Neal Brown previews Mississippi State

ON JALEN WHITLOW’S ANKLE: “He’s getting better. Yeah, he’s getting better. He’s progressed really each day. Moved around probably a little better today than he did yesterday, and so I think he’s got a chance.”

ON REPS IN PRACTICE: “Maxwell’s been getting all the starter’s reps. Really didn’t know until probably yesterday what Jalen’s status was gonna be. But Maxwell’s been getting those starter’s reps and Jalen’s been getting the backup reps.”

ON HOW THANKFUL HE IS THAT THEY DON’T HAVE TO MAKE A DECISION YET ABOUT WHICH THIRD STRINGER WOULD LOSE HIS REDSHIRT: “Yeah. It’s good. In a perfect world, we would rather not take either one of those kids’ redshirts off. It’s been helpful. Jalen’s worked really hard to get back where I think he’s gonna be an option on Thursday.”

ON IF THE BYE WEEK HELPED BANGED UP TEAM: “No question. I think the bye came at a good time. We were a little banged-up coming out of that Alabama game for sure. It was really a culmination of four consecutive tough weeks. But I think as much mentally as physical, also. Our guys got a chance to catch their breath and relax a little bit and kind of get refocused.”

HAS HE HAD TO DO ANY MENTAL COACHING WITH THE QUARTERBACKS, GIVEN THE POSITION HAS BEEN ON SUCH A ROLLER COASTER THIS SEASON: “Yeah. No question. This one’s a little bit different in the fact that Jalen didn’t practice at all last week. So Maxwell kind of was able to get his mind around and getting those reps and being the starter. So this week’s a little bit different, but when we were kind of bouncing back and forth, no question. In a perfect world, we’d like for one guy to play well and keep playing.”

DOES HE LIKE THURSDAY NIGHT GAMES: “Yeah. Game week, as far as how that changed, like, today was a Wednesday practice for us. Once you get your clock set it’s not too difficult. Now, it’s hard on a short week, when you play on Saturday and go to Thursday. But this sets up nice for us, because you got the bye week before and you got a couple extra days after it. I like them. You’re one of the only shows going to play that primetime game. I think it’s exciting for our kids. It’ll be a great atmosphere down in Starkville for sure. Shoot, I was at Troy, we’d play Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday — we’d play any time TV came.”

IS HE FAMILIAR WITH COWBELLS: “I’ve been down there a couple times, yeah. It’ll be good. We’ll play a few tomorrow.”

ON JOJO KEMP SAYING HE THINKS OF COWBELLS HE THINKS OF MILK AND WHAT BROWN THINKS OF WHEN HE THINKS OF COWBELLS: “I try not – I don’t even think of cowbells, really. That’s the first time I’ve ever thought about cowbells. I guess I think about Mississippi State.”

ON JEFF BADET’S STATUS: “He’s back. He’s been out. Yeah, he’s been out. This will be the first week he’ll be available. He dressed last week, or against Alabama, but didn’t practice that week. But he’ll be available for this game.”

ON A.J. LEGREE: “A.J. has been available. Had a great special teams game against Alabama, and I expect to use him more at wideout. He’s probably the guy that benefitted from this break, this off week, because we got him back in the rotation and he made some plays. I’m expecting him to play more offense than he has.”

WHAT DO THEY NEED FROM HIM? “He’s just got to be consistent, make some plays. He’s exactly what you’re looking for, from his height, from his athletic ability. He really jumps well. He’s got good burst off the ball. He’s just got to catch the ball consistently.”

ON MISS STATE’S DEFENSE: “They’re really long. Their length really jumps out at you when you turn on the film. I think they’re all 6-4 or bigger up front, and then their linebackers, one of them’s 6-3, 6-4, and there best one’s probably 6-5. They’re really long. Even in the secondary, they’re all 6-foot-plus guys. Even (that) run of defenses that we just came off of, they didn’t have that type of length. So that’s the first thing that really jumps out, that they’ve done a really good job recruiting. You can tell because on offense, they’re long too, at their skill positions. So I think that Coach Mullen and his staff have done a good job recruiting for their specific schemes. They do a good job schematically on early downs, really playing the run well. I think that’s probably a case where they go against the run a lot against their own offense. And then on third down, they try to confuse you. They like to blitz and give you some unconventional looks.”

DOES HE HAVE A THIRD OPTION IN MIND AT QUARTERBACK? “Yeah, we’ve got a plan. We do.”

COULD HE BE LESS SPECIFIC? “No. I was expecting a follow-up. I thought Jen was gonna give me a follow-up. No. Probably not any more specific than that. But yeah, we do have a plan.”

ON IF THEY’VE TALKED TO WHICHEVER GUY WOULD BE THE THIRD QUARTERBACK: “Yeah, we’ve sat down. We’ve had discussions. Like I said, hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but in our business, you’ve got to kind of (prepare for the) worst-case scenario. So we’ve had those discussions and we’ve gotten a third quarterback some reps, also.”

WHAT HE’D LIKE MOST TO DO BETTER IN THE LAST SIX GAMES: “Obviously, we need a lot more than one thing. But here’s what I think. I think we’ve got to make plays in crucial situations. Third downs, in the red zone, we’ve got to make key blocks, key passes, key catches. I think that’s been our Achilles’ heel is, we have not made plays in those crucial situations, when we’ve given up a score, we come out, and we’ve got to make plays to continue a drive. Or we get a couple first downs and now we’re in a third and medium situation, maybe we’ve made a poor throw. In those crucial situations, we’ve got to make plays.”

ARE THE PLAYERS LACKING CONFIDENCE? “I don’t know. I think what happens is, is we the young guys really are. Y’all talk to Jojo a lot. He has no issues with confidence. I think with our quarterbacks, they’re confident and they’ve got to do a better job of trusting our young guys. I think there’s maybe a lack of trust there sometimes, just because the guys are so new. They’ve got to give those guys blind trust and fully expect that our guys are gonna be in the spots they’re supposed to be in.”

WHEN YOU HAVE A RUNNING QB WITH AN INJURY LIKE THE ANKLE, HOW LIMITED IS HE? “That’s a good question. And really, what I’m doing is, we’ve got a package in for him, and I probably won’t be able to tell until later in the week how much of it we’re gonna use, or how much we’ll be able to use. If he keeps progressing then I think he’ll be fine on Thursday.”

SO THEY HAVE A PLAN FOR IF WHITLOW IS HEALTHY OR NOT: “That’s exactly right. Yeah, that’s exactly right. And it’s really, it’s a similar situation to Alabama, except we’ve got actually a week and a half to prepare for it, you know what I mean, where we kinda had about five minutes against Alabama.”

About Jennifer Smith

Jen Smith has been a sports writer at the Herald-Leader since 2000, covering everything from high school sports to auto racing to various University of Kentucky sports. A native of Louisville and a graduate of the University of Kentucky (much to the dismay of her Louisville graduate mother and Indiana graduate father), Jen now resides in downtown Lexington with her husband and two young sons. You can follow her on Twitter @jenheraldleader or send her an email at jsmith3@herald-leader.com.
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