David Cutcliffe's opening statement: I said last week we were going to have to give more effort and play with more excitement against LSU. We accomplished that, but we didn't accomplish the ultimate goal - to win the game. In certain areas, we were better. In others, we were not. We will be challenged this week by a Mississippi State team that has improved and has played well down the stretch on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game. We will have to be at our best and be intense. It is an emotional time for our seniors and for MSU's seniors. There is a lot at stake in terms of pride and we are looking forward to it.
Q: From the LSU game, we would assume you had a training room full of players yesterday.
Cut: Correct. We had 15-20 players in the training room. There are a number of people who won't practice today, but the list is too long to mention them all. Bobby Harris (knee, ankle), Corvelli Haynes (shoulder), Kelvin Robinson (knee), Tony Bonds (shoulder) will be limited. I think Travis Johnson (hamstring) will work today. Some we will test today and see how much work they can get.
Q: How tough is it going into a rivalry game when the season hasn't gone well?
Cut: It is extremely important regardless of record when you are playing a rival. Both teams will be emotional in their last games as seniors and with our seniors. It is important to our team. We understand its importance.
Q: Do you think this game is important to recruiting?
Cut: Yes. Recruiting is intense and tough and you are looking for every edge you can find.
Q: What do you remember about your first Egg Bowl and what have you learned about the Egg Bowl since?
Cut: I knew it was a rivalry and most of the games were close and competitive. I don't think I realized how important it was and how intense a rivalry it is between the fans and the teams. I know now.
Q: Why has MSU's running game suddenly become so effective?
Cut: It starts with Jerrious Norwood at TB, but they have played well up front in recent weeks. Also QB Omar Conner gives them balance - he's dangerous. You have to respect him and his capabilities. But Norwood is a tremendous player and very difficult to stop.
Q: What has gone wrong with your run defense in the last few games?
Cut: The first thing is tackling. The LSU backs had over 100 yards after broken tackles. When you get a chance to tackle a back in the SEC, you better make the most of it or they will keep going. Second, we haven't gotten off blocks as well as we need to. Offenses are going to put a hat on a hat. You have to be able to whip a blocker to make a play. You can't count on an unblocked player breaking free for an open tackle. You have to whip a blocker and get to the ball and we aren't doing that well enough and haven't all year long. It's been a nemesis for us all year.
Q: Talk about your seniors.
Cut: We have a lot of great young people in that class. I will miss a lot of them for the type of people they are as much as I will for their playing ability. We've got a special group who has accomplished a lot in their careers. Certainly it has not gone according to script this year, but they have remained positive and worked hard throughout this process.
Q: What do you remember of Sylvester Croom when you were both in school at Alabama?
Cut: We weren't close, but I've known him for many years. I have great respect for him, as a person and a coach. He hired an excellent staff and they are doing an outstanding job. I have always respected him for the person he is.
Q: How would you assess the 2004 leadership?
Cut: It can always be better, but there are certain young men who have done a great job. It's tough when adversity strikes like it has, but certain guys have stood up in the face of our struggles. They have been consistent in their efforts and in practice and in being leaders. Overall, we expected a little more than we have gotten in terms of leadership, but there are a few who have been tremendous.
Q: How many games State games will you break down in deriving your gameplan?
Cut: We will look at them all, but they have changed some things and made some adjustments lately. We will pay more attention to the late games than the early ones. They have adapted and changed and improved in the second half of the season.
Q: MSU went with three young LBs and seem to have gotten better defensively. What have you seen from them?
Cut: They put a lot of speed on the field and those guys have responded. MSU plays a lot of people on defense and they play with energy and purpose. They are well-coached.
Q: When did you opt to go with Robert Lane at QB so much against LSU?
Cut: In the gameplanning we felt he was the more mobile QB and that would give us the best chance. We did that early in the week last week.
Q: What will your Thanksgiving schedule be now that you are not playing Thursday?
Cut: We will practice Thursday morning and give the players off Thursday afternoon and Thursday night. We will have a Thanksgiving dinner as a team Wednesday night, but the players voted to not have that Thursday so some of them who are close enough could go home Thursday afternoon and be with their families. We will resume practice on Friday afternoon.
Q: Does not having school in session during the holidays affect practice?
Cut: Not much. We have to maintain a normal schedule for the benefit of the coaches and the gameplanning, etc. The players will have a little more time to watch tape on their own, but we will maintain our normal workout schedule otherwise.
Q: Will you have normal quarterback evaluations this week?
Cut: We really haven't gone that far into it yet. We are evaluating LSU tape right now. When we get into the heavy gameplanning, we will make a decision.
Q: What's different from playing on Thanksgiving Day?
Cut: I like the Thanksgiving Day exposure we got the last four or five years. It was great for the State and both institutions. But it was a hurried week preparation-wise. It's much easier to prepare with a Saturday game.
Q: Do you look to the future this weekend with a youth movement or focus on winning this game and nothing else?
Cut: We are preparing for this one game. We always look to the future, but our focus will be on the 60 minutes against MSU Saturday.
Q: Looking back on the QB rotations, how would you evaluate that idea?
Cut: I think it gave us a boost against South Carolina. Since then, I wish we had the answer at QB and somebody had taken the bull by the horns, but it hasn't happened that way. Each has strengths and weaknesses. We have just tried to put the best player on the field for the situation we were facing.
Q: Do you talk to your players about controlling their emotions in this type of game after seeing what happened in the NBA over the weekend and what happened at Clemson-SC?
Cut: I don't anticipate that from either team. Those are ugly situations. We will talk about it and let the players know what our expectations are from a competition aspect.
Q: How do you get them to click off those types of emotions when they pop up?
Cut: You do that year-round with your program. Those demands have to be met every week. When you are competing at this level and are emotional as can be, it's a controlled fight. Those are habits you form over time. I expect our kids to compete but compete with class.
Monday press conference
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