Miles takes a turn at the SEC mike

LSU coach fields questions for last time prior to Saturday's game

ATLANTA – LSU coach Les Miles spent his final session with the media Friday prior to Saturday's SEC Championship Game and bounced from one topic to another.

The top-ranked Tigers (12-0) tangle with No. 12 Georgia (10-2) at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Georgia Dome.

With a victory, LSU would become only the fifth SEC team to climb to 13-0 and would punch a ticket to the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 9 at the Superdome.

Here are the questions and answers from Miles' time with reporters.

Opening statement

"We're very honored to be here. We enjoy this opportunity. Congratulations to a very, very fine Georgia team for their making this game and winning the East.

"Every conference team starts this season with the same goal, and that is to win their division and meet here, East meets West for the championship. Our football team has accomplished, like Georgia, that opportunity, and now it's one game for the SEC Championship, and we're thrilled."

Question: (Georgia coach Mark Richt) was just talking about how maybe they underestimated the crowd in their game against Boise here. Clearly that won't be a problem for either of you (Saturday). Talk about playing on a neutral site that is not very neutral towards your team and what preparations you've made to accommodate?

"Well, we've really treated it as we have other Dome experiences, and we've piped in music really Monday through. We kind of fought the noise as best we could from the start of the week to the end. Felt like we accomplished quite a lot, and we feel pretty confident that we'll be ready for that."

Q: Coach Richt had some very positive words for J.C. Copeland at fullback, and people literally get out of his way when he's blocking. Just talk to me about what he's done for you at that position this year?

"He's, again, one of those guys that fits a role. Surprising speed for a big man, 290 plus pounds. Really an aggressive learner, knows what to do, again, very physical, very capable fullback. Hopefully, he'll get an opportunity to take a couple carries in this game."

Q: Congratulations on being in the game again. But how do you make a decision on how you rotate that talented set of running backs there. It's a quartet of guy that's we've seen over the last couple weeks, a tremendous group. How do you rotate them?

"We start with Ware. We just think he gives us a consistency in the toughness that we enjoy. We'll probably go to Ford second, and again, only in the fact that he's deserving. He's a very talented back. Then after that it's Kenny Hilliard and the fresh legs that will be available. We returned to health Alfred Blue, so (No. 4) will get in the mix as well."

Q: Talk a little about Aaron Murray, how good he is, what is special about him?

"I like to say he's mature beyond his years. He's a guy that makes wise decisions and gets the ball out of his hand. Pulls it down and makes a first down scramble. Just a very, very headsy quarterback."

Q: How is Jordan now that he's kind of entrenched as the primary quarterback? How has that changed your running game, having another guy back there that is a threat?

"Well, he obviously can run it, and we're another piece to the puzzle is that occasionally we'll dial his number up. In this game, it's more about managing the offense and doing the things that he's done in the last couple of weeks."

Q: Coach Richt made an interesting point that some of us overlooked. Jordan is a more physical running back this year than we've seen in years past. Do you see that as well? Has he done anything differently to take the punishment better?

"I think it means more to him. I think there are some carries that you have to run physically, and some carries that you have to show your speed and elusiveness. I think that he probably embraces the rugged carry maybe a little bit more in the fact that he's getting to the back of his career and games mean more."

Q: Had a chance to talk to some of your players this week about why is the option when you guys run it this year improved so much this year as opposed to 2010 and 2009?

"I think we're just a little bit better executing the scheme. It's kind of been with us for some time. It's still just a big player in our offense, but it certainly can keep a defense very honest."

Q: Just because you haven't been asked about this enough this week, but one more time on the record. Do you think you guys will be in the BCS Championship game, win or lose?

"I have given little thought to that. I do know that that's an issue out there for other folks. It's not one for us. We're very, very focused on the next game and a very quality Georgia opponent."

Q. But are you worried at all of the players having that attitude or obviously you don't?

"We've talked about it several times, but not about the what ifs. It's all about what we've accomplished to this point. We've put ourselves in position to play a championship game. That's this Saturday and against a very, very talented Georgia team. I promise you, our football team understands that."

Q. Along those same lines, do you have any opinion at all whether a non conference champion like Alabama should be allowed to play in that game?

"I have a very strong opinion. It will be something I'll share with you some other time in my life."

Q: Les, there has been a lot of talk about Georgia, their passing game is based on Murray throwing it to receivers that may not be completely open, the windows are smaller. How does that fit in with what you do defensively? Do you feel that could be an advantage for you guys?

"I think they understand their passing game extremely well. I think that gives them the opportunity to operate where the margin of error is small. Frankly, when you play quality opponents, that margin of error is smaller. That's why you play championship games to find out how that match up kind of fits."

Q: Can you comment on the ability of your team to adjust and adapt to things that were outside of your control and yours? Starting with Coach Kragthorpe and that announcement that had to be made shortly after they got in, and then Jefferson situation and the other player situations, then they had to adjust to that. Just to your ability to adjust and adapt as the season goes on to a serious of crisis?

"I think it really kind of took place with how this team chose to take on Oregon. When the game rendered to us the opportunity to play a very quality opponent and to take a place of maybe a lesser opponent in the beginning of the schedule, brought it to the team, they said no, no, we want to play that schedule. I think that's a hint of the style of people that we're dealing with here.

"Okay, we changed the name of the coordinator. The quarterback coach is still going to give us great service and great suggestions and coach our quarterbacks, but we're changing the name of the coordinator. He's going to do a great job because he's going to give to this team as well.

"I think our guys are ambitious. They understand this quarterback is starting these games, and this quarterback is going to play a significant role in these games. As long as that quarterback performs and gives his team that opportunity, those are the kind of people that we're dealing with here.

"This is an ambitious team, a team that wanted to be where they're at. They've earned that right. They've put to the perimeter a bunch of distractions, and, frankly, I think that's why they're in the position that they're in. They wanted to be here. Nothing was going to deter them and they arrived."

Q. Les, I know you've had a National Championship team. Is this team different than any other you've had, and in a sense what you just said? It seems like they just want to lineup and play, and it didn't really matter.

"You know what, there are some similarities between the team that we brought here. We played a great Tennessee team in the championship. These guys love to play football. Man, you want to get them on the field. They're happiest there. I don't know that there's going to be any celebration any greater than the play that's actually made.

"This group enjoys practice. They enjoy working hard, and they feel like they've earned the right to make some of the plays that they're making."

Q: It's a great point, but when you look at your two deep, a lot of them are sophomores. Where does that mindset come from? Is it just the fact that nobody told them they couldn't? Because when I think of how young your team is and the attitude they've carried through this entire season, it's kind of amazing to me.

"I think there is no reason for young players to wait to play big, to play like veterans, to make great plays. I think it's the person, not necessarily the age. I think that the culture that we have in our team room is an ambitious one. They certainly want for a championship. They put themselves in that position, and hopefully that culture will be there for quite some time."

Q. Someone kiddingly asked you when you were standing up there, do you remember the last time you were there up? I want you to recount that. Good memories, bad memories?

"Yeah, I remember that. I felt like how inappropriate a coach could be to speak about him and an issue that he could well have created in advance of his team playing in a championship game.

"I would never have spoken to the press about an issue that involved me for any reason except that I needed the people to know that I had, you know, that I was going to fulfill my obligation to my team, and that was a very difficult and very short address. Yeah, I remember that."

Q. Is it fair to say you're still a little bitter about that day or how that all played out?

I have to be very honest with you. The memory of the day is elevated to how the team performed. It's just that simple. I could have taken how it had gone no matter how we finished after that press conference. I could not have taken it if we had done anything other than played extremely well before.

Q: Your quarterback Jordan Jefferson realizing this is not his first rodeo, first big game he's played in. That being said, how big was it the way he distributed the ball last week against Arkansas, threw the ball extremely well and got all your big time receivers involved. How important is that for his confidence going into this game?

"I think Jordan recognizes he can throw the football. I think it's something, once you affirm that with performance, it certainly helps him. We would expect him to throw the ball better than he threw it against Arkansas to be honest with you. If you watched how he threw the football and has thrown the football in our facility, so we think we can throw the football."

Q: I know you've talked about Kragthorpe, but Jefferson and Lee, you have 20 (TDs) and 4 interceptions for the season. How much does he play a role in that and your coaching staff to improve the passing game?

"Steve really helps in the read. He's very quick to diagnose, trains the quarterbacks eyes extremely well. Both quarterbacks being veteran probably are more ready to take the view of their performance best. Because they're older, they understand what he's talking about, and it's made a difference. The guys, it comes out of their hands and they're making decisions better. They both can throw it well."

Q: Can you touch on the familiarity you have with this city? I'm sure you have a system in place now when you play in Atlanta having done it so often. Is it easier for the guys to settle into a routine? Is it unlike any other road game being that you've been here so often?

"It's one that we've been here many times, North Carolina Bowl games, certainly the championship games. That opportunity to review things that we've done when we've come, certainly has made the difference. Then this team specifically started in the Dome in Dallas, really has been through a number of Dome experiences, so we feel we'll be pretty comfortable in the Dome here."

Q: Going back to before the season, having lost both kickers from last season, it looked like a big question mark how Drew and how Brad would perform. Then it's become one of your celebrated strengths. Drew's only missed a couple field goals all year and everybody's talked to Brad a lot. Talk about how big a role they've played this year in something that looked like a big liability going into the season?

"Yeah, we never saw that there was going to be that big liability. We felt like Drew was really ready and in position to compete extremely well. We felt like he could well have kicked for many teams as a back up in the time that he's been here. We've really enjoyed the strength of his leg. So we really felt when he came to the field, he was going to be very competitive and handle all of the situational kicks those last minute kicks that win the game for you. We felt like he was that guy.

"Brad Wing comes in and had a very, very large leg. We just knew he had that kind of potential. I think the thing that's happened is Thomas McGaughey, our special teams coach, has done a great job in just kind of tinkering with him and interacting with Brad and allowing his natural ability to surface. He's an Australian guy so he handles that ball pretty well. He's just more comfortable. They pass it in the game with their legs. So he's a very, very talented punter."

Q: How is your Australian?

"My Australian is extremely good. More fluent than it's ever been to be honest with you."

Q: Monday you said Stephen Rivers was the scout quarterback. But has that helped you being from Georgia, playing with that team and competing with Aaron Murray?

"I've not talked to Zach about Georgia. It's not something that I did. I think rivers really still took the majority of the snaps and gave us what we needed there."

Q: A lot of us asked your guys all week about being focused, not looking at the next game. What did you say to them early in the week or after Arkansas? Was there one time you said something to them or was it something that came up every day to stay focused?

"Really just more or less I handled it very quickly several times. But it was more early on in the week, just the recognition of being in a position that we're in, that we earned, the opportunity to play one game for a championship in the conference. How important that is for us. In fact, if someone would have told you at the beginning of the season that you had one game to play for the conference championship, would you consider that you've achieved greatly to be there? That certainly playing in this game has its own merit and its own want. We've played in some big games, but this is a championship game, and we're excited to play in it."

Q: Talking about the kickers earlier, when you decided to use James Hairston, was that almost like a season not necessarily defining moment but you were burning a red shirt on a kid that you might have wanted to keep. Did you realize this was something we need to keep if we're going to get to where you are now?

"It's interesting. He came in and we watched him. He was just another guy that had a very, very talented leg, very, very strong. And Thomas McGaughey continued to work and continued to work, and he improved and improved.

"We're about playing the best players. Frankly, if he gave us an opportunity to have an advantage, we wanted him in the game. There was never any real question. It was how soon would he come and give us those advantages and certainly he came on right on time to be honest."

Q: Les, you've talked a lot this year ask even today about how you recruit players to go to the field and play right away. Is that a relatively new approach? Have you always felt that way? Do you have special players that have enabled you to do that? How did that philosophy evolve?

"I think, first of all, you find talented guys. Then emotionally you find that they're capable.

"So you try to recruit that guy who is fast and strong and big and fits all of the parameters. But then everyone in this room would be able to pick what they would think is a great player.

"But it's those guys that have that emotional want to go to the field, that want to learn, that are going to accomplish the teaching and the technical piece that says no, no, no, we're not only young, but we're ready to play. We seem to have those guys more often."

"I think our coaches have done a great job preparing them, so it's become something that we count on. We will count on our next freshman class to come up and come in to the next season and give us the same lift that the Anthony Johnsons, and the Kenny Hilliards and Tyrann Mathieu did it a year ago, again, and again, and again."

Q: Les, you've been criticized during your career. Does Mark Richt have a right to go out to the 50 tomorrow and say, hey, I did it, to his fans? The guy was 0-2 and on the hot seat.

"Yeah, I think there is an issue where expectations really need to fit with the team and not necessarily with the coach. I do understand criticism, but how much better are you going to get than Mark Richt? That's a great coach.

"So I think given the scenario that's explainable, you better find that coach an opportunity to stay rather than to find that coach an opportunity to leave, because you just might hire yourself a guy that's not as good as the one you showed the door."

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