October 12, 2010 8:13:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen believes last year''s loss to the University of Florida was an awakening for his team.
In Starkville, Mullen led the Bulldogs to a near-upset of the Tim Tebow-led, No. 1-ranked Gators. MSU fell 29-19, but for most of the game was within a touchdown or field goal, and even tied the game at 13 in the third quarter.
Up to that point, MSU had lost home games to LSU and Houston by a touchdown or less.
"These are games we''re gonna have to start winning if we ever want to get to the level we want to get to," Mullen said Monday. "I think our guys bought into that. But as the game went on I don''t think anybody was confident enough that they were gonna be the ones to win the game for us, (that) they were gonna make the big play to win it. But I think when the game ended I saw a look in their eyes and they realized we could have won that football game."
That loss dropped the Bulldogs to 3-5, but it was the most galvanizing experience the team had in 2009, Mullen said.
"I think that kind of changed the demeanor of the team, seeing that we''re not here just to compete, we''re here to win," Mullen said. "It really kind of changed some of our attitude around for the rest of the season."
The Bulldogs (4-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) enter this year''s game against Mullen''s former team in much better shape and form. Needing just two wins to become bowl eligible, the Bulldogs have a higher confidence level, evidenced by running back Vick Ballard''s boisterous proclamation of victory Saturday.
"I think we''re going to upset them. I know we''re going to upset them," Ballard said.
Going into Gainesville, Fla., where Mullen served as offensive coordinator before coming to Starkville, to face a team coming off back-to-back losses will be an arduous task. And though confidence isn''t a problem for Mullen''s players, he admits his team is still learning how to make game-winning plays.
"Our guys go in with the belief they''re gonna win the game," Mullen said. "Now we''re learning to make the plays to let that happen."
Florida''s dominance against league opponents and two national championships since 2007 hasn''t created a "little brother" complex with the Bulldogs, who''ve been two just two bowl games since 2000, guard Quentin Saulsberry said. He believes playing with that mind-set and chasing another team''s success devalues the hard work and effort of his team.
"Everybody in the SEC is equal," Saulsberry said. "Everybody''s on scholarship. Everybody''s got athletes, so it comes down to who wants it the most.
"It''s not so much being equal. It''s about who wants it. You can''t compare yourself to anybody. You got to play your game and your game only."
Brignone questionable for Florida game
MSU center J.C. Brignone has started three straight seasons, but a knee injury keep him out against Florida.
Brignone went down Saturday in the first half of a win against Houston and didn''t return with what MSU called a sprained knee.
Mullen said Brignone likely won''t return to the field until Thursday at the earliest, and he expects the senior to be ready for Saturday.
"We''re hoping with some treatments today he''s planning on playing this weekend," Mullen said. "That was told to us right after the game. Nothing''s really changed since then. If he''s still sore coming up at the end of the week and he can''t go, somebody else is gonna have to step up and play."
The first candidate to fill in, at least from what MSU showed against Houston, is Saulsberry. The junior has played all three positions on the offensive line and insists playing 60 minutes at center won''t be a major adjustment. He said the only difference playing center is snapping the ball.
"It really is that simple," Saulsberry said. "As a tackle and a guard you got to know coverage, you got to read linebackers and the leverage of the linebackers. Little fundamental things like that, so it''s all the same thing."
Saulsberry said he works at center as much as he can, but the repetitions vary every week.
"It we''re rotating or something like that, I try to stand behind the offense and see what''s going on in game preparation," he said. "It all depends on who you''re playing and what you''re going against.
Berry''s absence creates another receiving void
Senior wideout Leon Berry had surgery Monday to repair a dislocated ankle he suffered against Houston.
Lost for the season, Berry''s spot in the lineup comes just a week after starting tight end Marcus Green was ruled out for the year with a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Berry''s absence for the last half of the season leaves the Bulldogs with little experience at receiver.
"Those guys have to step up and play better at the receiver position now," Mullen said. "Our wily receiver position, no one older than a sophomore, is going to play for us at the receiver position. Those guys are just going to have to grow up fast."
Berry was fourth on the team with eight catches and was MSU''s best kick returner with an average of 26.8 yards per return, which is sixth in the league. Berry has two career kick returns for touchdowns.
"He''s a major factor for our team," Mullen said. "You lose in more than one way with him being gone. Our young players have got to grow up fast."
MSU will enter the game against Florida with sophomores Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark, Brandon Heavens, and Chris Smith as its top wideouts.
Sherrod named SEC Offensive Lineman of Week
For the second time in three weeks, MSU''s Derek Sherrod was named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week.
Sherrod, a Columbus native who was a standout at Caledonia High School, posted a 96 percent blocking grade with seven knockdowns Saturday in a 47-24 victory against Houston on Saturday. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound left tackle helped the Bulldogs rush for 409 yards, the most by a MSU team since 1992.
Time set for UAB game
MSU will take on the University of Alabama at Birmingham at 6 p.m. Oct. 23 (ESPNU).
The SEC announced Monday the schedule for its other league games. The schedule is as follows: Alabama at Tennessee (6 p.m., ESPN), the University of Mississippi at Arkansas (11:21 a.m., SEC Network), LSU at Auburn (2:30 p.m., WCBI), South Carolina at Vanderbilt (6 p.m., Fox Sports Net), and Georgia at Kentucky (6:30 p.m., CSS).
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