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Pre-game Monday - Mullen: MSU being ranked is an expectation, not cause for celebration




Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE - Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen saw less of an explosion of excitement from the fan base this week when the news was released the Bulldogs are in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches' poll.  


"I guess that's a good thing. I guess, for us, it is," Mullen said. "It's good teaching for our guys of our expectations as a program that we do expect big things and I think, for our fan base, there is a lot of excitement. My Twitter, I guess, seems to blow up a lot with the excitement of all our fans with this opportunity. I do want it to be something that is expected for this program, to be a top 25 program year in and year out." 


One of those expectations would be handling a South Alabama program, which is transitioning itself into the Football Bowl Subdivision this season, at home as a the Jaguars (1-2) face their first Southeastern Conference opponent in program history.  


"I think scheduling-wise it's beneficial for us, because it plays into what we look for within being able to schedule locally," Mullen said. "I know we down there, and the Coast is a big recruiting area for us to go play at in a couple of years. A couple of years ago it was different. They're a little bit more of an established program. I know they're trying to build it from scratch, but it's not like this is their first year in football." 




The other major point of emphasis in Mullen's weekly media conference Monday was the dropped passes and the Bulldogs fourth-year head coach counted seven of them throughout Saturday evening.  


I'll have a feature on the mishap in the passing game at Troy University but junior starting quarterback Tyler Russell visited with the media Monday to talk about how to move past the dropped pass that affected his 11-for-26 evening against the Trojans defense.  


"You can't get down. Like I tell the guys, you never know what play is going to be the play that can win the game," Russell said. "We had a crucial drive at the end where we capitalized with a score and I really think that was the drive - if we didn't capitalize they were going to go back down and score and we probably would have lost that game. So everybody for the most part stayed focus and we were able to win that game."  






Some other nuggets gathered from Monday's media conference are as follows:  




- Mullen discussed the Bulldogs ineffectiveness on third downs this season (13-of-37, 35.1%) and are 1-for-8 on third downs in the final quarter of games.  


"You know, if it was one issue, that I've looked at, as you look at it, that you can put your finger on, it's been kind of an array of third downs," Mullen said. "We've been pretty inconsistent across the board. We've made some third-and-longs. It's not like we've made all our third-and-shorts, it's third-and-plus we haven't converted yet. We've missed some blocks, we've missed some throws, we've missed some protections. It's a little bit of everything right now that I want to make the guys know the exact plan for us to execute."  




- Turnovers for the MSU defense was another topic of discussion Monday as over the last three-plus seasons the Bulldogs (3-0) have won 19 of 20 games when victorious in the turnover column. Through the first three games, MSU ranks atop the nation along with Alabama with a +11 turnover margin.  


"To me a lot of it is if they make a mistake, you've got to be there to capitalize on it as well," Mullen said. "A lot of our stuff, is it someone made a spectacular play? I don't know if a lot of our turnovers have been through guys just making spectacular plays, it's been our guys running to the football and being where they're supposed to be and playing hard, has been the main result of those turnovers, and that's something we want to continue. A general rule of the defense: If you run hard to the football, good things will happen. Then you have the film and the statistics to back it up with the turnovers." 




- After he began his media conference, Mullen gave the media the injury report for the week:  


Sophomore TE Brandon Hill is questionable for Saturday (ankle sprain)  


Freshman DB Xavier Grindle is out for the rest of the season (torn ACL)  


Sophomore TE Malcolm Johnson is still out (pectoral)  


Senior WR Arceto Clark (concussion symptoms) is expected to play 


Senior WR Sam Williams (concussions) is questionable to play Saturday 


Senior OG Tobias Smith (knee injury) is questionable to play Saturday 




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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