September 4, 2011

Dogs prepare to face the champs

Mississippi State got its first game tune up out of the way Thursday night disposing of Memphis 59-14 on the road.

Now the Bulldogs jump right into conference play on the road against defending national champion Auburn.

"We're excited to get into SEC play this week," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen. "Obviously there are a lot of teams around the country that don't get into conference play quite as fast as we do. We're right into it playing the defending National Champions. It's going to be a huge game, tough environment and a tough place to play on the road. We've got to come out and play a top level game and clean up a lot of mistakes that we made early in the season and get ready for a game that's going to determine how we do in the SEC this year."

Auburn struggled in its opener against Utah State on Saturday. After trailing for most of the afternoon, the Tigers rallied for two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the game to avoid the embarrassing upset to win 42-38.

"They scored 42 points against a really, really good football team in Utah State - an extremely well coached team," Mullen said. "They are the defending national champs and found a way to win and in doing so scored 42 points. I take it that we are going to have our hands full with an excellent Auburn football team."

Auburn totaled 364 yards on offense against the Aggies with 286 yards through the air and another 78 on the ground. Mullen was impressed by Auburn's personnel on special teams as well.

"They have a lot of big play ability," Mullen said. "They are a really good special teams team. Their kickers kick the ball out of the end zone so you're not having the opportunity to make plays in the kicking game then it comes back and return a kickoff for a touchdown. They have a dangerous punt returner. They have really solid playmakers on special teams.

"Obviously they have a lot of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. I saw a bunch of big touchdowns by their receiver. Number 23 (Onterio McCalebb) is a dynamic guy, an explosive guy when he gets the ball in his hands. Their running back number five (Michael Dyer) will grind you out and when he sees an opening he'll hit a home run."

Naturally there is some animosity between the MSU and Auburn fan bases over the recruitment of former Heisman Trophy winner and first overall NFL draft pick Cameron Newton. Mullen was Newton's former quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator while the two were at Florida and the Bulldogs were considered by many to be the favorite to sign the former five-star recruit out of Blinn College.

But Newton's father Cecil has since been found guilty by the NCAA for attempting to solicit money from the Bulldogs in order to secure his son's signature on a national letter of intent. Newton went on to sign with the Tigers and led them to a national title in his only season on the plains.

Mullen stated on his Sunday teleconference that he had not spoken with Auburn head coach Gene Chizik on the matter.

"I've never discussed that," Mullen said. "The Cam Newton situation ended almost two years ago now. He committed there in December and I've never really thought of him much since that day. I did when we played them last year because I knew he was a very good football player. That was like 20 months ago so none of that has ever come up."

During their 2011 season opener, State broke a single game school record that has stood since 1978 amassing 645 yards against Memphis. The Bulldogs emptied their roster as well sending 64 players onto the field including 15 redshirt or true freshmen.

"We played so many guys," Mullen said. "We played 64 total players in the game. There were a lot of guys that I wanted to get experience that got experience during that game so I'm very fortunate in that. A lot of the times you'll see, especially with all the new faces we had to play, that there will be a big improvement from game one to game two because now they know what to expect from the game."

One of those redshirt freshmen seeing action for the first time was Jameon Lewis. While Lewis led State with four catches for 113 yards including an 80-yard touchdown catch and a 19-yard rushing score, he also stepped out of bounds at the 2-yard line twice and muffed a punt on special teams.

"He's got a long way to go, everybody saw that," Mullen said. "He fumbled. He was the culprit of our only turnover of the game. He fielded the ball twice inside the 5-yard line and ran out of bounds and put the team in a really bad position. There are a lot of things he has to learn to become a solid football player. We've got about a week to get that stuff fixed. That was his first game playing so you hope a guy doesn't make that many mistakes in his first game but he did and we've got to correct those for the future so we don't have that happen again."

Serving as the special teams coach, there were however some aspects that Mullen was happy with Thursday night.

"I was pleased Baker Swedenburg came out and got his first punts under his belt," Mullen said. "He had four punts inside the 20. Brian Egan kicking in his first game did a decent job on kickoffs, not great but good , solid. I thought our coverage units were pretty good. We really didn't have a chance to return. Our only kickoff return we ran out of bounds at our own 2-yard line. There was a little sloppiness. We missed field goal, bobbled a snap on a field goal and fumbled the ball catching a punt. Those things to me are correctable. They weren't effort issues and that's what pleases me the most."

Junior wide receiver Arceto Clark also had a big game for the Bulldogs with a career-best 72 yards receiving and a career long 37-yard touchdown catch.

"Arceto is a guy who's really worked hard on his fundamentals," Mullen said. "He's bought into what we've tried to do. He had a rough start to his career with some off the field issues when I got here and we kind of put it on him and said 'That's not what we expect'. We expect guys to work hard and are committed to excellence and really since that point that's what he's done. He's worked really hard, really improved his fundamentals, understands the offense now and I'm pleased with his performance."

Thursday night Mississippi State played without the services of Fletcher Cox, Dylan Favre, Blaine Clausell, Chris Hughes and Malcolm Johnson, who were all suspended for undisclosed violations of team rules.

Mullen stated Sunday that all could be back for Saturday's contest against Auburn.

"Yeah, that's a possibility," Mullen said. "We'll announce that on the day of the Auburn game but we expect them."

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