STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) – Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead met with members of the media on Monday afternoon to preview the 2018 season opener against Stephen F. Austin, which will be Moorhead's debut game as the Bulldogs' head coach.
Kickoff between the Bulldogs and Lumberjacks is set for 6:30 p.m. CT at Davis Wade Stadium and the contest will be televised by ESPNU. Mike Couzens (play-by-play) and Kirk Morrison (analyst) will call the action. The two programs are meeting for the first time in football.
It will be the State’s first night home season-opener since 2014, and Moorhead made it clear he’s looking forward to his first Saturday night inside Davis Wade Stadium.
“I came from a place where I thought it was the best student section in the country, and I hear the same about Mississippi State,” Moorhead said. “You hear writers and the media say this is the best atmosphere in the country, so I want them [students] to arrive early, be as loud as they can and give us a real home-field advantage. I think the students, fans and alumni will be very proud of the product we put on the field.”
MSU returns one of the most veteran rosters in the nation, featuring 17 starters (9 offense, 8 defense). The Bulldogs welcome back 19 seniors, including 11 fifth-year scholarship seniors, as well as 28 juniors.
For complete gameday and stadium information, visit HailState.com/gameday.
Tickets for Saturday's season-opener can be purchased at HailState.com/tickets, by calling 1-888-GO-DAWGS or in person at the MSU Athletic Ticket Office on the first floor of the Bryan Athletic Administration Building (288 Lakeview Drive), Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Head coach Joe Moorhead
August 27, 2017
“First and foremost, from the Mississippi State family, we want to extend our deepest thoughts and prayers to the family of Stan Black. Stan was a terrific football player here at Mississippi State and a 1976 All-American. He was a two-time All-SEC defensive back. He passed away this past weekend giving assistance to somebody on the side of the road. Certainly, our thoughts and prayers are with him.
With that being said, we’re excited it is finally game week. We had a great and productive preseason camp. I thought we improved on all three phases. We’re excited to get into Davis Wade on Saturday and hear a great and tremendous crowd for our first game of the 2018 season.
On to Stephen F. Austin, the interim head coach Jeff Byrd plays in a very tough Southland Conference. Offensively, they are primarily an 11 and 10-personnel team. They will run a little bit of power and counter. They will dabble in the RPO game, and I think they do a very good job working on matchups. The quarterback is a very good player. They have two excellent receivers: No. 80, who was a freshman All-American last year, and No. 2, who was a transfer from Texas A&M. Those guys present some matchup issues on the perimeter, so that’ll be a good challenge for us. Their offense is run similar to how we run, so that’s great with preparation for coach (Bob) Shoop and the defense. They play three down, mix a variety of coverage and blitz a bit on third down and in the tight red zone. Their best player is their nose guard. He does a good job. No. 33 is their safety, and he is a tremendous player in their return game. We think he is probably their best players on that side of the ball. They are very solid in the kicking game.
Having been a coach of an FCS program, you need to have your antennas up and be aware. Two of my four years at Fordham, we were on the good end of an FCS-FBS upset. Every year those kinds of things happen. We beat Army my last year at Fordham, and we beat Temple my second year there. They were considerable upsets. From an ex-FCS player and coach, guys at that level go into this game with a chip on their shoulder. They will pull out all the stops because there’s a great chance for an upset. We have a tremendous amount of respect for Stephen F. Austin going into this game. As our guys understand, we don’t prepare against an opponent, but we prepare against a standard. Our level of preparation, effort and execution isn’t going to rise depending on who we’re playing. We will do everything we can to keep that steady.
We mentioned the addition of (Stephen) Adegoke on scholarship. We were fortunate enough to add (Joel) Baldwin, our long snapper, on scholarship with us. We brought Baldwin in early this week and sat him down in the office. We told him we had to call his dad because we had an issue to discuss, and his dad got nervous a little bit. We told him it would be an issue for him to figure out how to spend $25,000 because his son would be on scholarship this year. Just like for Adegoke, we brought him down in the team meeting and told the team we had an issue. We gave the team the same message, they mobbed him and it was awesome. A walk-on doesn’t get a lot of publicity or fanfare, but they do a great service to the team. Any time you can do that it’s awesome. We’re very excited for Baldwin.
Heading into the game, in addition to (Michael) Story, we have two other players that will not dress for this game due to violation of team policy. Nick Fitzgerald will not play this week, and Cory Thomas will not play this week. Fitzgerald’s violation occurred in March, and since that time he has been elected team captain. He had an awesome spring ball, summer conditioning and preseason camp. He’s been a great leader and teammate. Fitzgerald will sit out this game and come back against Kansas State. Cory (Thomas) will also be sitting out this game. Our guys certainly understand. We talk about choices, consequences, decision making and accountability. They understand they will deal with the consequences of their choices, and we will see those guys back on the field soon.
Keytaon Thompson will do an awesome job, and we have a next-man-in philosophy. When someone goes down, the person who replaces them will do as good of or better a job. Thompson, (Jalen) Mayden and (Logan) Burnett will do a great job there. With that said, we’re excited for the first game. We’re fired up to get on the field.”
On Thompson taking reps…
“Going back to spring ball, we operate with a no-huddle system with an abundance of reps to go around, so Fitzgerald took the ones and Thompson took the twos. Since Friday when we began Stephen F. Austin prep, Thompson has been taking the one reps, and the other guys have been taking the twos.”
On coaching communication…
“The last scrimmage on Wednesday, we went through the pregame sequence. We started with warmups with the strength and conditioning staff and all the way through individual drills and team seven-on-seven. In terms of the communication, coach (Bob) Shoop, myself and the defensive staff will be able to have me put my input of what I see happening on the field. I’ll be calling the plays. We have a plan for in between series. (Luke) Getsy will be overseeing the whole thing, and (Andrew) Breiner has an extensive amount of experience in this system. Coach (Marcus) Johnson and (Mark) Hudspeth bring value to this run game and protection.”
On punter plan…
“(Tucker) Day will be the starting punter and (Kody) Schexnayder will back him up. At the end of the day, we chart all those things. It really comes down to distance, hang time and operation. From that standpoint, both guys did a great job, but we felt like Day gave us the best chance to be successful. Hopefully we won’t be doing much punting because I’m not a big fan of the punt. It’s a necessary evil, so when we have to Day will do a great job.”
On a message to the students…
“Ring responsibly. I’m excited for my first time in the stadium. I came from a place where I thought it was the best student section in the country, and I hear the same about Mississippi State. You hear writers and the media say this is the best atmosphere in the country, so I want them to arrive early, be as loud as they can and give us a real home-field advantage. I think the students, fans and alumni will be very proud of the product we put on the field.”
On team attitude towards Keytaon Thompson as starting quarterback…
“I think the guys have a tremendous belief in Thompson. He had the ability to go into a bowl game with an interim staff and against a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback. He brought the team to a great win in the bowl game. One thing we’ve built and fostered is the next-man-in mentality. On top of what Thompson brings as a player, our team has a belief that we will handle prosperity and adversity. When you’re given adversity like this, you need to bow your back, and you get your chin off your chest. You trust that he’s a good player, and we will give him an opportunity to be successful. He’s going to play great in the game.”
On setting the game plan for the season opener…
“The whole game plan is comprised off last year’s tape. Generally, you get all the games from the prior season. Offense and defense won’t use the same games in the breakdown. Offense will pick the games that most resemble what we do and take them to break down from there. Defense will look for teams that play four down, mix in three down and some pressure stuff. You’ll pick the teams from the prior year that run schemes most similarly to you.”
On depth chart at quarterback…
“Right now we have (Jalen) Mayden and (Logan) Burnett as an order. Both of those guys have been splitting reps with the twos. For a true freshman to come in, who hasn’t been taking the reps with ones or twos, that’s a lot to ask of him. A package has kind of been reduced to maximize his strengths and minimize the experience aspect of it. Burnett has been with us and understands the system. I think, as a staff, we’ve historically done a good job at tailoring a game plan to fit our strengths. That’ll definitely be the case this week.”
On Fitzgerald’s reaction to the suspension…
“I think that’s one of the great things about Fitzgerald. He understands, and he has the vote of the team because he was elected captain. He knows how to respond to this the right way. We will come back Kansas State week, and we will get the season rolling the way we planned.”