New Mississippi State head football coach Joe Moorhead faces a new challenge as he makes the transition from the Big Ten Conference to the Southeastern Conference.
After a productive spring, he looks forward to that weekly challenge of the SEC.
MSU opens its season on Sept. 1 at home against Stephen F. Austin, and will open SEC action on Sept. 22 at Kentucky.
“We’re not the ’85 Bears but we have a very talented roster,’’ Moorhead said before meeting with MSU fans at the Road Dawgs Tour at the Golden Nugget Casino in Biloxi. “I think no one rises to low expectations. We have to do a great job in our out-of-conference schedule and our SEC schedule is very challenging with a razor-thin margin of error on a weekly basis. Part of the attraction of this job was to compete against the best. I look forward to it.’’
MSU women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer and athletic director John Cohen were also on hand Tuesday night to speak to fans.
Moorhead expects talented quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to be ready for the fall. He was held out of contact drills in the spring after an ankle injury in the regular season finale against Ole Miss.
“Nick has had a fantastic career up to this point,’’ Moorhead said. “He did a lot of stuff in the spring, we just kept him out of harm’s way where he could be tackled. He is on track to be back for fall camp and I’m certainly excited for his senior season.’’
Moorhead said that junior defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons is the leader on the defense. Johnathan Abram anchors the secondary.
Moorhead liked what he saw in the spring as the team made the transition from former coach Dan Mullen (who went to Florida) to Moorhead. State will host Florida and Mullen at home on Sept. 29.
“I learned they like to compete,’’ Moorhead said. “I felt very positive about our talent level across the board. They have been quick learners in the installation of our offense, defense and special teams.
“It is a little transition from a three down (linemen) scheme that Mississippi State ran (on defense) to more four down (linemen). I think it more fits our personnel.’’
Ocean Springs redshirt freshman wide receiver Austin Williams caught the eye of Moorhead during the spring. He looks to gain some playing time.
“He redshirted last year,’’ Moorhead said. “There is a bunch of competition (at that position). We want to find who will play at the receiver position. We put him in the slot and he made a bunch of plays down field. He did a great job blocking. He is someone who has a real bright future.’’
While the players are getting use to Moorhead, he is getting used to the South.
“It’s been great,’’ he said. “There’s a little bit of language transition – you guys to y’all and fixin’ to. I talk real fast and I’ve been trying to slow it down a little bit. But the transition has been pretty seamless.
“Coming from the Big Ten and the Big Ten East in particular, I’m trading Ohio State for Alabama and Michigan for Auburn. I think it was a great proving ground. It is an unbelievable challenge and I’m looking forward to it on a weekly basis.’’