STARKVILLE, MS (Press Release) — Game week has arrived for Mississippi State.
Entering his second season as head football coach for the Bulldogs, Joe Moorhead addressed the media Monday afternoon at his weekly news conference and previewed the team's season-opening matchup with Louisiana.
Kickoff between the Bulldogs and Ragin' Cajuns is set for 11 a.m. CT Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The game will be televised nationally by ESPNU. Mike Corey (play-by-play) and Rene Ingoglia (analyst) will call the action. It will be just the sixth meeting between the two programs.
The two teams met last season in Starkville, and the Bulldogs won 56-10.
Moorhead announced Monday that MSU's five 2019 team captains are safety Brian Cole II, punter Kody Schexnayder, quarterback Tommy Stevens, linebacker Erroll Thompson and center Darryl Williams. The captains are selected in a vote entirely by their teammates. Thompson and Williams were tabbed captains following MSU's spring game on April 13. Cole, Schexnayder and Stevens were revealed following a vote during preseason camp.
Below are quotes from Moorhead's Monday news conference.
Quotes from head coach Joe Moorhead's news conference – Aug. 26, 2019
Opening Statement …
"Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to the opening press conference of the 2019 season, which is the 120th of Mississippi State football. We are certainly fired up for our fans to make the trip down to New Orleans for the opening game. A phenomenal city and a great venue. I had the fortune of attending the [Pittsburgh] Steelers and [New Orleans] Saints game at the end of last year, which the Steelers lost, which wasn't great, and the Rolling Stones concert. It is an unbelievable city with lots of things to do, so hopefully our fans will make the drive down there on Friday, get up early for the kickoff at 11 a.m. on Saturday...we want them up, we want them ready to roll and we want them at the stadium for the 11 o'clock kickoff.
"Even though Louisiana is the home team, this will be our first appearance at a neutral venue in the regular season since 2013 against Houston. Currently we have 10 student-athletes on our roster from the state of Louisiana. It will be our 10th-consecutive year where we play at least one game in an NFL venue. We are planning a walkthrough at the Superdome on Friday when we get down there. We have been talking to people with the Saints about lighting and turf and things like that. We thought it would be a good idea [to go to the venue]. We will do our normal walkthrough [on campus] but then get down there and let the kids walk around and get used to things. You can kind of have that "Hoosiers" moment, when they took them into [Hinkle] Fieldhouse and the hoops were still 10-feet tall and all of that stuff. So, we want to have our "Hoosiers" moment there and make sure they are getting used to the dome.
"I want to talk a little bit about our team captains. In addition to Erroll Thompson and Darryl Williams, who were selected at the end of spring ball, we had a vote on [August] 22 for an additional offense, an additional defense and an additional special teams captain. The team selected Tommy Stevens as our offensive captain by an overwhelming vote. I think he had three times as many votes as any other offensive player on the roster. The defensive vote was a little bit closer, but Brian Cole II was selected as our defensive captain, and Kody Schexnayder was picked as our special teams captain. I think that also speaks to, for Tommy, the belief that his teammates have in him, after only being here for a very short amount of time, for who he is as a person, his leadership capability and his play. Certainly, the same for Brian. And, Kody Schexnayder, you are not going to see a guy who bleeds more maroon and white, who is more positive, who has so much energy and, even though he doesn't necessarily factor a great bit in terms of on the field play, he is a guy that is a great team player. I think he definitely earned the right to be a captain. We are excited about that leadership.
"From a leadership council perspective. For the true freshman, De'Monte Russell was voted by his teammates. For the redshirt freshman class, it was Aaron Brule and Fabien Lovett. For the sophomore class, Austin Williams. For the junior class, C.J. Morgan and for the senior class it was Farrod Green and Leo Lewis. We meet with those guys every Sunday night to talk about uniform combinations, talk about the upcoming week of practice, talk about travel gear, odds and ends, or anything that is on their mind that they think can help the team. We had a great initial meeting with those guys last night.
"We began our prep for Louisiana on Friday and had our first practice preparing for them. On Saturday, we had a situational walkthrough, going through all kinds of things that may pop up during the course of the season in all three phases. That lasted about an hour and 15 minutes and we got a bunch of really good work in. Yesterday, we had a traditional Sunday practice where we got some more work in on Louisiana. We are excited for the rest of the week and to get going.
"Some notes on Louisiana. [The program] is led by coach [Billy] Napier, heading into his second year. He is 7-7 overall and is the offensive play caller. They were the 2018 Sun Belt Western Division champions and played Tulane in the AutoNation Cure Bowl. They were selected to win the Western Division again this year. Coach Napier has worked with two of the greatest minds and most storied coaches in college football, working both for coach [Nick] Saban and coach [Dabo] Swinney. Rob Sale is the offensive line coach [and offensive coordinator]. They are a multiple [formation], spread offense. They averaged 31.9 [points] per game last year with a very balanced attack; 218 rushing and 205 passing. Their quarterback will be Levi Lewis, which is what we are expecting. [He had] 585 yards passing last year and seven touchdowns. [Lewis] is left handed and very athletic. He throws the deep ball very well. They have three very talented running backs: Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais. Those three combined for 2,912 yards last year. They are all powerful and very quick. The wide receiver, Ja'Marcus Bradley, from Akerman, had 608 yards receiving last year with 10 touchdowns. He is a very crisp route runner and very fast. Those are the guys offensively that we are preparing for.
"Ron Roberts is their defensive coordinator and they are a mix of three- and four-down [lineman] with a 1- and 2-high zones. He throws some man-to-man in there, so you get just about everything but the kitchen sink. They were 15th in the country last year in third down conversion percentage defense, along with forcing 15 turnover. Chauncey Manac, the defensive lineman/rush end, kind of plays a little bit of a hybrid position, had 47 tackles - eight for loss - and four sacks last year. He has a very high motor with active hands. Ferrod Gardner, the inside linebacker, had 50 tackles, one TFL and two PBUs [last year]. He shows up in the big games. He played well both against us and Alabama last year. Then, defensive back Michael Jacquet III, he had 47 tackles, two interceptions and 11 PBUs last year. He is long and athletic with good ball skills.
"Matt Powledge is their special teams coordinator, in his second year. They averaged 24 yards per kickoff return last year, which was 17th in the NCAA. Raymond Calais is their kick returner. He averages just about 26 [yards] per return, which was top 20 in the country. We are expecting Stevie Artigue, the kicker who was injured in 2018, to be back this year. He was a Lou Groza Award watch list in 2017 and is 70-percent for his career on [field goal] kicks. Then, Ja'Marcus Bradley, is their punt and kick returner. He [averages] seven yards per punt return with a long of 24 last year and a long of 55 on the kick return.
"Certainly, Louisiana is a very talented team and as you see in openers, a lot of it goes into turnover margin, a lot of it goes into special teams play and a lot of it goes into execution. You certainly enter the game with an element of the unknown, where just like us they have had an entire [off]season to study what they do, find out what they do well, fix what they don't do well and look into other people, so that is something in the first game where you don't have any game film from this year and that element of the unknown is something you need to be prepared for. So, we need to continue to have a great week of practice and are excited to get back on the field Tuesday and get it ramped up. We are excited to kick off the 2019 season.
On junior linebacker Willie Gay Jr. …
"Willie still has a lower body injury and is day-to-day. We tested it out a little bit yesterday and we're expecting him to get back on the field Tuesday. We will monitor that. It is kind of been a lingering thing throughout camp, but he is feeling better. I think we will get him running around a little bit on Tuesday."
On where graduate transfer quarterback Tommy Stevens has developed since Penn State …
"I have seen a lot more maturity and a lot more understanding. Early in Tommy's career - in 2016, not so much in 2017 - is that he is so incredibly athletic and gifted physically as a runner and a thrower, that he would fall back on those [abilities] and maybe not be as precise in the details of it. What I have seen throughout camp and into practice week is a maturation and understanding of the details, where maybe in the past he would not change a protection, thinking he could get the ball out if it wasn't picked up or maybe not go through his reads and kind of improvise. He still has the improvisation skills, but he is doing a much better job understanding the scheme and how it effects his decision making and productivity.
"I don't think his passing has ever been an issue. He has always been a guy that could throw the ball well and very accurately. I think what you are seeing, like I said, is an increased understanding of the scheme and where to go with the ball and why. When that is the case, you are going to have the type of camp that he had."
On the rotating two-quarterback system …
"I am not a fan, nor have I done that. Maybe by quarter, I could think maybe back to [my time coaching] at Akron, we might have done that a tiny bit. Having played the position - and some people have done it successfully - I don't feel like you can ever let the guy get in a groove [if you are rotating quarterbacks]. Now, you can have two in the game at the same time, which is a different deal. I am not a fan of rotational quarterback play."
On sophomore defensive tackle James Jackson and his switch back to defense …
"James is an awesome team guy. He's a Lionel Richie guy, he's easy like Sunday morning. Whatever you tell him on offense or defense, I think you could ask him to play special teams and he would do that. I think the part where he was, you could say upset, is that he had seen so much progress on the offensive side of the ball and I think he has a future there. We told him this is what we needed him to do, he had a good experience their last season. I think more than anything with Darryl [Williams] being the starter at center and the backup center not getting as many reps or opportunities during the course of the game as rotational position as a defensive lineman. I think he saw the ability for him individually and for him to be able to affect the game in a positive manner. I think there was a better opportunity for him on defense this year and I think he was excited about it."
On how the addition of Tony Hughes has benefited in the offseason …
"I tried my [hardest] to get him when I first got hired when he was still at Jackson State. If people here who have been around Tony, first and foremost he is a great person and a great human being. He has a fantastic wife; kids and he is a great man. His prowess and ability as a recruiter and how he coaches the kids, gets along with them with everyone on the staff and the kids. It is immeasurable what he brings to this staff from a coach, a recruiting and just a culture standpoint. He is an awesome person. A guy I am really glad I had an opportunity to meet and work with."
On what to expect from Louisiana …
"Like most people they are going to tweak their scheme and match their personnel. I think anytime you win your side of the division and get to go to a bowl game things are going well. They won seven games. I think having been at a "group of five place" or and FCS school that had the ability to jump up and play some [Division] 1A schools at Fordham. We were fortunate enough to win two of our four games. This is a game where the kids get fired and excited about playing an SEC West team. We are expecting to see their best and like anything from year one to year two is when you see - whether it is a freshman becoming a sophomore or an entire program - you see the most improvement in a program in that year one to year two jump, so I am expecting to see the same from them."
On the rotation Saturday at wide receiver …
"I think we have three at the Z position, three at the slot, and two or three at the X position. So, we will see who gets the hot hand. The guys have been practicing well, and in game one when the tempo and speed are different from practice, we will see who has the hot hand."
On what it says about Tommy Stevens to be selected a captain by teammates …
"Have you gone to the same school your whole life? Have you ever been the new kid? It's hard, but I think when you guys have a chance to sit down and talk to Tommy and meet him, he comes from a good family. He is a very humble kid, but confident in his abilities. He is a guy that can get along with every type of player on the team and that is what impressed him to his teammates. He was not beating his chest and doing a lot of talking. I think early on he let his actions through working out, throwing with the guys speak for themselves. I think once people got to know him on a personal level, they saw he was a real laid-back guy. For the team to think that much of him and vote him as a captain while only being here since the summer it speaks a lot for him and his teammates believing in him."
On if this year's wide receivers feel different than last year's …
"Yeah I think you look at the returners with Osirus [Mitchell] and Stephen [Guidry] both returning. Also returning is Deddrick [Thomas] and Austin Williams caught a few balls for us last year. Malik Dear has been here awhile and the addition of JaVonta Payton, Isaiah Zuber. You have Devonta Jasonand Cameron Gardner who both played some good football for us. I think it is a combination of returning productivity and guys who are new that have a lot of talent."
On how much having Isaiah Zuber and JaVonta Payton coming in at the same time helped Tommy Stephens adapt to the program's culture …
"I think along with those guys, all the new freshmen, when someone has a similar shared experience to you, and you are going through the same thing. Obviously, Isaiah Zuber coming from Kansas State, he had a real nice career there. Where you are in your last year of eligibility and you are looking to make an impact on a new team, with new coaches, and new players. They are able to go through that experience together and jump right in. I think those guys have kind of bonded quickly."
Season tickets, mini-plans and individual game tickets for the 2019 season can be purchased at HailState.com/Tickets, by calling 1-888-GO-DAWGS or in person at the MSU Athletic Ticket Office on the first floor of the Bryan Athletic Administration Building (288 Lakeview Drive), Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.