Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has been chomping at the bit to put his team back out on the field after ending last year in dramatic fashion.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs went from 4-7 heading into the Egg Bowl to a 55-20 blowout win over Ole Miss and a bowl win in St. Petersburg, Fla., against Miami-Ohio. MSU extended its bowl streak to seven games, but the Bulldogs want and expect more.
This season, those expectations continue to rise with junior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald coming off a record-setting year and a new face at defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham. Mullen is just ready to see what his team can do Saturday against Charleston Southern.
“You go through spring practice, you go through training camp practices, you’re constantly going against each other and now you’ve got to make that transition in playing against an opponent, a different team,” Mullen said. “We’re going to have our hands full, especially with some of the new things we expect them to throw at us. ”
The Buccaneers are a unique matchup for the Bulldogs as they bring a variation of the option offense to Starkville out of the shotgun. Another dynamic to the challenge for Mullen is a new coaching staff.
Former CSU quarterbacks coach Mark Tucker takes over at CSU and will run some of the same packages he did a year ago, but there’s still some unknowns for Mullen as he prepares for game one.
“Very few people were retained on the staff. Nobody on the defensive side of the ball. I think only one or two offensive coaches [were retained], so majority new coaching staff,” Mullen said. “That’s what always makes it a challenge, when you’re trying to see what they’re going to do and how they’re going to adjust to their personnel.”
Someone that will help ease the question marks is a veteran coordinator on defense that has seen and done it all in his three decades on the job. Grantham took over a porous defense from a year ago under Peter Sirmon and is trying to revive a solid tradition on defense.
He’s been helped out by an influx of talent that has added depth and athleticism to every position. Mullen has been pleased so far.
“One of the things [that’s improved] is the level of how hard our guys play, which is one of the most important things to me; the strain that they give,” Mullen said. “And then also, how we’re fitting everything. The guys, the overall understanding of everybody within the scheme, of what they’re doing, what the expectations are — I’ve been really pleased with those things.”
With the defense likely to be improved, MSU is hoping for better results this season than they had a year ago. That all starts in game one, a game that they gave away a year ago.
This season, the focus is there for the first opponent. After letting their guard down against South Alabama, the players know just how important every game is.
“That was a wake-up call for us last season,” Fitzgerald said. “We can’t look back at that anymore and certainly can’t look past any games. We are taking this game as serious as any other game and will prepare for this game just like we would any other game. We won’t let that happen again, hopefully.”
Charleston Southern at Mississippi State
When: 3 p.m., Saturday
Where: Davis-Wade Stadium, Starkville
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 1580 AM, 96.9 FM