November 22, 2010 8:41:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- With their annual rivalry match just six days away, the Mississippi State Bulldogs are trying to shake their disappointing overtime loss to Arkansas.
As MSU head coach Dan Mullen sees it, his team isn''t far off from breaking into the Southeastern Conference''s elite.
MSU''s 38-31 loss to the Razorbacks and 17-14 loss to currently undefeated Auburn provide proof the Bulldogs are a quality SEC team.
Making the plays in crunch-time, especially against elite teams, is what lacks when comparing MSU to the likes of Alabama, LSU and Auburn, Mullen said.
"And we''re still developing that," Mullen said Sunday during his weekly teleconference. "It''s not that they have to make 25 plays a game, they have to make the one big play at the key moment in the game. That, for us and for our young players who continue to develop, is what we need to be right at the top of the SEC instead of the middle."
The No. 25 Bulldogs (7-4, 3-4) look to snap a two-game losing streak Saturday when they travel to Oxford to face Ole Miss (4-6, 1-6).
In a rivalry road game against a team that took LSU to the brink in a 43-36 loss, avoiding turnovers and not giving up big plays -- two areas in which MSU has struggled in its last two games -- will be paramount.
Mullen pinned some responsibility on the players for lapses in defensive hustle and perimeter blocking from his receivers. The second-year head coach was more critical of the coaching staff''s performance, especially on the final play of the game against Arkansas when quarterback Chris Relf was sacked coming off a timeout.
Mullen said there was miscommunication and cadence issues on the final play.
"To give up big plays coming off the sideline, those are times when that shouldn''t happen," Mullen said. "Those are times when we should be in our most efficient when we''re coaching our guys up, getting them out there on the field."
Mullen vs. Nutt
After Mississippi State beat Ole Miss 41-27 last season, MSU head coach Dan Mullen capped the victory with shot at Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt.
Amid all the jubilation of on Scott Field, Mullen, with microphone in hand, proclaimed "there''s certainly one team on the rise and it''s right here" in response to Nutt''s midweek comments about the Rebels being the team in the state that''s "on the rise."
At the time, the Rebels were 8-3 coming into Starkville while MSU was 4-7. The Bulldogs had suffered one of the worst defeats in the series in the previous meeting, falling 45-0 in a game that ultimately cost former coach Sylvester Croom his job.
When Mullen arrived, he spoke passionately about winning the in-state recruiting battle and has repeatedly referred to Ole Miss as "the school up north."
Nutt''s response to Mullen''s subtle instigation prompted Mullen''s now infamous post-Egg Bowl comments.
"I just wanted to make sure it was clear after the game that that was not the correct statement," Mullen said.
Mullen insists the moment wasn''t planned.
"I planned on celebrating with the team," he added. "Somebody handed me a microphone and said please say something to the crowd. That was spur of the moment, but that was on my mind."
Despite the shot, Mullen said he and Nutt "don''t have a great relationship" but he respects his body of work as a head coach in the SEC. Mullen said their relationship is limited to charity functions or league meetings.
"But I think just the nature of the schools we''re at maybe hinders our personal relationship a little bit," Mullen said.
Bulldogs remain ranked
Mississippi State''s loss to Arkansas wasn''t enough to knock the Bulldogs from the national rankings, where they''ve been since Oct. 17.
MSU is ranked No. 25 in both the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Poll, dropping from No. 22.
headringer commented at 11/23/2010 1:24:00 PM:
They have been "knocking on the door" for years....
1. Hill, Gholar fuel Falcons' flight HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. EMCC offense having fun COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Mullen wants MSU to clean things up, get healthy COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Big region games on deck for locals LOCAL COLUMNS
5. Mullen balances calling plays, running team COLLEGE SPORTS