Nutt: 'Proud of our first win'

The following is Coach Houston Nutt's weekly press conference prior to his team's game at Wake Forest. The Rebels beat Memphis 41-24 in Oxford Saturday night. Wake Forest is 1-0 after winning at Baylor 41-13 Thursday night.

After watching the film I was really proud of our first win. There's some very good things we can learn from, teach from. There were some times where we have to play much better, be more physical and finish. Finish to the whistle. That's really important. There were some good efforts. I was really proud of the offensive line. You don't get to practice knock-downs much. Michael Oher had 10 knock-downs. John Jerry had six. Daverin Geralds had six. Maurice Miller had four. I was proud of that. What that does is create some running lanes. It's effort. Michael Oher did a good job of pulling, a big guy that can move. He gets out in front of a guy like Dexter (McCluster). Gets an RBI block to get us in the end zone. Those were some good things. We've just got to finish. Jevan Snead for his first time out was outstanding because he sat in the pocket and took some hits, took some blows. He concentrated on the receiver. Lot of quarterbacks will get antsy when feeling that pressure. But he doesn't flinch. He took two major shots, one right up under the chin and one to the shoulder and rib cage. He didn't flinch. Those third-down plays were critical for us to keep the chains moving. The only disappointing thing about his game was his best ball is the deep ball and he was so pumped up and had so much adrenaline that he overthrew. Our receivers, I know Michael Wallace for sure dropped one, usually catch those. And he (Jevan) usually drops those in there. Got to keep working. Got to get better. Running backs played hard. Jason Cook was just outstanding. Really good leader for us. That's why he's a captain. I was really proud of him and Andy (Hartmann) both. I was proud of all our backs. I thought we were a little tentative at first. Didn't run as hard as I'd like to see us run in the first quarter. But as the game got going, I really thought Cordera Eason, Enrique Davis, and Brandon Bolden really started running with some power. The way we finished the third quarter with that long drive was really good, and Brandon broke about two or three tackles to get into the end zone. Gerald Harris and David Traxler, I really thought they graded out well. Very steady blocking. You don't notice them until you watch the film, and Gerald made a good catch. Overall (as an offense) good because No. 1 we had no turnovers. That's the most important thing. Defensively there were times we got off the field and did a good job. Toward the end I thought we were a little soft. That's what that offense does to you though. When they spread everything out, it's hard for the linemen, especially in the trenches, because they get rid of the ball so quick. They're throwing screens, they're throwing jump balls. And then they got into the running game and they weren't ready for it. We've got to improve and get better on that. Got to get better playing the ball in the secondary with our eyes. We missed Cassius Vaughn dearly. You could see that when he went out. We've got to get him back. Hopefully he'll be back and ready to go. Hopefully he will practice Tuesday. He won't be 100 percent, but hopefully by Wednesday he will be. Coach (James) Shibest had us ready to go in the kicking game. Justin Sparks kicked the ball to the end zone. We had good coverage on everyone of them until we sky-kicked it. We relaxed on that and didn't hustle. It was the only time we really didn't hustle. It's something we have to work on. The sky-kick is valuable, and there will be times we need it. But we've got to still go full speed like we're covering 70 yards. Just because you're not covering as many yards doesn't mean you can slow down. Go make the tackles. That really cost us three points. Every other kick was in the end zone or close to it. And we covered very well. I was proud of them. Our punt protection was good. Rob (Park) can punt a little better than that. But he got the ball off for us and I was proud of that. And I thought Josh (Shene) hit the ball good.

Q: What are your impressions of Wake Forest and its quarterback Riley Skinner?

Nutt: Skinner's a very good quarterback. So efficient. Excellent operator. You can see why they've been to bowl games and why they're winning. It starts with him. Bigtime leader. Handles things under pressure. He does a great job handling their offense and you can tell he's been around it. Their defense is outstanding. Nine starters returning. Lot of fifth-year seniors. Alphonso Smith is one of the best corners we'll see all year. This guy can play. When you watch this team on film, they get a ton of turnovers. They are like magnets to the ball. They are so disciplined. They're really well-coached. They get to the football. They don't give up any big plays. Offensively solid tailback, solid receivers, but it's the quarterback that makes them go.

Q: Now that you've used Wild Rebel several times, how does that evolve as people have now seen it and know it's coming?

Nutt: People will start to prepare for it, and we're used to that. We just have to stay as sharp as we can with it, add a wrinkle here or there with it each week. The bottom line is it still comes down to blocking, to ball-handling, and the triggerman, Dexter (McCluster). It's a run, it's a handoff, it's a pass. We've just got to keep executing and mix some things up.

Q: Did you run Wild Rebel as much as you wanted to or would you like to have run it more? And talk about your running back rotation and if you expect that to stay the same this week?

Nutt: The running backs, everyone of them is so valuable. Cordera still has a little bit of an ankle sprain. I don't think it's too bad. He should be ready to go. Brandon, Enrique, Devin, Derrick – Derrick ran hard there toward the end of the ballgame. Really proud of him. The two fullbacks will stay the same. All these guys will get more of the gameplan. Some of it is how much Cordera is there. We'll need all these guys. With the Wild Rebel and the lightning motion that Brandon does, if his carries increase, we'll need another guy there, whether it be Lionel Breaux or Devin Thomas. We'll need more guys to get ready to do that. All these guys are going to be used. We had in our mind to run this formation about 10 or 12 times (in game one) and see what it would give us. Probably could have run it a little more, but it was a good start for us.

Q: Do you have any update or any word on Peria Jerry's status?

Nutt: He joined us yesterday for the first time in a long time. Made it about halfway through practice. Started good and went through some fundamentals with Coach (Tracy) Rocker. Started on the base gameplan, so we're hoping. But we don't know. I know he's not 100 percent. But we're hoping this week that maybe he can give us a few snaps; I don't know for sure. But he's on his way.

Q: With bad weather possible for the game this weekend, how do you prepare for that?

Nutt: I'm sure it's going to rain, and we'll work on the wet ball drills each day. As long as it's not lightning outside, we'll get some work done with the wet ball. That's going to be real important for us, especially our younger backs and ballhandlers, taking care of the ball.

Q: Looks like your team passed about 37 percent of the time in game one and ran the rest of the time. Is that the balance you're looking for?

Nutt: Balance to us means what does a defense allow us? What are they giving us? Sometimes it may be closer to 50-50. You just want to take what they give you. We have a lot of confidence in Jevan and the receivers. I think they got better. Shay Hodge. Lionel Breaux. Dexter McCluster. These guys are real difference makers. They'll only get better. It's hard to say what percentage will be run-pass. We've got to have both.

Q: Lamar Brumfield had nine tackles and obviously you guys like him. What's he brought to the team?

Nutt: Lamar's brought consistency, tremendous work ethic and attitude, and he's shown up every day. Really proud of him. He's only going to get better. Hopefully this week everybody gets better. He's brought that consistency of running to the football, knowing what to do, and playing full speed.

Q: Did you get the production between the tackles you were looking for in the running game?

Nutt: As the game went on, there was a glimpse of good pad level, coming off the ball, especially when we got in the red zone. I think we were four for four in the red zone. That starts up front. There's a mindset, especially inside the 10-yard line. John Jerry put a pancake on one down there that was really a good feeling. That's a big guy. He came out so low and got up under their pads. Low man wins in that deal as y'all know. He won, and that's the mindset we want. We pointed that out to our team about being physical. When your offensive linemen are telling you they think we're on a roll, come on Coach and call our number, that's what gets you excited.

Q: How was the conditioning of your team Saturday night?

Nutt: Really good. Very humid and I always judge by how many IVs we have. We didn't have any. That's very positive. Our defense played 80 snaps and that's too many. You can gauge (conditioning) right there. Coach (Don) Decker deserves a lot of credit. Offensively we only had 50-something plays. We want (offense) to stay on the field more. What we want is to flip it – offense 80 plays, defense 50. But we're in pretty good shape right now.

Q: Talk about your safeties.

Nutt: They look good. Jamarca Sanford and Kendrick Lewis played well. And Johnny Brown did. Kendrick broke on that ball in the end zone and intercepted it and took it back for us. Really proud of him. Jamarca was probably our most physical guy back there and was hitting some guys the way they're supposed to be hit. Proud of all those guys. Johnny missed a lot of camp because of a hamstring but is really coming on now. Dustin Mouzon really covered well except for one play. You're talking about a 6-foot-8 receiver. They have good receivers. For the most part we covered well, and there are some things we can do better. But the safeties played really well.

Q: How much flexibility does Dexter give you, and how has a role like his changed college football over the years?

Nutt: He's almost like a 12th guy on the field. They have to find out where he's located. Is he in the quarterback position? Is he a slot? Is he a tailback? You're just putting a guy with a little bit more athleticism in certain spots. They're having to defend that. It helps everything. It helps your run game, your pass game. It slows good teams down to make them think and not play as fast. That's the whole idea of the thing.

Q: Talk about your defensive tackles last Saturday night?

Nutt: They can do better. I've seen them do much better. Some of it was where you spend all night trying to rush, and then it becomes a different kind of game where they come right at you. We can do much better. Lawon Scott can do better; I've seen him do it. Jerrell Powe can do better; I've seen him do it. Justin Smith for the first time out as a true freshman, I was really proud of him. Marcus Tillman is our most steady guy and he has the most experience. But we moved Marcus from end and moved him inside. Very steady; proud of him. Ted Laurent, you could tell he wasn't himself and that's understandable. Very little practice time. Get these guys back going 100 percent and we'll be much better.

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