By MATTHEW STEVENS
For a coach with a 12-10 overall record, Dan Mullen knows first-hand that his program can effectively get back to business after a disappointing loss.
They had just forgotten for a month and a half.
“I think our guys responded well to the challenge (in practice Sunday), the Bulldogs second-year head coach said. “We got used to winning around here.”
Over the last six weeks, Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3 in Southeastern Conference) has learned how to deal with success and one could argue they’ve dealt with that well after wins over Georgia and Florida during a winning streak that started on Sept. 25.
“Since I’ve been the head coach, we’ve always had to respond off tough situations,” Mullen said. “How we’ve been able to respond in the past to this– we won six in a row and we have to have the same sort of approach to this.”
When asked Monday what the recipe for success is for Mississippi State (who sits as a 3.5-point home underdog this week) to win in the SEC, Mullen referenced the turnover ratio as the major difference. The Bulldogs are plus-11 in its seven wins during the 2010 season but are minus-4 in three losses to Auburn, LSU and Alabama.
“When you look at our stats and the differences in our wins and losses – our turnovers – our ability to run the ball and control the tempo of the game, that’s been the difference,” Mullen said. “We have to be able to play our game at our tempo for us to be successful.”
Alabama got 179 yards on three consecutive scoring plays to turn a 6-3 Crimson Tide lead into a snowball effect that caused a 21-point deficit for the road Bulldogs.
“It was good for 29 (plays), three of horror and then back to 29 more of good,” Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “To use the basketball analogy, you want somebody to beat you left-handed but we gave them three left-handed layups. The kids are disappointed because they knew it ruined an otherwise very strong performance but that’s defense.”
The problem for a defense susceptible to the big play is the Bulldogs will be facing an Arkansas offense that will come into Davis-Wade Stadium as the conference’s best passing offense accounting for 46.5 points per game and 510 yards per game.
“I know our players are excited about the week,” Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said. “We will be focused, and we have to do a good job in our preparation, in our practice, and get ready to go on the road and play another very good football team.”
A way to slow down the Razorbacks offense is to keep them off the field by grinding out yards with the third-best rushing offense in the Southeastern Conference.
State has out rushed its opponents in each of its seven wins and has failed to do so in its three losses while subsequently losing the time of possession game.
“We feel comfortable throwing the football – don’t misunderstand me now – but to win football games, our plan has been laid out by coach Mullen,” MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. “Obviously as the game goes along – things change but controlling the football on the ground is our identity.”
Kendrick Cook to wear No. 36 this Saturday
Mississippi State announced Monday that senior tight end Kendrick Cook will wear No. 36 this Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN) in honor of fallen teammate Nick Bell.
State players will have a patch on their jerseys for the rest of the 2010 season and a selected MSU player in each game will be wearing Bell's jersey number in each of the Bulldogs remaining contests.
Bell, 20, passed away at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital last week after undergoing emergency surgery when a form of skin cancer had metastasized through his body.
Senior defensive back Charles Mitchell wore number 36 last weekend against Alabama to start the 2010 tradition and now the second person to speak at Bell's memorial service will have the opportunity in the final home game of his career.
“That is something that takes more strength than you’ll ever get in the weight room and as a coach you always watch how a guy will respond to that,” Diaz said. “I’m proud of a guy that has the mental strength and is willing to send a message like that.”
Cook was a fraternity brother of Bell’s while the pair played at Mississippi State and led the crowd in a standing ovation during his speech at Bell’s memorial service.
“We all now see Nick's life on Earth was to show us – we don’t have long,” Cook said. “Our time and God’s time aren’t the same. The challenge is (if) you have a dream, go get it.”