STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) – Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead met with members of the media on Monday afternoon to preview the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs' upcoming SEC West battle with Arkansas this coming Saturday.
Kickoff between the Bulldogs (6-4, 2-4 SEC) and Razorbacks (2-8, 0-6 SEC) is set for 11 a.m. CT at Davis Wade Stadium and the contest - MSU's final home game of 2018 - will be televised nationally by ESPN. For complete gameday and stadium information, visit [HailState.com/gameday]HailState.com/gameday.
A total of 20 Bulldog seniors will be recognized in a ceremony prior to kickoff against the Razorbacks. The group includes 11 fifth-year seniors. The seniors include: S Johnathan Abram, S Stephen Adegoke, SNP Joel Baldwin, DT Tre Brown, OL Deion Calhoun, QB Nick Fitzgerald, DE Gerri Green, DT Grant Harris, DT Braxton Hoyett, WR Jesse Jackson, C Elgton Jenkins, TE Justin Johnson, RB Dontavian Lee, S Mark McLaurin, CB Jamal Peters, CB Chris Rayford, OL Marlon Reese, DE Montez Sweat, DT Cory Thomas and RB Aeris Williams. The senior class had produced a 30-19 record, which is the eighth-most by a senior class in school history. One more victory puts them in a tie for sixth, and two victories would be for fifth place. The senior class has reached a bowl game every year of their careers and produced multiple nine-win seasons. They own six victories over top 25 teams.
Head coach Joe Moorhead – Press Conference
November 12, 2018
"Just to start off and recap the Alabama game. [It was] a tough loss versus an excellent football team. Certainly, credit goes to Coach [Nick] Saban, his staff and their players. There is a reason why they are ranked No. 1 this year and have consistently preformed at an extremely high level for an extended period of time. We knew the margin of error would be incredibly small going into the game.
We needed to win the explosive play battle, the turnover battle and play great situational football. We didn't. We only had three offensive explosives [plays]. We limited them and met our goal there, but didn't win it as a team. We were 2-to-1 in the turnover ratio, so we did win that. We did not do a good job on third-down offensively, but we were pretty good defensively. Certainly, 1-of-12 [on third down] is not going to help you extend drives and put points on the board and put the ball in the end zone. In the red zone, we were 0-for-1 offensively, and 3-for-4 touchdowns allowed defensively. Another indicator we look at is the penalty margin, we had seven [penalties] for 50 [yards], they were assessed zero penalties for zero yards. They had one on the kickoff out of bounds, but that kind of takes care of itself.
Certainly, we had a lack of precision and execution in all of those areas, the performance indicators across the board, and that wasn't good enough to beat a team of Alabama's caliber.
Defensively, I thought we fought our tails off and did our best. [Defensive coordinator] Coach [Bob] Shoop likes to use the term "to defend every blade of grass" and I thought we settled in after the first two drives. We gave up roughly 150 yards and three points in the second half, and I think that is indicative of the type of defense we have been playing throughout the season, particularly against a team that was averaging over 50 points and close to 600 yards [of total offense] a game. I think I was most proud of our guys in that last series on the goal-line stand. With the game really decided at that point, I thought our kids showed a tremendous amount of pride and fight to come out there and hold them out of the end zone on that last drive.
Offensively, it was obviously an inconsistent performance, coming off two of our best games of the season. First and foremost, it is my job to make sure that we are putting players in positions to be successful with the game plan and the calls, and, secondly, across the board, I don't think there is any position group that was pleased with our performance against a defense of that caliber.
On special teams, I think we saw improvement in our punting and punt coverage. We were definitely more consistent in that area. Obviously, the missed field goal at the end of the half and the fumbled punt, which led to points, were both momentum-changing plays. Once again, against a team of that caliber, [those plays] aren't going to help you win the game.
We should also use that game as a motivation for our entire program, players and coaches, of what we are chasing and what we are trying to become. When I use the term standard, they are the standard and that is who we are chasing.
From an overall standpoint, there were no players of the game and no helmet stickers. Our student-athlete of the week was Deion Calhoun.
Moving on to Arkansas, a very good football team. Chad Morris had a successful stint as the coordinator at Clemson and head coach at SMU. I don't think their record right now is indicative of how they are playing. I think they are much better than their record. A multiple style, kind of spread offense. Joe Craddock is the coordinator and I think they do a good job. [Ty] Storey is the quarterback. [They do a good job] mixing the run and the pass, [using] some unconventional formations and unconventional plays. A lot of wheel routes. They try to do a good job spreading the ball around there.
Defensively, they are led by John Chavis. Multiple three-down and four-down looks and a mix of coverage. [Chavis is] a guy who has done it at a high level for a significant amount of time. He is a very good defensive coordinator. At all three levels, [Arkansas] has SEC caliber players who do an excellent job of getting to the ball and pressuring the quarterback and playing tight coverage.
On special teams, they spread it out amongst all different kinds of groups, so it will certainly be a big challenge for us there moving forward with Arkansas.
From an injury standpoint, from us, Kylin Hill [has a] lower body [injury] and is day-to-day. Sh'mar Kilby-Lane is improving and we expect him to come back from a lower body [injury]. Jaquarius Landrews is day-to-day and we are cautiously optimistic about him for this week. And Leo Lewis, who we talked about, was battling an illness. We certainly expect him to be back for this week, as well.
I urge our fans to come out this weekend. There are a lot of festivities surrounding this game. It is the final home game of the year. Yesterday was Veteran's Day, so thanks to all the people who served our country. We will wear special uniforms honoring World War II hero and Mississippi statesman Sonny Montgomery and recognize our veterans this weekend.
We will honor a group of 20 seniors in a ceremony prior to the game, including 11 fifth-year seniors who have left a tremendous legacy and embraced our new coaching staff. This senior class has won 30 games and will have gone to a bowl game every year of their careers. They are all on track to graduate and the goal is to send them out with their third, nine-win season of their careers. It is an 11 a.m. kickoff, the second day-game of the year. Hopefully, we can get everybody out and supporting the team in our last game at Davis Wade [this season].
We are certainly excited to pick up win number seven on Senior Day and the last home game. It is important to send these guys off on the right foot that have done so much for the program.
Arkansas, like I said, is playing way better than their 2-8 [overall] and 0-6 record in conference indicates. They are trending in the right direction. When you look at some of their losses to good football teams; 24-17 to LSU this past week, 24-17 to Texas A&M and, against Ole Miss, they needed a drive at the very end [to try for the win].
We are going to need a great, complete week of practice to take the field with confidence and to get this thing headed back in the right direction with, hopefully, overall win number seven and SEC win number three."
On the offense's clap cadence …
"We struggled with it a little big at Kentucky. I don't think we have seen much of an issue with it outside of the two plays to start the game at LSU, which was probably the loudest environment that we have played in. We only utilize it on the road when crowd noise is a factor. I think some of the ones [against Alabama] that were bad snaps, the clap hadn't even occurred yet. It was Elgton [Jenkins] just kind of snapping it on his own. Going against a great defensive front and having to be on top of it, I don't think it was necessarily clap related as much as it was early snap related."
On what senior captain and defensive end Gerri Green has done for MSU's program …
"His contributions to me and to this program, this year and over his time here, is immeasurable. When you think of the term student-athlete, he is a guy that personifies all of the characteristics that you would like to see. He is excellent in the classroom. He does everything right, on the field in terms of preparation and leadership, and also is a stalwart in our community service efforts. He is a guy who you want to be the face of your program, because he does just about everything right."
On communication with the SEC office on officiating …
"In terms of protocol, it was standard operating procedure. There is a list of plays sent in and there is a response forthcoming. And, Mr. [John] Cohen is kind of handling the rest of it."
On when programs usually get a response from the SEC office on officiating …
“We get a response back mid-week, during that timeframe.”
On reviewing MSU's games against SEC opponents …
"[We scored] seven, six, three and zero [points] this past week and in the twenties against the other two that we won. You look back on it and it's probably a combination of things and the things that you have to examine and make sure you're doing a good job in the game planning and play calling process, and then from there making sure when the right plays are called, that you practice those during the week and the kids have an opportunity to execute them. It's a combination of those circumstances.
Certainly, with the type of defense that we're playing, it obviously would have behooved us to perform better and put more points on the board in those games. It's part of being a first-year, new offensive system, that probably contributes to that."
On Alec Murphy's status …
"I apologize, I missed him [earlier]. He will be back this week. We will see how he does and then to be determined on game day, still lower body [injury] there."
On MSU's third-down play on offense …
"Coming off two good third-down performances, I think we are about forty percent [conversion rate] for the year. It's probably a combination of those factors, one being behind the sticks with negative plays on first and second down. Once in those situations, the pass rush that you're facing and the ability to create separation in coverage and deliver the ball, when you get in those seven or 11-plus areas, those are ones that statistically, across the board, not just us but most people have difficultly converting those. You try and stay in as many third-and-short or third-and-manageable as you can get."
On this year's coaching transition …
"The thing that has been most different, relative to transitions from an offensive standpoint, are the different things that we are asking our guys to do in the pass game. Run game is run game, and I think we are doing a pretty good job there and have done a good job throughout the year. Outside of those four games and putting points on the board, I would say the pass game was the biggest area of transition."
On what it has been like to coach senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald …
"Nick's [Fitzgerald] been a pleasure to coach. He's obviously thought of very highly by his teammates. They elected him captain and anytime that comes from your peers, to me that carries a lot of significance. He's a guy that loves football, has a high IQ, is a competitor and loves the preparation aspect of it. I'm not much into comparable numbers, but if you're looking for them as a benchmark, [he is] on pace to surpass his passing yardage total and rushing yardage total from last year. Seeing him grow, seeing him embrace the things that we are asking him to do, particularly things that are a little bit different than what he has done in the past and just how he has handled prosperity and adversity. Through the good times, he has helped the team fan that flame, through the tough times, as a team as an offense and personally, he has never gone in the tank or started pointing at other people. Like all of us in this program, we want to be thumb pointers and not finger pointers. He has taken ownership of the bad games and worked to resolve the issues and improve from there."
On how big it would be to get two victories in the last two games of the season …
"I think the time for reflection will probably be after the bowl game. This is going to sound odd, but there is a difference between goals and expectations. Goals are what you aspire to as a team and expectations, to me, are levied based on a confluence of circumstances, for lack of a better term. Our ceiling of success and is winning the SEC, getting into the [College Football] Playoff and competing for a national championship. Our floor of success is six wins and qualifying for a bowl game. So, right now, we obviously didn't achieve the former, we have already achieved the latter and the last two games will determine if we are able to get to nine wins or get to a good bowl game.
I know there was an elevated expectation level heading into the season for a myriad of reasons. From a historical context, we are battling to get to where we have never been since 1941. I understand the disappointment because of the expectation level, but reality is reality and when you are building a championship program and trying to create that standard for things that have never been done, unless there are people from the 1941 team around or people who followed that team, I'll take advice from them because they're the ones who have seen it and done it. Outside of that, there's really not a barometer for what it takes to win a SEC Championship in Starkville."
On thoughts on players' response to uniform combinations …
"I think these uniforms [we will wear on Saturday] are phenomenal. If you look at the reasoning behind it, what is stands for and the person we are honoring, I think that is the most impressive thing. Kids like nice stuff, particularly in this day of age. I have three of them and I know they like nice shiny things, and these uniforms, although we have different combinations, these are even unique to that. When the kids saw them, they were pretty fired up about it."
On Saturday's Military Appreciation game and what it means to him …
"Personally, my dad served in the army, so that would be the first thing. Freedom isn't free and we bear the fruits of democracy every day for the people who put their lives on the line to ensure the things we are privy to in this country, so any chance we have to honor people who sacrifices to allow us to have those things is incredibly important."