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August 27, 2013

Mullen "Ready to Get it Kicked Off"

Game week has reared its beautiful head and it was ushered in by Head Coach Dan Mullen in his weekly Monday press conference where he covered what his team is going to face come Saturday at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, against the 13th ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys.

"We're really excited to get this season underway. Our guys work really hard year round to get these 12 opportunities to go play and they don't come along very often. If you take care of those opportunities you get 13 or 14," Mullen said in his opening address. "You put in the work of offseason conditioning and training, to get out there and finally get to play a game is going to be pretty special. To open the season this way on national television against a team ranked 13th in the country is a pretty special way to start the season. Our coaching staff is ready to get kicked off and our team is ready to get it kicked off."

Of course, this will be the toughest opponent Mullen's team has had to open the season with as he has knocked off Memphis and Jackson State in his previous four openers and puts his undefeated opening record on the line against a top 15 team. With that comes a bit more focused and excited team, though Mullen said his team is always amped for opening kick.

"Game one there's always that excitement. Guys are just fired up to go hit somebody in a different colored jersey that's not their teammate. Our guys love to play the game and that's what it's all about. That opportunity to go play the game, no matter who it's going to be, I think that excitement and energy level is always there."

The big task at hand is going up against an offense that ranks among the elite in the country every season and averages nearly 46 points per game, over 16 points more than the Bulldogs did a year ago. To say this is a step up from years past is putting it incredibly mild.

"I think you've got to take out your margins for error," Mullen said about starting off with a tougher opponent. "A lot of times you're looking at what you want to get accomplished. We're looking at how to break in young players and have a special plan for how to break them in. It's a little harder in this game and it amounts to a big-time game right from day one. You're treating this game like you would in November competing for a Conference Championship, it's at that level. In our preparation, sometimes we're looking passed game one at what we're looking to get in and it switches to how do we win this game. Not that we looked at those other games differently, but I think we have a lot less room for error."

One of the things that make this game even more difficult is the Bulldog coaches and players forced to game plan for two quarterbacks. Both quarterbacks threw for over 1,500 yards a year ago and a combined 29 touchdowns as backups. While both pose different threats, Mullen cautioned that they both have to be looked at more than their strengths.

"To me when you look at their quarterbacks, they're not just a runner and a passer," Mullen said about the two he's preparing for. "One is a little bit stronger at what they do than the other, but you wouldn't classify them purely as a runner and passer. With that being said, I don't think they're going to run a different offense with one or the other, it's just going to bring a different flavor at how those guys execute. For us, it's about being at the right place at the right time.

As challenging as the offense is for OSU, Mullen realizes that he has the horses to get stops against the fast-paced attack. Eliminating silly mistakes defensively could go a long way for the Bulldogs' chances.

"One of the most important things is open-field tackling. When you watch them on film, big plays are a result of a missed assignment where maybe their tempo went fast or somebody just did the wrong thing or they get a guy in the open field and you miss the tackle. Those are the things that we have to avoid to prevent giving up any of the big plays."

As offense has been the talk of the summer and will be until the kickoff Saturday, little has been said about what to expect from the OSU defense. A year ago, the Cowboys gave up 28 points per game and were susceptible to an occasional big play as they've been known mostly for their shootouts with opposing teams. Mullen still sees a lot of pieces there that could make this a dangerous game for MSU's offense mostly because experience is there for a lot of the players on the 2013 team.

"They have some very talented players in the secondary and some defensive lineman that have some explosiveness to make plays. Watching their linebackers, they have lots of guys that have played some football coming back. They don't give up a lot of the big plays. They're very assignment sound, they're very good open-field tacklers and they really force you to earn every yard down the field."

"They're going to have a different coordinator out there this year, so partly is that you don't know what you're going to see and the players are a lot different than last year. What you see from last year is sound fundamentals, sound schematically and they really force you to earn things."

For Oklahoma State, they have to game plan for two quarterbacks as well with Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott posing two very different threats. Mullen said that he expects Prescott to be ready, but he doesn't have a set time frame in the game that he'll be used and will work him situationally.

"It'll be more situational than saying, 'Hey, the third play of the game you're going in'," Mullen said of Prescott. "There's not a set package that he's going to run but if there's a situation for him to go in then we'll give him a package that he'll run. Last year, we probably forced-fed Dak a little more with him being a young player. He's played in games and thrown some touchdowns in SEC games in big environments. As far as making sure he has that experience early on, that's not as critical as getting him ready to be the backup quarterback and run whatever package he has."

Fans were up in arms this weekend with the release of the depth chart that was missing a few names they expected to be in the mix. One player that surprised a few fans was cornerback Taveze Calhoun nudging out newcomer Justin Cox who many expected to start immediately. Mullen said it's more of what Calhoun has done than what Cox hasn't. Even so, all of the corners will be in the game early and often….

"Especially against a team like (Oklahoma State) we're going to throw the ball a bunch. Taveze is a guy that's done a lot of great things for us since he's been here. He's got a great grade point average and takes care of being a leader on the team," Mullen said of the sophomore corner. "He's been a champion when he's been able to stay healthy but I see us playing four to five corners easily in this game. They're going to get their reps."

A couple of other players made moves up the depth chart early for their careers with freshman De'Runnya Wilson taking the number two receiver spot on the outside to back up sophomore Joe Morrow and five-star freshman defensive end Chris Jones backing senior Denico Autry.

"They're guys that, one, stayed healthy all throughout training camp so they got to get reps and opportunities and they both jumped out and made a lot of plays," Mullen said of Jones and Wilson. "It's not just about making plays, it's about making plays within the system. Those two guys played solidly at their position. De'Runnya took advantage of some guys being out and made a lot of spectacular catches, as well as being a consistent player. They're two guys we expect to play in the first game for us."

Mullen expects a possible six or seven freshmen to travel with the team this weekend mentioning that the tentative travel list is set for 72 players give or take. Of those players that might not get on the field for game one because of injuries: redshirt freshman tight end Gus Walley (out for season), sophomore tight end Rufus Warren (doubtful) and junior linebacker Ferlando Bohanna (questionable) who suffered a concussion recently.



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