Where Mississippi State could be ranked now is of purely conversational interest. The Bulldogs have…
"(It is) A real tough challenge, a very talented football team. Obviously they've got the best offense in the SEC, in yards and points. And they put up huge numbers offensively; big, big stats with a lot of different playmakers on the field and tremendous skill at every position. And what gets overlooked a lot because of their offense, is their defense. They've got a stout defense. You look at the performance their defense has made, they've been pretty impressive throughout the season."
How much has Kevin Sumlin's offense changed since you played him at Houston? "I don't think his offense has changed much. The philosophy of his offense certainly hasn't changed. I think he's done a good job tweaking around the players. This is the third time I think we've played against him, and the third different quarterback we've had to play. And that's offensively where you always start, you build around the strengths of your quarterback. They obviously do that now, building around the strength of their quarterback and his play-making ability."
What did you learn from your team at Alabama and do you expect it to define itself the next four weeks? "Well, you always define yourself in November, to me as a team, of what you're going to do and how you're going to perform to close out the season. And we've put ourselves in great position during the month of November. Now this is what separates a good season from a great season and a great season from a championship season, how you perform in the month of November."
How are the special teams mistakes at Alabama correctable? "Everything, you're constantly teaching. You're either getting better or you're getting worse every single day. So we're constantly working on every one of those techniques, individual responsibilities. There's a lot of different things, there's eleven guys that have to execute perfectly on the play is what you need. And if you have a breakdown a lot of times it will be glaring, especially against good football teams."
After the loss do you hammer home the mistakes or just say Alabama was good and move on? "No, we do what we do every week. Which is look at where we made mistakes, how we could have done better. Every week we look at how we won or how we lost the game. We haven't lost very often recently. But what were the determining factors so we can point and we can correct them on all of those issues."
"So we watched the film this morning with the guys, we had a team meeting and we go through and review all the things that we did positively, all the things we did negatively. And hopefully grow on the positives and correct the negatives, very much as we've done for every other game so far this season."
Is Denico Autry developing at this point of the season as you expected? "We recruit junior college players to come in and make an impact immediately for the most part because they have shorter careers than high school guys. They have less time to develop within your program. So we try to make an emphasis on getting guys who can be able to step in right away and make an impact. I think the transition from junior college to the SEC is a step and there is an adjustment period. A lot of these guys, you'll see some flashes on a play here and there early but as they continue to play more and more and get used to the system you see more consistent play out of them. Denico is one of those guys who you seem him adapting and becoming that more consistent player that we need him to be."
Has Chris Smith emerged as the leading receiver? "Chris has done a good job. He came in and got to play as a true freshman. I think with anybody, sometimes when you go out and play as a true freshman, I don't know that it always helps their development. Some guys think they haven't even gone through an offseason and they're playing, they're starting, so you know, what's all this hard work in the offseason about; I didn't do it and I already played. So I think it can potentially slow you down when you're young. But Chris is a guy who has already been through all that, he understands the work that needs to go in, he's a tremendous hard worker, he believes in the program and if you watch him he's probably our hardest working receiver. If you watch him in drills, in practice and our walkthroughs even, all that hard work is starting to show in the results on the field."
Is he the most effective downfield threat at this point? "They all are. It depends on what defenses give us. If they're going to bracket and roll safeties on top of them and double team Chris down the field then he's not going to be much of a threat. If they leave him one on one he has the opportunity to be. I think a lot of that is more defensive dictated than personnel dictated."
Was there any one back-breaking play in the Alabama game? "No. There's a bunch of different moments where you can see that we made errors. Like we said all week, they're a team that's talented and extremely well coached that makes minimal mistakes and they kind of wear you down. And we made enough mistakes for them to capitalize through the whole course of the game. To me, those are things you can't do against them."
What makes Johnny Manziel difficult to defend? "They spread out all over the field and they have great athletes so you've got to defend all these great athletes all over the field and you know oftentimes, you leave him all in the box all by himself. And he's got tremendous athletic ability and the ability to keep plays alive--to improvise. So not only does he execute their offense very well but when you stop their offense he was the ability to go and create and improvise on his own outside of the box. He just starts running around and making things happen and he's got great athleticism, tremendous speed, make you miss. He looks like a natural ballcarrier in what he does and how he runs with the ball, reading blocks and cutting. The biggest threat is those extra things he does when a play starts to break down."
As a coach what do you look for when a team is trying to bounce back? "I'll see at practice today. Until you get on the field…I mean early on a Monday morning I mean guys look like they do every Monday morning. They're a little groggy and tired. But we have to see at practice today. It's how do you attack, your demeanor at practice, are you coming with great resolve to continue to work harder and continue to get better? We have to be a better football team this week than we were last week. Throughout the season you have to continually improve, the only way you that is through how you prepare and how you practice. That comes down to your work ethic on a daily basis."
Is Dillon Day becoming a SEC center? "Yeah he's growing. The center has to be that leader and maybe not on the field but certainly off the field. You need to know on game day that he is the guy. He's making the calls because the apex of the offensive line comes through him. He understands that now. Last year, like a lot of younger players, he's trying to survive on his own. He understands how his leadership affects the rest of the team on game day now."
Several players limped off the field Saturday night, what are the injuries? "Archie Muniz is the only one that is questionable with a very slight LCL strain. Everything else is the same from the week before. This time of year everybody is bumped and bruised and everybody has a boot on. Everybody has tape and ice all over their bodies but that happens in the Southeastern Conference."
Lawrence and Banks were talking on the sideline, was there a lack of communications on some plays? "Yeah and there was somebody else supposed to be there. So they were both looking confused as to 'where is the third guy?' That is more of that anything else. Those were the little things where on the touchdown passes we just don't cover anybody and have a guy completely lined up on the wrong side of the field. When you play Alabama, they're going to find that guy. Some teams might miss it or you might get lucky but you don't do that when you're playing great teams. You have to execute on every single snap. On the plays we executed, I thought we did very well. When you look at the positive, I thought a lot of things were done very well. There's a lot of things we did very, very poorly during the game. You can sometimes when doing some things well and some things poorly but not against great teams."
Dillon Day's tattoos are pretty impressive? "He's got some serious tats going right now."
Did he have any last year? "Oh yeah. Oh yeah. He was tatted since he's got here. Wait until his shirt comes off. You ever seen him with his shirt off? His whole back is tatted. He's working on getting it all colored in."
Any idea what they mean? "I've never asked, because it's a lot of drawings. I try to read people sometimes. If it's got a lot of words, I'll try to read what you've written all of yourself but if it's drawings, I don't get into the symbolism."
Day was a two-star kid coming out of high school; only two schools in Louisiana offered and MSU. How much has he grown since he's been here and does it motivate him? "You have to trust your evaluation. There are a lot of guys who get four or five stars that we evaluate and I'll scratch my head sometimes and go, ‘How did that guy get four or five stars?' There are some who get four or five stars and he probably deserves six or seven and is a big-time player, but you have to trust your evaluation of what he is, what he can do and how you project him. People's question on him was his physical size and we took a chance on that and he developed himself into having this size to be an SEC player. He had the ability on film, that was a certainty. He had the toughness, he had the demeanor. But he was an undersized guy that has grown and developed. If he still weighed 260 pounds, I guess we probably would have missed."
Is Manziel a little bit different of a quarterback from the other quarterbacks Sumlin has coached, eh? "They've all been a little bit different. In year one we played Case Keenum is who is just going to stand there and beat you with his arm and dissect you. The guy the next year was a freshman and you could see was very talented but was still growing. He had a little bit of both and had the ability to improvise on his own. He had a quick release and was accurate. He didn't really have the big arm that some of the other guys have."
And this kid here has tremendous athletic ability but you watch him and he's a very accurate passer on top of that. He doesn't have maybe, the size and the prototypical big arm as an NFL look, but his athleticism makes up for it. The fact that he is very accurate in his passes also help. You've got to go defend the pass and when you go out there and everybody is defending the pass, that's when he becomes more dangerous."
Most of Sumlin's QBs been smaller guys? "I don't know him but you look and that accuracy is a very, very important thing for them when looking at quarterback."
LSU and Florida did some things defensively to limit Manziel, have you watched those games to see what they did right? "Yeah. They put a lot of those five-star players out there on the field and they just ran down right next to him."
Two-thirds the way through the season, what do you think Missouri and Texas A&M have brought to the conference? "More depth. Another quality team coming into the conference right now. Four of the top 16 teams in the BCS are in the West."