"It's great to be here. We've had a wonderful week seeing the sights and eating the great Cajun food here in New Orleans. It's been quite an experience for a number of our first-timers, but the hospitality here has been wonderful. Our practices have been going great. We've been really physical and have gotten after it right from the onset. Our guys are obviously to play a great LSU team, and it's going to be a great challenge and a great matchup. They have great skill, great special teams, a very dominating defense, so we would anticipate one of those real nail- biters in this game. Again, our players are extremely focused and have a great deal of respect for LSU, and the way they've practiced with intensity and focused speaks volumes for where their minds are right now. I think that everyone has had enough of everything in regards to the functions and the sights, and we're really excited to have the opportunity to play."
What does LSU do best on offense?
"Probably with their skill players and the way they spread the ball out, starting with (wide receiver Michael) Clayton. They've got two great complimentary receivers with explosive speed in (Devery) Henderson and (Skyler) Green who are very explosive, and they do a very good job of distributing the ball to them. Their tight end is also a key part of their offense when they need to find a play, either on third down and medium or on play action to stretch the ball the down the middle of the field to create some mismatch problems. They've obviously had a great deal of balance, because they rushed for over 200 yards against a very good Georgia defense. They have a solid offensive line that knows how to create keys and give their offense good balance. They have three very good running backs, and watching them on tape through the course of the year the way they rotate their backs, they have a great deal of confidence in any of the three. They all give a little back of a different type of game offensively. (Quarterback Matt) Mauck has done a tremendous job with their offense. He makes great decisions and manages the game well in coming in and out of the right plays. He plays with a great deal of confidence and poise. He and Clayton are the real leaders emotionally and spiritually."
What does your personnel do well on defense?
"I think we do a lot of things well. We tackle well, our players play hard, we play with a lot emotion. I think all positions are solid, from our interior to our ends to our linebackers to our secondary, is good. They're well-coached, very tough, and we've got a great deal of talent. We attack the football in stopping the run, and with a variety of looks, we can disguise our defense, we can pressure the quarterback, and create some confusion. That's our system, and our players understand the system, and if you see the way they play, they understand what they're doing out there on the field, and our experience speaks to that."
Does LSU present a different type of offense from what you've seen in the Big 12?
"Probably from top to bottom, in the way LSU utilizes everyone from top to bottom on a consistent basis, I think they are very smart in how they distribute the ball both running and passing. Some people will say they don't concentrate on any one thing, and that's what makes them so difficult to defend. Kansas State gave us trouble, but they didn't have that kind of balance in their offense, because, obviously, Kansas State is more option oriented, but LSU does enough with the option too to make you aware of it and make you neutralize it defensively. But their play action passes, especially on first and 10 and second and long, and the way they execute their offense has been a key. The way they've been able to run the ball allows that play action, and then in third and medium allows them a great deal of decisions."
Because of Matt Mauck's foot injury last year, is his mobility hidden?
"Well it's not hidden in the way we look at it, and if you look at the course of the year, he's been able to consistently to get them out of trouble by finding more time and giving his receivers more time to get open down the field and make a lot of big plays because of that. He can pull it down before he gets to the line of scrimmage, but he has an awareness of where his receivers are at and has the ability get the ball to them. In some situations, he's been able to do that and move the chains, and that can be frustrating for a defense. You've always got to have an awareness of his ability, and even though he certainly isn't as athletic as (Kansas State QB) Ell Roberson, he's athletic enough to buy himself time with his feet, and his feet have gotten him out of trouble throughout the year. We're definitely aware of the fact that he is a tremendous athlete, and being a two-sport player and having that type of success speaks volumes to his ability and what he has inside as well."
Have you followed the Rose Bowl?
"No, not at all. Yesterday was probably the first time in a week that I've read some of the articles in USA Today. (Defensive tackle) Dusty Dvoracek made a comment yesterday that the Rose Bowl means nothing to us, and we're focusing in on this game, because this is the only game that we can control. That's where our focus is, and we need to let everyone else talk about everything else. Our focus is on LSU and the outcome of our game. Did you learn anything from losing to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game? I think Kansas State played a tremendous game. I don't think we took advantage of the early momentum we created for ourselves. Any time you play in a championship game and you have opportunities to put points on the board, I think it takes some momentum and emotion out of you. The more you give Ell Roberson, (running back) Darren Sproles and other players that Kansas St. has an opportunity to move the ball, they can create the big plays, and they certainly did. Knowing what we did wrong, we didn't tackle well at times, we gave up too many big plays, we didn't play on the under thrown ball very well, and like I said, we missed some tackles, and when we had opportunities to get back in the game, we fell short. That happens the more you play, and that's the way we look at it. The last five years, the system has stayed the same, but we're not naïve enough to believe there isn't something wrong with our system. We've put that behind us and we're putting all our focus and energy to LSU."
Talk about (defensive tackle) Tommie Harris.
"The thing that comes to mind, that as a coach, I've had the chance to be around Tommie for the last three years and the tremendous character that he has, tremendous faith and beliefs that he holds very dear, and he's been a tremendous leader for us. He's a very fine student, a great student, and a very strong ambassador for our football program. On the field, what he's been able to accomplish with his athletic ability has been well-documented, and he's meant a great deal to us as a great leader for our defense the last three years."
Can you compare LSU's running backs?
"At some point in time, you've got to say they're all pretty good. The first thing I look at with Justin (Vincent) is that he's a very strong runner, he's got good vision, good acceleration, and he pass protects very well. He's out there a bunch on third down, and they always look to him as their go-to guy. He protects the ball well and plays very hard, but all of their backs play hard and do a great job. Justin ran 87 yards for a touchdown against a good Georgia defense. He has great speed, and he ran over four or five of them, and then ran beyond another two of three of them who had angles. They're all very good, very talented, explosive and real threats."
How will your team miss Mike Stoops (former co-defensive coordinator?
who will become head coach at Arizona)?
"I think that Mike knows his personnel in the secondary so well. But him being around the last three weeks and filling in (head coach) Bob on all the intricacies on the players, and speaking a day or so about knowing what your own players can and can't do. It's a little bit different if you're not coaching them every day in and day out, so just knowing the things the players in the secondary can and can't do well is probably the biggest thing. He probably has a great deal of influence on game day with his game planning and play calling, and he has been very instrumental in all of our success. Hopefully, I've been paying attention now for the last 10 years that he and I have been working together between myself, Mike, Bob and the rest of our staff, and we'll get by. What part of your personality will come through now that you will assume the full-time role of defensive coordinator? Our philosophies are the same; it's aggressive, it's discipline, it makes sense. Anybody that understands football that watches us play can put two and two together; we're not going to try to be cheap, but try to do the things we do well and rely on our players' abilities. We've got a great deal of talent on that defense, and I think that's been well documented, and the worst you can do with that is try to out- wit yourself. We will still be very aggressive with our philosophy but very sound in what we do, play hard and be very physical."
When was it decided that Mike Stoops would not coach in this game?
"Probably when he took the job at Arizona, he decided that."
Can you compare Mike Stoops situation to that of Mark Richt in the 2000 Orange Bowl?
"It's a no-win situation in regards to devote all your time and energy once you've taken a job somewhere else, and the people you made a commitment to feel slighted, and you're not going to win there. From our end, if you stick around and you don't perform well, then it will stick in your minds, and it's very difficult to be there, as an assistant coach, and he felt committed to doing the task at hand. Everyone wants someone to blame, and although I feel strongly he had nothing to do with the offensive tackle or offensive guard letting the linebackers running by him, he's still a scapegoat. With that said, there are many things on your mind in this situation. Mike is putting together a staff, recruiting, trying to build a program, and there are a million things to be done, and you're behind the 8-ball every day."
How will it be this game
without Mike Stoops after being together for so long? "We haven't really talked
about it to be quite honest. I don't really know, but he's been in practice and
has sat in on a couple of meetings since we've been here. Obviously, he's been
very good to me in he knows what he's doing, and I have tremendous respect for
what he thinks and his knowledge of the game."
How will it be this game without Mike Stoops after being together for so long?
"We haven't really talked about it to be quite honest. I don't really know, but he's been in practice and has sat in on a couple of meetings since we've been here. Obviously, he's been very good to me in he knows what he's doing, and I have tremendous respect for what he thinks and his knowledge of the game."