November 8, 2012 10:09:56 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The talent gap between the Mississippi State University and LSU football teams is shrinking, but it isn't happening fast enough for MSU coach Dan Mullen.
As the fourth-year MSU coach continues to prepare for his second trip to Baton Rouge, La., to take on an opponent ranked in the top 10 in every national poll, Mullen said Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference media teleconference that the gap he inherited between the SEC West schools isn't where he wants it.
"We still haven't closed the gap," Mullen said "We still haven't come up with a win. We still have to take that next step to finally push us over the top to get a win against LSU."
Despite not having signed recruits who have claimed elite national rankings or producing a comparable number of players who have been selected in the NFL draft in the past four years, Mullen has seen two teams that play with similar effort as he has reviewed film for their game at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN).
"Everybody knows LSU is loaded with talent from top to bottom, but we have some pretty good talent here," Mullen said. "Our kids play hard, and when you play hard there is going to be an opportunity to win games and be in position. We've done that the last couple of years even though we haven't come out on top."
LSU coach Les Miles said Wednesday he feels the improvement MSU has made on offense under Mullen is what makes the Bulldogs a quality opponent on his schedule every year. He noticed players his staff identified in the recruiting process -- like junior quarterback Tyler Russell and senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis -- will cause a problem for the Tigers..
"Russell is a very capable passer, a guy that really has a nice scheme for them," Miles said. "They get the ball to more veteran, more established wide receivers. Chad Bumphis is a very talented guy. I think what they're doing is using their talent very effectively."
The talent level of MSU (7-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) makes Miles less concerned about a hangover effect after LSU (7-2, 3-2) lost to top-ranked University of Alabama 21-17 last weekend in Tiger Stadium.
"We're fortunate it's a very quality opponent beyond the Alabama game," Miles said, "Our team needs to play a team that has ability, and we're looking forward to a great competitive evening in Tiger Stadium."
Mullen said he admired LSU's attitude and mentality prior to becoming coach at MSU. He said part of his goal when he arrived in Starkville was to instill a similar mind-set into his program. He nearly helped the program take a huge step against LSU in 2009 at Davis Wade
Stadium. MSU had multiple chances inside the 5-yard-line late in the fourth quarter to take the lead, but it lost 30-26 in Mullen's fourth game as a Division I head coach.
In addition to taking a page from LSU's mind-set, Mullen has admired LSU's ability to sign numerous in-state prospects. It is a formula he has tried to duplicate.
"You're going to have a bunch of guys from out of state and you've got to go nationally to recruit some guys, but you want to make sure your local players stay at home," Mullen said.