Shortly after Mississippi State was taken to the woodshed in a 49-10 loss at Auburn two weeks ago, Dan Mullen said that he didn’t know if there was ever a good or bad time for a bye week.
For the Bulldogs, last week’s bye came at a much-needed moment. State just finished off a stretch of back-to-back road games against top-10 opponents in blowout losses to Georgia and AU. They needed a week to regroup and repair a roster that was in need of it.
It started with a defense who gave up big play after big play against Auburn. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said his defense wasn’t disciplined enough, but Mullen saw some improvements made during the week.
“I think we had the opportunity to get back to the basics and take their time on the basics. Some of the big plays we gave up were on missed assignments,” Mullen said. “We spent time on communication and the comfort level of making plays.”
Another group that needed work was the wide receivers. The Bulldogs have struggled to find a down-field threat with smaller wide receivers so Mullen has put more pressure on freshman Reggie Todd and sophomore Jamal Couch to perform. With both being 6-foot-4 and skillful, the Bulldogs need production.
“I thought they both had a really good approach to practice of working hard. They did what you’d hope they’d do and expect to do,” Mullen said. “To see them be successful, I need to see them continue to grind and continue to grow up. Hopefully you’ll see more and more production from them.
“They’re both guys that were a little raw coming out of high school so it takes awhile for them to become an every down wide receiver. They have potential.”
Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald went after Couch against Auburn for big plays and he had two catches for 60 yards. Fitzgerald has noticed the importance of bigger targets down the field and had a productive week working with both.
“They’re doing well,” he said. “They’re big guys that can beat man coverage and good guys that we need to make plays. They need to be a big part of the offense and I think that’s what we’re going to start doing.”
There’s still some questions whether starting left tackle Martinas Rankin will play on Saturday against BYU on Saturday after leaving the AU game with a sprained ankle. The Bulldogs played all of the second half with freshman Greg Eiland in Rankin’s spot giving them two redshirt freshmen tackles.
Mullen said that the plan moving forward if Rankin cannot play is to move some players around. Either way, it hasn’t been optimal for he and John Hevesy’s approach at developing players.
“We have some flexibility. We can move some guys around and play different spots,” Mullen said. “There’s a bunch of different combinations we can use, but you only have one senior and you can take your time and develop your depth but injuries aren’t allowing us to do that.”
Fitzgerald worked with some of those linemen last week and has been trying to get the chemistry down for all parties if the senior left tackle won’t be able to play.
“They’re young but they understand it’s go time,” Fitzgerald said. “Last week was a bye week so we got a ton of mental reps and we’re developing a lot of chemistry. I think they’ll be just fine.”
With Rankin’s status unknown by Monday, Mullen also said that junior defensive tackle Cory Thomas will be uncertain for now after suffering a foot injury prior to the LSU game a few weeks ago.
As for other injuries, Mullen expects more players back. That includes wide receiver Gabe Myles, who has missed three straight games with a foot injury.
Mullen also mentioned on Monday that junior wide receiver Malik Dear will likely redshirt this season. After tearing his ACL in the spring, Dear has been flirting for a comeback this year.
Who: BYU vs. Mississippi State
When: 11 a.m., Saturday
Radio: 1580 AM
TV: SEC Network