Do you think we’ve talked about the match-up of Tennessee receivers and Mississippi State’s secondary enough? It’s only Tuesday and already it’s the only thing anyone wants to discuss. Frankly, I’m OK with that. I’m legitimately excited to see Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay against Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson.
But, I’ve talked about it enough.
Cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith is a man who knows much more than I, and he is also much better with words and stories.
Generally, I try to break down interviews into nuggets of important info or telling quotes. After talking to Smith on Monday, I felt like it would be a crime to cut anything from our conversation with him.
He talked at length about the showdown of UT’s offense and MSU’s defense, of course, but his explanation for how to beat them, his high opinion of Banks as a person and player and his stories of the past cannot be done justice by paraphrasing.
For that reason, we’ve got the full question and answer session with Smith.
So, it’s a big week for the defensive backs.
Yeah it is.
You’ve got future NFL corners against future NFL receivers. Do you feel like an NFL coach this week?
I’m not an NFL coach, I’m an amateur coach. I’m a college football coach. I don’t determine if they’re NFL players but there’s some good players that will be playing.
Senior cornerback Johnthan Banks was downplaying himself going against these big-time guys. This is a game a lot of people will be paying attention to with Banks and Slay and those receivers. Do you guys talk about that?
It’s a great opportunity. Banks and Slay and Jamerson Love, Nickoe Whitley, Corey Broomfield, Jay Hughes, Dee Arrington and all of the DBs are good players like we think they are, they’re going to have to show it Saturday. Tennessee, they’ve got some excellent receivers, and I mean, some of the best you’re ever gonna see in college football. You order receivers out of a magazine, that’s what you get. They have the prototype and they’re really good looking college football players. They’re tall and athletic and run good routes and have a real good throwing operation. They have a really good looking quarterback that can throw the football.
Tyler Bray has such a strong arm, what’s the key to not getting beat deep this week?
I worked with Gary Darnell for a little while at Texas A&M. He came in to repair for our defense. When he was at Notra Dame, he told me this little old lady came up to him and said, ‘Are you in charge of the defense?’ He said, ‘Yes, ma’am, I am.’ She said, ‘Well, I don’t know anything about defense, but it doesn’t look like your men are standing in the right place.’ He said, form that point on, he always wanted his defense to stand in the right place.
To me, it’s all about position. I grew up on a farm and we only had X amount of acres. When our cows and hogs got out and got on somebody else’s land, they were out of position because we had a fence. You play defense by building a fence. What I want to see is us in position. That’s so important to me. Leverage horizontal and vertical is so important. It’s not about who you play, it’s about positioning yourself so that you can do your job. That’s what my emphasis will be this week and all the time so I know we’re in good position. That’s what we need in our secondary, to be in position, and then you’ll have a chance to do your job. Every defensive call means we have a designated position to be in, and then you let talent do what talent is supposed to do.
Well, it’s really special, and I think it goes back to his grandmother and how she raised him. Johnthan has had a lot of stuff happen in his life but he was really raised by traditional southern folk, his grandom and grandad. They really instilled some good stuff tin him. I think that’s what makes him special. It’s really not about him. He really wants to do as much as he can to help the team. What I love about Johnthan is he’s unselfish and he’s correctable. Some guys are not correctable. They get past you telling them what to do and how to fix it. Johnthan is correctable and I’ve seen him get better and I think that has a lot to do with why he came back. He really wanted to improve his game and sharpen his skills. I think he’s done that. It says a lot about him when he came back, but it’s not about him.
How important is this game for guys like Slay and Nickoe Whitley to gain some notoriety?
I don’t like to think of pro. I like to think of 1 of 11. How strong is your chain. How strong is your 22. This game is about 22 people. It’s about our ones and twos and being able to sub and keep fresh players on the field. This game is about unity. This game is about a program that was built starting with Johnthan Banks. This is about Johnthan Banks, Dan Mullen and Nickoe Whitley, you know, the guys Coach Mullen brought in and Johnthan’s last opportunity to do something special. So it’s more than just one or two guys running out there on the field. It’s about a team camaraderie, a concept, an attitude, if that makes sense.
How big do you think this game is from a sense of legitimizing what you guys have been building?
Well, obviously, winning the next game and doing well is very important, but this game validates what we’re trying to get done, that’s all I’ll say. It’s a big game because it’s the next game. It’s a big game because it allows you to be bowl eligible. It’s a lot of reasons why it’s a big game. It just validates what you’re about, that you’re trying to build a program that is competitive, and that’s what it’s about. I like having games like this on the campus of Mississippi State. It means a lot to me. I played in one SEC championship and it was against Tennessee. That’s always something I would like. I look forward to that challenge of SEC games. I love SEC football games.