Entering the bye week, teams get a chance to get healthy and fine tune a few things it has not been able to work on during the normal grind of a game week.
While those things certainly fit the Mississippi State Bulldogs, they are also looking to regain their focus after a pair of lackluster performances against non-conference foes.
“You got to remember our guys are 18 to 20-year-old kids,” MSU football coach Dan Mullen said on Tuesday. “The focus and maturity had slipped. I don’t want to say that we weren’t motivated for the games, I even think that during games we play a great offensive half and then a great defensive half. We will look good for a couple series and then look terrible for a couple series. The focus kind of drops sometimes.”
The lack of focus simply shows the players can be guilty of the same traps fans fall into from time to time – taking things for granted.
“Sometimes you look up at the scoreboard and say, 'hey coach, we’re up big,' and then a team comes back on you a bunch,” Mullen said. “We went out last week and our first two series were a negative 10 yards. We went backwards. It was just a complete lack of focus, thinking we were just going to go out and score every time we have the ball.
“Sometimes it is not just that. Guys want to score a touchdown every time they touch it instead of I’m going to follow my read and we will only get 5 or 6 yards. You start seeing guys run backwards, trying to spin out and take it 90 and it ends up minus 5. If they would have just hit the hole, it would have been a good play.”
Even the often stoic Tyler Russell at quarterback fell pray to trying to do too much against South Alabama, which resulted in an un-Russell like 13 for 27 effort.
“When you start trying to make perfect throws, you start aiming," Mullen said. "When you start aiming, you start missing, so I think to him that was some of it, but nothing that’s not going to be corrected."
Mullen also mentioned Russell was simply holding onto the ball too long.
“He was just holding on to the ball until they were wide open," Mullen said. "He was kind of like I’m going to wait until (the receiver) is wide open and make the big play. There are times, even slight things that you only see on film, you see the crease and they are trying to hit the home run instead of just hitting the single. In those type games, guys just want to make the big play. In league play, you’re playing ball control and trying to get the first down because that’s going to be a hard game and you’ve got to go pound it out."
As Mississippi State continues its off week, the starters will get expanded workouts in individual drills at practice focusing on fundamentals. The rest of the guys will have a shot to earn playing time against Kentucky.
“This is a big week for the twos," Mullen said. "This is a big week for those guys to get more reps. You know Johnthan Banks isn’t going to get a lot of reps when we go 11 on 11. I know what he can do. He is going to work on his fundamentals and I’m not going to let him do a lot of 11 on 11 because I want to see the other guys do that.”