Cutcliffe Press Conference

I am proud of our team for its work ethic and continuing to improve. There are still many things we need to improve on, and our challenge is to continue to do that. We have to keep getting better as a football team. We still have a lot of young people playing in certain areas. We've had some injuries that have forced other people to step up. Continuing to improve is going to be important for this team.

We are playing an Arkansas team that is outstanding in all areas. They have done an outstanding job of coaching and continuing to improve themselves. That is very evident in watching the tape. Offensively they present a lot of problems because they are running two different styles of attacks. They are versatile and aggressive on defense, and they present a lot of problems there. They are making a lot of things happen in the kicking game, and they have a lot of weapons. This will be a stiff challenge. We are going to have to go out on the practice field today and start with an excellent week of practice and preparation to have an opportunity to be successful.

Q: Talk about Arkansas' two different styles of offense with both quarterbacks?

A: When (Matt) Jones comes into the game, he poses a threat to run the football. He has outstanding skills and instincts, and is athletic. He also threw a touchdown pass this past Saturday. On tape, it looks as if they have two different game plans for the two quarterbacks.

Q: After playing Alabama, who runs the option, how does that help you prepare this week?

A: They are a little different option team than Alabama. It always helps to get as many reps as you can running against a good option. They (Arkansas) run a couple different styles of options. This type of option forces you to be in the right place at the right time, plus they do a good job of blocking you as well.

Q: How long have you known (Arkansas defensive coordinator) John Thompson?

A: I've known John Thompson for a long time, back to when he was at Southern Mississippi. He does an outstanding job not only with scheme and the design of his defense, but he gets the players to play hard. They tackle well. They attack the line of scrimmage and do all the things you want to see a defensive team do. It's very difficult to get ready for that style of defense in one week.

Q: What's the status on Chris Collins?

A: Chris will not work today. We are back to a day-to-day situation with him. We have a few people in that fix. I am going to get an evaluation on the injuries today. We have a lot of people that are limited, and I want to see just how limited before I can say who. We, as a team, need a full week of practice. We can't afford to have people missing three or four days of practice and then expect them to come in and play well.

Q: Injury-wise, with the depth that you have, is it a good sign that you have been able to continue to win?

A: It's a positive for us. We talked about it this morning, and we've talked about it as a team. We have a lot of young players. We had competition at positions for the first time since we've been here at most places during the spring. That proved to be good. We were getting a lot of people work at certain positions. It has helped our second teamers to be able to step in and play. We need for people to continue to step up in certain areas and get the job done when they are called upon.

Q: Can you talk about how far Doug Ziegler has come since he came to Ole Miss?

A: Doug Ziegler is a talented individual. He came in as a quarterback, and when we came here, he had only been here that fall and was redshirted. In our bowl practices, I told Coach (Ron) Middleton I thought he had some ability to be a tight end. He's worked hard to become a more physical football player. He can run. He has outstanding speed and can stretch the field. He has good hands, and his focus has become better. His work habits are better. He can become a really good football player for us.

Q: Have you ever had a quarterback switch to a tight end?

A: I know it happens quite a bit - that quarterback ends up playing another position - but I don't know if I've had one play tight end. I've seen them go from a quarterback to a linebacker or defensive back or receiver.

Q: You guys were picked last in the SEC West in most preseason poll. What has been the key to the 3-1 start in the SEC?

A: Before the season started, I said there may be worse things that can happen to you than getting picked last in the West because the West is so competitive. We are trying to win one football game at a time. We've had some players play well in key situations. We've had pretty consistent play in all three phases of the game, and we've had players step up when we needed to make some plays.

Q: Talk about Bill Flowers' development, and particularly the play he made in the first half?

A: He has worked hard in the weight room to gain upper body strength. He has a great work ethic, and that carries over to the practice field and the way he practices. He had to learn our system and get comfortable in our system. We ask our receivers to do a lot of things and read a lot of things. It was a little foreign to him in the beginning, but he is a determined young man. If I have ever known someone who is determined to get it done, Bill Flowers will. He has great perseverance and a great determination about him. He will continue on that path. That was a huge play on 4th-and-10 before halftime. I could see his eyes from the sideline as the ball was traveling in the air. You could see the intensity and focus in his eyes, and that's the way he goes about his business everyday in practice.

Q: Can you talk about the impact (defensive coordinator) Don Lindsey has had on your team, what his personality is like and does the defense reflect that?

A: Don's personality is upbeat and energetic. He provides energy on the practice field and he has done that since the day he started. The players are having fun. One of the things we wanted to do was go back to having fun playing defense. They are flying around and having fun. Don is a very energetic and intense person. Our practice sessions have a lot of intensity because of him. He has brought many things to the defensive side of the football.

Q: Can you talk about the emergence of Charles Stackhouse as an offensive threat and the reason why?

A: Charles Stackhouse is a talented young man. There are two reasons he is emerging this year. First, he has been injured a lot in the past. We haven't been able to get a full season out of him. As a fullback, he is a talented receiver and runs the ball well. He is a very physical football player. Because of our injury situation and lack of depth at tailback, we've had to play him some there. He is a big, powerful runner. He is in the 245-to-250 pound range and he is athletic. He knows how to run north and south. He is a guy who we have always wanted to use. Fortunately, knock on wood, we will have him healthy the entire season.

Q: Does your offense vary much from what you did when you were the (Tennessee) offensive coordinator for Peyton Manning?

A: No. We are not any different in how we approach this offense. We are in the same basic philosophy. We do quite a few things different because of growth and change. In coaching the quarterbacks, I've taken the same approach all through the years.

Q: What did you expect out of Eli this season and is he there yet or beyond those expectations?

A: I knew, going in, that he was a well-prepared player. He is one of the most prepared players among the younger guys on the team. He has great focus and intensity. Everyday is like gameday to him. I felt comfortable with what I expected from him in his decision-making and the mental abilities to handle the game. He has gotten stronger and bigger. He is throwing the ball better. The big factor with a quarterback is how it is all going to come together with the players around him. The players have made plays that we hoped they would be able to make most of the time. Eli has been a consistent player, and I expect him to continue to improve. A person with his work ethic at practice should continue to get better, and I expect him to do that.

Q: How important was that fourth quarter in the bowl game last December in terms of Eli's development for this season?

A: It was the most extended period of time he had to play and that's always critical for a young player. Coming from so far behind and getting us back in the ball game, I am sure was exciting for him and a confidence builder for him and his teammates. His teammates had seen him practice, and they knew he was a good football player. They knew what he could do.

Q: How have you been so good in the fourth quarter and what has enabled the guys to play so well in fourth quarter?

A: There is a lot that goes into. Certainly you have to poise, but most of the credit goes back to their work ethic in the winter. I have to give a lot of credit to (Strength and Conditioning Coach) Ruben Mendoza and his staff from a mental toughness and a physical toughness standpoint. We are a highly-conditioned football team.

Q: A follow-up to that, how much does that poise start with the quarterback?

A: When you're on offense, the poise does begin with the quarterback - whether it's the two-minute drill or having the ability to focus and make good decisions. When you are behind, sometimes there is a tendency to try and force the ball or make something happen rather than take what you are given. It takes the entire team. It takes poise by the kicking team and intensity by the defense. Fourth-quarter play has got to be an entire team effort.

Q: Considering the success you've had in the first seven games, are you closer to being able to shelve the "young label" on your team?

A: To a degree, but we have to continue to have young players step up at certain positions due to injuries. They haven't experienced everything yet. We are just halfway through the conference schedule. We haven't gone through the longest stretch of a long season. Veteran players understand what the length of the season is in college football. It is 11 games and 13 weeks of the regular season. It takes great intensity, focus and maturity. We have to remember we have a young team. Just because they have a number of snaps under their belts, they still haven't experienced what the last half of the season is like.

Q: When you consider that no team has ever won the SEC West with three losses, it would appear to be a race between you and Auburn. Do you talk to your team about what may lay ahead or do you just focus on Arkansas?

A: I don't think there is a race at this point in time when you have only played half of your conference games. Trying to predict what will happen now is as futile as trying to predict the outcome before the season starts. We just have to focus on Arkansas. As far as I am concerned right now, it's not even a race. I am not just saying that as a coach trying to guard against over confidence, I truly mean that. We are playing an outstanding Arkansas team. Our hands are full with that. We have a lot of improvements to make. We have to focus not only on Arkansas, but on Ole Miss.

Q: Talk about L.P. Spence.

A: We're happy to have L.P. back. He provided a spark for our defense, and he is a playmaker. He played with great intensity, and he made a number of great plays in the LSU game. I'm happy for him, and he has been hungry to get back out on the field. I don't think people realized how bad his injury was, and also how hard he has worked in the training room to get back into playing condition. I was proud to see him work and get back so quickly.

Q: Talk about the play of the younger players like Doug Buckles and Jesse Mitchell.

A: Doug Buckles played the best game of his young career this past Saturday. When you are a freshman offensive lineman, it is a work in progress. He has suffered through several injuries, but has pushed through those injuries and is coming of age. He is getting better, but there is still room for improvement. Jesse Mitchell is a fighter. He has a great work ethic in the weight room and is one of our strongest players. Jesse will give you everything he's got, and he will play hard every snap. He has the type of personality I like to see in our football program.

Q: Take us through your thought process on the decision to go for it on 4th-and-10 at the LSU 30 with under 4:00 left before the half.

A: I don't know if you could feel how much wind there was down on the field. It was a real brisk wind against us, and it was swirling as well. I picked up some grass on second down and threw it in the air, and I was shocked at how much wind there was at field level. I looked the flags at the top of the goal posts, and they were whipping in the wind pretty good. I didn't think we had a great situation to make the field goal from around 48 yards out. If we didn't make it, then they would get the ball at that point. If we punted the ball, I felt there was a good chance the ball would go into the end zone and we would give it to them on the 20-yard line. I told the team that we were going for it. I talked to Eli about what LSU might do, but it was a case of the players executing very well. I thought it (going for the first down) was the best thing to do at the time. If it doesn't work, everybody asks why you did it, and when it does work, everybody tells you how smart you are. You just never know, and it is luck, in some regard. We practice fourth-down situations all the time. I felt our team would not panic about going for it. They understood what we were trying to do.

Q: How do you come to decide when you go for in on fourth down or don't?

A: There are times in games when I think it is the right thing to do. Different games have different reasons. I think about how our offense matches up against their defense and what we may know about their defense from a contingency standpoint - all those things factor into it. I think about all those things prior to the game. You just roll the dice, and sometimes it works. We've had some other instances where I thought about going for it in that game. Last Saturday, I felt field position and wind were so critical, and we needed to use them both to our advantage. The wind was a significant factor in last Saturday's ball game.

Q: Does converting on several fourth downs make it easier to go for it in future games? Does the team feel more confident going for it on the next fourth down?

A: Each week and each game changes. People may howl why we didn't go for it the next time. I will always have my thoughts together before the game, and stick with what I know. Converting on fourth downs does build confidence. It's important to put the team in those situations in practice, so that they will know the plays we might run prior to the game. We practice those situations every Thursday before the game. They (players) know the plays so well that they can almost call the game when we are in certain situations.

Q: Talk about Syniker Taylor's performance Saturday and how he helped contain LSU's Josh Reed.

A: It's a challenge to play someone like Josh Reed down after down after down. Syniker is one has been there and done that. He understands the SEC and the players in this league, and what you have to do to be successful and keep competing. The key is to continue to compete, and not beat yourself up because of one play. Players in this league are going to make plays against you. What is critical is how you play the next play.

Q: When the team was picked last in the preseason, did the team use that as motivation?

A: To be honest, I'd rather be picked first, to have everybody expect you to win. Hopefully, we will get this program to the point where that occurs. I understood why were picked last when you look at what we lost, how young our team was, and having several new starters. We had to prove to ourselves whether we were going to be competitive or not. I didn't use the fact that everybody else picked us last as motivation. It was more important what we (our players) thought. We knew we had to earn it on the practice field and find out that we could compete with the teams in this league. That's the approach we took.

Q: Does it put a premium on leadership considering the few seniors you do have?

A: Those guys have only one senior year. Terrence (Metcalf), Syniker, Charles (Stackhouse) and the other seniors don't have another year. They were key in this team having good focus on the field, starting all the way back in spring drills.

Q: Talk about the challenge the Arkansas running game presents for your defense.

A: They (Fred Talley and Cedric Cobbs) both are terrific backs. They have it all - quickness, speed, strength, ability to break tackles and make people miss. When you put them in a situation where the quarterback can run as well, it's very difficult to defend. We'd better tackle well and be in the right places. Both Talley and Cobbs are outstanding running backs.

Q: How did you come about hiring Don Lindsey?

A: I had coached against Don when he was at Georgia Tech. Bill Curry hired him there. The first time I knew about him was when I had to prepare for him when he was at Georgia Tech. It was difficult to prepare to play against him when he was at Tech. Then, Bill and his staff go to Alabama, and Don and his defense proved to be very difficult for us to play against. We were a good offensive team at Tennessee during that time, and they (Alabama) were difficult to score against. He did an outstanding job, and I knew that he was one of the coaches I wanted to talk to when the change occurred.

Q: Has he done anything that has surprised you since he has been on your staff?

A: There has been no surprise. I just loved his energy and enthusiasm. He has been in this business (coaching) and is a veteran, and he hasn't lost his enthusiasm for working with young people.

Eli Manning

Q: How important was the fourth quarter of last year's Music City Bowl in your development?

A: It helped my confidence heading into spring drills and this season. I had confidence that I could go in and put up some points and run the team. I think it (Music City Bowl fourth quarter) also made my teammates confident in me, and they felt certain I could lead the team.

Q: Is there anything you can point to about how well the team plays in the fourth quarter?

A: Our team is in great shape, and we're wearing down our opponents in the fourth quarter. We're running the ball better in the fourth quarter which is helping our passing game. We're able to mix it up well. We're a confident team, and we just execute in the fourth quarter. Our team had a really good off-season, and we really focused on getting in better shape and that has helped us this season.

Q: Talk about Bill Flowers' development as a wide receiver.

A: Bill works hard on the practice field. He gives 100 percent all the time. We may run a play where he doesn't get the ball, but he runs his route full speed. You never know what may happen, and he knows that, so he always runs his route thinking the ball may come his way. He's a playmaker.

Q: Was Bill one of the players you called to work some this summer on your own?

A: He always was the one who wanted to stay and throw the ball after our conditioning workouts this summer. On certain days, he would ask me to throw him some out-routes for 15 minutes following workouts. He is one who will work a little more than the other guys.

Q: How are you different from your brother (Peyton)?

A: Peyton and I both are very competitive and we want to win. We just take different approaches to the game. He is more serious, more focused about the game. I am more laid-back. I work hard when it's time to practice, and I do my film study. But, I think I have more fun with it.

Q: Talk about Arkansas' defense.

A: They do a lot of different stuff on defense. They blitz and they line up in several defensive fronts. They try to confuse you, and they are going to make some plays. They are going to make some mistakes also, and we just have to be prepared to capitalize when they do.

Q: Talk about your dad's influence on you.

A: Growing up, he always told me to be myself. He never forced me to play football or do anything. He let me decide and grow to be my own man. He let me make my mistakes, but he has always been there to support me.

Q: How old were you when your dad took down the family's basketball goal?

A: I believe he took it down my freshman year at Ole Miss.

Q: While you were growing up, Peyton didn't let up on you even though he was bigger?

A: No, he didn't. Cooper (the oldest brother) and Peyton had some good games against each other. I was too young to hang with them for awhile. When Peyton was in college and I was a junior and senior in high school, that's when we had some better matches.

Q: What has been the key to Ole Miss' 3-1 start in SEC play?

A: It's been a good season so far, but we have to keep it going. You can't worry about the preseason predictions. You never know what can happen. You never know which team will start out hot. Last season, we were picked high in the SEC, but we didn't perform as well as people expected. This year, we were picked low, and now we are near the top. But, we just have to go out and compete every game and just keeping winning.

Q: Talk about in what areas the offense needs to improve?

A: We're getting good starts, and at times, we're playing really well. However, there have been times where we stop playing. In the LSU game, we had six series in a row where we punted the ball. We need to work on playing a complete game; maybe not scoring every drive, but where we are moving the ball and getting first downs.

Q: What about your touchdown-to-interception ratio?

A: A lot of that is the offensive line is doing a great job protecting me. I'm sitting there and not having to throw the ball early. I'm getting the chance to read the defense because they (offensive line) are giving me time to pick up my receivers and make the throw. My goal has been not to make big mistakes. If I'm not sure I can make the pass, then I'll take the sack or throw it away. I'm just trying to move the chains and get first downs and not force the ball down the field.


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