The last four or five weeks, I haven't been more proud of a group. We've been led by our seniors. They really stepped out today. I made our seniors stand up in front of the team last night. I saw the looks in the freshmen, sophomores and juniors eyes. I knew they wanted to win this one for the seniors. They went to another level.
I'm very proud of our defense. I thought our defense never felt threatened all day long. The intensity of the pass rush was tremendous. They were always behind the count. I love how hard we play defensively. Give a lot of credit to Tyrone Nix and Tracy Rocker. They did a good job with that front seven. Tyrone called a great game. Also, coaches (Chris) Vaughn and (Kim) Dameron deserve a lot of credit. They gave up nothing big.
Offensively, from the very first moment, we executed. The last few weeks, we've been executing, putting points on the board and putting pressure on the defense. We kept them off balance with the run and pass. I was really proud of Jevan (Snead). He didn't practice much this week. He really came out with tremendous focus. He wanted to do it for the seniors. We've got some playmakers. Shay Hodge, Mike Wallace, Dexter McCluster, Cordera Eason and Brandon Bolden. I'm really proud of them.
Of course, you can't forget the special teams. All year long, they've been outstanding. James Shibest deserves a lot of credit. There's nothing like a celebrated locker room. I appreciate all the bowls coming. There's nothing like seeing you guys. Our players have a lot of pride right now and it's good to see. This is the very room I first met them almost a year ago. When I looked in there eyes at the time, I saw a lot of individuals. They didn't know about this journey we were about to take. You look at them now, I feel like we're together. It's been a great season and now we're anxiously waiting to see what happens.
On the change he's seen in the players over the last year:
When they walked in the door, the first thing I thought was they look the part physically. They looked good; especially the defensive and offensive lines. They looked like SEC-caliber linemen. But I couldn't get them to say anything to me. I couldn't get them to talk. Change is hard. Transition is hard. You're talking about an 18, 19, 20 year-old. They don't know what to think. All they know is "here comes another coach. Some guy named Nutt." They don't know. But once we got going and they realized we care, things started to change. They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. But once they knew this coaching staff was willing to go the extra mile and really get involved in their life, we really took off. We knew we had some talent, but we also knew they didn't win a game last year in the SEC. That was a problem. No confidence. I didn't like the way they walked on campus. They didn't hold their heads up right. They didn't do the little things right. That's what it's all about. That's coaching. It starts with your coaches.
On the defense:
I thought Tyrone (Nix) had a good plan. We probably didn't blitz that much more, but it seemed like it. We had such tremendous pressure. Greg Hardy is special. Emmanuel Stephens is getting better. I wish we had the first four games back. After the Vandy game, I lost a little confidence because of the turnovers. But I thought our defense kept improving. They were starting to do the little things better. Once we simplified it a little bit offensively, we stopped turning the ball over and started winning. That was the hardest thing to do. They had the recipe of "here we go again." Once we got over that, we really started coming together. The chemistry was good and the leadership of our seniors took over.
On the defensive line:
They believe in each other. They know the person next to them with their hand in the ground; they know how hard he's going to play. It motivates him when he knows his brother next to him is going to go as hard as he can. It makes them want to go as hard as he can. They try to beat each other to the quarterback. There's nothing like the feeling of Peria Jerry saying, "I'm going to get to the quarterback before you do." There's nothing like that kind of motivation amongst your players. Your players are pushing those buttons.
On Peria Jerry:
Peria really needs to be considered for Defensive Player of the Year. He's a special player. He has such intensity on every play. He never takes a lazy step. He plays the game the way it ought to be played. He's the heart-and-soul of our defense.
On when the player's body language changed:
Once we went and got Arkansas, in a tough environment, I think that kind of pushed us forward a little bit. Then once we beat Auburn, we really got on a role. I think that's when things started to change.
On his confidence in the defensive line:
I wish we had the first four games back. I wish we were starting over. We have a lot of confidence in our front. We can stop the run and get to the passer.
On the team's late-season transformation:
It's really easy to say you're going to stop turning the ball over or win in the SEC. Those are really easy words to say. This is the toughest league in America. When your group hasn't won a game in the SEC, there's nothing for you to reach back from. That's what's tough. It's the process. It's the journey. That's what makes this so wonderful. The journey is special.
On the team's dominant first quarter:
It goes back to focus. I knew last night and this morning at pregame meal that we were ready. Our defense has been playing that way the last few weeks. I thought Jevan (Snead) really peaked at LSU. He came our flinging with accuracy and did some similar things today. There's nothing like scoring first, putting pressure on them, then scoring again. We also had great field position. When you win the real estate wars with punt returns, it puts so much pressure on the opponent and you have the upper-hand.
On the win:
It's a great feeling. Today was important. The Chancellor even came to see me Sunday to reiterate how important this game is. He wanted to know if I knew how important this game was. I knew, but then he wanted to know if I really knew (laughter). That was a very important game. I'm excited for these guys. To see that locker room now, I can't wait to take them and let them experience a bowl.
On his first experience with the rivalry:
I've had some rivalries in the past, but I understand it more when recruiting the state of Mississippi, I know how big it is. I understand it. They had a lot of momentum from last year, but it'll switch. That's what winning does.
On the blowout victory:
I didn't see the score being this lop-sided. But you go by practice and preparation. The last few weeks we've been tremendous. The seniors don't want the season to end. Everyone wants to go to practice. No one wants to stay in the training room this year. That's the feeling you go by. Did I think 45-0? No. But I felt good about our execution and the level of effort. I knew we weren't going to just throw our helmets on and go through the motions. I knew that.
On the significance of a bowl:
It's so huge. All those scout team members and redshirts are going to get so much attention, especially the first eight practices. They'll scrimmage everyday and be coached hard. It's an extra spring. Our name is going to be mentioned for the next thirty days or so. It's awesome. With the television coverage and recruiting, it's means a lot. We're going to have to be real selective with the last few scholarships we have. We have a lot of people wanting to commit right now and we have to be selective. We have to fill our needs. But all that ties into the bowl. This is an awesome reward. There's not a bad bowl. They're awesome. I'm excited for our guys. The experience of a bowl week is great.
On the fourth down call:
It was a little bootleg. We should have scored the play before, but we missed a block. They were coming off the edge pretty quick. Bradley Sowell, who's been a tackle, I didn't think they'd cover him. They actually had it covered pretty good. I thought they'd let him go. We sold the play before with run-action and bootlegged out of it. He wasn't quite as open as I would have liked, but the ball was thrown perfectly. Bradley has tremendous hands for a lineman. We have to make sure his head's not swollen too much though.
On the talent along the defensive line:
You have to look at the athletes. They're playing at a very high level and have really bought into Tyrone Nix's system. There playing together. The speed of our linemen can be scary. They're quick.
On the gratification of this season:
This is the most rewarding year we've had. As hard as things have been the last couple of years, this has been the most rewarding. To take a group that's had very little success, enjoy coaching and the spirit of the guys wanting to learn, it's been the best.
On the success in November:
This is definitely a November you'll remember.
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