The following are excerpts from Coach Ed Orgeron's Monday press conference prior to the game with Citadel Saturday.
Coach O's opening comments: I realy thought our game against Tennessee was very positive for our program. We were disappointed with the loss - obviously, but I was proud we went out there in that atmosphere of big-time football and our guys were ready to compete and we did compete for 60 minutes. We got behind 14-0 and nobody blinked. We competed well from that point on. Halftime was really good and our guys felt they could compete with UT all the way to the end, and they did.
We were more consistent than we have been in several parts of our game. We weren't consistent enough, but we were better. I was pleased with Will Moseley's 50-yard field goal, I was pleased with Jayme Mitchell's blocked field goal. It was good to see Patrick Willis back in the middle of our defense. He hasn't practiced in a while and had that big club on his hand, but he still had 14 tackles. As defensive coordinator, I felt plays were being made that should be made - plays that weren't being made without him. Jamarca Sanford being back was also important - he's one of our best players. I was also happy with the two fourth-down stops.
On offense, I thought our wide receivers played good at times, especially Mike Espy, who had some excellent catches, and Taye Biddle. Micheal Spurlock was scrambling most of the day, but he was still able to make some plays under pressure. Jamal Pittman did a pretty good job in his first outing at fullback. We played five offensive linemen and I thought at times they showed some continuity and production.
The turning points in the game were the first offensive drive by UT. We were reeling a little bit, but we made some adjustments and did OK from then on. The interception by them for a TD was huge and put us down 14-0, but again, we didn't blink. Travis Johnson's pass interference call on second and 28 - that I thought was questionable - resulted in a first down for them and they ate 6 minutes off the clock that hurt us. Then the fumble on the fourth-and-two stop, when the defense needed a rest, was critical.
Overall, we have things to improve on, but our guys were positive in the dressing room and I felt our team came together. I think we are all on the same page. I'm looking forward to Homecoming and playing The Citadel. I'm looking forward to practice today.
Q: Any word on Mario Hill's return?
Coach O: He's not where he needs to be. That's a lingering injury and he's still questionable. We'll know more later this week, around Thursday.
Q: What does The Citadel look like on film?
Coach O: They are an option football team with a good QB and they are well-coached. They are coming off a big win. They run a 4-3 defense. The option game can be an equalizer so we will need to play well on defense to stop that attack.
Q: How much is the disparity in time of possession hurting the team?
Coach O: We're really struggling there, especially in the third and fourth quarters. We're struggling there and we are being outscored badly in the second quarter (33-0). We have to find out what is going on there. Time of possession and second quarter results are two points of emphasis for us.
Q: Does a TOP disadvantage lead to fatigue on defense and some of the mistakes you are seeing?
Coach O: Yes.
Q: What are you doing differently between the first and second quarters that is causing the second quarter woes?
Coach O: I think we are hitting the field with a good gameplan. That's obvious because we are winning the first quarter, except in the UT game. I think they are making adjustments quicker than we are. We need to make our adjustments quicker and more effectively. We're doing a good job at halftime, but we need to make our adjustments as soon as that particular unit comes off the field.
Q: Does the option game make you have to be more assignment conscious?
Coach O: Yes. You always have to be assignment aware, but the option makes you more assignment disciplined. Everytime we saw a new play against UT, we had trouble stopping it because of our inexperience in the new defense. We need to fix what's wrong quicker, option or not.
Q: Can you elaborate on Mico McSwain's progress?
Coach O: He ran the ball better inside on the inside zone plays. He ran the draw very well. He's still learning some things with the offense and in blocking. He did an OK job there, but needs to keep working on it. Obviously, he's not too good at throwing the ball. (laughs)
Q: Talk about the offensive line.
Coach O: We're not where we need to be, but we did get down to five players. On the first play, we went the wrong way and we got beat on the edge with UT's speed quite a bit. For the most part, Spurlock was having to run for his life. But at times, the five guys who played showed they can do it with more work, experience and continuity.
Q: Will the OL lineup remain the same?
Coach O: Unless someone else has a great week of practice, yes.
Q: Did Patrick calling the defensive signals make a difference?
Coach O: We didn't have any bad calls this week. We had several against Wyoming. I felt the freedom to call anything I wanted to call. I also thought our staff did a good job when we went to the three-man DL on third down. That really helped us out. We had a good gameplan and I credit the staff with that. I also think Chris Rippon - again - is doing an excellent job coaching our DBs.
Q: How was Patrick after the game soreness-wise?
Coach O: If he was sore, he wouldn't tell anyone. He's is exactly the description of a middle linebakcer and football player and all that goes with it. I'm so glad he's on our team and we can build around that young man.
Q: Did Mico get enough carries to suit you?
Coach O: We're very pleased with his progress, but I'd like to see him get to 30 carries a game in time.
Q: Has the team remained positive with a three-game losing streak?
Coach O: It hasn't been a problem because we take one game at a time, win or lose the week before. The team is fine. I felt them come together Saturday. We had a great meeting Friday night and were in great spirits before and after the UT game and I expect the same this week.
Q: Penalties still haunt you a bit. Elaborate.
Coach O: We've been getting penalties at critical times. We have addressed it as a staff and in team meetings and we will continue to work on it diligently.
Q: How is LB garry Pack doing?
Coach O: He's doing a great job - I'm very pleased. He's an excellent blitzer and we use him that way quite a bit. He's good in coverages and he's a sure tackler.
Q: Was it tough to run Mico more because you were behind?
Coach O: Some of that, but we also have to gain more confidence in the running game. We need more run plays we are confident in calling and running and we will work on that daily.
Q: What about Mico's 54-yard run?
Coach O: I thought the guy who caught him was very fast (smiles). Great call and great run. I also thought the sweep to him on the short TD was an excellent call and showed his speed. He's hard to stop and outran four guys to that corner.
Q: Is Mico getting into the mental side of the game more now?
Coach O: Yes. I saw some patience from him in the zone game against UT. He needs to learn when to burst and when to stay back and let things develop, but he's getting there.
Q: Do you have a time line on when the two players with casts on their hands won't have them on?
Coach O: No. I haven't really worried about that and don't ask those questions. If they can play, they play. When it's time to take it off, it comes off. We can't worry about that.
Q: How has the cast affected Spurlock?
Coach O: He protects the ball with one hand and UT swiped at it a couple of times and got it. It hurt some.
Q: What did you think of Jamal's game at FB?
Coach O: I think he needs to learn the finer aspects of blocking. The blocking is different from TB. Assignments are different - there is more thinking involved. He needs to work on his pass routes as well. We would like to get him one-on-one with LBs and see what he can do.
Q: How do you feel about where the team is now?
Coach O: I feel better this week than I did two weeks ago about the way we played and competed. If we continue to improve, we'll be fine. We cannot take a step back. I thought before Wyoming we took a step back. We have now regained a little confidence and have to stay on that path.
Q: Are you worried about overconfidence against The Citadel?
Coach O: We should not be overconfident about any opponent right now.
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