Mullen: UAB a ‘different team’
Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen didn’t mince words when asked if his offense was preparing to face an improved Alabama-Birmingham defense on Saturday.
“I think that’s an improved complete football team, not just defense,” Mullen said. “This week is a great challenge for us — obviously a different team.”
UAB finished a 2-10 season in 2013 with a 62-27 loss to Southern Mississippi, the Golden Eagles’ only win of the year.
But UAB looked like a different team Saturday in its season opener, rolling up 451 total yards in a 48-10 demolition of Troy.
For Mullen, whose team is coming off its first shutout win since 1999, the challenge of playing UAB comes in facing a team in its second game under coach Bill Clark, who is in his first year after moving over from Jacksonville State.
“UAB looks like a very different team than they look liked on film last year,” Mullen said. “As you get ready for this game, it’s always a challenge when you’re watching a team now that’s only played one game as a program with their coaching staff, so there’s not a lot to see of what they’re doing and how they’re going to try to execute and how their players execute their system. You did see a team that believes in what they do.”
Clark brought in 15 junior college transfers, the highest total in the country. That haul included quarterback Cody Clements, a transfer from Cerritas College who passed for 152 yards and two scores in the opener.
Turning the page
Just outside the locker room in MSU’s spacious Seal Football Complex, there’s a wall dotted with pictures and accomplishments of current Bulldog defenders. The wall includes names like defensive end Preston Smith and linebacker Zach Jackson.
“That’s our ‘Get the ball’ wall,” MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said. “As a defense, that’s our biggest priority, to get the football, so when a guy does that, whether he forces a fumble, gets an interception or makes a play that leads to a turnover, he gets his name and picture up on that wall. It’s a little extra incentive for guys to make plays.”
The wall has had plenty of new additions. MSU forced three turnovers last week in a 49-0 victory against Southern Miss, which included interceptions by seniors Smith and Jay Hughes, and the two also teamed on a 68-yard blocked field goal return for a score. Smith blocked it, and Hughes picked the ball up and sprinted to the end zone. Jackson also added a forced fumble, which was recovered by defensive end A.J. Jefferson.
“That’s a good example of making plays right there,” Collins said. “Zach got beat on the play, gave up about a 20-yard catch. But he didn’t give up, chased the guy down, and ripped the ball out. That’s what we’re looking for.”
The Bulldogs have gotten that kind of effort more often than not under Collins. The Bulldogs’ defense, which ranked fourth in the Southeastern Conference in giveaways in 2013, has forced at least three turnovers in five of its last six games.
Back on the field
Tailback Ashton Shumpert, who missed the season opener due to a one-game suspension, will return to action against UAB. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound sophomore from Fulton will serve as MSU’s third tailback.
Against Southern Miss, tailbacks Josh Robinson combined for 129 yards on 22 carries, and with quarterback Dak Prescott nursing an ankle injury, MSU likely will lean heavily on its backfield.
Dak in business
Despite a rumor early in the week that junior quarterback Dak Prescott wouldn’t against UAB, Mullen used his weekly radio show Thursday night to say Prescott is healthy and will play.
“I think a lot of that stuff gets blown out of proportion,” Mullen said.
Prescott, in his first full season as MSU’s unquestioned starting quarterback, passed for a career-high 284 yards and four touchdowns against Southern Miss.
New week, same story
A week after heavy rains persisted throughout the day leading up to MSU’s opener leading to a sloppy field against Southern Miss, MSU may have to dodge raindrops again when UAB visits on Saturday afternoon. Forecasts call for a 50-percent chance of rain leading up to the 1 p.m. kickoff, though a drenching rain similar to last Saturday remains unlikely.
— Brandon Walker