Mississippi State football dropped to 2-2 last week when it suffered a narrow 28-25 loss to LSU in a comeback effort that came up just short in Davis Wade Stadium.
Next up, the Bulldogs hit the road to take on a Texas A&M team that is coming off a 20-10 loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks -- a team that has exceeded just about everyone's expectations to this point in the year.
MSU head coach Mike Leach met with the media Monday afternoon to discuss last week's loss as well as his team's next contest:
Q: When you have a player that makes a costly mistake in a ballgame, how do you handle that and keep that guy involved moving forward?
ML: I don't know which mistake you are referring to. I think it depends on the nature of it. If it is a chronic deal where the guy does the same thing over and over again, you probably have to replace them. If it's the type of deal where you have young guys, who are going to make mistakes, then you try to work them along. They just aren’t ready. We only have two guys that have 20 starts. We have to put [the inexperienced players] in there. There is some trial and error. There will be a day where they will be ready to play and do a good job. We are trying to discover that day as soon as we possibly can. It kind of depends on the nature of the mistake too. If it is a guy who is hustling, it is one thing. If it is a selfish mistake, it is another.
Q: The offensive line looked like it took a step forward in passing blocking against LSU. What allowed them to improve?
ML: We improved on the O-line. We did some good things. I thought we played physical. I think they were leading the nation in sacks. We were very physical up front. I thought we played together for the most part over the course of the day. It’s all relative but, I thought we had a good day on the O-line.
Q: Have you seen noticeable improvements early on this year compared to this same point last year?
ML: We are at the stage where we make quite a few plays. A stat that is nearly useless is time of possession. We might lead the nation in that, which I take no gratification out of. We are making plays. We are putting plays together. We have to do that in the context of drives. We have to finish drives, whether it is offense or defense.
Q: Defensively, how have you seen that unit progress this year?
ML: Some good things. Big plays haunt us. We have to get better at safety. Whether we have to simplify something or what, our safeties can’t miss some of the things they are missing. I would also like to see our front get home a little more. We do some good things on defense. It has to be an every play sort of deal. We are really quite similar offensively and defensively. We put together some plays. We make every game exciting, but we have to finish the drives. When you get someone backed up to third and something, finish the drive. You’ve got the ball, finish the drive. That type of deal. We just have to be able to capitalize on that. Occasionally, we are the victim of some bad experiences. [Sometimes] we indulge in those deals. That just gets in the way. We have to clear all that and go.
Q: Following up on finishing drives, you mentioned that a lack of focus might have played a role on Saturday. Why do you think you've seen that lack of focus?
ML: Because we are young. We have the least amount of starts of any team in the SEC, so I think we are working through some youth.
Q: Was it the O-line or the running backs that led to rushing success against LSU?
ML: It was both. Our O-line did some good things too. They and the running backs, they played together on that.
Q: What are some challenges you see Texas A&M’s defense imposing on you?
ML: The looks are nothing really that special. Their personnel is. They have played a lot. They are all seniors and good players. They are experienced and quality players.
Q: You’ve been behind in the second half in three of the four ballgames. How do you change the mindset so that the team doesn’t get comfortable or expect to be behind and have a self-fulfilling prophecy at halftime?
ML: That’s the thing - we have to come out of the third quarter better. I think that’s the biggest thing. We just have to stick together and make routine plays. We sometimes get too anxious. I don’t think we relax as much as we get anxious.
Q: What’s it like to face a highly-ranked team on the road that’s coming off of a letdown in the game before?
ML: Everybody is dealing with something. They are going to want to win and so do we. You don’t really focus on the other guys as much as yourself. Anything that you want to solve, that’s all in yourself. We are going to focus on ourselves. Make the best plays we can. I don’t know for sure what they’re going to do.
Q: College Station is a place you’ve played a lot of games. Do you have any memories or favorite things about that place?
ML: It is a great place to play. It is loaded. It is loud, and it’s pretty hostile. It’s a blast. College Station is one of the best stadiums to play in in the country.
Q: What did you see from Christian Ford at wide receiver, and what did he do to earn those snaps?
ML: He does a good job out there. He practices really hard. He is one of the hardest workers on the team. He does a good job of getting where he needs to be. He catches it well, and he’s been practicing well. He has been for a while. We have to get a little more depth in there. Him and, I think, Rufus too are pretty good candidates. It’s just we have more experience with Jamire, Walley, and Austin.
Q: Isaiah Spiller is one of the best backs in the country. What stands out about him?
ML: Their offensive line. He is kind of a big guy. I think that he is just physical. He tries to wear you down.
Q: You’re in the top 20 with only 14 tackles for loss allowed this year. How important is avoiding those negative plays that can stall drives?
ML: We have done an average job of it. It is a constant point of emphasis. It's great that we’re 14. Let’s just try to be higher than that.
Q: How do you feel about what Decamerion Richardson has done this fall?
ML: He is still emerging. He is doing a good job. We want to see if we can get a little more out of him. We’re always on the search for quality players to go out there and play, especially in that position.
Q: Do you know if Emmanuel Forbes will be available on Saturday?
ML: Yes, we are all always all available. I don’t comment on injuries as you well know.
Q: Scott Goodman’s been consistently kicking into the end zone. It’s rare to see the depth you guys have at kicker, but what have you seen from those guys?
ML: I wasn’t sure that they would put it in the endzone, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised that they do. They really have been able to launch it. There’s people around the country that can do it. I was pleasantly surprised that they can both put it in the endzone.