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Sunday Talk with Dan Mullen - MSU needs to show more killer instinct with big leads



Dan Mullen speaks Sunday to MSU (5-0, 2-0 in SEC) not being able to put teams away early in the second half.


Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE - Mississippi State University football coach Dan Mullen doesn't see the start or the finished result as the part of a potential concern right now for his team.  


The Bulldogs fourth-year head coach said as much in his weekly local media teleconference Sunday when asked about concerns about his football team.  


It is the middle of a football game right now where he sees his 19th-ranked Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 in Southeastern Conference) as a portion of games where his team isn't excelling and allowing possible blowout games to turn a little more uneasy then he and he is sure MSU fans would prefer.  


"We get out there and get a lead on people and we take our foot off the gas and you can't do that," Mullen said Sunday. "The positive thing is that we are winning games and up big on people, but what we have to do is continue to execute at a very high level and keep our focus for all 60 minutes of play even when we have a lead. 


Throughout the first 5-0 start to a season in 14 years, MSU has outscored its opponents 171-67 and more impressively 105-23 in the first halves of games. However, the Bulldogs are seeing a drop off in production after the halftime break to just a 65-44 advantage. 


"That's what you have to defend against and you have to be ready for that," Mullen said Sunday. "If we are behind we have to be ready to come back and when we are ahead we just have to be able to put people away." 


After a 27-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis put MSU up 27-7 in MSU's 27-14 victory Saturday, the Bulldogs offense managed just five first downs and included two three-and-out drives along with a turnover to allow the University of Kentucky to stay relatively close.  


Part of why teams such as Troy University and Kentucky have been able to stay within a couple of scores difference of MSU in the only road games for the Bulldogs in 2012 is what Mullen referred to on his SEC Network halftime interview as "brain farts" for the youth of his team. 


"To me that's a focus (issue)," Mullen said Saturday. "You're playing for three-and-a-half hours. I know they say 60 minutes but it's for three-and-a-half hours you have to have a complete focus on doing your job on every snap. I think we lost that a couple of different times during the game. Whether it be miss-aligned on defense, not rocking off the ball on the offensive line, missing a couple of protections, a turnover or shanking a punt. It's those type of things that I wasn't real pleased with." 


MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell mentioned after Saturday's victory over Kentucky that he missed some "easy throws" that he would normally complete in the second half despite having a career high in completions (23) and passing yards (269).  


"When you miss the little ones, they kind of get under your skin, and you're like, 'man, I'm too good of a quarterback, and our team is too good, to miss those little throws like that'," Russell said Saturday after the win. "When you're playing against Tennessee and teams like that, you've got to be able to make throws, make easy throws like that. We're going to come back Monday and work on it." 


It's the mental errors Mullen stressed would have to be corrected this week as the University of Tennessee (3-2, 0-2) brings a high powered offense to Starkville (8 p.m., ESPN2) that could certainly result in a possible comeback road victory if MSU isn't more careful to put Saturday's game away early if given the opportunity. 


"The nice thing about it is even when we've been up and we start to slip a little bit, when we need to make plays we make plays," Mullen said. "We haven't just put people away but when we've had too make plays we've made plays to win the game." 




Other items of note was Mullen talking about the explosiveness of the Tennessee pass attack led by Volunteers quarterback Tyler Bray.  


"He's got a big arm and is a very accurate passer," Mullen said. "He finds away to keep plays alive when he needs to, he can stand in the pocket when he needs to. When he gets on he can really throw the football. A guy that can throw the football can beat any coverage and he can do that. They are an extremely explosive offense you see that with some of the numbers they put up throwing the football. We are going to have our hands full with a traditional power team like Tennessee. Their two losses were to two good teams and they were close losses." 




Mullen also on how big this game against Tennessee looms this Saturday:  




"We talk about what our goals are and our goals are still alive here in the SEC West. If you going to have an opportunity to go win an SEC championship or win your division, you've got to go win your home games and we've stressed that all along and they know how big this game is." 




Here's some notes from MSU football contact Kyle Niblett:  




- Only three teams have trailed for less time than Mississippi State this season: 




Team, Total Time Trailed This Season 


1. No. 7 Notre Dame, 0:00 


2. No. 1 Alabama, 0:15 


3. No. 2 Oregon, 0:51 


4. No. 18/19 Mississippi State, 10:19 




Out of 120 FBS teams, MSU is one of just 15 teams that is still unbeaten: Ohio, South Carolina, Ohio St., Oregon, Mississippi St., Florida, Rutgers, West Virginia, Kansas St., Louisville, Notre Dame, Louisiana Tech, Alabama, Oregon St., Cincinnati. 




MSU is tied for the fifth-longest active winning streak in the country. Every team ahead of MSU is currently in the top five. 




Longest Winning Streaks in FBS 


1. South Carolina - 10 


T2. Alabama - 9 


T2. Oregon - 9 


T2. West Virginia - 9 


T5. Mississippi State - 7 


T5. Ohio - 7 


T5. Cincinnati - 7 




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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