Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, left, instructs junior quarterback Tyler Russell during last Saturday's game against Jackson State. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
Monday may have been Labor Day and most people took the holiday off.
When it comes to having to play the Auburn Tigers next, the Mississippi State Bulldogs had no choice but to go to work.
MSU head football coach Dan Mullen saw the holiday as an opportunity to get some things accomplished while the players didn't have to attend classes.
"Our guys are very focused," Mullen said at his Monday press conference. "It's good with a day off from school for us to get a lot done. We've already put the last game behind us, watched the film (Monday) morning, taught off of it and (practiced Monday night) for the guys to really get a jumpstart on this week's game. We need to get ourselves focused and get ready to play a tough team to prepare for."
After South Carolina and Vanderbilt opened the Southeastern Conference slate against each other last Thursday, Mississippi State and Auburn are the next two conference teams to go head-to-head when it meets at Davis Wade Stadium at 11 a.m. Saturday.
It's the first of eight SEC games for the Bulldogs this season and Mullen understands the importance of getting off to a fast start, especially at home.
"It's great to get the SEC season underway," Mullen said. "It's a big emphasis and we've talked about it over and over. If you want to compete for a championship, you have to win all of your home games because the competitiveness of winning on the road in this conference is tough.
"The opportunity to start the SEC season at home and against a West opponent is very important. We've got to find a way to win this football game to catapult into the rest of the season within conference play."
Different bunch of Tigers
Mullen expects his offense to be challenged by Auburn this week much more than it was against Jackson State.
When it comes to improving from game one to game two, Mullen said there's no choice against a defense from the SEC.
"The speed of the game is going to be a little bit different this week," Mullen said. "Auburn has a very athletic defense and very experienced with a lot of guys, who have played for them last year are back. That adjustment will be a little bit different for our guys, but we go against a fast defense every day in practice and training camp."
Mullen was glad to get the first game under MSU's belt to get into game mode and out of practice mode.
Even though the Bulldogs won a 56-9 decision against the Tigers from the Southwestern Athletic Conference, Mullen didn't like the fact that out of 120 snaps, there were 40 missed assignments.
Mullen said missed assignments are not a question of how much talent a player has, but goes back to the mental aspect.
"That's all concentration and all discipline on doing your job," Mullen said. "With a lot of young players, they are in the game and so excited that sometimes they are trying to play on emotion instead of playing with emotion and doing their technique. The focus is something I really want to see us improve. I want us to play with emotion, but don't let that overcome your focus on doing your job."
Russell's next challenge
MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell was able to make it through his first start of the season without many noticeable mistakes.
He completed 15-of-24 pass attempts for 185 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against Jackson State.
Mullen is anxious to see how Russell fares against Auburn's defense and see if his progression continues.
"He's been tested, but I think this is a much bigger test for him this week than last week's was," Mullen said. "He started games last year and was put into games in a lot of big moments throughout his career so as far as that goes, it's his first real test.
"I know he wants that role and wants the game to be put on his shoulders. He wants to be the leader and wants to be the guy who is out there making the plays and leading the offense."
Expect rotation to continue
Several Mississippi State players got an opportunity to play against Jackson State.
Even though he would still like an opportunity to evaluate personnel, Mullen knows the Auburn game will not be the best one for that.
As far as the offensive line, there will still be the need to shuffle as many players in and out as possible with a game being played in the middle of the day.
"We expect guys like Tobias (Smith) and Gabe (Jackson) to get more reps than they did last week," Mullen said. "I've seen them play a lot of football so I wanted to force feed a lot of guys who hadn't, but when you are talking about an 11 a.m. kickoff on a hot day and the speed, you want to rotate a lot of players through."
Mullen though junior Charles Siddoway played well in his first action at right tackle and also liked what he saw from sophomore left tackle Blaine Clausell and sophomore backup right tackle Damien Robinson.
The only negative thing Mullen noted was some miscommunication on the part of Robinson and redshirt freshman right guard Justin Malone.
"You saw some nerves coming through at different times when you had (Robinson) and Justin Malone next to each other with the communication aspect of it with combination blocks. It was a couple of things with those guys working together that you expect in a first game."
MSU's injury list
The Bulldogs came out of the JSU game relatively healthy.
Sophomore tight end Malcolm Johnson will not be able to play against Auburn, while the status of senior offensive lineman Templeton Hardy was upgraded to probable.
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