’s old hat now. I think that, really, when you get that attention the first time, you can lose a little bit of focus, lose a little bit of what got you there.”
Mississippi State will try for a six-game winning streak when Kentucky comes to Davis-Wade Stadium for a 6 p.m. Southeastern Conference contest.