The 2016 season is only five games old, but it has been less than ideal for head coach Dan Mullen and Mississippi State.
Mullen is coming off a historic run with a school-record 19 wins in 2014-15 with star quarterback Dak Prescott helping put the Bulldogs on the map nationally. Prescott is long gone and Mullen has a 2-3 record with losses to South Alabama, LSU and Auburn through the first part of the schedule.
For Mullen, he had a feeling that there would be some frustrating moments in the early part of the year with the talent and leadership that was lost.
“You never know what to expect,” Mullen said. “I think there was certainly concern when you lost all of that leadership. We built this program as a developmental program. I don’t know that I expected it, but there were certainly a lot of questions in my mind of how quickly guys would develop.”
In Mullen’s mind, there are a lot of similarities between this year’s team and the one that he fielded in 2013. The Bulldogs managed to find their way to a bowl that year with a sophomore quarterback in Prescott, injuries and new faces across the board.
While this year’s team’s final verdict remains to be seen, he believes that his team has to find a way to make it through adversity.
“A couple of years ago we had a young football team that was devastated with injuries,” Mullen said. “The guys you needed out there were injured and we started slow but all of a sudden we went on a winning streak. That happens sometimes. I want to win every game but Knute Rockne didn’t win every game.”
With frustrations mounting around the fan base and even in the program, social media has done nothing but escalate things.
He tries to tell the team to worry about only things that they can handle.
“There’s so much more noise on the outside,” Mullen said. “You check my Twitter and coaching doesn’t seem real hard. Everyone in that room knows if you’ve played hard and if you need to improve. The reality hits you in the face every day of where we’re at and where we need to improve.”
BYU presents challenge
After an already tough start to the year, the Bulldogs have another difficult task ahead by going to Provo, Utah for a Friday night game against BYU. It’s a place that Mullen is familiar with and a task that he’s well aware will be challenging.
“It’s going to be a tough trip for us. You get a short week and head out against a good BYU team for a late-night kick,” Mullen said. “They have a good, aggressive defense. Offense, they have a sixth-year senior quarterback and is obviously a great winner and great competitor. It’s a great challenge against an excellent football team. We’ve got to play at a very high level.”
Taysom Hill runs the offense for the Cougars and is in his sixth year. He’s up to 1,255 passing yards in six games with 275 yards on the ground and nine total touchdowns. He reminds Mullen of one of his former players.
“He’s a unique player,” Mullen said. “He’s like Tim Tebow in that way. He’s not going to make dynamic plays running the football until all of a sudden he breaks open in the middle of the field and no one catches him. He’s got that it factor as a quarterback.”
Having had a stint with Utah several years ago on Urban Meyer’s staff, Mullen knows what BYU is all about. The coach played the Cougars twice during his time there and both games provided memorable experiences.
“We had a 3-0 game for the Mountain West Championship in Provo,” he said. “It certainly felt like it was 20 below zero in the middle of a blizzard. The next year, College Gameday was at Rice-Eccles Stadium at Utah and it was the last game I coached at Utah. (Utah) was the first non-BCS team to go to a bowl that day. Both games were memorable.”
MSU is working around a different schedule this week with the Friday night game. They’ve been practicing at night to get themselves ready for the change.
Who: Mississippi State vs. BYU
When: 9:15 p.m., Friday
Where: Provo, Utah
Radio: 1490 AM, 1640 AM