When Mississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen arrived in Starkville in 2009, he worked day and night to change the culture at Mississippi State. A once dying culture with a defeatist attitude was changed due to hard work, teaching and dedication.
Mullen established a Bulldog Creed which says " I will give relentless effort" and forged other sayings and slogans to teach his team to not only be winners on Saturdays but in life.
The results could be noticed in year one as Mullen's team went 5-7 but went toe to toe with the likes of LSU, a then ranked Georgia Tech team and others.
Fast forward to 2012, and Mullen has done a remarkable job as he has now won 29 games in four years, won three of four from his in-state rival and has his team bowl eligible for the third straight year.
But in year four, even though his team won eight games, something is missing from the 2012 Bulldogs. In the four losses the Bulldogs had this year against their stiffest competition, they lost by an average margin of 39-15. Not to mention in their biggest game of the year against rival Mississippi they were absolutely embarrassed in the second half.
The 2012 football season is a success from a wins and loss stand point for the Bulldogs, but as Dan Mullen approaches the offseason, he needs to look himself in the mirror and ask where was the relentless effort this year and why it seemed he did nothing to fix the things that went wrong.
In several games earlier in the year, you could see this team not playing with relentless effort, but as always, winning cures most things and not much was said. From the game at Troy earlier in the year where the Bulldogs almost gave up a 26-7 lead to eventually barely hang on, to a sloppy first half against South Alabama, there was a lack of effort and focus.
What about the sloppy first half against Middle Tennessee or getting plum embarrassed against Alabama and Texas A&M?
Mullen's team most days looked ill-prepared and disinterested. Not to mention that when playing teams who threw the ball vertically or down the field it was as if the Bulldogs had no chance, even with an All-American and several seniors in the secondary. That could be due to a lack of pass rush, scheme or both, but the Bulldogs gave up an average of 284 yards per game through the air against vertical passing teams.
That should never happen with the players the Bulldogs had returning on defense.
Not getting any pressure on the quarterback? Change some things. Against Texas A&M the Bulldogs sat in a three-man front, let Johnny Manziel shred their defense via the run and the pass and still would not change anything.
Offensively, quarterback Tyler Russell had a great year, but against the best competition he was hit early and often. In the Egg Bowl the Rebels pounded the junior quarterback as the Bulldogs could not pass block or run block. The Bulldogs garnered a whopping 30 yards on the ground against the Rebels.
Speaking of that Egg Bowl game this past weekend, one that saw the Rebels dominate the second half to go on to a 41-24 thrashing of the Bulldogs, Dan Mullen's squad had every opportunity to bury the Rebels in the first half and could not take advantage of it.
Three Rebel turnovers, two muffed punts and zero points to show for it. A team playing with relentless effort and a killer instinct would have burred the opposition on most days under these circumstances.
After a 17-17 halftime score, one that could have easily been 30-17 in State's advantage, the Rebels went again to the vertical pass, and State could not stop it. Time after time after time Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace found wide receiver Donte Moncrief wide open behind the seasoned Bulldog secondary.
Again no schematic changes, no effort, nothing. Only a serious beat down from your in-state rival.
Yes, eight wins are great, and yes, three-straight bowl games are great, and the Bulldog Nation loves Dan Mullen. He has given Bulldog fans everywhere something to be proud of and to hold on to.
But this year, the 2012 season lacked that relentless effort, savvy play-calling and timely on the field adjustments. Is that due to coaching or was there a lack of senior leadership? I have no idea, but during this offseason and during bowl preparation it's up to Dan Mullen to look in the mirror and get it fixed.
It is up to Dan Mullen to figure out and tweak his schemes, and it is surely up to Dan Mullen to reteach relentless effort. After all, it was Mullen who brought that mindset to Starkville to begin with. Now it's up to him to re-establish it.