Opening Statement

JM: "This past week for our players we have been able to get a couple of things done. We wanted to recharge mentally and physically. We have been able to get a jump start on Tennessee. I think we did a good job with that. We had an excellent two days of practice on Tuesday and Wednesday before we cut the guys loose for the weekend. The focus of that was working on fundamentals and technique in all three phases for all the guys. We really did a bunch of developmental work for our younger players and our redshirt guys. We kind of switched out the reps for the younger guys and the team periods in 7-on-7 got a majority of the work. I think we did a nice job on player development from a staff standpoint. We spent the whole day Monday working on self-scouting all three phases and doing a comprehensive review on everything we have done with our personnel. Tuesday and Wednesday, we did Tennessee game play in the morning. We did practice prep and practice in the afternoon. On Thursday and Friday, myself and the rest of the staff hit the road recruiting. In that two-day span, we collectively hit 101 schools and attended 20 games. I personally in the two days went to 14 schools and went to four games, one of those being Armstrong Middle School versus Columbus Middle School seventh game at Columbus High School. I got to double dip there. It was nice to get to see my youngest son play and to get to see my middle boy play against Germantown. On Sunday, we had our first Tennessee practice. We got a jump start there. Our student-athletes of the week were Nathaniel Watson and Brevyn Jones. From an injury standpoint, we are coming out of the bye week pretty healthy. If we were to play a game, the only person who would not be able to is Collin Duncan, with a lower body injury. We are expecting him to get healed up at some point this week to get him ready. Moving on to Tennessee, this is the first time we will play them in Knoxville since 2008. The first time the two teams have met since 2012 here in Starkville. It is not a trip our fans make on a frequent basis, so I am excited to see a huge contingency of maroon and white Bulldog faithful at Neyland Stadium. We have currently sold 3,200 tickets for that game. Good seats are still available, but not many. Hopefully, we are able to see a bunch more out there with whatever market they are able to locate the tickets. Moving ahead to Tennessee, obviously coached by Jeremy Pruitt, 6-11 overall in his second year, 1-4 overall, 0-2 in the SEC this year. You look at the construct of the schedule. A one touchdown loss to Georgia State in the opener. An overtime loss to BYU, that was really kind of a crazy ending to that game. And then the Georgia game against the No. 3 ranked team in the country. I believe they lead 14-13 for majority of the first half there. I don't necessarily think the overall record is indicative of their talent and their performance. I think they have been really close in three games and have done a nice job. They just kind of came out on the short end in a couple of games. Coach Pruitt is generally considered one of the top defensive minds in college football, a five-time national champion and has coordinated the No. 1 defense in the country three times in 2013, 2016 and 2017. Collectively, you look at his body of work, and I know he has a high level of involvement in the game plan and calling the game. His defense has allowed less than 17 points per game since 2013. Offensively, the coordinator is Jim Chaney. He's been around the block, a very well-respected offensive mind at a bunch of different schools around the country. He is looking to establish the run game first and set up shots down the field. (They) are averaging 24 (points) a game, 353 yards, fairly balanced, 137 rushing 215 passing. I don't really know what quarterback to see. Jarrett Guarantano 750 yards passing with seven touchdowns. He has done a really nice job as an older guy. Last week we saw Brian Maurer, the freshman, 303 total yards, two touchdowns, 259 against Georgia and 209 in the first half. He is a very young, talented, confident guy who is not afraid to throw the ball down the field. The two running backs they use are Ty Chandler, No. 8 out of Montgomery Bell Academy. I recruited him when I was at Penn State but we weren't able to get that done. He's got 320 yards, two touchdowns, excellent change in direction and vision. He is kind of a slasher, one cut, very fast guy. Eric Gray, a local guy from Memphis who runs hard, a freshman that has been doing a really nice job for them there. Their top receiving threat is Jauan Jennings - 395 yards, five touchdowns with good size, strong, reliable hands. He is an excellent playmaker. Derrick Ansley is the defensive coordinator. He works with the defensive backs, and they are base four down. They are able to get some three down looks. They play with five defensive backs with teams who are three or four wide receivers. They play some versions of single-high zone quarters, man to man. Darrell Taylor, No. 19, the defensive lineman, 19 tackles, 2 for loss and a sack, 2018 team MVP. The linebacker Henry To'o To'o, a very, very talented young linebacker who runs very well and very physical, 32 tackles and 2.5 for loss. Bryce Thompson, the defensive back, 12 tackles, 1 PBU, aggressive, physical, a guy who makes a lot of plays. He's very twitchy. Kevin Sherrer is in his second season as the special teams coordinator. He kind of looks to attack your weaknesses and schemes that change week to week. On kickoff, they are 93 percent touchbacks and kickoff returns, they average 30 per game. They have a blocked punt for a touchdown and are 9-of-10 on field goals. Marquez Callaway handles the punt returns. Ty Chandler the kickoff returns. Brent Cimaglia is 9-of-10 on field games with a long 51. Certainly, excited to get back on the field and play another SEC game in a challenging road environment. As I indicated to our guys yesterday and will throughout the week that preparation, physicality, precision are three things we are concentrating on to make sure we go 1-0 this week and hopefully get back on the right track against a very, very talented and well coached Tennessee team."

Q: Is there anything challenging about facing a team that is desperate for a win?

JM: "Every game is a must win for everybody. I don't think how they have played this year or what their record is or coming off a tough loss or having suffered some close setback is going to crank up their urgency to win. I think in this league, the margin of error is small regardless of the opponent. I think it is going to be challenging because it's our next game, it's on the road and in a tough environment against a good football team."

Q: What is the status on the quarterbacks?

JM: "Both Tommy (Stevens) and Garrett (Shrader) are a little nicked up right now. They are not included on the injury list because they are not out. Both of them are working through some lower body things. They both practiced fully yesterday. Today is an off day. They will come in and get some treatment on their own. We kind of have a plan for what we expect to do with both of them healthy. We will continue to grind through the week with the plan and see where we are at on Friday."

Q: What about Kareem Walker's eligibility and what does he bring to the team?

JM: "He adds obviously experience, from being at Michigan and JUCO and then coming in. He is very talented. He will be an academic redshirt this year. He is eligible to practice, not to play. He will be eligible to play next year. He's going to work and do a lot of things from a scout team perspective. He provides some of that older player leadership, but he will not be able to play for us in games this year."

Q: How did the team bounce back?

JM: "They were great. The two practices on Tuesday and Wednesday were incredibly spirited, a lot of energy and a lot of urgency. I think the older guys liked it seeing the younger guys get all those reps and have some fun. Once we put the game to bed on the previous Sunday, we moved forward. We had two good practices. I think they are excited to get back into game preparation."

Q: Who will be the quarterback this week?

JM: "We have a starter in mind right now. That doesn't include both from playing, either in separate series or both playing at the same time. We have a plan for one to start and one to play, and then possibly two to play at same time."

Q: What are your thoughts on Coach Bob Shoop going back and playing at Tennessee and what was it about him that you hired him?

JM: "I do not think you could ever completely ignore the emotional component of coaching or playing in a football against an institution where you have been before. I think Bob [Shoop] is a consummate professional and any feelings he may have good, bad, or otherwise regarding Tennessee during his time there that he will be able to put aside and his concentration along with the defensive staff will be to put a great game plan together and make sure we are putting the kids in a situation to be successful. Obviously with his son being on the team, more than anything he has awareness and knowledge of their personnel and guys on the team who he would have been around. He grew up in a town 10 to 15 minutes away from me. I have known about him from a coaching standpoint for a long time. His defenses have been very highly ranked in terms of scoring defense and total yardage for a very long time. I'd say his intelligence, the way he motivates players and quite frankly, his production, is what led him to me in the first place. Obviously in this business, I do not think most people make a habit of hiring people they don't know in some capacity or people that they know and have worked with in some capacity, so Bob checked off on those boxes."

Q: What was the reception and feedback of the recruits you visited this past weekend?

JM: "We are not allowed to talk to recruits but from the coaches, the people and the school, it was all fantastic. I think in the past two years we have really demonstrated how committed we are to recruiting in the state of Mississippi and the surrounding states and our footprint with having the willingness and the ability to go nationally for a player that has a reason to come to Mississippi State. The players we talked to either on the phone or through texts, the coaches, and the people you see at school love the direction we are headed. They are excited about Mississippi State football. Like I said with Kylin [Hill] or some of the other guys, there is something special to a young man and his family making the decision to stay home and play for their state university. Coaches and the kids we talked too during the week could not be more fired up or excited for where we are headed."

Q: How do you sell Mississippi State?

JM: "Time probably prohibits going into it incredibly depth. I think in general when you are talking to a recruit and their families that you want them to understand that in the four to five years or less, if it is a junior college player, that they spend at Mississippi State that it is our goal and objective that they leave a better person, a better student and a better player in that order. Also, that you are committed as much to their personal development and academic welfare as you are to them as a player. Any player who decides to come to Mississippi State can achieve all of their goals, all of their dreams and aspirations in the classroom and on the field. You see that on guys we graduate and the jobs they get that are non-football related and certainly the number of kids who leave here and are able to achieve their dream of playing in the NFL."

Q: When a game goes the way it did against Auburn, how much of that do you hear, and does it add any pressure to the next game or the season as a whole?

JM: "I think quite frankly when you take this job, we have had this discussion before, the praise and criticism are probably something you need to be prepared for when something happens good or something happens bad. I'm sure there was criticism for our performance in the Auburn game was warranted and I accept that, and I point the finger at myself. We needed to perform better against a quality opponent. From an overall standpoint, there is always going to be a certain faction or segment of a fan base for any team in the country that is a vocal minority and nothing that you do is going to be good enough. It's going to be a simmering cauldron of unrealistic criticism and revision is history. It is what it is. I am not going to focus my time, attention, or efforts on Bob from Bogue Chitto's opinion of the team. I am going to do what I do to get the kids ready, and I understand that our administration, our players, and the coaching staff are excited about the direction we are going and if there is criticism that is warranted then that is fine. You address it specifically and you talk about the right now and that you are going to continue to improve and get better. That's part of it. Well there's not enough emotion, what are we doing to make it better? You look back in the past 17 years and after five games we have been better than three and two, two times. Then when you talk about building and not going back to the past and concentrating on now. It is damned if you do and damned if you don't. You cannot really worry about that stuff and have to be confident in the plan and just keep doing what we are doing. Majority of the fan base and the people we count on, the media, the administrators across the country, peers in the coaching industry, and people are incredibly excited about what we are doing."

Q: With Garrett Shrader having a few games under his belt now, is he to a tempo standpoint where you feel more comfortable going more up-tempo with him now?

JM: "The pace at which we play is dedicated by what we see, with how fast or how slow we need to play. I think what you are seeing is a higher comfort level with the overall scope of the playbook with him. I don't want to say it's opening up more, but his comfort level with some of the things that we are calling and his ability to see it and execute is improving on a weekly basis."

Q: Coming back from the Auburn game, how much does it help for the guys to have the week off and get away?

JM: "I think attitude reflects leadership. It can go one or two ways. You can either dwell on it and allow the same game to try and beat you twice or you can correct it, put it to bed and move on. We chose the latter. I think their actions will be dictated by what we focus on, and our focus was on to correct it, understand it was not acceptable and we needed to do better in that game and move on to Tennessee. It depends, if you allow it to fester, it is going to fester. If you put it to bed, it will go to bed. We chose that."

logan.lowery@journalinc.com

Twitter: @loganlowery

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