Zach Arnett Post-Game Quotes
ReliaQuest Bowl: Mississippi State vs Illinois
Monday, January 2, 2023
Tampa, Florida, USA
Raymond James Stadium
Mississippi State - 19, Illinois - 10
ZACH ARNETT: First and foremost, I want to thank the ReliaQuest Bowl. Our guys have had a very memorable week. We certainly enjoyed ourselves. It was a first class experience.
I was hoping that both teams would show up ready to compete, put on a heck of a game, and obviously that's exactly what happened.
I want to congratulate Coach Bielema and his staff on the year they had. They are a phenomenal football team. They play the way it's supposed to be played. We knew we were in for a tough one all day long. We're lucky enough we made enough plays to pull it out in the end.
Again, for the ReliaQuest Bowl, I want to first start out by congratulating them because they certainly made this a memorable trip for us.
Incredibly proud of our players. I think we did exactly what has been preached for the last three years in this program by Coach Leach. Next play mentality. Never look at the scoreboard. Just work as hard as you can on every individual play, and things will take care of themselves.
Obviously it turned into that kind of a game. We get down in the red zone and the ball gets tipped, and we don't come away with points. Then they drive down the field and score. They execute in the red zone, so they got a lead at halftime. I think that was a big moment in the game. Our offense executing two-minute drives and running down and getting points before the half so that way we had something on the scoreboard going into halftime.
Frankly players win games, and guys need to step up and make plays in critical moments. J. Rob obviously did that here. Kind of split down right there inside the end line for the touchdown.
And then very proud of the way the defense performed today. They competed all day long, gave up some yards at times, and let them flip the field but didn't surrender points.
Very proud of the players in this program. They certainly earned this one.
Q. What was the experience like leading the team in this ballgame, what that means to you today?
ZACH ARNETT: Today had nothing to do with me. First and foremost, games are about players. Players win games. Coaches are overrated in this sport.
So the players went out, and they won this game, and they executed. Obviously Coach Leach, Mike Leach has been leading this program for three years, and he was out there leading us today.
Q. Zach, after the game, you had an assistant coach propose to his now fiancee, the players signing a Mike banner and Will Rogers waving the Mike flag. So emotional for those guys. What were the emotions like for you after the game being around all of that and winning this one?
ZACH ARNETT: We had a player propose?
Q. Coach Washington proposed.
ZACH ARNETT: I thought Coach Leach had enough viral moments talking about what to do in terms of marriage, you wouldn't think that would happen. Coach Washington, I would suggest elope. I would definitely say that.
Yes, it's an emotional game obviously. We had a lot to play for today. The thing I don't want to get lost in this is we had a chance to get to nine wins, which I believe -- someone can fact check me on that, but this is only the tenth time in school history. So these players have left a legacy on Mississippi State football. I'm incredibly proud of their efforts and their success this season, and it's a perfect springboard into the off-season.
Q. What do you feel like you learned about your players the past few weeks to handle all the emotion and prepare for a game at the same time?
ZACH ARNETT: I think they're Mississippi State guys. I think all they've done was listen to the teachings of Coach Leach over the last three years, and they came in handy over the last several weeks.
We put our head down, and we went to work. Obviously any time something tragic happens, it's best to go through it with those who you're closest to, and that's what the football team is, that's what the locker room is, it's family. It was a good opportunity for us to get together the last few weeks and pour ourselves into this preparation. Obviously we get to celebrate the fruits of our labors today right now.
Q. You didn't really react to the game-winning field goal. What was going through your mind as you saw it go through?
ZACH ARNETT: Yeah, I was pretty mad at myself because that was a failure as a head coach. That should have been the last play of the game. Obviously I did a poor job communicating we were to center the ball and take the clock down to two or three seconds, so that way we ensured the kick was the last play of the game and that didn't happen.
So that is a failure of my responsibility as a head coach, and I was pretty angry at myself because that last play should have never happened where they had the chance to lateral the ball all over the field.
I certainly hope that little personal foul at the end with two teams competing obviously to the maximum there because the game comes down to one play. But really that never should have happened. I apologized to Coach Bielema about that because that timeout was taken too early. That was completely my fault as a head coach. I take full ownership of that.
Hopefully I learned from my mistake there and it never happens again.
Q. Everywhere the team scored today, Austin Williams sat at the sideline, he said it was a four phase game. Everybody contributed to this game.
ZACH ARNETT: That's something we hear from Coach Leach all the time. There's four phases to the game. Obviously offense, defense, special teams, but also the sideline. Sideline's responsibility is to create positive energy.
Obviously in a game like this where it was difficult for both teams to score points, you can't lose hope. You can't lose momentum. A lot of times the guys who were not involved in the game on the sideline can be instrumental in creating some positive energy. I think that's what he was representing right there.
Q. With a win in New Year's bowl game, how much does that springboard you into next year with recruiting and getting ready?
ZACH ARNETT: Hopefully it springboards us a lot. I think our assistant coaches did a phenomenal job. With the passing of Coach Leach, the timing of it was right before early Signing Day, and we had a class of 22, 23 guys committed at the time, and we signed almost every single guy who was committed to us.
That obviously speaks to the job the assistant coaches did in recruiting and building relationships. It speaks to the players in our locker room, the relationships they built with recruits. Those recruits, they see those guys in the locker room, and they know, hey, I'm one of these guys, and I want to be part of the Mississippi State program.
To finish it off like this with a New Year's bowl win, incredibly proud for the whole Starkville and the Mississippi State community, President Keenum, Athletic Director Bracky Brett, and hopefully this launches us into the off-season, and our guys enjoy some much needed days off, and then we jump back into our work.
Q. You guys did such a good job putting pressure on Illinois today. What did you think of that effort from the defense today?
ZACH ARNETT: Very proud of the defense. Obviously we're a veteran group up front, so we need those guys to play to the utmost of their abilities because that's kind of the veteran experienced group, in the back end as well.
They did that today. I know last time we went out on Thanksgiving, I think we had a whole bunch of TFLs in that game. I'm excited to see the stat sheet tonight. But very proud of those guys.
Q. After Woody (Jo'quavious Marks) went down, banged up, Simeon Price came in and really did well for you guys. What do you think of how he played?
ZACH ARNETT: Players got to step up and make plays when they get opportunities. Simeon's always been that guy. We knew that from the second he started practicing when he came in as a true freshman. You can tell that guy is as dependable as there is. He's a great young man. Every day he shows up with the right attitude and a mindset to get better.
He had a little setback with a knee injury in a live scrimmage a year ago, and he didn't let it get him down. He kind of embodies that next play mentality. It's great to see those guys step up and make plays when their number is called.
Q. What was it like seeing the offense click when you needed it to? Just that fourth quarter comeback and seeing this team play a 60-minute bowl game.
ZACH ARNETT: As I said, we're just following the teachings we learned the last three years. That is a tremendous defense they have. I don't know if anyone noticed. They finished first in the country in pass efficiency defense and fourth in the country in total defense. You'd have to double-check me on scoring defense, but I know they're up in the probably top ten. They're a tremendous defense. Coach Bielema and his staff have done a phenomenal job. They've got terrific players. They play the game the right way.
We knew it was going to be tough sledding on that side of the ball, but our guys executed when it mattered most, and that's what games come down to.
Q. What were you doing during the touchdown review?
ZACH ARNETT: I saw the first review and saw him get a foot down, and I knew it was going to be good. So I wasn't too worried.
Q. I know people talk about meaningless bowl games. Two teams today didn't think that. They got after it, didn't they?
ZACH ARNETT: Again, I keep referencing Coach Leach here, but it don't matter. When you line up to play football, it doesn't matter if it's a bowl game, no matter what people think about it. You roll up in the park, it doesn't matter if it's recess at school, there's going to be a winner and a loser.
That is the mentality of this program. Whether the stadium is packed or whether it's empty or whether you're at spring practice, there's going to be a winner and a loser, and you go out and compete.
Obviously that has been preached in this program for the last three years. It's going to continue to be preached. I think our guys take that to heart, and they went out there and competed. I'm glad to see they left the field with a victory.
Q. You touched on waiting on this opportunity. You kind of touched on what the experience was like. Your first game kind of as the head coach of this program. Was there kind of anything about this experience that you didn't expect heading into it? What was it actually like with finally getting your shot to be the head coach in this program on the field?
ZACH ARNETT: Obviously since the change happened, there's been a whole lot of other things occupying my time. Studying Illinois on film typically got put to the back burner. I probably did that less than anything.
I should have brought this up even earlier when I mentioned the defensive question. I signaled the defense today, but I did not call the defense. Matt Brock, our assistant linebackers coach, he actually called it because I found myself getting pulled in so many different directions, like Signing Day and all the other responsibilities of a head coach. I certainly don't want to take any credit for something I wasn't a part of other than if you think the signals went in pretty nice.
So, yeah, Coach Spurrier and the offensive staff did a tremendous job. They called the right plays at the right time there at the end of the game. Obviously incredibly happy with the defensive assistants, the way they got our guys prepared to play.
And then I'm going to keep going back to it. It's players, guys. The guys could have found every reason to let outside noise affect them or look for excuses and not get ready for this game. All they did was went to work for the last several weeks, got themselves prepared to play, certainly enjoyed their time here.
We can't thank ReliaQuest Bowl enough. I was worried we might have enjoyed ourselves a little too much at times. But they were locked in there during football time, which is what's preached by Coach Leach. They went out there and played and competed and executed, and we love the win.
Q. Talk about Will Rogers and the offensive personnel with the struggles that the offense had to kind of put together that final drive.
ZACH ARNETT: That's who Will is. Sometimes when you're playing a really good defense, it's going to be tough sledding. You've got to keep playing.
Fortunately our defense was playing well, so kept getting the ball back to them. I don't think the game was ever not a one-score game, right? So that's pretty easy to stay locked in and stay focused because you know it only takes one drive to put points on the board. You have to tie it, or you have to leave.
Q. You mentioned about players and this group has been through so much this entire season. How gratifying is it to see them celebrating to finish the season with this win?
ZACH ARNETT: I know the last two games we finished with a heck of celebrations, Thanksgiving Day and then this one. This is an emotional game. Those guys invest a year's worth of work for 12 guaranteed opportunities, and then if you have a good enough record, you get to play another one.
So as a coach, it is incredibly gratifying to see them leave the field as winners. Obviously you've got seniors who are no longer with the program. It's great to send them on their way to the next phase of life as victors. You hope to build momentum going into the off-season program with all the returners.
Q. What do you think Coach Leach would have said about your performance today?
ZACH ARNETT: He'd be pretty mad at me for some of that bad clock management.
I've been incredibly fortunate and lucky to get to learn under him these last three years. I did not realize how much wisdom I would have the opportunity to soak in.
I think I've spoken to this before, he hands out a document that's kind of his career's worth of coaching wisdom to all his coaches, and I will cherish that document and lean on it for the rest of my time as a coach. I'm sure he'll find a way to let me know my mistakes.
Q. Do you anticipate calling the plays for defense moving forward?
ZACH ARNETT: I don't think today's about that. Today is about players, the way they went out there and executed and played.
Obviously it's about this team getting the nine wins and the legacy they've left. Obviously it's about Mike Leach and his influence on this program and how lucky we are to have been with him the last three years.
Q. The formation on the first play, what was significant about that?
ZACH ARNETT: I call it swing the gate. I don't know what other places call it. I think Coach Leach's teams in past years have kind of been known for jumping into the funky formations. If you notice we had a receiver over the ball in a position to snap it.
I cannot thank Coach Bielema and his staff enough for being okay -- obviously we spoke leading up to the game about, hey, this is an opportunity to honor Coach Leach with one of his unique formations, and they were 100 percent all in on it. We knew obviously it was the wrong way to snap the ball, but it just created an opportunity in the moment to honor Coach Leach's legacy in the game of football, and we cannot thank them enough for their contribution to the moment.
Q. Coach Leach wanted to see a 64-team playoff. Are you going to push for that?
ZACH ARNETT: Those two semifinals games were a heck of a football game. If every playoff game is going to be like those two, NCAA would be crazy not to expand the field because those were some tremendous games.
Q. Justin Robinson, the day that he had today, can you speak to his efforts and the big touchdown there?
ZACH ARNETT: There's a reason we brought him in and recruited him. You see it every day in practice. Obviously he's a matchup nightmare on defense. When you're that big and strong but yet you can also run, it makes it miserable as a defensive coach to try to find a way to match up on him.
So we've been on our fair share of the losing end of matched up with him in practice. It was good to see him get the opportunity today to go out and make the plays and execute because he certainly needed to.
Q. Is it good to get a mental break from the game after the last three weeks and the long season?
ZACH ARNETT: I think it's across college football. You put in a whole year of work and effort, and I don't think probably the average person understands what these guys' days are like, between strength and conditioning, practice, weight lifting, academic responsibilities, class and tutoring outside of it, these guys are putting in well over 40-hour work weeks when you add it all up.
So that's across college football. All these young men, the work they've put in, obviously they've earned this reward. The bowl game is a reward for the work they've put in and the success they've had in the season. To leave the field as victors, they certainly deserve several weeks off.
They'll get well rested because obviously when you show back up, you'll go right back to work.
Q. You mentioned the celebration after the last two games of the season. How will you celebrate this game?
ZACH ARNETT: I'll probably just go take a nap on the plane first. Yeah, I'll probably enjoy a nice beverage, one that me and Coach Leach have probably enjoyed together several times before, and I'll think back on this team and how proud I am of what they've accomplished this year, how proud they've made all of Starkville and the Mississippi State community across the country.
I know there's a cowbell ringing down from heaven for them.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports