“We will start off by recapping the Abilene Christian game. I thought we did some nice things. Offensively we were spearheaded by Kylin Hill, who was our player of the game for the offense. He was over 100 yards - his seventh 100-yard game of the season - and is right on the cusp of breaking the school single-season record [for 100-yard rushing games]. A really nice job by Kylin in the game and our offensive line. Defensively, two first-year players in Fred Peters and Nathan Pickering were the co-defensive players of the game. Those guys both had a nice game. Then, Tucker Day and JaVonta Payton were the co-players of the game for special teams. Those guys did a really nice job, as well.
"Our Scout Team Players of the Week, Willie Gay Jr. on defense. He gives us a really good, realistic look and he continues to do a really nice job in that capacity. Tristan Pisacane for the offense and Cody Swanson for the special teams. Then, along with our performance on the field, our guys continue to do a nice job in the classroom. Powers Warren and Tyre Phillips were our Student-Athletes of the Week.
"Moving forward, obviously it is a huge week. Egg Bowl week. Rivalry week. This is a game that means a ton to both schools, the people in the state of Mississippi, to our players, to our coaches and to our fans. We can't wait to get on the field tonight and start preparations. A lot of these kids have played against each other. We recruited a bunch of guys on their team, and this is a game that is going to be played with great emotion and great passion, and I am very excited to get to our second installation of it. We will make sure we do everything that we need to to make sure that beautiful trophy stays put here in the Seal Building.
"This will be a game where we honor our 26 seniors in their final game for the Maroon and White. These are guys that have done a ton over their careers to bring a lot of positive success to Mississippi State, and we want to make sure we send those guys out the right way. It will also be a game where we honor the teams from 1998 and 1999. The 8-5, SEC West Champions and the 10-2 team, as well, led by the legendary Jackie Sherrill. It will be a great opportunity, as well, to pay respect to a couple of very impressive teams in Mississippi State history.
Q: What was your impressions of your first Egg Bowl? And, what are you impressions of the rivalry?
JM: "Being a part of Pitt-Penn State and growing up around Pitt-West Virginia - the Backyard Brawl. When you talk about two schools with a lot in common and passionate fan bases. I don't think you really quite understand it until you are actually in it but leading up to the game I got a decent idea [of what the rivalry meant], but once the game started - and unfortunately afterward - you got a true sense of what the rivalry means.”
Q: Everyone knows that you need a win to reach a bowl game, does that factor in more since this is a rivalry game?
JM: "I think the kids are aware of it. It not something that we really need to talk about. We are right on the cusp of bowl eligibility and we need to win this one to get to the postseason. I don't believe in feeling pressure, I believe in applying pressure. They know they need to have a great week of preparation and it starts tonight on the field. We have to do two things: make sure we play well and keep the Egg here in Starkville. If we do that then we will extend the season and get to play in a bowl game."
Q: Is there anything you learned last year as the “new guy” that you can pass along to Tommy Stevens, who is the “new guy” in this year’s game?
JM: "We haven't had that discussion yet. That will probably come a little later in the week. With Tommy and with our entire team, they need to play this game with controlled passion and controlled aggression. We need to let our play speak for us between the whistles, not before the game or after the game. You cannot let the excitement and the rivalry and all of those things that go into it take away from your preparation and execution. You really can't get caught up in the emotion of the game.”
Q: Can you talk about Nick Gibson and what he has meant to this program?
JM: "Nick had another really nice game last week against Abilene Christian. If you look at his yards per carry for his career, he has been incredibly productive, as you mentioned. It has been a luxury for Mississippi State and for our run game to have guys like Aeris [Williams], guys like Kylin [Hill] and guys like Nick [Gibson]. He is a consummate teammate. He is a guy that never complains, never gripes. He works hard during the week and when he gets his opportunities in the game, he makes the most of them. Nick has been a great teammate this year and he has done a great job on the field, as well.”
Q: What is the strategy when you face someone like [Ole Miss starting quarterback] John Rhys Plumlee?
JM: "Tackle him. John Rhys is a great kid. Obviously, we recruited him. His mom and dad are great people, as well. [Ole Miss offensive coordinator] Rich Rodriguez does a great job, going back to his time at Michigan with Denard Robinson and even back with Pat White, who is now coaching at Alcorn State, at creating great designed quarterback runs and putting people in conflict. That is the thing you see with John Rhys, [Jerrion] Ealy, [Scottie] Phillips and [Snoop] Conner, that they do a great job of making sure everyone is a threat and that you have to defend the quarterback and running back. It is kind of similar to some of the things that we do. These guys have tremendous speed, great escapability and for a smaller guy he runs with some physicality, too. You have to make sure you swarm him and get him down on the ground, because he has made a lot of explosive plays.”
Q: What are your thoughts on this game being played on Thanksgiving?
JM: “Two great American pastimes; turkey and football."
Q: You have ran the ball well this year, even though you have played a lot of guys on the offensive line. What has enabled your team to do that?
JM: “I think I don’t want to say you’ve seen a lot of musical chairs; we’ve had a lot of guys shoveling in and out of there and guys playing different positions [on the offensive line]. I think Marcus’s [Johnson] ability to cross train them during camp and during the season has helped. We’ve had to slide guys in and out. Generally speaking, it’s numbers, it's angles, it's graphs, making sure you have a good game plan put together, the offensive line and tight ends blocking with great physicality, the running backs running with great pad level. And, as much as we put the quarterback in the decision making process for some of the RPO and read stuff, making sure they’re getting the ball to the right person.”
Q: Any lingering effects from the Abilene Christian injuries?
JM: “[Cameron Dantzler] is available. All the guys that went out from the game will be ready for [practice] tonight.”
Q: What has it been like to have some of your guys go from scout team to travel squad during this season due to the suspensions?
JM: “It certainly doesn’t help continuity. Everyone is aware of the situation, 10 [student-athlete's suspended] at the beginning of the year then you have to pick the games that they’re able to play. Then they bounce back and forth between scout team and travel squad. It certainly is a game that in all three phases [you need] precision and consistency. That’s just something that’s one of the few obstacles and roadblocks that we’ve got to deal with. I think the kids have taken it in stride. It’s just another thing we’re going to have to overcome.”
Q: Off the field, how much do you look at what other teams are doing in the arms race of college football?
JM: “You’re always looking to see what other people utilize in terms of facilities and resources and staff salary pool, and things like that, the ways you can improve to make a program better. I think we’ve gotten incredible support from Mr. [John] Cohen and our administration of doing what we’re capable of doing within the constraints of our budget. You look at all the positive things we’re doing; new recruiting lounge, new players’ locker room, new graphics going up around the building, doing a lot of upgrades here. I think the next big step will be a new indoor facility. I think that would really help us on a lot of levels, but I don’t think we can sit here and realistically say that we’re going to spend the type of money that some of the other schools do, but I think we’re pushing the envelope forward trying to make a lot of positive strides. Ultimately, it’s what’s in the best interest of our student-athletes and where are we helping to put them in position to be successful with the things that we’re accessible to. I think for the most part we’ve done that.”
Q: On paper, Ole Miss’ secondary has had a tough year. What can you do to attack that aspect of the game?
JM: “We did some nice things in the pass game against Abilene Christian. Certainly, we wanted to take a huge step forward this year, and I think we’ve made some incremental gains. I think you look at both teams, they are kind of centered around the run game, but I think maybe not necessarily a volume or number of passes, but explosive plays. I think that’s what we need to do to complement our run game. Also, I think the same thing, it’ll be Osirus [Mitchell], JaVonta [Payton], Deddrick [Thomas] has had a really nice year, [Isaiah] Zuber when he’s had his opportunities, and Stephen [Guidry]. I think our tight ends have performed nicely, too. I think that’s probably the one thing as you look at the receiving stats, historically speaking of this offense, we’ve had one Z, one H, one X and one tight end taking the majority of the reps and that’s resulted in a significantly higher number of catches and yards per person. This is probably the one place where I’ve rotated more people where we have two people playing each position. We went through and totaled up all the Z’s catches, all the H’s catches, all the X’s catches, and if it was one person playing, it would kind of add up to some of those numbers that you’ve seen before [in this offensive system]. I think you can’t just run the ball and be one-dimensional, so the pass game is going to have to be a part of this game plan.”
Q: Ole Miss is pretty run heavy; from a defensive standpoint do you worry about overlooking the passing game for them?
JM: “Yes, and I think that’s what Coach [Rich] Rodriguez does very well. There are some 10-personnel looks, some 11-personnel looks, getting into some of that two-back, one-tight end stuff and really create conflict. When you’re that concerned with stopping the run and needing to get people to the box, by secondary support or pressure, it creates some one-on-one matchups. Certainly, they’ve played John Rhys [Plumlee] and [Matt] Corral. Elijah Moore has 815 yards receiving. A couple guys have chipped in along the way, but I think like anything, when your commit numbers in the box, it’s a give and take. You’re going to have some guys playing single coverage on the back end. I think you’ve got to do two things; you’ve got to mix up the looks and get numbers and set edges, but at the same time, you’ve have to be cognizant and aware of the ability to throw the ball down the field.”
Q: How important is it to get started quickly on offense this week?
JM: “Like we’ve talked about a couple times, first-drive scores is something that we chart. I think out of 11 games we have hit it five or six times. In a game where momentum is going to play a huge key, you don’t want to have the ups and downs. Starting fast, I think, is critical. Whether it be the defense with a three-and-out stop and a punt or the offense getting points - three or seven. I think that’ll play critical in a game where emotions are running high.”
Q: What steps has Tyler Williams taken to get into the lineup this season?
JM: “I think Tyler [Williams] has a lot of natural ability. He is a tall, long guy, with very good speed. He matches up well in man coverage. To me, the thing with Tyler is staying healthy and gaining reps and being more consistent. Between he and Cam [Cameron Dantzler] and the two young freshmen, I think we’ve got nice competitive two deep of guys that have been playing well. I’ve seen Tyler make some nice improvements this season.”
Q: You talk a lot about playing with emotion and not playing emotionally. How do you handle that this week in a rivalry game?
JM: "I think more than anything you don't want to minimize the emotional component of it. The kids are going to be fired up by nature. I don't know if there is necessarily anything you are going to do to get them any more riled up. All the pregame talk and chatter [and] all the Knute Rockne fist-through-the-chalkboard speeches is going to wear out in about a series and a half. Then you are going to fall back on your preparation and be dictated by the execution. We want the guys taking the field fiery. We want to have great energy, great urgency and to play with physicality and passion. At the same time, it is going to come down to how we execute and how hard we play."
Q: Where has Keytaon [Thompson] fit into the quarterback room over the last month?
JM: "Keytaon has done a great job digesting the game plan. He is continuing to work through some of his injuries. He is at a spot where heading into the season we talked about wanting to maintain his redshirt for him. He is coming out at practice and trying to get better every day."
Q: What has Tommy Stevens meant to this program this season?
JM: "I think Tommy has made an incredibly positive impact in a very short amount of time. I think that is a testament to the type of kid he is. He came in here and through his work ethic and through his leadership, he earned the respect of his teammates. They voted him captain. I think it has been a tale of two seasons for him. When he has been fully healthy, 100 percent healthy, we have won the games he has started. He has performed very admirably and very well. He will have an opportunity to go to a postseason bowl game. When he has been banged up, I don't think we have seen the true Tommy. I think he has done a lot. He has been a very good leader and a very good vocal teammate. When he has had his opportunity and he has been healthy, he has performed very well."
Q: Can you talk about Marcus Johnson’s work with the offensive line over the last two years?
JM: “Outside of the suspensions and some of the other injuries, he has had the most challenging year in terms of moving guys around. For us to be able to run the ball with the effectiveness and productivity that we do, I think that is a testament to the offensive line and getting those guys prepared to play in multiple positions and having them play with great physicality. We have seen some improved pass blocking throughout the year. One of our offensive goals is two sacks or less per game. I think we have hit that a majority of the time. Getting to know Marcus from the first time I met him when he was at Duke and their staff came up to visit us at Penn State, he was a guy I put on my list as a potential hire. I think his performance as an offensive line coach and the offensive line's productivity has really validated that thought process."
Q: How has Tommy’s maturity helped these younger guys grow this season?
JM: “You guys have met him and had the opportunity to talk to him. He is just, first and foremost, take football out of it, a great kid. He is someone I think you would be proud to call a son or a brother. I love Tommy like a son. You want the best for him this last game. You hope we are able take care of business and the season extends, but he is a guy whether it is football or, I know he wants to get into coaching once football ends, so hopefully he has an opportunity at the next level. I talk to our young guys, especially the true freshmen about modeling their behaviors after upperclassmen who do things the right way. You talk about guys like Tommy Stevens [and] Darryl Williams that are accountable in the classroom and do all the right things in terms of their academics. They are never in a stitch of trouble off the field. You look at their work ethic and productivity in terms of preparation and the game, those are guys who are good leaders because they do it the right way on and off the field. I think Tommy is the definition of consummate student-athlete."
Q: What does the Thanksgiving holiday mean to you and your family?
JM: “My in-laws have been here for a while. Archie and Vicky are fantastic. We will have Thanksgiving dinner tonight at the facility after practice for our players and our families. We are obviously going to be busy on Thursday night. Not to get emotional, you talk about it being a day of thanks. As a man of faith, you have your health, you have your family, you have the opportunity to be a coach at a wonderful place like Mississippi State, you have great kids, there is a lot to be thankful for. Not just specific to football. It is a day where I am grateful to be blessed with a wonderful family, wife and kids, great mom and dad, great brothers and sisters, who are very supportive. [I am thankful for] extended family, and certainly for the opportunity to be here at Mississippi State and be the head coach of the Bulldogs."
Q: After last year’s game the conference office said that they wanted to have conversations with the administration about the temperature of the rivalry. Have you received any direction from your administration heading into the game?
JM: “There have been discussions, but it is pretty implicit. To a certain extent, I don't know that you are going to be completely quell with some of the fire and the emotion that go into a rivalry game, or else it is not a rivalry. Like I said a little bit earlier, we want our play in this game and for all Egg Bowl games to be known for our competitiveness and execution between the whistles, not any nonsense before the game, not any post-snap chicanery and certainly nothing that happens after the game, regardless of how it goes. To me, this is a game that Mr. [John] Cohen and our administration, Commissioner (Greg) Sankey and the league office want to be played between the whistles, and that is where it should be played."
Q: What would a win in this game mean to you?
JM: “It would mean everything to me. I think it would mean everything to these kids and our fans and this university and the great state of Mississippi. This is the game. I understand it. I understand the magnitude of it. President [Mark] Keenum clearly expressed that when I first got the job. I am very excited for the opportunity to play this game. I know our kids are fired up, and our fans are fired up, as well they should be. It’s Egg Bowl week. We have to do everything we can to make sure that trophy stays put downstairs in the case."
Q: With the unpredictability of the quarterback position this season, where does Garrett Shrader fit into this game this week?
JM: “The kid [Garrett] has come in and he has produced. He got in a game led us on two scoring drive, 3-for-3, 40 yards and a touchdown running, a nice long throw to JaVonta [Payton]. I think two things that will benefit Garrett in this game are his confidence in himself and his abilities, and his relatively unflappable nature that you really can't tell if he just threw a touchdown or pick-six. I think he is a guy that is kind of steady. In an emotional game, he is in pretty good control of his emotions, but also has shown that in big game environments. First drive, he was in at Auburn he led us down the field for a touchdown. He did some things against Tennessee. He had his first start in an SEC game against Kentucky and led us to a win, and so on down the line. If Garrett is afforded the luxury of being in this game, I don't think this stage or magnitude will be too big."