Mississippi State

Dan Mullen reflects on loss to South Alabama, looks ahead to South Carolina

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, right, and South Alabama head coach Joey Jones confer at midfield prior to their game in Starkville, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016. South Alabama won 21-20.
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, right, and South Alabama head coach Joey Jones confer at midfield prior to their game in Starkville, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016. South Alabama won 21-20. AP

Dan Mullen had a couple days to digest Mississippi State’s painful opening loss to South Alabama.

It was a game that MSU led 17-0 at halftime and scored just three points in the second half to be stunned 21-20, a loss that will go down, really, as Mullen’s first in eight years against a team MSU should beat. On Monday, Mullen said South Alabama just took care of the ball and played well.

“Give credit to them, that was their execution,” Mullen said. “You’ve got to create turnovers but also the other team has to give it up, too. It was a pretty clean game from both sides with not massive amounts of penalties. Both teams executed nicely.”

MSU didn’t have a strong start to the game as quarterback Nick Fitzgerald sputtered in his two possessions but things came together with Damian Williams. The defense also played well in the first half and racked up eight tackles for loss before halftime.

The second half was where the wheels fell off and MSU’s interest in the game appeared to be fading. Mullen saw some of the same on film.

“A little bit of our effort and execution really dropped in the second half and our mental and physical toughness is where it came from which is something we always take a lot of pride in,” Mullen said. “Most of our negative breakdown plays happened in the second half.”

Now MSU has to move on from the embarrassing loss to the Jaguars and go right to work in SEC play. The Will Muschamp-led Gamecocks of South Carolina come to town Saturday looking to start 2-0 in conference play. They’ll look a lot familiar in just their second game under the longtime defensive coordinator and former Florida coach.

“Being the defensive coach that Will is, guys play hard and with a lot of energy,” Mullen said. “They’re very sound in what they do and we expect them to come after us. They came after us a lot last year when he was at Auburn so we expect them to bring pressure.”

The Gamecocks beat the Vanderbilt Commodores 13-10 in Muschamp’s South Carolina debut.

QB situation in flux

The Bulldogs still won’t be settled at quarterback on Saturday. Williams performed from the first quarter until the end of the game and was productive for the most part with 20-for-28 passing, 143 yards and a touchdown and leading the team with 12 carries for 93 yards.

As for Fitzgerald, many wondered why he didn’t get back in the game after the first two possessions. Mullen mentioned postgame that they wanted to get him back in the game but they stayed with Williams.

On Monday, he said that he didn’t know if he’d use them any differently than he did.

South Carolina comes to town also not settled at quarterback. Senior Perry Orth and true freshman Brandon McIlwain split reps with Orth throwing for 152 yards and McIlwain rushing for 29 and passing for 35. Orth will be the starter for the game.

“He understands what they’re trying to do, he throws the ball well and he’s a very willing runner,” Mullen said of Orth. “He’s not going to be dynamic as (McIlwain) with the ball in his hands, but I like guys that are willing runners- someone who is going to get tough yards.”

James could return

Senior defensive tackle Nick James and freshman Jeffery Simmons were not listed on the MSU depth chart this week and Mullen wouldn’t comment on whether or not the two would play.

Simmons was issued a one-game suspension earlier this year for an incident that was caught on video before he enrolled at MSU but it was not specified if that meant he would redshirt his first year on campus.

The Long Beach native James was charged with DUI and disturbing the peace a week before last Saturday’s game. Though the charges weren’t pursued, he sat for the first game and could return this week.

Sophomore wide receiver Malik Dear was also suspended but listed on the depth chart as the second-team slot receiver behind Fred Ross. Dear had 327 yards of total offense as a true freshman including three touchdowns.

As for injuries, everyone is good to go.

“We expect everybody,” Mullen said. “There will be nobody missing any time after last week’s game.”