Opening statement...

Joe Moorhead: "Good afternoon. I hope everyone is doing well. To start off by recapping the Southern Miss game, I thought it was a great win over a quality in-state opponent. Excited to be 1-0 this week, 2-0 overall, and cracking the coaches poll for the first time this year at No. 23. I certainly want to thank our fans for their support this weekend and braving the conditions and providing one of the greatest atmospheres in college football. It was awesome to be back at Davis Wade Stadium for the first [home game]. I thought our guys fought through some adversity, didn't flinch and found a way to win. I think that speaks a lot to our current culture, our leadership and the chemistry of our team and I really like the direction that it is heading this season. I thought we had a lot of young guys gain some valuable experience [this weekend]. By my count, there were 12 first-year players - nine of whom were true freshmen - with notable performances by Garrett Shrader, Lee Witherspoon and Martin Emerson. At one point during the game, and the majority of the fourth quarter, I think, three of the 11 players on the offensive side of the ball were true freshmen, with Garrett, Lee and Charles Cross, playing left tackle. I also think that is a good sign for our [program], that you had six in-state kids that are true freshmen with the ability to get on the field. What can happen when you stay home and decide to play for your state university? You have an opportunity to get on the field right away.

"To reiterate what a great job it was by our strength and conditioning, training and sports nutrition staff throughout the week really focusing on our hydration and our nutrition, not just on Saturday morning, because at that point its [too late]. You have to be doing that all week, and I thought our staff did a really nice job there.

"From our performance indicators; won the explosive play battle, 12-9, won the turnover batter, zero for us and three for them. Red zone battle, three of four red zone touchdowns or us and they didn't score on their only trip in the red zone. Third-down percentage, we won 33-percent to 22-percent - 33 percent, we have to do a better job there offensively. Drive start battle, it was 40 yard line for us, 20 yard line for them, and then we lost the penalty battle, 2-1.

"Our Players of the Week and Scouts of the Week: on offense, back-to-back, Kylin Hill. Another local in-state product that decided to stay home and play for the state university. He is doing a great job there. The Offensive Scout was Robert Rivers. Defensively, Marquiss Spencer, another in-state guy, was our Defensive Player of the Week. Willie Gay Jr. was our [Defensive] Scout Team Player of the Week and did a great job. He is another in-state guy. Then, JaVonta Payton was our Special Teams Player of the Week and Somon Anderson was our Scout Team Special Teams Player of the Week. Student-Athletes of the week were Isaiah Zuber and Fred Peters.

"Darryl Williams was named the SEC Co-Offensive Lineman of the Week. It is the second honor of his career and the fourth by a Mississippi State offensive lineman since the start of last season. In terms of turnover margin, we are fourth in the nation right now and first in the SEC at plus five. We already forced seven turnovers this season, which was a major point of emphasis on that side of the ball. We have had 18-consecutive games with a takeaway, which is the second-longest streak in the country. From a penalty perspective, I know that was a little bit of a deal for us last year early on in the season, but I think we got cleaned up a little bit as it went along, but right now we are the least penalized team in the SEC and eighth in the nation. Another point of emphasis for us entering the season was the efficiency and explosiveness of our pass game, right now we are 164.3 [efficiency rating] through two games, the best through the first two games of a season since 2014. As a team, we have completed 70.6 percent of our passes, that is the best through our first two games of a season since 2001. Kylin Hill leads all Power 5 players in rushing with 160 yards per game.

"Moving on to Kansas State, [it is a] big-time non-conference Power 5 game in Davis Wade Stadium this weekend. We need everyone to come out again in full force and support us for an 11 a.m. kickoff.[It is] The first time a non-conference Power 5 team visits Davis Wade Stadium since Georgia Tech in 2009. It is also the first time we will host a Big 12 opponent at the time of the meeting in Davis Wade Stadium since Oklahoma State in 1999 and only the fifth time since 2000 that a non-conference Power 5 opponent comes to Davis Wade Stadium. [It is] just the fourth meeting between Mississippi State and Kansas State and the first in Starkville since 1974.

"Their head coach, Chris Klieman, is one of the best coaches in the country, at any level, and I think his record indicates that. I don't want to say, "took a similar path" [to mine], but really did a great job at the FCS level. His overall coaching record is 74-13 all-time and 2-0 at Kansas State. As I said, rose up through the FCS ranks and was hired at Kansas State after five years [as head coach] at North Dakota State. He was a seven-time national champion, four times as a head coach, which is tied for the most as a head coach in FCS history with Jim Tressel. He has the third-highest winning percentage among all active NCAA head football coaches and has won 23-straight games, so that is pretty impressive. At the FCS End of Season Banquet [in 2014], when Chase Edmonds, our tailback at Fordham, won the Jerry Rice Award for National Freshman of the Year, I had a chance to meet [Chris] and talk to him and, as good of a football coach as he is, he is an unbelievable person. He is a great guy. I look forward to seeing him again.

"On offense, Courtney Messingham, their tight ends coach, is the [offensive] coordinator. It will be a little bit of a different attack, I'll say a traditional, non-traditional...They are 21, 22 and 12 personnel. They are leading the nation in rushing yards this season, averaging 50 [points] a game through two, rushing for 347 and passing for 200. The quarterback is Skylar Thompson, he has 363 yards passing and three touchdowns. [He is] Very smart, very efficient, very accurate. The two running backs - both transfers: James Gilbert from Ball State and Jordan Brown, a graduate transfer from North Carolina. They pace that very potent rushing attack. The leading receiver is Malik Knowles with 125 yards and two touchdowns on the season. [He is] Very fast, a crisp route runner and very reliable hands.

"The defensive coordinator is Scottie Hazelton. He is the linebackers coach. They are a base-four, four-down team. They play a mixture of 1- and 2-high coverage, and really do a good job of getting after the passer on third down. Very highly-ranked through two games; eighth in the country in total defense, giving up only seven points per game. On the [defensive] live, Trey Dishon, an honorable mention All-Big 12 last year, comes back and he does a great job anchoring down and holding the point and causing disruption in the middle. Their WILL linebacker, Da'Quan Patton, 70 tackles in 2018, which led the team, and on the back end, AJ Parker had 53 tackles, two interceptions and eight pass breakups last year. [Parker] has one interception so far this year.

"The special teams duties are split amongst the staff and, I know it is a new regime there, but historically Kansas State has done a very good job on special teams. They are averaging 29 [yards] per kickoff return, with a long of 44 [yards]. Lance Thompson, a defensive back, is a productive special teams core player. [He has] three tackles inside the 25 [yard line] on kickoff. Then, Malik Knowles, on kickoff return, has one return for 27 yards.

"Once again, it is going to come down to how well we prepare, what type of effort we give and what our execution level is against a very good Power 5 [opponent] at Davis Wade Stadium. We have to continue to take it one [game] at a time, have great purpose and have a great week of practice, which I think we are going to do. I am excited for this thing to kick off at 11 a.m. on Saturday."

Q: Can you update the status of Tommy Stevens?

JM: "He is still day-to-day. Came through yesterday and got some treatment and he is going to get some more today. It is [their] off day. We are going to see where it goes as the week progresses. At this time last week, if you had asked me about Darryl Williams, I would have said that he wasn't going to play and he was out, but he progressed pretty quickly. We are going to see where it goes with Tommy and how he progresses during the week. I don't want to rule him out completely."

Q: What will be the biggest difference in facing a Chris Klieman-coached team than a Bill Snyder-coached team?

JM: "I think schematically it is a little bit different, but in terms of mentality and philosophy and culture, they're not trying to trick you a bunch or trying to create a bunch of diversion schematically in any of the phases. They recruit tough, smart, disciplined kids, who play with tremendous effort. They are not going to beat themselves, so in terms of similarities between the two [coaches], that is probably why Coach Klieman fit the mold of what Kansas State is accustomed to. I think that is why it's been a good seamless transition for them."

Q: What have you seen from Jarrian Jones and Martin Emerson?

JM: "A lot of talent. Very eager and very competitive. When you combine those things, it is very important for [Jarrian] and Martin to be good at football. I don't want to sound overly simplistic with it, but like I said with Garrett [Shrader] after the game, they did not lack confidence. They believe they can play at this level, and they have earned the right through how they performed in camp and in the early part of the season [to play]. I think the sky is the limit for both of those guys. We have to coach Martin up a little bit on his ball security after the interception. They are going to have a very good season and the future for those guys is very bright, as well."

Q: Other than Tommy Stevens, any other injury concerns entering the weekend?

JM: "Just normal bumps and bruises. I don't think there is anyone [else]. Like we mentioned last week, Dareuan Parker is a guy with a lower body that we probably won't see this week. But everyone else is bumps and bruises."

Q: Is there anything you can point to that has led to the success of the offense this year as compared to last year?

JM: "I would just say that we have improved in the areas that we needed to improve the most. I don't think we are rushing the ball any differently, but all of the things I talked about in the offseason and leading up to the first game about if we pass the ball better it will help both phases. The better we pass the ball, the more carries that we can give to the running back. And, efficiency and explosiveness in the pass game and spreading the ball around. I think you are seeing some of the same things we did in the run game last year from a production standpoint, but more carries in a very specific manner to go to the running back and take them away from the quarterback. That's one thing. We are doing a better job throwing the ball. We are doing a better job protecting. We are doing a better job getting open and when they are open, we are doing a better job throwing it accurately. That is allowing us to be pretty balanced."

Q: Last year you said at one point you had lost your identity as a play caller. Two games in now, how do you feel about yourself as a play caller?

JM: "I think I lost it and then found it. I think that was probably prior to the Texas A&M game, after LSU, that I said that. I think we got it back a little bit for Texas A&M and I think we hit a little bit of a stride. Obviously, not against Alabama. When you have confidence on every call that is on the sheet that you can call it and something positive is going to happen, I think that allows you to maintain that level of aggressiveness and right now, as it stands, with us going through two games, you feel just as comfortable with calling one of the pass plays as you do calling a run play. That always wasn't the case last year. Now, with what we are doing and how we are executing in that phase of the game, it allows you to be more aggressive because of the confidence level you have in the play being successful."

Q: With Tommy's status up in the air, will you go about prepping Shrader ready to be your starting quarterback?

JM: "We are going to get all three of them ready. Tommy [Stevens], Garrett [Shrader], and Keytaon [Thompson]. We are going to get Jalen [Mayden] going, a little bit too. We will see where it goes." 

Q: What if any information can you gain from having Isaiah Zuber on your roster this year, after he was at Kansas State last year?

JM: "Like any other time you have a guy on the team that is familiar with an opponent. I am sure some of the guys will talk to him and pick his brain on maybe some specific skills or tendencies or what can you find. We are going to let him concentrate on his assignment and his execution. We will continue the game plan and that is where we are with that."

Q: Is there anything that you can gather from the game film on Kansas State from last year or will you just focus on what you have seen this year?

JM: "We have looked at it in the off season, and like you said more of it is personnel driven then schematics. I know they returned a good number of starters on the defensive side of the ball. They are showing up again on film from the first two games and the same on offense. They changed what they are doing schematically so it will be more of a personnel driven comparison."

Q: Did you get an explanation on what happened with the dropped ball by Osirus Mitchell in the second half?

JM: "Yeah, he lost it in the sun. It was unfortunate because Garrett [Shrader] finished 7-for-11 and you take that pass which would have been a 50-yard touchdown pass and the one where we had [JaVonta] Payton screened open down the middle and had a little bit of a protection issue there. Those were two opportunities for another couple of real nice explosive plays that we had open. We have to get some eye black on for the first one and protect a little better on the second one and get out of his hand and a couple more explosive plays. The good news is that they were open. We got to wear eye black and protect a little bit better."

Q: How important is Darryl Williams to this offensive line group?

JM: "I think it similar to what you saw with Elgton [Jenkins] and Deion [Calhoun] last year. Both guys who can play any of the three interior positions and that positional flexibility has been extremely beneficial for them at the next level, particularly when you have a 53-man active roster and less to that who play on gameday. Darryl is the vocal and physical leader of our group inside, who can play center and swing out to either of the two guard positions, as you mentioned. To have the team captain also be the eyes and the ears of the operation on the offensive line, that always helps. Coach [Marcus] Johnson is doing a great job with him, but Darryl is certainly the straw that stirs the drink up front."

Q: How big of a role has Michael Johnson had with the wide receivers group this year?

JM: "A huge role. His experience as a coordinator and a play caller at the college and NFL level, as well as playing a little bit in the NFL and college; I think that brings immediate credibility. He brings instant credibility to the room with what he has done in the past. What he has done as a coach and a player at both levels, I think brings instant credibility to the room. I think more than anything of the X's and O's and the schematics, because I think he does a great job teaching fundamentals, technique and contributing to the game plan when we are in the staff room, is he has really developed great relationships with the kids in the room. It is the old deal. They don't know care how much you know until they know how much you care. I think Michael has done a real good job of interacting with our guys and letting them know that he cares about them as people before players. I think you are seeing an elevated level of play because of all of those specific reasons." 

Q: How has the run game helped open up the passing game this year? Specifically, Kylin Hill's ability to run the ball.

JM: "I think certainly his ability to run the ball is exciting and talked prior to the season about his mental and physical maturation and how it was going to lead to a breakout season. Hopefully he continues to prepare the way he is preparing. Coach [Terry] Richardson is doing a good job with him. Like I have always said about this offense for years and no one has really listened, but now they are. The better you run the ball, the more if forces people to support the run by either numbers or pressure and when you do that you are able create some one-on-one match-ups on the back-end. That allows you to get some balls thrown and create some explosive plays. I think that is what you are seeing. It kind of goes one of two ways, if they are worried about the pass you see more two-high and you are able to hand the ball off. If they are worried about the run, they are either going to support you with two-high secondary or they are going to pressure you and create one-on-one matchups. Ideally you like it to be a choose your poison type of deal that you are able to do both successfully, and whatever the defense gives you, you are able to take advantage of."

Q: What have you seen from Nick Gibson over the first two weeks?

JM: "Nick has done a great job, a great compliment to Kylin [Hill]. Also, a very good pass protector on third down where we have utilized him in some of those situations. Nick is a great team guy. He understands his role. He wants to be a part of it, and he is going to be a guy we continue to give opportunities and he continues to produce. Between him and Kylin it is a great one-two punch."

Q: Hill has hurdled a couple of defenders this year, do you think defenders will start to try and tackle him differently as the season goes on?

JM: "Maybe fake low and go high. I don't know, but I would not recommend that either because the problem with going high is that he is built like a tank. If you decide to tackle him above the waist, there is a pretty good chance you are going to get trucked. So, it's what are you going to do to get him on the ground. What button is hurdle? Maybe continue to hit the triangle button to hurdle him and then whatever the truck stick is. Maybe combine those with triangle button and toggle and maybe do a little bit of both."

Q: Dontea Jones has been a threat at the tight end spot, what has enabled him to be successful?

JM: "It is a good problem to have there between Farrod [Green], Dontea [Jones], and then [Geor'quarius] Spivey, [Brad] Cumbest getting in a little bit. He has been banged up, so we are trying to get him rolling, and even Powers Warren. There is a lot of talent and a lot of depth at that position, so we are cycling all those guys through and getting them reps. A lot of it is what the defense is presenting you in terms of getting them targets down the field. They are doing a very good job in the run game and they are taking advantages of the opportunities they are getting in terms of receptions. We want to make sure we are doing enough things like we have done historically in this offense to get the ball and push them down the field. Dontea has always been an athletic guy, a guy who can get open and catch the ball. I think we have seen the most improvement in him with his run game. Farrod is doing a great job running. He has taken advantage of the opportunity he has received the past week, but we have to get those guys more involved in the pass game."

Q: Is there a play that you saw Stevens get injured?

JM: "That three and out drive, I think it was three straight passes. I think it was one of those, I do not remember which one specifically. It was on that drive. I think it was a corner blitz and he kind of got flushed out a little bit. I think it was the second down play on that drive."

Q: What has led to the uptick in creating turnovers this season?

JM: "Like anything, you do well with what you emphasize. Since spring ball, Coach [Bob] Shoop and the staff and I have talked about shots on goal, which is kind of our considered effort to get the ball out and then the actual takeaway. We do a turnover circuit at least twice a week during the course practice. Where the guys go and get in groups and they go to different position coaches and work on getting the ball out. The fabric of this defense is woven differently. You lose some of those key components. I use the term 'erasers' where you can make a call and they are going to make it right, even if it was not maybe the right call. Our sum has to be greater than our parts as an entire team this year and defense as well. I think for us we are maybe not creating as many three and outs or holding a team and forcing them to punt. Our calling card could be creating turnovers and if continue to do that I think it will benefit us throughout the season."

logan.lowery@journalinc.com

Twitter: @loganlowery

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