STARKVILLE, Miss. (MSU Athletics/WTVA) - Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead met with members of the media on Monday afternoon to preview the 22nd-ranked Bulldogs' upcoming SEC battle at No. 5 LSU this Saturday.
Kickoff between the Bulldogs (4-2, 1-2 SEC) and Tigers (6-1, 3-1 SEC) is set for 6 p.m. CT at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and the contest will be televised nationally by ESPN. For complete gameday and stadium information, visit HailState.com/gameday.
Below is a full transcript of the media session.
Head coach Joe Moorhead – Press Conference
October 15, 2018
A little bit of time removed from the Auburn game, but obviously a great win over a No. 8-ranked team in the country at the time. I thought it was an incredible atmosphere and great fan support. To be 4-2 and No. 22 in the country at the halfway point, I think there was a lot of positive momentum heading into our bye week. For our kids, the focus [last] week was to make sure that they recharged mentally, rehabbed physically, focused on their academics and got a little bit of time to get around their families.
Two Sunday's ago, we had a normal practice. Monday was a players day off and we did an exhaustive self-scout [as a staff]…on offense, defense and special teams. Tuesday and Wednesday we practiced with a focus on special teams, fundamentals and technique. Then our non-travel guys got a little development with seven-on-seven and team drills. On Tuesday and Wednesday morning, [our staff] worked ahead on our LSU game plan. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, our players were off. On Thursday and Friday, the coaches hit the road recruiting and during that two-day time period, we hit 108 schools and attended 20 games and were in nine different states. I thought our recruiting staff did a really good job putting a plan together and got all of [our coaches] out there. We saw a lot of great players and a lot of great football; in state, in our footprint and in our national areas. We are really fired up about that from a recruiting [standpoint]. This past Sunday, we went back to our normal practice [routine], but with a focus on LSU, because we had a little time to work ahead.
Going back to the Auburn week, just to revisit, because I don't think we had a chance to discuss it here as a group. Our Offensive Player of the Game for Auburn was Nick Fitzgerald, the Offensive Scout [Player] of the Game was running back Robert Rivers. The Defensive Co-Players of the Game were [Johnathan] Abram and Montez Sweat, the Defensive Scout Team Player of the Week was Nathaniel Watson. The Special Teams Player of the Game was Chris Rayford and the Special Teams Scout of the Week was Sherman Timbs.
Two weeks ago, our Student-Athletes of the Week were Sh'mar Kilby-Lane and Marquiss Spencer. There were none for this past week, because it was fall break.
From an injury standpoint, just making sure we are updated there. On the offensive side of the ball, Keith Mixon has a little bit of an ankle. He is day-to-day and we are completely optimistic that he'll be ready to go for the game. On the defensive side of the ball, Stephen Adegoke is day-to-day with a lower body and Brian Cole is day-to-day with an upper body. Then, Jamal Peters practiced on Sunday. He is day-to-day, but we are very confident with him, as well. Those are our injuries for this week.
Moving ahead to LSU, led by head coach Ed Orgeron, who is 21-7 in his time there and currently ranked No. 5 in the country. [They] are coming off of a win, a very impressive win, over No. 2-ranked Georgia. [LSU] is 6-1 on the season and 3-1 in the SEC. LSU has won 21 straight home games in the month of October, so that is very impressive. Under Coach Orgeron's guidance, they are 12-0 in SEC games when scoring at least 20 points. This is their homecoming game, so it is going to be a very raucous, intense, very exciting atmosphere, so we are fired up for that.
On the offensive side of the ball, their coordinator, who coaches the quarterbacks, is Steve Ensminger. They are a mix of pro-style and spread [concepts] and are averaging 32 points per game. [LSU averages] 202 [yards] rushing and 202 [yards] passing, so very good balance. Quarterback Joe Burrow, a transfer from Ohio State, is doing a really nice job for them. He is a really competitive guy, has a lot of moxie to him and a lot of confidence. He is playing with a lot of leadership. He has 1,415 yards passing and six touchdowns. He was really instrumental in that win over Georgia. The two running backs that they play the most are Nick Brossette, very quick and explosive, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, very patient with an excellent burst. The wide receiver Justin Jefferson is very versatile. He blocks, [catches] screens and vertical pass game. He makes a lot of plays on contested balls in the air. They are very big when you look at their front five. [Their offensive line] is a physically imposing group. This will be a big challenge for our defense.
Their defense, led by coordinator Dave Aranda, who in coaching circles is viewed as one of the top and brightest defensive minds in the country. They are a mix of three and four down [linemen], playing one-high and two-high zones and bringing good pressure. They are nationally ranked [in multiple defensive categories]; No. 8 in turnovers, having created 15, and currently No. 17 in the country in scoring defense, allowing just about 17 points per game. I thought it was interesting that there are seven teams in the SEC right now that are allowing less than 20 points per game, so that is pretty impressive. Their top players are No. 90, Rashard Lawrence, 25 tackles, 3.5 for a loss. He is very quick, very strong hands and is very physically imposing at the point of attack. Linebacker, No. 6, Jacob Phillips, 43 tackles, three for a loss and one interception. He plays hard and is always around the ball. No. 40 [Devin White], No. 9, Grant Delpit, No. 29, Greedy Williams, you can go on down the line and kind of look at some of their rankings and a lot of those guys are ranked at or near the top of the NFL Draft evaluations for the upcoming [draft]. No. 6 and No. 40 at the linebacking corps, No. 9 and No. 29 on the back end and No. 90 [on the defensive line], but not limited to him, they have a very stout and physical defense.
Special teams are coordinated by Greg McMahon. The accuracy [of their kickers] limits some of the returns [against them]. On kickoff coverage, they are 88 percent touchbacks, 17 of 19 on field goals, including 5 of 5 against Georgia. And, a 42-yard game winner against Auburn. Top players are No. 36, Cole Tracy, the place kicker, we talked about him. Avery Atkins, 41 of 47 touchbacks on kickoffs. Then, Todd Harris Jr. is a core special teams player that shows up on a lot of their units and he is doing a really nice job for them.
Our keys to victory for the game: we are going to need to be able to control the controllable, which is our attitude, our effort and our execution. We are expecting a lot of crowd noise and we will be working on that this week. It is tough to simulate, but we are going to do our best. It is going to be their homecoming and all of those circumstances that are going to force a tremendous amount of focus from us. We are going to need a great week of practice to earn the right to take the field with confidence. We will have to play with fanatical effort and surgical precision to beat another top-ranked team in the country. One play at a time with a championship standard. As always, explosive plays and turnover margin will play a huge factor in deciding the outcome of the game. As will the run game, stopping the run, third down and the red zone.
Looking at some of the statistics in comparing the two teams. Scoring offense, both teams are averaging right around 32 points per game. In scoring defense, we are leading the country and the conference giving up 12 [points per game], they are right behind at 17 [points per game]. We are leading the conference in rushing offense, they are sixth, averaging 200 [yards] per game. Rushing defense, we are second [in the conference], they are fifth. So both teams are doing a really nice job there. Third down conversions, we are second in the conference offensively, and defensively we are third, giving up just 26 percent. They are giving up right around 35 percent [third down conversions]. So, it will be a really good challenge there. Looking on the other side, in turnover margin, they are second in the conference [at] plus-nine. We are fifth in the conference [at] plus-three. In red zone offense, they are first [in the conference] and we are third. So, all of those critical factors, it is interesting to see that we are kind of sitting right in the same areas in all those statistical categories.
We are fired up for the challenge, the kids are excited, a lot of positive momentum, as I mentioned before. A lot of great football in front of us."
On focusing on limiting penalties on the road …
"Certainly, the pre-snap penalties are the biggest focus there. I think the 16 [penalties] at Kentucky, I think we got that pretty good and cleaned up the past few weeks. We have 40 overall for the season, so we are trending in the right direction. With the crowd noise and the atmosphere [we are expecting] and the snap count ... that is something we are going to be mindful of. I think we got the post-snap nonsense addressed and cleaned up. The penalties we are seeing [now] are more between the whistles, as opposed to before or after. That is something we will continue to work on."
On LSU's fourth-down success …
"I think they have a lot of confidence in their run game right now. I think both backs run with great pad level. They fall forward, and I really think it is representative of how they are playing as a whole right now with a ton of confidence and playing to win rather than trying not to lose. So, I think it is something kind of like how we went for it a couple times there on fourth down. You want to show confidence in your kids and their ability to make a play and I think Coach Orgeron and their team are playing with that kind of confidence right now."
On looking at last year's game versus LSU …
"Yeah we always look at it because of personnel matchups and things like that … You kind of take with a grain of salt because it's a different year and a different team just like looking at the Auburn game from last year it was 49-10 in the wrong direction. So, certainly from a schematic stand point is there anything we can do that's a positive factor for our game plan but probably more personnel than anything."
On MSU DC Bob Shoop and the defensive players meshing and being effective so far …
"Yeah I think it's a mix of experience. There are a lot of guys on that side of the ball that have played a bunch of snaps at a high level. I think we got a lot of talent and I think Coach Shoop and the staff have done a good job putting a plan in place for them to be successful and making good calls at critical times in the game."
On the development of Kobe Jones …
"I think Kobe is a guy that Coach [Brian] Baker and the defensive staff are really excited about because not only does he possess a lot of physical tools that are required to be successful in this conference and this level, but he's a student of the game. He has a high IQ, tremendous fundamentals and technique and always does it the way Coach Baker instructs him to do so. So, he very rarely finds himself in the wrong position. Making an effort play like that, I think speaks volume for what Kobe has done, kind of buying his time behind some very talented guys. He has a very bright future."
On if he has ever faced LSU DC Dave Aranda during his career …
"I've gone up against his style of defense. He left Wisconsin the year before we played them in the Big Ten Championship Game. I don't think they changed scheme very much but I guess to answer your question, no, I have not called plays against him."
On LSU DC Dave Aranda's scheme and what makes them different …
"I think a thing that a lot of top-notch defensive coordinators across the country like Dave Aranda, in their schemes they understand how an offense is attempting to attack them and why and works to take those things away, but at the same time combines a bunch of aggressiveness where they are attempting to force the hand of the offense. They know, based on what they run, how people are going to attack them and have a bunch of good counter punches. So, I would say it's a combination of aggressiveness, scheme and in-game adjustments that he does a really nice job of."
On playing in Death Valley on Saturday night for his first time …
"I'm excited that they have the line markers marked off every five yards I think that's pretty cool, and you don't see that very often. They have a tiger down there. That's pretty neat. To me more than anything, the great thing about college football is the passion of the fan base particularly in this conference. I hear they are as good as any and they get fired up and they get after you and they are into the game and they are going to make a challenging atmosphere. So, I think that is what I'm most excited for."
On what's been impressive playing in the SEC so far …
"Everything has impressed me. It has kind of been as advertised. Two things you are probably sick of hearing me say, 'it's a line of scrimmage football league and margin of error is slim.' I think when you look at the results on a weekly basis, maybe not the wins and losses as much as point deferential in the games, I think there is tremendous parity in this league that on a weekly basis if you don't prepare well and you don't come out and play hard and you don't execute at the highest level, any team can upset any team or beat any team. I think that has shown across the board for six weeks. So, you better be on you're A-game. There are no off-weeks. Every team can come out on a given Saturday and upset anybody."
On MSU's offensive line being as good as any in the nation …
"I think when you have a center like Elgton [Jenkins] he's able to make the calls, kind of get everyone on the same page and you have Darryl [Williams], Deion [Calhoun] and the other guys in there, the core kind of sets the tone. I think those guys have done a great job with their physicality and mentality. Particularly last week, they set the tone for the game."