Dan Mullen has always been a troll.
He is a very good football coach, too, but he’s seemingly always trying to land a jab or do something that turns a bad situation even worse.
At Mississippi State he appealed to the most depraved part of the fanbase and stoked the flames of one of the nation’s nastiest rivalries. The moment he arrived in Starkville he refused to say Ole Miss and did everything in his power to create an unhealthy level of hate between the two programs. It worked.
It’s why no one should be particularly surprised by Mullen’s regrettable actions Saturday during a game against Missouri. This is who he is. Of course Mullen would incite a brawl and then fire up the fans in attendance acting like a wrestling heel. Of course Mullen would dress up like Darth Vader in his postgame press conference explaining what happened during that brawl just before halftime.
Here is Mullen’s explanation for what happened:
“I was trying to get our players off the field to make sure we didn’t have issues and have a whole bunch of guys suspended. We’re already a paper-thin outfit right now.”
Now watch Mullen’s actions:
Mullen isn’t capable of toning down the worst aspects of himself. We saw it a few weeks ago when after losing a game to Texas A&M, Mullen quickly tried to turn attention to packing out the Swamp with 90,000 fans in the middle of a pandemic. It was embarrassing in the moment and only got worse when a COVID-19 outbreak enveloped his team only days later.
This is what you get when you have Mullen leading your football program. There will be big wins, and ultimately that’s all that matters to most, but you better believe there will be the accompanying headaches when he says or does something stupid. He’s averaging about one a week this year.
It was well-known in college football circles that Mullen tried for years to leave Mississippi State for greener pastures. He always denied it publicly while his agent shopped him hard behind-the-scenes to other places. He had the talent to be coaching at one of the biggest programs but the honest truth was Mullen rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. He can be very amusing and his candor is authentic but athletic directors had to stop and think, ‘Do I really want to have to deal with that guy every day?’ It took Florida missing out on Chip Kelly and Scott Frost before Scott Stricklin decided the headaches were worth it for another marriage with Mullen. And because Mullen is a legitimately good coach, it’s already obvious that was the far better move than either Kelly or Frost.
But Stricklin had already had to clean up a few of Mullen’s messes this year even before Saturday’s brawl. Mullen needs to be fined for his actions, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see multiple players face suspensions for throwing punches during the brawl. That would be particularly impactful given the Gators get Georgia next week in a game that will likely decide the SEC East title race.
If Florida wins next week and makes it to the SEC Championship game, no fan will care about what happened against Missouri. Just know when Mullen is your head coach, there will be more embarrassing moments like Saturday’s on the horizon.
Bo Nix playing closer to expectations
With all of the preseason hype looming over him, Bo Nix’s start to the 2020 season wasn’t ideal. He struggled in losses to Georgia and South Carolina, and didn’t look particularly great in a win over Arkansas, either. He just didn’t seem comfortable in the pocket throwing the ball, often looking to scramble without going through his reads. He turned the ball over too much.
But against LSU, Nix played much closer to the lofty expectations placed on him. We know LSU’s defense isn’t great but it was still an impressive performance from Auburn’s quarterback who finished the day 18 of 24 for 300 passing yards and three touchdowns plus 81 rushing yards and a touchdown. Two weeks ago I wrote Auburn needed more from Nix, and he delivered exactly that in Auburn’s blowout 48-11 win over LSU. After struggling with downfield passing, he delivered in a big way when he connected with Anthony Schwartz for a 91-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. It was easily his best game and the most comfortable Nix has looked all season.
If Auburn can get the Nix we saw against LSU more often along with that standout defensive performance, the Tigers can cause some damage down the stretch. This year’s Iron Bowl won’t get the hype of previous years but Auburn might have finally turned a corner and started to play at the level we all expected before the season started.
Mississippi State is a mess
At least with all of Mullen’s Mississippi State antics, he made a perennial bottom dweller respectable in the competitive SEC West.
You can’t say the same for Mike Leach.
No one expected Mississippi State to beat Alabama but, man, that was a pitiful performance. There wasn’t a single moment where the Bulldogs looked even remotely competitive against Alabama during a 41-0 thrashing in Tuscaloosa.
It’s the second time this season Mike Leach’s vaunted Air Raid offense failed to score a single point. After all of the hype and buzz he got of his offense taking over the SEC, it is painfully obvious that Week 1 win over LSU was an aberration. The only reason Mississippi State put up the monster numbers it did against LSU is because defensive coordinator Bo Pelini is a disaster and refused to make the necessary adjustments. Against an improving Alabama defense, the Bulldogs managed only 200 total offensive yards.
Mississippi State’s inept performance came just days after star Kylin Hill opted out of the remainder of the season to prepare for the NFL Draft. Hill was unlikely to play against Alabama regardless because of an ongoing suspension but it’s certainly not a great sign to see Hill and six other players all leave the program in the same week during the middle of the season. Hill had his issues and it might have never worked out, but Leach didn’t seem to be too upset to be losing a player who rushed for 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns last season which is disappointing in itself.
It’s far too soon to write off the Leach era in Starkville as a failure. He has a track record of success elsewhere after slow starts, including going 3-9 his first season at Washington State. He needs the opportunity to recruit players who better suit his system which takes time. It’s important to note, however, that he didn’t inherit an empty cupboard, and it’ll be difficult for him to get to three wins this season the way things are trending. Vanderbilt is a mess so that should be a win but there are no other easy wins left on the schedule.
It’s hard to get much worse than what we’ve seen the last few weeks from Leach’s Bulldogs. Time will tell whether this was rock bottom ahead of a resurgence or if that opening win over a not good LSU team is the best it’ll ever be.
Most pumped fanbase: Texas
No, Texas is not back but the Longhorns delivered a much needed big win. Texas still has a long way to go to meet fans' outsized expectations but beating No. 6 Oklahoma State is a start in the right direction to ending the season on a respectable note. The Tom Herman hot seat talk isn’t going away but Texas is now 4-2 and with a rest of schedule that looks very manageable.
Most panicked fanbase: Michigan
Penn State had a strong case for this award after the Nittany Lions got knocked out of playoff contention following a loss to Ohio State, but it has to go to Michigan. Days after Wolverines fans pummeled my colleague Tom Green’s mentions for where he ranked Michigan in the AP poll, Jim Harbaugh’s team lost to an in-state rival that lost to Rutgers the previous week. And the aftermath showed that Michigan fans finally seem ready to turn on Harbaugh who makes an awful lot of money for mediocre results. In Year 6, Harbaugh simply can’t lose to a first-year Michigan State coach.
Ranking the Week 7 SEC games:
With no Alabama, Auburn or 11 a.m. games this week, it’s a perfect time to agree to go apple picking early next Saturday.
1) Florida vs. Georgia (2:30 p.m.) The obvious best game of the week. The winner almost certainly will emerge out of the SEC East this season.
2) Tennessee at Arkansas (6:30 p.m.) Jeremy Pruitt could badly use a win after a three-game losing streak but it won’t be easy against Arkansas. The Razorbacks have played everyone tough this season and could be a popular pick at home to win.
3) Texas A&M at South Carolina (6:00 p.m.) Texas A&M is on a roll while South Carolina is still hard to figure out.
4) Vanderbilt at Mississippi State (3:00 p.m.) You may need to talk to someone about your college football addiction if you actually watch this game.
John Talty is the sports editor and SEC Insider for Alabama Media Group. You can follow him on Twitter @JTalty.