What do you feel the defense needs to do to shut down the Memphis offense?
"We have to shut down the run, most importantly. They are going to try and run with number 20 (DeAngelo Williams). He is a great athlete who can run and catch. They will try and get him the ball. Their passing game is pretty good. They are probably going to do the same thing they have been doing; screens, a little curl routes, flat routes. There is nothing that we haven't seen."
The young defensive players appear to be improving each game. What do you attibute that to?
"They are not playing with any fear now. They are not playing with any nervousness."
How do you, as a senior, help continue to build the confidence of this team?
"The way I build confidence is by being a leader. I can see the young guys follow my lead. Don't be scared. If you make a mistake, make it full speed. As I see those guys coming along, especially Quinton Culberson, he comes up and makes one on one tackles, big plays like that. It might not look big in the stands but those are big plays. If you miss that tackle, they score."
Do you see all three phases of the game coming into play more and more?
"The kicking game was extremely good Saturday. If Brent (Smith) keeps that up, it is going to be a very good season. The special teams played a big part, although we could probably have been a little better on punt coverages than we were. Defensively, we have done well the past few games. The offense has also stepped it up. We will gradually get better week after week."
Do you have any mixed emotions facing your former defensive coordinator, Joe Lee Dunn?
"There won't be any mixed emotions. I am always going to love Joe Lee. He is a great coach and always coached me well. I am going to go out there and play ball the way I want to play."
The media keeps asking Coach Sherrill about the defensive schemes of defensive coordinator Ron Cooper and if they are too difficult for the players to learn. However, something the media overlooks is about half of the players on the 1st and 2nd units are first-year players and didn't have any time to learn the schemes other than during two-a-days. Are these schemes a different type than you play in high school ball? And, if so, is that a valid reason as to why it has taken the players, especially the secondary, so long to learn them?
"It is kind of a big difference coming in. Probably in high school, you play a little bit more man because not too many people throw the ball. There are a few teams in the state of Mississippi that throw the ball a lot, but not many. Coming in with Coach Cooper's scheme, he never wants to leave a DB out there along. He always wants them to have some help unless he is bringing the house (blitzing). The scheme is not complicated, but you have a lot of younger guys who are still developing, maturity-wise. It is going to take them a longer time to pick up the schemes than it will be for guys who have been here."
Has it helped the defense to have Coach Cooper up in the press box where he can see more of what is going on on the field?
"I think that has helped out a great deal the past couple of games. He can see what his DBs are actually doing.
"On the other part, for the guys in our defensive backfield, Odell Bradley is a senior but this is his first year to start and Quinton (Culberson) is a freshman, Darren (Williams) and Dock (Kevin Dockery), they were under Coach Dunn last year and we were playing a whole different defense. You can, basically, say our entire defensive backfield are young puppies. They are grasping it. All they have to do is play with confidence and let the fear go and I think they are starting to do that now."
In the past, Coach Sherrill has helped coach areas of the team that needed some extra help. He has helped coach the offensive line and the tight ends positions when they needed help. Now, with so many young guys on defense, he is helping out by coaching the drop linebackers. Has it helped the defense to, basically, have another position coach working with them?
"Yeah, it helps out tremendously. It helps me as well. He has given me tips and pointers and Coach Sherrill probably knows everything about football that there is to be known because he has been coaching awhile. There are certain things he tells me that I see developing (during a game). I already know what is going to happen because of (his pointers). So, yeah, it was a great thing for him to come over and coach on defense."
I don't know if you know this, but on the internet and other places, Coach Cooper is receiving a lot of criticism from MSU fans due to how slow the defense started this year. What would you, as a player who plays under Coach Cooper, say to the fans to convince them to hang in there?
"Coach Cooper is a great coach. We have been in the meeting rooms. He has so many great, fundamental plays. What I would say is just hang in there. Most of the players on (the defense) are either freshmen or sophomores. We have a few juniors and there are only a few seniors (starting) on our defense, so there is quite a bit of inexperience on the team. I would just tell them to hang in there and we will prove it to them."
How is Coach Cooper different, personality-wise, on the field than Coach Dunn was while he was at State?
"I would say Coach Cooper is a little more excitable. He is more animated. If he wants to say something, he is going to say it. Coach Dunn and Coach Cooper vocals are pretty much the same, but Coach Dunn was more laid back with his. Coach Cooper has a little bit more excitement in his tone and the way he wants things done."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page (http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com), the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports and Mississippi high school sports on the internet. You can contact him by email at email@example.com.