By JOEL COLEMAN
Right about the time Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen was coaching his first-ever game for the Bulldogs back in the fall of 2009, the University of South Alabama was just playing its first-ever football game.
The Jaguars will begin their eighth season on the gridiron this Saturday in an 11 a.m. game at MSU’s Davis Wade Stadium as they play the Bulldogs for the third time in history. State topped South Alabama 30-10 in the first meeting in Starkville in 2012. In 2014, MSU traveled to Mobile, Alabama, and claimed a 35-3 win.
As Mullen gets ready to face off with the Jaguars again, he sees a program that has grown since its infancy a few years ago.
“They were a tough team and played hard in every one of the games we’ve played against them,” Mullen said Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference Coaches Teleconference. “I think (South Alabama head coach Joey Jones) has done a good job of building and developing that program. He’s been going and recruiting and developing talent. That’s the key to a program, I think.”
South Alabama has a 43-35 overall record in its seven years of football. Since jumping up to the FBS level in 2012, the Jaguars have struggled though, going 19-31 over the last four seasons.
“It’s hard to get a quick fix for a program,” Mullen said. “If you look at how (Jones) has been able to develop some homegrown players, develop high school kids and get them through the program and continue to improve, I think he’s built a pretty solid program.”
Mullen saw firsthand two years ago how Jones is building excitement at South Alabama. Though MSU took the victory in its road trip to Mobile two years ago, Mullen saw the makings of a team on the rise.
“I think the last time we played them, it was the biggest game ever in Mobile, or billed that way anyway,” Mullen said. “They had a great crowd and a great atmosphere. (Jones) has helped build that program.”
QB turnover nothing new says Mullen
Mullen’s starting quarterback battle will continue on into Saturday’s game as Damian Williams and Nick Fitzgerald keep competing to be MSU’s starting signal caller. Mullen hopes to soon know who will be the man to fill the shoes of former quarterback Dak Prescott on a full-time basis.
For the last few years, Prescott stabilized State’s quarterback situation like few before him. As Mullen looks to replace Prescott, and coaches around the country search for starting quarterbacks as well, Mullen says college football has always forced coaches into situations where they must replace quarterbacks.
“I just think there’s a lot more attention now,” Mullen said. “There are more kids transferring and leaving schools probably now than there were years ago overall, not just at quarterback. I think that happens a bit more, but I also think it’s covered much greater than it used to be before.”
Mullen dealt with a transfer of his own just a few weeks back. Elijah Staley was in the mix to be the quarterback for the Bulldogs before he decided to transfer. Staley will play this season at Tyler Junior College in Texas.
“I met with (Williams, Fitzgerald, Nick Tiano and Staley) and to be honest, to a man, they would’ve told you they wouldn’t have expected all four to still be here in the fall to start the first game unless I was going to play all four of them in the first game and it be that dead even of a competition because all four guys are underclassmen,” Mullen said. “I think guys look and want to play. They’ll say their opportunity doesn’t look great here and wand to be in a situation where they have an opportunity to play, get on the field and go play the game that they love.”
Mullen talks policy on weapons
When asked about his stance on his players possessing handguns, Mullen stated he enforces a no weapons policy on the MSU team.
“I don’t think there’s any need for our guys to carry weapons,” Mullen said. “Obviously it’s a felony crime to possess a weapon on a college campus. We make sure they understand that. We explain to our guys that if they’re in a situation where they’re carrying a handgun, they probably need to try and avoid those situations.”
Mullen isn’t against his players owing guns. He understands many on his team enjoy hunting and outdoor activities. Mullen just says he separates those types of things from possessing a weapon.
“Now obviously hunting and all the other extracurricular activities that our guys do can trump some of that,” Mullen said. “They just need to make sure they leave that stuff at home with all their hunting supplies.”
No surprise at Tebow
On Tuesday, former Heisman Trophy winner, National Football League quarterback and Mullen player Tim Tebow hosted a showcase in hopes of landing a professional baseball contract despite not having played organized baseball since he was a junior in high school. Scouts from 28 of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams showed up in Los Angeles to watch the now-29-year-old Tebow run, hit, field and throw.
Mullen said on Wednesday that he’s not surprised at all that Tebow is giving professional baseball a shot.
“Nothing Tim does surprises me,” Mullen said. “I know he’s the ultimate competitor. He’s a guy that loves to compete so I bet he’d give just about anything a go.”