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Dispatch 2013 Gator Bowl coverage Day 3 - Mullen and Fitzgerald say teams fully prepared for 2013 Gator Bowl on New Year's Day




Matt Stevens


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog attended the 2013 Gator Bowl media conference that included the head coaches and players of both Northwestern University and Mississippi State University. Here's some highlights of the meeting Monday afternoon for the Hyatt Regency in Jacksonville. 




Mississippi State Monday media conference notes: 


MSU head coach Dan Mullen discussed the focus of his team being at (wait for it....) at a high level despite a 41-27 loss at the University of Mississippi in the Egg Bowl rivalry game. 


"We are really pleased with the focus our guys have had and the attention to detail," Mullen said. "Being here before has certainly helped a lot of the older guys. They have a little bit of a routine. They understand all of the things that are going on. I think the key in a bowl game is being able to separate when it's time to have fun and when it's time to be completely focused in on the game. I really think with the practices we've had this week, our guys have done a great job of having complete focus." 


When asked about the struggles against "tempo offenses" like Texas A&M University, Troy University and Ole Miss, Mullen suggested the extra time to prepare will give the Bulldogs (8-4) an advantage with their defensive scheme for this New Year's Day bowl game (11 a.m., ESPN2).  


"One is having the extra time getting used to the speed of how fast it's going to go and the tempo as much as anything else," Mullen said. "You look at spread offenses: when we handled the tempo, we had a lot of success. When you start giving up the first and second first down, and they start going really fast, that's when everybody struggles. One of the keys is to not let them get the drives going and not let them get that second first down where they can really shift it into high gear. We have to play sound right from the beginning. You have to get some three-and-outs and get them off the field. That slows their whole tempo down." 


The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog will have post tonight on the unique role of MSU wide receivers Tim Brewster as he's faced Northwestern four times while head coach at the University of Minnesota. Here's what Mullen had to say about the Bulldogs new assistant coach.  


"I think he's done a great job," Mullen said. "He just as an experienced coach has really helped them focus and get (the receivers) all going in the right direction. And I think the fact that they're all seniors this year. That's one of the things you see with guys, that light comes on that this is the end. Even when you're a junior and you know, hey, boy, I only have one year of football left after this season, the reality doesn't hit you yet that this is it. Those guys come into their senior year, and you see that a lot with a lot of our seniors, and I think receiver it stands out more than any other position because that's our most senior-deep position. Those guys come in and realize, this is it. Their sense of urgency in everything they do increases at that time." 


However, Mullen discounted the idea of Brewster being able to scout upperclassmen on the Northwestern roster. 


"You look at our team that came here a couple of years ago, I think we brought 115 guys and 22 of them participated in the game," Mullen said. "We had a show of hands the other day (for) two years ago. That means 93 of them didn't participate in the game. It's just that short time frame you're in college, your roster just changes completely, even though these guys that are up here, they've played in the game before. But your overall roster changes so drastically from year to year." 




Northwestern Monday media conference notes: 


Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who is one win shy of being the school's all-time wins leader, downplayed the idea of motivation of being a Big Ten Conference media against the perceived power league of the Southeastern Conference. 


"When we were in the Big Ten luncheon in Chicago, we got asked that question about taking that next step and we've already answered that challenge so we're all business against an SEC opponent." 


Chicago Tribune writer Teddy Greenstein asked Fitzgerald about the Gator Bowl allowing cowbells into EverBank Field just like they did two years ago when MSU defeated the University of Michigan 52-14. The Wildcats head coach didn't seem wild about the idea but deflected all those issues to Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett.  


""It's obviously a great tradition Mississippi State has but any question for the bowl should be given to Rick (Catlett) and I think it's the neat thing about college football with all the traditions," Fitzgerald said. "We have crowd noise and just absolutely terrible music (pause for laughter) that plays everyday through warmups through practice." 


Fitzgerald, who played in both a Rose Bowl and Florida Citrus Bowl as a player at Northwestern, seemed confident despite his 0-4 record in bowl games as the Wildcats head coach about the preparation of the No. 22 Northwestern squad.  


"At this point, my thought process is all about getting the guys to the stadium on time. We're going to be ready and I have no concerns," Fitzgerald said. "We're as prepared as we can be at this point. It's like any game for us at this point. It's our job as coaches to make adjustments throughout the course of the game. I think we've done that by being into the fourth quarter of all four previous bowl games. We've got to get over that hump in this football game." 


The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog asked Northwestern players about being the winningest senior class in school history and reviving a program that had gone from the team in the Big Ten you counted on for a victory to the team that Wildcats fans count on being bowl eligible every season.  


"It's really crazy how far the program has come in our years and been a testament to understanding where we've been and where we're going now," Northwestern defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt said. "One of the keys I think is the coaching staff and I mean everybody on staff have been consistently here in my time at Northwestern." 




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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