Southern Miss Football Coach Todd Monken Weekly Press Conference
Opening statement... "It is finally here. We have been through three weeks of camp and offseason and it is everything you prepare for. The 12 opportunities you are going to have moving forwards. We are excited to open up this week against a really good Mississippi State football team. They are very well coached. Four straight bowl games under Coach (Dan) Mullen and his staff. It has never been done before at Mississippi State. I think they do a great job. They have done a great job recruiting. They do a great job coaching their players. They have a number of coaches that I know. They have a number of starters returning, especially with their quarterback Dak Prescott who is going to be a handful. He can run. He can throw. Defensively, they are really good up front and physical on the perimeter. It is going to be a real challenge for us this week. Our guys are excited. They are excited about playing anyone and getting the season started, but more importantly, playing someone in state. Our players and their players know a lot about (each other)."
On playing such a tough opponent to open the season... "We are going to find out exactly where we are at. We are going to find out how much we have improved over the course of last year and the offseason. It is always an indicator of where you are at when you get to play a quality opponent like Mississippi State. You will find out exactly where the improvements have come. That will be a hard place to play on the road. Our players know that. We are going to find out exactly where we are at and how far we have come and where we have got to go."
Have you ever coached at Mississippi State? "One time. I was at LSU and we went up there and played. It has changed. Mississippi State has changed. You talk about the last four years. You talk about attendance. You talk about bowl games. You talk about facility upgrades. You talk about the excitement of that program. It is unparalleled. It is a lot different going there now than it was 10 years ago."
On dealing with the crowd and the cowbells... "What makes an environment tough to play in is if their crowd is into it and making noise regardless if it is a cowbell or screaming and yelling. It is your job to do your best to take them out of it. It is hard to play anywhere on the road. It is loud. It is hard to communicate. You don't have your crowd behind you to reenergize yourselves. You need mature players who don't need the crowd noise. It is a tough environment irrespective of artificial noise makers. Bottom line is, we have to play well and do our best to take the crowd out."
On Mississippi State's defensive front seven... "They present lots of problems. They're big. They're physical. They're athletic. They have only gotten better. Coach (David) Turner does a great job with the front. They do a great job on defense. They are not complicated. They don't do a lot of things, but what they do, they do well. If you look at last year, the teams that scored on them scored because of unbelievable individual athletic ability. Look at (Texas) A&M, Johnny Manziel, they had a hard time corralling him like everybody did. Against LSU, those wide outs made some incredible plays in that game. They are all draft picks. That is the biggest thing. They are difficult to handle because they don't do a lot, but do it really, really well and they play hard. We are going to have our work cut out for us throwing and running it."
On match ups with Mississippi State... "First of all, we have to play better. I say it all the time, good football still wins. You don't stand a chance if you don't get yourself further into the game to play good football. We have to play good football. We have to take care of the football. We have to try to find a way to get explosive plays. We have to find a way to create turnovers and not give up explosive plays. That is really it. I don't know if there is any individual match up that you say, "Ok, that is our advantage." I don't look at it that way. I look at it as we have to play well. Our younger players have got to play well. We have to be able to piece good plays together offensively to allow us to sustain drives. Defensively, we have to find a way to eliminate eye violations and force them to go the distance and not have explosive plays."
On senior WR Markese Triplett... "Markese has been fine. He missed all of spring and most of the summer. He has been getting himself back healthy. He has been fine. We expect him to have a really good year. He loves to play football and is one of our team leaders. We expect him to have a good night Saturday and have a good year."
On Jalen Richard improving physically... "I think the point to our players is to show it one time on film and then see if he can do it twice and three times to play with that edge. It is difficult to play this game without a little bit of an edge. Jalen is a really good football player. When Jalen plays with that edge, he is a much better football player. When he runs more physical, his pass protection is better. Jalen has understood that and I think the last week he has taken that to heart. I expect him to play well and I think our other two running backs will play. We will play all three Saturday."
Are you pleased with the physicality you have seen this season? "I am. It is very difficult to know where you are at until you play someone else. Do I think we are a more physical football team in the spring and the fall? Yes. Do I think that is part of coaching and recruiting? Yes. Will I have a better idea of Saturday night and coaching in a tough environment against a really good SEC team? Yes. I will have a better idea then. We will see Saturday night."
How do you feel about the offensive line? "I feel really good. I feel a lot better the way we ended last year and our spring and our offseason and now. It is not a finished product by any means. Brandon Farmer will start at left guard. He hasn't played a lot of meaningful football. It's Fred Moore's second year at right guard. The right tackle is going to be new. Cameron Tom is playing center for the first time. The only true returning starter is Rashod (Hill) at the spot he has played before. I feel really good about the direction. I feel good about the coaching. I feel good about the players we have there. We have just have to keep improving. We will see Saturday night."
Did the depth chart come together as you expected it to? "Pretty much. There are only a few surprises for the most part. When you end spring, your team is what it is going to be in the fall. You'll have a few freshmen or a junior college guy or a player that qualifies late. Other than that, your team is pretty much set. What you are coming out of spring and the summer is what you are going to be in the fall. I don't know if there are many surprises, but I do like the way our team has progressed. I do like where we are headed. I look forward to Saturday night."
How has the linebacker move with Alan Howze and Brian Anderson worked out? "Fine. We needed to do something at the WILL position. I felt like we needed to upgrade there and Brian coming in gave us a chance to do that. C.J. Perry has played a lot of football. C.J. will play a lot. Brian will play a lot. I think Alan's experience made it easy for him to transfer over to WILL."
Where do you think Nick Mullens has improved the most? "I think his strength is better. I think his arm talent has improved. He is able to drive the ball better. His understanding of where we want to go with the football. I think he still has a ways to go. He is just a true sophomore. He is about to make his seventh start. He hasn't thrown an interception during training camp or in scrimmages. I think it is an emphasis on how we protect the ball better. It is just a matter of time. If we do the right things around him, we will have some success on offense this year. I think he's going to be a really good football player."
On avoiding mistakes against Mississippi State... "On the road or at home, turnovers will kill you. Thirty years ago, the number one indicator of winning and losing was turnovers. Thirty years from now, it is going to be the exact same thing. It's going to be explosive plays and not turning it over and vice versa, getting turnovers and not giving up explosive plays. It is compounded on the road and against a really good football team. Your margin for error is really small. Obviously, it is important for us to not turn it over and get explosive plays; force them to drive the length of the field. That will be critical for us and how we start. How do we start the game?"
On true freshman Picasso Nelson's play... "Picasso is a good young football player. All of those young corners are going to play. There is Trae Collins, Cornell Armstrong, Jomez Applewhite, Picasso. They are all going to have to play. Outside of Kalan Reed, they are the most talented guys we have. They are going to take their lumps, but I like all four of them and Picasso happens to be one of them. I love his fire. I love his competitive spirit. But he is still a young football player. All of them have a ways to go in terms of progressing. As a player it hard to speed up their progress without playing. I will be excited to see him play and see where we are at."
On breaking the season up into quarters and having Mississippi State and Alabama in the first quarter... "We tried to break it up last year into quarters and find a way to win each quarter. We are the same way (this year). The first three games that is the first quarter of the season. Where do we want to be when we end the first quarter? All I know is we are excited about opening the season this week. We talked about it earlier in the week about our seniors. Football is unlike any other sport in that you work year-round for a guaranteed 12 opportunities. Basketball gets about 30; baseball gets 50 or 60. Over the next 14 weeks, we are guaranteed 12 games. For our seniors, that is 28 practices. That is it. For a number of them, that is all they have left playing football that they have done their whole life. The 2013 season is over. We don't know anything about the 2015 season. We'll determine what the 2014 season is. We are just excited to get started for all the work that you put in to get to this point in the season."
How does this year compare to last year? "Really at this moment, it doesn't feel any different. Your preparation is the exact same. How you go about your day-to-day operation to prepare for an opponent hasn't changed. Obviously, when we get there, but our preparation is the same. The way we will prepare our players will be the same. Once we get there Saturday, we just have to play good football irrespective of the opponent."
On true freshman RB Ito Smith... "He was here in the summer for half the summer. Camp has gone well. He has not turned it over. We expect really good things from him. We think he is going to be a really good player. But, he has never played. We don't know yet. We are going to find out. I like his makeup. I like his demeanor. We are going to find out because he has talent; he has toughness; and he wants to be a great player. We are going to find out."
On true freshman RB Tez Parks... "Tez didn't get qualified until late in the summer. Then he got injured midway through camp. I think Tez is going to be a really good football player. It is just too hard at this point to get him caught up. It is tough. If we got into the position where we had some injuries, there is some limited things we can do with him. As good as I think he is going to be, it is just very difficult to get him in the lineup because of understanding what we do. We don't have the time. We lost the summer and we lost part of training camp to get him up to speed."
On Southern Miss' defense against Dak Prescott... "I keep saying this, but I think we are excited to play anybody. It is the start of the season. It is time to go play someone else and find out what we are going to be for the 2014 season. Ultimately, is it heightened because it is Mississippi State? Yes. Is it heightened because you have got a tremendous quarterback that poses a number of threats? You bet it does. It takes more than just those guys. It takes all 11. In fact, it takes all 22 on your two-deep to play. I think we are excited to get the season kicked off. It is everything you work for year round. As I say, if all we did was practice, you wouldn't find many guys that go play football. This is what it is about. It isn't much fun to put on the pads and go out there when it is 100-degrees out there and hit each other. We are looking forward to the game. That is what you work for."