No, no, nothing nefarious is going on with Bulldog academics. Those involved individuals weren't looking to simply stay eligible, Mullen explained. "Our guys are pretty competitive! So they want those grades even higher." Related to grades, the coach doesn't expect any of the 2012 varsity to miss the Gator Bowl for grade issues.
Mississippi State put in the third day of real bowl preparations today, polishing the schemes installed on Monday for the New Years Day matchup with Northwestern. The Bulldogs have just one more day on campus left, as after Thursday's morning session they will be excused for a quick Christmas vacation. The State squad is scheduled to arrive in Jacksonville on the 26th whether traveling with the official party from Starkville or, as per NCAA allowance, making the road trip on their own.
In the post-practice interview, Mullen said these first three days have resulted in "pretty solid practices."
"I've liked the transition, obviously back into game prep. And it's always a great week now in our schedule, is try to get ready to play the game like its this Saturday. I think our guys have done that, had the good focus, good preparation. We've got to clean up some things tomorrow out there before we leave. But at that point hopefully we're ready to play the game. And then you get the confidence builder when you get to the bowl of reviewing basically the whole bowl practice week again."
You have practiced at Scott Field? "Yeah, we've been there all week. Just with some of the storms this weekend. We get good film over there. And we're not playing in there this weekend so we can use up that turf."
Early thoughts on the challenges preparing for Northwestern? "They present a lot. They're a team that probably should have won the Big Ten and (be) playing in the Rose Bowl, won their conference championship. You know, a couple of plays here and some weird mishaps in games and they would have been in the Rose Bowl. So, very talented in every phase of the game."
"They've got an explosive offense, one of the top rushing offenses in the country, running a very high-tempo. Some stout, physical offensive linemen, some fast, play-making receivers and a quarterback and a running back that can score every time they touch the ball."
"On the defensive side of the ball big, stout, physical players up front. They've got big, athletic linebackers. They're one of the top teams in the country."
With Nick Griffin down does Josh Robinson get more looks? "I think him, (Derrick) Milton, all those guys know that when they get that opportunity they're ready to step up. And those running backs are going to get their opportunities in the game in a couple of weeks."
Talk about your two junior college signees today? "Yeah, very excited. You know, Justin Cox, an all-American defensive back that signed with us a couple of years ago. You look at those young guys, very proud of him that here it is a year-and-a-half later took care of his business and did needed to do. Not just on the football field but in the classroom. So we're very excited to have him back."
"And Jeremy Chappelle is a receiver. You look at our receiver depth chart…and both of those, our defensive backfield with a lot of guys leaving and at the receiver position with five seniors, it's huge for us to get guys coming in in the spring, that they'll make a contribution."
Comment on what those receivers have done? "This is it, this is their last opportunity, so I know they're going to be extremely motivated to go have a great game. These are guys that almost all of them have really been playing for four years, you know. They didn't have the opportunity to redshirt when they came here or to develop in time. They just got thrown right into the mix. But they've continually developed, had great careers here, and I know they'd like to finish it with a win."
What makes Arceto Clark tick? "I don't know, he's quiet with me, too. So you know what, Arceto is a guy who takes care of his business. I mean early on when I got here and started coaching him early in his career we didn't know what his future was going to be. But he's bought into the program. He's one of our graduates, takes care of his business on and off the field, does things the right way. And he's had a successful career on the field and obviously had great success off the field as well."
What has Tim Brewster meant for developing the receivers? "I think he's done a great job. I think his experience at that position; I knew when we hired him you're getting a guy that had head coaching experience coming in. I think maybe being out of it for a little bit his passion is really showed with those guys. And we knew we had an experienced bunch Then you give them an experienced coach on top of that, it's shown great production out of that position."
How has Tyler Russell looked on the ankle? "Good. He's thrown throughout the whole time. You know what, actually he was average today, he missed a couple of throws today, made a couple of missed reads. But he's been pretty good all week. But as he said, he's a guy that's played some football, so he knows he's got some time to get some things cleaned-up. And you're always going to add a couple of new wrinkles for the bowl game so we'll get some of those things cleaned-up tomorrow."
What instructions do you give going into the Christmas break? "Some of them can eat a lot, some not as much! No, I mean our biggest concern is safe travels for our guys. There's a lot of guys that are going to be excited go get home, they're young kids ready to get back home. But go enjoy the time-off with their families, enjoy the holidays and spend it with the people they haven't been able to see throughout the course of the season. My biggest concern is always them travelling safe to get home and safe either back here or to the bowl site."
You had a good-sized group of December graduates? "Yeah, Kylie Amato and our academic office does a fabulous job. I don't know if it's been announced yet, they showed me the 2.65 team GPA. And actually I was told it might go up because a couple of kids got some grades changed. Because our guys are pretty competitive! So they want those grades even higher. But she does a great job with those guys. And even throughout the time I think we're going to have more and more guys in graduate school playing on the football team here in the future."
Is everyone OK eligibility-wise for the bowl game? "Ahhhh, yeah. I mean, couple of walk-ons didn't pass all their classes, but no names you guys would want to put in the paper probably."
Baker Swedenburg doesn't put up the big numbers but does so many things well, does he get overlooked for awards? "I don't know that. Because they want the guys that have the huge legs. I think he does a great job, and our guys do a great job of knowing what he does. He's very accurate, has great consistency, and I think when you do that it shows in the coverage units. Our coverage units are usually right where they need to be because the ball is right where they need to be. I guess good-and-bad, he doesn't outkick his coverage a whole lot; but he doesn't underkick his coverage much either. He just kind of kicks to his coverage and our guys, that consistency has helped him a lot."
Talk about defending Northwestern's running back? "You better tackle him. I mean he's fast in the open field, he's a great punt returner, a great kick returner, they get him the ball in the open field and he can go score from anywhere. So you've got to get guys running to the football who can contain him and wrap him up."
What do you like as a group about the young cornerbacks? "Yeah, we need a lot more. I know that, when you have three of them walking out the door we're going to need a whole lot more at that position. But we'll hopefully take care of that in the next six weeks."