Opening Statement...

"Happy Labor Day ... To recap last week's game, we are excited for win number one against a quality opponent on the road in a great environment. You have to give credit to Louisiana and Coach [Billy] Napier, there were certain points during the game where it looked like we were going to run away with it. I think at one point very early in the fourth quarter it was 35-14 and we were driving, but they just kept fighting and scratching and clawing, and brought it back. I think they are going to have a very good year.

"Like I said, we are certainly excited to get road win number one and win number one on the season. Doing a little research after the game, week one was a little bit crazy. There were 25 instances of Power 5 teams playing Group of 5 or FCS [teams] that were within 14 points, with eight upsets. I think this is the day and age in college football with scholarships and the transfer portal, we saw a bunch of close games against Power 5 teams.

"We certainly appreciate our fan base traveling to New Orleans and being a great vocal presence in a road game. Like any week one, there were plenty of positives, but a bunch for us to clean up. Our focus heading into the game and this season was to increase the efficiency and explosiveness for our pass game, and I thought we took a positive stride there with our completion percentage and number of throws we were able to make down field and complete accurately. Defensively, of all the great things we did last year, being number one in the SEC in total defense and scoring defense, we weren't a great team at creating turnovers, but we created four against Louisiana. I thought that was a great positive. On special teams, we wanted to work on our punting and making big plays, and Tucker [Day] was able to pin Louisiana down there at the 1-yard line twice. I thought that was a great sequence when we talk about playing complementary football – with all three phases working in concert with each other; we punted them down to the one, [forced] a three-and-out, punt return and the next play was a touchdown. That was a microcosm of how we would like the game to be played. It was certainly a positive there with our special teams.

"In terms of performance indicators and things that we look at on Sunday to determine how the game went, they are usually indicators of victory or defeat; explosive play margin we won, turnover margin we won, third-down conversion percentage we won, but just by a slim amount, and then red zone touchdowns was a push. That was a positive there. We watched the film, we made the corrections and we are going to move on from it.

"A couple of notes, Kylin Hill's rushing total of 197 [yards] was the third-highest in the FBS this week and highest in the SEC. Tommy's [Stevens] completion percentage of 67-percent was the highest by a Mississippi State quarterback attempting 30-or-more passes a game since November 19 of 2016 against Arkansas.

"Our players of the week: on offense, Kylin Hill, on defense, Cameron Dantzler with a fumble recovery, interception and seven tackles, and then special teams was Tucker Day. Our scout team players of the week: on offense for the defense, Jalen Mayden, on defense for the offense, a walk-on young man that did a real nice job, Nick Jarrett, and then special teams was Cody Swanson. Our student-athletes of the week, which we choose every Monday, Quinton Torber and Charles Cross. 

"Wrapping that up and moving on to Southern Miss. We are certainly excited to be back at Davis Wade [Stadium] in front of our home fans for the first time this year and for a huge in-state game. A lot of kids [that played against one another] and familiarity with coaches [that have recruited against] each other. I am sure we are going to get on the field and look at the two-deep, in all three phases for Southern Miss, and there are a bunch of kids that are from the state of Mississippi. I know our guys will be excited about that. I am sure they will be excited, and I think it will be great for the fan bases, as well. 

"It is the third time since 1990 that Southern Miss will be playing at Davis Wade [Stadium], and the first since 2014. I think it is going to be a great atmosphere and a great game.

"Coach [Jay] Hopson at Southern Miss is 21-16, 54-33 overall [in eight seasons as a head coach]. A native of Vicksburg and an Ole Miss graduate, and generally considered one of the top defensive minds in all of college football. He has led Southern Miss to winning seasons in each of his first three years, and at Alcorn [State] they won back-to-back SWAC championships in his last two [seasons].

"Offensively, their coordinator is Buster Faulkner, he handles the quarterbacks. [They run] A spread offense with a mix of 11, 10 and 12 personnel. They scored 38 [points] in their first game against Alcorn [State] on 96 yards rushing and 293 yards in the air. Jack Abraham is the quarterback, as I mentioned. He threw one touchdown [against Alcorn State]. He is accurate, has good touch and is very smart. They have a bunch of running backs they run through there, Trivenskey Mosley, Dee Baker and Steven Anderson. At wide receiver, Jordan Mitchell and Jaylond Adams, Mitchell had 133 yards in the last game.

"Defensively, Tim Billings is their coordinator and he coaches the safeties. They play a base three down look. It is a base three down front with a mix of 2-high and 1-high zones and a bunch of pressure. They are very aggressive, fast, athletic and salty group. If you look at their numbers from last year, they were third in the country in total defense and created 22 turnovers. They picked up where they left off against Alcorn, giving up only 10 points. Up front on the defensive line, Jaques Turner had 33 tackles, 10 for loss and five sacks last year. He is incredibly active. Racheem Boothe had 48 tackles, 10 for loss and four sacks. He is a very productive blitzer [from the linebacker position]. Then, Ky'el Hemby had 51 tackles, six interceptions and nine PBUs as an All-Conference USA selection last year. I think I saw somewhere that they have held five of their last seven opponents to under 300 yards of total offense. So, that is a pretty darn impressive stat, particularly in this day and age of spread football.

"Special teams is split among the staff. They average 35.3 yards per kickoff return and scored one touchdown. [Their return average] is fifth in the NCAA. They average 46 [yards] per punt return with one punt return, which is first in the NCAA ... Two return touchdowns in one game is huge. Jaylond Adams is the kick returner and punt returner. Andrew Stein is the kicker, a true freshman, was 3-for-3 last week with a strong leg. He was 5-for-7 on touchbacks [on the kickoffs]. Zac Everett is the punter and averages 45 yards per punt with a lot of hang time. Only eight of his 49 punts were returned last year.

"We are certainly expecting Southern Miss to come in very prepared and very well coached, playing with a lot of passion, certainly in an in-state game. I think our guys learned a lot from week one about ourselves and the things we need to do to be successful: play great complimentary football. We had a lot of guys that made their first starts, and got some inexperienced guys some much needed reps, so we come off the practice field yesterday feeling good and we have our off day today [with the coaching staff] making our game plans and we will get back to practice tomorrow."

On Keytaon Thompson …

"I met with KT yesterday, which was probably our fourth or fifth meeting throughout the past seven days. We talked and he decided that he had explored his options after entering the [transfer] portal and decided it was in his best interest as a student-athlete and for us as a team for him to return. KT sat in the team meeting yesterday, went through practice and will get it cranked back up on Tuesday."

On injury updates – Darryl Williams, Dareuan Parker and Evans Wilkerson …

"DP, Darryl and Evans are all lower body and they are day-to-day. They came in yesterday, got some treatment and today will be a big day coming in on their own, and then we will watch to see how they are going into practice, but they are all day-to-day."

On Kylin Hill …

"Kylin practiced yesterday. He got dinged up a little bit there at the end, but he practiced [yesterday]."

On Tyre Phillips and the offensive line combinations in the season opener …

"Was that your tweet about 11 series and 11 different combinations? I think it goes back to coach [Marcus] Johnson's philosophy of during the course of practice and in a game getting guys playing different positions because you never know what it going to happen. Certainly, we didn't think that all three people that were capable of centering the ball to the quarterback were going to get hurt in the same game. Tommy Champion played three different positions. I think Tyre was the only one to stay at left tackle. I think the positional flexibility with guys being able to play at both tackles or anywhere along the interior, like Tommy Champion being a good swing guy...I don't think he had snapped a ball to a quarterback in practice since he has been here. He jumped in there and did a good job. You talk about the next man in philosophy and guys jumping in, having the same expectation as the guy they replaced. I thought it was a huge credit to Coach Johnson and our offensive line that we were able to seamlessly go through that game with a bunch of guys that we weren't expecting to play certain positions."

On Tommy Stevens' performance …

"The thing that I like is that he was incredibly decisive. There were very few times where he dropped back and didn't know where to go with the ball. As far as the progressions, he was reading the coverage and doing a great job diagnosing [the defense] and getting the ball out of his hand quickly. It was great to see, particularly on third down where we struggled a little bit last year, medium-plus in the pass game, to get those balls out accurately and be able to extend drives. I thought on top of him being efficient, accurate and us being able to push the ball down field, we were able to get the sticks moving on third down, as well."

On the defense in the season opener …

"Number one was us creating a bunch of turnovers. That was a positive. Had a bunch of new faces making their first start or seeing their first extended action at this level, so that was a positive. When I sat down with Coach [Bob] Shoop and the defensive staff and watched the tape yesterday, there were things with identification of formation and communication, which you have to credit [Louisiana head coach] Coach Napier because they did a bunch of things with formation and the sideline and jet motions and a lot of window dressing, which was good for them, but as I mentioned on Saturday, Coach Shoop is one of the best defensive coordinators in the game. When you look at it, and we talked about missed tackles being part of it during week one, just getting your cleats in the ground. Into the fourth quarter we held them to 14 points and I think it was under 200 yards of total offense, and then they had the one nine-play, 69-yard drive where we weren't able to get off the field. Then the 14-play, 99-yard drive, so they got those two scores late. In all three phases we need to have a finisher's mentality and be able to when you have them against the ropes you have to be able to finish that thing off. They kept plugging away and getting back to the center of the ring. Communication, identification, a little bit better job of tackling and being able to finish. For the most part, for three quarters we played pretty good defensive football."

On the defensive line and interior rotation …

"Both Jaden Crumedy and Fabien Lovett both being redshirt freshmen and then James Jackson and Kendell Jones. We want to get Cameron Young and Nathan Pickering in there a little bit. I think that is something also we could talk about defensively and on offensive, just getting a little bit more rotation and ultimately to put a guy in the game. You just don't want to put them in there for rotation sake. You have to feel good about what they did during the week in practice and them being able to perform at a high level during the game. As these weeks progress and guys get more reps under their belt in a game like situation, we would like to cycle some more guys through there up front and at linebacker too. I think you saw Jarrian Jones and Martin Emerson and some other guys and a bunch of others who played on the back end. I think we have to get some more guys going on the interior of the defensive line and also a linebacker." 

On LaQuinston Sharp …

"He is coming from Columbus, playing for East [Mississippi Community College]. I think he is a guy who has played in some high-level college games. I believe East won the national championship last year if I am not mistaken. He is a guy that really did not seem like he had too many nerves and when he went in there at guard, he did a real nice job. Then we switched him to center, and he went in, snapped the ball. I am excited for him. He is a good, young guy and once again playing in his first college game, I thought he did really well."

On how much an emotional component will play in this Saturday's game …

"I think like anything having been a coach at the FCS level and work your way up a Group of 5 in the Power 5 and been in those situations where it was when I was at Akron and going to play to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome or NC State, those were two games we were fortunate enough to win. At Fordham, when we went on the road and beat Army and beat Temple. Those are opportunities for guys to maybe kind of be excited about a game where on paper it is a level-off competition, certainly in-state guys. I think they will be cranked up to come into Davis Wade and play against Mississippi State because it is an in-state school, number one, and it is an SEC West opponent. Number two, also our guys are to be excited about it because these are probably kids that they played against for the four years in high school. So, I think on both ends they'll be excited for the opportunity to play an SEC school and I think we are excited because, quite frankly, they are a very good football team."

On Tommy Champion and Osirus Mitchell defending Tommy Stevens after a play ended last Saturday …

"One I am glad there was not a penalty, so that is a positive. Whether it was Osirus or Tommy jumping and grabbing Tommy's back ... I am pretty certain that it would happen for any of our players. The last thing we are worried about right now is our leadership and our chemistry. That is something I have remarked to the team throughout spring ball and throughout fall camp and now onto the season, that this is a very close knit team. It is just good to see. When your back-to-back, you're in a fox hole, that you know the guy next to you is going to do what he needs to do to protect you. I thought that was a good sign because they stood up for their teammate and was also a good sign because it wasn't enough to give us a fifteen-yard penalty."

On Marquiss Spencer …

"Lower body and day-to-day. Hopefully we can get him back on Tuesday."

On if Saturday's delay of game to start a drive, and then a substitution infraction on the field goal late in the game were penalties to be expected in week one …

"No, it is not expected. You do not want them to happen. The delay of game one, I thought he was being held up and told not to snap the ball, but ultimately that is my responsibility to get that play in quicker and get them off the sideline particularity in the first play of the series. I put that one on me for not getting the play in quick enough and telling them to hustle up. To be quite honest, when we had too many people on the field for the field goal there were so many guys out in so many different positions, we put someone out on the field who is not actually in the two deep for PAT field goal. We were trying to get someone on the right side over to the left side and probably should have burned a timeout beforehand just to get it all organized but that is what happened there. We had so many people down and so many parts that were moving around, we just had too many people on the field. We just cannot have that."

On balance among the wide receivers unit …

"I am hoping it could be as balanced as possible. I think when you look back into last year, that probably wasn't as representative of what we looked like offensively relatively to dispersal to the receivers. At Penn State, I think across the board for 2017 and 2016, in terms of who led the team in receptions, but it was all relatively close. The thing you cannot get caught up on is which specific person. It is about the position to me. How many catches or touches did the Z have, did the slot have, did the X have, did the tight end have. I think two of my four years at Fordham all three spots had over 70 catches, all had over 1,000 yards and the tight end had 50 or more catches both years, too. When it is getting rolling, and it's getting cranked and what we are building towards, hopefully are able to replicate those numbers and quite frankly a lot of the things we did at Penn State, as well. We are getting there, slowly but surely."

On receivers playing at multiple spots …

"I think there are certain guys from a measurable standpoint and a skill set are better suited that just play one [position]. There are some guys, we talk about like Austin Williams, that was great for him to get the opportunity that he did and make some explosive plays and score a touchdown. He could jump into any of the three positions. [Isaiah] Zuber could play a couple. We are working with JaVonta [Payton] to maybe [play at multiple spots]. I think anytime you can find a guy, kind of like the offensive line, that doesn't pigeonhole you into playing the person who is necessarily second on the depth chart, but the next best available receiver."

On Austin Williams' TD catch …

"I think that was a sudden change opportunity right there where we got the ball really quick in [good] field position. They had been increasing the pressure in the second half, particularly in the red zone, and usually the play that we run that he scored on is a check and I kind of called that right on the sideline, anticipating them bringing a zero blitz. We were fortunate enough that they brought it and they were straight man-to-man with no safety help. It's an option route for him and he took the corner and made the right read and protected it off against a seven-man pressure and Tommy [Stevens] threw to the one spot that it would be for him to catch it. It was great execution."

On Malik Dear …

"I mean he is a graduate; I think he has his master's degree and working on his second. He is a great representative of our program. He came in as a highly-touted guy, and he had a little setback with that knee injury. He is working his tail off. He is not a captain or a guy with a "C" on his chest, but he does as good of a job with leadership and mentoring and being a positive influence on his position group and the entire team. He is kind of like the same mold as Austin [Williams], that he can play the Z/slot, he can play the H position, and he works at running back, too ... and he is in on or return game. He may not be a guy that is a starter at any point, but he is a guy that is always going to find a way to get touches, whether it is on offense or special teams. To me, he is a guy who is an invaluable asset to our program because he is a positive influence on his teammates and younger guys. He always comes in with a great attitude and he is willing to do whatever is necessary for our team to be successful. I love Malik Dear."

logan.lowery@journalinc.com

Twitter: @loganlowery

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