Miles: "Finish Strong"

LSU head coach Les Miles met with the local media at his weekly press luncheon on Monday. The hot topic: the second half stumble in Atlanta.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles fielded questions from the media for nearly a half-hour on Monday, most of which surrounded LSU’s late-game collapse against a depleted North Carolina on Saturday in the Georgia Dome.

After being up 30-10 at intermission, the Tigers were goose-egged on offense across the final two quarters and allowed Tar Heel quarterback T.J. Yates to rack up over 400 yards and three touchdowns through the air.

“The issue is finish, to take an opponent and remove any opportunity at victory that they may have,” said Miles in his opening statement.

Of LSU’s 14 possessions, four saw the Tigers hand the ball back to the opposition on a turnover. Coupled with the allowance of big plays from the UNC offense and the inability to come up with an answer to Yates, Miles feels the areas to improve upon are evident.

“Defensively we need to understand the situation on our opponent’s end,” said Miles of the team’s frame of mind with the 30-10 lead. “Three receptions and the defense gave up 200 yards.”

Though the defense survived through the big plays thanks to a fourth-down sack from freshman cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, UNC found life for a final time when starting running back Stevan Ridley – for the second time in the game – coughed the ball up.

This time, it came when the Tigers were one first down away from giving quarterback Jordan Jefferson the signal to kneel the contest out.

“That turnover was pretty costly,” Miles said. “It gave every opportunity for our opponent to steal the lead.”

Headed to Nashville, Tenn. to open Southeastern Conference play against Vanderbilt this weekend, a young Tiger team now turns the focus to their first conference foe.

“We have got a lot of work to do,” Miles said. “We practiced a very young team in a traveling regimen. There were eight first-time starters, 18 first-time players and nine true freshmen that played in that game. The good news is that a young team is prepared to now go on the road again in a more important (game) than we just played.”

More from the presser:

Opening Statement ...
"I can tell you that the Chick-fil-A Bowl did a great job. The kick-off classic was very much like a bowl environment and I thought the service there was great. We really enjoyed seeing the 30,000 purple and gold fans that followed us and our guys really enjoyed that experience very much.

"The North Carolina game certainly had its ups and downs. We felt like we had some things we went in there to do and improve on, and there were some serious improvements. We felt our team overall has progressed, the issue is really to finish. Finish the game and have the opportunity to take an opponent and remove any opportunity of victory that they might have. The thing that I look at first and foremost is turnovers. I can tell you when you take 14 possessions, and you take four of them and give the ball back to the opponent you certainly limit your opportunities to improve and stretch your lead. The back end of the game being up 30-10, defensively we need to understand the situation that our opponent is in. We were all on the sidelines telling them that this was the time they were going to take a deep shot. We got that communicated to the field, but the difference is they didn't understand exactly what we were saying. It was a young corner in his first start, but a very talented corner that will eventually get this right and understand how to cover those routes. Defensively we gave up 25 yards rushing and they could not get back to the line of scrimmage running the football, so that was a very good sign. They had 400 yards passing, but three plays which gave up 200 yards. For us we need to fix a couple of long plays on the defensive side, understand the time of the game and our opponent, continue to run the football and play smarter and understand we need to hold onto the football.

"I don't think I can say it enough. We go onto the field having the defense recover a fumble on fourth down and take possession to give us the opportunity to close out the game with a first down and go victory formation and end it. That turnover at the end was very costly and gave every opportunity for our opponent to go back out on the field and steal the lead. In our football we have to learn to finish, and offensively certainly that is the time for the offense to take the ball and get the first down, go to victory formation and get the win. It is also the opportunity for whatever unit we send on the field to go finish. Certainly the responsibility should have been the offenses, but it didn't work out that way. This day we had to send the defense back on the field and they had to play the back end of the second half and the final drive, and they played great. If you look at the final four snaps the defense played its heart out. Certainly there are lessons we have to learn but when you call a unit to the field, whether it is the special team unit being asked to go out and kick a field goal, whether it is the offense going out to get a two minute drive on the field to win it, or whether you put a defensive unit out on the field to win it they are going to have play defense to win the game. Whichever unit you have to send out to the field has to finish, and the good thing about North Carolina is the defense did in fact finish it off right.

"We have a lot of work to do. We are certainly working on ball security and working on some of the decisions we make in terms of how we scramble and what we do with the ball when we scramble. The good news is improvement has been made. I like the position we are in and I like the fact that we had to take a team on the road to the Georgia Dome, and got to practice a young team in a road schedule. There were eight first time starters,18 first time players and 9 true freshmen that played in that game. The good news is certainly that a young team is prepared to now go on the road again in a more important contest because it is a conference game.

"I have to look back at Patrick Peterson who was named the SEC Special Teams Player of the week. He was also a great participant in the game and a guy that gave us leadership, and we enjoyed his play. I expect he will have more evenings and Saturday afternoons like that in his career with us.

"We lost Will Blackwell in the first series of play and T-Bob Hebert came in for him. I think Will (Blackwell) will be lost for a significant length of time, and we will have T-Bob (Herbert) in there, or another one of those backup offensive linemen who will step in and play well.

"When you look at Vanderbilt they are well schooled and a very good football team. I want to congratulate Robbie Caldwell, having been a long time assistant and step into the position of head coach and it appears his team is playing extremely well for him. I can tell you offensively they move the football with 432 yards of offense this past weekend. Their quarterback, Larry Smith, not only went 19-33 in passing but also had 50 yards in rushing. They played four tailbacks and they have really good quality runners, so our defense is going to be challenged. Defensively Chris Marve is the top tackler in the conference and part of a very sound defense that plays over the top and they are very sticky. I look forward to opening the SEC season at Vanderbilt and enjoy the fact that we have already been on the road with a victory."

On Patrick Peterson's cramping...
"He does not cramp in practice. Certainly it's a hydration issue and also, 200 yards of return yards kind of puts an extra stress on the man's day. We probably need to make sure we have a corner in position to back him up. We also are going to expect him to have return days like that again, and we are visiting and revisiting what would be the way to hydrate him because he will specifically be taxed very significantly on game days."

On RB Michael Ford not playing...
"There were a lot of things we were going to do up 30-10 that we didn't get done, and one of which was to play some other tailbacks such as Michael Ford."

On Deangelo Peterson's absence affecting the passing game and Mitch Joseph's performance...
"Mitch Joseph was named really the performer of the game on offense. He had not only a good night in receiving yardage, but he also blocked extremely well, and we'll expect him to play a lot of football moving forward. Deangelo certainly is a pretty special guy that gives us the ability to throw a little deeper to our tight end, but hopefully we'll get him back soon. Certainly there was an effect on the game but not one that was so significant that we didn't make adjustments to what plays were called."

On any thought to giving Patrick Peterson some offensive touches...
"Yes, there has been a lot of thought to that to be honest with you. I don't know how much more cramping that would require if we could get him 150 receiving yards and return yards, and he may have to go cover a pass, too, so we are wearing him out pretty good."

On how he plans to use Russell Shepard in the future...
"I think he's really just starting to receive the opportunities that he's going to get. I think you'll find going forward that his productivity will continue to rise, and he's a guy we'd love to get more touches to. He's still very much learning the receiving position. Even though he's had some success carrying it out of the backfield, we are requiring him to be a complete receiver as well. There is some work to do there, but he'll get touches again and again."

On LSU's offensive game plan against North Carolina...
"We feel like we want to really start a game against that team rushing the football and keeping them at home. Some of those plays where we gave the ball to Russell Shepard that turned into big plays were based on the fact that they had to defend the power run inside. That was a thought that we had going in that we wanted to attack them. Then, we lost (right guard) Will Blackwell in a spot, and wanting to be able to make T-Bob Hebert comfortable in the right guard spot kind of led us down those play calls as well. We still want to run the football, but if you looked at, we threw a lot of those plays that came off of run-action and made the defense widen. I like the way we attacked them. I wish we would have attacked them that way longer."

On how much of a blow it is to lose a lineman like Will Blackwell this early in the season...
"Losing Will really is a blow because of the guy. I think he's a good player. I think he would have eventually matured into a really good player, and he was a tremendous leader in that line. I think we'll find a replacement for him. I think there will be a guy that will step in there in play. I think we'll miss him and what he brought to the team. I think Matt Branch, Josh Williford and T-Bob, all of those will get snaps inside there that will fit to replace what is an injured starter."

On playing so many young players in the secondary...
"We really think that the young secondary that we have is a very talented group, and we want to get them on the field. We feel like it allows guys like Patrick Peterson to be fresh and more capable. I think you'll look forward to seeing Tyrann Mathieu, who played very well, and maybe Tharold Simon as well in those corner ranks. Now, Ron Brooks played significant time as did Patrick Peterson and Mo Claiborne. When you have that kind of depth, it's an advantage."

On how they can improve the amount of snaps they have on offense per game...
"If you look at a touchdown that was called back on a penalty, and if you look at what were two penalties that stopped and slowed drives, four turnovers and an onside kick that was certainly disputed, I think what you saw was a number of opportunities squandered. I think if anybody turns the ball over four times, they are going to have fewer snaps on offense. That really is the piece that we have to get fixed. If we keep those four turnovers, the number of the plays that we run are significant, and it makes a tremendous difference in the final score. We would have liked to have closed that game out long before we did."

On the dominance of the SEC over the past few years and if there has been any discussion about playing nine SEC games per year...
"There has been no conversation to my knowledge about the format of conference play, but every team that you play represents a significant position in our country. There will always be good players, and it's the kind of the league that is competitive from top to bottom. If you enjoy competition, then you need to play football in the SEC."

On how he interpreted the onside kick ruling...
"I talked to the head of officials in the SEC, Rogers Redding, and he said frankly you cannot block anyone in advance of the ball. Anybody that would contact somebody in advance of the ball has created a foul. It's irrespective of the 40-yard line. In other words, if (Alfred) Blue steps across the 40-yard line to make the reception on the kick, then he is protected because you still cannot block in advance of the ball, and you still cannot contact a guy until the ball has gone 10 yards, so we are in a position where we should be able to field the ball certainly until we get possession without interference. In review, the officials are given a responsibility not to apparently create flags and throw flags from a reviewed look, and I think that was really the position that was taken. They reviewed it, and they really could not overturn the call on the field."

On his opinion of the holding penalty on T-Bob Hebert on Stevan Ridley's touchdown run that was called back...
"The responsibility not to certainly comment on officials and officiating, I dance around it as good as any. I can tell you that what is seen game day is different from what you may see on film, but I would well have told that offensive lineman to keep his hands inside, move his feet well and be dominant, and it appeared to me that there were a lot of those characteristics on that block. I did not see hands in the exterior of the framework. I saw great leg drive, and I saw what appeared to me to be a dominant block. Now when you are the official on the scene, there are some things that you see that the camera doesn't pick up. What he saw must well have not been represented on that film. I know this. I know those guys are calling it the best way they can. I really mean it. I know that crew."

On if UNC did a "lousy" job covering special teams kicks...
"So, if we have advantages, the other team is doing a lousy job? What a miserable thing to say. The only thing I can tell you is Patrick Peterson is pretty special, and I think that will be born out to be true and true as we go through. I think our guys work hard at special teams. Special teams in our building is a very serious issue, and it is one where we put speed on that field. If you look at guys who blocked for Patrick Peterson, that was Mo Claiborne. He had a penalty, but he probably had two of the finest blocks that I've seen thrown, and some of those return yards were directly accountable to his fine special teams play. Tyrann Mathieu made some tremendous plays blocking for those returns, and then, we have a good return man. I'm certainly not going to bemoan our opponent's effort. It appeared to me that they gave great effort. I think schemes were accentuated by hustle, effort and competitive play by our guys."

On Peterson's cramps...
"I know that there are certain guys that are more susceptible to cramping - those with leaner body mass - and this is something that our trainers are concerned with. He's a guy who is susceptible to that, and we are going to give him opportunities at returns and big runs, so his opportunities will lead to cramps. We'll have to fix him."

On the play of the defensive ends...
"I liked Sam Montgomery's first sack. I liked his effort. Relentless effort is a perfect example for him. I just feel like he works so hard when he's on the field. I think Kendrick Adams played well. I think 'KeKe' Mingo also had a nice debut at end and Lavar Edwards (played well). I think we are getting good, solid end play to be honest, and I think it will continue because the guys are really just developing."

On if Jordan Jefferson will build off of his long touchdown pass to Rueben Randle...
"I think he's getting better. I think he understands the offense more. I think we have to give him, again, tools for him to make when he has to move, when there is a position where his initial read is covered, his second read is also covered, his check down hasn't shown up, and now it's an opportunity go vertical and make it a vertical scramble rather than a give-ground scramble and the opportunity to throw it away with advantages. In other words, we are down there in the one drive with the opportunity to throw it away, kick a three-pointer and take really a solid, three-touchdown lead. I think he is maturing I think he understands. We had much less difficulty with the mechanics of the offense, the substitutions, getting the ball snapped on time and stem and motion. His understanding of the calls, he's much better and much improved. With good not being good enough, there is more to do."

On if his explanation of the onside kick is the case, then why did they bother reviewing it...
"That's a good point. It really is. No one, certainly not I, said that we had the ball. It's not like they had to review possession. Maybe that's what the review was. Maybe they went back to review possession, and if that's the case, I think they came back with the right ruling on the field because they did have the ball. The issue became was he interfered with before the ball got there, and if they were not going to actually review that, that is a really good question."

On if Tyrann Mathieu's ability makes him more comfortable in situations where Peterson is out of the game...
"I'm pretty comfortable with Tyrann Mathieu on the field. I think Patrick Peterson is a very exceptional corner. I think Tyrann Mathieu will be that kind of corner in time. He's still a freshman. It's his first game. He played well, but again, I think in time he'll be able to play well in any league."

On the play of the offensive line...
"I felt like the offensive line played pretty well. If you looked at the protection, the protection was there. I think our running yards would have been even greater if we would have maintained possession of the ball in a couple of situations, but I thought the line played well. It was the first game. It certainly was not a dominant performance for a bunch of reasons, but I think it was obvious they progressed, and they were better."

On Defensive Coordinator John Chavis coaching from the press box...
"It was his choice. He wanted the opportunity to see the field, and I think he looked at the opportunity for Ron Cooper to be down there with some of the young defensive backs. I felt like that was probably a wise decision."

On how this past game gives them an advantage in preparation for Vanderbilt...
"We had eight first-time starters, nine true freshmen and 18 first-time players. The opportunity to take a road game in advance of a road game does not necessarily seem wise a year or two years ago, but the reality of it is when you know that you are going to play a game on the road that really counts second, then the opportunity to practice that and that road regimen and that road feel and the understanding that it's not our stadium all took place versus North Carolina at the Georgia Dome. Certainly it's a regimen that the young guys will be comfortable in the second time. The opportunity to play in the dome is an advantage for our guys to realize that we've had success in this facility and this venue, and it's one of these places that they play the championship in, and the longing and the opportunity to return here is what that team might see."


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