Coach O: The positives from the Citadel game were a very good defensive effort, despite the level of our competition, and a good second half on offense. We also had a good special teams effort with frreshman Punter Rob Park averaging 41 yards per punt. Certainly the big play of the game was MLB Patrick Willis forcing a fumble and CB Travis Johnson scooping it and scoring. Eleven freshmen have played so far and that's a good thing for the future.
The negatives were a poor start by the offense, which was disappointing and too many penalties.
In Alabama we are facing a team with a quality senior QB in Brodie Croyle - he's excellent. I watched their running game with TB Kenneth Darby this morning and he's real good, especially when led by Leron McClain, who is very physical. They have one of the best OL we'll face all year and they have an opportunity to make big plays with WR D.J. Hall. Croyle is the leader and it looks like they have things going on offense, but when you face Alabama, you talk about defense. Joe Kines has done an excellent job as coordinator of that bunch with nine returning starters. They are quick, they blitz and they are very good tacklers.
We have our work cut out for us, but this is why we came to the SEC - for games like this. I know my team is going to be fired up at practice today and this week in getting ready for Alabama.
Q: Did you see improvements in fits and assignments on defense against Citadel?
Coach O: Yes. When you have Jamarca Sanford back at SS and Patrick Willis at MLB doing his thing, the holes aren't there. We tackled better and we played the screen game better. Obviously, they are not a strong opponent, but we executed well. We were able to play base defense about 98% of the time and that will help us improve with our base.
Q: What sprung the offense last Saturday?
Coach O: The run game. We started picking up on our assignments and hitting the holes better. Mico is not an experienced runner in the inside zone package and he was cutting the ball back too much. He wasn't pressing the line of scrimmage and taking his time on his cuts. In the second half, he did those things better.
Q: Talk about frosh Antonio Turner and LB Quentin Taylor.
Coach O: Both are from Florida and we got on them late in the recruiting process. Antonio is a big back who we can use on goal line and in other areas. He runs with his pads low and gains yards after contact. We like him. Quentin is going to be a very good LB for us and is pushing Kelvin Robinson for playing time right now. He's smart and active.
Q: What is your opinion of your pass rush?
Coach O: I thought McKinley Boykin and Jayme Mitchell improved their pass rushing in the past two weeks. I'm not a big blitz guy. I'll only blitz when the opporunity is there and it's a sound decision. As we get better with our four-man rush technique, we'll do a better job there.
Q: How is the OL coming along?
Coach O: Hopefully Darryl Harris will be back at center this week. Tony Bonds did pretty good, but we will go back to Darryl if he's healthy, which we think he will be. The others are progressing, but some are progressing slowly.
Q: How do you characterize the early part of the season as far as your expectations were?
Coach O: Defensively, we've been up and down. Having Patrick back and all our starters out there has helped us gel lately. We've been pretty good against the run and our secondary is playing well. We have to improve our pass rush to give them more of a chance though. That will come with time. Offensively we are struggling. We have played two QBs - Micheal Spurlock has been inconsistent, but he's been under a lot of pressure. We have not protected him very well. I'm pleased to see Mico McSwain emerge the way he has. It's good to have Mario Hill back - our receivers have done fine when the ball is delivered on time and on target. We have to go to Taye Biddle and some others more oftten deep, but we're working on it and it will come around too.
Q: Talk about Spurlock and Lane more.
Coach O: It's Micheal's job, but if Mike's not playing well, I'll put in Robert. Lane went in against Citadel and had an unfortunate interception when their safety made a good read. He's able to play, but Micheal gives us a big-play ability and he escapes the rush a lot better.
Q: Talk about the rebuilding at Ole Miss.
Coach O: It's been fun - every day it's been great. The recruiting reception has been excellent. My staff has worked hard, the fan base has been fantastic and we have great facilities here. We are not winning as many games as I hoped we would, but we are competing and getting better. I believe my team has showed improvement the last two weeks and we will continue that trend.
Q: If this game gets out of hand, do you worry about the mental state of the team?
Coach O: No. We were down 14-0 at UT and didn't get down. We competed to the very end. I don't worry about that at all.
Q: What went into your decision about changing QBs at halftime against Citadel?
Coach O: I talked to Noel (Mazzone) about it, but I made the final decision. We weren't doing anything on offense and I wanted to give Robert a shot to see what he could do, or just maybe motivate Micheal more. In my opinion, he wasn't playing very well in the first half. After Robert's interception, we went back with Mike to see if he was going to perform better. He did.
Q: What are the tangibles and intangibles of Willis?
Coach O: He's tough, physical and he understands offenses. He makes a lot of plays and gets to the ball quickly. He also gives his teammates and the coaching staff confidence because he is capable of making plays in the scheme and beyond the scheme. He does extra things - his duties and beyond. That makes us better.
Q: Doed he compare with other great LBs you've been around?
Coach O: Very similar. He could play for anyone in the country. I don't know how many players we've got we can say that about, but I'm sure about one - Patrick Willis.
Q: Talk more about Bama's defense.
Coach O: Very quick, athletic, well-coached, great linebackers, great safety and very good up front. They blitz off the edge a lot. We will have to be able to block it and we will have to be able to run the football to stop their penetration.
Q: Will LEO Corvelli Haynes and C Darryl Harris be back this week?
Coach O: They should be fine toward the end of the week.
Q: Over here in Alabama, we are hearing rumors of a disagreement between you and OC Noel Mazzone. Any truth there?
Coach O: No, not at all. Coach Mazzone has been very loyal. He's running the offense I brought in and is working extremely hard to do the job I want him to do.
Q: Is Bama's pass rush versus your pass protection a bad matchup?
Coach O: It's certainly a challenge, but I don't want to say it is a mismatch. We have a challenge to get the job done and we believe we can.
Q: Bama has an open date. Any advantage?
Coach O: They are an advantage to those who have them. You get healthy, you get rested. You get a head start on the next opponent.
Q: What will they do to compensate for Prothro being out?
Coach O: Run more with Darby and go to Hall for their big plays. They are both excellent players.
Q: What does Jamarca Sanford bring to the table?
Coach O: He's a very good tackler and does a good job in man coverage. We are just confident when he's in there we can run our defense. He does everything we need a SS to do to be successful. He's so compact, size-wise, it helps him as a tackler.
Q: Your numbers on pass defense are impressive. Why is that?
Coach O: We have experience and a great scheme. Chris Rippon has done a great job there. He has studied everything we want to do and has done a great job teaching it.
Q: How good is Croyle?
Coach O: Very good. Great deep ball passer. His experience is a key. You can tell he's a winner and someone who can make the big plays when they need them. He is very similar to Jay Cutler in that he produces when he needs to.
Q: What are you seeing in their DL?
Coach O: An SEC line that can get it done is all phases. We have to address our OL situation and make sure we are doing the right things to slow them down up front. We will also have to make sure our RBs and TEs are tuned in to pass protection.
Q: How is your talent level at Ole Miss?
Coach O: We are not that far off - I felt that after the UT game. I wasn't sure before then, but I felt pretty good walking off the field at Neyland Stadium that we need to fill in the blanks in a few key positions and we'll be OK. I'll say this - I was more confident leaving UT than I had ever been before about our personnel.
Monday Press Conference
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