Dog Offense Faces Familiar Defensive Staff

It's not exactly a reunion. But while their respective teams are doing Saturday stretching expect lots of casual conversing among members of the Bulldog and Tiger coaching staffs. And in this coaching case, familiarity breeds respect.

Mississippi State offensive coordinator Les Koenning certainly has a fair idea how much of the Auburn defensive team intends to operate. "They are good football coaches and are going to put their kids in the best position to make plays," Koenning said. Positions based on a degree of ‘inside information' that cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith has taken directly to Auburn after a lengthy second stint in Starkville that ended last Christmas Day.

In fact, Bulldog followers who pre-date Dan Mullen's tenure will be seeing flashbacks to the Sylvester Croom years with Smith, coordinator Ellis Johnson, J.B. Grimes and Charlie Harbison now on an opposing sideline. It's as if the old band got back together in different colors and now Mississippi State is facing some music.

For his part Koenning is more concerned with tuning-up an offense about to face its second serious test of 2013. And they will need far better production than the first, a 21-3 loss to Oklahoma State, if the Bulldogs are to successfully open their SEC schedule.

What have you seen from the Auburn defense? "They have a lot of people back and had some people out but have them back now and they play really, really hard. They do a nice job, defensively, and they are good football coaches and are going to put their kids in the best position to make plays. They are going to play some man coverage and going to play some zone coverage. Melvin (Smith) is working with their corners and he was over here, too, and knows a little bit about us. And the rest of them, Cheese (Harbison), we haven't seen each other in a long time. So it's not like we don't exactly how they are going to line up and what they are going to do."

"It comes down to execution, and the same thing happened against Oklahoma State. If you execute you are going to have those opportunities. I can't tell you when the opportunities are going to occur in a game but we've got to be ready to every play for that opportunity. I think that is the key with the mentality of our young players. They are excited, juiced up and as soon as they say ‘well, maybe (opportunity) isn't this play', then that is the play you get devastated on. You got to be keyed up on every play and ready to go."

What did you see with Tyler Russell back at practice? "He's a fifth-year senior so he knows what to do, so it is not a big deal for us. If he was a young kid it would be kinda tough for him. But he's been through it and understands our first-down gameplan, our third-down gameplan and red-zone gameplan and we will go with it."

What did you think of Damian Williams' first action? "It's like he told me before the game. He said ‘Coach, I got to learn all these plays?'. I said yep. So it's been a lot of plays for him and he's gotten better. This week was better than last week. Last week it was just looking at the wristband and having to turn over more than one wristband and it was like holy cow, there's more? Then he had to learn numbers past 100 (with plays) so it was a deal like that and it was a transition for him."

"He is grasping what we are talking about every day. He is a smart young man and a talented young man. His deal is he has to keep his motor running. You got to transition and quarterbacks have to have short memories. You can't have a long memory. If you have a long memory it is going to really kill you. You have to go to the next play and go on. Sometimes he gets frustrated about it and I should've done that. Well, it's too late and you can't worry about that one."

How did you think Dak Prescot handled his first start? "I thought he did really well. The first pass he threw, the bubble, it was a little more impressive to me and I thought it might go in the bleachers because he was so jacked up! He was so jacked up that he went a little high. But it was okay and he was amped up when he came in there. You know, he is a tremendous leader and a really good football player and does a lot of really good things. He's a good guy and has played for us and knows the system and knows what to expect. I really like the way he leads the team on the field."

Coach Mullen talked about the problems on third downs. What have you seen? "Execution. Third downs are so critical and either the defense gets you off the field or you continue to stay on the field. We've got to get better at that execution. We're just not executing to the best of that right now. It is one thing or another, one guy here or one guy there. You can't put the finger on just one person and say correct it or just one thing. It's just missed assignments we have to correct it."

Is it not putting yourself in good position on first and second downs? "Well, at times and I can't say for sure on every instance. But like the Oklahoma State game, there were a lot of penalties early. This last time there weren't nearly as many penalties and there was a lot of improvement in that with the second game. But again, there are chances of missed assignments that we need to correct."


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