Mississippi State introduces itself to the college football world

I’ve never seen it like that before. Really haven’t. Waiting on Dan Mullen to arrive for his post-game press conference, the media room was more crowded than it’s ever been. Second place, whatever it is, isn’t even close. Just like the game, it was standing-room only at Mississippi State.

“You know it’s a big game,” Mullen said, looking over at a cluster of national media. “It’s like the who’s who of college football.”

Dan Mullen holding court with national media after the game

Dan Mullen holding court with national media after the game

ESPN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, CBS, the Washington Post. Name a big outlet, they were probably there, listening to Dan Mullen talk about his No. 3 [and rising] Bulldogs beat No. 2 Auburn in front of the horde of recorders, cameras and notepads.

Someone asked Mullen if he thought his team should be No. 1 in the country. Like any good coach, he danced around the question and didn’t give a real answer. But then he looked around.

“Raise your hand if you have a vote,” he said.

A few played along, voters raising their hands.

“Ask them,” he said. “Chris, are we number one?” he asked ESPN’s Chris Low.

“You got my vote,” Low said.

Mullen later apologized for putting him on the spot, but Low didn’t mind. He does think Mullen’s team should be the top-ranked club in the country. As did most everyone in the room, all those local, regional and national reporters who then dispersed to write stories about The Great Mississippi State.

Nation, meet MSU. MSU, meet the Nation.

Starkville, as well as the state of Mississippi, was already the center of attention the last couple weeks. The sudden surge by Magnolia State teams ensured that. But it’s the continued success these reporters are interested in.

MSU isn’t a feel-good story anymore. It’s not about an upset or a heartwarming moment. It’s about good football. Great football. The best football in the country, at least according to a few of those surrounding Mullen after the game.

MSU has beaten three-straight Top-10 teams, all of them members of the Group of Death that is the SEC Western Division.

NMNDJVCJYRHKNHC.20141011201253What’s funny, though, is how the world of college football has latched onto Mississippi State. Junior quarterback Dak Prescott – one of the top Heisman candidates at this point – is the favorite storyline of all these guys and gals coming to campus to write something, anything about the upstart Bulldogs.

But when it comes to game time, when the country collectively watches the game together on Twitter, it keeps coming back to one thing.

“It’s a rare form of goose bump that comes from thousands of #cowbells,” the Washington Post’s Chuck Culpepper tweeted.

A few hours earlier, Chris Fowler was beating on a cowbell with a drumstick as ESPN’s College GameDay finished their broadcast from just outside Davis Wade Stadium, sitting next to former MSU pitcher Jonathan Papelbon who was hugging a Lee Corso ringing a cowbell from underneath his Bulldog head.

Tweeted Yahoo! Sports’s Pat Forde, “Until fans have to holster their cowbells during game action, this is possibly the loudest stadium I’ve been in. Oppressive.”

A few minutes before that post-game interview with Mullen, a fully-grown man ran down the hallway leading to the media room, ringing a cowbell and yelling, “Number one in the land, baby!”

The operative hashtag is #CLANGA. I think Whit Waide, called ‘The People’s Professor’ at MSU, was the first I saw to refer to the sound of cowbells as “clanging.” Spencer Hall of SB Nation was the first I saw to turn that into the ALL-CAPS cowbell-ed onomatopoeia hashtag of #CLANGA.

9:30 a.m. Saturday, watching GameDay from The Junction, that’s all Hall tweeted.

“#CLANGA”

All-caps and hashtag required.

The night before, MSU hosted Cowbell Yell in the stadium, a 15,000-person pep rally celebrating the farm-functional instrument.

Clanging, voting, tweeting, writing – at the end of this, folks are talking about MSU. Mississippi State, who could be the No. 1 team in the country by the end of the weekend, is the story of college football right now, cowbells and all.

Mullen is the voice, Prescott is the face and #CLANGA is the soundtrack.

WEPDJFWGYCCMNMK.20141011224235But it’s not some miracle, fairy godmother-granted Disney story. It’s years of work, a roster full of talent and a coaching staff devoting nearly every waking moment (and sacrificing a lot of would-be sleeping moments) to build a contender.

On defense, MSU is dominating in the front seven. They are huge, deep, fast, aggressive, and more important than anything, they’re incredibly smart. Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins is the reason for that.

In nearly every game they play, Mullen’s team has the best player on both sides of the ball – Prescott on offense and middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney on defense. Not to mention top recruit Chris Jones and three-time defensive lineman of the week Preston Smith on Collin’s unit. Or rising star receiver De’Runnya Wilson who has only been playing football two-and-a-half years or impossible-to-tackle running back Josh Robinson on offense.

These Bulldogs are good. And they’re deep. It’s been almost six years in the making since Mullen took over in December of 2008.

And they’re a team that believes they’re going to win every game they play. That’s not bravado or coach speak. These Bulldogs have gone into every game without ever even having the thought they might lose. And so far, they haven’t.

MSU isn’t a nice story anymore. MSU is the story. The last three games have cemented that.

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MSU, Auburn a battle of twins in appearance and style

Pop quiz: The following quotes came from either Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen or Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. Who said each and which team are they referring to?

“They have a dynamic offense. Their quarterback is one of the better quarterbacks in football,” this head coach said. “His accuracy has been extremely impressive this year, especially on play-action. Their offensive line is an experienced group. Their wide receivers are big and long and they have made some one-on-one plays. Their defense is one of the better defenses that we play.”

Not sure? Try this one.

“They have one of the top defenses in the conference,” said one of the head coaches. “You look at them, they have a lot of talented players. They roll a lot of guys through on the defensive line. They’ve got big, physical linebackers. They have great athleticism in the secondary to cover you.”

No? One more try then.

“They’ve got big-play wide receivers on the outside,” this head coach said. “Obviously, they’re a great running team with a big, physical offensive line and a bunch of different backs they’ll throw at you including their main guy who is the third-leading rusher in the SEC. Really another a huge challenge for us this week.”

If you actually guessed (I’m assuming many did not) here are the answers. The first quote comes from Malzahn talking about Dak Prescott and MSU. The second and third quotes are both from Mullen talking about Auburn.

DDNSBIQEDAXZHCJ.20140921034107The point? If it weren’t for the jerseys, you’d hardly know which team is which when MSU and Auburn play each other in Starkville on Saturday. They’re as similar of teams as there are in the SEC.

One is ranked No. 2, the other is No. 3. One has a dual-threat quarterback who is considered a Heisman contender. So does the other. Both head coaches run their offense. Each offense is a run-based spread. And the running backs in both are having very good years. The Tigers and Bulldogs both boast game-changing wide receivers. Each play-caller loves to make you bite on the play-action while also confusing you with the run-pass option.

One of the teams rotates about 10 guys on the defensive line. The other one does too. Each has a talented group of linebackers and both squads have secondaries who have been shaky at times but are loaded with talent. The defensive coordinators are considered two of the best around.

Drama can’t really be predicted, but it seems fair to say that, based on the matchup, this ought to be one of the best games of the year as the SEC season reaches its midway point.

“The last three times that I have personally coached against them,” Malzahn said, “it went down to the last play. Last season was no different; it went down to the very end.”

“Should be a pretty exciting game,” Mullen said. “Should be fun and should be a great atmosphere.”

And there lies the only obvious difference in this game: one team (MSU) is at home. The other (Auburn) is on the road. Davis Wade Stadium, newly-expanded, is completely sold out. Saturday, no matter the outcome, will absolutely be the biggest crowd in MSU history. CBS picked the game No. 1, even if the teams are technically two and three, while ESPN’s College GameDay decided to stay in the state and go to Starkville for the big SEC West showdown.

So, what of the numbers and big match-ups?

Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne is third in the conference with 596 rushing yards. MSU’s Josh Robinson is fourth with 594. However, Robinson has done it on 79 carries to Artis-Payne’s 110, an average of 7.5 yards per carry for the Bulldog and 5.4 for the Tiger. Robinson does lead in touchdowns, six-to-five.

9474562Both teams are averaging 42 points per game (technically 42.6 for MSU, fourth in the SEC). As a team, each is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, the Bulldogs averaging 272 rushing yards per game and the Tigers sitting at 268.

The teams are first (MSU) and second (Auburn) in pass efficiency in the league. Both the quarterbacks are top 10 in total offense in the conference. Prescott, second, has 337.4 yards per game (a total of 1,687 yards) while Marshall, sixth, is averaging 269.5 yards per outing for a total of 1,078 yards, though he’s played in one fewer game than Prescott.

These teams have the second (MSU) and third (Auburn) best rushing defenses in the league. The big difference defensively comes in the secondary where the Tigers are sixth in passing yards allowed and the Bulldogs are last. Though, as Mullen has pointed out, a few big plays in non-conference games (as well as having to face Texas A&M’s high-flying passing game) have kept the statistics from painting a completely accurate picture.

So who wins? What’s the difference in this game? Which hair do you split?

In a game with two quarterbacks who keep hearing that H-word, it would seem that one of them may have an opportunity to win the game for his team in one of those H-word Moments.

“We have our work cut out for us,” one of the two coaches said.

Does it matter which?

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Live blog: Dan Mullen press conference, Auburn week

At 1 p.m. today, Dan Mullen will meet with local media for his weekly press conference. No. 3 Mississippi State beat Texas A&M last weekend and hosts No. 2 Auburn this weekend. The game will be televised on CBS at 2:30 CT and ESPN’s College GameDay will be on campus.

Updates to come.

———————————————

Mullen is here! Recapping last week, making a point to credit the fans for the home field advantage.

“I think last week, they saw the type of atmosphere we have here.”

More Mullen, “It’s really exciting for the state of Mississippi, all the success teams in the state are having … There’s a lot of pride with everybody in the state of Mississippi on the football field. It’s fantastic that we could be a part of that.”

Mullen says Auburn will be “the best team we’ve played so far … A team that knows how to win.”

Said they have one of the best defenses in the conference and the most experienced quarterbacks on offense. Big-play receivers and “obviously a great running team with a big offensive line and some backs they’ll throw at you … really another huge challenge for us this week. Should be a pretty exciting game.”

On the relationship between Dak Prescott and QBs coach Brian Johnson, says it helps how comfortable Johnson is with the offense and he knows how Mullen wants quarterbacks to be talked to, what he wants them to go over after a series. Said it’s very helpful having his eyes in the sky in the press box.

“There’s really just great communication about what’s getting done on the field.”

On all the attention, Mullen says, “Rankings and things aren’t really our goal. All I see is that we’re 2-0. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Mullen was asked about Prescott as a Heisman candidate. Kind of skirted saying too much, mostly just spoke about the kind of person Prescott is, how hard he works. Did say, “our offense kind of helps that.”

On how it feels to get a big win and be ranked third, Mullen says, “In my years in this league, I’ve learned that if you win a really big game in this league, the gift is you get an even bigger game the next week. And that’s really all you get.”

On the state, Mullen: “I have a lot of pride in our university and I have a lot of pride in the state of Mississippi … You’re always hearing about the state being last in something … It’s great to have something we take pride in.”

Going forward, though, Mullen says it’s important for guys to keep level heads.

“We haven’t accomplished anything we want to accomplish,” he says.

Good question about how Prescott handles hype. Mullen said he’s very mature and able to take care of it fine. “He got here being Dak Prescott, so he can keep being Dak Prescott.”

Added that he told Prescott not to take himself too seriously, said it’s important to find people who will keep you in check.

“Have fun with it. It’s really neat. Enjoy it. Sometimes it’ll be there, sometimes it won’t … take it for what it is … The things that are constant, those are what matter.”

On freshman receiver Gabe Myles, who started in place of the injured Jameon Lewis, Mullen says he did very well. Gave credit to receivers coach Billy Gonzales as well as Lewis himself for making sure his backup was ready.

Said he sees similarities between Myles and Lewis in that both were high school quarterbacks experimenting with new positions when they got to campus. Lewis started at cornerback at MSU just like Myles did, and both have now completed a pass to Prescott this year.

Mullen says Auburn and MSU’s offenses are very similar: “Balanced, will spread you out and run it, work the play-action … It certainly is a challenge for our defensive guys.”

Mullen says there’s a good chance of WR Jameon Lewis and K Devon Bell being able to play Saturday, but it’s a “we’ll see” thing on both.

Asked about Josh Robinson, Mullen says the key for him was learning to be mature while still holding onto his personality.

On Auburn’s defense, Mullen says they will be the best and most complete group they’ve faced. “They’re deep, they roll those guys through up front. Linebackers that are big, physical guys. Athletic enough to go play man coverage. They’re a very, very well-coached outfit.”

 

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Everything but the game: Four days with fans, friends, ESPN and MSU in Starkville

7:45 a.m., Thursday, Seal Football Complex parking lot: Did you know Dan Mullen was raised around the theatre? I’ve been paid to learn things about him for the last five and a half years and had no clue his mom was a classical ballet teacher.

unnamedMississippi State’s head coach was shooting an interview with ESPN to run on SportsCenter later that morning and the producer was explaining to him how to know when the interview was starting. It’ll be fine, Mullen told him. He’s used to that stuff. He grew up around performances and knows how to recognize his cue.

Anyway, Mullen taped the interview, it went off without incident and the day began. The weekend began, really. One of the biggest weekends Starkville, Mississippi has seen. For me, it started there as I trailed the ESPN crew all day Thursday, did so again during the day Friday, hit Bulldog Bash and the Cotton District Friday night, made it to The Junction by dawn on Saturday, found my seat in the press box for the MSU-Texas A&M game around lunchtime and wandered in a daze on Saturday night trying to stay awake in my sleep-deprived delirium.

Throughout the weekend, I kept a running notebook of what I saw and heard, a timeline of somewhat-sensical observations on a throughly enjoyable (if not occasionally-exhausting) weekend.

8:30 a.m., Thursday, multipurpose room, Seal Football Complex: Is she talking to herself? Or does she have an earpiece in? Maybe she’s just rehearsing her lines.

Kaylee Hartung, one of ESPN’s rising-star personalities/reporters/faces/adventurers was getting ready for another live shot. She was behind the scenes with MSU all day, doing look-ins from the world of Bulldog football to be broadcast on the world of ESPN networks throughout the day. She was probably rehearsing her lines; trying to describe “Dawg Juice” without anyone actually telling her what exactly is in it.

“Can’t tell you that,” strength coach Rick Court said as he laughed. “But it’s nothing against the rules, obviously.”

Shortly before that shot, Hartung and the rest of the ESPN crew watched as the interview with Mullen from earlier aired on SportsCenter. ESPN watching ESPN interview Mullen on ESPN was a funny moment.

“Mississippi is a fabulous place to live,” Hartung watched Mullen tell her. “The people in Mississippi are some of the best people you can be around. My kids were born here so they’re locals, even if I’m a transplant.”

9 a.m.: Still in the same area, I was sitting at the table with Preston Smith, MSU’s breakout defensive end. I looked up and realized all the ESPN cameras were setup around our table and one of the guys was coming in to hook up a microphone on Smith.

“I need to get out of the way,” I told him.

“Don’t leave me,” he said half-jokingly. “I don’t wanna be alone.”

I think Preston is like me in that he gets chatty when he’s nervous.

“Is it heavy?” he asked one of the cameramen of his videotaping apparatus.

“After a while.”

“It’s kind of like a weight vest,” Smith observed.

12:30 p.m., defensive coaches meeting room: Geoff Collins is one of my favorite coaches I’ve been around. MSU’s defensive coordinator has made a quick name for himself since getting to Starkville, but even he got a little nervous before going live on SportsCenter to break down film on A&M with Hartung.

“I might go Ricky Bobby on you,” he warned her. “I don’t know what to do with my hands.”

unnamed-1By the end of it, whatever nervousness he’d had turned into confidence. He nailed the segment, an interview the crew was still singing the praises of later in the weekend.

“You were great,” producer Jonathan Whyley told Collins. “And I don’t give out compliments.”

I offered Collins similar praise, telling him he looked like a natural.

“You didn’t see my right leg shaking,” he whispered to me.

But he popped right back from that confession to say goodbye as the crew left the room.

“Don’t forget: at CoachCollins is the Twitter,” he called to them.

1:30 p.m., multipurpose room: It’s a late lunch for Mullen, but I get the impression his body has adjusted to his whacked out schedule and just makes the best of whatever food it gets whenever it can. Like a camel with water.

But lunchtime it is for him as he sits with Pete Thamel from Sports Illustrated. Thamel was in Starkville from Sunday-Sunday for what I assume will be a lengthy, in-depth, behind-the-scenes story on MSU’s program. He and Mullen were in a pretty deep conversation about the state of the program, what drives Mullen, how things have changed, what Dak Prescott has meant, what the fan support has been like. Everything.

Following a lull in conversation toward the end, Mullen offered a random thought as he looked back on his five-plus years at MSU.

“I love the building,” Mullen told Thamel.

“Yeah,” Thamel said, looking around, “it’s a nice facility.”

“No,” Mullen replied laughing. “I like building a program. But yeah, it’s a great facility, too.”

Noon, Friday, SEC Nation set in The Junction: Friday is generally a slow day football-wise, as players are just resting and doing last-minute study, so it’s then that the coaches visit with more of the TV folks for production meetings to get them prepared for the game. It’s a low-key day, so things of that nature are easier.

unnamed-2Around lunchtime (if such a time exists for Mullen) MSU’s head coach was off to The Junction for an interview on SportsCenter with Bram Weinstein. Typically, that’s the time on Fridays Mullen goes for a run around on campus. Instead, he skipped the cardio and found himself talking with Weinstein about all he’d ate since getting to Starkville.

Weinstein and the majority of the ESPN crew had been at Restaurant Tyler in downtown Starkville the night before. He’d eaten Little Dooey’s for lunch, while some of the crew had been to The Veranda and Bin 612, as well. Spicy fried alligator, stuffed pancakes, BBQ, nachos – all kinds of Mississippi delicacies.

“You can get some good food in the ‘Sip,” Mullen told him before their shot went live.

Weinstein agreed. You really can. I asked Hartung later that day what she thought about Starkville and her first response was how great the food is (followed by gratefulness for the impressive hospitality).

On Thursday at Restaurant Tyler, one of the producers told me about his lunch at Little Dooey while he scarfed down the plate of shrimp and grits in front of him at the moment.

“This is the best food I’ve ever had in my life,” he told me.

Not surprisingly, he’d never been to Mississippi before.

Anyway, back to The Junction, where Mullen finished his interview and walked through the crowd back to his golf cart. He stopped along the way for pictures, high fives and hugs.

“We have selfies with EVERYBODY!” one MSU fan cried in exuberance after taking one with Mullen.

Selfies are the new autographs, I think. I know Tim Tebow was in a few thousand this weekend, whether he was aware he was in all of them or not.

12:30 p.m., Seal Complex media room: Next came the production meeting I was talking about. All the ESPN crew – talent, producers, the works – who’d be working the game the next morning were meeting with coaches and players to glean whatever relevant info they could.

“You’re slimmed down, huh, coach?” one of them asked as Mullen walked in.

I guess all that running on Fridays has worked.

1:15 p.m.: After Mullen, Dak Prescott came in to chat with the group. They asked him a bunch about himself, about Mullen, about the program, about the attention he was getting and more.

At some point they asked what it was like when he got to MSU.

“I’d never even tried to read a defensive end before,” he joked, telling them how much things changed from high school to college. “I thought I was going to come in and have the Tebow role,” he told them, referencing the fact he arrived early, getting on campus in January a semester ahead of time.

But whether he was able to play or not (he wasn’t that year) Prescott was determined to help any way he could. If he couldn’t play, he’d try to win every stadium run and every weight room workout. He wanted to push his teammates and make them better, he said.

“There’s no age on leadership,” Prescott told the room. “I didn’t care that I was a freshman.”

1:30 p.m., Scott Field: I rode the golf cart over to the stadium with Prescott for his interview with Tebow (a spot which aired Saturday morning on SEC Nation).

unnamed-3The mass of people which gathered around the stadium gates as word spread that Prescott and Tebow were on the field was massive, but inside the stadium itself, it was pretty quiet. The ESPN crew stood in the middle of the field by themselves as we walked for the first meeting of the two No. 15s.

“I’m a big fan,” Prescott told Tebow as they waited on the crew to get setup,” but I’ll be honest, I haven’t watched the show much. I try to get away from distractions on gamedays.”

“Oh, man, I always watched GameDay,” Tebow responded. “I wanted to get my mind off my own game. I took in all that stuff.”

The interview went well, and was actually really interesting as the two Mullen-educated quarterbacks talked about their favorite plays from his playbook. They basically have the same preferred call, with the only difference being a change in the route of the tight end, or something of that nature

Once the interview ended, Tebow shook Prescott’s hand and then turned to the crew around them.

“Did you hear why my man told me he wears 15? That’s right!”

It’s for him, even though it’s another one-time Mullen quarterback Prescott thinks he compares more favorably to – Cam Newton.

As they left the stadium, one fan waiting called out, “I want to be like you when I grow up, Mr. Tebow!”

“I just want to be like Dak!” Tebow called back.

I asked Tebow about Prescott later that afternoon, asked him what made Prescott a Heisman candidate. Tebow’s response was similar to most when they talk about MSU’s QB: he’s got the stats, sure, but that’s only part of it.

Tebow spoke at length about the type of person Prescott is. He’s watched the same features and read the same stories on Prescott that the rest of us have. Dan and Megan Mullen, who had him over for dinner Thursday, have backed it up by telling their former quarterback what a great person their current quarterback is.

Later that night on Friday, while the rest of us were gallivanting around the Cotton District, Tebow and Prescott were moments away from having a weight room competition after Mullen said he thought Prescott would do better than Tebow. That’s why Mullen says the two are similar. Not because of their playing style, their coach or their number. Because of the type of person they are. Each refuses to be out-worked. Both are natural leaders. To see the permanent smiles they wear and their patience with attention (an ESPN staffer told me Tebow will take pictures and sign autographs for hours straight if they don’t pull him out of the crowd) you’d think neither has ever had a bad day.

6 p.m., Dawg Rally in the Cotton District: After hula-hooping children, cheering cheerleaders, a dancing dance team and some loud music, Mullen arrived at the Dawg Rally, the crowded pep rally in the middle of the Cotton District.

“Have fun tonight,” he told the crowd hanging out of windows and standing on stoops and in the street, “but get there early tomorrow. We need you. You have to cheer us on all the way to Atlanta and the SEC Championship.”

7:30 p.m., VIP tent, Bulldog Bash:

“Dude, is that Jerry Rice?” a guy at my table asked. “Yeah, that’s Jerry Rice.”

“He’s been in town all weekend,” I told him. “He was at Mullen’s radio show last night at The DawgHouse, apparently.”

Rice, from the area, finds himself in Starkville regularly, where his mother still lives. Everywhere else he goes, he’s a rock star. And he still is here, but this is home. He’s a local. He waits in line to get into a crowded restaurant on Main Street just like everyone else. He doesn’t travel with an entourage or security guards when he’s in Starkville. Just him and a friend or two, whoever else is in town he knows.

I popped another hushpuppy as he kept watching the band from his table.

8 p.m.:

“Is that Marcus Spears?” the same friend, Kyle, asked.

Sure is, I told him. The ESPN crew had passes for the night (a list I managed to sneak myself onto, making me feel much cooler than I am).

“Oh, man. I want to meet him.”

8:15 p.m.: I ran into a few of the guys from that crew and asked the producer how the day had gone.

“You get some good stuff for tomorrow?”

“Man, we’re gonna blow everyone else out of the water,” he told me. “The way our guys put this together, everyone is going to want to go to Mississippi State.”

8:30 p.m.: I have no idea who the band was, but their singer was on stage talking between songs.

“Any of y’all feel like you were born 50 years too late?”

A few people cheered, most of the crowd unsure of where he was going with this.

“If you wanna ditch your phone and just go out in the woods with everybody, lemme hear you! If you wanna go fishin’ with nothin’ but string and a cork, lemme hear you! Y’all come see me at the merch stand. I wanna shake yer hand and look you in the eye.”

8: 35 p.m.:

“Seriously, think I could go talk to Marcus? I just want to thank him for coming,” Kyle said. “Like, on behalf of MSU and our fans, all of us people, we just appreciate you coming here. You think it’d be cool?”

“I’m sure it’s fine. He’s talking to fans right now.”

“OK, I’m going in.”

8:38 p.m.:

“I did it! He was cool. He said he’s having a good time.”

Spears on the stage at Bulldog Bash

Spears on the stage at Bulldog Bash

It’s not surprising. Mississippi is Spears’ kind of scene. I overheard him asking a group of fraternity guys at the SEC Nation set Friday if they knew of any good fishin’ holes nearby.

Before long, Spears had somehow found his way on stage, predicted an MSU win (much to the delight of the thousands and thousands of fans at Bulldog Bash) and led everyone there in singing the fight song.

10:30 p.m.?: Somewhere around here I stopped writing down timestamps in my notebook of observations and eavesdroppings, but if I was tired from a long week, it wasn’t so bad as the guy I saw standing in the middle of the crowd with his head drooping and his eyes completely closed. There’s no way he was anything but fast asleep. Impressive that he was staying on his feet in such a state.

At one time or another, I made a quick run back to my house nearby to welcome a friend who had just gotten to town.

“What time should we get to the stadium?” my brother asked him.

“I want as much Junction time as possible,” Reed responded.

“The Jack Cristil tribute starts a little after 10:30,” I told them. “Video, missing man flyover. Bunch of good stuff.”

“10:30 it is,” they said.

Back at Bulldog Bash, I wrote down a quick snippet of yelled conversation.

“I mean, I like him.”

“It’s OK if you don’t.”

“Yeah…I really don’t like him.”

“No worries, man. You’re not supposed to.”

“I mean, we really don’t like each other.”

“That’s healthy.”

5:45 a.m., Saturday, University Drive: It’s that early point of the morning where you can’t yet see the sun but you get a little bit of it’s light. A truck spraying insecticide drove by, as if trying to clean away the sins of the night before.

Somewhere, a fire truck sounded.

At the end of someone’s sidewalk was an open box with an entire carrot cake, icing untouched.

Further down the sidewalk, it looked like someone had tried to leave a trail of bread crumbs, but instead of crumbs it was entire pieces of pizza, leading all the way to the door of a house where someone surely slept with an empty stomach having lost all their pizza to the ground.

The first group of tailgaters I found was the Rester family, a group of locals I grew up with. The patriarch had arrived at 4:30 in the morning, not because he had to set up, but just because he couldn’t sleep. He was too excited.

“I skipped work yesterday,” he told me (hope this doesn’t get you in trouble!). “I couldn’t do it. I saw Jackie Sherrill at breakfast and thought, ‘Alright, this is an omen.’”

6:45 a.m.: The next group I found one was one which had invited me on Twitter and had a sweet setup. Two tents, TV, bacon on the grill. They were doing it right.

“I had to ride my bike down the highway at 5 a.m. to get here,” Arthur told me. “I had to leave the truck so my wife can bring the kid later.”

Dedication.

6:50 a.m.: I saw a little kid all bundled up in MSU gear with his mom and asked if I could take his picture. He ran away. I’m gonna be a great dad.

unnamed-47:00 a.m., The Junction, SEC Nation set:

“I hope GameDay comes next week,” local celebrity Lee Battle told me. “I’ve got some things I want to say to Desmond Howard.”

Like what?

“Like 52-14, that’s what,” he answered, referencing MSU’s win over Michigan in the Gator Bowl a few years ago.

Elsewhere in The Junction, I talked to a father and son who had driven over at the crack of dawn from Columbus.

“The lights of Davis Wade were brighter than the sun,” they said.

At the tent next door, the matriarch of a mixed bag of college friends and their families said she got up at 3:30 to get everything ready and make it from Jackson.

7:30 a.m.: Food. So much food. Again, as Mullen said, you eat well in Mississippi.

A group led by locals Darrin Dodds and Angus Catchot set up their massive grill, smoker, pots and tables at the intersection near the ESPN set on Creelman next to Dorman Hall. They were cooking 250 ribeyes Saturday. Breakfast sausage, boiled peanuts, chicken legs and brisket, too. Anything they could think of.

“It’s just for whoever wants to come by,” they told me.

“Free game?” I asked.

“Free game.”

unnamed-6For Southern Miss, they had made 400 quartered chickens and 500 sausage dogs. They love to feed as much as they love to eat.

On the other side of the tailgate scene, in front of the police station near The Union and the Chapel of Memories, Guy Bader became my hero.

A big MSU fan, Guy lives in Franklin, Tennessee where he runs Papa Boudreaux’s, a Cajun restaurant. Here in Starkville, he’d brought some of his goodies, including breakfast jambalaya. Yeah, that’s a thing. And it’s incredible. Jambalaya rice mixed with eggs, sausage, cheese and maple bacon. Holy wow. It’s like falling in love. And along with it came his peach-bourbon bread pudding. If the jambalaya was falling in love, the bread pudding was having your first kid.

9 a.m.: Back in The Junction, I was trying to make my way through to the SEC Nation set as the show had just started. The Dawg Walk was at 9:10, so it was kind of difficult get around. I somehow found an open path to walk and that’s when possibly the coolest moment of my life happened.

unnamed-5I should’ve realized where I was, but I just wasn’t tracking. The reason that sidewalk was open was because it was the actual path the Dawg Walk takes place on. Either side of the pavement was lined 10-deep with State fans waiting on Mullen, Prescott and all their favorite Bulldogs to pass by. At the moment, all they were getting was me. A security guard probably should’ve stopped me from my mistake, but apparently none noticed me.

A few strides down the sidewalk, a group of guys I grew up with saw me and started yelling and high-fiving me, because why not. It was a happy day. The problem was, everyone else heard yelling and saw movement and assumed the Dawgs must be there. All the fans nearby started yelling, too, ringing cowbells, shouting, screaming and reaching out for high fives and handshakes.

As they yelled, I walked on through with arms out returning the greetings and feeling for about three seconds what it must be like to be Dak Prescott all the time.

Of course, it didn’t take long for the cheering to stop once they realized it was just some skinny dude with glasses and backpack.

unnamed-711 a.m., Davis Wade Stadium: I think the game itself has been discussed enough, so I’ll just share one quote I overheard in the press box.

“I’m sorry, Mississippi State,” someone said behind my shoulder. “I was very, very wrong.”

4:30 p.m., The Junction: Seemingly every tailgater in Starkville had found their way to a TV to watch Ole Miss and Alabama play, a highly-entertaining game just a couple hours northwest.

I stood in a circle with close to a dozen old college buddies, everybody breaking down the game and projecting the rest of the season based purely on the outcome of Saturday afternoon. Hard to blame them, of course.

During a timeout in game play, one friend at the next tent over offered an observation on the group styling itself ‘The Juice Boys,’ the group of injured and redshirting MSU players who wear sweats in the bench area during games.

“Those boys on the sideline are awesome,” she told me. “They get the team pumped up. They get the crowd pumped up. They’re great.”

Midnight, Starkville:

“We’re gonna be the first 15-0 team in college football history,” one fan said, keeping his expectations realistic.

10:00 a.m., Sunday, my living room:

“Yesterday was fun,” my brother James said.

“Yes it was,” I replied.

“I can’t imagine how next week can top it,” he mused.

“And it probably will,” I said.

“Yep.”

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MSU’s win over A&M an emotional day for Mullen

It was a perfect day. It really was. The sky was clear, light blue. The clouds were wisps of pure white. It was 65 degrees and sunny by halftime of Mississippi State and Texas A&M’s football game.

And that game. Man. It was a night game under the light of day, truly.

“That was the best atmosphere Davis Wade has ever had,” one fan said after the game.

And that meant everything. To Dan Mullen, the head coach who is finally seeing the realization of a future he planned nearly six years ago. To Mark Keenum, the President. To Scott Stricklin, the Athletic Director. And especially to the players.

HJOMBJXVVFIRPQO.20141004182958Dak Prescott walked through the Dawg Walk first thing in the morning in shades, a bow tie and a maroon sweater, with two security guards flanking him.

He was a rock star. He was John Lennon in the middle of Beatlemania and the Maroon and White throng could’ve been Times Square at midnight of New Year’s Eve instead of Starkville, Mississippi early on a Saturday morning.

“I don’t know if I’ve heard a louder Dawg Walk,” Mullen said after the game, “and that was at 9 a.m.”

It’s hard to tell if he was trying to hide it or just let it go without caring, but Mullen was as emotional as he’s ever been in a post-game press conference on Saturday afternoon.

He beat LSU two weeks ago and he came into interviews happy, but with a twinge of annoyance. On Saturday, after beating A&M, the littlest things made his voice crack, halted his words while he caught his breath. It wasn’t about the Aggies, though. It mattered that they were a Top-10 team, certainly, but it’s not as if Mullen had been harboring some soul-clenching desire to beat Kevin Sumlin.

In fact, it had shockingly little to with any of the people on the sideline or on the field. Mullen opened his press conference with a rush of gratitude and praise for the 62,000 people in Davis Wade Stadium around him.

ZGNXUNKZOLPOLSX.20141004202651MSU’s head coach delivered an improvisational and extemporaneous monologue straight from the heart, where that perfect day meant the most. He was asked a question and spoke quickly, no delay between thoughts and words.

“You know what, it was pretty special,” Mullen said. “The first thing – I remember getting here six years ago. I always bring it up. I said, ‘Listen. To build a winning program, you need to sell out [games].” The fans. It’s not win first. Fans show up. If the fans show up and start believing in the program and supporting the program, then the wins will come. And it’s so rewarding. They believed me. We started the sellout streak back in a season that we went 2-5 at home and our fans started believing. Now, right here, Starkville, Mississippi, Davis Wade Stadium has become a hard place for teams to come play, and that is all due to our fanbase. You know what, and them believing is pretty special. It shows that all of us together – from Dr. Keenum to Scott Stricklin to our entire fanbase – everyone bought in to what we needed to do to build a winning program. It’s so rewarding to see that.”

This particular game seems to mean so much to you, Dan, one reporter observed, remarking on his emotion. Why is that?

“Oh, goodness. Because it’s hard to win. It is hard to win in the SEC, you know what I mean? It is. I tell you what. Honestly, I think game day, it’s like getting on a roller coaster. Pre-game is like climbing up to the top of that roller coaster. In post-game it stops and in between it’s a straight downhill drop for three-and-a-half hours.

“It’s emotionally exhausting out there on the field. I put everything into this. My family puts everything into this. Our coaching staff and their families put everything into it. Our players put everything into this performance on the field. To get a win is just so rewarding.”

It wasn’t just Mullen who noticed it.

His players saw the same scene. They felt the same feelings.

“It felt like a night game the whole time,” fifth-year senior Ben Beckwith said. “There was never a lull. We feed off that. Best day crowd I’ve ever played in front of in my five years. Probably one of the best wins in State history.”

FWXPEKPHNLCFVUH.20141004185209The crowd was electric, but it was a performance which equaled that of the team they cheered on as the Bulldogs trounced the Aggies, embarrassing the No. 6 team in the country on national TV.

Their previous win over LSU was the coming out party. This week was the record-breaking sequel, the first time in history MSU has beaten two Top-10 teams in the same season.

And it was a team-effort, clichéd as that may sound. With two-and-a-half minutes to go, MSU led 48-17, though the score finally settled on 48-31. The defense played lights out and the offense played like the lights were on all day.

As great as the overall performance was, though, it was the show put on by one individual which received the most attention. It’s funny, because he hates it.

“I just don’t want people to overlook my team in the SEC West,” Dak Prescott said when asked about the Heisman, deflecting any praise people would try to heap on him.

NJZCASOHEULHLCN.20141004185209And oh yeah, that thing. That golden trophy. The big one. The questions were natural after he totaled five touchdowns and 352 yards on such a big stage. He’s got nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards and is responsible for 20 touchdowns in only five games so far in 2014.

But, Beckwith warns, don’t utter that H-Word around the guy who is one of the favorites to win it right now.

The Heisman is Dak’s Voldemort – it’s the Award That Must Not Be Named.

“We never bring it up in front of him,” Beckwith said. “He gets mad.”

All the more reason that he’s up for it. When former winner of the You Know What Trophy Tim Tebow was in town, he said Prescott is a favorite for it not because of the numbers (which he’s got) but because of the kind of person he is. He’s every bit as impressive off the field as he is on it, and the college football world has noticed. They’re continuing to notice as the hype is building.

But Prescott was representative of his team Saturday. Seemingly all of the college football media descended on Starkville and Mississippi this week. Some asked if it was too much, if it would be a distraction to the Bulldogs who weren’t used to such things.

Mullen, Prescott and all 100-plus players, coaches and staff answered the question decisively.

We are ready,” Saturday seemed to say. “We are here and we’re not going away.”

NDLXFQWJUQJEWQG.20141004205939In part, it’s that attention which has made it so special to MSU. It’s the faith and support from their fans.

And as big and unprecedented a week as this was, the next week will only be bigger when undefeated Auburn comes to Starkville, two of the three teams tied atop the conference facing off for a leg up in the SEC West race.

“We’re gonna have people sitting on the top of the Jumbotron,” junior running back Josh Robinson said. “The Bulldog Nation, we love them to death. Cold, sleet or snow, they support us no matter what.”

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Bulldogs expecting back-and-forth battle against No. 6 Aggies

Last November, Mississippi State rolled into College Station with four losses and just as many wins. The season, to that point, had not gone particularly well, and it looked from the outside that things only got worse that day when MSU lost to Texas A&M, their fifth defeat of the season.

Inside the locker room, however, that loss was the most encouraging thing that had happened to the Bulldogs all year.

“I really think that game right there is when this team came together and we started rolling from there,” junior quarterback Dak Prescott recalled.

RLOCFQHIYQERIRQ.20140913230532His team lost 51-41, but it was one of his breakthrough performances in 2013 and it was one which coaches and players said they didn’t feel like they lost.

“We just ran out of time,” said Dan Mullen, whose team had mounted a late comeback effort.

MSU lost to No. 1 Alabama the following week, but with new confidence, they followed that up by reeling off seven-straight wins, bringing them all the way to a 4-0 start in 2014 and a re-match with the Aggies after coming up just short a year before.

“We found our identity that game,” senior Jay Hughes remembers.

Much of that identity is wrapped around playing as hard as they can as long as they can, not just the first few quarters. It’s got to be all four. Evidence suggests Hughes is right, as MSU won back-to-back overtime games against Arkansas and Ole Miss to close the 2013 regular season and managed to stave off a late LSU comeback two weeks ago in Baton Rouge.

Against A&M this Saturday, one of the best offenses in the country, MSU will need that mentality. Their freshman quarterback Kenny Hill, with a total of 1,745, has almost 400 more passing yards than the next closest quarterback in the conference. As a team, the Aggies are averaging 594 yards and 51 points per game, both tops in the SEC. They’re throwing over 400 yards per game, while 11 other conference teams aren’t even cracking 300.

On the other side? Defensive lineman Myles Garrett has more sacks (5.5) than anyone else in the heavyweight SEC West and the entire team has racked up 17, good for second in the conference, just ahead of MSU’s 14 sacks.

“They have weapons everywhere,” Mullen summarized nicely on Monday.

GRKECYWCXKWGOUU.20131231234259He also shared the obvious-to-say but hard-to-do truth that all that matters is scoring one more point than they do. Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins is hoping to keep that number somewhat low, but he’s not denying the fact A&M will be able to score and probably do so a fair bit.

Much of what makes the Aggies so tough to defend is their amount of big-time playmakers. That’s certainly a strong point for them. But their style is just as difficult as anything. Mullen and Collins said they see an offense that will throw short passes and bubble screens, run the ball a bunch and try to draw defenders in toward the line of the scrimmage. Then, once you’ve been reeled in, they gash you deep down the field.

“They do a great job,” Collins said. “They sit there and they want you to get frustrated and then all of the sudden, there goes one launched over your head. The guys understand, the times we’re gonna take chances, we’re gonna take chances. The times we’re playing top-down, we’ve gotta be top-down because they have dynamic playmakers out there. They can stretch the field and get on top of you if you let them.”

The other key, Collins says, is tackling. An obvious thing, of course, but very important for a team whose receivers have more yards after contact than any in the conference.

Collins said his defense only allowed a total of 60 yards after contact against LSU, an extremely impressive number.

“If we can do that again,” he said, “I’ll be thrilled.”

MSU sophomore linebacker Beniquez Brown, the man in charge of deciphering the tendencies of opposing offenses, said much of A&M’s offensive success runs through Hill. If he can’t get the deep ball, Brown said, he’ll try to work the linebackers, so the pressure will be on for MSU’s deep group in the middle.

Collins praised A&M for how well they disguise run and pass tendencies, but Brown said extra study time during the off week has given him a few ideas.

“I’m really watching film this week trying to find those small things that they do give away,” Brown said. “Finding those little things they think they don’t give up, but they really do.”

On the other side of the ball, pressure will be on Prescott and the offense to keep up with the Aggies, though MSU’s quarterback himself is confident in that endeavor. He should be, as he and junior running back Josh Robinson have combined for almost 2,000 total yards and more touchdowns than many teams in the country have total.

“We think we can score a lot of points, no matter what their offense is doing on the other side,” Prescott said.

ZIBZSJNBVSEFHCW.20140921012108It’s confidence in themselves, though. Not a knock on A&M. As offensive line coach John Hevesy explained, Saturday will be as tough a test as any team they face.

“They’re big inside. They’re talented outside. I’ve been in this league whatever years,” he said, “and they’re an SEC opponent.”

Said Mullen, “[They are a] much improved defensive team from last year. You watch them, and they are more physical against the run. They do a great job of creating pressure on the outside with pass rushers. They’ve obviously got some skill guys in the perimeter that can lock you down and cover. There’s a reason they’re ranked No. 6 in the country.”

Appropriately enough, Prescott said A&M’s biggest strength on offense can also be their weakness on defense. From what he’s seen, their aggressiveness can lead to giving up some big plays to opposing offenses.

“They’re a good defense and they try to make some big plays, which sometimes hurts them,” Prescott said. “They play sound and we’ve got our gameplan set for them.”

That gameplan involves a lot of running the ball, and similar to the Aggies, Prescott said MSU wants to complete short passes and open things up to take some shots deep.

With two teams possessing so much talent, the breakdowns of each team on each side could go for days (and they have in local papers, website and radio), but on Saturday the talk turns to action as No. 12 MSU hosts No. 6 Texas A&M.

“This is what it’s about in the SEC,” Mullen said.

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Unheard of hype surrounding Top-15 matchup of MSU-Texas A&M

For only the second time ever, Davis Wade Stadium will be home to a game featuring two Top-15 teams. On Saturday, No. 6 Texas A&M arrives in Starkville to face No. 12 Mississippi State and the attention from those in the world of athletics will match the historic nature of the event, a notable day in Starkville, the state of Mississippi and the SEC Western Division, as six of the seven divisional heavyweights play each other while all are ranked in the Top 15.

unnamedAll of this comes for MSU after it dismantled LSU at night in Death Valley nearly two weeks ago, the first win over the Tigers since 1999.

The result? MSU has become one of the ‘It’ teams of college football, a riser seemingly everyone wants to get the story on. The Bulldogs went from unranked all the way to 14th in the country after beating LSU and moved up another two spots just by twiddling their thumbs during an off week the following the Saturday.

Just this week, State will have coaches and players on ESPN Radio, ESPN.com, SEC Network, SEC Nation, College Gameday and a wealth of appearances on regular ol’ ESPN the channel.

Sports Illustrated is staying in town the entire week. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports gets here Tuesday. Dan Mullen is hopping on the Jim Rome Show and NFL Network on Wednesday, Sirius/XM Thursday morning, CBS Sports radio with Doug Gottlieb later that day and SportsCenter on Friday.

Dak Prescott has bookend interviews this week with College Gameday Tuesday and Tim Tebow Friday in the stadium, the connection of two Mullen quarterbacks, with an unending list of appearances in between.

SportsCenter is setting up outside the same stadium on Friday morning, ESPN is running all-access with Mississippi State across its family of networks for the entirety of Thursday.

By Saturday, beyond those already mentioned, USA Today, the Associated Press and even the Washington Post will have made it to Starkville.

And all that is without mentioning coverage and interviews by the local media, who visit with coaches and players on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

unnamed-1Oh, and what of the “off” week when Prescott was named winner of five national awards? The junior quarterback by himself accounted for appearances on SportsCenter, Scott Van Pelt, Championship Drive with Rece Davis, SEC Now and SEC Nation.

“Dak is the leading man for a team that has captured national imagination,” Pat Forde wrote early last week.

“Dak Prescott just announced to the world that he is a Heisman candidate,” Tim Brando said on FOX Sports. “He torched LSU.”

All told, Mullen and Prescott will have combined for over 40 appearances and interviews between the final whistle of their win over LSU and kickoff against Texas A&M.

“I might not get to sit down and eat as long or as much I want to,” Prescott joked. “But it’s alright.”

As wild as the hype and attention has been, it will only increase if MSU remains successful. Win this weekend, and State likely hosts its first-ever Top-10 matchup in Davis Wade when Auburn comes to town.

Even if they lose, another strong performance by Prescott can keep those in the media dropping that H-word after seeing him play. Junior running back Josh Robinson, after rushing for 197 yards against LSU, is putting his name in the conversation of the nation’s best runners and sophomore receiver De’Runnya Wilson is quickly becoming one of the SEC’s breakout pass-catchers.

Not to mention those who have already earned some share of stardom on defense like junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney and sophomore defensive lineman Chris Jones.

unnamed-2Bill Martin is the director of media relations for MSU, the man charged with coordinating and facilitating all these interviews, and said the volume of requests he’s getting now is even greater than when he was at LSU with Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu, the ‘Honey Badger.’

Kyle Niblett is Martin’s No. 2 man in football and said he hasn’t seen anything like this since he was at Florida with, of course, Tim Tebow.

Scott Stricklin, MSU’s Athletic Director, has never seen attention like this in Starkville, period.

Appropriately enough, while all the attention on the outside has been focused on MSU, all the attention on the inside at State has been focused on Texas A&M. They are a good team, after all.

But, in between practices, film sessions and coaches meetings, Mullen is able to take a moment to appreciate the big picture.

“Everyone around the country gets to see what Starkville, Mississippi is all about,” he said with a smile on Monday.

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Live blog: Dan Mullen press conference, Texas A&M week

At 1 p.m. today, Dan Mullen will meet with the local media for his weekly press conference. Mississippi State is 4-0 and ranked 12 in the country following its first off week and plays Texas A&M in Starkville on Saturday at 11 a.m. on ESPN.

Live updates from Mullen to follow. In the meantime, enjoy the latest installment of This Is Our Plate, a weekly segment highlighting Starkville-area restaurants.

————————————–

As we wait on Mullen to arrive, we’ve been given an updated depth chart for the weekend. With Dillon Day suspended, guard Ben Beckwith is listed as the starter at center while sophomore Jamaal Clayborn is listed as the starter in Beckwith’s place at left guard. The other three spots (Blaine Clausell, Justin Malone and Justin Senior) remain the same.

“We’re excited to get this week gong,” Mullen says. “A lot of exciting things happening around campus.”

On SEC Nation coming, Mullen says, “Hopefully all our fans and students are up early.”

On to Texas A&M, Mullen calls the Aggies, “An explosive offense, one of the best offensive lines in the country.” Adds that they are “a much improved defensive team.” Says they do will against the run and has a good pass rush.

Mullen says they’ll try to manage the tempo of the game, “but you know you’re gonna have to score to win the game.” Said A&M is averaging 51 points a game, “So we need to score 52.”

Asked specifically about Josh Robinson, Mullen says he loves his personality and is proud of how much he’s matured. Says someone who is so positive can sometimes go too far with it and that Robinson has learned how to manage himself.

On A&M QB Kenny Hill: “He really anticipates throws well down the field … There’s a lot of confidence that goes in that. For a guy to let it rip before a receiver comes out of his break shows a lot of knowledge in the system.”

Mullen adds that Hill is an elusive runner and can keep a play alive, even if you have guys in coverage.

As for the early kick on Saturday, Mullen says the only thing they change is moving team chapel to Friday night instead of Saturday morning.

Mullen: “We want to give our fans a team that can compete for a championship. We’re in that position and we need their help.”

“When people say ‘What’s the hardest stadium to play in in the country?’ That’s what we want [Davis Wade] to be.”

On not having Day at center, Mullen says this is where all the rotation they do becomes important. Guys have played different positions and everyone has played in games, so they ought to be prepared.

Following the off week, Mullen says guys ought to be rested after getting a lot of time off.

Mullen: “I’m excited to see Tim [Tebow]. But the last time he was here, John Banks had two pick-sixes, so I’m not sure how excited he is to be here. No, I’m just kidding. He’ll probably get mad at me for saying that.”

Mullen was asked about A&M’s susceptibility to giving up big plays to opposing offenses and said it can be dangerous to try and exploit it that. “If you take too many shots and you don’t hit them, it can really stall drives.”

Mullen says he likes Kevin Sumlin and A&M’s offense. “I study what they do an awful lot.” Says they’ll sometimes steal things from what they do, which he says is a sign of respect.

Going back to Sumlin’s days at Houston, he and Mullen have played each other a lot, so Mullen says they’ve always been a bit careful about what they say to each other.

More on the A&M offense, Mullen says they make a lot of short throws and screens to reel you in, then they’ll try and hit you with the big play down the field once you crowd in.

Mullen says they expect right tackle Justin Senior (knee) to be back today, likely full-go. If he’s limited today, he’ll be 100 percent tomorrow.

 

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Ben Beckwith on the LSU win, SEC awards and more

Following Mississippi State’s win over LSU Saturday, senior offensive lineman Ben Beckwith was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week by the conference. On Wednesday, he sat down with reporters to talk about the award, the big win and a bit more.

CSFCXTJTXTGLJCV.20130926144346Ben Beckwith: I just want to start off by saying that was a great win. It was great for everybody. Our team played great. Josh had an awesome game. I was proud of him being from Louisiana. Dak, all them. We played hard for them.

I was telling people earlier: it was expected. Coach Mullen was talking about it earlier. Back in Florida when they won in 2010, the locker room was going nuts, going crazy, because they didn’t expect to win that game. But Saturday, we came to the locker room and it was just like a normal game to us. Everyone was excited, of course, but some of us had a bad taste in our mouths from how it ended. It showed how much of a mature group we have.

We were like, yeah, we won, but we expected to win. We did what we expected to do. It was an awesome win and we’re just addressing stuff that needs work on every week. After you win, it doesn’t matter, you still have stuff you have to work on.

Question: You said it was expected. You expected to dominate like that?

Ben: Yeah, we honestly did. Not just because I’m talking to y’all. We went in there knowing. We watched film all week on those guys. They’re a great group. We just looked at ourselves. We had the preseason, as people were saying, but we had people doubt us as an offensive line, saying we weren’t what everybody was expecting. We met as a group and said, ‘This is our game. We’re gonna dominate. We’re gonna go out there and show them. We’re a group to recognize. Our whole team was like that. Our defense, D-line, our secondary, our quarterback – everybody on our team just wanted to go say, ‘Hey, this is us. This is who we are. This is what you’re gonna get every week.’

They’re a great team, I’m not downplaying them at all. We felt it all week. There’s not a person in our locker rom that ever doubted we were gonna dominate those guys.

Q: So you won SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week, and you were the first former walk-on to do it.

Ben: It was awesome. I found out Tuesday night. I got a text saying, ‘Turn it on SEC Network.’ I turned it on. I didn’t know what to expect. I thought maybe I was in some trouble or something. I saw it on there and it was awesome. I didn’t really know how to take it. I just kind of sat there in awe. It was awesome. My running back makes us look good, our running back. It’s an award for our group. It shows we all played well. I couldn’t have done it without my guys around me. Dillon, both the Justins and Blaine, we all played a great game.

That award, it’s awesome to get, but it shows you how far we’ve come as a team. We had two people get an award in one week from Mississippi State. You didn’t hear that a few years ago.

EIDFFURFHEJPFBH.20140922192019Q: What was the state of your phone after that?

Ben: It was crazy. I got like 20 phone calls. My Twitter was blowing up. It was just nuts. I got I don’t know how many followers on Twitter and Instagram. It was awesome though. It was cool because everyone was showing me love. It made me feel good about all the work I’ve put in over the years, how far I’ve come. It was kind of like saying, ‘Yeah, it was worth it.’

My mom, she called me and she was almost in tears saying, ‘You’ve worked so hard. It’s gotta be awesome to get this award and reassure that you’ve worked this hard and got this far.’ It’s reassurance.

Q: Does the win do the same thing for the team that the award did for you?

Ben: You can’t put into words what that win meant. I’ve been here five years, it was insane. I went out a winner in Baton Rouge in Death Valley at nighttime. You can’t ever take that away from me or any of these seniors or anyone on the team. It’s something I’ll never forget until the day I die. I’ll tell everybody about it. I’ll definitely never forget it. It definitely tops the award. If I’d have got that award and we lost, it wouldn’t have meant anything to me.

Q: With Dillon Day out, Coach Mullen said you’re one of the guys who will replace him at center. What’s that adjustment like?

Ben: The difference is maybe timing, because you’ve got somebody on top of you. I talk a lot anyway. Some people tell me to shut up sometimes because I’m always up there pointing at stuff. It’s really not that much difference. It’s a timing deal, getting everybody where they need to be. I think the main reason they want to put me there is because we’ve gotta have somebody with long hair at center. It’s really not that much different. It’s a few technique differences.

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MSU’s win over LSU a dream come true for Bulldogs Robinson and Sobiesk

One of the last to emerge, Josh Robinson walked out of the locker room with a determined look on his face, his eyes darting all over. He’d just run for 197 yards and beat LSU, and all he wanted was to find his friends and family.

ZIBZSJNBVSEFHCW.20140921012108The Louisiana native was supposed to go to the media room for interviews, but he was oblivious to the reporters who were watching and waiting a few steps away. He hardly realized what was happening as he walked/ran through the gate and out into the concourse where hundreds of Mississippi State fans were gathered.

The reporters who had been waiting followed Robinson to get pictures of him with the fans. This was an emotional moment for State’s starting running back. It was a homecoming.

Those who were there aren’t even sure if a reporter actually asked a question. Robinson just saw that there were some familiar media faces around him and he started talking. There were fans behind him, fans beside him and fans circled around the media who had somehow found their way to him. Someone started rolling a camera. Voice recorders popped on.

“I had to make a statement tonight,” Robinson said to no one in particular. Then his voice caught. He wiped tears away with a towel from the locker room. He choked out the rest of his thoughts as they came. “It’s just showing you how God works, showing the wonders of what He can do. Whatever you plant, you will harvest.”

Robinson is a passionate guy. Whatever the emotion is, he feels it all the way. It shows when he plays. So, when this game meant a lot to some of MSU’s players from the state of Louisiana, it really meant a lot to Robinson.

The emotion, in this case, equaled 197 yards, two touchdowns and 13 yards per carry.

“I had the mindset that I had to take over the game and have a great homecoming, you know. I came back to my home state.”

See, Robinson wasn’t recruited by LSU. Les Miles and the Tigers figured they’d be ok without him. So, for him to be the star in the backfield that night, and for his teammates to hold those who LSU deemed worthy to run the ball to 89 yards total, meant the world to Robinson. And he did it in his home state, in front of the people he grew up with.

“I’ve been dreaming about this moment since I was 10,” he said. “Just to see it, just to see how God works – it’s a blessing.”

That surreal scene for Robinson came over an hour after the game had ended.

But just moments following the final whistle, another one happened as a player approached the crowd.

Few people, if any, have taken more heat the last few years than MSU’s field goal kickers. Dan Mullen has constantly stuck up for them, while the rest outside the locker room have sometimes been less willing to do so.

Sophomore Evan Sobiesk came into 2014 as the assumed starter at placekicker. But when he lined up for the kick against LSU in the second quarter, it was his first field goal attempt of the season. For all the talk, he hadn’t kicked a single field goal since last season. Not in a game, anyway.

UPPGYCHZVVXWUSN.20140921012108But when he finally got the chance, he nailed it. Later on, he drilled a second one right down the pipe. He made every extra point, too. In a game MSU won by five points, Sobiesk’s six points worth of field goals were the difference between victory and defeat. He was responsible for 10 points all told.

When the game ended, MSU’s entire team ran to the section of Bulldog fans sitting by the field. It was one of the biggest wins in years for State. Certainly the biggest one of the Mullen era.

And when the players came to the fans who had crossed state lines to cheer on their team, they heard one chant coming out of the stands.

“SO-BI-ESK! SO-BI-ESK! SO-BI-ESK!”

Of all the heroes, all the stars, all the big plays and all the history in that win, it was the sophomore kicker who got his name called. And he earned it.

“That…” Sobiesk began as he tried to articulate the feeling in the moment. “That was pretty awesome.”

“I always knew I could do it,” he told reporters after the game. “I can’t really take any credit. I give credit to my long-snapper Winston. Dak’s the holder. The line is big up front. In reality, I’m just taking three [steps] back, two over. It’s everybody else that does everything.”

In his moment(s) of glory, Sobiesk deferred praise to those around him. But his head coach was quick to give him credit; the credit he thinks Sobiesk deserves.

“No one believes me when I say they’re really good at practice,” Mullen said with a laugh in his voice. “That’s nothing we haven’t seen in practice. Let’s get everybody to blow up Twitter about how great he is.”

Like Robinson, Sobiesk had dreamed of this moment. He told reporters about it as Mullen’s wife Megan snuck up behind him to give him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She was as happy for “Sobes” as her husband was.

Sobiesk continued the answer the question he’d been asked, saying he grew up going to LSU games, despite being from Mississippi. His older brother had attended and graduated from LSU. His best friend in high school is a junior in Baton Rouge now.

“So this was a pretty cool experience,” he said, “being able to come back and actually play as a player.”

The win meant a great deal to a lot of people. Robinson and Sobiesk know that as well as any.

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