The following is Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt's Sunday press conference after the conclusion of the 8-4 regular season.
Houston Nutt Opening Statement: It's been a very fun year, one of the most enjoyable I've had as a coach. To come in here to a group of young men willing to listen and with an open heart, guys who gave us everything they had and got better, was special. Once we got healed up on defense after the first month, they got better each week. When Peria, who you can't say enough about, and Ted Laurent and Greg Hardy and some others got well, we got pretty good on that side of the ball. Peria plays with such intensity, effort and leadership - just outstanding.
We also had some people emerge that you really didn't think about a lot in the summer - Lawon Scott, Emmanuel Stephens, Marcus Temple, Kentrell Lockett, Jerrell Powe and so many others contributed so much. The back end also got better as the year progressed. Jamarca Sanford and Kendrick Lewis made plays all year. Dustin Mouzon came on strong after getting benched earlier - that made everyone better. Marshay Green and Cassius Vaughn got better each week because of experience and competition. I thought Patrick Trahan came on strong at the end of the season, especially on special teams. Ashlee as excellent as was Jonathan Cornell and Allen Walker.
All the credit goes to Tyrone Nix and the defensive staff for molding those guys and using them wisely.
The offensive line also had some growing and adjusting to go through but after the first month they got better and better as they started gelling and developed some chemistry. Michael Oher coming back for his last year was important to us. He had his best year by far. John Jerry, Maurice Miller played their best ball.
There were a lot of heroes and lot of heart and effort and it took all of us. That's what you like to be involved in, a total team effort.
Our schedule is going to be to give them Monday and Tuesday off, run and lift them Wednesday-Friday, practice Saturday and Sunday and then get ready for finals next week. We will not practice during finals, but we will do a little conditioning to keep that sharp.
We are going to keep a close eye on the academic end of things the next two weeks. When I came in here last year there were 33 players who could not have gone to a bowl had they made one due to academics. They had lost their coach and kind of let go of the rope, but hopefully it will be much, much different this year.
After finals, we will get back on the practice field but we have not set up a schedule yet because we are going to be recruiting through that time as well and we are not sure right now how we are going to handle that yet.
Q: In recruiting, how many will you sign?
Houston: We'll sign 25, but we may have to oversign one or two due to academics, but we don't know that yet. We are zeroing in on needs. We need offensive linemen, corners, a couple of linebackers, a wide receiver who can fly to replace Michael Wallace and a fast tailback. We will sign full allotment and be very selective these last 10 or 12 we have to offer.
Q: Talk about your bowl situation and what might be your preference?
Houston: Bowls like teams that are hot at the end, but the ones who look likely are all really good - Capital One, Cotton, Outback, Peach - they are all very good and are all a reward for the team and staff. Capital One, no way you can't have a good time because of Disney, MGM, Universal Studios, the weather - it's just awesome. I have never been to the Outback. The Cotton Bowl is phenomenal. They are so thorough and detailed and committed to the players and the families there. I've been there three times and it's super. I haven't been to the Peach, but all of them good. Certainly, the January bowls give you a little more prestige and help recruiting a little more, but they are all very, very good for your program, players, staff and fans.
Q: Talk more about Greg Hardy.
Houston: From the day I met him, Greg has always been very polite to me. I love the way he was raised. I appreciate that in Greg. His attitude has always been good, but he got off track due to his injury. He gets frustrated because he is so talented. When he was healthy in spring and the first few days of two-a-days, we could not block him. You had to be excited about him. When he had to have the surgery, it was difficult for him, but when he came back, other guys were playing very well and Coach (Tracy) Rocker took his time getting him back in the lineup, which is a good thing. He kept the rotation going and we were always fresh. When you roll in Greg Hardy, it takes things to a different level and speed. He's a phenomenal football player. It is hard on him when he's not in the loop and not playing, but he responded well and really gave us some great play late in the season. We know this - when we put him in there, he's going to get a sack or disrupt something. He's respectful and good-hearted and I hope he comes back next year. Will he? I don't know. I am going to sit down and talk to him and his family and find out during bowl preparations.
Q: What are your thoughts on the SEC Championship?
Houston: Is Percy Harvin going to play? I think that is a key question. I'll start with Alabama - they are solid, that is the best word to describe them. On offense they run right at you because they are physical on their offensive line. They have excellent backs in Coffee and a couple of more. Their QB makes very few mistakes and he's going to throw it to Julio Jones, a difference-maker. On defense, they are at a different level. Nick Saban does the best job of taking what you do best away from you. He makes you play lefthanded by taking away your best plays. He gives you complicated coverages and has the personnel to do that. They make you go the long, hard way. Florida is flashy and speed. They have a lot of difference-makers on offense and they spread you out and make you defend the option game. You have to be very assignment-sound against them. Tim Tebow is a triple threat. I also think their defense is a little underrated. When they are healthy, they are fast and stingy. On special teams, both of them are great believers in putting their best players on the field, like we are. Urban is going to try to block a couple of punts a game, Alabama will invest more in the return game because of Arenas. It will be a fantastic game because both teams are solid across the board.
Q: Talk about your special teams this year.
Houston: I am most proud of them than anything on this team. I did not tell you a year ago how scared I was of our special teams after watching them on film from 2007. It was horrible. The kickers weren't kicking, the protectors weren't protecting and the tackling was poor. The real estate was so uneven that every team was playing on a short field. That had to be changed. James Shibest deserves so much credit for that change. I sit in here with them during special teams meetings and that sends a signal to the players that it is important to us. We hand select guys like Sanford, Lewis, Mouzon, Palmer. That creates pride in it. The first thing we do on Sunday is go over, as a team, every special teams play. There is nothing like pointing out big hits to the players and getting ohhs and ahhs from your peers. These are real men making big plays. Then you look at our kickers. Josh Shene put in an All-Conference performance this year. He's so consistent. We get to the 30 and I can say 'I've got three points.' I haven't had that in the past some years. It changes how you think, your playcalling is different. He was huge. Justin Sparks was special. I'm proud of him. Rob Park gave us hang time and we did not have one punt blocked, knock on wood. They all took pride in special teams and that makes it work.
Q: What is the difference in talking to a recruit when you are 4-8 and when you are 8-4?
Houston: A lot of difference. Everyone loves a winner, everyone wants to be on a winner. It's easier to sell. It's hard when you are telling someone you are going to win versus actually winning. They want to see it. It's tough to sell when you haven't won a conference game the year before or been to a bowl since 2003. That is one reason the loss to Vanderbilt this year was so tough. It was hard getting on the phone that Monday and hearing the tone of recruits' voices. It was like 'here we go again.' But if you fast forward to November, the conversation is different. 'When can I visit coach? You got a spot for me?' And it will go to another level now that we are going to a big bowl game. We got two calls yesterday from kids from Florida who were supposedly going somewhere else and they are open to us now. That is why we are going to be very selective from this point on. We will be able to pick and choose now on the kids we evaluate as SEC players.
Q: How important is it to recruiting in the area where your bowl is?
Houston: It's key. The exposure helps you in that area. It makes it easier to go into that living room and they have seen you play and read about you. There's nothing like it. Whether it's Texas, Florida or Atlanta, it's all good.
Q: How is Jevan Snead's shoulder?
Houston: We will give him some time off, at least a full week. He was a soldier out there against MSU. He took another hit on it and kept on going. He'll be fine for the bowl, but we are going to rest him as much as we can.
Q: What about Jason Cook (knee) and Andy Hartmann (concussion)?
Houston: Jason is probably the furthest out with a sprained MCL. He'll get plenty of time off, but nothing will keep him out of this bowl game. Andy had a slight concussion and is fine today.
Q: When do you expect to hear which bowl it will be?
Houston: They try to keep it under wraps until after the SEC Championship Game, but we might hear something at the end of this week before then. That is hard to keep a secret once people know.
Houston Nutt Press Conference -
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