Orange Bowl

Starting fast can be path to victory for Mississippi State

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, talking to his team during Saturday’s practice at Barry, wants his players to be ‘mentally prepared.’
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, talking to his team during Saturday’s practice at Barry, wants his players to be ‘mentally prepared.’ MIAMI HERALD STAFF

In both of Mississippi State’s losses this season, the Bulldogs trailed at halftime.

In all three of Georgia Tech’s losses, it also trailed at the half.

Starting fast is always preferable, but it will be at a premium on New Year’s Eve, when No.7 Mississippi State (10-2) and No.12 Georgia Tech (10-3) meet in the Capital One Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium.

“You really want to [start fast] in this game because of their style of offense,” Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said of Georgia Tech’s run-heavy, triple-option attack. “Georgia Tech wants to play from ahead. They want to run the clock. They want to limit your possessions so you can’t come back late.

“They want you to press. So we need to start fast so we can get them out of their comfort zone.”

Mullen said his team’s slow starts — just three points through three quarters in a 25-20 loss at Alabama and just three points at halftime in a 31-17 loss at Ole Miss — are fairly simple to explain.

“Those were two pretty good teams,” Mullen said of Alabama, No.1 in the College Football Playoff, and No.9 Ole Miss. “But I think against Alabama we started a bit tight. Once we got in the flow of the game, we outscored them.

“In the last game [against Ole Miss], I don’t think we played very well. We had more missed assignments than any other game this season.”

Starting fast against Georgia Tech might be even tougher to do than normal because of the long layoff between the end of the regular season (Nov.29) and the bowl game.

“We have to make sure we are mentally prepared,” Mullen said after Saturday’s practice at Barry University.

“That’s always a challenge in a bowl game. We haven’t played in over a month. It’s not just the physical toughness and the physical performance on the field. The mental sharpness is going to be critical.”

Junior Dak Prescott, the Bulldogs’ star quarterback, said the plan is to take Georgia Tech out of what it does best.

“If we get a good lead, get ahead by a couple of touchdowns, they have to get away from their offense,” Prescott said, “and then they can’t control the ball as much.”

Mullen said one of the problems with having so much time to prepare for a game is figuring out which of his team’s multitude of plays to include in the plan.

“There are so many good plays and so little time to run them all,” Mullen said. “Normally in a game you may have 72 play calls. By the time you get to a bowl game, you are looking at 195.

“The last time I was here in 2008, I think our play sheet had 185 plays. So it’s like, ‘Holy cow, how we short that out?’

“One of the things that we’re [now] doing as a staff is that if we see something we want to add, hey, that’s a great idea. But what do we take out?”

Mullen said he always carries four trick plays or “deceptives” per game.

“We don’t always get to run them,” Mullen said. “When you have all those double-reverse passes and that kind of stuff, it’s not always about the play, it’s about the timing.

“If you call it at the right time, it’s going to work.”

Given the importance on starting fast against Georgia Tech, Mullen might want to utilize one of those game-breakers in the first half.