"We have pretty much completed preparations for our Thursday night game against LSU. There has been a lot of preparation going into this ballgame. Our players are excited. Our coaching staff is excited. We are excited because we get a chance to play on national television. And we are playing at home first time out in front of our people. It is a great challenge and a wonderful opportunity. Our players, based on talking to them and watching them work, have a great deal of enthusiasm as we go into this game.
"We are probably as healthy as we possibly can be considering the work we got done during training camp. The only people we were a little concerned about are (senior WR) Lance Long, but we think he is going to work today, and (redshirt freshman DE) Brandon Cooper is the other one. We will test him today (in practice) and see where he is.
"Of course we are playing an excellent football team. They are the No. 2 ranked team in the nation. They have great talent, great schemes, excellent coaching. And we expect them to be at their very best.
"I'm excited about where our team is at this point. Our attitude is good. Our work ethic is good. Our talent level is definitely better than where it was at this time last year going into the South Carolina game."
How important is it to go into the fourth quarter of this game with a chance to win it?
"I think that is the way it has to be in order for us to beat a good football team like LSU. If we do that, then I think we have people on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game who can make the big play to give us a chance to win."
Is LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey the kind of player who can change the things you do on offense?
"Yeah, because you don't know where he is going to be all the time. They move him around and play him in different fronts so it's extremely difficult to design your blocking schemes for him. We'll have double-teams on him and we'll have guys blocking back on him, but, ultimately, when you are playing inside, your center or guard will have to block him one-on-one at some point. That will be a great challenge for our offensive linemen, (center) Royce (Blackledge), (guards) Craig (Jenkins) and Anthony (Strauder). That will be a key thing in this ballgame.
"While all the attention is on Glenn Dorsey, who is an outstanding player, they also have other players such as (junior left end) Tyson Jackson, (right tackle) Marlon Favorite, (right tackle) Charles Alexander .... they aren't weak anywhere in their defensive front seven. It's going to be a great challenge to our offensive line, but I think the starting five that we have will be up to the challenge."
What makes LSU so good?
"It starts with the fact that they were one of the most talented teams in the country last year. Even though they lost some key players, they are still one of the most talented teams in the country. And they return a very formidable defense."
What concerns you the most about the early part of this game offensively since they have a new offensive coordinator?
"Exactly what they are going to do offensively. We've pieced together what he did at Oregon and other places and what we can get from the media and from rumors that we get. And I'm sure they are doing the same thing about us as well. We'll have to be ready to adjust to what he has done and, also, what they have done successfully over the past couple of years. You have a quarterback who is a five-year guy who has been in the same system, so I'm sure they will still incorporate some of the things that he has done. It's very tough on our defense because they won't be sure exactly what they will do."
How well has Derek Pegues adjusted to the move to safety?
"He has played very well. (Some) of the key reasons we moved Derek back there was to have a guy who can make some big plays in the run and passing game, to coordinate and communicate in the secondary to make sure we are all on the same page back there. Having been a quarterback in high school, he has a very good understanding of the passing game and that field generalship quality and attitude about him. You have to have a quarterback in the secondary and he's the guy."
What are the differences going into this game compared to last year's opener?
"The biggest difference is we are more rested because we didn't practice in full pads as much. The heat dictated that. Plus, the fact that our guys were pretty into it on the days that we did have contact. And through the course of the spring I saw that the guys who were going to play had the right attitude, so we backed off.
"The other thing is even though this is an extremely big ballgame for us and a great opportunity for us, we probably put a lot more emphasis on the South Carolina game for momentum going into the season. This preparation has been more about us than about LSU."
With so many holes to fill on the defensive front, talk about how comfortable you are with that area going into the season.
"Ask me in the first quarter and I'll tell you a little more about that (smile). We are going to start the game with Cortez McCraney and Jessie Bowman. We will also use Kyle Love and Quinton Wesley. Those four guys will definitely be rotating. We will also use LaMarcus Williams and Rodney Prince some. But there will definitely be a four-man rotation early in the game. We'll figure out who has the hot hand and go from there.
"Last year we really only had three guys total, but this year we have six guys. And between the six, hopefully, we can be efficient throughout the course of the ballgame."
With the lost of Landry from last year, do you see a drop-off in their secondary?
"I really don't see a drop-off even though Landry was a unique individual. One of their corners return, Chevis Jackson. (Craig) Steltz is at one of the safety positions and he is a very good football player, so I don't see a drop-off. The great thing about those guys is they have spent a couple of years in the schemes, so they won't make a lot of mistakes. That is a huge plus for them."
With this being (LSU quarterback) Matt Flynn's first game, how important are the first couple of series for your defense?
"That is a key in the ballgame. How we start the ballgame in all aspects of the ballgame is a key. Matt has started some games before. He has been the guy in some games, but it's different going into a season. He'll get some different looks. We have no intention of allowing him to get comfortable. I think that is really important going into this football game."
Are you going to have some of your starters on the kickoff and kick return teams?
"There is no doubt about that. We are going to put our best people out there. We have tried to establish a solid two-deep where there is not a drop-off from the first unit to the second unit. And even going three deep in case we get an injury and have to rest somebody. We spent a great deal of time on our kicking game, we have simplified it. And we have planned every detail of it from spring practice onto now with our entire coaching staff been involved. And we have really addressed it with the players about the attitude of approaching it as one of the most critical plays of the game. The kicking downs can change the course of a ballgame either positively or negatively. We want to have more positive outcomes for us this year, so, with that in mind, we are putting our best people out there. Some of the players, although not starters on offense or defense, are considered starters on in the kicking game if they are the best people. Some of the players are dressing out simply due to the job they do in the kicking game."
You seem to be much more confident this year. Is that a fair assessment?
"Yes, I'm going into this season more confident because I have confidence in our players. I talk to our coaches. I've asked opinions of the new guys who have come onto our staff about how they see things, guys like Charlie Harbison and David Turner. They feel good about us as well. They've seen us from the outside and they've seen us from the inside. They've seen the other teams that we are playing and they feel positive. I have great faith in our players. They have worked so hard, they like each other. They have done everything that we have asked them to do.
"We may not be a good football team at this moment, but we are going to be before the end of this season. I have no question about that. And I sure hope it is Thursday night. The talent level is at a point now where if we can stay healthy and continue this work ethic, there is no way we can not be a good football team. If you have talent and a great work ethic and you have passion about the game, all it takes is time and continued work and you'll get better. We got better last year and I know we are a better team than we were last year."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.