Mississippi State's Tyler Russell is sacked by Alabama's Denzel Devall (30) and Quinton Dial (90) in the second quarter against the Crimson Tide Saturday night at Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium. Read more: http://cdispatch.com/news/article.asp?aid=19887#ixzz2AcXE2MTl Photo by: Lee Adams/Dispatch Staff
October 28, 2012 1:37:06 PM
STARKVILLE - The gauge to the resiliency of this Mississippi State University football team will be tested this week according to the Bulldogs fourth-year head coach.
Dan Mullen didn't hesitate to call this weekend's game against No. 16 Texas A&M University (6-2, 3-2 in Southeastern Conference) as "the biggest game for us of the year".
After the emotional low that was the 38-7 loss at No. 1 Alabama, MSU will have to figure out a way to rebound and change its recent history against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 (1-10 in last 11 matchups against ranked foes).
"There are dominant teams in this conference, but there's a lot of them, so you know that during the course of your schedule you're going to have to play a stretch run at some point, and week in and week out you're going to have to play great teams back-to-back-to-back-to-back even at times during the course of the year," Mullen said Sunday in his weekly teleconference. "That's what makes this league the best league to coach in and play in and the most challenging league as well."
Texas A&M comes into Starkville this weekend leading the SEC in scoring offense (45.5 points per game), rushing offense (237.6 yards per game), total offense (542.9 yards per game) and third down conversions (54 percent).
The interesting wrinkle on this matchup is one of the closest friends of MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson is A&M first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin.
"The first part of that is, I've got a lot of respect for Kevin (Sumlin)," Mullen said. "He's a very, very smart offensive mind. Their offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, who I've never met but I've watched from afar, they're a very innovative offense, very good offensive coaches. You can see that. I haven't watched film on them yet. I've got to watch some of their games on TV, and obviously they have a lot of talent and they have a good system and they're a well-coached football team."
Here's more bullet point items that Mullen addressed in the 15-minute conversation with reporters Sunday afternoon:
Mullen said the left knee of senior All-American cornerback Johnthan Banks was fine and had nothing to do with the busted coverages in Alabama's two touchdown passes. Here's how Mullen described the 57-yard touchdown pass on a play-action pass from Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron to receiver Kenny Bell and the touchdown strike to Crimson Tide tight end Michael Williams.
"The one deep pass we were supposed to have a safety over the top, he undercut the route to try to take it away underneath, thinking he has the safety over the top," Mullen said. "(Banks) tried to go underneath and lost his man for a second in doing that, and the safety wasn't over the top. Then the other one we had two guys misaligned, and the second to me is a coaching error. We didn't have the guys in the right position to make the plays. Those are, again, little mistakes against really good teams, they expose those mistakes."
The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog asked Mullen about if he and his staff learned more about Russell's toughness after taking that much of a physical pounding behind center thanks to a dominant Alabama pass rush. His answer was simple: No. He never questioned the toughness of his junior quarterback. Russell finished 15-of-30 for 169 yards and an interception.
"I know what we have in Tyler," Mullen said. "We have a guy that I trust as the leader of our team. He's a guy that shows great toughness, will show resiliency throughout the game. He has the ability to make plays against almost every opponent we play. In his maturity and his development, I don't worry about him not responding well to this. I think he'll respond great to this and come out with some great leadership and demeanor in how he leads the team during this week."
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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