Dan Mullen and Joker Phillips hopped on the phone today for the weekly SEC coaches teleconference. They previewed their teams’ matchup this weekend in Lexington, when No. 20 MSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC) tries to beat Kentucky (1-4, 0-2) for the fourth consecutive season.
“Coming off a bye week right now, we’ve had the opportunity to get a little rest,” Mullen said in his opening statement. “Sometimes bye weeks help and sometimes hurt. I guess we’ll find out on Saturday which one of the two it is for us. Our guys are getting back into the routine of game week right now and getting ready to get back out on the field and play an SEC game.”
Plenty of talk about quarterbacks and cornerbacks, so let’s hit the highlights.
• On the MSU secondary’s opportunity against UK’s freshman QBs, Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles: “It’s still a challenge, because these guys throw the ball all over the place. They throw the ball a lot. Their quarterbacks, you got to see the one last week throw the football and throw it pretty well in the game. The Towles kid, I’ve seen his high school film, and he can really throw it. It’s still a big challenge, especially a team that schematically wants to throw the football a lot, and they have talented guys throwing it. Even though they’re not experienced, they still have talent.”
• He said when cornerback Darius Slay, a senior, arrived from ICC last year, his situation was similar to that of senior corner Johnthan Banks.
“I wasn’t sure, very much like Banks, whether they would be corners or safeties. We just knew they were very, very athletic back there. Once we got him here on campus, you saw his athleticism and his ability to play corner, which is where we always start with. If you can play corner, go to corner. That’s what we had.”
That’s interesting, because cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith, you might recall, said he first saw Slay as a safety. In fact, he said, “I always feel like a guy’s a DB first, then he becomes a corner.” Anyway, moving on.
• On whether his QB, Tyler Russell, will have a certain comfort level being back in Lexington for the second straight year: “When you’ve played and you’ve been around — he’s been around a couple years and he’s played — I think he’s comfortable wherever he goes and he’s very critical of his own performance. I don’t know if just going up there really makes it easy for him.”
• On the progress of juco transfer defensive end Denico Autry, who has one sack this fall: “I think everybody looks statistically and says, ‘OK, he’s going to be a pass-rush specialist.’ That’s not the case. He’s an every-down starter, an every-down player. I think that transition from junior college to the Southeastern Conference is big, but I think he’s done a very nice job of it and stepped on the field and played very well in the first couple of games.”
• On whether the NCAA investigation has actually helped his players focus more on games: “I don’t think it had any effect on anything on this year with our team. I don’t think our guys even paid any attention to it.”
As I said, we also spoke with Phillips. Here are a few excerpts.
• On the difficulty of preparing for MSU’s secondary: “What you get in a veteran secondary is they’re able to hold their disguises a little bit longer. Not only can they hold them, they can hold them long because they’re so fast and have experience.”
• On how much of the playbook will be in use for Whitlow and Towles: “We have to give them both big enough packages that we have things to offset some of the things we’ll do, and some of things they will do defensively. It’s hard to give any one of these quarterbacks our total package. I don’t think we’ll have as much in as we had for Maxwell Smith. … You’ve got to give them enough, but not too much that you complicate things for them.”
• On how he’ll rotate the QBs: “We’ll just play it by ear. Could have them coming in rotating in the middle of a series, or one guy could start a series and maybe finish it. Depending on the play and depending on the situation, we’ll roll those two guys in there and let them play.”