Nutt: 'Got to get better in the red zone'

The following is Coach Houston Nutt's Monday press conference prior to the Auburn game.

Nutt: Watching the film and putting that to rest, the one thing we felt like we were much improved on was the physicalness, the execution part of the game, especially the line of scrimmage. The guys in the trenches, really proud of their play. We're really going to build on that. But we've got to get better in the red zone offensively, especially inside the 5-yard line. Got to get that corrected. Jevan took care of the ball for the most part. He really made good decisions. He threw the ball away which was good to see. He got us in some good plays. Got us out of some wrong ones. Our backs ran hard, and our receivers caught the ball well. Defensively you can't say enough about our defensive line. They continue to play very, very hard. They put pressure on quarterbacks. They've been very good. Our linebackers, Jonathan Cornell especially. Patrick Trahan, Allen Walker, and of course the two young guys keep coming. I was real proud of Joel Kight and D.T. Shackelford, who keeps fighting that ankle. Seems like he gets it rolled or gets a hit every 10th play or so. But he just keeps going, and you love his fighting spirit. Special teams, again we'll keep working hard on that. We feel like we're close in a lot of areas on that and getting better, especially kickoff return. Jesse Grandy has been a big lift for us, and we're excited about that. Q: How much more do you know about Kentrell Lockett's injury, and will he be able to contribute Saturday? Nutt: Don't know that much. I know he was a little bit sore Sunday, and he didn't practice with us. But he came to meetings with us, walked outside with his teammates and watched everything. He felt good and had good range of motion. We're pretty hopeful that he'll be OK.

Q: What happened to him?

Nutt: Just a move to the quarterback. He was trying to put on a pass rush, made a move and kind of tweaked inside his knee. Like a sprained, an MCL.

Q: What concerns you about Auburn's run game?

Nutt: Mixing up formations, doing different things, getting their guys the ball in a variety of ways, trying to keep the defense off balance. They do a good job of that, and they have play-action. Tate's been their guys. He's a guy we're very familiar with. He runs hard, runs very physical. They've got some big guys up front that are very physical and do a good job blocking.

Q: What is Malzahn's offense all about?

Nutt: He loves a fast tempo. He loves to go very quickly, get to the line of scrimmage, use motion, some different sets, usually with a three-receiver set, two backs in the backfield and in the shotgun. There's a variety of motions, screens, draws, delays, tricks. Lot of different type of schemes that will try to keep you off balance. I'd say the biggest thing, the biggest character of his offense, is hurry, hurry, hurry.

Q: How did he have to adapt to the college game?

Nutt: I think the biggest thing is you saw the caliber of athletes each Saturday. He had a lot of mismatches, had some guys that could out-athlete some guys. When he got to the college level, you realize every Saturday for a three-hour period, there are two or three guys you're going to have to be very concerned with. Because they're so athletic you've got to really concern yourself with protection, first and foremost give your quarterback a chance. I think that's the biggest thing. The speed of the game, maybe not so much how people line up, just the speed of the game and how people bring a variety of blitzes to try to keep you off balance. It's a fast, fast game, the SEC.

Q: Any reason why you got away from the traditional offense and went Wild Rebel inside the 5-yard a couple of times Saturday?

Nutt: We tried it two times in a row, with Brandon Bolden and big Powe up there. They stopped us twice. The third time we bootlegged out of it. Just a little bit different. Last year we scored a lot of times with that and had a lot of confidence in it. We just felt like this has been little bit of a different package they haven't seen before. But it's the same plays. We're hoping we could get the ball in the end zone with that, and we've done it before. But the reason was to maybe throw them a little bit of a wrinkle. But it wasn't a wrinkle to us, because you're running the same plays, you're blocking the same plays. We've just got to have a little bit better execution. If you look at each time, we're just a block away from scoring. If Brandon will get his pads a little lower, he usually wins that one on one. I bet he will next time. He'll be more prepared next time to get those pads down lower and punch it on in for us.

Q: Talk about Dexter's effectiveness this weekend.

Nutt: Dexter is a special athlete. We've known that. This guy makes things happen. As long as he's healthy, you want to try to get him the football. He can catch it, he can run it, he can play inside receiver, outside receiver, Wild Rebel with the direct snap, tailback. He's just a tremendous weapon for us. We've got to keep him going.

Q: How does the success he was able to have Saturday affect the whole team?

Nutt: Thirty-seven minutes. That's what it's all about. Thirty-seven minutes of possession time and there's a confidence that's hard to explain. You feel so good about moving the chains, making first downs, defense well-rested, and they're playing faster. Everybody is moving faster. It just lifts you. The offense has confidence. Jevan plays better. Receivers play better. Offensive line has confidence. We haven't given up a sack in three games. We're excited about that. These are things we can build on and get better.

Q: How many touches would you like for Dexter to have?

Nutt: As many as it takes to win the ballgame. We always start a game saying we're going to get the ball to him a minimum of 15-20 touches. That's the way we've started every game since September. Get Dexter the ball, from tailback Wild Rebel to receiver, reverse, screens. We start every game that way. A lot of people have taken that away from us. When the offensive line is blocking the way they block, and there are some creases in there, he's quick enough to hit it. So you feel good about handing the ball to him again and again. You have that confidence. He got a few more carries than we thought he might. It was a good feeling because he knows what he's doing when he gets the ball.

Q: How do keep a back like him healthy?

Nutt: We've never had a back this small. You're talking about 168 pounds, 5-foot-8. So you have to always be cautious how many times he can ram the ball in there between those tackles. But he's tough. Very tough. Lays it on the line and he's been protecting the ball well. We just try to pick and choose our spots. We'll go into the game the same way, expecting him to touch the ball 15-20 times.

Q: When did you see the improvement in the offensive line?

Nutt: UAB. We saw improvement that week. We wanted to take it to the field and we did. I thought that was really where it started. Brandon Green has given us a lift. The chemistry is right. John Jerry has played well all year. Reid Neely has played well. Bradley Sowell has made the most improvement since game one, and he's had a very tough position. He goes against the fastest athletes in the league. So everybody has improved. When you've got Gerald Harris and Andy Hartmann back, the chemistry of that group has really taken off. But it started the UAB week.

Q: How do you compare Dexter to other players you've coached who can multiple positions like that?

Nutt: He's up there because of tremendous hands, tremendous heart, unselfish. He could be a kick returner, punt returner. He has the ability to make the first guy miss. The great ones do that. That's a tremendous asset. That's what Dexter has. And the breakaway speed. To have the ability to take it to the house at any given time, that's special.

Q: Did your staff anticipate the growing pains for Bradley Sowell at his position coming into the season?

Nutt: Since Michael Oher left, we started repping way back, all the way back to the Cotton Bowl practices. It's hard to prepare at that position and the best thing to do is go good against good. Go against our defense, and that's what we've done. Again, you're making call s and seeing different fronts. The speed of the game is so fast, and it's kind of slowed down for him now. Fundamentally he's gotten much better, his pad level is good, he's physical. I've been really proud of how far he's come.

Q: Brandon Green on offense and LaMark Armour on defense have come along. How important has their improvement been for you?

Nutt: Very, very important. LaMark Armour had a good spring and he worked his way up to two-deep. He picked right up where he left off in two a days. When Justin Smith went down, that's where LaMark Armour steps up. We always say you're a play away. And he was. He's really taken advantage of it. He's really been playing well. Offensively our concern was depth. As much as we push those young guys in this league, it's hard to throw a freshman in the fire when things are moving so fast. So Brandon, an older guy, he cars, he's a fighter. Maybe he's not as tall as you like or as quick as you like. But one thing John Jerry and Daverin Geralds know, they know they can count on him. They know he knows who to block. They know he's a fighter. That's what it's about.

Q: About this time last year, you backed off some in practice from contact. Is your team now that the level where you can consider that again?

Nutt: We've got to continue to emphasize the goalline. Make sure that's right. Being physical. Pad level. We'll probably keep our pads on and probably won't go as long. But we'll make sure we're stil physical, get that corrected and make sure that's right.

Q: Does this feel like last year, beating Arkansas and with areas like the offensive line this year coming together?

Nutt: Lot of similarities. But it's a different year. The teams we're getting ready to play are probably a little better than last year. All of them seem to be doing good with good athletes. But it does have a familiar look to it. But again it's one day at a time, go to work, keep improving, keep the blinders on, and let's go.

Q: Was Gus a good fit at Arkansas, or did things just change the way the season dictated?

Nutt: I knew we had Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Peyton Hillis. Three great backs. I knew I wanted to get them the ball. That was probably the little difference in philosophy. We had a good year that year. If you go back and look at it, that was a really good year.

Q: Are you and Gus on good terms?

Nutt: We don't talk very much. Everybody's so busy. When you get in a season and have 127 players, school, tutors, practice. So that's hard and you've got all you can handle with the task at hand.

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