We got to chat with Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and MSU coach Dan Mullen on today’s SEC coaches teleconference. The Aggies and Bulldogs meet Saturday at 11 a.m. on Starkville (ESPN). Here are the complete transcripts, starting with Mullen.
It’s great coming back home. Winning your home games is such an important part of competing for the opportunity to compete for conference championships. With an early kickoff, we need the homefield advantage, we need our crowd there excited, making a lot of noise, giving us that homefield advantage that you get here in the Southeastern Conference. I know our guys are ready to get back out there, get back on the field and go play an extremely talented team this weekend.
How do you handle Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, that offense:
You’re going to have to play very sound. You’re going to have to tackle in the open field. They have a lot of talent, not just at the quarterback position, but they have very, very talented running backs, they have big receivers and fast receivers and a lot of mismatch problems. They’re going to try to spread you out across the field and create those matchups for their talent. You’ve got to do a good job containing it, and when you get them in the open field, you have to make tackles.
Is the up-tempo offense a concern, have you been able to get good work against it:
Sure. To me it’s something you see a lot more in college football now, a lot of teams doing it. So this isn’t the first time we’ve seen that this year.
What’ve you seen of the A&M defense:
I do think that’s pretty underrated for them. Their offense gets all the attention, but you look at how their defense has played, especially in conference games. They have a lot of speed and size on the defense. People say (there’s) an adjustment to the league, that’s what this league’s known for is having that athleticism on the defensive side of the ball. They fit right in that mold of being an extremely athletic and extremely fast defense. Probably the most underrated defense in the league.
How does defensive end Damontre Moore stack up with great players:
He’s right up there. He’s got size, he’s physical against the run game. His specialty comes with his speed, that he can disrupt your throw game. You look at teams that play great defense in this league, when you have a guy where you don’t have to blitz, you can just rush your d-linemen and you get to the quarterback very quickly, that can cause you a lot of challenges.
Do you fly after Manziel or try to remain disciplined:
Yes, all of the above. You’re just going to have to play great defense. If you give him all day to stand back there and throw the ball, he’ll throw and beat you with his arm. If you give him open spaces, he’ll take off and beat you with his legs. You have to do everything to contain him.
What’s your team’s mindset after first loss:
I think OK. It’s been a long time since we had lost here, and I think once they got through that initial shock of it and got back to what we are as a team, which is hard work and a team that just works hard and plays with relentless effort, I really think we’ve had one of our better weeks of practice so far this season. Just with the focus and the attention, our leaders have really stepped up and done a good job this week.
How important is defensive line play this week against Manziel:
You have to. You can’t just let him sit there and throw the ball all day long, and you have to also do a good job of containing him and not letting him break into scramble mode and freelance, which is what he does best. For us is the biggest challenge. He can stay in the pocket and beat you, but he’s much more dangerous when he starts to freelance on his own and create plays on his own. So that’s a challenge for the D-line to try and contain that.
Are you getting the pressure you want up front:
Yeah, at times. I want pressure every play. To me the perfect – I guess if every time a team tries to throw the ball it ends in a sack, that’s kind of what I want. Our guys, we’re getting good work on the defensive line. Those guys are playing well. We still have a lot of young players that are still growing into their roles on the team.
How important is time of possession in this type of game:
The time of possession stat is really not that important, because unlike Tennessee, these guys won’t run as many plays and snap the ball as fast as possible. They’re not concerned, I don’t think, about time of possession at all. They just want to run plays as fast as they can. It is very important that we try to create some drives from the offense, we try to control the tempo of the game and not keep throwing our defense out there really fast. We have to put some drives together and control the clock.
With A&M scoring so much, you have to score in red zone:
You always have to. That’s part of winning football games. If you’re going to play in big games in the Southeastern Conference, if you watch teams, you get in the red zone and you don’t score touchdowns, you’re going to have a hard time winning that game. That goes for our defense as well. If they get down in the red zone and we can hold them to field goals or no points at all, we’re going to put ourselves in a much better position to win the game. That red zone scoring becomes, when you have those opportunities, those become huge factors when you’re playing conference games.
What’s key on turnover margin:
It’s making the big plays on defense, and it’s having the mental focus on offense to do your job, take care of the football. Our quarterback’s done a nice job of taking care of the football, and our guys know if you don’t take care of the football, you’re not going to get the ball. When they do get it, they’re very, very careful with it, because they know if they don’t protect it, they’re not going to get a lot of opportunities with it.
Now for the Sumlin transcript.
We’re coming off of a road win, the first of really a three-game stretch and we were very, very happy with the amount of energy and excitement and execution that our team played with last week. We’ve regrouped and we’re looking forward to another real challenge to go on the road again this week to play a very, very well-coached and talented Mississippi State football team.
On what LSU and Florida did so well against Manziel:
You just want me to give you the game plan on how to stop us? (laughs) That’s part of his growth. For the first ball game that we played, I think sometimes the adjustments you can make as a coach, with young players, you have to be able to do that on the field and the first ball game I think Florida did an outstanding job of making some changes and we weren’t able to adjust on the field. As we move on through the year, I think we’ve been able to give him more tools to be able to use in those types of situations. You have to remember he’s only played eight ball games, so the amount of offense that we had available early in the year is certainly different than the amount of offense we have available now, particularly the amount we can execute. Over the course of these eight weeks, he’s made strides and it’s hard to make dramatic improvements at that position week to week, particularly playing in this league as you prepare to play each week. I think he feels more comfortable with the offense and the amount of offense that we’ve given him since that time – since the beginning of camp and since the beginning of the season.
On 4-0 record on the road and Manziel handling situation very well:
He’s always been a confident guy. Those types of things that, to play his very first game against Florida here at home in a great atmosphere, it tells you what kind of guy he is. He’s very confident, very poised but he’s a guy who loves to play the game and really is trying to become a better player every week.
On players around Manziel helping him grow into the offense:
We talked during camp when the concern was we were going to have an inexperienced quarterback, whoever it was, one of the three, two weeks before the first game we named him the starter. our challenge was for the other 10 guys to who are on the field with him, offensively, to make the offense quarterback-friendly. The offensive line has been the strength of this football team since we’ve gotten here. Even though there’s only senior in the group, they’ve played a lot of football. Those guys have really, really helped him in his development and really given him some confidence in game situations.
On Manziel going against Mississippi State’s talented secondary:
Your concern that this is a really, really good secondary. Not only is it a good secondary but it’s an experienced secondary. You’ve got three seniors, a junior and an All-American in (Johnthan) Banks. Like you said, these guys have played a lot of football, have been on the field with a lot of good players and they have a lot of experience back there in the back end. We’ve got a style of play that we utilize and that’s going to be a challenge. A lot of times everybody puts things on a quarterback. I’ve said it before, as a quarterback the first thing you’ve got to realize, just like the head coach, you get too much credit when you win but you get all the blame when you lose. When you become comfortable with that, you become a better quarterback. It’s incumbent on the other 10 guys to be able to execute our offense. You go back to the LSU game. The three interceptions, two of them weren’t his fault. One bounced right off of a guy’s chest and one of the others, the receiver quit on him. We’ve got to be able to execute our offense and it takes more than a quarterback to do that.
What impresses you about MSU’s secondary?
When you have cover guys like they do, particularly on the corner, it allows them to be very, very multiple in their attack. They have a variety of pressures because they have confidence in their back end to be able to cover people. They’ve got great coverage guys, they’re physical, they’re good tacklers, they’re good in run support. That’s what a really good, experienced secondary should look like. They’ve got that across the board back there.
On pace and tempo of Ole Miss’ offense and how that was a factor against A&M:
First of all, we practice against it a lot, so for us it’s probably not a big of a factor as it is for other teams. But it definitely keeps the pressure on. Hugh Freeze and their staff are doing an excellent job of mixing the tempo. It’s not always the same pace and so they ability to go at different speeds is probably what makes them a little bit different than us.
On toughest part of transitioning into the SEC:
I would say the unknown. We’re new to this league and it’s the unknown from the first game on of having not been on the field with a lot of different teams. From the talent and speed standpoint, I think we adjusted to that. In some ways, we benefited by playing Florida in the first game. Even though we lost that game I think it gave us a real idea of how physical the league was, how fast it was and as frustrating as that loss was, we drew a little confidence off of that because we knew Florida was a pretty good football team when they left here. I would say just the newness of the league and the unknown.
On brutal stretch against LSU, Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama in successive weeks:
I don’t know anybody has unless you’ve coached in this league before.