"First and foremost, we wanted to express our thanks to all of the men and women across the country on Veterans Day for the sacrifices they make for the freedoms we enjoy in this democracy. With our military appreciation game coming up [this Saturday versus Alabama], I thought that was very appropriate. I want to say thanks to all of the people who work hard in our armed services.
"We were very excited to be headed into the bye week coming off of the Arkansas game, which was a very good win. We had a couple of very good developmental practices, as we talked about last week, focusing on our young guys, fundamentals and technique, and getting them better. With all of the talent that we have in our freshman and redshirt freshman classes it was great to see those guys working.
"We did a good self-scout, looking at the things we have done over the last four games, and hit the recruiting trail on Thursday and Friday. Between the 10 coaches and myself, we hit 89 schools and attended 15 games. Then, we got a good jump start on our Alabama game plan.
"From a player of the week and student-athlete of the week standpoint; on offense for the Arkansas game it was Kylin Hill, on defense it was Marcus Murphy and on special teams it was Jace Christmann. Our scout [team players of the week] were Kareem Walker for the offense, Cody Swanson for the defense and J.P. Purvis for special teams. For student-athlete of the week this past week, it was Darryl Williams and Collin Duncan.
"We are excited to be back home after 28 days [without a home game] and to be playing in front of the best fans in the country, in an unbelievable atmosphere and a with great home-field advantage. We are excited to have the opportunity to play this game.
"From a mindset standpoint, in taking to the kids last week and after practice [last night], to win this game we are not going to have to do anything extraordinary. We are going to have to do the ordinary extraordinary well. We are going to have to have a great week of practice and take care of the little things on and off the field.
"It has to be a great week in terms of the culture we are working on every single day and the things that we focus on and stress with our kids: being disciplined, accountability, work ethic, attention to detail and selflessness - where you care more about the team than you do about yourself. All of those little things are going to matter against a team of this caliber.
"Quite frankly, we are going to have to compete our tails off against what has been the standard in this league. When you talk about making the choice to come to Mississippi State and compete in the SEC, there is no better opportunity than in this game. Individually, as a student-athlete, you are going to get to go against so many of the best players in the country to see where you stack up. As an offensive, defensive and special teams unit, you are going against the best in the country. Certainly, from a program standpoint, this is a team that for the greater part of the last decade that everyone has been working to knock off.
"We are very excited, this is an awesome opportunity. Our kids are fired up for practice this week and our coaches are excited to game plan, and it will be great to get back home after 28 days. We are going to tee this thing up and play our tails off.
Q: What is your quarterback situation heading into this week?
JM: “We are listed as an 'or' right now. The good news is that Garrett [Shrader] is back to being completely healthy. We went through practice yesterday and both the guys got reps. Tommy [Stevens] got most of the reps with the ones and Garrett with the twos. We are going to continue to progress it through and see how Garrett is coming along.
"The Arkansas game was the first game he as healthy in quite a time, so to see him throw it accurately, create explosive plays and, more than anything, run the ball, was good. We will keep practicing, keep giving them reps during the week and maybe one, maybe the other, and maybe both [will play]. We will see how it goes."
Q: In the LSU game you played aggressive early, is that the same approach this week?
JM: “I think so. You can talk about what you want the identity of the offense, the defense and the specials teams to be; it is where you are the hammer and not the nail. In a game where we are a three-touchdown underdog at home to one of the top teams in the conference and the country, I do not think you can go in playing not to lose, you have to go to the game trying to win. Whatever we have to do, by hook or by crook, in all three phases, if it is trick plays, if it is not trick plays, if it is doing what we do normally, but even better. We are not going to go into this game cautious. We are not going to go in nervous. We are not going to go in scared. We are go in to win the game."
Q: What is your line of thinking from the emotional side of the game of football, as Alabama comes in following a loss?
JM: “It can go one of two ways. I am guessing, based on their coaching staff and their players, and their culture, that they are going to come in and have a singleness of purpose and look to bounce back strong. In my mind we are not anticipating any lingering effect or hangover or anything where they have their chins on their chest. I would imagine that I know what [head] coach [Nick] Saban is going to stress to the team and the type of players they have. We are expecting their best and they are going to get our best, as well.”
Q: What does underdog mentality mean to you?
JM: “I think it is something where you have to address it, but you cannot harp on it or make it a big deal. You talk about singleness of purpose and playing to a standard regardless of who is across the ball from you. If you take care of your preparation during the week, you play exceedingly hard and you execute with high precision, you are going to have a chance regardless of who the opponent is. I think when it comes to the underdog mindset, it goes more towards what the margin of error is. In a game against a team with Alabama's pedigree, there are not going to be many opportunities [to make a mistake]. If you look back at the LSU game, you lose the turnover battle, and that is something in a game like this that you cannot do and expect to win.”
Q: Can you draw anything from playing LSU’s talented wide receivers as you go in to play the Alabama receivers unit?
JM: “You watch the LSU/Alabama game and they put kind of the same numbers up. I think statistically they are probably pretty even. They probably go even four-deep when you include [Jaylen] Waddle in there. [Offensive coordinator] Steve Sarkisian does a great job mixing RPO/spread and pro-style concepts. He has one of the top quarterbacks and a Heisman candidate in the backfield throwing them the ball. They protect it up really well. All four guys can stretch the field horizontally and vertically and make people miss. I think it will be as tough of a challenge as the LSU game was."
Q: Do you think you can do some similar things to Alabama that you did versus LSU on defense?
JM: “Hopefully we can replicate what we did in the first half against LSU, outside of the one busted coverage there at the tail-end following the interception. It goes back to the question about going into the game as an underdog and what you need to do to win a game or stay in it. Those are the things you can't do, being one score down against LSU, turning the ball over and cutting a guy loose in coverage to go into the half down 14 [points] instead of seven. I think they are probably a little bit different schematically than LSU. You see some different formations and different concepts than what LSU ran but at the end of the day it is about tackling, covering guys and being physical at the line of scrimmage. So, if we are able to do some of the things that we did in the first half against LSU, who is one of the top offenses in the country, that will give us an opportunity."
Q: From a confidence standpoint, how much can be carried over offensively from Arkansas?
JM: “I think when you look at it from an eye test and certainly a number's standpoint and when you look at SEC only games from a statistically standpoint offensively, I think we are seventh in the conference right now in scoring offense, whereas last year we were towards the bottom. The same thing with passing offense and rushing offense. I guess over the last two games, 54 and 30, that is 42 [points] a game. We have had some decent outputs against some teams in the conference. I think you can see we are continuing to grow every single week. Obviously, t is a huge challenge against a defense of this caliber. They are very well coached and a lot of talent on all three levels. I don't necessarily say hitting stride, but every week we continue to grow. Our kids are gaining more and more confidence in what we are doing. I think this is year two on the offense and you are seeing some of those things from a growth standpoint that are showing up on game day."
Q: What are your thoughts on Raekwon Davis?
JM: “I mean [he is] 6-foot-7 and 320 pounds, incredibly athletic and very stout against the point of attack. He uses his hands very well. He is a disruptor or game wrecker versus the run and the pass. You kind of put him inside when you have [Terrell Lewis] and [Anfernee Jennings] on the edges. He is obviously a local kid and will continue to do a very good job at this level. He will have a great opportunity to play for a long time on Sundays. He is a heck of a football player."
Q: You have a couple of former assistant coaches on Alabama’s staff, what can you take from that in game planning?
JM: “My daughter is friends with Jasmine [Baker]. Brian [Baker] and Charles [Huff] are great people. We certainly wish them the best every week but this week. I still correspond with Charles a little bit, maybe a little less with Baker. But we will shake hands pregame, wish each other luck, fight like heck during the game, then see each other after the game. For 60 minutes, we are going to be enemies. Before that, we will be cordial."
Q: After the past two meetings with Alabama, what kind of confidence can that give your group entering this year’s meeting?
JM: “I think the confidence is in when you prepare well, you play hard and you execute with precision, you are giving yourself an opportunity against anybody you play. Defensively, I thought we played very well last year. We had some opportunities on offense with some scores that were called back that could have changed the game early in the first half. Two years ago, I think it was a seven-point game heading into the fourth [quarter]. Just like LSU, Auburn, and all the other games on the schedule, our kids are going to go out with a high degree of confidence. A level of confidence is earned through our preparation and how hard we play and how well we execute, rather than who the opponent is."
Q: Is there anything you can take away from last year’s game and look at to help you this season?
JM: “We included that game in our breakdown. We usually have four you put in the breakdown plus your own game from the previous year. There were certainly things last year from a schematic standpoint that were dialed up pretty well and had we executed a little bit better it would have given us a chance to score some points. You take the things that were good and continue to work and build on them. Certainly not going to say we are putting a new and different game plan together but a lot of it is based on your personnel and what they can do. I always tell our guys it is not what we know it is what the players can execute. We will take the things we can glean and information from last year’s game and continue to work on those while adding to the game plan we are putting together this year and hopefully continuing to get the offense rolling."
Q: Talk about the job that Bob Shoop has done with the defense this season after losing so much after last season?
JM: “Eight starters [lost from last year], the entire defensive line and then the three primary backups behind the nose guard and the defensive tackle position and three of the four on the back end. The linebacker core returned intact but obviously we had a bunch of things prior to the season which hurt our depth. I think we have seen continued growth, development, and improvement throughout the season. A lot of guys, as we have talked about, are playing primary roles where they had not before. Either being an upperclassman or a new player on the field. Particularly with the young interior defensive lineman, we are seeing a ton of growth there with Fabien [Lovett], [Jaden] Crumedy, and Nathan Pickering getting a bunch of reps. Even more so on the back end with Martin [Emerson] and Jarrian [Jones] and those guys with some of the young linebackers who are getting time. The older guys who have not played and the younger guys who are new to the game, so every rep during practice and every rep during the game, I think we are going to continue to see our guys getting better and better.”
Q: Going back to the quarterback conversation, are Garrett Shrader and Tommy Stevens both QB1 at this point of the season with them listed as “or” on the depth chart?
JM: “QB 1A and 1B, I guess. I don't want to say latitude, but when their skill sets do not really differ that much. Tommy from an experienced standpoint has seen more things during the course of his career heading into a game with an opponent of the caliber, he could fall back a little bit on that experience whereas Garrett is probably doing some different and unique things with his feet in an improvisational standpoint. We are going to need both of them like we have had throughout the season. We are going to continue to hammer it out through the week and see where it goes.”
Q: Where are you at from a health standpoint?
JM: “I think through the bye week we have done a good job. We talked to the guys about rehabbing physically and recharging mentally. Aside from Cameron Young, who we discussed with a lower body who will be out for the year, the rest of the guys who were kind of bumps and bruises and nicked up. Headed into week nine we anticipate getting most of those guys back, including Jarrian [Jones]. From a health standpoint we are better than what we were coming out of the game.”
Q: Can you talk about what the military appreciation game means to you?
JM: “[My dad] was in the army. Freedom is not free and for people to make the sacrifices that they do to ensure that people in our country can enjoy the fruits of democracy, that means a lot. It is something where I think you cannot be thankful enough for those kinds of selfless acts of people to be able to provide for the greater good. That is certainly something that myself, our staff, and our team are really going to show our appreciation for on Saturday.”
Q: How big has Darryl Williams been for this program?
JM: “The consummate student-athlete. With Deion [Calhoun] and Elgton [Jenkins] graduating, and Darryl moving into center to be the eyes and ears of the operation. He was voted team captain, so obviously he has the confidence of his teammates and does a great job in the classroom. All of the things you want from an offensive lineman: intelligent, tough, disciplined, great work ethic, someone who inspires his teammates. I think Darryl combines all of those characteristics and it will continue to benefit him here at Mississippi State. If he gets an opportunity at the next level, which we are all anticipating, and then when football ends, he will be a great husband, great father, and great businessman, as well.”