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Former Utah QB coach Dan Mullen knows BYU, Sitake better than average Miss. State coach

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PROVO — More than 1,700 miles separate Starkville, Mississippi, and Provo, Utah.

But the distance is a little closer for BYU football coach Kalani Sitake and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen.

Mullen has never faced BYU with the Bulldogs (2-3), who travel to Provo for an 8:15 p.m. MDT kickoff Friday night on ESPN. But the seventh-year head coach previously served as quarterbacks coach at Utah in 2003 and 2004 — just before meeting an up-and-coming defensive coach in Sitake.

“I know him really well from when we did a lot of professional development with that staff at Florida, and he tried to convince me to buy his house when we moved to Salt Lake,” Sitake said of Mullen, who also worked for the Gators from 2005-2008. “He’s a great coach.

“There are a lot of connections. Even though we weren’t on the same staff, we know each other very well.”

Mullen knows BYU well, too — one of his most striking memories comes from the 2003 edition of the Utah-BYU rivalry, when Utah topped BYU 3-0.

“It felt like a blizzard,” Mullen said. “I’m exaggerating if you check the history books, but it felt like minus-20 degrees. Then the next year (ESPN) College GameDay was in Utah and it was the last year I coached at Utah. We had the Fiesta Bowl and with a minute to go, the entire student section was already on the field throwing tortillas.”

Sitake also knows the Bulldogs’ third-year quarterbacks coach. Former Utah quarterback Brian Johnson made waves when he joined Mullen’s staff, and he’s moved up to being the top coach in the booth at Mississippi State.

That’s a great team,” Sitake said. “Dan Mullen is a great coach, and I have great connections with Brian Johnson. He’s a good friend of mine. The game will be a game, but he’s always going to be a good friend of mine. They have a great coaching staff, and they understand football.”

Mullen also knows quarterbacks; he mentored Dak Prescott, who graduated last year and now starts for the Dallas Cowboys. And he also coached a famous former Florida QB, as well — one who reminds him of BYU’s Taysom Hill.

“He’s a unique player. Maybe like Tim Tebow in that way,” Mullen said of Hill. “He’s a physical runner, a will yourself to win guy. He’s not going to make dynamic plays running with the ball until all of a sudden he breaks into the open field and nobody catches him.

“He’s got that ‘it’ factor as a quarterback.”

One year after the graduation of Prescott, the Bulldogs have struggled to a two-win season at the midway mark of 2016. One of those wins comes against SEC foe South Carolina, but Mississippi State is also coming off a 38-14 loss to Auburn when it trailed 35-0 at halftime.

A win right now, even against non-conference BYU, will mean a lot to the Bulldogs.

“A few years ago was challenging, I can tell you that,” Mullen said. “It’s just different. Every year has its different challenges. The challenge with all the other stuff is expectations around here have changed.

“When I got here, the expectations were if we can go to a bowl game every once in a while, that would be great. That’s certainly not the expectations within our program now, which is great."

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