It was a rough two months for Mississippi State, who finds itself 3-5 and 1-3 in SEC play.
That schedule looks far more brutal in November with consecutive top-10 opponents over the next two weeks, including a game at No. 1 Alabama next week. First up is No. 7 Texas A&M, who brings in talent across the board.
“We’re playing another explosive offense. On the defensive side of the ball, they have dynamic pass rushers and defensive linemen up front,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “When you look at that combination, you can see why they’re one of the top teams in America. It should be a great challenge for our guys.”
The Aggies have Kevin Sumlin at the helm for his fifth season and he’s 3-1 against Dan Mullen in his career at A&M and Houston. Sumlin has a roster capable of sending his team to the College Football Playoff this year if the chips fall just right.
Mullen sees in Sumlin a coach who has focused on building a program around the talent on campus. Success continues to follow.
“He’s a really good offensive coach,” Mullen said. “They do a nice job of trying to be innovative, spread the field and try to use players the same way that we do. They’re not afraid to think outside the box and not afraid to tweak and change around the players that he has.”
As for his own team, Mullen knows that the first half of the schedule was frustrating. MSU has lost three games in the moments this season and even last week’s 56-41 win over Samford was discouraging for the defense.
He's tried to keep the players focused by being 100 percent honest with them about what's happening and it's happening. He's hoping that if the players don't focus on the wins or losses, they'll continue to improve.
“I view things in a reality sense and I’ve always tried to do that with teams,” Mullen said. “We’re exactly in the same position this Sunday as we were the week before. (The) game is over, we’ve got a new opponent that has a lot of talent on their team. You better buckle it up and get back to work.”
The struggles of the defense under first-year defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon have been evident over the last two weeks. In consecutive weeks against Kentucky and Samford, MSU has given up over 500 yards of offense. Last week was the low point of the season when Samford hung 41 points and 627 yards on MSU.
“It’s tackling, it’s guys running to the football (and) it’s guys making sure we’re in position to go make plays,” Mullen said. “We saw on film that we made a bunch of plays. We missed a bunch of plays. We gave up over 300 yards after the catch. You just can’t do that.”
“There’s a lot of different things that are going on that we’ve got to get cleaned up. It’s guys having confidence running through the ball and having good form tackling.”
Mullen - who mentioned on Monday that he oversees every aspect of the team including game planning defensively - thinks that Sirmon has done well in his first few games as a first-time coordinator. Injuries haven’t helped the former NFL linebacker.
“(Sirmon) is doing a decent job of making sure guys are in the right position,” Mullen said. “One of the hardest things that we’ve had to deal with is dealing with all of the injuries. It seems like every week we’re stuck with a different starting lineup.”
Injured Bulldogs expected back
Without going into specifics, Mullen stated that everyone should be back for Saturday’s game against Texas A&M.
The Bulldogs have been without safety Kivon Coman and Brandon Holloway since midway through the Auburn game. Sophomore guard Deion Calhoun went down in the BYU game and has missed the last two starts.
Reserve redshirt freshman guard Darryl Williams was injured and carted off the field against Kentucky, but should be available this week as well.
State sat senior defensive end AJ Jefferson after having elbow surgery following the Kentucky game but sources said that he could have possibly played against Samford and should return this week.
Who: Mississippi State vs. Texas A&M
When: 11 a.m., Saturday
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 1490 AM, 1640 AM