The following is Coach David Cutcliffe's Monday press conference, starting with an opening comment.
Cutcliffe: We did not play with enough energy and emotion to play as well as we could play in the Arkansas game - I think that is obvious. The first thing we will be looking for, starting today in practice, will be players who will give us that. That's our main issue. For us to be as good as we can be, we have to play with energy and emotion. We weren't loafing. It wasn't a matter of not playing hard, it was a matter of not playing hard enough. In this league, it's not good enough to play hard. You have to put it all on the line every time out. There were also some technical things we did not do well. Third downs, both ways, told the story. We gave up a third-and-eight on the first drive, a third-and-16 on the next drive, a third-and-11 on a zone play on the next. Flipped over, we couldn't make a third-and-six, a third-and-one, a fourth-and-one, some errant throws, some dropped passes on third downs on offense. Simply, them keeping the ball and us having to give it up told most of the story in the first half. We didn't tackle exceptionally well when we were in the right places and weren't in the right places against the option on a couple of big plays. We gave up too much on the zone play in the first half. Offensively, we just weren't very good in different phases. We have to practice better to be better. We are going to get out of this and we are going to get some response. We are going to make improvements as a team in the last two games.
Q: Did Arkansas do anything differently offensively than you prepared for?
Cut: A little bit, but nothing drastic. They changed a blocking scheme a little and gave us a couple of new formations, but nothing major.
Q: Are you expecting personnel changes this week since you are looking for energy and emotion?
Cut: Potentially, yes. The players will make that decision. We are going to practice with energy and emotion and we are going to play that way, regardless of who is out there. We won't get very far with that today because on Monday's we always make some corrections and will work on LSU. THe bulk of the work will start tomorrow.
Q: Are there any specific areas you have identified?
Cut: No, and we may not make any announcements about it. We are just going to find out who wants to compete and go with them.
Q: How disappointing was the lack of energy?
Cut: Very disappointing because everything was in place. We were playing for the chance of going to a bowl. We were playing to better our SEC record. We were playing to salvage a winning record in a season that hasn't gone our way. We were playing to be remembered as a better football team in November - a critical month in college football. We did not respond like a team that knew how much was at stake.
Q: What have you lost as a team and a program by registering a guaranteed losing record and no bowl?
Cut: Our program is solid and we will continue to be a good program, but this is not a very good football team. We still have a chance to salvage some of the season, but it will take effort on everyone's part and bowing our backs to get it done.
Q: What about the practices you will lose during bowl preparations?
Cut: Obviously, we will miss time with the young players, it's almost like another spring training. But we can't cry over it. We'll have to spend it in the weight room and in conditioning to get better physically and once spring rolls around, we will have to make hay while the sun shines.
Q: Do you think Saturday was a culmination of a season of disappointments and the balloon finally burst when things went wrong early in the contest?
Cut: The balloon definitely burst, but I didn't see it happening. I thought with everything at stake we'd be emotionally high. We were playing for too much to respond like that. There is too much difference in being a bowl team and not being one. It surprised me we were as bad as we were.
Q: Is there anything you have seen on third downs that continues to haunt you in those situations as they have all year?
Cut: I don't think we are tightening up, but we certainly are not executing, and I've seen that on the practice field. It's carried over into ballgames. You have to be consistent in your execution - practice and in games. It's difficult to begin with - a good team is in the 40 percentile of third down conversions. If you aren't focused and prepared and executing, it makes it a very difficult situation. One thing is to do better on first and second down as well. We haven't been good enough on first and second down either. The situation is that we have had too many third-and-longs and too many third downs period. After awhile, it catches up with you.
Q: When do you think your team lost its emotional edge?
Cut: That's a good question. I didn't feel it before the game. I thought we were emotional and ready and into it all pregame. The sidelines had energy when we first hit the sidelines. Then it just deflated. But no matter what happens early, you can't respond the way we did to the deficit. When you are down 14, like we were, that's the time to bow your back and dig in deeper. That's the time to change the game and we didn't do it. We gave in.
Q: After the game, coaches and players were frustrated and some questioned things like play-calling, etc. What is your reaction to that?
Cut: I don't care a whole lot about players questioning anything. Their job is to play. But sometimes when things don't go well everyone has an opinion. That's part of the game and part of being a part of a team, but we all need to be focused on doing our jobs, no matter what it is, and getting it done. That means coaches, players, managers, everyone.
Q: How do you get this team back psychologically?
Cut: We have a great rivalry coming up with LSU. It's another November opportunity. It's a great challenge. I'm going to call on their competitive spirit. We are going to put the competitors out there and I'm planning on them responding.
Q: Did you get a true QB assessment out of the game?
Cut: Both of them did some things well at times, but neither were as consistent as we would like throwing the ball. That's got to change for us to be successful. They both played with some focus and competed, but you have to compete and execute. I have not made a decision as far as the LSU game is concerned. The QB situation continues to be unsettled. It will be based on the gameplan and what we think we have to do to win. That's what will dictate who plays at that position.
Q: Where is LB Garry Pack in his development?
Cut: He's playing well, but he injured his shoulder against Arkansas late in the game and will be suspect this week. He has plenty of talent and ability. He's a playmaker and has been what we had hoped he'd be when we recruited him. He's been a bright spot among our young players.
Q: Do you see a trend in smaller, faster LBs like Garry Pack in the SEC?
Cut: I see a trend in speed being more important than size. If you can't run, you can't get there to make plays, no matter your size. To make plays against Cadillac Williams and the backs we face each week, you have to have speed. That is where the premium is.
Q: Are you looking toward the future now in the last two games with more younger players getting PT?
Cut: I've thought about that, but I still go back to what we are. There is obviously some preparation for the future going on when you can't play in a bowl game - let's face it, that's part of it. But that said, the most important premium we have - no matter his age - is a motivated football player. That's priority number one.
Q: How big are the last two games in terms of recruiting?
Cut: Huge. These are our two biggest rivals and you are always remembered for what you do in November. It's all about pride in the program and showing prospects what this program is all about.
Q: WR Larry Kendrick had a huge block in the game. Is that even more a testament to his versatility?
Cut: Larry is a playmaker. He's in the right fit now. He made some good catches the other day, had the block you are referring to and is a physically strong youngster who can be physical. He's still learning things, which takes away some of your aggressiveness at times, but it was good to see him being aggressive out there Saturday.
Q: What is your injury situation besides Pack?
Cut: DE Jayme Mitchell is out. DT Andrew Wicker may get some light work today, but the important day for him will be tomorrow in pads - if he can go. TB Brandon Jacobs hurt his shoulder and will be limited today. OG Tony Bonds continues to be limited with his shoulder. SS Kelvin Robinson is a little banged up with his shoulder.
Q: What about LSU?
Cut: People may think this is bizarre, but I think they are as good right now as they were last year. They are playing really good football, they have talent on both sides of the ball. They are disruptive on their defensive front - they held Alabama to 82 yards rushing Saturday. Their corner play is very aggressive and outstanding. Offensively they have a lot of weapons. Both QBs are capable and athletic. They have a stable of excellent running backs. They are solid up front and their receiving corps has a lot of speed. I think they are great football team - one of the best in the country, just not ranked that way.
Q: Did anyone have good energy in the Arkansas game?
Cut: As a team, you'd have to say no. There were people who played hard like they normally do and gave good effort. I think our guys know how to play hard, but it goes beyond that in this league and anyone who thinks differently is wrong. You have to play with great energy and great emotion, not just good. There were some people into it during the game, but as a team, you'd have to answer no.
Q: What about the leadership?
Cut: You have to be a self-starter first, but we all share responsibility in the leadership on this team. All of us have that duty. Our energy and emotion has to be contagious facing a team like LSU.
Monday press conference
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