Dan Mullen has been in Mississippi long enough to have become familiarized with southern culture.
The eighth-year head coach at Mississippi State has embraced the heat, enjoys the food and even has southern slang on lock down. At the end of the day, however, the New Hampshire native has a whole lot more Boston in him.
That’s what makes this weekend such a special one for the head man as he heads back to his roots and takes his football team to Boston for a match-up with the University of Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium.
Mullen was hopeful to catch a Patriots or Red Sox game on the way up there, but he’s settling for giving his team another win on the young season. He mentioned that 80 or so friends and family will be in attendance when the Bulldogs take on a team that can give his offense trouble.
“They've already played an SEC team and ACC team and played pretty well, played pretty quick on defense, got a lot of quick guys, a lot of different pressure stunts and movements on the defensive side of the ball,” Mullen said. “They'll try to create as much chaos as they can on the defensive side of the ball.
“Offensively, they throw the ball pretty well. They've got an explosive running back and a different environment, obviously a long road trip for us going up to the Northeast. We’ve got to be prepared for that and get ready to just go play hard. It's going to be a big key for our guys of staying focused with this being our second straight road game.”
After MSU (1-2, 1-1) got down 23-3 in the second half in Baton Rouge last week against LSU, the team found a different gear. For the second straight season, the Bulldogs erased a large second half deficit and had a chance to win on the final drive before coming up short in a 23-20 loss.
It’s still a loss in Mullen’s book, but he liked the way MSU answered in the second half with a 17-0 run.
“We played harder,” Mullen said. “I don’t know whether it was just our guys getting settled in, relaxing to a point, a rousing half time speech of just relax, play hard every single play. All of a sudden we started doing it and we started executing. I thought in the first half there were plays there to be made. We just weren't making the plays that were there to be made.
“I think our guys settled down in the second half. We started making the plays that we expected to make and unfortunately dug ourselves a little bit too big a hole to dig out of at that point."
That second half woke up the team much like their opening-week loss to South Alabama. With the Bulldogs already with two losses in the early going, every game is important from here on out.
Mullen said that the team had that in mind this week in practice as they once again worked with high intensity.
“They got after it. We’ve got to play again this week,” Mullen said. “I told them it's six days before you kick it off again so you better buckle it up and get ready to go or else. That game’s over, got to get ready for the next one. If you don't do that, you're going to let one loss cause many losses for you.”
Linebacker Richie Brown of Long Beach has stepped up to the plate during the week to make sure that players understand how urgent the rest of the season is. Brown is currently third on the team in tackles with 22 and is looking for many more in Boston.
“It's imperative that we stay focused on what's important,” Brown said. “Obviously, we’ve got a lot of young players so the leaders have to step up and communicate it to them to stay focused and really be a role model to the younger guys on how to go through a road trip like this.”
Mississippi State at Massachusetts
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Gillette Stadium
Radio: 1490-AM, 1640-AM