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MSU NOTEBOOK: Mullen vows changes on special teams


Matthew Stevens



STARKVILLE - The coaching hot seat for the Mississippi State University special teams coach isn't even close to hot. 


Even after two costly turnovers and a blocked field goal that flipped the momentum early in the 38-7 loss at No. 1 University of Alabama, MSU head coach Dan Mullen seemed more than confident the special teams coach isn't in much trouble. 


That's probably because it's the same person and Mullen is unable to fire himself. 


So in leu of making a coaching change or a players change at MSU, Mullen said this week of practie will focus on the inconsistencies in the sometimes overlook aspect of the game at this high level. 


Mullen figuratively put on his special teams coach hat to explain the corrections that must be made before No. 16 Texas A&M University comes to Davis Wade Stadium (11 a.m., ESPN). 


"Everything, you're constantly teaching," Mullen said. "You're either getting better or you're getting worse every single day. So we're constantly working on every one of those techniques, individual responsibilities." 


Mullen has been personally responsible for the special teams units since taking the job in Starkville in 2009. 


MSU is 13th in the Southeastern Conference in allowing kick returns yards per game and in Saturday's loss at Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Tide started 10 of its 12 drives beyond the 30-yard-line including allowing a 41-yard kick return on the opening kickoff. Alabama would quickly turn that field position into a quick 7-0 lead in the first possession. 


"There's a lot of different things, there's eleven guys that have to execute perfectly on the play is what you need. And if you have a breakdown a lot of times it will be glaring, especially against good football teams." 


MSU (7-1. 4-1 in Southeastern Conference) came into the game leading the nation in turnover margin at plus-16 through the first seven games of the 2012 season. Alabama ended the night plus-3 in that statistical category. 


"There's a lot of things we did very, very poorly during the game," Mullen said. "You can sometimes get away with it when doing some things well and some things poorly but not against great teams." 




Banks named semifinalist for Bednarik and Thorpe Award honors: Mississippi State All-American defensive back Johnthan Banks was named a semifinalist for both the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Jim Thorpe Award, announced Monday by the Maxwell Football Club and Jim Thorpe Association, respectively.  


The senior team captain is the first player in school history to be named a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award, given annually to the outstanding defensive player of the year. Banks is also the first player in the history of the MSU program to be named a semifinalist in consecutive seasons for the Thorpe Award, given yearly to the nation's best defensive back. 


A midseason All-American by six different media outlets, Banks is tied for seventh in the country with four interceptions in 2012 and ranks second with 16 career picks, which is tied for the school record. For the season, the Senior CLASS Award finalist has been thrown at 41 times in man coverage, allowing just 25 catches for 279 yards (34.9 yards per game). 


Named a quarterfinalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy last week, Bankscurrently ranks first among active players in career interception yards (320), fourth in career interceptions per game (0.36) and is tied for sixth with three interceptions returned for touchdowns. Aided by his play, Mississippi State is sixth in the country in turnover margin, with three of the last four opposing starting quarterbacks recording season lows in passing yards. Along with teammate Darius Slay, the corner duo has registered more combined interceptions (eight) than 62 FBS teams. 




A&M quarterback Manziel named SEC Freshman of the Week: Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel received Freshman of the Week honors from the Southeastern Conference for the fifth time this season on Monday. 


Manziel, from Kerrville Tivy High School, led the Aggies to a historic scoring output in a 63-21 road victory over Auburn last Saturday. It was the most points ever scored by the Aggies on a conference opponent's home field, and it was the most points scored against Auburn since 1917. With the win, the Aggies became bowl-eligible for the fourth straight season. 


In just over two quarters of action against Auburn, Manziel accounted for 350 total yards and five touchdowns. 


"They spread out all over the field and they have great athletes so you've got to defend all these great athletes all over the field and you know oftentimes, you leave him all in the box all by himself," MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. "He's got tremendous athletic ability and the ability to keep plays alive -- to improvise. So not only does he execute their offense very well but when you stop their offense he was the ability to go and create and improvise on his own outside of the box. 


He passed for 260 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 90 yards and three scores against the Tigers. He led the Aggies on eight drives before leaving the game, which produced seven touchdowns and a field goal try. 


"He just starts running around and making things happen and he's got great athleticism, tremendous speed, make you miss," Mullen said. "He looks like a natural ballcarrier in what he does and how he runs with the ball -- reading blocks and cutting. The biggest threat is those extra things he does when a play breaks down."



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