FAYETTEVILLE - Given Mississippi State’s built in disadvantages in location and tradition in the football almighty SEC, his 59-41 record coaching the Bulldogs since 2009 speaks volumes for Dan Mullen.
The volume even reached Wisconsin where Bret Bielema coached from 2006-2012 before coming to Arkansas.
Bielema’s Razorbacks, 6-4 overall and 2-4 in the SEC West, and Mullen’s Bulldogs, 4-6, 2-4 in the SEC West, clash at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU at Davis-Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Bielema replied to a question on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference if he kept tabs on Mississippi State while he still coached in the Big Ten. “I knew they had gained respect. And Dan has been so good at developing talent and quarterbacks. That’s exactly what they have going right now.”
Dak Prescott, Mullen’s best-ever Mississippi State quarterback, has taken the NFL by storm quarterbacking the Dallas Cowboys to an 8-1 start.
And big (6-5, 230) sophomore quarterback Nick Fitzgerald uniquely develops into Prescott’s worthy Mississippi State successor.
“Obviously you see what Dak has done,” Bielema said. “That’s a direct byproduct of what he learned at Mississippi State.”
Regarding Fitzgerald, Mississippi State’s leading rusher and his comparison with the dual threat quarterbacks that Arkansas faced earlier this season, Bielema said, “He is probably the biggest of the group. They list him at 6-5, 230 and he looks every bit of that. When you are looking eye to eye with D-linemen that’s usually a good indicator. that you have got good height.”
For some felling an oak tree has been easier than bringing down Fitzgerald averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
“The linebackers and corners have struggled to get him down at times,” Bielema said. “I think he’s a very confident player. He’s been in every game. Dan has kind of put him in and out of the lineup but when he’s playing well he throws an accurate ball. He seems to have a good command of what they are asking him to do and it looks like the players are responding well to him.”
In Starkville, it seems the Bulldogs respond to their cowbell ringing fans.
“I thought it was awesome years ago to see the whole cowbell thing,” Bielema, about to make his second Starkville appearance, said. “The environment they have there is pretty awesome. One of the great things in this league is you see so many SEC traditions. It is a great environment and it really gets you excited to play in this league.”
He would be more excited if Arkansas could break its 4-game losing streak in its annual game with Mississippi State. Bielema’s Razorbacks lost the last three and interim Coach John L. Smith’s Razorbacks lost, 45-14 in 2012 at Starkville.
The Bielema vs. Mullen games of Hogs vs. Dogs have all been nail-biters. State won 24-17 in overtime in 2013 at Little Rock; 17-10 in 2014 at Starkville and last year’s 51-50 Prescott vs. Brandon Allen shootout in Fayetteville.
“I would also say the last three years the Mississippi State team we’ve lost to has been a really good team,” Bielema said. “It’s all been close games. We just haven’t been able to do it. Unfortunately we haven’t won so I would like to get that chip on our side once.”