STARKVILLE — With his team’s Southeastern Conference opener looming at LSU next week, Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen said he will lean on his team’s veteran leadership in its first road game of the season at 3 p.m. Saturday (ESPNEWS) at South Alabama.
Meanwhile, in Mobile, Alabama, the Jaguars are preparing to play host to a Southeastern Conference opponent for the first time and are looking at the matchup as one of the biggest in school history.
“This weekend’s game is probably the biggest game a lot of us have ever played in, so there is a lot of excitement in the locker room,” South Alabama tight end Braedon Bowman said. “It’s a big game and a big opportunity.”
Such is the challenge in perception for Mullen, whose team will take aim a fifth-straight win and a 3-0 start before the Sept. 20 conference opener in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
MSU will face a South Alabama squad that has won four-straight games, including three straight to end the 2013 season and a 23-13 season-opening win at Kent State last Saturday.
“It’s a real challenge for us,” Mullen said of playing South Alabama. “They had a big road win to start the season against Kent (State) this past week. You look at their two-deep on offense and defense, they have 16 senior starters on offense and defense. That has to be one of the most veteran teams in the country with guys … that have been in the program and have really believed, right from the foundations of the program. These guys have been there and building it up to where they need to get to.”
Monday was the first time Mullen addressed the media following his team’s 47-34
victory against Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday. The sixth-year head coach referred to his team’s defensive performance as “embarrassing.”
By Monday, Mullen had softened the stance, but he remained ardent that improvement must be made to a defense that allowed 435 yards.
“We’re going to get all of that stuff fixed,” Mullen said. “They’ll get it done at practice. We’ll rep it all out at practice and make sure we have guys in better positions.”
On Saturday, MSU will have to stop a familiar face in senior quarterback Brandon Bridge. Bridge accounted for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns when starting for Alcorn State in a 51-16 loss at Davis Wade Stadium in 2011.
For USA coach Joey Jones, the chance to play host to a SEC team at Ladd Peebles Stadium is a tremendous opportunity.
“They are a very good football team,” Jones said. “They’re averaging 48 points per game, and defensively they play really well and get after you. They are a big football team on the offensive line and defensive front. The whole key is for us to keep fighting and slugging with them through the third and fourth quarter. We just need to fight through the third quarter and stay in the football game. If you are in the game at that point, then you have a chance to win.”
The game will be South Alabama’s first home game against a SEC opponent. It also will be MSU’s first trip outside Starkville this season. For Mullen, playing in Mobile represents a unique chance for fans to see a road game within driving distance.
“When you look at scheduling these games, we’re doing our philosophy, which is to schedule games our fans can get to,” Mullen said. “Most important to me is our player’s families can go watch them play. We have a pretty big parent turnout every single week to watch their sons play. When you’re going to Mobile, for most people, it’s still a drivable distance where they can afford to go watch their sons play. That’s why we want to schedule these games.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat