The LSU Tigers are 6.5 home underdogs to Alabama this week, and Coach Les Miles welcomes the challenge. He held his weekly press conference today.
LES MILES: Just recognize that it’s election day coming up, where all those model citizens will get off and take care of their duties to their country. This is not Columbus Day; this is not just for the Italians. This is certainly not St. Paddy’s; it’s not just for the Irish. It is for all of those who have the ability to vote in our country, so get out and do that, please.
You know, the enjoyment of preparing for a very quality opponent, a big-time game, and the opportunity to play a Western Division opponent that’s as talented and came believe and well prepared as Alabama is just a highlight of the week and an opportunity for our football team.
I look forward to seeing the media that surrounds a game like this. Our football team seems to play biggest on a big stage, and we’ll look forward to getting to Tiger Stadium and allowing that fan base to rock the place, make a lot of noise, come early, stay late, eat concessions.
Our guys will look forward to it. Our team plays best in Tiger Stadium. It’s a magical place. There’s no better place in America to watch a football game. CBS primetime audience, I think our guys will look forward to playing.
It’s a sad day, though, because when you say goodbye to seniors that have meant so much to the program and that are such quality guys, it’s interesting, you know, you do this every year, it’s kind of– as a coach, it’s kind of something that you look forward to but you realize it’s a part of your calendar.
It just seems that it comes by so quick. Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, D.J. Welter, Lyle Collins, guys that have won SEC Championships, guys that have– four-year guys that have won 40 or more games certainly, and five-year guys who have won 51 or more games, an SEC Championship. I’m proud to be their coach.
I can tell you, you miss them. They have impact on you, and it’s not just the impact that the school has or that the program has on them; they have impact on you. We’ll miss them.
I’ll go quickly back to Ole Miss. I think our guys played four quarters of very competitive football. I recognize that the defense was extremely dominant in this game, seven straight punts from the second quarter into the fourth quarter, did a great job pressuring the quarterback and did a great job covering that pass. Kendall Beckwith, 11 tackles, is just becoming more comfortable at that linebacking spot, and again, offensively the guys up front accounted for 264 yards rushing and a very talented defense that Ole Miss brought in. They moved the football well.
You talk about 95 yards in the game-winning drive, I’d have to say about 70 of those yards were Kenny Hilliard in the fourth quarter, and again, a very fine team effort.
The thing we have to clean up is you cannot have four turnovers. I think our guys recognize that we had a little extra work in the open date on turnovers and turnover margin, and our guys will not have an opportunity to win a lot of games spotting an opponent three extra possessions.
Now, on to Alabama: 7-1 overall, fourth ranked in the nation. Coach Saban does a great job. We’ll look forward to that challenge.
Offensively they score 36.5 points a game, average 500 yards total offense. Quarterback, Blake Sims, has thrown for 2,000 yards, 15 touchdowns, and only three interceptions, and two terribly talented tailbacks in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Yeldon is 600 plus yards, five touchdowns, and Henry is 530 yards and four touchdowns, and maybe the best wide receiver in the country is Amari Cooper, 71 receptions, 1,100 yards, nine touchdowns, and still in his season.
Again, very talented on offense.
Defensively, I don’t know that we’ll find that we’ll play against a team that year that has as quality a defense as this team. They’re big, strong and fast and play in the secondary. Just a talented group. Landon Collins, Louisiana native, is having a great year, making plays, and again, very, very talented guy and playing very, very well in the secondary.
On special teams they lead the conference in net punting, and a very, very talented return guy in Christion Jones. Again, it’s the kind of game that you come to LSU to play in. It’s an opportunity to continue to show improvement, continue to take a step, but to enjoy the excitement of yet another big game in Tiger Stadium.
I think our guys are looking forward to it, and we’ll look forward to this week as we prepare.
Before I turn it over to questions, I just want to say thanks to those that expressed condolences and kindness to my family during our time where I lost my mom. Just again, want to say thanks.
Q. Could you talk about the game of college football? Give me your thoughts on the game of college football; what does it mean when you can excel with a quarterback who does not need to be the star on your team? Both you and Alabama have been very successful with guys that just get the ball to their playmakers.
LES MILES: College football, kind of the overview, is it’s a tremendous place for young men to kind of earn their way and get their degree, learn team concept, and go off into society and do the right thing. That’s lead a family, learn to be a very quality father and husband and make a quality living for that group.
I think our guys, they understand that. I think that’s an important part of their development. I think it was in my case.
The quarterback spot, you know, there is no finer team sport than football. Everybody has a job to do. If you are not successful, you will hold back 10 guys, and that quarterback job is a very important one that’s the kind of job that is a lightning rod. I saw some fans’ poll that said who will be the most important guy in what would be the next few games at LSU, and the quarterback topped the spot, and rightfully so. It’s the kind of place where you make 10 players on offense work, and without a very quality effort on offense, it obviously can hurt your team.
We’ve been fortunate to have an offense that can hand the ball off and get four yards, and we’ve, again, been fortunate to have a quarterback that can step in there and make plays and do the things that we need to have done to pick up 1st downs and can move the chains. He’s developing as a leader, and I think that’s all just kind of part of the sport, if you will.
I think the quarterback, first and foremost, has to make his team better, and frankly, that’s what Anthony Jennings has done.
Q. Question about running games in the SEC. Because of the type of defenses that you play in this league, how critical is it to have running backs like you have that are in the range of six feet, 230, or is that just kind of a coincidence that you have three this year? I realize Terrence is the, quote-unquote, small back, but still kind of runs with power. Do you have to have that kind of elite power backs to succeed on the ground in the SEC?
LES MILES: Yeah, I think that there are a number of different styles of running backs, and I think that’s an advantage to have a differing style of guy, in other words, a guy that might have speed and shiftiness and tough to touch and get it out in front and outrun everybody. I think to have that very physical downhill runner in the eye is certainly an advantage. I think an elusive guy that has ball skills also fits. Any time that you get one of those guys that has all of that, he takes all your snaps. I just think there’s a desire by our group to share the responsibility moving the football, and it’s no mistake that Kenny Hilliard comes in and is fresh in the back end of the game and really leads the charge and some great runs in the last drive.
Q. Can you just talk about Alabama’s offense? Is it much different with Lane Kiffin calling plays? Can you see any kind of difference in what they do philosophy wise with Lane Kiffin calling plays?
LES MILES: Well, Lane Kiffin is a very tactical guy, does a great job putting his offense in position to make plays. Yeah, he’s a talented coach and a guy that has ability. We see advantages that have been explored by the play caller, and he’s a very talented guy.
Q. You look around yesterday in the NFL, you see a guy like Jeremy Hill have a big day, Jarvis Landry have a big day, two guys that could still be in your program. Could you talk about Lyle Collins? He’ll be honored as a senior Saturday night, and an assessment of his senior year and getting to come back for a senior year?
LES MILES: Well, he’s putting himself in position obviously to have his degree. He is a leader of our team. He’s a guy that has improved, is a dominant player on Saturdays, and eventually when the back end of this thing is all said and done, I think he’ll have an opportunity to be a first-round draft pick.
I think the decision for him to come back is– obviously these are all personal decisions based on family and really just a number of reasons that guys choose to go and/or come back. I think he makes a great decision. I think it’ll eventually benefit him greatly.
Q. Who do you think of when you see Amari Cooper play, and what specifically makes him so good? What impresses you about him?
LES MILES: Well, he’s got speed and size and ball skills and runs routes extremely well, a guy that has the nuance of what makes the route open. That’s not something that just comes with speed and size and ball skills. You have to understand what the route is called to do and how it fits within the scheme and then have the ability to make it work, and he has all that.
Q. Who does he remind you of?
LES MILES: Generally the wide receiver at Alabama. Amari Cooper is the guy that I think of when I see him. Very talented. I don’t know that there’s a specific– he’s awfully smooth. If you look at that receiver that has real speed and ball skills and can run the route, it’s a talented man.
Q. Can you give us an update on Terrence Magee?
LES MILES: Yeah, Terrence is going to be fine. He’s going to practice today, and we’d expect him to be ready for the game.
Q. Did he practice at the end of last week?
LES MILES: I don’t think he did.
Q. And moving on, after nine weeks playing straight, obviously a bye week is helpful, but did you think that, man, this kind of stunts the momentum? Is that part of it, or do you think this is more helpful with the rest?
LES MILES: Yeah, I have always enjoyed bye weeks in the fact that it allowed for health to re-gear, allow us to do some things within our football program. I think there’s probably some times individual programs, not necessarily this one, has some loss of momentum. What happens after you win a game and you go into a bye week, I think that there’s some advantages to that, as well. I don’t think there’s really any disadvantage for this team going into this bye week.
Q. Two years ago when Alabama came here, a lot of people said a classic game, two top programs in the country. Do you get a sense from your players that were on that team that they’ve been waiting two years to get back into this situation to have them come back to Tiger Stadium?
LES MILES: Yeah, I think there’s a– I think there’s an enjoyment of playing this team. You enjoy competition. You enjoy playing at a very high level. You enjoy playing in Tiger Stadium, which these Tigers do. I think we’re looking forward to it, not necessarily based on what happened in the stadium two years ago, but based on the fact that there’s something very specific that can happen this year.
Q. You opened up playing two really good quarterbacks in the SEC, Dak Prescott and Nick Marshall. Have you seen your defense improve against dual-threat quarterbacks, and how would you compare Blake Sims to others you’ve seen this year?
LES MILES: I would see him as a very dangerous, very special dual-threat quarterback. I think our defense has improved significantly, and I think that certainly that’ll be a challenge to us. But I do see the opportunity for us to have improved and defend them.
Q. Do you see that your defense has improved because they’re not playing players like Nick Marshall or Dak Prescott, or do you think there’s something– what’s happened there defensively to help with playing a dual threat quarterback?
LES MILES: Yeah, well, I think there’s some technical things that have taken place in the last– really since we played those guys that have allowed us to play better, and I think that our guys are recognizing that they can’t be washed out of a gap, and there’s some, again, very, very important technical pieces that have come to play, and I think we’re better.
Q. This will be your ninth meeting against Nick Saban. How much mutual respect is there between you and he, and do you welcome this as an opportunity not just for your program but for you as the leader of one of the premier programs in college football to match up with one of your peers?
LES MILES: Yeah, I think there’s a mutual respect certainly from me to him, recognizing the great job he’s done at Alabama and the style of offense, defense, and special teams he puts together. Obviously he is a very, very talented coach.
Any time that you would match yourself with that style of program and team, it’s very enjoyable. It’s an opportunity to play and play well and make a difference in this year. Yeah, I suspect he feels the same.
Q. With your offensive mentality or this team this year, you go two tight a lot, go north-south in the run game, I don’t think anybody was surprised how y’all attacked Ole Miss and won’t be surprised with Bama. What type of mentality do the offensive guys have to have when you take that approach of not a whole lot of surprise, just line up and try to stop them?
LES MILES: Well, hopefully there will be some surprise. We don’t necessarily like the opportunity to just run the same play repeatedly, but the opportunity to attack them in several different sets and certainly two tight end being one, again, gives the opponent– they have to march out and prepare against two tight ends, and they’ve got to march out and prepare against three wide receivers and four wide receivers. There’s a regular personnel and slot and pro, so it gives them something that they can work on, as well.
But we’re trying to maximize our personnel as best we can, and we feel like a multiple look and several different personnel groups is kind of what we would ask of our team to accomplish in a game plan.
Q. The players change throughout the years, but what do you think remains the same as some of the hallmarks of this LSU-Alabama series?
LES MILES: Well, it generally speaks to the Western Division, and the ramifications of who wins and who loses are always very significant. I think there’s a very good rivalry here that I think both players, both coaching staffs just look forward to competing in.
Q. How important is it for each group of players that comes in to put their own stamp on a rivalry game?
LES MILES: Well, it’s one that they’ll remember for a long time, and it’s a– yeah, it’ll be awfully important to both sides.
Q. Knowing how well they play up front on defense and stopping the run, how much more difficult do you think it will be to run the ball the way you have the last couple of weeks, and does that put a bigger premium do you think on maybe a couple of big pass plays or two in the game to help you there?
LES MILES: Yeah, we’re always searching for balance, and I think there’s an opportunity to achieve that some in this game. I think there’s a– I think you’ll see, against quality opponents, your opportunity to be more balanced is certainly something that is required.
Q. In your earlier remarks, you said that this might be one of the best defenses you’ve seen. What makes them maybe better than a Mississippi State, which everybody kind of already has a feel for?
LES MILES: Well, I don’t know that saying that they’re better than Mississippi State is necessarily what I’m really saying. I am just looking at Alabama and saying that their defensive front is just solid. They’re big and strong and fast, and they’re seldom out of position. They’re just a very quality, quality defense.
Q. How important do you think the bye week was to get some of your younger guys acclimated, and do you think they kind of took advantage of it with the game coming up this weekend?
LES MILES: Yeah, I think we took advantage of the time off. Hopefully they got off their feet and relaxed and watched a little college football on Saturday. But today we’ll have a nice practice and we’ll kind of see how they respond. My guess is that they did take some time off and will be ready to play.
Q. The defense that you have leads the league in getting off the field on 3rd down. Alabama’s offense converts more 3rd downs than anyone. When you look at them on film is it something as simple as Cooper or why are they converting so well on 3rd down?
LES MILES: Again, I think they’re a talented offense. I think the opportunity to throw the football to Cooper certainly is an advantage. I think they’ve got a very talented quarterback, and again, any time you put a Yeldon and a talented group and nice offensive line together, there’s an opportunity to convert on 3rd downs.
Q. Every game is important to the fans, but when it’s Bama week, the atmosphere changes and is kind of palpable. How does that affect the team going into this game?
LES MILES: When we come into Tiger Stadium and it is a live environment, there’s energy in the crowd, our guys play off of it. They feed on it, and again, we play best in Tiger Stadium, and that atmosphere is very, very special and very conducive to those Tigers playing well.
Q. The last couple of years, probably last five years, this has been the biggest game probably on your schedule, whether outside of your building. Has it changed at all with the emergence of any of the Mississippi State schools? Have you seen the prep change any within your building?
LES MILES: No, I think there’s hopefully a strong commitment with each team that we play. I think certainly we looked forward to playing the Ole Miss team last time that we played, and I think that this team falls in that category as one of those teams on the schedule that our guys really look forward to preparing for and playing.
Change? I don’t know that it’s changed much.
Q. What does this game mean to recruiting, the landscape of recruiting, sometimes fans rightly or wrongly say the winner of that game is where this kid is going. Is it more just being impressed with the programs themselves?
LES MILES: Well, I think there’s always some enjoyment in recruiting that you take when you win, and certainly there’s a piece of recruiting that is specific to winning. To what extent, I’m not certain. I can always tell you it’s a lot more fun to call after you won one.
Q. Since you started out talking about voting, I was curious if you voted yet, and I don’t mean the Amway Coaches Poll.
LES MILES: No. My vote in the coaches poll, it’s top secret.
Q. I was wondering if you voted just in general.
LES MILES: If I voted– oh, tomorrow? Tomorrow, I have my favorites. I like anybody in the Big Ten that is kind of up and coming. Not anybody. I refuse to- hey, it’s a right of every American to keep that private. Your voting I didn’t ask, hey, raise your hand if you’re voting for this guy. I said everybody should go vote. Have I done it yet? No. And I may not. (Laughter.)