Thing is, even the cliché contains candor. Mississippi State is ready to measure this 2013 team against a real opponent, and they've drawn a really good one too in Oklahoma State. The inter-conference contest kicks off at 2:30 Saturday on the neutral turf of Reliant Stadium.
The football won't be in-air only on that kickoff either. Both sides are bringing potent offenses to this holiday weekend matchup, with the Bulldogs led by record-setting quarterback Tyler Russell. Koenning has been his coach and coordinator all career-long and 2013 is what both have built towards. So the throw-and-catch aspects were Monday's media focus, beginning with how a group of freshmen and transfer receivers are fitting into the opening-week plans.
"Well, we're going to start limiting now what we do. We threw the whole playbook at them so obviously it was some confusing times for them. But now we're going to get pretty precise, directly what they need to know and I think it's going to show up a lot better."
What did De'Runnya Wilson do in camp to climb the depth chart so fast? "Get open and catch the ball! You know, it's pretty obvious when you throw him the ball he makes plays. That's obvious. When the ball is in his vicinity he catches it and that's a good quality to have as a receiver!"
Has Fred Ross also made an impression? "Fred being out there has helped us. And I think he's grasping it. Because he's been banged-up a little bit, and he's coming along and doing really well. I think limiting-down is going to help De'Runnya, it's going to help Fred, it's going to help all our freshmen."
How similar is their situation with Bumphis and Smith and that 2009 group of freshmen? They don't have to start but you do need some to play? "There's no doubt. I mean very good analogy. When you talk about it and look what happened in the past, those guys came in and helped us and played early. We're looking for the same thing in those receivers also. But again it comes down to knowledge, they've got to feel comfortable in what they're doing."
Does it also help that this group has a Tyler Russell working with them? "No doubt. Tyler and Dak (Prescott) have been absolutely a pleasure this preseason. They've done really, really well. They're excited about getting into the week, you know they've been going against our defense the whole time so now they're excited to look at Oklahoma State and take another step forward."
Coach Mullen said there isn't the same urgency to put Prescott on the field this year? "There's no doubt. We've got him on the field, he knows what it's like to play. He's thrown touchdown passes in games, he's done all that. So getting him to know the whole gameplan, not just having a ‘Dak package' but having the whole gameplan ready for him to do it."
What does Oklahoma State's defense do to complement their offense? "Again, when you look at them, they've got a new defensive coordinator. We feel like basically they're not going to change their whole system, the new guy was under the same system. They'll probably be a little bit more aggressive, do some things that way defensively to try to get the ball back for their offense."
Does it start up front for them defensively? "Oh yeah. #99 is a really good football player, you'll probably get a chance to watch him on the weekend sometime, he's a really, really good player now. When you go through it, #4, #11…I'm really good with numbers as you can tell, names don't but numbers stick out for me! They've got a really good defense, they're talented."
Because OSU goes up-tempo is there a need to control the ball, slow things down? "You say yes, but you don't know when those opportunities in a game are going to come about for you to score. So you want to score! It's not one of these deals I don't want to score, you want to score when those opportunities come about. You just don't know offensively when that's going to happen."
Russell commented last week he's not a superman, is that part of the development you've seen? "Well, he can really spin the ball, he can throw the football. And there's a lot of things that he's really good at. Obviously running the 40-yard dash wouldn't be his forte! That wouldn't be the thing you look at. But he's realized what his strengths are and playing to them."
How does it help having Malcolm Johnson back to speed? "Oh, what a great deal. It's good to have him back on the field, and get ready to play. Because he can make some plays."
How do you make sure inexperienced players stay within themselves and don't try to go score 45 points in this game? "I would bet almost anything that our young guys are more concerned about doing the right thing, running the right play, being in the right area, than scoring 45 points! I think they've been overwhelmed with a lot of stuff in camp, all of a sudden they come back. And as we talk about you've got to do your job, you're one of eleven on the field and you've got to do your job. You take care of your job, you're in good shape."
How have the older receivers come along in camp? "They've come along really well. They've been great teachers to the young guys so it's been good. Just number-wise when you look at our classes that have come through this class is a large receiver class. Which, we graduated a bunch of receivers so we're relying on them to help us. And you know how it is with the receivers; they're open every play, it doesn't matter if they run the wrong route or anything I'm out there Coach, they're open every play! So they've got learn different parts of the SEC. Open in high school is wide-open because we recruited some really good players. Open in the SEC? It might be a ball-placement deal. So those are things you've got to learn."
Is there any way to get them ready for that or is it experience? "And that will be one way. The other way is we've practiced against our defense so often. I mean one-on-ones, everything is competition against our defense so we're trying to get them in that arena, to let them understand what type of players they're going to go against."
"Obviously you feel the ability is there, no doubt. I mean we feel we're very proud of the receivers we've brought in. I think it's how quick they can retain and how quick they can get on the field, how quick they can feel comfortable in what they're doing."
Do you have an idea how many receivers you'd like to rotate the first game? "You ever been to Houston, Texas?! It gets pretty hot down there! As many as we can use we'll probably use. That's the other issue, we've got make sure those guys are ready to go all the time."
How critical might walk-through be knowing where everything is? "There's no doubt. When you walk into a building the first thing we do with the quarterbacks is find the play clocks. Because each venue is different, and you've got to go through it. I think a neat thing about playing this game, too, a lot of these kids have dreams and aspirations of playing in the NFL. Well, they're fixing to get into a venue that is just like what they'll have the opportunity to play later on in. And I think that's very important."