Monday press conference

With both Ole Miss and Arkansas sporting 3-5 records, and both searching for three wins to cap their season and make them bowl eligible, Ole Miss Coach David Cutcliffe expects an old fashioned street fight in Fayetteville Saturday. Official kickoff is 11:33 a.m. in the Jefferson-Pilot contest.

The following is Coach David Cutcliffe's Monday press conference.

Cutcliffe: We obviously have two teams in similar situations - with both teams needing a win badly. That ingredient makes for a very intense and aggressive football game. Arkansas plays extremely well in Fayetteville and is difficult to beat there. They have great weapons on offense and a very aggressive defensive system and players. We certainly have a big challenge in front of us, but we are looking forward to it.

Q: How is OG Doub Buckles, who missed some of last week with a staph infection?

Cut: He should be back at practice today. I was told this morning he will be able to play.

Q: If Buckles cannot go, who would you go with at left guard?

Cut: Tony Bonds gives us some stability at several positions. He can play either guard or center. James McCoy can also play some left guard.

Q: Is McCoy ready to play?

Cut: He's made improvements. He's gotten a lot of work with the first unit the last couple of weeks and has tried to respond. I think he's getting closer. I don't know if he's as ready as we would like, but a lot of people have to play in injury situations that may not be as ready as we would like them to be.

Q: Talk about Hog QB Matt Jones.

Cut: He's a dangerous football player, whether throwing the ball or scrambling or running the option. There is a reason he's the all-time leading rusher as a QB in the SEC. He's very, very dangerous. He can get hot and be as good as any player in America, in my opinion.

Q: What improvements have you made in the last month or so?

Cut: Our general execution on offense has improved the last three games. Nothing like it needs to be to call ourselves consistent, but it's been better. We've had more balance on offense, which is what we try to do. We have tackled a little better on defense too. We've given up some big plays, but not as many as early in the season. We've also played with more energy, more enthusiasm and more intensity the last month overall as a team.

Q: What is your QB rotation right now?

Cut: We are evaluating that week-to-week. The open week didn't change things much. As we put more of the gameplan in, we will evaluate the situation and see what we come up with.

Q: What have you tried to do with Larry Kendrick this year?

Cut: We started him on defense this year trying to get him to learn the defensive system and then work him in some on offense and in the kicking game. As he learned the defensive system, we started getting him some offensive reps. He looked more natural on offense than he did on defense. He wasn't getting a lot of snaps on defense so we felt he could help us more on offense as the season progressed. We've moved him to offense and he has really accelerated the last couple of weeks. I expect to see him more and more the rest of the season. I think he has a chance to be a great playmaker with a bright future. We have just been trying to get him in the right place to get him on the field. He's a competitor and wants to play. He looks really good with the ball in his hands, so we are working on ways to try to get him the ball.

Q: Are you satisfied with the open date?

Cut: Yes and no. I thought we got some good conditioning in and got a jump start on Arkansas. We got some fundamentals done. The no part is that it is unusual to have back-to-back open dates. I would have preferred to have played. We'll find out more today as to the benefits of the open date.

Q: How much progress has the OL made and what role has that been in the offense executing better?

Cut: We've been better and a little more consistent considering we haven't had a healthy starting unit most of the year. We've had a lot of kids playing through injuries. Hopefully they are better now. Tony Bonds is still limited, but the rest should practice full go for the first time in quite a while. Considering the injury situation, and the circumstances, we have gotten a little better there. They are huge in terms of allowing us to run our offense. We haven't been perfect there, especially when we gave up seven sacks to Auburn, not all of which were the OL's fault, but they have to be good for us to be good on offense. Their importance is essential.

Q: When you went to the three QB rotation, did you imagine you'd still be in it four games later?

Cut: I really did think much past that one game. We got into a one-game-at-a-time mindset and have stayed that way. I realized we didn't have a clear cut answer there, and we are still in that mode. We are still awaiting someone to take charge, but in the meantime we are searching for the best scenario to win games each week.

Q: What are you looking for from each?

Cut: I'm looking for production from all of them. Just get us in the end zone. We're trying to get away from the specialization of each due to tendencies. We can't just run it with Robert Lane or throw it with Ethan Flatt. We are looking for one to step up as a complete player. Q: Do you still see advantages of playing all three?

Cut: I think keeping them on edge at practice and keeping them competing at practice has helped at times. They also play to their strengths in games and that's important.

Q: Is it out of the question for one to emerge and take over the starting role?

Cut: It's not out of the question, but I don't see it changing for this game and it's hard for me to look beyond the game at hand as important as it is.

Q: The Hogs have had trouble running the ball until the South Carolina game last weekend. Anything you could pick up on to warrant that improvement in one game?

Cut: Nothing in particular other than better execution and better consistency from 11 players who were clicking. They have good backs and good linemen. Matt Jones is where things begin with them. You have to try to slow him down, but when they can run too, it makes them more difficult to stop.

Q: What are the difficulties of transitioning from a great player like you did with Eli Manning?

Cut: The first thing is to have a great player behind him. We are always trying to do that at every position - build depth. That's the main thing that will help. Those players also have to make practice like a game when they are backing up and when they are starting.

Q: How did your transition from QB to QB go this year and in past years at Tennessee?

Cut: When I was at UT, we had a dominant defense we could depend on more. We played to that strength with new quarterbacks, being able to break them in more slowly. It was a different set of circumstances. This year hasn't gone well for us. Nothing seemed to go right early on, but it wasn't just because of a new quarterback. There were other things going on as well.

Q: Can you reflect on the seven overtime game a couple of years ago?

Cut: Everyone there certainly remembers that game. It was one of the most emotional and well-played games I can recall. It was a defensive battle during regulation and then we couldn't stop each other in overtime. It was an unusual game, but there were a lot of great plays by a lot of individuals.

Q: Talk about PK Jonathan Nichols.

Cut: I think about him often. He's been steady for a long time here. You never really have that bad feeling when you decide to go for a field goal. You feel good about your decision. I have always had confidence that if we got down to the end of a game and needed a field goal to win that we could just set it up for him to win it with a three-pointer.

Q: Is Vashon Pearson back after missing last week with personal problems?

Cut: Yes. He will practice today and will be back in the rotation today. The TB position is a lot like the QB situation. Who fits the gameplan and who gives us what we need to win will play. Q: Do you expect to play QB and TB by committee the rest of the year?

Cut: Most everyone plays more than one tailback because that is such a grueling position. We are hoping to eventually find a clear cut starter at quarterback.

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