Mississippi State

Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen wants mental toughness from his team

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen hopes his team can rebound after a 31-3 loss at Georgia.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen hopes his team can rebound after a 31-3 loss at Georgia. Associated Press

Saturday night in Athens, Ga., wasn’t quite like the previous Saturday for the No. 24 Mississippi State Bulldogs.

After routing the LSU Tigers a week prior at home, MSU (3-1, 1-1 SEC) fell on the opposite end of that spectrum against No. 11 Georgia with a 31-3 stomping. It was a game that head coach Dan Mullen wasn’t too surprised by after the preparation that MSU had during the week.

“I didn’t think we had as good a practice as we did the week before,” Mullen said. “You’re talking 18 to 22 year-old guys that have all sorts of things going on and then people are patting them on the back telling them how great they are. This week, everyone is telling them how bad they are. The key is to have a great mental toughness to deal with the noise.”

Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and other teammates saw it as well. Fitzgerald said the execution wasn’t there throughout the game on Saturday and it led to a miserable offensive performance.

MSU — which was among the SEC leaders offensively — managed just 280 yards of total offense. The 177 rushing yards were skewed due to mop-up duty late and Fitzgerald was just 14-of-29 passing for 83 yards and two interceptions.

“If anything, from this game we take it as a reality check,” Fitzgerald said. “I feel like we were lackadaisical at times and weren’t mentally locked in at practice. That’s going to change. We’re going to get locked in and focused like we did LSU week.”

The ninth-year coach has been in this moment before and he’s learned to tune out the social media and message board comments that happen from knee-jerk reactions. Mullen waits until Sunday to review the film and make the judgment for himself.

“You’re never as good as when everyone tells you you’re good and you’re never as bad as when someone tells you that you’re bad,” Mullen said. “A couple of weeks ago we executed at a high level and last week we didn’t execute well. It’s an equilibrium, it’s always somewhere in the middle.”

MSU now prepares for its third-straight top 15 opponent and second-straight on the road as it travels to the Plains to take on No. 13 Auburn (3-1, 1-0) on Saturday night at 5 p.m. on ESPN.

Stidham Getting Comfortable

Jarrett Stidham was one of the nation’s hottest free agents last year when he left Baylor after a strong freshman season. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound gunslinger settled on the Tigers and is getting better by the week, according to Mullen.

“He’s a good football player. He has experience out there on the field and has made some big plays before he got to Auburn,” Mullen said. “Now you’re starting to see him get a little more comfortable in the system because it’s different than the system he ran at Baylor.”

In four games, Stidham has completed 71 percent of his passes and thrown for 846 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

Injury Update

There’s still no decision made by Mullen on whether or not junior wide receiver Malik Dear will play. The former Murrah athlete has been out since the spring with a torn ACL.

“He practiced a little bit last week. Still, we’re not there on the final decision with him. It’s still not set one way or another,” Mullen said. “The key is, how comfortable is he and where can he get. If he’s going to get to 85 percent, does he want to play at 85 percent and can he get beyond that.”

Game plan

Who: Mississippi State vs. Auburn

When: 5 p.m., Saturday

Where: Auburn, Ala.

Radio: 1580 AM, 96.9 FM