Head coach Dan Mullen can't be more relieved that a three-game homestand begins Saturday for his Mississippi State football team.
MSU is coming off of a three-game run to the SEC schedule that included a home loss to LSU and SEC West road games at Auburn and Texas A&M.
During that stretch, the Bulldogs went 1-2 and likely fell out of contention for the SEC West championship. That's not the only bad news as MSU saw five players go down with injuries, the most serious being a season-ending torn ACL for safety Kendrick Market.
So, yes, Mullen is happy about what's on the way with Troy, Louisiana Tech and Kentucky.
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"It's great coming back home," Mullen said. "We just had a tough stretch in the schedule playing three of the first five games on the road. Within that stretch, I thought our guys battled. I think we've improved a little bit from week to week. Last week, I didn't think we played great. Texas A&M played very well and I thought all the things we did to win on the road at Auburn (Texas A&M) did to beat us in that game. It was pretty simple to see when you were going to win, how you're going to win and why you're going to win."
Mullen wasn't particularly pleased with the lack of execution last week at College Station when the Bulldogs had two critical fumbles and got in a 14-3 hole early in their 30-17 loss against Texas A&M. Those are things that can plague them again, even against 1-3 Troy this weekend.
MSU fans are well aware that the Trojans can spring the upset. They saw it first hand in 2001 when Troy came to Starkville and won 21-9.
One of the youngest head coaches in college football, Neal Brown, takes over the program and there is some progress being made.
"They have a new head coach and guys that are believing in the system and what they're doing. They play really hard and run the football well," Mullen said. "We've played them a couple of times in some close games. It will be a good challenge for us. One of the things in college football that you see week-to-week is that if you don't play well you're not going to win. It doesn't matter if you're the No. 1 team in the country or if you haven't won a game."
MSU will be without its fifth-year safety, Market, for the remainder of the season, increasing the role of freshmen safeties in a big way. Brandon Bryant has already been effective and has played major minutes in his first year on the field.
For two true freshmen, Jamal Peters and Mark McLaurin, they now are counted on more than before. It's all hands on deck for a unit that will miss the leadership of Market in the back end.
"All the safeties' roles will have to increase," Mullen said. "(Market) is the one you want to play every snap of the game and have the other guys rotate at the other safety position. But that guy goes away now, so everybody's role will have to increase and guys will have to grow up in a hurry at that position. For three of our safeties--Brandon Bryant, Jamal Peters and Mark McLaurin, this is their first year playing college football. With that lack of experience, they will have to grow up in a hurry, especially with the explosive offenses we will be playing against."
With a beat-up bunch of Bulldogs coming into this weekend's game, MSU will have to play well. Troy has a history of success under former coach Larry Blakeney and Mullen sees a lot of that in Brown. He expects a battle from the Sun Belt foe.
"You see a lot of similarities (from their new coach and former coach Blakeney)," Mullen said. "Coach Blakeney had done a great job building that program, getting a lot of coaches out through the years and developing coaches. There's not a different philosophy, but there is different personality."