"We took yesterday off from practice to give our guys a little break. We haven't had a break in awhile and I think they needed it as much mentally as physically.
"We are fortunate going into this ballgame considering the fact where we are at this point in the season - we are reasonably healthy. Of course the biggest guy we are concerned about is Mike Henig. He could help us with depth at quarterback. Other than Mike, Jamar Chaney is the only guy who has a huge role in what we do that is probably not going to practice today. But there is still a strong possibility that he will play on Saturday.
"The captains for this game are, offensively, Dezmond Sherrod, defensively, Gabriel O'Neal and in the kicking game Jason Husband. All three of those guys have done an outstanding job for us all year long.
"We go to Kentucky this weekend. And it's on tv which is always a positive motivation. But the biggest motivation is we are 4 and 4 right now with a chance to become bowl eligible as we close the season.
"This is a great challenge for us, but also a great opportunity. We need to play extremely well. What we have to do about that, first of all as a coaching staff we have to make sure what we ask our players to do, we are not asking them to do anything they can't do physically or mentally. And we need to make sure we get all the techniques down so that what we asked them to do they can execute it to perfection. The deal is being able to play well down after down throughout the course of the ballgame. Then, when the opportunities come the playmakers have to step up and make plays in the ballgame.
"It is going to be a sixty-minute contest because Kentucky finds a way to get it done. Regardless of the game situation, this entire season they have found a way to win. That says a lot about their staff and their players. Regardless of the adversity they face, they find a way to get it done. And we have found ourselves in that situation where we have to find a way to get it done. If we can get this done, the seniors can do something that hasn't been done here in awhile and that is to play in a bowl game. If we finish this, then that opportunity could be there for us.
"Kentucky is an outstanding program. Everybody knows how good their offense is. Their offense is good because they execute well and because they have an outstanding triggerman. Their quarterback executes extremely well and is the key to the offense. They are asking him to make decisions at the line of scrimmage. He's doing that very well, but he's (also) throwing the ball very well. He's very accurate and the ball has a lot of velocity on it. The receivers and he are on the same page. They know exactly how to handle each and every situation that comes up. (WR) Keenan Burton is another key to their offense. They have some guys who are questionable for this weekend. (RB) Rafael Little is not supposed to play. Tony Dixon is a solid backup, so there is not a big dropoff there. Defensively, the are playing well. They run a four-down scheme which we are much more familiar with than what West Virginia presented us with last week. I know they have been pushed around in the running game a little bit, but I think they are a better defensive team than they were last year.
"(Kentucky) is a good place to play because it is a great environment. I think it is one of the classiest environments in college football. Their fans have always conducted themselves with a great deal of class and dignity when I've gone there. And I wouldn't expect anything different this weekend."
Your secondary have been a little inconsistent this year. What kind of challenge will Kentucky's passing game be to that group?
"We have been inconsistent, but I thought, all in all, they played pretty well last week. But this is a different test this week. We are really going to get challenged. Our corners, our safeties, our coverage, period, is probably going to be challenged as much as it has been all season. They have excellent receivers, their offensive line gives him time to get the ball and he doesn't need a lot of time. He can hang onto the ball until the last possible second and still get it out and make a strike. So, it will be a tremendous challenge. We have to get pressure on him. We have to be able to get it with our pressure package. We have to be able to get it whether we are in a three or four-man rush. We are going to have to mix in all different kinds of coverages, a big variety to keep the quarterback as confused as possible."
How have the three freshmen done - K.J. Wright, Derek Sherrod and Wesley Carroll?
"All of our freshmen sometime look very well and sometime they look like freshmen. But there is no question that all three of those guys have made a significant contribution, Wes probably more than the others because he's had more snaps. All three of them are going to be very good football players.
"There are some others that we feel will get better in time ... a guy like LaMarcus Williams who has had to deal with some injuries. But we feel like he is going to be a very good prospect in the future. Plus, a lot of those guys that we have redshirted this year, we feel nothing but positives about them. It's not only about their athleticism, but I'm very pleased with the way the entire class has conducted themselves academically up to this point."
How has defensive tackle Kyle Love progressed?
"He's playing with better pad level. His technique is better. I think he understands what is expected of him. He's playing harder. He's getting to be a tough guy to move around in there. So, he's helping clog up the running game pretty good. And Kyle runs pretty well from tackle to tackle. He's a big guy who can sort of anchor down in there. The rest of the guys around him are what I call runners, the speed guys. But you always need the bulk in there because of the big offensive linemen we play."
You've got two players from South Panola High School - Derek Pegues and Demario Bobo. What do they bring to this team?
"The biggest thing with them is they have won a lot of football games. They expect to win. You like to have guys on your team who have won games and played in championship games at the high school level because their expectation level is a little different. They are used to having the demands put on them and putting the demands on themselves. You want that to rub off on our program as well."
How does not having Michael Henig available complicate the quarterback position, especially in the case of true freshman Chris Relf?
"In some degree it complicates it. We have to get Relf ready to play. The decision will have to be made. At the site of the game I am going to have to make the decision whether to pull or not pull the trigger. It is something that I think a lot about the night before the game and all week long. We have to get him ready to go because if Mike's not ready, then he gives us the next best chance to win. We are also working with Zack Harrington as the third guy. That could change. He could go to the second guy, depending on the game situations. My goal is not to waste Relf, but at the same time I am going to do everything it takes to win a game when we go out there."
Under what circumstances would you play Chris Relf this season?
"If I felt like there was any chance at that point that we put him in and we win the ballgame, then I would do it. But once I do that, then we are going to play him the rest of the year on a rotational basis. As much as I want to save him for the future, we have fought too hard to get bowl eligible not to use any chance we have to get that done. We won't put him out there in a situation until it's absolutely necessary, but we are going to have him prepared. And Chris understands that. At the end of the week, we have two gameplans we go into the game with - one for Chris and one for Wes. If Wes went down, we would immediately pull out Chris' gameplan and go right on and call the plays."
How is he different than the other quarterbacks?
"He is bigger, taller, faster and has a stronger arm. But he does not have, at this point, the background. I think Chris only played quarterback in the single-wing as a junior and really just started throwing the football his senior year. And he was a wide receiver as a sophomore. So, there are a lot of things about playing the game and playing quarterback that he doesn't understand. Whereas, Wes has played quarterback his entire career as a football player and he's played in some of the best programs in the country, particularly when he was at St. Thomas in Fort Lauderdale. Chris is not as well-prepared coming in as a freshman as Wes was. But from a skill standpoint we think he has a high level of physical talent. There are certain things that he is ready to do and those are the only things we would ask him to do."
What is Mike Henig's status?
"It is just day by day. As of right now, it's up to what he can do. He just doesn't feel the ball as well as he needs to to throw it with any degree of efficiency."
Kentucky was 3-4 coming into your place last year with a chance to be bowl eligible. You are going into their place 4-4 this year also with a chance to be bowl eligible. Now, this year, they have really turned it around. Does that example give you proof that the same thing could be right around the corner for your program?
"Not necessarily for me, maybe for the fans. As far as where I thought our program should be, we are right where I thought we would be at this point. To be very honest with you, to be 4 and 4 at this point of the season with a freshman who was our third quarterback starting ... if you had told me that this summer I would has said, 'ok, I'll take that right now.' But if we had the Mike Henig from the last part of last season when he went against Kentucky, Alabama, then we would be a pretty good football team. Because he was throwing the ball extremely well during those last few games. I had to take a double take when I watched the film. We just can't throw the ball like that. But with this running game, the way our receivers are playing right now and with this defense, if he was throwing the football at the level he was throwing it at Kentucky, Alabama and West Virginia last year, then our passing attack would be pretty doggone good.
"But to answer your question, in my mind the first year was a wash. We were on probation, we got in late to recruit, you have to put a staff together. And you sign some guys that you can get. Some of them were probably mistakes, but when you are on probation you still have to put somebody out there. And considering you knew some players would be leaving, we are right where I thought we would be. And with just 6 or 7 seniors playing, you, basically, have the entire football team coming back next year with a good class redshirting. What I'm saying is if we get our quarterbacks healthy, we have a chance to be a pretty good football team in the future."
How much does Kentucky's achievement this year have to do with their quarterback?
"It has a lot to do with the quarterback. It has a great deal to do with that. You look at the teams that are winning - they all have quarterbacks playing well. If your quarterback is not playing well in today's game, you are going to struggle to win."
You have lost 13 straight to ranked teams. Is there a trend you are seeing that is causing that? Or is it simply due to them being very good teams?
"No, you can look at the stats and things like that, but we are still building a football team and we are playing teams that are already established. Look at our schedule. You start talking about LSU, West Virginia ... and when we played South Carolina they were one of the top teams in America. We played toe to toe with Tennessee. And Kentucky is one of the better teams in the country. It's a tough schedule. And we aren't at the level those teams are at this point. We are still a work in progress. I know there are times when people are impatient. But we, basically, started over.
"I was reading about South Florida. It took them eleven years to get to where they are now. The guy at Wake Forest, it took him five years to get to that point.
"This is the bottom line, the key factor in my coming here was for the administration to know that we were going to blow it up and start all over. Because it has been my experience that when you are in a losing program the only way to clean it up is to clean everything out and start all over. Basically, I came in with the idea that we were going to build a brand new program. I made it very clear that was what I intended to do. At any point, if we can't be patient enough to get that done, then those that have to make decisions have to make those decisions. But I'm still going to do it that way because it's the only way I know how to do it, the only way I believe in. You aren't going to do it right if you don't start over, clean it up, lay a new foundation and put the pieces together. But I also didn't anticipate for two years in a row that I was going to lose my quarterback. (Despite that) I'm still not going to back away from doing it the way I feel is the right way because at the end of the day I can live with the way we are doing it.
"And I am very proud of this football team and what they have done. They haven't thrown their hands up and cried about the quarterbacks being hurt. The other day in that game - we didn't play well in the first quarter, I admit that - I have been in situations in professional football where that could have gotten real ugly, but they continued to fight throughout the course of the ballgame. So, in that sense we have done a lot of what we intended to do - we have put some character in this program, we have put some fight in this program, we have put some class in this program. Now we have to build on that. And our recruiting is going pretty well. The positive thing is the prospects that we need to build this program are seeing and understanding and want to be a part of what we are doing. And if you get players, that makes life a lot easier."
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.