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|Lunch with Les Miles|
On Monday, LSU head coach Les Miles addressed the media as his ninth-ranked team prepares for it's trip to Tuscaloosa to face No. 3 Alabama. Watch on-demand video of the press conference in the Geaux Zone now.
"I want to wish the (New Orleans) Saints every good fortune. I know they play the (Atlanta) Falcons tonight, and boy, what a great time it is in this state when the Saints are doing well as well as the Tigers. I wish (Saints' head coach) Sean Payton every good fortune.
"We really came into the Tulane game wanting to do some specific things and play better. I felt like our focus on the week was right. We did not go by Tulane. We did not overlook them. We looked and worked very specifically against them. It proved to be very beneficial. It was our best offensive outing of the year thus far with 42 points, 455 yards, 267 rushing yards and 10 possessions. We scored on six of them. It was a much more efficient offense. I enjoyed getting Charles Scott 100 yards. He ran hard. I thought the line did a good job. We had a couple of newcomers on the offensive side. Stevan Ridley looked like he was ready to play, and we may have the opportunity to use him as we go down the road. Jordan Jefferson threw the ball well. He was 11-of-16 for 163 yards, and the reality is he didn't practice really until Wednesday and was a little bit under the weather early on in the week but came back, caught up on the game plan and played well. I look forward to a full week of preparation with him. I know he does as well.
"The defense puts out another strong effort, shutting Tulane out. I met with them this morning. I said, 'It's hard for me to figure out where zero on the scoreboard is anything but darn good.' I kind of feel like they're getting better every week. We asked them to do some specific things about pad level and some things we needed to have happen, and they are. I think that 26 rushing yards and 216 total yards for Tulane just kind of speaks to the fact that the defense came out to play. If you look at how we tackled, we tackled well. The linebackers continue to play well as a group. Kelvin Sheppard had his third-straight double-figure tackle game. That's the first time that has happened since (former LSU linebacker) Bradie James, but that group, all of them from Perry Riley to Harry Coleman to Kelvin Sheppard, that threesome, including Jacob Cutrera are all playing really good football at this time. Certainly that's one of the reasons this defense is playing so well.
"We went into the game plan with the idea that we would do some special things on special teams this week. We started it off quickly with a blocked punt. The two punt returns of 50 yards each with Trindon Holliday certainly sparked the special teams' night. We currently lead the league in kickoff coverage. We are third in net punting, and we moved to first in punt returns. It was an eventful night for special teams.
"We turn to our opponent this week. Alabama is a very good football team. Coach (Nick) Saban has done a very good job there. They've gotten better every time we've seen them on film. Offensively, they are averaging 31 points and 410 yards per game. They can run the football very well. Mark Ingram is a great back. He's from Flint, Mich. I wish he would have stayed in the Midwest, but he's certainly a great player for them. They have a quarterback (Greg McElroy) who makes smart decisions. He's thrown nine touchdowns and three interceptions. He manages the game very well for them. I think they have a great receiver in Julio Jones, who is really one of the best receivers in the country. He has 20 catches for 230 yards or so and one touchdown, but they spread the ball around, and that's smart. At least six players have 10 catches.
"Defensively, they rank in the top-five nationally in every statistical category. They are very talented. Of course, everyone knows about Terrence Cody. He's a big-time playmaker. He blocks field goals. He's a tremendous force in the center of the defense. Linebacker Rolando McClain leads the team in tackles and just seems to always be around the ball. On special teams, the defensive back that they have playing for them, (Javier) Arenas has 45 tackles, eight tackles for loss and four sacks, but his impact is not only on the defensive side, but he's also a tremendous return man. He's averaging 16 yards on punt returns and 27 yards on kickoff returns. Special teams, like the rest of their team, is very good and well-coached and productive.
"We enjoy going to Bryant-Denny Stadium. It's one of the finest collegiate venues in the country. It has a great game day atmosphere. I think this team that we play is very talented and very well-coached. There are no weaknesses. This will be a great challenge for our football team. Our football team will look forward to that, and we'll look forward to that matchup. Since I've been here, we've enjoyed games of significance. This certainly is that. It only counts one, but it's a very important one and one that we'll look forward to preparing for. I can tell you that we've always wanted to honor our best opponents with our greatest effort, and certainly that's the intent this week."
On why LSU has had so much success on the road at Alabama since 2000...
"I think we've had good teams. I think those guys know how to play on the road, play with poise, play with the confidence that they were going to be able to get it done and played well."
On the game two years ago at Alabama...
"I felt our team was very confident going into that game. I felt like certainly we recognized that was a great team we were playing. Every time we play Alabama – whether it's on the road or at home – we recognize it's going to be a very competitive game and matching two of the finest collegiate programs in college football."
On the matchup between Alabama's Julio Jones and LSU's Patrick Peterson...
"I like our corners, and certainly Julio Jones is a great receiver. That's going to be a key piece to the game, but I think there is certainly more to Alabama's offense than that, and certainly there is more to our defense than just the corners. It's going to be a matchup that will reflect more than just those two players."
On if this is a statement game as LSU tries to reestablish itself as the top team in the SEC West...
"I can tell you that our football team wants to compete for the SEC Western Division championship every year, and certainly that's this game. I don't think that there is anything other than the want to play well for that reason. I don't think we need to put other pretense on this game. This is a game that is very significant, and our guys understand it."
On who will be LSU's punter Saturday...
"I suspect Derek Helton will be the guy who takes those snaps. He could well have punted last Saturday, but we decided to give him some time."
On the NCAA timing rules
"The only thing I can tell you about how the clock rules have changed is we were brought to bear on it as coaches. I don't know of a coaching vote that was in favor of it. I also have to be honest to say that I'm not certain that was the criteria. I think the criteria is television and packaging these games so that they fit time slots. We had 10 possessions, and we had 61 offensive plays, and we had as big an offensive night as we've had, so it's interesting how few opportunities and how many football plays were actually getting played."
On Kelvin Sheppard...
"He's always seen himself as a leader and somebody that is integral to this team. He's taken it upon himself to improve his play. He's a very bright player. He really takes coaching well, and he has a spirit that our team is attracted to. Not only is he a very good player, but he's a leader of our football team."
On Alabama RB Mark Ingram...
"I just think he's physical and has speed. He can make you miss. He's a very good tailback. He will be as good a tailback as we've faced or will face."
On comparing Jordan Jefferson's and Greg McElroy's roles in their respective programs...
"It's very difficult for me to speak for the quarterback at Alabama, but the role within our program is one where he takes it to the field with the opportunity to make plays that allow our football team to win. He gets the ball to the playmakers, those guys being receivers, running backs and tight ends and to do so without error, without mistake and facilitate our offense. He's getting better at it every week, and we enjoy what he's brought to the table thus far this year."
On what's been the major difference in the offense excelling since the bye week...
"I just think there is greater focus on their personal role. I think our guys are putting it together and understanding how important it is that all 11 operate at the same time in unison and irrespective of the play call. In fact, it's got to be done by 11 guys, and I think we are using our personnel maybe a little bit better, but I think our football team certainly on that side of the ball is improving."
On how much the Florida game taught the offense to step up in big games...
"Certainly we felt like we were in position to do good things against Florida. Anytime you finish second in a football game, it's a very pointed reminder that you have to improve and you have to continue to improve. I think our football team has done that really since that time."
On OL/FB Thomas Parsons...
"He played just like you think he would, with enthusiasm and want. He went the right way all of the time. He hit the right guy three quarters of the time and blocked him 90 percent of the time, so he's not quite there. We have some work to do, but his efforts were encouraging, and we feel like he'll get some more opportunities."
On Alabama QB Greg McElroy struggling in the last few games...
"To me, I see a guy who has a very good throwing motion and a guy who can make the throws. I don't know that I would characterize his play as slumping. To me, I think he's making good decisions with the ball and getting the ball to the guy who he is supposed to give it to. Without answering your question as you wanted me to, that's how I see it."
On how important it is to establish a running game and how to prepare for Terrence Cody...
"We put two guys over the nose tackle and that nose tackle area. If the center goes to the right, he takes that guy, and if he goes to the left, he takes the other guy. He's just a good player and a very good competitor. Our guys will certainly look forward to that challenge. In terms of establishing the run, it's always important in every game with significance. If you don't, you become a one-dimensional team, and that's an issue and certainly will be for me."
On how much better he feels going into a big game like this knowing he can count on his defense...
"It's a great feeling. This defense is playing with passion, want, effort, enthusiasm and contact just like it's supposed to be played. We very much enjoy the contribution that this defense has made to the success of this year thus far."
On if his approach changes since he knows his defense is solid...
"You're confident. If you punt it and go play defense, that's a good choice. There is nothing wrong with that."
On striking a balance between being conservative on offense and opening it up against a good defense...
"The opportunity to call the things and execute the plays that we run is what I'm looking to do. If we throw it down the field, we'll throw it down the field in spots, but the want to execute will be our call. We recognize the success that Alabama has had defending thus far, and we are going to attack them with a smartness and how it factors into our personnel. We look forward to that challenge."
On if Jordan Jefferson's sickness early last week had anything to do with the hit he took against Auburn...
"No, it was not a physical ailment. He was sick with a disease or some kind of virus or something. He had a fever. His lungs were congested."
On how to inspire T-Bob Hebert to play against a guy as large as Terrence Cody...
"I think it's like any opponent that challenges you to bring out your best, and T-Bob will be inspired to play well as well as our offensive line, our offense and defense and special teams for that matter. This will be a great challenge, and again, we'll look forward to putting out our best effort."
On if it is nice that the LSU-Alabama matchup is no longer about the coaches...
"It's truly always been about LSU versus Alabama in my mind. I have a lot going on in my life. I enjoy what I do, who I work with and who I'm fortunate the represent. I have four kids who are running rampant around Baton Rouge, and even though there may well have been questions centered around that issue, it was never my view."
On much special teams can be a difference-maker in a game like this...
"It's tremendously important. It's hidden yardage. You can't give it away. You can't let return yardage get you. You have to get there and cover, and you have to tackle. When you have the opportunity to return balls, you put your return men in great position. If you watch Trindon Holliday run, as well as he returned the ball and as fast as he is and as nimble at making a choice to get into a hole, there was some good blocking. There was some execution surrounding that, and that was key. Our special teams is coming, and we expect they'll play big in this game. They'll have to."
On how big Derek Helton's health is for Saturday...
"One thing that Derek Helton gives you is great hang time. He'll hit a ball down there with depth, and even though it appears to be a very returnable ball, it just takes a long time to come down. We enjoy him. We expect he would be that guy taking those punts. There would be no reason for me to expect any differently this week."
On if he appreciates a defensive slugfest...
"I think that both defenses are very good and the structures are sound and solid. They play aggressively, and they make tackles. I enjoy watching good college football, and I think certainly that's what will be played this Saturday."
On what makes Alabama's defense so good...
"I think they understand their call. I think they understand what they need to get accomplished. I think that defense has gotten better in every year that we've faced it. Maybe through time, certainly this is an opportunity for that third year to come around, and that defense got comfortable with the calls. They're seldom out of position."
On how important it is to have faced a good defense already like Florida that they struggled against...
"I think we've gotten better and really answered some of those challenges beyond that Florida game. Certainly there is a new challenge with every week. I think it's important that we answer some of those issues beyond the Florida game. We did, and I feel pretty comfortable that our offense is in position to play well."
On Alabama's weaknesses...
"I think they are a very good football team. I don't know if they have any noteworthy weaknesses. I can tell you this. We'll enjoy the matchup. We'll enjoy the competition."
On Stevan Ridley ...
"I think you'll look forward to Stevan Ridley getting more snaps. Young players develop at different times. Stevan Ridley has come in, and if you watch our special teams play, he plays key roles in our special teams, and I think it's allowed him to play tough. It's given him experience on the field. I think it has allowed him to mature, and he is very comfortably a middle thread of our football team. He is not on the perimeter in any way. He enjoys competing to play. He wants to play. He is a very good running back and looks forward to that opportunity. Frankly, with maturity and how he's developing, I think he should get snaps from this point forward."
On if he tell Russell Shepard anything different going into this game...
"No, you tell him the same things. You run to the open area. You throw it to the guy who is open, and you catch it when thrown to. His experience is becoming more. His ability to be on the field in different spots is greater, and hopefully, we'll be able to call his number more often."
On being first in the SEC in punt returns but last in kickoff returns...
"It's interesting. When they kick it, hypothetically to the 35-yard line, we really have a nice return. It's 15 yards beyond the 20. If we take the ball there and don't return it a yard, then in fact, thank you. We'll take that on every snap. The reality of it is that in the statistical breakdown, that's no return yards. The only way you get good return yards is if they kick it deep, and you return it beyond that 35-yard spot. Well, they are not allowing Trindon Holliday or Ron Brooks, for that matter, to have the opportunity to hit the home run, so they are giving us a little shorter field and allowing our big men to catch balls and return them in short distances but yet really to give us a field position that we enjoy."
On allowing special teams players the freedom to make plays...
"It just seems that the ball always gets in their lane at the wrong time. No, there is certainly coaching that is getting done, and you're right. There are people who have special knacks for special teams. I think Ryan Baker, Stevan Ridley, Daniel Graff, Danny McCray and a number of guys are playing big in our special teams, and the opportunity for them to get into the mix certainly works. They know how to do it. We enjoy what they've done so far."
On if Russell Shepard is gaining more confidence...
"I think it's time. You can't just go buy experience. I think you have to get him on the field. You have to call plays. You have to let him have reps. You have to toss him one that doesn't get him any. You have to let him get smashed. You got to get him in a hole that he can run through, and I just think it's a comfort that's coming to him, knowing that his number is going to be called, and he's going to be in the game."
On what Jefferson has to do against Alabama...
"He has to do the things that we've asked him to do. He's got to make quality decisions with the ball. He has to make the checks and get the ball to the receivers, tight ends and running backs as directed, and he just has to play within the scheme of the offense. If he does that, he'll do fine. He's a very talented man."
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