Coach Sherrill talked about the excitement of the new season.
"We have four days until we line up and play. I can tell that it's getting closer because the last two mornings I woke up at 4 o'clock. I think that is indicative of all of us at this time of the year."
He also talked about how young the team would be and how anxious he is to see all the young guys play.
"I'm anxious to see a lot of these young guys play. Right now, just going through the roster, we will have four seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and one freshman that will start on offense. We will have ten new guys, three of whom are true freshmen. Defensively, we will have four seniors, two juniors, four sophomores and one freshman that will start. We will have eleven first-time guys, ten of whom are freshmen. That's a pretty young team. We will be a lot better at the end of the year than we are now."
He also anticipates some of the young guys moving up the depth chart as the season progresses. "There's a lot of (new) guys that will move up (on the depth chart). For instance, after seeing (offensive tackle) Donovan Davis in practice the last two days, we probably now wish that we had moved him to guard. He is going to play. We will move him to guard next week. We have other players that will play very little (in the Oregon game) but will end up playing (more as the season progresses)."
After figuring out who the players will be at each position, the next thing he looks for is mismatches that can be used to his advantage.
"The first thing you do after you find your players is you start finding where you can create the mismatches or what you have to do to offset the mismatches. The first one will be the heat. Today, the heat index on the field is 110. Yesterday, it was over a 100. One thing you can't do is get accustomed to that very quickly. (Oregon) will bring a lot of players who have played but they will not be accustomed to the heat. One thing we have to make sure is we don't overwork our players."
Coach Sherrill talked about a change in the practice schedule for the upcoming season.
"What we will do different this year than what we have done in the past is take off Sunday and work on Friday. We will walk through some stuff on Friday, which is something that we haven't done (in the past)."
Coach Sherrill talked a little about who Oregon has coming back and who they had to replace.
"You remember guys who played in the game last year. Certainly (wide receiver) Samie Parker and (quarterback) Jason Fife are very talented players. Jared Siegel, their field goal kicker, is very talented, especially on his kickoffs. Their offensive line is back and almost intact. All five of them started at some time last year. Defensively, they lost some defensive ends and their middle linebacker. They've taken their outside linebacker, Kevin Mitchell, and put him inside. They taken some of their defensive tackles and moved them outside. So, the guys they have playing have experience and have lined up and played. They are still trying to find cornerbacks. I think all through camp they kept trying to see which one would play for them."
Q and A with Coach Sherrill:
Who do you think will start at quarterback for Oregon?
"He is going to play both of them. It doesn't make any difference because it's not going to change their offense. The only thing is (Kellen Clemens) is a little more mobile so he could do some things out the back door. Where they may use him is to run some option, do some things on the counter out the back door. Their fullbacks are basically former tight ends that they put at fullback. They'll run from the tight end set at all times with the possibility of moving their fullback to make two tight ends. Bellotti has a screen built in to almost every pass play."
Talk about your offensive line matching up with the Oregon defensive line.
"We were excited when we first started because we felt we could go two-deep and play a lot of guys. Right now, we are not going to be able to play a lot of guys. Instead of playing your first and second units, you will have to play your second and third. So, that matchup will not be as good as some of the other (positions). We will know what to do, but taking on those 300+ guys that are very physical is something else. We are concerned about that."
Talk about why you chose Kevin Fant as your starting quarterback?
"Kevin has a little more experience and has shown a little more during practice and scrimmages. He has probably controlled the line of scrimmage a little better than Kyle has during two-a-days."
Are there other positions where you still have a battle for the starting positions?
"Yes, there are some. This week we will make a decision on some. To give you an example, we have a battle with our punters (Robert Wallis and Jared Cook). Those two guys are very, very close. That's a battle. Where it really shows up is when you have game-type situations and you send a kid out and he doesn't perform. That's how someone either earns or doesn't earn a job."
Oregon's pass defense was one of the lowest ranked in the nation last year. Do you think that is still a concern of theirs.
"The teams that they played, Washington, Washington State, Stanford, Cal, UCLA, threw the ball a lot. Their defensive philosophy is stop the run. They are going to stop the run first and make you pass. They are going to try to make you one-dimensional."
How have your receivers performed during the spring and pre-season?
"I think that is one area where we have drastically improved. I think that Justin Jenkins has moved himself up to where he is an SEC receiver. When you say a kid is a SEC receiver, that means he is pretty good. He has the speed, 4.3, and also the size. He has also done a great job of catching the football. Antonio Hargro also has that combination and he has done a tremendous job the last two weeks of catching the football. But I think that Justin has a little more knowledge of how to adjust routes. With Ray Ray Bivines, if he will play 100% every play, there aren't too many (defensive backs) that can catch him. Tee Milons has gotten better. Then we have McKinley Scott who has had a very good camp. Will Prosser is a possession receiver and he has done a good job."
Which player has improved the most of all of your players?
"(Sophomore outside linebacker) Clarence McDougal. I really didn't think Clarence would ever play again. When you have a major operation like that, I've always felt that it takes 18 months to really come back. Then you add two more operations on top of that. I can tell you that no coaches got him out there. He got himself out there. He's not back 100% like he was in high school, but he is pretty close."
What makes Clarence so good?
"He has tremendous football smarts. There's not anything that you can ask that he can't answer. You can put something in and tomorrow ask him about it and he can answer you. Also, he has the ability to line up in different places. He just has tremendous awareness and intelligence. He could play receiver. He could play running back. Really, he could play a lot of positions."
Does this freshman class remind you of any of your other freshman classes?
"This class really reminds me of the (Pitt) 1977 class when we had some young guys who ended up winning a lot of football games (1978-81, won 41, lost 7). Everyday they improve. Just like (offensive lineman) Brian Anderson, we will try to get him ready play. I think he will be able to play for us this year. There are some others that I think will have an opportunity to play for us."
Freshman offensive guard David Price was really doing well until he went down with an injury. How long will he be out?
"He will be out for six to eight weeks in a cast."
Will he be redshirted?
"He will have to."
(For those of you who haven't heard, there has been talk that Oregon may use some cooling vests during this weekend's game. When asked Monday, during his teleconference, about whether his team had also been offered the vests, Coach Sherrill said he had but hadn't received them as of Monday.-Gene) Have you got the Nike cooling vests situation resolved?
"(Nike founder) Phil Knight is a very ethical person. I say that very honestly because I know him personally. (Nike) is trying to develop and invent a cooling (vest) system. There are a lot of logistics involved in it. One, what do you have to have to set it up? How do you set it up? Do you have to have compressors? If that's the case, then what is allowed and not allowed is the call of the AD and game management. At Oregon, it's all built in electrically. But, if you have to do it portable, then it has to be done by a compressor. Is that a diesel or gasoline compressor? Then, you have safety issues that may cause a lot of stadiums not to let you do that. It's not as easy as you think when it is portable."
When will you get your cooling vests?
"Even if they are allowed, they won't be here until Friday. So, we aren't going to wear them because they won't do us any good. It's more of a distraction than anything else."
Is it in Nike's hands as far as Oregon using them? "It is an ethical issue to them. Florida State is raising the same question with Colorado coming to Tallahassee. There are a lot of stadiums that don't allow anything in because of security and safety issues."
Will Nike providing the cooling vests affect your relationship with Nike?
"No, that's not an issue. I am one of those old Nike guys. Nike is a great company. They have been very good for college athletics. This is not an issue. This will work itself out."
Where do you see the heat as an advantage to your team?
"Where the biggest effect will be seen is from pregame up until halftime. The second half won't be as hot, but it will still be hot. To us, it won't be as hot, but to people who haven't been exposed to that kind of humidity, it will be hot."
Talk a little about the special teams of both teams.
"I think we have an advantage there. They had a great returner last year. They also had a very good punter and an excellent field goal kicker. The kicker's back, but the returner and punter are gone. They will open with a freshman punter. We are pretty good at putting pressure on a punter. But they have a good snapper, so that will help them."
You mentioned during your Monday teleconference that one of the freshmen tight ends has played really well during practice. Were you talking about Eric Butler?
"Yes. Butler is a true freshman who is, physically, a prototype tight end who can run and catch. He has the frame to get up to 270 pounds."
You mentioned that you may be able to get him ready to play by midseason.
"That's what I'm hoping for. (Our other freshman tight end) Dezmond Sherrod is also a terrific athlete. I'm glad we have him. He is a very, very talented player. He'll hit you and has great feet. But you would like to give him a year to mature and get some size on him."
I've also been very impressed with redshirt freshman tight end Blake Pettit.
"Blake did a great job early but he got hurt and missed some days of practice, so he's been up and down a little bit as far as being consistent. He was back (at practice) yesterday and will play (this weekend)."
Your defensive coordinator, Ron Cooper, has mentioned many times that he wants to play 22 guys on defense. Do you feel like you have reached that stage?
"I think we can play 22 guys. That's what we are planning on."
What about on the offensive side of the ball?
"The same thing. We were planning on playing 22 guys until we had the two linemen (go out with injuries)."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.