STARKVILLE – Dan Mullen fumbled around for the words to describe it but he saw something in his team following the heartbreaking late loss to Auburn over the weekend.
The Bulldogs took the 24-20 loss to heart, especially considering they held the lead until the final 10-seconds on the plains.
“I think the team is starting to develop their personality right now,” Mullen said. “I was extremely upset after the game and so were our players. I think that’s a good thing. As disappointed as we were, I liked the look, emotion and the feeling our guys had. That’s the response I wanted if we were in that situation. There were a lot of guys who were devastated.”
The Tigers quickly jumped out to an 11-0 after the first two drives of the game but MSU managed to hold Auburn to a pair of field goals until the final drive in which they marched 88-yards in 12-plays for the game-winning score.
But it was Nick Marshall’s 76-yard touchdown toss to Quan Bray in the first quarter that was the toughest pill to swallow. Facing 3rd-and-6 from their own 24-yard line, Marshall fumbled the snap, picked it up rolling left and found a wide open Bray down the sideline for the score.
“On the second drive of the game it should’ve been a three-and-out or it or an interception with the defense we had called,” Mullen said. “It was third-and-forever in a cover-3 and (Justin Cox) went the wrong way, fell down and wasn’t there. After that we kind of settle down to play a lot of bend but don’t break defense until the final drive.”
Mullen was pleased with the job his defense did against the run. The Tigers entered the game averaging 298 yards per game and had only 120 yards on the ground against State. However, Auburn threw for a season-high 339 yards.
“One of our goals going into the game was to not let them run the ball and we accomplished that goal,” Mullen said. “Unfortunately, we had 18 missed tackles which netted about 130 yards of offense for them and most of that was in the passing game on quick screens.”
The Bulldogs found tough sledding in its own run game as well. Mississippi State’s running backs carried 14 times for 38 yards relying mostly on quarterback Dak Prescott, who gained 133 yards and two touchdowns on 22 attempts.
Senior LaDarius Perkins had eight carries for 36 yards returning from a spained ankle that kept him out of the Alcorn State game.
“Perkins is a guy that we probably want to get the ball to a little bit more,” Mullen said. “But he didn’t practice a whole lot last week coming back from that injury.”
Mullen expects Perkins to be “full go” for practice Monday afternoon as preparations begin for Troy.
It will be the second straight year MSU has faced the Trojans on the gridiron. The Bulldogs escaped with a 30-24 win on the road last fall in the first ever visit by an SEC school to Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“It’ll be a great challenge for us with Troy,” Mullen said. “Last year obviously it was a very, very exciting game against them that came right down to the wire. They have a lot of those guys back and their quarterback is college football’s current all-time leading passer. He’s a very explosive player. They put up points in a hurry.”
The Bulldogs surrendered 572 yards to Troy in that contest including 343 yards through the air to quarterback Corey Robinson, who is back for his senior season.
“We gave up an enormous amount of yards to them last year,” Mullen said. “But the positive to that is our guys will come into the game knowing what to expect from that type of team even though not many of them played a lot of reps in that game.”
Robinson has the Trojans off to a 2-1 start this season. He set an NCAA record in week 1 by completing 93.8-percent of his throws hitting on 30 of 32 passing for 319 yards and a touchdown in a 34-31 overtime win against UAB.
“He’s an extremely accurate passer,” Mullen said. “He’s got a very quick release and being college football’s all-time leading passer right now, he knows their system. The hard part is when you want to get pressure on him he gets rid of it quick and knows exactly where he’s going with the ball. If you spread them out all over the place then they are going to run the ball and were able to do that to us last year when we tried to start defending the pass. He makes very good decisions in that way between the run and pass.”
The Bulldogs quarterback situation remains the same. Prescott and Tyler Russell will continue to practice although Russell has yet to be cleared for contact due to a week 1 concussion.
“I have a tremendous faith in Tyler and he’s won a lot of games for us,” Mullen said. “He’s our starting quarterback but I like having multiple guys as starting quarterbacks because you feel comfortable with guys being in that situation and ready to go play. I’ve never had a quarterback controversy in all my years coaching.”
If Russell is cleared to play, Mullen stated he will go with his “gut instinct” as to who the starting signal caller would be.
Mullen expects linebacker Ferlando Bohanna to remain out until after the bye week still suffering from a preseason concussion. Safeties Dee Arrington (hamstring) and Nickoe Whitley (knee) are both listed as questionable for Saturday’s game with Troy.
MSU will practice Monday afternoon for the first time since their loss to Auburn. Mullen is ready to get his squad back out on the field to see how they respond.
“We’re going to see how they come out and react at practice today,” Mullen said. “We’ve got to get back to work. Hopefully they’ll come out with a little chip on their shoulder to be successful.”