MSU's Moorhead avoids 'guns blazing' approach

HOOVER, Ala. -- A more understated Joe Moorhead stepped up to the podium at SEC media days on Wednesday afternoon and admitted the optimism he expressed prior to his first season coaching Mississippi State went overboard.

The Bulldogs began last year ranked No. 18 in the preseason AP poll with starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and two future high-round draft picks, Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons, on the defensive line.

Moorhead, who had just arrived after two seasons as Penn State's offensive coordinator, told his players to know their ring sizes and he wasn't bashful about putting Fitzgerald in the Heisman Trophy conversation.

In the end, however, none of those bold predictions came to pass. Fitzgerald had an up-and-down season as Mississippi State lost five games.

"I am not saying I'm changing what our goals are, but the approach of coming off the plane guns blazing, talking about ring sizes and Heisman trophies -- and the expectation level of the team entering the season, prior to me even getting there ..." Moorhead said Wednesday. "I think what I may have done is elevated the expectation level to a point where nothing that we did short of a championship was going to make people happy."

If anything, Moorhead said, he wished he would have kept those aspirations "in house" rather than making them public.

"Doing some of those things early on may not have been fair to the guys," Moorhead said. "Because anything we did may not have been good enough."

That shouldn't be a problem this season.

Mississippi State lost Fitzgerald to the NFL and hasn't named a starting quarterback -- Keytaon Thompson and Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens are battling for the job. And not only are Sweat and Simmons off to the NFL, but all four starters on the defensive line are gone as well.

Still, Moorhead expressed optimism for what the team has coming back, especially with linebackers Erroll Thompson, Willie Gay and Leo Lewis all returning.

"I'm excited for a mix of returning players and influx of young talent," Moorehead said. "I think any time you have that number of positions open, it breeds competition and forces everyone to improve and get better. I think that's where we are heading into the season."

Mississippi State opens the season against Louisiana on Aug. 31.