Dan Mullen has led the Bulldogs to six consecutive bowl games. Now a Dallas Cowboy, QB Dak Prescott boosted the Dogs brand and led his team a number one ranking in 2014. Life after Dak will be difficult. In addition to replacing Prescott, Dan Mullen was asked difficult and uncomfortable questions regarding the highly controversial freshman Jeffrey Simmons.
Dan Mullen Remarks
STATE OF THE PROGRAM: “We’re coming off consecutive nine-win seasons, which never happened before. We had three nine-win seasons in the last six years. So when you look at that, of changing the expectations — I now I said eight years ago I got up here and said we want to change the expectations of Mississippi State football — I think we’ve been able to do that. Our players have bought in, and we’ve been able to do that, and going to six straight bowl games and building a culture of winning.”
QUARTERBACK COMPETITION: “Going to be an interesting year for us. Going to have an interesting quarterback battle. As I said, coming out of spring, there’s no secret to it. I’m not trying to hold back or play it close to the vest with our quarterback. We had four guys competing for the job in spring ball. All of them were still in contention for the job. No one really separated themselves to pull away from one of the other four at that position.
I think the most important thing for me is, in looking at quarterbacks, finding a winner, finding a guy that just has that “it” about him winning. That’s one of the hardest things to find when you’re out there recruiting is that guy that has that “it” personality, and Dak certainly had it.”
REGARDING JEFFREY SIMMONS: “I wasn’t involved as much. It was a university decision, but I was just thrilled that we’re having Jeffery as part of our family coming in. As I said, I take a lot of pride as a coach on developing young men to be champions, not just on the field, off the field, and every part of their life to be successful in whatever it is they do, and that’s not an easy process.”
Interpreting Coach Speak
Mullen used the Hoover podium to remind the SEC that his program is coming off consecutive nine win seasons, a program’s first. Most likely knowing that Jeffrey Simmons questions were coming, he wanted to put positive spin on the MSU football program.
None of the four competing quarterbacks have separated from the pack. Like Florida and Georgia, MSU’s fall camp emphasis will be identifying its starter. Replacing a legend at any program is difficult. But in a culture like Starkville where Dak was King, whoever replaces Prescott will be greatly scrutinized.
On the Jeffrey Simmons situation. Simmons is a five-star MSU signee that was arrested after being videotaped hitting a woman in March. Mullen pointed out that Simmons will play after a one game suspension. Mullen admitted he wasn’t all that involved in the decision which displaced the decision making process squarely on the shoulders of Athletic Direct Scott Stricklin and the university’s leadership. In addition to admitting Simmons into the university, there are discussions to unretired the number 36 for him to wear. 36 is a special number in Bulldog Nation. Former Dog Nick Bell wore 36 throughout his two years in Starkville. He was diagnosed with cancer and tragically passed away at the age of twenty. Bell is highly regarded amongst the Bulldog Nation.
First, the controversial decision to allow Simmons’ enrollment is troubling. Also, to even contemplate allowing him to wear a historically significant number that honors a fallen courageous young man is completely asinine. MSU player representatives LB Richie Brown, DE AJ Jefferson, and WR Fred Ross were placed in an uncomfortable and unfortunate situation as they were bombarded with Simmons questions. The trio had zero say-so in Simmons’ recruitment, enrollment, suspension, or number choice. I felt really bad for them. Tuesday was not a good day for Mississippi State.
By the Numbers
— 2015 Record: 9-4
— Returning Starters Offense: 5
With Dak Prescott at quarterback, the Dogs finished 3rd in SEC Total Offense by averaging 460.5 yards and 34.4 points per game.
— Returning Starters Defense: 6
Dogs surrendered 22.6 points and 391.2 yards per game. In doing so, it finished 10th in SEC Total Defense.
— Past Two Games: 2014, Mississippi State 45-Kentucky 31. 2015, Mississippi State 42-Kentucky 16.
— Opponent Prior to Kentucky: At BYU
Three Best Players
— Last season, defensive end AJ Jefferson’s career numbers: 95 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 QB sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 4 pass breakups.
Jefferson remarks on new defensive coordinator, “Playing defense doesn’t change. Every defensive coordinator we’ve had come here might dress it up a different way, but it’s all the same thing. They want us to be juiced and have energy and just go out there and play — to love what we’re doing and have fun doing it.”
— Linebacker Richie Brown is a tackling machine. In 2015 he led the Dogs with 109 total tackles, 6.5 QB sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 1 interception. Brown enters the season just 2 shy of 200 career tackles.
Thoughts about new DC Peter Sirmon, “Coach Sirmon is great; He is an ex-NFL guy. He has done a lot for our defense already. He relates really well to the players; NFL guys tend to relate to us a lot better because they kind of know what we have been through.”
— Wide receiver Fred Ross is one of the greatest receivers in Miss State history. Spurning early NFL entry, Ross is a 1st Team All SEC selection. 2015 numbers: 88 receptions, 5 games with over 100 receiving yards, and produced double digit catches in 4 games.
Ross on life after Dak Prescott, “It has definitely been different without Dak. All of the quarterbacks have been working hard and doing things the coaches have asked of them”.
How the Cats Beat the Dogs
The Dak-less Dogs lose a significant portion of its bite. Replacing a quarterback legend is a difficult task. Nick Fitzgerald, Damian Williams, Elijah Staley, and Nick Tiano will all compete for the starting role. Returning only eleven starters, 2016 could be a rebuilding season for Dan Mullen. However, with MSU’s access to the Mississippi JUCO system it can restock the personnel shelf in a hurry.
So, how to win. At this point in the schedule, October 22nd, both teams will be defined. With the level of personnel closer than ever, this winnable game would greatly increase Kentucky’s quest to play postseason football. Miss State will be coming off a Friday road game at BYU. Elevation, jet lag, and a physical opponent could lead to fatigue for the Dogs as they enter Commonwealth Stadium.
Offensively, Eddie Gran will have to account for LB Richie Brown as well as edge rusher AJ Jefferson. As for the UK defense, not having to defend Dak Prescott will be a welcoming change but the Cats will have to deal with All SEC WR Fred Ross. MSU will have a different look in 2016. Consistently, Dan Mullen will run an attacking defense and an up-tempo offense. The Kentucky-Mississippi State game will come down to who has the better Jimmies and Joes.