December 4, 2017 10:30:47 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State interim football coach Greg Knox is confident he can take one thing for granted: his players' attitude.
In the last week, MSU's players have seen their head coach, defensive coordinator, and co-offensive coordinators leave for Florida, Knox named interim head coach, and Dan Mullen's successor hired and introduced.
Knox believes things will settle down after Sunday's announcement that No. 24 MSU (8-4, No. 23 College Football Playoff) will face Louisville (8-4) in the TaxSlayer Bowl at 11 a.m. Dec. 30 (ESPN) at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
"I don't think it's going to be a challenge with the kids," Knox said Sunday on a teleconference. "I think we have a program with a solid foundation and our foundation is based on hard work and determination, so I don't think it will be a problem to get the kids ready to play. I don't think that will be a challenge for me."
The biggest challenges will come for the coaches.
Former coach Dan Mullen was the team's primary play-caller, a duty Knox said has passed on to quarterbacks coach Brett Elliott. Safeties coach Ron English will assume the defensive play-calling duties from former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Elliott has yet to reach the ranks of a college coordinator, but English has done so three times. English also served as head coach at Eastern Michigan for five seasons.
"Our quarterback coach Brett Elliott had a big part of calling plays with Dan," Knox said.
Departed co-offensive coordinators John Hevesy and Billy Gonzales coached the offensive line and wide receivers, respectively. Knox said tight ends coach D.J. Looney, who played offensive line for MSU, will take over the offensive line, while quality control assistants will take over the wide receivers and linebackers, which Grantham coached.
While those duties shift, some coaches might have an eye to the future with Mullen at Florida, new MSU coach Joe Moorhead, or elsewhere. There have been reports Knox was offered a position on Mullen's staff.
"I have not entered into any agreement with the University of Florida," Knox said. "My entire focus is on this team and this bowl game."
The matchup sets up a meeting against Louisville defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon, who was MSU's defensive coordinator last season. In 2016, the Bulldogs finished 103rd in the nation in yards per play allowed (6.24) and 93rd in scoring defense (31.8). Still, it gives MSU an intimate knowledge of his system.
"I think there's knowledge on both sides," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "I think coach Sirmon will know their players, their talents, and what they do. Mississippi State will know what his tactic is and what he did there. These games are about the players. We'll out together a game plan for them to go out and execute, have fun, compete and play extremely hard."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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