Oct. 31, 2006
"I am very proud of our football team, the win over South Carolina and to be at this point in the season as to what we've accomplished, but we're not nearly satisfied. I've expressed that to the team.
"We have fought hard, the effort has been really good during the course of the year and they've been a responsive team. There are certainly some exciting elements to our team that have proven to be a real plus for us. Our leadership has grown as we've gone through and probably one of the most pleasing things, in some cases, is that we've continued to have young players step up and help us. The latest example would be Antonio Wardlow going in and doing a really, really good job at safety for us in the last ballgame.
"One of the keys to what we've accomplished, particularly in the last few weeks, has been the improvement in our special teams. They have been fun to watch. Our coverage teams, in particular, and our punt return team has obviously made a difference in the ballgames. Our coverage teams and their improvement has been a real positive.
"I think in many ways it's a reflection of the leadership on this team, the responsiveness of our players and the demands that we have put on them to continue to improve. The coordinators have done a really great job, and I think oftentimes the assistants don't get enough credit for the job that they're doing. We've got some veterans on the defensive staff that continue to do really well and have had to fight through some difficult circumstances between graduation and injury, and on the offensive side some young guys that have brought really good energy to our team and I think are real bright spots for us.
"Looking at where we are right now, there are two clichés that we have used quite a bit. One is that 'They remember what you do in November.' It's something that we have taken a lot of stock in. Obviously this November is as challenging as we've had.
"The second one, and this is where I'm anxious to see how our team handles themselves as they've put themselves in a positive position going into the last month of the season, is 'The wind will blow the hardest at the top of the flagpole.' We'll see if they are going to be able to handle that from a maturity standpoint, even though we have some challenges ahead of us for other guys at some positions to step up because of injuries, if they will be able to handle it. Everything from the media hype to the teams that they're playing, their own wear and tear as the season has gone on, we'll work with them on all those areas.
"For this football game with LSU, it will take just great determination and resolve of our team to prepare well to play well in all phases for 60 minutes. We have not done that as consistently as we would look as coaches. We have to be a better, sounder fundamental football team consistently to reach the level of play that we need to reach. I think the two biggest challenges that we have are for the offensive and defensive lines to play at another level. When I say that we're not satisfied, those are the two areas that I think that we need to make strides in to be able to finish this season like we want to starting with this game.
"We've played well at times in all areas, and our effort has been there. Maybe that's all they can do. I'm not sure yet, but I don't think it is. I think there's another level that we can reach with more consistent play and more guys being involved. I'm not going to accept less at all, from the practice scheduling standpoint, to the meetings to the individual drills to the group drills to the teamwork, and the same thing in the way that they play. This is a game that they're going to have to be really good for us to win the ballgame.
"When you look at LSU's defense, at this point in the season statistics certainly do mean something. They're not ranked as the No. 1 defense in the country by accident. They've got a very disruptive defensive front, outstanding linebackers and an outstanding secondary. They've got a pair of safeties that play like safeties are supposed to play. I want us to continue to recruit and work until we get some guys that fast and that physical, and the ones that we've got we're going to coach up to continue to do well. In some cases they have, but we're not where we need to be at that position on a consistent basis.
"Offensively, you look at them and they're just outstanding. There's no real obvious weakness. Their quarterback (JaMarcus Russell) is a special player. Their running backs are all really good players that have done well for them, the wide receivers, much like ours, are really outstanding, and a big, physical offensive line that plays well together.
"They have an excellent kicking game, so we've got a lot of work to do. Our preparation is obviously going to be key during the course of the week, as we've got a good start on them (Monday). Our preparation has been good at times, but I still feel like in some spots we're reaching a level of play that we're excited about and looking forward to it and we play well in the game, and it seems like the next week we fall back in that area. That's been really something that I've pounded to the team that we can't do. We've got to play well, particularly in this ballgame, consistently. Our preparation and our carryover to play LSU has to be that, 'Every play that I'm out there is a play that I've got to do my job.'
"We are totally focused on LSU. Any player or coach or anyone else that wants to think about other things at this point in time is just wasting their time and their breath. If we don't take care of our business, then all that is just talk. Our team has fought hard to get to this point, and our energy and focus will be on our preparation.
"We have several guys banged up. I won't know about (the status of quarterback) Erik (Ainge) until we get to practice for the next couple of days, and then we'll see. If that's not to be, then I am fully confident that Jonathan Crompton will do just fine. He actually gives us a dimension in the run game that is a plus for us, and I expect him to do just fine. We do miss (running back) LaMarcus Coker, and (Arian) Foster wasn't able to practice a whole lot (Monday). There are other guys like (Jayson) Swain and (Arron) Sears that have shown some real toughness to fight through those injuries and things to get back on the field. I can tell you, if you don't practice, you don't play as well as you could play and that's been a real challenge for us during the course of the year.
"Defensively, you've got to admire what Jerod Mayo has done with an ankle injury that goes all the way back to fall camp. He's fought through that and playing great football right now, so I'm really excited about his progress.
"Our staff and our team have done a good job of showing mental and physical toughness to fight through those. Our team has to find an attitude for this game to find a way to make a way. That's basically where we are, and it's really as simple as that. We need to be focused and have the intensity and energy and practice so we can execute as well as we have executed this season to win this football game."