Comments from Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe's weekly press conference in preparation for this weekend's game against Kentucky:
"I will start by making my last comments on the situation with Joe Gunn. As I said last week, I have been aware of Joe's legal problems. As I met and discussed the situation with John Shafer, our concern was for Joe as a young man. Football was never an issue. I did the same with Joe's father. We have long since taken disciplinarian actions and there are current standards that I expect Joe to uphold. Joe has done everything we have asked him to do socially, academically and athletically to correct his mistakes. I also want to clarify, that by saying that I was comfortable with what he had done, I was referring to how he had handled the disciplinarian actions that were taken. My responsibility and concern, is for the integrity of our program, and the integrity of each young man that is a part of it. It's time to move forward and continue with the responsibilities we have to develop these young men as people, students, and football players. From this point on, we are going to talk about Kentucky and maintain our focus on trying to hopefully play a football game, because it has been some time since we played a game.
Kentucky has a good football team. I told our squad, that it's evident when you watch college football right now, that everybody has a good team. Some are better than others and some are outstanding. We are seeing parity, because everybody has good football players. Kentucky has a lot of people returning on defense, and they will continue to get better on defense. Offensively, they are plenty capable of accomplishing a lot of things. They have a lot of playmakers in their system. They are playing well in the kicking game. They are playing their fourth game at home and we are going back on the road. It will be a great challenge. It's always a challenge going on the road in the SEC, and we are looking forward to this challenge. Our team and staff are anxious to go and play."
Is Kentucky's offense any different than what they have had? Do they try to spread the field more?
"Their emphasis has obviously been more on running the football, and not just trying to throw the football. They have the capabilities to run screens, throw the football underneath and to throw it down the field. They have two fine quarterbacks, who are very athletic and have great arms. They have wide receivers that are dangerous and running backs that can catch the ball out of the backfield as well as run. They have a lot of the same things, but they have made more of an emphasis on being more physical than what they've been in the past."
Talk about their situation at quarterback, and the differences between the two?
"(Shane) Boyd is a very mobile athletic guy. He's got speed. But, as we all remember, Jared Lorenzen can run the football as well. He's tough to tackle. There certainly are some differences. I know it has been close all along between the two. It's been a very competitive situation for Kentucky at quarterback. I am not sure whether we will see one or both of them."
Coach, I know you have to be careful what you say about Kentucky, but in looking at the stats, they are at the bottom of the league on every stat. And you say they are a good football team?
"They have good football players. They are like us. I am sure they feel like they haven't played as good as they think they should play. We haven't played as good as we think we should play. It's early in the season. When you have good football players, you have a chance at having a good football team. You look at their offensive and defensive front lines, and they have a lot of quality football players that have a lot of snaps and experience. They run better in the secondary than they have before. They have people at wide receiver who can run. We've all seen those people make plays. There challenge is the same as our challenge, and that is to make plays on a consistent basis and not putting yourself in bad positions."
Has this layoff been tough?
"It's been interesting. I think the circumstances surrounding the layoff, have made it tough at least for me. It's been a draining experience from an emotional standpoint, but I guess everybody feels that way. We've utilized the time, to get a lot practice in. We've practiced real well most of the time. We've improved. I am anxious to see what all the practice is going to bring Saturday."
Talk about injuries?
"We are healthier than we've been. It may be a day or two before Justin Sawyer is back on the field. He was one of the biggest concerns. Toward Sanford will be back on the field, and we will evaluate to see where he is. Lanier Goethie is supposed to be back at full speed today. German Bello is still not to the point where he is practicing with us, but he is improving and getting some quality work in."
Is your biggest concern the speed of the game and getting used to that again?
"To a point, I think everybody has to make that adjustment. When you are in a season-opening game, you are generally playing a team that has to get used to the same things. Sometimes you're playing a team that has a game under their belt. It should not take long to get back in the form, especially after we've played two games. We scrimmaged some at full speed last week. That should not be a big concern, I hope we can execute like I expect us to."
In watching the Kentucky/Florida game, it looked like defensive end Dennis Johnson was all over the Gators. Talk about him?
"He's a good football player. He has over 100 yards in tackles for loss during his career. He can run, and he is explosive. He is a big guy. But, they have other good football players up front that are capable of making plays. Two or three are making their first start. They will get better."
With you having time off and Kentucky playing on Saturday, will it take you a little time to catch up (speed of the game)?
"I don't really know because I've never been in a situation where we had two consecutive open dates during the regular season. It's somewhat like preparing for a bowl game. If you get some quality practices in, you have the chance to go out and execute. We plan on starting fast. One of the concerns we had coming out of the Auburn game was that we were not starting as well as we need to. I expect to go (to Kentucky) and play well early. If we don't play well early, we'll have to overcome it."
There were some concerns after the first two games. How have those areas progressed?
"We've done a nice job in all of those areas. We talked about field position and how important that was. We also talked about playing good field position defense, stopping people when we need a stop and forcing them to punt. In the entire kicking game, we got some great scrimmage work in the last two weeks, and that's been a plus. In terms of taking care of the football, we haven't been sloppy. Even in the Murray State game when we fumbled six times, we were carrying the ball the way we should. That hasn't been the problem. Obviously, though, we needed to put more emphasis on putting two hands on the ball. We can't afford to drop the ball against good teams, regardless of whether we are carrying the ball right or not. We just have to be a smart football team. We've addressed all of those areas, including being more physical on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Now, we have got to go do it in a game. We've addressed those areas on the practice field, and we'll continue to do so this week. We're going to have some physical work today. We are going to carry that over into the game."
How's Eddie Strong's return to play been going?
"He's physically getting back to where he was. Eddie just needs to play, and it's been a long time for him. He's in a new system and scheme, where he's having to mange things he hasn't had to before. I'm sure Eddie's not 100 percent pleased with his performance in both games, but he did a lot of really good things for us. He was much better in the second game than the first game, and hopefully we continue to see his progress in our third game and throughout the rest of the season."
In your talks with (defensive coordinator) Don Lindsey, where are you in regards to putting in the defensive system?
"We're not doing everything we'd like to do, but we're also not going to overload our team to the point where we can't execute. Execution is of more importance to us right now. We've had wrinkles and we'll have more wrinkles that we will work with. We have work with our coverage package and how that works with our run support. When you talk about coverage package, it's not all based on how you cover people. How it helps our run support and getting extra run support also factors in. Some of those things are starting to come together. I could see it starting to come together in the second half of the Auburn game, with players fitting where they are supposed to fit and being where they are supposed to be. It is critical that we execute our defenses. We have better athletes, we just got to starting getting in the right spots."
Has the long break helped the team get fresh legs?
"We gave the team off Friday afternoon after we ran that morning. Our last practice was Thursday. I hope it (time off) does help us, and it's supposed to. They had Friday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday to rest. It also freshens your mind. The players are hungry to play. We have done a lot of conditioning work (during the long break between games), and we are a well-conditioned team. After evaluating our first two games, I thought our team was well conditioned, especially in the hot conditions at Auburn. We didn't suffer from the heat as the game went on at Auburn. We didn't slow down as the game progressed, and played fast throughout the game, which was a good test. I don't know what the weather is going to be in Lexington on Saturday, but we have maintained our conditioning well during this time between games. We are going to do some more conditioning this week, but I believe we will have our legs under us."
What about Wes Scott's condition and are you thinking about a medical redshirt for him?
"Right now, my main concern for Wes is for him. I'm not worried about the football end of it as far as redshirting him. He's just in pain, and it's something that he can't overcome. When you have back pain at that age, it keeps you up at night. He's a great student, and he told me the other day that he is having a difficult time studying at night. My concern is that we find a way to help relieve his pain first, and then worry about getting him back on the field. He's a great young man, and he's really tried to stay involved mentally with what's going on with the team. It's a difficult and frustrating time for him."
Do you know the medical term for his condition?
"I'm not qualified to give you the medical term for Wes' condition. There hasn't been an easy answer. They have done a couple of procedures, and they just can't find the right thing to get him over the hump. When you are talking about the spinal cord area, we are not going to take any risks."