Jackie Sherrill opening comments:
"Tennessee's kickers are very good. (Dustin) Colquitt, their punter, and (Alex) Walls, their kicker, are very talented and very good. When you have a left-footed punter, the ball moves to you differently. It moves away from you quicker. They have two very good kick returners who have very good speed. Offensively, they have had problems just like we have had with injuries on their offensive line. As a matter of fact, they have changed two guards for this week. They have gotten back one (offensive) tackle. Quarterback-wise, I don't know if (Casey Clausen) will play. He has not practiced. Where Tennessee is different from other (teams) in the league is that they always have a lot more speed than everybody else. They are always taking defensive backs and making linebackers out of them. And taking linebackers and making them defensive linemen. Up front they remind you of Alabama, but they have a lot more speed than Alabama has. Offensively, they will always have some receivers that are track speed guys, meaning they are very, very fast. Defensively, they have 11 seniors (8 seniors start). The only team I saw on film that really could do something against their defense was Miami. Miami was the only team that could run the football on them."
"Players that were not at practice Monday included Jerious (Norwood) and Brad Weathers. Hopefully, Brad and Jerious will be back. The same thing with Justin (Griffith). We hope he will be able to play. If we had to play (Monday) he would not have been able to play."
"Tennessee and Mississippi State are the two teams that are evenly matched through every category in the SEC stats."
Q&A with Coach Sherrill:
What aspects of the game did your team play well against Alabama?
"There were a lot of places. (Punter) Jared Cook. The same thing with players in the kicking game. I thought our offensive line played well. (Freshman) Johnny Wadley, who had a very tough task starting against someone that was very talented, played well. I thought in the first half we did some good things offensively. We turned that around in the second half and played well defensively."
Talk about what it is like to have high expectations like Tennessee did early in the season only to see them not live up to them?
"Were they ranked too high? No. Football is a funny game. It is a team sport. The ball bounces funny. You lose a player in a key position. (Another factor is) the chemistry of players to other players and the chemistry of players to coaches and coaches to coaches."
Has this season affected how much you like coaching?
"For some people it may, but I'm affected in a different way. I get kind of mad at myself. It makes you more determined. I've always taken the approach that it is not the players fault even though they may have not played well enough to win. It is our responsibility to put them (in a position to win)."
Are you concerned about job security?
"No. If anybody is concerned about that, then you are in the wrong profession. If you get up every morning (worrying) about your job, then you had better go find another one. If your job is the only thing making you happy, then you have a lot of problems."
Do you expect to be standing (at that podium) next year?
And very much want to be here?
"I wouldn't be here now. Do (I) have to coach? No. You do things because you want to do them."
Does it bother you, after what you have done here, there are questions about job security?
"No. (Penn State's Joe) Paterno has gone through that. Coach (Gene) Stallings, the best football coach at Alabama other than Coach Bryant, went through it."
Would you want you sons to coach?
"My son wanted to, but I said nope. He is in Aerospace but he learned very quickly that Calculus at Mississippi State is not a course to take as a freshman. He is doing very well in all classes but that one. I told him after he gets his engineering degree, then if he wants to coach, then fine. But not until then."
How would you rate Kevin Fant's performance this year?
"Up and down. That happens as a quarterback when your receivers drop the ball. At times, your timing gets off. I saw something in practice yesterday. Hopefully, he will finish like he did last year."
Talk about the SEC championship game you guys played against Tennessee.
"The difference in that game was they had a more polished quarterback than we did because we had a freshman. We made some mistakes. I think what gave us the edge was the kicking game."
Talk about playing so many freshmen.
"At one time we have played five freshmen at different places offensively. You have four defensively. I count Gholar as a freshman even though he isn't. In the kicking game we have quite a few. That gives us a lot of encouragement."
Have you looked ahead to what might happen if you pull out a win against Tennessee? Maybe, you win 6 games and go to a bowl game.
"Six wins will put you in a bowl game this year in the SEC, but you don't look ahead. You take care of today and worry about that when it happens."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at email@example.com