December 28, 2010 8:15:00 PM
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Mississippi State Bulldogs have been away from game action for over a month, but the layoff and extra activities of bowl week haven''t affected the team''s ability to focus on Gator Bowl opponent Michigan, head coach Dan Mullen said Tuesday.
The Bulldogs (8-4) enjoyed an early-afternoon beach party in Jacksonville Beach, where they had a team meal, played volleyball and some players opted for a swim in the chilly Atlantic ocean.
The extra time created from not having class and the potential distractions of the Gator Bowl activities haven''t be an issue for the Bulldogs, who held their third practice in Jacksonville on Tuesday.
"We went out to the beach festival this afternoon but walked out onto the practice field completely locked in," Mullen said. "I like how our team approaches it -- when it''s time for football, they''re locked in on football. When it''s time to have fun, they''re pretty locked in on having fun. It''s been good."
MSU hasn''t had a player break curfew and doesn''t have to deal with any academic issues as all of its players are eligible for Saturday''s game.
Even though Mullen looked a bit nervous watching many of his starters play sand volleyball, he''s happy the last month has been worry-free. Especially for a team filled with mostly underclassmen, many of whom haven''t been to a bowl game.
"We have great kids on our team," he said. "They''re kids, so they''re gonna be silly and goofy, like most 19 and 20-year-old kids are. But they''re gonna take care of each other. They understand what we''re here for, and that''s to win a football game."
--Chris Relf to wear Nick Bell''s No. 36
For the final time this season, former Mississippi State defensive end Nick Bell will have his jersey number on the field.
Quarterback Chris Relf will wear No. 36 instead of his usual No. 14 in Saturday''s Gator Bowl, honoring the late Bell, who passed away Nov. 2 after a five-week bout with cancer.
Bell was a 20-year-old redshirt sophomore.
Charles Mitchell, Kendrick Cook and Pernell McPhee have each worn the number over the past three games.
So why Relf?
Head coach Dan Mullen cited Relf being a junior, and said he wasn''t going to let anyone wear the number a second time.
Mullen also added he''d received emails suggesting Relf wear No. 36 for the Gator Bowl.
"I showed some to Chris and he said ''I think it''d be great if I wore it, too,''" Mullen said.
No. 36 isn''t typically a quarterback''s number, but Mullen is fond of the number because it''s what he wore as a high school quarterback and as a tight end in college.
"(In college) I moved to 10 for one year when I was a quarterback, then when I moved to tight end, I took 36 from whoever was wearing it," Mullen said. "Like a punter had it or something."
--Mullen empathizes with Michigan''s Rodriguez
MSU head coach Dan Mullen hasn''t had to worry about his job status since taking over the program in late 2008.
Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez hasn''t had that luxury.
Rodriguez has been criticized for back-to-back losing seasons before going 7-5 and leading the team to this year''s Gator Bowl.
The Wolverines started last season 5-2 before losing their last five games. They gave up over 35 points in four of their last five losses.
Michigan ended this season by losing five of its last seven.
There''s been speculation Rodriguez, whom Mullen calls an "innovator" of the spread offense, could be coaching for his job against the Bulldogs.
"I hope I don''t ever have to go through that, but that''s the coaching profession," Mullen said. "It''s tough. I don''t think people sometimes realize the affect it has on not just a coach, but the families, the assistant coaches. There''s a lot of people''s lives involved in these decisions. That''s the life we live as a football coach."