Oct 24, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs helmet during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State Bulldogs win the game against Kentucky Wildcats 28-22. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Beating Good Teams, Part 1 of 3: The Mental Edge

As you know by now, MSU has struggled under Coach Mullen to beat good teams. Mullen is 2-18 vs. ranked teams in his 4.5 years. State has lost its last 12 vs. ranked teams. In 2011 and 2012, the only teams MSU beat that ended the season with a winning record were Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee State. The only SEC teams Mullen has beaten that ended the year with a winning record are the two ranked teams (’10 Florida, ’09 Ole Miss) and Kentucky in 2009 (7-6).  Ok, you get the point.

For the fourth time this year State is up against a good team. South Carolina is 6-2 and ranked #14 in the BCS standings. This is an opportunity to beat a good team….or at least stay with them for four quarters, ya know, make it close and respectable.

Aug 31, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen looks up during the third quarter against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsOne of the things Dan Mullen preaches about so much is “relentless effort”. There’s even a sign the players touch as they walk out of the locker room that says “I will give relentless effort”. Well, I’m not seeing it. Are you?

I think the crux of the issue is the lack of mental edge our team has. It’s not just this year, it’s been the last couple of years. They’ve had trouble staying focused and have bombed in the second half.  There are penalties, lack of execution, effort issues. I’m not saying we have a team that is giving up like OM in 2011 or Auburn last year, but out lack of mental preparedness is affecting our ability to compete in these big games.

There are two ways to get your players to focus and have that mental edge I’m talking about.

1. Motivation. This is the type of tactic Hugh Freeze uses. I hate OM to the core, but I will say he can give some pretty inspiring speeches. He’s got a great voice for it and he really can get players pumped up. When he speaks the players believe it and they’re ready to go. In practice they are focused, prior to the game, at halftime, in the huddle. He’s providing that mental edge for his team that is motivating them to lift themselves to where they need to go.

I really think if you could take Sly Croom’s motivational tactics and everything else Mullen has you’d have a great coach. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the same old dried out speech from Mullen…and I’m not even on the team! To say it is uninspiring is an understatement. One thing I’ll say for Croom is he knew how to give a speech. Just talking to the students when I was at State I was so fired up I believed we really were going to do great things on the football field. He was a motivator. Mullen is not.

2. Playing to a standard. This is the Saban approach. It’s the approach I honestly prefer because I think players who are able to achieve this will always be motivated and they don’t have to rely on someone else to do it. Saban preaches for each player to give their all for six seconds on every play. And he never lets up or allows his players to not give maximum effort on each play, no matter the score. He has his players focused, and they have a mental edge no one else in college football has…and that is why they are so great. It’s more than just talent which they have, Saban takes really good players and makes them great because of the mental approach he instills.

I have not seen any evidence of this from Mullen. Just saying “relentless effort” kind of rings hollow. Is he measuring it? I don’t see him getting pissed when someone isn’t giving max effort. Where is the accountability to play to a standard – which is your absolute best? We aren’t going to be Alabama any time soon, or ever, but we can lay it all on the line and do our best…and if we do that is likely to land us some major victories just from being fully focused on the practice field and in the game.

We have got to find that mental edge if we want to beat good teams. We have to be focused, prepared, and ready to out-execute the opposition. The most talented team doesn’t always win. We may not win the game on paper, but we can win on the field by being motivated, playing to a standard of excellence, and putting forth maximum effort.

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