Playing in front of a national televised audience.
"I think my players and myself are at the point where we are tired of talking. It's time to play. It's a great opportunity for us to have the chance to play on national TV. Open the season with a conference game at home. What better opportunity can you have if you love the game of football? It doesn't get much better than this. We have worked awfully hard since our last game in November. Now, we get a chance to show what we have done, show what our hard work is about, show how much we have improved. This is a chance for us to show our fans, the whole nation what Mississippi State football is all about and where we are at this point."
His team's opponent, South Carolina.
"It is going to be very challenging playing an excellent football team, a well-coached football team, a team that had great success last year, won some big ball games against some very good football teams. They were a team that is rebuilding just like we were. And they have learned how to win. Hopefully, we can duplicate that same success they had last year."
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH THE MEDIA:
What is the significance to your program of having this game played before a nationally televised audience?
"It's great for the program and the university. That is one of the positive things about college athletics. You get to showcase your university. And I think it's good for Starkville and the state of Mississippi. That is part of the reason that we moved the game to Thursday night. From a football standpoint, Thursday night at 7 o'clock is not an ideal time to play football. In fact, I would like to play it at 11 o'clock on Saturday morning. Get up, play the game, go home and sit down and watch everybody else play."
What question marks do you have going into the game?
"First, it always start with the kicking game and defense. I want to see if our defense is as good as I think it is. Next, I want to see if our kicking game and our kickers have improved as much as I think they have. Then the next question goes to the offense. There is no question that we are better. But, then again, we couldn't be any worse."
Do you feel more confident coming into this season than you did the previous two seasons?
"There is no doubt about that. For the last two seasons, when I've stood up here at the press conferences it was all about building and actually getting to a point where you actually had a chance to compete. Today, we are at the point where we have a chance to compete. I didn't say we are at the point where we know we can go out and expect to win against the top ranking opponents. But we go into this football game with a chance to compete. I feel like if we play well, we have a chance to win the football game. The last two years, we had to play above our heads and the other team had to play below its level for us to even have a chance. That's not the case now."
What improvement have you seen in the offensive line?
"We've made a lot of progress in the offensive line. There's no doubt that we are a lot better than we were at this time last year. We have very good competition at that spot. Brian Anderson is very solid at the left tackle spot. Craig Jenkins and J.D. Hamilton are fighting it out for the right tackle spot. Craig will start at right tackle. (Anthony) Strauder will be at left guard. (Royce) Blackledge will be at center. (Michael) Gates will be at right guard. Calvin Wilson will be the backup at left tackle. (Johnny) Carpenter will be the backup at center. That's the group that we will play to win the game."
How is your depth like at tight end?
"That is a very strong position for us. First, it starts with Eric Butler. Eric is playing very well right now. I've called him 50 cent over the years, but he's up over 90 percent right now. One of these days he's going to get up to 100. And when he does he is going to be a wealthy young man. I expect him to have a big year. Right now, he has become a student of the game. He asks questions and studies the details far more than he did. The athleticism has always been there. He makes plays now. He is a big-time tight end.
"Dezmond Sherrod is as good a blocker at that position as I have been around. And he's learned to catch the football. Sometimes it's not a thing of beauty. It may not be artistic, but the key thing is I have told the tight ends to catch the football. It doesn't have to be pretty and you don't have to make another yard after you catch it, just catch it. Every time their routes will be close to 5 to 10 yards and will go a long way to getting a first down. Their job is to get us first downs and touchdowns. As long as they catch the ball, we will be ok.
"Jason Husband is really helping us at that position. We thought he was going to be a lot of help last year, but he got hurt. He's practicing very well in summer training camp."
Talk about your quarterbacks?
"Mike Henig will be the quarterback. At some point in the game, - I have an idea when - I would like to get Tray (Rutland) some snaps. A lot of it will depend on the game and how things are going. I would like to get Tray in the ball game early because I don't want him to HAVE to go in the game without having some game experience. We feel like he is far enough along where he can compete in the game in the heat of the battle."
How has Michael Henig improved since last season?
"The big thing is Mike has a better feel for the offense, the concept of what we are doing. Where the ball should go against all the coverages we will play. The only reason I don't like to put in a lot of new plays before the season is because every time you put in a play, it's not just one play. You have to teach that play against every coverage that you anticipate seeing the entire season. That's why we haven't changed a lot. Now, Mike understands the concept and knows what to do against all the different coverages that we've faced.
"And Mike, who has a pretty good arm, has gotten more willing to take the second and third option, knowing where and when to go to those options. And being willing to take those options, even in a third and long situation. That's something he wouldn't do earlier. Quite often the plays you design to go up the field may not always be there. But somebody underneath may be open. In the past, he hasn't quite often been willing to take that option because he has a big arm and wanted to force it up the field. He has improved tremendously in that area. I think that is going to help us."
What are your thoughts about starting running back Brandon Thornton when comparing him to Jerious Norwood?
"Brandon Thornton is an exciting football player. Everybody knows about Jerious. If we have success in the future, particularly on offense, it will always go back to Jerious Norwood, because he, more than any player since we have been here, bought into what we are trying to do and sat out to be the guy who would set the example on how to win football games. He established a work ethic for our running backs. When Jerious left, I told Brandon that he has to set the mold and continue that tradition with our running backs that Jerious established. And he has gone about doing that. He works as hard as anybody we have in practice and does so with a smile on his face. He brings that same enthusiasm that Jerious brought."
Who do you expect to start at wide receiver and what is your opinion of the receivers group overall?
"Omarr Conner and Keon Humphries will probably be our two starters going into this ball game.
"Overall, we are much farther along than we were at this time last year. We are catching the ball better. Our routes are better. We know what we are doing a lot better. Guys are making plays in practice, now, that we have never made the last two years. That is progress!"
What is defensive end Titus Brown's status for the game?
"Titus' father passed this week. The funeral will be held in Tuscaloosa on Friday afternoon. I have changed my recruiting plans so I can go to the funeral. Titus is back and will practice today and will start the football game. It's not an easy time for him. As any family would do during this time of grief, we will help him through it."
How is safety Demario Bobo doing?
"He is progressing, but he's not ready to play. We are not going to ask him to practice and do the things he will have to do at safety until we are absolutely sure that his hamstring is 100%."
What does South Carolina have that makes you feel you have your work cut out for you?
"It starts with Sidney Rice. That guy is a great player. He's got to be one of the best receivers in the country. Without a doubt, he will be one of the better guys at the next level one of these days. He's a unique talent who is a big guy who runs fast. He refuses to get beat in defensive coverage. I'm sure they will try to get the football to him in a multitude of ways.
"Another thing is the schemes that they will use offensively. (South Carolina head coach) Steve (Spurrier) will spread people out a lot. He's got two backs, (Cory) Boyd and (Mike) Davis, who could be anywhere. I'm sure he will get them in the ball game a great deal. He's got a tight end, Jared Cook, who we recruited very hard coming out of high school, who really was a wide receiver. He will definitely be a factor in the football game. He's got some offensive weapons.
"Defensively, what concerns me is I know Tyrone Nix is a very good defensive coordinator. What will he do to attack our offense? Mike (Henig) has started some ball games, but he hasn't started for a whole season. I'm sure they are thinking that they will blitz him and run a bunch of stunts and disguise coverages to try and confuse him."
Did you get the chance to play a Spurrier team while in the pros?
"No, we never played Steve when he was in the NFL. I've been a big fan of Steve's for a long time. He's an excellent football coach. I've enjoyed the times, in the SEC meetings, when I've been around him. I think he has a great sense of humor. And I respect a man who says what he believes and will put his name behind anything that he says. Whether you agree with him or now, I can respect that. I don't like people who say things anonymously. I think you've learned that I'm somewhat the same way. What you see is what you get, like it or not."
Have you heard anything about the waivers that you have applied for?
"We haven't gotten any update on them. We are referring to Christian Ducre and Mike Brown. Hopefully, by tomorrow afternoon we'll know something one way or another. We don't figure them big into this gameplan. As much as anything else, I hope we can get it so that we will know one way or another."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at email@example.com.