Koenning Readies Rookie For Egg Bowl Start

Les Koenning has gotten used to making changes at the drop of a hat. Rather, the dropping of another quarterback. And now coach and crew have a victory to show for the latest late-game shuffle. So, expectations Mississippi State must start a true freshman in the Egg Bowl seems almost…normal? "We just adjust and go on. You have to make things happen and make things right."

What the offensive coordinator is assembling for Thursday's showdown at Scott Field doesn't feel right to anyone outside the Bulldog locker room. Yes, history shows first-year freshmen quarterbacks have led Mississippi State to victories in Egg Bowls before…but only at the end of a whole season under-center.

This time, barring a near-miraculous return by either of the two injured veterans, the first offensive snap Thanksgiving Night will be delivered to Damian Williams. Who as of now is scheduled to make his very first college start not only in the heat of the real rivalry game but with Bulldog bowl hopes hinging entirely on this outcome.

This gives Koenning a week—no, "three days!" he reminds—to hone the rookie's still raw skills. But based on how Williams handled sudden responsibility last Saturday at Little Rock, after a second shoulder injury in eight days to senior Tyler Russell thrust the new kid onto the stage was encouraging. Williams took his one snap of overtime all 25 yards for what became the winning touchdown. Alternate starter Dak Prescott was not dressed last week with a damaged nerve from November 9 and remains doubtful for this week as well.

The stage, as his coaches said, was not too big for Williams after all. "That's what he did, he did that," Koenning said Monday. "I'm very proud of him and it turned out really good for him. He did a really good job. But there's a real short trip from the outhouse to the penthouse and he needs to learn that real quick, you need to keep making those plays."

He practiced to start last week and didn't have to, but how does that help preparing for this week? "When you get 96 reps in one day, you'd be ready to play! That's what it is like. When you get that many reps, and reps and reps, you get a chance to play."

Damian said even though it was just three series, the experience against Alabama's defense helped get him ready for another SEC game? "No doubt. No doubt. And again, you can see the talent that's there. We've got to be careful as coaches, he's a freshman and you've got to go out there and put him in situations where he is comfortable."

Now he's going into the Egg Bowl, what is your reaction to that sort of gauntlet right away? "Welcome to the SEC! The SEC is a step level below the NFL and if you have any ambitions to play at that level you'll get up and play, there's no doubt."

What did you tell him before overtime at Little Rock? "Hey, this is what you came here for. It's very simple. He said yes, sir, Coach, and he was ready to go. That's all it took."

Not only Williams, but guys like Josh Robinson took over when a starter was hurt and performed? "Yes, he did a good job too. I thought he was really good. Tyler played a heck of a game, played really really, well, played with pain; went through the whole game and finished as much as he could, and then got hurt at the end. It's an opportunity for somebody else."

"You've got to look at it as an opportunity, you can't go through it and say oh no it's me. And I keep telling those young kids you're one play away from playing, one play way. How many times do they believe you? Well, it really was, and he stepped in and did a good job."

What have you seen from the offensive line in recent weeks? "Well again, we're playing better. We're not having near as many missed assignments. And I think that's a key to success, when you don't have missed assignments you have a chance to win."


Gene's Page Top Stories