At his Tuesday news conference, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was curiously asked a boatload of questions about Georgia Tech. Out of 23 questions, 12 of them were about the Yellow Jackets or coach Paul Johnson. A lot of it was along the lines, “How on God’s green earth are you going to stop the triple option?” (I asked three questions. One of them was about Tech. It was, “How on God’s green earth are you going to stop the triple option?”) (Actually, it wasn’t. I asked about Tech’s defense.)
Johnson, meanwhile, had four questions out of 31 about Mississippi State. I think a couple of the writers covering Mississippi State missed it, though. (You didn’t know you were going to get a breakdown of the news conferences, did you. It’s the game within the game.)
My favorite was how playing in the SEC West helps prepare his team for Tech. Given how much Johnson chides the media for putting the SEC on a pedestal, I imagine he would have spit out his drink had he been there for that one.
At any rate, Mullen was full of compliments (sincere, I think) and insights about Johnson and Tech. A sampling:
On Tech's defense:
“You know, their corners to me are great playmakers out there on the edge and allow them a lot of flexibility to help stop the run with everybody else because they can lock you down. … I think their offense is pretty daunting, but they don’t need a lot of help, but their defense certainly gives it to them. Those are things that you spend so much time worrying about containing the offense that all of a sudden they get a defensive touchdown or they get create an interception or a turnover and take a possession away from you – you have so few to start with – and their corners, to me, set that tone.”`
“I think, Paul, every time I’ve met with him, talked with him, any time we have interaction with him, just a first-class individual. He’s serious about football, loves what he does, very passionate about the game, extremely knowledgeable, so he’s a great guy to talk about football, but also somebody that, you know what, can go out and do other things and have fun.”
On Johnson's knowledge of the offense:
“A lot of times, people learn the offense or you have the play – you can go get the playbook and try to teach an offense off the playbook, but you might not have the answer to every question. You know the what to do and you might know how to do it, but you don’t know the way you’re always doing it. He has the answers for the why’s.
Even though you know what they’re going to do, how they’re doing it, he understands all the why’s, so every time you make an adjustment, he has an adjustment for your adjustment.”
On how playing in the SEC West prepares his team for Tech:
“I think, you know, obviously, they’re one of the top teams in the country. … I think just the expreince of playing in big games and big stages against the top teams in the country week in and week out on that side of the league certainly helps when you get into the bowl season.”
On Tech's third-down success:
“When do look at their success on third down, I think their quarterback has a lot to do with that, some third-and-long extending (of plays) and making some plays, even outside the framework of their offense. I think if you’re going to see teams that have success against Georgia Tech, you’re going to see teams that are very successful on first-down defense.”
“Third down for them, basically, they get two second downs. You’ve got to be successful on first down, because it gets them out of their flow. If you can get them in second down and 10 or you get them in any second down and 10-plus situation, their three yards of play is not going to work anymore at that point. Second and 10, they’re not going to get it. Any time when you’re playing them where they’re in a situation to get three yards, that’s the situation they want to be in, and when you can prevent them from getting three yards on a given play, you’ve got a good chance of getting off the field.”