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Bulldogs begin TaxSlayer Bowl prep

Mississippi State football returned to the practice field Friday afternoon in preparation for the 2017 TaxSlayer Bowl with an hour workout in helmets and shorts.

Posted: Dec. 8, 2017 11:02 PM
Updated: Dec. 8, 2017 11:25 PM

STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) – Mississippi State football returned to the practice field Friday afternoon in preparation for the 2017 TaxSlayer Bowl with an hour workout in helmets and shorts.

The Bulldogs (8-4) will play in their school-record eighth straight bowl game on Dec. 30 against Louisville (8-4) at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN. Tickets for the contest are available at HailState.com/Tickets.

“I thought we came out with a lot of juice and a lot of energy,” said interim head coach Greg Knox. “They came to work today. We were back in our element, back on the field. For a week now, [the team] has been in finals, so they were excited to get back out there.”

Knox announced that true freshman Keytaon Thompson will be the starting quarterback for the TaxSlayer Bowl in place of an injured Nick Fitzgerald. Redshirt freshman Logan Burnett will serve as the Bulldogs backup quarterback.

The Bulldogs will practice all next week and conclude Starkville practices on Tuesday, Dec. 19. The team heads to Jacksonville via a charter flight on the afternoon of Wednesday, Dec. 25.

Interim Head Coach Greg Knox Media Session

Dec. 8, 2017

On the opportunity to play in the TaxSlayer Bowl…

“I’m excited about it. The players are excited about it. It’s a great opportunity. I see it as an opportunity for me. [John Cohen] put his trust and faith in me. The program is based on hard work. We’re going to do what we do. Nothing is going to change.”

On why he was selected as interim head coach…

“I was the one who, I guess, had the most communication with the entire team being the special teams coach. I was put in front of the entire team, not just offense, but offense and defense. It was one of those situations where I was the one who [worked with players] on both sides of the ball.”

On the energy of the first bowl practice…

“It went great. I thought we came out with a lot of juice and a lot of energy. They came to work today. We were back in our element, back on the field. For a week now, [the team] has been in finals, so they were excited to get back out there and that was finally done. They were excited to be back on that field.”

On how practice was conducted…

“[We’re still doing things] the same way. We got some reps for some young guys today and got them involved a little bit more and took some of the older guys out, trying to help them get healthy and still get them reps, so that they can continue to work on their technique and fundamentals.”

On his coaching style…

“I’ve been blessed. This is my 23rd year in this league. I was with another coach the other day, and we were talking. We were talking about how I’ve been in this league for 23 years and under two coaches. I’ve been blessed to be in that position and have had opportunities to learn. Coach [Ron] English has been a head coach, so we sit there and we watch video and we talk. So yeah, I take input. I’m a learner. I’m a sponge. I don’t have all the answers, and I lean on my staff.”

On Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson…

“It’s been every day for me. Some of the coaches have been out on the road recruiting, but I stayed here. It’s different when you sit in that seat. I was here the entire time planning, watching video, doing the cut-ups. And I’ll tell you what, we are playing a young man from Louisville who is really, really special. I mean not only are we playing a Heisman trophy winner, but one who is up in New York right now looking to get another one. [Lamar Jackson] is a special.

Today was day one. They wanted all of their players to get with their coaches and, again, look at Lamar [Jackson]. Lamar is special. I don’t know if Mississippi State has faced a Heisman Trophy candidate before or a Heisman Trophy winner. Did they play Ricky Williams at Texas? Okay, that was one and Tim Tebow. Lamar is special, and our guys know it. They know of him, and I think they consider it a challenge and a great opportunity for them because I’m sure a lot of NFL scouts will be watching. It’s a great opportunity for everyone on our defense.”

On his experience as interim head coach…

“That’s different for me. Normally, I’m horse blinders. I’ve got my guys, my six running backs. All week last week, I had the whole team now. I’m covering academics for the whole team. I’m making sure the whole team is at tutoring. I’m making sure the whole team is at study hall. I’m making sure the whole team is on top of their academics. I had to take the horse blinders off. So today was actually good to be out there running around with the defense and the offense. I haven’t done that before, so that was exciting and fun.”

On new head coach Joe Moorhead…

“He’s busy. He’s gone on the road recruiting. He’s got recruits in this weekend. We haven’t had an opportunity to visit much. I just passed him in the hall. He said, ‘Hey coach, how are you doing?’ I said, ‘Hey coach, how are you doing?’ We passed, and we kept going. He’s out on the road recruiting, doing what he needs to do.”

On his plans for after the bowl game…

“It’s like I told Coach [John] Cohen, my total focus is on this team and on these players and on these seniors finishing off a career. We got ourselves in a great bowl game, and we’re excited about that.”

Freshman Quarterback Keytaon Thompson Media Session

On starting at quarterback in the TaxSlayer Bowl…

"I'm just real excited to get my first start. I'm focused, and I just want to execute at a high level."

On communication with junior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald…

"We talk all the time, joke about different things, and he has all the confidence in me as well as my teammates. I'm just looking forward to the bowl game."

On facing Louisville in the TaxSlayer Bowl…

"I'm really excited. We have a great opportunity to play a really good opponent, a top team in the nation. We're just looking forward to going out and competing and having a great bowl game and finishing the season the right way."

On gaining experience in the Egg Bowl…

"That was very valuable. I learned a whole lot during that short period of time that I played in the Egg Bowl, and those reps, they helped me a lot. I learned a lot throughout the game as far as turnovers and just little things that come with experience. I was able to get that experience in the Egg Bowl, so I'll be better for the bowl game."

On the possibility of changing offensive approach against Louisville…

"I wouldn't say so. I just think we're going to prepare the way we've prepared all season. We're just going to continue to play the way we always have and look forward to winning the bowl game. The playbook's open, we put together the game plan as if Nick [Fitzgerald] was playing"

On the pressure of becoming the starting quarterback…

"There's not really pressure at all. A lot of people say quarterbacks are pressured, but it comes with the job and you get used to it. It's a great opportunity to be able to start as a true freshman in a big-time bowl game, it's really a blessing."

On playing in high school versus college…

"It's a lot different, but at the same time, it's the same as well, if that makes any sense. At the end of the day, it's still football and you just have to remember that when you're playing. When I came into the Egg Bowl, I was just over thinking, but at the end of the day it's still football and you go out there and you play."

On how team came together in last few weeks…

"Our team is really special. I love it here. I love my teammates, and we bond really well. If anything, it brought us closer. That night that it [Dan Mullen announced his new coaching position] happened, we just all hung out together so no one felt any type of way. We wanted to be together and stay together as a family."

On communication with new MSU head football coach Joe Moorhead…

"I spoke to him a couple times, but he's keeping his distance right now as we go through this bowl process. I talked to him, I think he's a great guy, a great coach, and I think he's going to be really good for us in the future."

On speaking with new quarterbacks coach Andrew Breiner…

"I talked to him -- I haven't met him in person yet, but he called me on the phone when he got hired, and we had a great conversation. I'm looking forward to him as well. We just kind of talked general stuff, general football, that he was coming, who he was, and I told him a little bit about myself and that was about it."

On junior wide receiver Jesse Jackson’s emergence…

"He's been great. The guy works really hard, and he deserves it. He's been working hard all this time, and when an opportunity presented itself, he stepped up and made some big time plays for us."

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