"Obviously a different week, playing on a short week. But it's neat with your rivalry game, I'm excited to play this game on Thanksgiving Night. My first I guess experience with the Egg Bowl I was in a hotel room in Palo Alto, California; I was a grad assistant at Notre Dame watching the ball kicked up in the air and see Mississippi State score I think ten points in the last 30 seconds of the game to win. And that was Thanksgiving Night."
"So it's a really neat deal and a neat opportunity for us to get the opportunity to go play this game on Thanksgiving Night. And a little bit of tradition brought back to the game and the excitement which it has."
Mississippi State has had 13 players miss 88 games combined this season? "Yeah, I think that was low. With Justin (Gremillion, team trainer) that's actually I think over a hundred. But, we have over a hundred players! And we've missed over a hundred games in our two-deep this year, something like that. I've never had a season like that before, had that many people miss."
Can you talk about LaDarius Perkins? "We expect him to be OK to play this game. But Perk has done a really, really good job for us throughout his career. You look at guys a lot of times, a lot of the guys in our program, the success guys have in their career I think it gets lost sometimes. We're in such an instant gratification society. They come in and ‘oh my goodness a guy redshirted, what does that mean? It means he should redshirt, I think most guys, I wish they gave everybody five years of eligibility to be honest with you. Where they could get maybe a little bit of playing time here or there in certain games as a freshman , or every once in a while cover a kickoff or learn about the speed of the game just so the guys keep themselves motivated and interested. I think they do better academically that way, when there's a chance they can play."
"But Perk comes in, redshirts, did a great a job with all of that stuff. The next year came in and rotated with Vick Ballard, but continued to progress, was a change-up guy, made a lot of big plays for us. And was in the kicking game, then all of a sudden became the feature back and has a 1,000-yard rushing season. I know this year probably statistically didn't turn out the way he wanted it to with the numbers, just with kind of getting banged-up a bunch of different times during the season. But it doesn't diminish anything that he's accomplished here and all the great things that he's accomplished, especially being a role model on how to do things the right way and take care of your business, and how to develop as a player and not be worried. Too many guys worry about the wrong things; as freshmen how many carries did you get? Know what, as a freshman how many right assignments did you have? That's much more important. And as guys learn to do that they learn to develop to become much better players."
When you came in Russell was committed and you wanted to talk to him, talk about your relationship? "It was great. At the quarterback position, that's the guy that has to lead your program. So when I got hired I didn't know Tyler and he didn't really know me. That's the guy that you're going to put everything on. So when we first talked I wanted to make sure he was the guy. I didn't know the previous staff or any of those guys on the previous staff, so I didn't know how their recruiting was and how they had done things. I wanted to make sure the guy that was going to be our leader wanted to be our leader for all the right reasons and do it the right way."
"The great thing about it is he did that. When we had that conversation—I think he de-committed, that's all irrelevant to me, that's language for the newspapers--he knew hew wanted to be here, wanted to look at things. I remember him calling me, I was in Florida coaching the national championship game. I think it was the night before the game or two nights before the game, he called and said I want to be your leader, I want to be your quarterback. So I think that showed he had what we were looking for."
"And he's done that through his career. Look at his performance, I think one of the best performances of his career on Saturday (at Arkansas). To come in as a fifth-year senior, not be 100%, have half a practice during the week, and to step in in a tough environment against a good defense, one of the best pass-rushing defenses in the league. And go 18-for-28 for 260 and two touchdowns, and lead the team the way he did. I mean it was a cold, windy day for a guy that's not 100% that didn't many reps in practice against the top pass-rushing team in the league…and he went out and led the team to a win. You know that just shows why we had that conversation in the beginning and why we were excited that he's been our quarterback since he's been here. And it shows what's happened, that he had what it takes to win, to lead our program. And that all showed on Saturday."
Do you have a wildcat package with Jameon Lewis as you had with Chad Bumphis? "Yeah, it's a very different type of deal. Chad would have a little play or two here or there for him to snap at it. But a bunch of guys are high school quarterbacks. I've got Gabe Football (Myles) right here in Starkville High School! He played Johnny Manziel that week, they called him Gaby Football."
"We've got some guys, we'll have a plan. Hopefully Tyler is ready to go again. If he's not we've got Damian Williams. Damian, it's been pretty interesting now for the last two weeks he's had his number called at some interesting times. I guess as a coach I've done him a ‘favor', his first play was at the minus-three-yard line on Saturday; and his last play was in overtime! He didn't get many snaps in between. Then the week before he rolls out in the fourth quarter to try to lead a comeback against the number-one team in the country. So I guess as far as big situations we've thrown him in that fire the last couple of weeks."
"But we'll see how it goes. We'll have a plan. We'll have Sam Cowart, Josh Hand, they know all the different checks. If we have to put Jameon Lewis back there we'll be able to do that to go play some quarterback if we have to."
Have you seen the outcome of this game impact recruiting in the state? "To be honest with you I don't think it's had much of an impact. I know it has a personal impact, I much more enjoyed the three than the one. It just leaves a smile on your face."
"But I really haven't seen a huge swing one way or the other, I don't think, if we've come out on top or not come out on top. I mean we've won and got a lot of great players, we've lost and got a lot of great players. They've won and got a lot of great players and they've lost and got a lot of great players, too. So to me I don't know that it really turns much."
What were your emotions after last year's game? "I mean our emotions were what bowl game were we going to? To be honest with you, I wasn't real happy Saturday night. Probably even less happy after watching the film on Sunday morning. At which point I think we had a recruiting meeting and I had a meeting with John Clark to put together a December schedule that would affect whatever bowl games we could have possibly gone to. And I got in the car and headed out recruiting."
"So you just don't have time to sit there. You could say boy what a great win for us (Saturday), that was 113 years we had our first win in the state of Arkansas of playing football here, right? First time we beat them twice in a row in who knows how long, and all these great things. I mean, I was at my desk at 7:15, it was done, it was on to the next game at 7:15 that night. So I got to enjoy that for about 45 minutes and move on."
"So you look at losses the same way, what's next?"
You appreciate fans stew about it? "Yeah, it doesn't make me happy, I can tell you that much. I'll be honest with you, I'm just as mad today about losing last year as I was a year ago Sunday or whatever it was. That doesn't change things. But I guess you don't have time really to dwell on things, you're already on to the next thing that is going to happen within the program."
What were you thinking watching that (1999) Egg Bowl game? "I'll be honest, I remember we got on a plane, Casey Robbin is sitting next to me, he lives down in New Orleans now. He was our backup left tackle. They put one of those trays on the plate because you're on a big plane, a long flight, airplane food…and he looked at me and said ‘happy Thanksgiving!' A beautiful Thanksgiving! No, we flew out and landed and I think had practice on that Thursday, we went out early to practice because we were on the other side of the country. We went to the hotel room and had a big Thanksgiving dinner, we had all our meetings. So we're back in our hotel room that night, it was obviously late so I didn't see much of the game, I just saw the end of the game."
"But I guess in some ways you just look at games. So when I came here I always assumed that that was a Thanksgiving Day game. In Manchester, they play the Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving, no matter what. In fact my senior year of high school we played it in eight inches of snow, we were the only game played in all of New England that day because they don't cancel the Turkey Bowl! Unfortunately we lost to West, very heart-crushing because we'd already beaten them twice in the season, once in the regular season and once in the playoffs, and we lost. New Hampshire is where the city championship is after the state championships. And it's cold up there."
"So to me I just assumed the Egg Bowl is on Thanksgiving, just like the Cowboys and the Lions are on Thanksgiving. And I think it was on that for a while after that, so if we weren't playing and you'd turn on the TV and see that game on Thanksgiving Night and it was a pretty neat deal. When I came here I was kind of disappointed to find it wasn't on Thanksgiving Night any more; now it is, and I'm excited."
"When you have something like that, not that the rivalry needs more but I think it just makes it more unique."
You said Dak Prescott would be back for a bowl game, that's not the Egg Bowl is it? "No, I'm not that smart! I guess I could be that deceiving and trickeration. In talking to our doctors, no. They say it was just one of those one-in-a-million type of things. Where he got hit there is no structural damage, it's just until all the strength comes back he's not going to be cleared to go play. They said in one range-of-motion he has all his strength back; in the other he doesn't have much. It's kind of in one range-of-motion the nerve is just not firing the right way or recovered the right way yet."
Is it strange to have the twist where you are in the position Ole Miss was last year, playing for a bowl? "No, two years ago we were in the same position, here at home. We were 5-6 coming into this game, got a big win, went on to the Music City Bowl. Got a win there, too. So I don't see much of it besides that. To be honest with you I think when you play this game, we could be 11-0 or we could be 0-11; I think when you play this game for a lot of fans and a lot of people in this state for how you feel…I bet if you talked to a lot of our fans and said hey, you're going to go 11-1 and lose the Egg Bowl they'd be pretty disappointed. You're going to go 1-11 and win the Egg Bowl they'd say oh, I'd take that. I probably wouldn't be happy with either of the scenarios right there, I'd want to be 12-0 and winning the Egg Bowl."
"But this game in itself is really its own entity. It's a special game. Rivalry games are so fun because of that way, because its own unique game. A lot of times there's a lot to be played for on top of it and I've been fortunate enough to play in those type of games. In rivalry games it means even more. But still your number-one focus is you want to beat your rival and get the bragging rights for the state for the next year."