Coaches Speak

Each week the Southeastern Conference football coaches participate in a telephone conference call with sportswriters. Here are highlights of this week's conversations.

ALABAMA COACH MIKE SHULA

"We had a good practice yesterday and the guys were spirited. Even though we're a little beat up, banged up this time of year, probably everybody is, we realize we've got to have good focus the next two days. We've got to do a better job and continue to play better, especially offensively. We've struggled here in the last couple games. We're a little bit younger without (Tyrone) Prothro as we all know. We keep working with that young offensive line and that young receiving corps just to continue to get better."

How concerned are you about the Alabama offense?

"It's concerning that we haven't put more points on the board in the last couple of weeks. We try to attack the problems individually each play. We feel like we've got guys we can win with, they've just got to continue to be more consistent. DJ Hall and Keith Brown are two of them that have made some plays for us that are going to have to step up even more. And the other guys, Brodie (Croyle) at the other positions, Ken Darby, those guys are going to have to step up their game up as well."

Was Tyrone (Prothro) a better player than any of us thought?

"Well, he's pretty good. We all thought he was on his way to having a great year, and just doing some spectacular things. You take that as well as his experience and then all of a sudden you lose both, I think that's kind of where we've had to adjust and we're focusing hard on that this week."

I'm wondering what you've seen looking at Utah State and how do you keep your team focused on a team that's clearly outmanned?

"I don't know about that. I think we've got to focus on ourselves. We've got to do a much better job offensively. We've got to play better than we have the last couple weeks for sure. That's our focus offensively. Defensively, we've got a lot of respect for their offense and the way they run their offense with their quarterback. He pretty much seems like he is their offense. He's making plays in the running game, whether or not it's a quarterback draw, a quarterback power, he's making plays on the option, he's making plays throwing the ball, he's accurate, he's a tough guy. He makes very quick decisions in the pocket, even if he decides to pull it down and run with it. To me, he's very dangerous in that way. Those are the things we've got to focus on this week. Our focus can't be any different than it was at any other point in the season, other than it's got to better as the season goes on."

TENNESSEE COACH PHILLIP FULMER

"Our team has gone back to work to get ready for a good South Carolina football team. It's been a frustrating season for everyone concerned -- our team, our staff and, I'm sure, our fans. I guess if you stay in this game long enough, you're going to have some years like this and you have to fight like heck to get it corrected. Our kids have worked hard and played hard. They've had a tough schedule to deal with and we've kind of been a victim of our own mistakes along the way and, hopefully, we're getting to the point where we're getting some of that corrected. Defensively, we've played well. Offensively, we haven't played as well as we need to play at all.

"South Carolina is a good team. With (Blake) Mitchell, you see a lot of progress at quarterback and 64 percent is what he's completing. They have the receiver (Sidney Rice) that's leading the SEC in yards per catch. They are a good, big-play offensive team. Defensively, they're very multiple and you have to be on your toes to handle all the defensive looks. We're looking forward to playing again and getting back on a good track.

"The spirits of the injured guys are fine. Jason Allen was a leader for us, a great player for us. We certainly miss him on the practice field and on Saturday. Gerald, obviously, is a big loss to us. But we've always taken the approach here that football is a game where you're going to have some injuries along the way and it's an opportunity for some others to step up. Inky Johnson did that in the absence of Jason Allen. He has played very well in the two games since Jason's injury. Arian Foster, fortunately, has had some good plays during the course of the year and we expect him to step up and replace Gerald quite nicely. I am concerned about the depth at tailback and we're working to correct that because actually that's our second tailback we've lost (Montario Hardesty).

Question -- What are your feelings about seeing Steve Spurrier on the opposite sideline Saturday?

Fulmer -- Everybody in the world has asked me that all week long. Steve is a great football coach and certainly good for the conference. You can see his mark on their offensive team. As I said, they're a team that throws it all over the field. But the game is played between the kids. Steve is a friend and good for the conference."

Question -- When you have a game you feel pretty certain you should win, what kind of balancing act is there between getting your starters out and resting them and getting some other guys some snaps versus making sure you don't let a win get away from you?

Fulmer -- "I'd like to have that problem this year. In the past, we've been able to balance that. We're going to make sure we have the game in hand before we take anybody out. Right now, we're trying to make first downs and score some points so I don't know that even applies to us. It is a balancing act. You've got to trust the No. 2 quarterback and trust the secondary that they're not going to give up big plays if you get them in the game."

LSU COACH LES MILES

"We've had a good week of practice so far. Preparation has come along fine for North Texas. We have to focus and be sharper this afternoon."

On defenses in the SEC...

"The defenses in this league are very good. The players are more athletic and the schemes are very good. It's my opinion that defense is played extremely well in the SEC."

On his first Saturday night game in Tiger Stadium...

"It was tremendous. The game day environment in Tiger Stadium is very unique. The noise and the spectacle of the game, it was a great advantage for our football team. Our players truly get excited to play at home."

AUBURN COACH TOMMY TUBERVILLE

On the matchup with Ole Miss:

"It's another big SEC game for both teams. We got back to the practice field yesterday after a very physical game last week for our team. We've got some guys that are beat up a little bit, but everybody practiced. We had a very physical practice and worked through it. We started putting our game plan in. Today we'll go back and do the same things and tweak our game plan some."

"We're working very hard on special teams. We need to pick it up and make some things happen. We're looking at some new ideas. Special teams down the road will make or break us, because I think that's one area where we really need to improve."

On the SEC being its strongest overall defensively this season:

"I think that you can make a case for that. I think that overall every year that I've been in it from top to bottom everybody has had some good defensive linemen and a lot of speed. This conference tends to build its defenses with speed and athletic ability rather than bulk, and it's very noticeable if you look at the defensive stats. I think defenses this year are right on track with where they've been in the past."

On difference in this year's Ole Miss team with Ed Orgeron as head coach:

"A little bit on offense, there's a different type of philosophy. They basically look like us. We look like them on offense and defense. Ed's a 4-3 guy as I am. We kind of grew up and learned this defense together, with the attacking style defense, and blitzing and being very aggressive. On the offensive side of the ball, it's running the ball and having a good running back, using a lot of misdirection but giving your quarterback an opportunity to do things that take advantage of a defense."

FLORIDA COACH URBAN MEYER

On playing Georgia ...

"We're really looking forward to this week. We're playing at one of the great venues and in one of the great rivalries in college football. Georgia is a team that is playing the best in all three phases that we've evaluated. Right now their (Georgia's) running game is tremendous, that's the number one thing we have to stop."

On what to expect on game day ...

"I've had many people try to fill me in, but it's one of those things you don't know until you experience it. But I've heard what I can expect from those who have played in and coached at this game. I think this rivalry is unique because of the venue it's played in. You hear about great rivalries that are home and home, but this one is played at a neutral site with the crowd split 50-50 and I think that's what makes it truly unique."

On Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley ...

"Shockley is a great threat on the run, as well as on passing. We're still practicing as if Shockley were going to play because he is a legit offensive weapon. I haven't been told he's definitely not going to play this week and I think anybody would be making a major mistake to not prepare as if he were going to be the guy taking the snaps."

On Florida quarterback Chris Leak ...

"Right now Chris Leak is our quarterback, he has earned that right and it has not been taken from him in practice. That's the way it is, and until someone takes that spot, which is not happening because he's performing well in practice, he will be our quarterback."

SOUTH CAROLINA COACH STEVE SPURRIER

"We are healthy except for one key player, Syvelle Newton, who had one of the best individual games that I think I've ever watched, last week vs. Vanderbilt. He ran for 80 yards, threw two touchdown passes and scored one himself. He tore his Achilles early in the fourth quarter. We certainly are going to miss having him on our team. He's obviously out for the rest of the season."

(on defense in the SEC)

"It's very strong, very strong. This is the fourth super defense we are playing this week. Georgia, Auburn, Alabama and now Tennessee, overall the defense, they are all right there together. They are all within the top 15 in the nation. Everybody is quick, strong, fast, well-coached, all that. It's tough. It's not maybe as easy as it use to be in the old days. Now, you not only have to worry about designing a pass to get somebody open, you got to worry about blocking those guys. We expect a very difficult night against Tennessee, because defensively they are one of the best in the country."

(on QB Blake Mitchell)

"Blake has really improved from last spring to now. I think he's improved a lot this season and we are just trying to get him to play with more confidence and to keep his mind working throughout the play, which is something quarterbacks really have to learn. Like I have said earlier, Blake has not really played in a pass offense until this year. So he's like a true freshman playing quarterback for us. Sometimes he gets hung up on a receiver but he's a good learner. Pretty soon, making decisions will come very natural for him."

GEORGIA HEAD COACH MARK RICHT

On Joe Tereshinski starting at quarterback in place of D.J. Shockley:

"He's grown up a Bulldog. His grandfather, father and uncle all were great players for Georgia. Football is in his blood, Georgia football is in his blood. He's been going to those games in Jacksonville all his life, so he definitely knows what's at stake. He's also prepared because he's been in our system for four years and he's gotten an awful lot of work in practice. He's gotten a ton of reps. Can he take those reps and turn them into success on the field in a game like that? I don't know. But there's no one man who can beat anybody, so we've got to play together as a team."

"We have to be balanced and diversified on offense or most defenses will swallow us up < and Florida's definitely would."

"You've got to know what his strengths and weaknesses are and not ask him to do something that's a little difficult for him. In order for him to play well, we've got to run the ball better, we've got to block better, we've got to pass protect, and receivers have to get off the jam. And the defense has got to play well. Joe's only going to succeed if his teammates around him play well. Even if Shockley was there, Shockley can't beat Florida or anybody else by himself. It's going to take everybody."

"Joe will do anything he can to help Georgia win. We don't ever have to worry about him caring enough or being diligent enough to be prepared."

MISSISSIPPI STATE COACH SYLVESTER CROOM

On progress of team:

"Over the last week I have seen our run game improve tremendously but we still need to work on our passing game and get better in that area. We go into this week's game needing an SEC win and we have a great opportunity to do so on the road."

On Starting Freshmen:

"It is really tough because of the mistakes they make because of inexperience. We would like to get to a point eventually where we can redshirt our freshmen but right now we have to play them because of their talent level. They will come back next year and know what to expect and that will pay off in the long run."

On SEC Defenses:

"You look at schools like Auburn, LSU, Alabama and Georgia and you see how similar their defenses are to those in the NFL. The speed is the thing that sets them apart and if you don't have that speed then you have no chance to win."

VANDERBILT COACH BOBBY JOHNSON

"I think it's about time for an open date, we need one. We're trying to get a few guys well. To tell you the truth, we have not had too many major injuries. We've got a bunch of guys nicked and bruised. We got about four guys that would not play this week if we were playing on Saturday.

(About Jay Cutler and Moses Osemwegie)

"They are our captains. They go beyond just being our captains. They give a great example to our players, especially our young players. They look at those guys and they have endured a lot of pain and suffering here, but they have worked extremely hard."

(About playing true freshmen)

"We have probably used more true freshmen early in my tenure here, out of necessity. Just having enough players to compete. As you start recruiting on a more consistent basis you hope to build a little more depth and not have to use those guys when they come in. Earl Bennett (WR) is a fantastic player. He had 16 catches for us last week. Bryant Hahnfeldt is a kicker who is doing a great job. They just beat out the other guys.

ARKANSAS COACH HOUSTON NUTT

(On Open Week)

"We are just trying to take advantage of the open week. We are trying to get the guys that are injured healed. We are trying to get better each day and build off the game at Athens. We are trying to get better and get our young people some reps."

(On freshmen tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones)

"These two guys have really done a good job for us. They are getting better each week. They are mature for their age and very unselfish. They do a great job without the ball. I just want them to keep going and working hard."

(On sophomore defensive end Jamaal Anderson)

"He is really gaining confidence. I'm really proud of him. He has gotten better and better each week, but the last two weeks he has really stepped out there. There is a lot of ball in front of him. He is just a sophomore. He is learning. But the biggest thing is that he is gaining confidence. He is making plays and he is gaining confidence."

OLE MISS COACH ED ORGERON

On playing Auburn

"We are very excited to be playing Auburn. We know they are a very good football team, but we think we match up well against them. We are looking to build on our recent play. We have been eliminating mistakes, creating turnovers on defense and eliminating turnovers on offense. I know it is going to be a battle, but I expect us to put all three phases of the game together for 60 minutes."

On defensive similarities with Auburn

"Auburn attacks up front and has a lot of team speed. Some of the coverages and blitzes are similar."

On Patrick Willis

"Patrick Willis is an outstanding young man. He is one of the best linebackers in the country, especially playing with what we call 'the club'. The two games that he missed we allowed 900 yards of offense. Since then we have improved so much on defense. He makes so much difference on that side of the ball."

On defensive confidence

"We are gaining a lot of confidence defensively. It is because we are doing things right. We needed to fix somethings, especially on third down, and we have done that. Our pass coverage has been excellent, and we have not been beaten on the deep play. We are starting to cause turnovers and put more pressure on the quarterback.

KENTUCKY COACH RICH BROOKS

"We have to do a better job of hanging on to the ball. That's been our problem the last two games. I believe we were minus-4 in turnovers at South Carolina and minus-3 last week at Ole Miss."

"We're getting a little healthier. We got (wide receiver) Tommy Cook back last week for a few snaps and he should be able to play more this week. We have a chance to get (wide receiver) Keenan Burton back for limited action this week."

Regarding playing 14 true freshmen this season ...

"We've had no choice (because of scholarship limitations while on probation and numerous injuries). We had to do that last year as well. We've gotten good production out of our freshmen and that will make them better players next year."

On why there is more scoring in the Pac 10 than in the SEC ...

"The biggest difference is the talent level on defense that you see every week (in the SEC). This league has seven or eight teams in the (national) defensive rankings. The defensive talent is more abundant in the SEC, in my experience, than the Pac 10. There are great skill players - quarterbacks, receivers, running backs - in the Pac 10 and we (SEC) have about the same number. But the depth of the defensive talent is more here, I think, than the Pac 10."


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