Media Days: Cutcliffe & Johnson

Despite being left off last year's bowl lineup, Ole Miss had a solid season in 2001. And with Heisman candidate Eli Manning back to lead a very good offense, Rebel fans are excited. <br><br>"It's an exciting time of the year," said Ole Miss Head Coach David Cutcliffe. "This kind of gives us the fever.

"We've been looking at our stadium as we complete the 25 million-dollar expansion, and the fans have responded with 42,000 season tickets. There is a lot of excitement surrounding the season.

"We have a nice blend of veteran playmakers with youthful talent. We have got to make all that come together. We have more depth than we've had. We need all that because we're playing a very challenging schedule."

Will Ole Miss be able to run the football?
"Our spring practice I thought our defense set the tempo for the first time since I've been there. Our defensive staff did a great job of learning and putting together a new system, and the players embraced it. It is a very versatile system. There are a lot more people around the line of scrimmage. I'm excited about it and looking forward to seeing us compete and seeing how it goes on the game field."

What about Ronald McClendon at tailback?
"His health is really good. He looks great. He had a great summer and is bigger than he's ever been, up to 197 pounds. He told me he's faster than he's ever been. He had a lot of learning to do in the spring. Going back and reviewing the spring, it was very evident with him, his speed. With Deuce (McAlister), every time he touched it he had the speed to go the distance. I think Ronald MCClendon has as good of speed as I've seen in backfield. When gets his hands on football, nobody's going to catch him from behind. It is a nice weapon to have."

Your team faded last year down the stretch.
"I've never been involved in anything quite like that. Being a loser in a seven-overtime game did not help us. That was beginning of the 3-game losing streak. I like to think we can turn around from that. I do know this, I don't want to play another seven-overtime game. We talked a lot about it in January. None of us like sitting at home. I get that sick feeling in my gut when think about it even now. It is somewhat of a motivation for the team, but not the focus. Our focus is on the future. It is something we've got to take care of on the field."

What about Eli and the Heisman?
"It really wasn't news as far as we're concerned. The Heisman is not an award won by a campaign. That wasn't really an issue. He is certainly a great football player, at his position he is as good as there is in the country. I couldn't ask for anything more. If our team responds and has great year, and if our quarterback plays the way he epxects to play, he could be candidate for many individual awards. He is capable of doing same things that Peyton did, he just hasn't done them yet."

Talk about your new defensive coordinator.
"He coaches defense the way I approach offense. He has a system he believes in. He builds it to where there's a flexibility that we can tweak it and work it. It has answers, if they do this, we do that, it's not guess work. Players can learn it. We put our entire system in during the 15-day spring that we had. We have to master it more, but we were able to do lot of things this spring. He is very attentive to detail and an outstanding teacher. He brings a lot to the table as a defensive coordinator."

Ole Miss Quarterback Eli Manning

"(The Heisman Trophy) is something you get awarded for by your play on the field, not on how many posters you are on or how many books you are on. It is not something to get your hopes up high right now. At the end of the season, if you play hard every game and they want to include you in it, that's great. If they don't, then it shouldn't get you down and you don't worry about it."

You were named All-America.
"It was a fun thing to go to Phoenix (for the Playboy All-America Team). It is a neat opportunity to go there. There are 25 other players there. Some guys you play against and some guys you know just because you have seen highlights of them. But, going there for the weekend, they set up a lot of games and you build a good relationship with those guys."

Can you talk about the quarterback talent in the SEC?
"I have seen Rex (Grossman) and Casey (Clausen) at a football game and Tyler Watts and Kevin Fant. There are a lot of quarterbacks around that I like to watch play and watch on film and watching what they can do. (The SEC) is a league with a lot of good quarterbacks. I am just glad to be one of them."

Heisman hype?
"I was fine with it. He talked to me about it and I agreed. I didn't feel it was worth worrying about. I am not all concerned with winning the Heisman. I just want to play football. I like playing football and having fun. I want to go out there and compete and have fun doing it. If they want to include me in it, that's great."

Ole Miss Linebacker Lanier Goethie

Will you be better against the run?
"Of course we don't have big 350-pound defensive tackles. But I will put my defensive tackles against anybody because this summer, they worked hard. Their maxes increased, their speed and their jumps, all that increased. They really worked hard this year. I know my guys are ready to roll."

You've got a new defensive coordinator.
"(The new defense) is going to be wild. There is going to be a lot of running around. We are going to try and keep the offense on their toes so they don't know if we are comingor we are dropping back in a zone. It is going to be wild and aggresive."

You'll be wearing the Chucky Mullins jersey?
"(Wearing No. 38) is a special honor. When I came on my recruiting visit, Ronnie Hurd was wearing No. 2 at the time. But he told me I could have No. 2 because he was getting No. 38 and that I could get No. 2 because I wore No. 1 in high school. He told me what the award was for and that has been my goal ever since I got here. I wanted to handle my business on and off the field so I could wear No. 38."

"When I first got here, I didn't know anything about it. As the years go by, every time somebody got the award you would see highlight films and you would understand the impact on the university when (Chucky Mullins death) happened. When the President of the United States comes down you know it is something big."

Vanderbilt Head Coach Bobby Johnson

Bobby Johnson

"We feel like we have some very positive things going. There's a new emphasis from the chancellor and the athletic director, improvements over the past few months, practice facility and a new field at the stadium and we've been working in a new weight room.

"Our biggest concern is a lack of depth at just about every position. You look down at every other team you're playing and say our first group will compete fairly well. After that, we'll have to move some people around and try to strengthen a position here or there.

Any off-season position moves?
"Ronald Hatcher to tailback has been pretty big move. Messed around with Matthew Tant at both fullback and tailback, he'll probably be a tailback, but I'd like to play him at both. Hillenmeyer was a defensive end last year and is playing linebacker for us. These are not very dramatic but subtle changes to help us out.

What about moving from 1-AA to the SEC?
"The biggest adjustment for me are events like this, a lot more demands on your time outside of football. I'm still trying to make that (adjustment) and get through that, other than that, you run practice the same way, dissect film the same way, so I don't think it's that big of an adjustment. Obviously when start playing teams with those athletes we have to compete against, that will be an adjustment. We're in transition, like Vanderbilt has been in transition many times over the years.

Can you win at Vanderbilt?
"I looked at Vanderbilt closely and knew they had a lack of success over the years, my biggest question was what's going to change. The biggest change has been leadership at Gordon Gee. He's been chancellor at Ohio State and West Virginia and wants to excel in athletics. Todd Turner has done great job and is pushing with Dr. Gee to make our programs go along. The emphasis from administration, we're going to have a better chance than any coach who's been there in a long, long time.

"Our new weight room, 8,000 feet, of the latest equipment. They allowed me to hire the staff that I wanted and a general emphasis that we're going to try to do better in every phase of the university. More of a team effort. Don't know if you've always had that at Vanderbilt.

"I've never been one to be too much influenced by what other people say. I saw a situation much like the one at Furman, a private school playing against state supported schools in probably the toughest league in 1-AA football. Curious situation. Can our formula work in 1-A situation? I'm convinced it can. If get in and work hard, pick right staff, recruit hard, get players that fit into your system and your university, you'll have a chance to compete.

What about playing your former school (Furman)?
"Three years ago when we scheduled that game, I was feeling pretty good about it. Both teams will want to win that game very badly. I guarantee you they will be tough to beat. We did not try to cancel that game. After that game we will be good friends again."

Vanderbilt Cornerback Rushen Jones

What about Coach Johnson?
"He's a disciplinarian. He demands you play hard. He's from the old school, if you know what I mean. He demands respect, and the team has responded well.

Can Vanderbilt win?
"The depth on the team is a concern. It's there on the offensive line especially, and we're really only deep in the secondary. We can't afford anyone to get hurt.

Why can't Vanderbilt attract fans in Nashville?
"It's hard to get attention. We need to put together a good season, put together some wins and get to a bowl game, and I think we'll get some attention.

Who will start at quarterback?
"Both of them are extremely athletic. They can run and pass. They'll continue into two-a-days, and one will rise up and control the offense. Both have the ability to step in if needed.

Will the defense have a new look?
"Wood was great on defense. The new 4-3 we'll run from though is great too. The offense won't know whether we're in zone or man-to-man."

Vanderbilt Wide Receiver Dan Stricker

What about playing for a new coach?
"Coach Johnson has brought in a great attitude. He's been successful, and the wins he has shows it. With the improvements in our facilities, and the coaches we have it shows there's support behind us.

Differences between Widenhofer and Johnson?
"Coach Woody was more of a player's coach. He would give second and third chances to you if you messed up. Coach Johnson is more of a disciplinarian. He's set up rules, and if you break them then tough. Both philosophies are good, but the change has helped us.

What about setting the SEC record for receiving yards?
"I didn't really think much about it until the introduction I had. It's a testament to what hard work can do, and doing what the coaches tell you to do. I was fortunate to spend my first three years here with Greg Zolman, and now I'll start my senior campaign with whoever steps up and leads."

Who will start at quarterback?
"Inexperience is their biggest question mark. Both practiced in the spring, but they haven't had enough time yet. Both had great arms and are accurate. They're untested, and it's the biggest factor as they enter the Georgia Tech game."

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