Bulldogs dealing with changes as bowl preparation continues

Staff Writer

Mississippi State keeps marching onward towards its TaxSlayer Bowl matchup against Louisville coming up on December 30.

Despite all the background noise featuring coaching changes and staff adjustments happening around them, the Bulldogs are now a week into bowl preparations and interim head coach Greg Knox said he’s starting to see his team regain its focus after that wasn’t so much the case earlier this week.

“Monday was not the practice we needed,” Knox said on Wednesday. “Tuesday and (Wednesday) were. The kids came out with a great attitude and great energy. We got done what we needed to get done and had a good level of execution.”

It’s safe to say it has been a crazy month around the Mississippi State football program. From former head coach Dan Mullen leaving, to new head man Joe Moorhead getting the job, to Knox guiding the Bulldogs through the transition period, it has been far from business as usual in Starkville.

Bowl practices are bringing that to the forefront. First, there is Knox who, despite his approximately three decades of coaching experience, is getting to lead a team for the first time.

“It’s different sitting in that chair,” Knox said of being in the head coach’s seat. “I don’t try to be coach Mullen though. I try to be who I am and (the players) recognize that. They know who I am and who I’m going to be every day. There’s no change.”

There are other changes too as bowl prep rolls on. With quarterback Nick Fitzgerald out recovering from ankle surgery, true freshman Keytaon Thompson is gearing up for his first career start.

“That’s new for him,” Knox said. “It’s like me, huh? Me and Keytaon, we’re in the same shoes with him in the starting role now and I’m in the head chair. It’s new for him, but he’s handling it OK. I’m sure he’ll have some butterflies come game day when he actually walks out there to be the starter in the bowl game against a very talented team, but he’s handling it all well and doing a great job with it. We’re prepping him, going through the plays with him and making sure he understands everything that we’re doing."

For all the newness in camp, MSU might be getting back to a bit of normalcy at some spots soon. Wide receiver Keith Mixon (foot) and linebacker Dez Harris (thigh bruise/complications), who each missed the last two regular season games with injury, might be able to return to action in the bowl game.

“We’re hoping (they’ll play),” Knox said of Mixon and Harris. “It’s a day-to-day deal. They’re doing a lot of treatment, so we’ll see when we get down to the bowl site.”

With what the team has gone through the last few weeks, a little uncertainty isn’t anything the Bulldogs can’t handle.
After all, with uncertainty and changes come new opportunities. The MSU players, and their interim head coach, intend to make the most of it all.

“I walk in and we’re going through plays, going through the gameplan and everything,” Knox said. “I’ll walk up to the board and just draw up a new play, then I’ll put the pen down and say, ‘that’s what a head coach can do – draw up a new play and put it in when he wants to.’
“The guys laugh about that, but that’s one of the perks of being a head coach. You just draw up a play and put it in and nobody can question you.”