STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) – Mississippi State football will close the month of October and open the month of November with back-to-back SEC Western Division road tilts. Head coach Joe Moorhead previewed the first of those, a trip to Texas A&M, at his weekly press conference on Monday.
The Bulldogs (3-4, 1-3 SEC) and Aggies (4-3, 2-2) kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday on SEC Network from Kyle Field. State has won three straight in the series. In addition, the league office announced that MSU’s Nov. 2 game at Arkansas in Fayetteville will feature a 3 p.m. start on SEC Network.
Below are quotes from Moorhead’s press conference:
"Just going to recap LSU, which will be some of the things we hit on after the game in the press conference. I sat there and I was really excited about our energy, about our fight, about our competitiveness throughout the game. For four quarters, I thought our kids did a really nice job with that coming off the Tennessee game. That was something that we stressed during the week, was that for four quarters we were going to bow our back, bow our neck, stand toe-to-toe and fight, and I thought we did that. I thought there were a lot of positives to take away from the game [we played] and competing against the No. 2 team in the country.
"That excitement on Saturday after the game, I got home and digested it a little bit and then came in on Sunday morning and I watched the film with the offensive staff. I watched with the defensive staff and watched with the special teams, and, quite frankly, some of that that excitement and positivity, and that juice was still there. But, a little of that [excitement]...got me a little bit upset, because watching the film there were a ton of missed opportunities throughout that game in all three phases that would have made it a much closer game. I am not saying it would have [turned the game] into a win, but there were a bunch of plays - and it is not just coach speak - that were left on the field. Things can always be called a little bit better, but the [plays] that were there, we certainly had a chance. It leads me to this point; right now, on offense, defense and special teams, it is not the ability to right now, it is the consistency to do it. We are showing in spurts on offense, on defense and on special teams, when we are locked in, when we have energy and we are playing hard, and we are executing in a manner that is consistent with what we have been coaching and how we have practiced, we are able to compete. As we showed on Saturday, we can compete with anyone in the country.
"Now it is a matter of can we do it over and over and over again on a consistent basis. That is where we are trying to get right now. Some of that comes from a myriad of extenuating circumstances that we had entering the season, which really affected a lot of our depth at a bunch of different positions and the injuries [that have occurred throughout the season] and, quite frankly, our relative inexperience. When you look at the percentage of guys that we have playing in prominent roles right now who are either true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or true sophomores, it is a very high percentage. Ultimately, at the end of the day, as coaches, our job is to keep our heads down, keep grinding and keep working every day to get these kids better.
"From a performance indicator standpoint, we didn’t win turnover margin, and I think for the first time in 20-some odd games that we haven't created a turnover, and we turned it over three times. You can't give that offense and that team extra possessions, especially how they complement [the offense] with their defense. We didn’t meet our explosive play margin. Offensively, 10 [of our explosive plays] were passes and one was a run, so it was over the 16 percent that we look for but giving up explosive plays got us again. That has been a consistent theme we have talked about. We have done a better job creating turnovers but have not done as good a job limiting explosive plays. And then, [we lost] third down and red zone. That is a summary of the game and where it was.
"I thought it was a fantastic home crowd. We certainly appreciate the vocal support. It started from the Dawg Walk when the buses pulled in and the tents were out, the people were cranked, and the cowbells were ringing. It came through the entire first half, and obviously waned a little towards the end, but that is what makes our place one of, if not the best, home environment in all of college football.
"When you go back and talk about complementary football, it is small things and margin of error and when you have young guys on the field [that margin is even smaller]. We scored that touchdown to make it [9-7]. We kick off and commit a facemask [penalty], which pushes it up and then we have a miscommunication in coverage, and they throw a touchdown to make it 15-7. Then we have the ball with two minutes left and we try to go on a drive and score, but Garrett [Shrader] makes a misread and throws a pick, and they turn that into 22-7. Those are things against a team like that with a [small margin of error, and [those are things that when we correct] will keep the fans in the game and keeping them excited. Those were the small things we couldn't finish up.
"From a recruiting standpoint, we had 85 kids on campus for the game, which is a very high number, including nine of our commits. The feedback from them after the game when I got home and was texting them and their parents was incredibly positive. And, not just from how we competed, but the direction of the program and where we are headed and how the young guys are performing for us on a favorable basis. [Everyone] is certainly very optimistic for this week against Texas A&M, for the remainder of the season and for down the road as it bodes for the future.
"Our Student-Athletes of the Week for this week were Austin Williams and Deddrick Thomas. From an injury standpoint, on offense, Greg Eiland with an upper body is day-to-day. Stewart Reese with a lower body is day-to-day and Garrett [Shrader], we continue to list him as day-to-day with a lower body, but he is grinding through it. [On defense,] Brian Cole II with a lower body is day-to-day. Chauncey Rivers with a mild lower body is day-to-day. We talked about Maurice Smitherman being out for the rest of the season, and Tyler Williams is still day-to-day with a lower body.
"Moving ahead to Texas A&M and previewing those guys, coach [Jimbo] Fisher is 13-7 in his second year at A&M. He is 96-30 overall and is the fourth-winningest active FBS head coach. Won a national championship in 2013 and was the national coach of the year. I think you guys have probably seen, he has led them against the toughest schedule in the country in 2019, including playing two teams there were ranked No. 1 at the time - Clemson and Alabama.
"Coach Fisher calls the plays. It is a well-balanced, spread attack with some pro-style elements. Their tops players are Kellen Mond, the quarterback, Isaiah Spiller, the freshman running back, and Jhamon Ausbon, the receiver. They have done a really nice job offensively, averaging around 30 points per game.
"Mike Elko is the safeties coach and the [defensive] coordinator. [The scheme is] Based out of four-down and will mix it up with two-high and one-high zones. They do a good job with pressure. Justin Madubuike, the defensive lineman, has done a really nice job. Buddy Johnson, at linebacker, and Myles Jones is a safety. Once again, you run the gauntlet in this league. [Elko] is another guy that is considered one of the tops in the country at his position as defensive coordinator.
"They split special teams duties among the staff. Braden Mann is the punter and kickoff guy. He has done a really nice job. Ainias Smith is the return guy. Seth Small is the kicker. He is 11-of-15 overall on field goals and 10-of-11 on field goals inside the 40 [yard line].
"The challenge for our kids this week, and I thought they bounced back really nicely after the [LSU] game, there was a little bit of that balance that you want to see after a loss of upset, but not hanging their heads. They were keeping their chin up off their chest and making the corrections at practice, before moving forward to Texas A&M.
"They have been challenged this week when we talk about not just the ability to, but for us to be able to do it in a consistent manner. The consistency in habits and approach, will lead to the consistency in performance and results. So, what can we do from Sunday until the ball kicks off on Saturday with every single little thing in this program, as we talk about culture, going to class, sitting in the front row, treating people with respect, [making sure that] drills that start behind the line start behind the line and drills that finish through the line are finished through the line, and jogging in between drills [and not walking]. All of those things that differentiate good teams from great teams...we do those things during the week. Then, our habits will lead to our results. The team is excited. The coaching staff is excited. This is a chance to go on the road to a place that I have never been and work to get our second SEC win and get this thing rolling in the right direction."
Q: What are your impressions of some of the freshmen that have had added reps on the defensive side of the ball, especially Jarrian Jones and Martin Emerson?
JM: “I think when we recruited those guys, you can look at them in the same ways you look at Garrett [Shrader]. They don't lack confidence. I don't know how realistic it was entering the season, but both of those guys had a plan in their mind that they were going to get on the field. I pulled them in sometime last week and [reminded them] they are not freshmen anymore. I told them they had to play grown up and be ready to roll. We were able to start a true freshman cornerback against those receivers and that offense and have Jarrian [Jones] come in to play a significant number of snaps. I think Martin had one [pass interference]. They had maybe a couple balls caught on them, but you wouldn't have said there were two true freshman on the field. I think those guys are representative and indicative of the young guys in this program. Nathan Pickering and Garrett Shrader and Collin Duncan and some of the guys that are redshirting. There is a lot of young talent on the field early. Like I said, it bodes well for them and for the future, as well."
Q: How do you assess the offensive line play over the last two weeks?
JM: “I didn't think we were particularly physical in the run game against Tennessee. We did not protect very well by giving up seven sacks. I thought we came back against [the LSU] front and I thought we protected very well to only give up two sacks. I am not sure [K’Lavon Chaisson] had any. With what they do schematically, I am not sure it wasn't for a lack of effort and a lack of physicality [on their part]. LSU is pretty dang good up front. They have those three big space eaters in the middle. Those guys hold their gaps. The linebackers run. They fit the safeties and run support. I thought we were improved from Tennessee but not necessarily where we need to be from a run game perspective. To get the run game headed back where we need to be, we have to play with the same kind of effort but create a little more push up front in the run game."
Q: You were trying to get Kylin Hill involved more this weekend, but when you have a guy with that much talent, how do you keep him upbeat when things aren’t going his way?
JM: “I thought that was one thing that was a positive from Tennessee to LSU was Kylin's [Hill] response. We talk to our kids all the time about two things you have to be good at: response to prosperity and response to adversity. In football and in life, things aren't always going to go the way you want them to. It is easy to be excited. It is easy to be energized. It is easy to be in the front of the line when things are going well. But tough times don't test character, they reveal it. I thought Kylin did a much better job staying positive and staying with his teammates when things don't go his way. I want as much as anybody for him to be able to come out and rush for 150 or 200 yards per game. Early in the season may have set that expectation. When you are playing against the defenses in this line of scrimmage football league, there are going to be games where he doesn't hit 150 or 100. He may even get 50. The thing I am most excited about right now is that we are averaging more passing yards than rushing yards. We want to continue to get the rushing yards up. In the past, prior to last year when that would happen, you would fall back and lean on the pass game. You would protect and get open and throw the ball. From our results in the pass game last year, I won't say it changed my mindset, but I have to get back to the mentality where if that is not working and they are taking away the run game, either by their personnel or our inability to get it going, we are protecting well right now and we are getting open. I think Osirus [Mitchell] and Stephen Guidry are both a couple catches away from surpassing everything from last year and from a yardage standpoint. Deddrick [Thomas] is producing. Isaiah [Zuber] is coming back strong. Farrod [Green] is having a nice senior year. Garrett [Shrader] is throwing the ball accurately. When we get to where we want to get to, and I understand that it is a process offensively...when the run game gets slowed or shut down, which happens sometimes in this league, you have to be able to throw the ball. Right now, I feel much more comfortable that if [the running game] is getting shut down that we will work to get it going. You also have to be able to pass the ball with confidence, efficiency and effectiveness. I think we are growing towards that."
Q: Would you say that Garrett [Shrader] has a good grasp of the playbook now that we are a couple of starts into his young career?
JM: “He has a ton left to learn, miles, miles, and miles left to learn which is a good thing because he is a true freshman. You talk about not just the what's, but the how's and the why's and every experience for him is a blank slate. He comes in and he is learning a new thing over and over again and the first time he does it, maybe the first time he sees it, and some of those of things were happening throughout the course of the [LSU] game. I think the good thing is he can beat you with his arm, and he can beat you with his legs. He makes some plays by design, some by improvisation. Every single snap he takes at practice and during the course of a game is going to make him better and better for the next game, for the rest of the season and down the road. I think he knows the majority of the playbook but there are some things we are going to continue to develop with him, but there are also some things as a true freshman, just like the kid at Auburn and Tennessee, it is all a learning experience for him.”
Q: What have you seen from the defense and creating a little more pressure over the last couple of weeks?
JM: “I think Chauncey [Rivers] has done a really nice job. I think you have seen him being our most effective pass rusher right now. Marquiss [Spencer] is doing a good job, Kobe [Jones], Fletcher [Adams] a little bit. I think we aren’t doing a ton generating a true pass rush with just a four-man rush. I think what we are doing a good job of is creating some pressures to create one-on-one matchups and those guys are winning those. It hasn’t been fantastic by just a four-man rush standpoint, but I think we will have been able to generate a pass rush through pressures by creating some one-on-one match ups with the scheme.”
Q: Along those same lines, how much help has the different blitzes over the past couple of weeks?
JM: “The same thing. When you are pressuring and blitzing and bringing it from different numbers, different angles, and different levels. Cameron [Dantlzler] got one and Leo [Lewis] got an add on when he was covering the back and he blocked and [Lewis] adds on to the pressure. Once again, I think pressure has been our best way to generate pass rush this year.”
Q: How big are these next two road games and looking down the stretch at the schedule?
JM: “I think it is big because it is the next one and as we have talked about before with this team and who we are and the construct of us fighting, scratching and clawing. We have to have singleness of purpose and concentrate on what is five feet in front of our face. We have talked a little bit with the leadership council and the captains and some of the coaching staff of making sure, there is not many different ways to do it, but just making sure our Friday routine with an early kickoff is something that we are working well on in terms of meetings, walk-throughs and things like that with the kids. Just trying to tweak that and make sure that just because it has been done a certain way for a long amount of time does not make it right. We are trying to tweak that and make sure that is correct. I think it is important because it is the next one.”
Q: With five regular season games left, how much of a sense of urgency do you see from the guys, as you need three more wins to get to a bowl game?
JM: “I think the practices have been good. I think they have been energized. That is something where I think with our approach, I do not want them thinking about a bowl game. I do not want them thinking about six wins. I want them thinking about the next win. If we keep focusing on the process and the consistency of our habits and our approach, those things will hopefully take care of themselves. I do not think there is urgency to say, 'we have to get four, five, six, seven, or down the line.' We have to get No. 4 and that is what we are most focused on."
Q: What have you seen from Garrett Shrader in the recent weeks as he has been more in tune in the pocket it seems?
JM: “I think certain guys have that innate ability that their clock in their head slows down. You drop back to pass, you make your reads, you go through your progressions and when you have exhausted your number of progressions, I have always told the quarterback two things: it's run or throw it away. As he is climbing the ladder in that pocket and he has gone through his reads and he feels that thing collapsing around him, you either throw that thing away or take off. With him, I would recommend take off because he does such a good job with his feet. I think he has been, as you noted, much more poised as he is getting repetitions.”
Q: How did Garrett [Shrader] grade out versus LSU?
JM: “He graded out well. He was 17-of-28 for over 200 yards passing, and one touchdown, with some turnovers. He was our leading rusher, as well, and scored a rushing touchdown. I do not want to say it was a performance indicative of a true freshman but when you look in that position, in that environment against that team and against that defense, the mistakes he made and the interceptions he threw were pretty simple things to solve. You chalk it up to experience, and he is going to be better moving forward from it.”
Q: Jaquarius Landrews has had a good senior season, what have you seen from his progress this season?
JM: “As a full-time starter for the first time [in his career], I think he has really matured. I think he is a guy that is not necessarily a vocal leader but leads by example and as real steady player. He may not make some of the flash plays that [Mark] McLaurin and [Johnathan] Abram made but he is always in the right place at the right time and understands his strengths, his limitations, and he has been a very solid performer for us in his first year as a starter.”
Q: You mentioned tweaking some of your routines, what do you have to do differently this week to be successful on the road?
JM: “I think we have to start fast. I think that is probably the biggest thing that we cannot come out there and not be excited, energized, or executing for a quarter and a half, then next thing you know you are down a touchdown or two. You can probably go back to the Kansas State game last season, where that was an 11 a.m. kick on the road and we started fast there and carried some of that momentum on. I would say that would be the biggest thing, starting fast.”
Q: You are dealing with a young team, so is the vocal leadership still developing in the locker room?
JM: “I think it is a twofold thing. There are some people I believe that are born leaders and that is something within them and are capable of doing it and I think there is something from a program standpoint where you want to develop leaders and I think outside of the kids voting for who the captains were, the leadership council [is important], as well. Every Sunday after practice, I meet with the captains, and the leadership council that is comprised of two guys from each class. Once again, you are trying to identify who the leaders are and foster some of those skills and the guys who are a little bit younger, so that when they get into the seat that they are a senior, junior, or upperclassman they have some experience in that role.”
Q: What has been the biggest difference from year two at Fordham to year two at Mississippi State?
JM: “I took over a team [at Fordham] that was 1-10 and had not had a winning season since 2007. I think we went 6-5 the first year and 12-2 the second year. I think we may have beaten Temple that year. We had gotten up to No. 4 or 5 in the country. The Patriot League is an excellent FCS academic league, and we played up and beat an FBS team that year. I think quite frankly it is who we are playing. It's the toughest division and toughest conference in all of college football. I do not want to say the learning curve is different. In the construct of the team you takeover is a little bit different, so I think those are probably the biggest things. It is relative that you are playing the FCS versus the FCS, but certainly when you are talking about FBS, Power 5 and the SEC, I think that is a whole different deal.”