Season opener: "This is an exciting time of the year. Everybody in the country is getting ready to start the season. We are not only getting ready for this game, but for 11 more and hopefully, for 12 or 13 more."
Freshmen: "We will travel 19 freshman. That is redshirt and true freshmen. We will probably play 17 of them. Does that make you concerned? Yes and no. Yes because of the youth and inexperience. No, because these are not ordinary players. They will make mistakes, but they will also make plays and big plays."
Oregon: "We are playing a team that is very good, especially offensively at the skill positions. the running back, Onterrio Smith, is really an outstanding player. He is the big back they can give the ball to 15, 20, 30 times a game. Last year, he split time and still had 1,200 yards rushing. The receivers are excellent. They have three of them. One of them, Keenan Howry, is being pushed for the Heisman Trophy. He is a tremendous return specialist, who averaged 13+. They have two good kickers. Their field goal kicker kicked 51, 54 and 55 (field goals) in the scrimmage the other day. Their punter was good last year. They had some punts blocked. He is a three-step punter. Unless the snap is perfect, with the three-step punter, you have a chance to get quite a few of them blocked."
Oregon's Autzen Stadium: "It is the most difficult place to play in the PAC-10 because of the noise level and the people being on top of you. They have only lost 1 (home) game in the last 3 or 4 years and that was to Stanford last year. They lost that because of the kicking game. They had two punts blocked and a couple of kickoffs returned against them for good yards."
Departure time: "We will leave Thursday after practice. We will get there at 11:30 our time, which is 9:30 their time. We will work out Friday around 11:30. We have to be off the field at 1:30. The reason we will work out is to get accustomed to their turf. It is different. Hopefully, we can make that adjustment pretty quick."
Questions for Coach Sherrill.
What are the benefits of playing Oregon the first game of the season?
"The biggest thing is the exposure that you get. When you are able to be on national tv and you are playing a team that is interesting, meaning that Oregon draws the interest of people around the country. And so does Mississippi State. When they put that matchup together, that matchup was put together for the benefit of the tv audience.
"The second benefit is you get the opportunity to go play a team that is very well thought of, a very highly rated team. And quite frankly you are better off if you play somebody you get something out of regardless of the outcome. If you are playing somebody you don't get any benefits regardless of the outcome it is not very good. There are some teams that score 50 to 60 points against a team and it really didn't benefit them in any way other than a win."
How many players will you take?
"We will take 80 players."
Have you ever taken 19 freshmen on a travel squad?
"Yes. Playing freshmen doesn't really bother me. It is not a big deal. " How does their team speed compare to the team speed of schools in the SEC?
"They will have speed. There is no question that their receivers are fast. They had two cornerbacks last year that could really run. Both of those guys are playing in the next league. Everybody that has played them has said the one thing that is really a distraction is the uniforms. They are green and black and they don't make them look as big and fast as they are. They are a very quick football team.
"Defensively, up front, they are a team that has been able to stop the run. They will play eight people, sometimes nine. They put the two corners out there and let them go. They are having a hard time trying to match their corners that they had last year. They have taken a guy that played in the nickel package and put him at corner. They haven't really settled on the other one. They are still trying to find the player at the other corner."
How important is to have Kevin Fant and Mario Haggan back?
"It is always good to have your quarterback back. It is also a big plus (to have your quarterback) when you go into a place as loud and noisy as their place. A lot of teams that go in there don't even have an audible built in their offense. They don't even try to audible because it is so loud."
Talk about your receivers.
"The two guys who have made the most improvement are Antonio (Hargro) and McKinley Scott. McKinley Scott, coming back from the knee operation, has really made a lot of improvement. Antonio Hargro has had his best practices that he has had. He has performed really well the last two days. There is no question that the two young guys (Tee Milons and Brandon Wright) are not average receivers in speed or hands. Those two guys certainly have helped. With the three guys, Ray Ray, Terrell and Justin, you have some guys with experience and a lot of talent."
Talk about the defensive line behind Kelly, Fields and Nash.
"Lennie Day has probably made the most improvement. We feel comfortable with Lennie Day. He has made a lot plays during two-a-days. You have (Greg) Jack who has moved back to defense. You also have Jadice Moore, who had really improved. We will line up with seven guys and rotate them."
Will it be PAC-10 or SEC officials?
"It is Pac-10 officials. Sometimes that is good, sometimes that is bad. Sometimes it is good because they are tougher on the home team than they are on the officials. You will always have to be better than the officials to win a game. I am not saying that in a derogatory manner. There are going to be calls on both sides of the ball."
How is Dontae Walker?
"Dontae run well yesterday. I expect Dontae to play well."
Talk about taking your team out to such a hostile environment.
"It is a great test for where this football team is because you are playing one of the top teams in the country. They have been picked anywhere from 8th to 15th."
How do you prepare for a quarterback who has only played nine plays in his entire career?
"They aren't going to change their offense. The offense will be the same. The difference will be how fast is he, what he can do throwing the football, how well can he scramble, do you want to chase him out of the pocket. Without video, you really don't know that.
"What they will do, probably more than anybody we play, they will protect with eight people. They will send two guys out and protect with eight. Most people protect with six or seven. They want to make sure they protect the quarterback."
What will (Juco transfer) Brent Smith do in the game?
"Brent will definitely kickoff. On the day of the game, if John Michael Marlin is kicking like he has been kicking, then he will start off kick the short field goals. Of course, Brent will handle the long ones. If (John Michael) is not kicking well that day, then Brent will handle all of it."
Has Brent surprised you?
"Yes, he has tremendous strength in his leg. He is very, very talented. Sometimes, when you ask kickers to change things, they can't. You can tell he has played a lot of soccer, because he has great balance and he can do some things with the football that a lot of people can't."
Do you have any injured players that won't play during the game?
"(Juco backup cornerback) Odell Bradley will not play. He is the only one that would have made the trip and played."
How many players will you play?
"You would like to play all of them because that means you are playing well.
"Offensively, I think we will play eight offensive lineman. Receivers-wise, we will probably play eight. At running back, we will probably play all four of them. We will play all three of the fullbacks. We will play both quarterbacks. We will play three tight ends in different capacities.
"Defensively, we will probably play, in some capacity, everybody that is on the two-deep."
Who do you compare their running back, Smith, to?
"Jamaal Lewis, the one who played at Tennessee. They are very similar.
"Their little receiver (Keenan Howry) is like Jack Jackson, the (former wide receiver) out of Florida."
Talk a little about (offensive lineman) Chris McNeil.
"Chris is going to play. He will play a very important role on this football team. We are very excited about him."
Since he has taken snaps at both during the preseason practices, will he play backup center and guard?
"We would like for him to zero in. That gives us, at center, two people who can play and we will play those two people At right guard, we are going to have to play two people.
How has starting offensive left tackle Donald Tucker done during the preseason?
"I am really pleased with Tucker because he has demonstrated over the last few days that he is able to play a lot of plays. As a matter of fact, in the conditioning yesterday, he was like the first one."
Will true freshman Marvin Byrdsong middle linebacker or on the outside?
"It all depends on how we line up."
There was a radio station in Memphis (56) that reported that you have suspended 6 players.
They didn't say.
"If you track (the rumor) down, you'll find that it is all coming from Oxford."
Well, it was the Ole Miss station (laugh).
How do you prepare for a quarterback that you haven't seen?
"We really don't know that much about him. We know he is bigger, taller and thicker than Harrington. And they are saying he is faster than him. You prepare for the offense and make adjustments during the game."
Playing a team of this caliber, have you seen your team focus much quicker in practice?
"Yeah, the focus has been there."
The SEC, and especially Mississippi State, is known for physical football. I've been told that the Pac-10 is not known as a physical football league. Talk about what you know about their physicalness in the Pac-10.
"On the west coast, the west coast offense is known in their mind as a finesse offense. They are going to throw the ball and get the ball to their skill people because there are a lot of skill people on the west coast. There are a lot of quarterbacks, running backs, defensive backs and receivers. They will try to get the balls in their hands and let them make plays."
When I asked about what officials will call the game, I was mainly getting to the fact about how the officials would call the game. Since they are Pac-10 officials, have you and your staff studied the Pac-10 officials to see how they call games?
"Sure. Do they call pass interference the same? Do they call roughing the quarterback the same? Do they call holding the same? There are a lot of things, if you are a throwing league, they are going to accept. There are a lot of things, if they aren't a throwing league, they won't accept because they see it all the time."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page (http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com), the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.