STARKVILLE, MS (WLBT) - Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead met with members of the media on Monday afternoon to preview the Bulldogs' 2018 Homecoming tilt with Louisiana Tech this coming Saturday.
Kickoff between MSU (5-3) and LA Tech (6-2) is set for 6:30 p.m. CT at Davis Wade Stadium and the contest will be televised by the SEC Network. For complete gameday and stadium information, visit HailState.com/gameday.
First and foremost, I would like to thank our fans for coming out and providing an unbelievable atmosphere [against Texas A&M]. It is a great home-field advantage for our team. It is truly some of the best fan support in all of college football.
I thought it was a great team win and one of our most complete games of the season. I thought there were positive contributions from all three phases [offense, defense, special teams]. We entered the game with an aggressive mindset and carried that through four quarters. Ultimately, we came out on top in the statistical categories, which we believe determine the outcome of games: explosive play margin, which it was great to get back on track offensively, and turnover margin, while [also] winning situational football, and on third down and in the red zone.
I am proud of our players and the way they have held true to our process, our culture and our standard for success in times of prosperity and adversity. I felt we had a solid week of practice [leading into Texas A&M], played with tremendous effort, and, most importantly, we executed at a high level of precision. There is no magic wand. That is why we won the game and to get our second win over a top 25 team in a season, I think it's the first time since 2014, I think that is a great testament to our team, our kids and our program. So, certainly very happy coming out of that.
Our Players of the Week: on offense, Nick Fitzgerald, on defense, we have Co-Players of the Week in Erroll Thompson and Jaquarius Landrews and on special teams, Co-Players of the Week, as well, in Chris Rayford and Tim Washington. Our Scouts of the Week: on offense, Brad Cumbest and Geor'quarius Spivey, on defense, Chris Redmon, and on special teams, Somon Anderson. Our Student-Athletes of the Week were Darryl Williams and Grant Harris.
Injury update: Kylin Hill is getting better every day. He is still day-to-day, but progressing. He practiced yesterday, so we are feeling optimistic about that. Keith Mixon, with a lower body, as well, is still day-to-day and progressing, so we are very optimistic there. On the defensive side of the ball, Brian Cole is officially out for the remainder of the season. I am not sure if we discussed that, but Brian is out for the rest of the season [with an upper body injury]. Braxton Hoyett is still [dealing] with a lower body [injury], he is day-to-day and we are optimistic about him, as well. We are hoping to get him back as soon as possible.
Moving on to Louisiana Tech, led by head coach Skip Holtz. He is 44-30 in his sixth season [at Louisiana Tech] and he was the 2016 Conference USA Coach of the Year. With their win over FAU [on Oct. 26], [Holtz] became the third-winningest coach in school history. They are a very disciplined team, they are fifth in the country in penalties.
Their offensive coordinator is Todd Fitch, a very experienced veteran of the college football profession. He coaches the wide receivers. They are a spread/RPO, quick game attack [scheme]. They averaging 28 points per game, with 142 [yards per game] on the ground and 248 [yards per game] in the air. Led by quarterback J'Mar Smith, a product of Meridian, Mississippi. He has thrown for just about 2,000 yards this year and 12 touchdowns. He operates the system very well and is more of a thrower than a runner. He can pull the ball down and be a threat when necessary. Jaqwis Dancy is their leading rusher. He has good speed and is very elusive. I think they have an excellent receiving corps and that shows up in the LSU game. Those guys made a bunch of plays. Adrian Hardy is a legitimate deep threat and Teddy Veal is their leading receiver [in receptions].
Moving over to the other side of the ball, their coordinator is Blake Baker. They play a mix of three- and four-down fronts, with one- and two-high zone and some man [coverage]. They are No. 18 in the country in sacks per game and No. 29 in pass defense. They are led by defensive lineman Jaylon Ferguson, who is, regardless of level - Power Five or Group of Five - one of the best and most productive pass rushers we will face this season. He currently sits at 37 tackles, an amazing 14.5 for loss and 10.5 sacks. He currently leads the nation in sacks and, Bill [Martin] if I am not mistaken, is the active leader in the FBS in career sacks. So, he is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Linebacker Collin Scott has 56 tackles, 6.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks. He leads the team in tackles. Linebacker Amik Roberson has 34 tackles, a pick and eight PBUs. He is very quick and very athletic.
Erik Link is their special team’s coordinator. The key stat there is they have blocked three field goals this year, including one to win the game vs. North Texas. Teddy Veal, their punt returner, is averaging 14 yards per punt return. In their kickoff return, Michael Sam is averaging almost 22 [yards per] kickoff return.
For us, it is going to be homecoming and just two home games left. I think it would be tremendous for our fans to continue to do the things they have done this season and support this team and provide a great home-field advantage, particularly for everything this senior class has done for this university, to on homecoming to come out and support these guys.
We have the utmost respect for coach Holtz and his staff, and their program. They are bowl eligible at 6-2 and are playing with a ton of confidence. They were very competitive against LSU [earlier this year]. We discussed with our team the need to compete against the standard and not an opponent. Consistent habits will yield consistent results. We need to have a great week of practice, play with tremendous effort and execute our scheme with precision, one rep at a time for four quarters, and if that occurs, the score will take care of itself.
We are very excited about this opportunity and fired up about where we are coming off of a huge win at home. It provides some great momentum into the tail end of the season.”
On Erroll Thompson’s transition into the player he has become this season …
“I think he was kind of quiet during winter conditioning, when we are allowed to be around the guys. You're doing drills in the weight room, and Coach [Anthony] Piroli would talk about him. I think his understated leadership really didn't show up until spring ball and fall camp, once we got on the field. He is kind of a guy that does it more by example than vocally, but once we put the pads on and he started communicating and flying around hitting people, I think we knew at that point he was going to have a chance to be something special.”
On Jaquarius Landrews and Marcus Murphy stepping into their roles with Brian Cole out …
“I think it has been very great for Landrews, and kind of across the board [last game] with Kylin [Hill] and Braxton [Hoyett] out, having some other guys stepping up and not missing a beat. [Jaquarius] is playing fantastic football right now and he's been very productive and very steady. He has made a lot of impact plays.
Early on in the season, we were talking about Marcus, with the fanfare coming out of a local school and how talented he is. To see him ease his way into everything, making some plays on special teams, which he did at first, and now being in our cheetah package and getting some reps there. I think it has been valuable experience for Marcus the past two games and I think it was a good decision getting him on the field and not redshirting him.”
On the tight ends’ involvement in the passing game …
“We had some routes dialed up for them for this game and they were targeted on a couple naked passes out in the flat. We had one in the second half that was getting thrown to the tight end, the coverage didn't allow that and think we took the sack or threw it away. A lot of that is coverage based and scheme based. We have plays on the board when we game plan to make sure that there are opportunities for all the skill positions and they’re [in the game plan]. A lot of it is coverage based, as to where the ball goes, but we make sure to see the Z, the H, the X, the tight ends and the [running] backs are going to have to the opportunities and that we are disperse the ball to play makers. A lot of it is dictated by the coverage.”
On getting some of the other wide receivers involved in the passing game …
“That’s a good question. We watched a film on Sunday and talked about moving forward into this week, that we needed, I don’t want to say do more things, but get the slot [receivers], the H position and the tight ends more involved in the pass game, because like I said a lot of that is coverage dictated. Those are guys that did some things early on [in the season], and not that we have gotten away from them, but I think the ball has gone to other places. So, I think the more balance we can have and getting everybody involved makes defenses defend the width and the length of a field. That's something that was disused trying to get those guys more involved.”
On the punting game …
“This is another game where we didn't win the field position battle, talk about hidden yardage. I don't want to put the onus squarely on the punting game, but when you come out and see the other [teams] hitting at 50 yards and flipping the field. I think we are doing a really good job with the protection. I think we are doing a good job with the coverage. I think both guys have shown flashes of where we need to be for kicking the ball and they are both very talented. At this point. I think it’s more of a consistency thing than anything. So, we have to find a way to get the ball kicked over people’s head and force them to fair catch it and not have little line drives. More than anything, it’s a consistency issue right now.”
On how representative the Texas A&M game was of him as an offensive play caller …
“I would say pretty representative and I think it goes back to the balance aspect of wanting to run [the ball] and pass it with equal effectiveness and if one of the two parts are going to get shut down, being able to lean to other part. The pass game was what was missing, for whatever reason, I just felt going into [the Texas A&M] game that you have to remember what got us here, and that’s what we’re going to be moving forward.”
On building for the future but also striving for success right now …
“I said before, a great leader looks in the mirror not out the window and when we are having trouble scoring points like we were at LSU, had success at different parts of the season, the first person that has to ask, 'what can you do better,' is the head coach and the guy that runs the offense. We talked to the team Friday the night before the game that I was trying to game plan and call the perfect play every single time and that’s not just realistic. When you’re trying to make everything perfect every single time, then the results weren't in our favor, so I just went back to game planning it, calling it aggressively and doing what we do well: dictating the tempo of the game rather than reacting to the tempo of the game. I think that was an element that may have been missing at times in the middle part of the season and one that won't be missing moving forward.”
On showing passion after the offenses’ first touchdown of the Texas A&M game …
“I have it in me. What you see in front of the cameras and what you see behind closed doors when you’re talking to the team or getting the guys fired up … That was organic, that wasn't fake and the wasn't manufactured. I was truly that fired up. My college head coach [Nick Quartaro], he now works as the Director of Player Development at Rutgers and shot me a text after the game and said, 'that looked like the guy who played for me.' You want attitude to reflect leadership, you don't want the players to see the head coach out of control, but at the same time you want them to see that you are invested in the game as emotionally as they are and I was. I think we may need more that as a first-time [FBS] head coach with a new team, you're learning the culture and your learning their personalities, there’s ways you have change throughout the season. You don't want the team that was at Kentucky, where the coach was under control and the players are out of control, and you don't want a game where the coach is out of control and the players are in control. You have to find the happy medium and hopefully we found that on Saturday.”
On the players reacting to his positive emotion …
“I think they reacted well to it. One of the most things I've been proud of throughout the season, is that there’s been some ups and downs, there’s been a lot of prosperity a little bit of adversity, but the team has remained on an even keel emotionally. You haven't seen the result effect our effort. We've come out on a daily basis and these kids have really practiced their butts off. That’s what we talked about after practice yesterday, whether we are coming off a win, coming off a loss, regardless of the circumstance, we aren't letting it dictate how hard we prepare and how hard we play. I think we're seeing increased execution and the kids trust in the process and believing the things that we tell them are necessary for us to be successful. I think that’s positive in two regards: one, for the immediacy of this season and what we have to do moving forward and, two, understanding what we’re doing for the long term here.”
On Nick Fitzgerald being named SEC Offensive Player of the Week …
“I think that’s his second for the season, which is great for him. Once again, I’m not going to go back belabor the point. I made my thoughts crystal clear on Saturday, but that is excellent validation for him. To come out and bounce back and play like he’s capable of playing, doing things in both the run and the pass game and leading the team and being resilient and being the captain and all the things that go along with being a great teammate, I thought it was a good day for the whole team and an excellent day for Nick.”