"We had plays that really are the ones that kept you out of field position or the opposing offense a chance to score. We had 10 plays but 5 plays resulted in touchdowns. If you had any one of those plays back, then you really had a chance to win the game.
"The first play of the game (a 74-yard touchdown pass by Houston) we had a busted coverage (in the secondary). We had a 3rd and two and a 4th and one (where we) made the decision to go for it and missed a block on both of them. (We kicked) a poor punt when we were backed up and they got the ball (on our) 47 (yard line) and they scored. We (allowed their quarterback) two scrambles that ended up in touchdowns. One was a 2nd and 9 and the other was a 3rd and 11. When we tried the onside kick everything was there but the execution by the kicker. We practiced that about 4 or 5 times on Wednesday and on Thursday we walked through it. It was just a matter of the kicker not kicking it where he was supposed to."
Upcoming LSU game:
"The thing that really impresses you about the (LSU-Georgia) game is Georgia had plenty of times to score in the red zone early in the game and they couldn't. One reason was (due to) the penalty but LSU is also really talented. Offensively, they just keep coming up with great receivers. There is no question that (Michael) Clayton is a talented receiver who makes a lot of things happen. (Matt) Mauck has been a very stable quarterback, meaning he has done what they have asked him to do. He is executing the offense very well."
Q & A:
On the first play (of the game) you mentioned there was a busted play. Was (the secondary player covering the play) supposed to get help?
"We were playing quarter quarters (in the secondary). (Houston) had two receivers and the third receiver coming out in motion and he went back underneath the inside wide receiver and ran what we call a skinny takeoff. The cornerback was supposed to cover him."
In a situation like that where your guys are scrapping for a win, what does that generally do to a team? Did that leave your guys in a funk early?
"It did. But at halftime we talked to them and said that we were not going to quit and somebody would make a play. We saw a lot of good things from this team. Justin Jenkins made plays. Certainly the running backs are making plays. Kevin (Fant) is making plays. We have people (making plays). We just have to make sure we don't give up."
Was (starting free safety) Darren Williams injured?
"Yes. We had (senior cornerback) Demetric Wright and Darren Williams (both out of the game). We have a lot of feeling for (Kevin) Dockery because he has played just about every position (in the secondary). He is a good player and we are thankful that we have him, but we need to get everybody back and settled into one position and let them play."
Through the first three games you obviously have had trouble stopping teams and preventing points from being scored. Has there been any common problem with the defense during those games?
"Yes, we have given up the scrambles. We have had a lot of trouble with the quarterback scrambling. That means the defensive backs should have one thing on their mind and that is to find their receiver and be as deep as the deepest receiver and go play him. That hasn't been happening because our defensive backs have lost their receivers."
On offense you have had a lot of success. Have you been surprised how well you have been able to move the ball and score?
"You have a senior quarterback who is able to make the checks and adjustments. He can move in the pocket and throw. I think our offensive line has gotten better. We have talented running backs and we also have some receivers who have been making plays."
Has Justin Jenkins exceeded your expectations?
"I've always thought that Justin had the ability to play (in the SEC). I felt in the spring that he had moved himself up to an SEC (caliber) receiver. When you say that, what you mean is he is a complete player and can make plays, break games open and score points. He is a good size receiver who has speed and jumping ability. His only problem has really been consistency but he has been very consistent (this year) and has made some great plays in the first three games."
Was it a gametime decision not to play Darren Williams?
"Yes. He just couldn't go full speed. We will go out today and hopefully he and Demetric Wright will be ready to play."
Will he play this weekend?
What about (offensive lineman) Johnny Wadley?
"(He) will probably be out (for the LSU game)."
Any other injury updates?
"No, but we are going to get an x-ray on Justin (Jenkins) just to make sure that everything is ok. As far as practicing and playing Justin, we should be able to do that."
You've changed schemes on defense and you've adjusted personnel. At this point, what else can you do?
"The problem you have is when you get ready to play all of a sudden you lose a couple of players, then you have to start all over again. You then have to continue to put the people in the right positions. That's just like Dockery having to play different positions. The same thing with some linebackers. You are trying to get the personnel out there so that they all fit together. Then, when you lose some it makes you scramble."
Are you saying injuries have been the factor for the defense struggling at this point?
"In the secondary, yes."
Your defensive line hasn't played very well, either, so far.
"No, we haven't played well. (We) need to get a lot more aggressive. Defensive players have to get rid of blockers and make a play. The offenses that we have played have been more finesse offenses. Now, we are getting ready to play a team and teams, because of their personnel, that are going to line up and bloody your nose. You are going to have to play a different scheme, meaning mindset, because you are going to have to line up and really be physical or LSU will put a knot on your head in a hurry."
Is there any concern, based on what you have seen from your team so far, whether they will be able to stand in there against a team like LSU?
"You would have to be concern, but you go back and look at the plays that you have given up. Giving up those plays sometimes have a big impact on how you play. You can't stop certain things unless you get a rush. Or you can't intercept the ball unless you get a rush. Then again, if you don't cover somebody tight, you can rush all day and not get there."
Against Houston and Oregon all you needed was one stop to get the ball back and put yourself in a position to tie the game but you couldn't do it.
"At that point in the game you have to do something to help your players make that stop. When I say that, I mean we need to make sure we call the right defense at the right time and take a risk. Sometimes, it goes the other way. On 4th and 1, we felt like we could (make a first down) but we didn't. On the onside kick, it was there; we felt like we could execute it but didn't. When that happens, sometimes you have players who are out there pressing to make plays moreso than just going and making them."
How do you feel like (defensive coordinator) Coach Cooper has done, so far?
"The schemes that we are doing are fine. There's nothing wrong with the schemes. Now, are we all hitting the cylinders together? No. And that is something as coaches that we need to make sure they do, hit the cylinders at the same time."
When a team is not winning, there is a lot of speculation that centers around (the head coach). What would you tell your skeptics or people who think that you can't get this thing turned around?
"The same thing I told our players at halftime. And the same thing I told them the week before. You don't quit. You don't give up. You put your head down and dig. The unfair thing is the pressure shouldn't be on the players. You somehow have to take the pressure off the players. The negative energy (people) have, they need to (turn) that negative energy back to positive energy and help the (players) make plays. This team just needs something positive to happen to them."
Are you as confident as ever that you will get this thing turned around this year?
"Have we done the things that we need to do? Yes. Do you have players? Yes. You have to coach them, too."
Was the game that senior tight end Aaron Lumpkin had Saturday night what you have wanted from your tight end this season?
"Aaron is getting better and better. I have a lot of respect for him because he is a kid that works very, very hard. He is having some success."
How has he done with his blocking this year?
"I was impressed with that he has done the last two games."
Are there aspects of the defense you feel are improving each week?
"There are certain players that have improved. Again, have we had all players hitting on the same cylinders? No."
After watching film, are there certain parts of the defense where you can make adjustments to improve it?
"Yes, that is what we are doing at this time. That is what you do from week to week."
Are there certain things you can do to adjust the schemes to the talent level that you have?
"(We) are going to have to do some other things to help our defensive team. Of course, I can't tell you what we are going to do, but we are trying to help these kids to get in the right position to do some things that they can handle."
This will be the 4th game where you have either played at 7 or 8 p.m. Do you have any thoughts about playing at that time of night?
"It is a long day. You work your week up to this point, but it is a long day. That are a lot of things that happen on that Saturday. Would you rather get up and go play? Yes.
"I think the advantage (this weekend) is with LSU because (playing at night) is what they normally do all the time."
What about playing a team of LSU's caliber when you are in the position you are in?
"It is a great opportunity. But you know that you have a lot of challenges. LSU has demonstrated that they belong where they are (7th in the nation). They certainly belong in the top 10, top 7. You have three teams (in the SEC), LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee that look like they have the talent to do what they want to do."
You mentioned how negative energy can affect how the players play. Can that also affect how coaches coach?
"If you allow it to happen. Anytime you have negative energy, it probably doesn't affect the coaches as much as it affects the people around you. You have to separate who you are as a person compared to what your role and responsibilities are. That is hard for people to do.
"People put you on a pedestal. You can be a great person but the bottom line is winning. I will take care of that part. All the speculation that you guys and other people have, you don't have to worry about that. Our fans need to generate energy to help these players. The thing that has impressed me over the years were two teams; Iowa and Wisconsin. Both times when they weren't doing well, you could go to either stadium and they were packed. Now, those people who paid that price during those years can have their success. That is part of the reason those programs are having that success."
You built this program into what it was because your teams were hardnosed. How far are you away from being that type team?
"Probably the best way to describe that is every team has the personality of their head coach. If someone described Jackie, they might say he could be laying on the ground with his throat cut, bleeding but you better not get close to him because he will still find a way to grab you. I think that is the way these players are. The last three games they didn't give up. They are not going to give up. As long as that happens, it will help this football team make the jump quickly."
Would you describe this team as a hardnose football team?
"Offensively, we are getting physical, but we are not at all as physical, defensively, as we need to be."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.