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Friday, December 27th, 2002

LSU Media Day

HEAD COACH NICK SABAN

Opening Statement:

“We’re really happy to be here. The Cotton Bowl people have been wonderful. It’s been great hospitality for everyone. The function we have gone to this point (and) the organization at the hotel have been outstanding for our players. I think this is a great venue to be involved in for our team. I know they are looking forward to it. To be able to play a dynasty-type program that has so much tradition like Texas that is also something that makes this opportunity special for us.

“From our team standpoint, we obviously have some things to prove. We were hoping to finish the season better than we did. And now, when it comes to competitive character, to be a team that can play for 60 minutes in a game--punch somebody in the nose and keep punching them to finish the task. It’s something I think we had accomplished with this team, and for some reason, maybe didn’t finish the season that way. So that’s something we want to get re-established. I’ve been very pleased with the upbeat attitude of our players in our practice in Baton Rouge as well as the two practices we have had here (in Dallas). The people here at Texas Stadium have been hospitable in trying to accommodate us every way they can. We have not been anywhere yet in this Cotton Bowl where everybody have not tried to be as accommodating as possible. We certainly appreciate that. It’s a first-class event and we’re very happy to be a part of it.”

On suspecting if Texas will take LSU seriously in this game:

“I think Texas has an outstanding team. They have a very good group of players. I think they are a very well coached team. I don’t know what their physiological disposition is for this game. It would be hard for me to predict that. I would think that it’s an opportunity for their players to have a good time but it’s also an opportunity for all the players involved in this game to continue to try to develop the reputation for themselves that they would like to be thought of. I would assume their players would want to do that as well as ours.”

On senior LB Bradie James:

“First of all, Bradie James is probably as fine of a person as I have had the opportunity to coach. He’s done as good of job from the leadership standpoint as anybody I have been around as a coach. He’s played outstanding football for us all season long and probably (the) most consistently.”

“Bradie James was a guy last year who was a second-round (NFL draft) pick maybe. He wanted to come back to school, wanted to make All-American, wanted to be the leader of the team, wanted to get his education, wanted to graduate from school and he’s got over a three-point grade point average. He’s a great example of what college players should be. They develop a career off the field as college student-athletes and, if they have the opportunity to develop a career as a football player, they do it when they graduate. He’s set such a tremendous example

on the field and off for our players. I think the way he played is easy to evaluate for all of us. He was an outstanding football player, leading tackler and leading production-getter for our defensive team. He was also the backbone of stability relative to his leadership.”

On the defensive unit as a whole:

“I think we played outstanding for the first six or seven games of the year. I think we got a lot of guys up front hurt. I think we lost our cornerback in the secondary in Damien James in the South Carolina game. I think that hurt our confidence and stability in the secondary a little bit. And I think we did not play as consistently down the stretch on defense as what we had earlier in the year. I thought in the Ole Miss game we played pretty well. I thought for the first 62 plays of the Arkansas game we played well but you don’t finish the game and the team when you give up 162 yards in 62 plays then give up 169 yards in nine playsÑthe last nine plays of the game. It obviously cost us the game (and) it cost us going to the SEC championship game.

“That’s a competitive character issue in my mind as how you finish football games. You don’t ever play to keep from getting beat but you always go play to win and keep competing on the next play, which we have talked about a lot. Our ability to do that on defense, for whatever reason, was not where it should have been I don’t think down the stretch.”

On misperceptions about himself, being “tough and stoic” since going to LSU:

“I think there is a lot. I don’t want to criticize anybody because I’m responsible for all of that. If that’s the perception people have then I obviously must do something to make it that way. I think the better people get to know me, the more they know it’s not really that way. But there is a perception out there and I have to be responsible for it. I don’t really see myself that way especially around the players. I enjoy being around the players. I enjoy coaching the players. They seem to have fun around me.

“I think it’s important to have good intangibles in a program. I think toughnessÑmental and physical toughnessÑis one of those things. The ability to push people to give effort to be as good as they can be is another thing that’s important. For guys to be responsible for their own self-determination--what their job isÑto have enough self-discipline to do it (is another). These are all intangible things that don’t take ability. They are important foundation blocks in any program.

“I feel good about what we are trying to do. I’d rather be known as a tough, stoic guy than to be soft. We don’t want to have a soft football team because we think those intangible things are important to be successful. And they are important to have a team that competes with character, which is what we always want to try to accomplish.”

On the return of LaBrandon Toefield and the play of Domanick Davis:

“I feel like, probably for the first time this year, those two guys are kind of the tandem that we started the season with. I think (LaBrandon) Toefield has gained a lot of confidence in this time off. He gained some confidence in the Arkansas game when he took the pad off his arm and made some tough runs at the end of the game when we were trying to take the air out of the ball. I think that gave him a lot of confidence. I don’t think he’s worried about the injury anymore. I think he’s playing like himself.

“I think it does affect Domanick Davis a little bit when he is overused because of his number of carries with all of the returning he does. I feel like those guys complement each other very well. I think when one is absent, it does affect the other to some degree.”

On LSU recruiting more players from Texas:

“I think it’s very important and we thought it was very important since the beginning. First of all, there are a lot of good football players all over in Texas, especially in east Texas which is relatively close to us. We feel like it’s probably as important as anything we do in recruitingÑto be able to get four to six good football players from east Texas or the state of Texas. They have great programs here. The guys are usually developed. They are used to working hard. I think they bring a lot to your program beyond their ability.

“Two years ago, we got four really good football playersÑone from Dallas, two from Houston and Ben Wilkerson from Hemphill. Those guys are outstanding players, they really are. They helped make that class what it was. We need to get the players in our stateÑthat’s the number one priority. But I don’t think we can be held hostage just by the kind of football players in our state to help build our program. We have to have a little broader recruiting base that we can complement the good players that we have in our state. I think east Texas, because it’s close and there are so many good players and so many good programs, is certainly one of the prime spots to do that. I think it’s really important to the future consistently of the program and that we are able to establish good relationships over here to get some good football players.”

On Texas’ Roy Williams:

“Roy Williams, I think, is the best receiver we’ll play against all year long. He’s got size and speed but he’s got body quickness to go with it. He runs timing routes extremely well. He catches the ball well; can run with the ball after the catch. He is a tremendous vertical threat. The combination of those is difficult because you need to keep him from running off the ball so he just doesn’t run by you. He’s got enough body quickness and running ability. I think he’s an outstanding player.”

On the ‘Bluegrass Miracle’Ñthe last-second win over Kentucky:

“When I say what I said about not finishing games, Kentucky was one of those games I think we didn’t finish even though we won on the last play of the game. We were ahead 21-7 in the game, went in three or four times on offense and we three plays and out with a 21-7 lead. About the fourth time we did that, they (Kentucky) blocked the punt, got the ball on their seven-yard line and scored to get back in the game. That’s the difference in beating a team and defeating a team. There is a difference in that. We didn’t defeat that team so to me we didn’t finish that game.”

On his practice schedule for bowl games:

“I think we used to practice too much for bowl. When I was the head coach at Michigan State, we played very poorly in the bowl games. We tried to practice a little bit here and there from the time the season was over until we started practice for the bowl game. I think by the time we ended up playing, the players were sick and tired of it.

“We’ve kind of approached it at LSU like it’s a one-game season. We practiced seven or eight times in six days, even though it included a couple of two-a-days, give them three or four days off for Christmas, do a regular week’s work and then go play. They like it better. It’s not boring for them. They seem to take the attitude that we are going to work when we have to and it’s not going to be that much time. And we’re being fair with them on how much fun they can have. That’s what bowl games should be for players. The players have had a really good attitude about playing in bowl games. It’s not been ‘let’s just go have a good time.’ They want to do both. Because the fun of it is having the opportunity to win, compete at a high level and being in a nice place like we’re in here at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and enjoy some of what this city offers.”

On promoting Will Muschamp to defensive coordinator this year:

“Will’s done a fantastic job. I think the choice with Will Muschamp was made way back when I decided never to bring somebody outside in and make them run our system. If I was going to bring somebody from outside, then I should allow them to run that system and teach that system to us. Will is a bright young guy who had been a coordinator before, had a great understanding of our system and we worked well together. He’s developed better than I thought he ever would in terms of his ability to handle situations, make good game-time decisions and good halftime adjustments. He’s really well liked by the players. His personality to motivate the players is also a tremendous asset. I’m very pleased with the job he has done this year.”

On evaluating Texas’ Chris Simms’ future success as an NFL quarterback:

“I don’t think there is any question about the fact he has the ability. He’s got an excellent arm. He’s got a quick release. He shows touch. Even though I wouldn’t classify him as a guy you actually fear as a runner, he does have enough mobility to avoid the rush and move around to make plays. I think he has all of the ingredients necessary to be successful quarterback in the National Football League.”

On rumors of moving to coach in the NFL:

“I think we have a great job where we’re at right now. We love Louisiana. We love LSU. I like the direction that’s been created by our administration to build a consistent top 25-type program that can compete at the highest level in our conference. You have to play games wherever you go and you have to win games wherever you go. We’re just as happy to do it where we are right now as we would be anyplace else. We’re always flattered that somebody is considering you to coach at another level. But I think it’s only natural that guys who have coached in the National Football League, go back and be head coached in college and have any degree of success will always be guys that get talked about as possible head coaches in that league because there not another league to grab them from. The pool is very limited. But we’re very, very happy to be where we are right now. I don’t know of any job that are open in that league right now so I don’t think it’s fair to speculate about anybody’s job.”

OG STEPHEN PETERMAN

On LSU’s ability to finish the game:

“There are two games where we had trouble finishing the game. The first one was the Kentucky game, but we were still able to come out with a win so we really didn’t learn our lesson there. Against Arkansas we really didn’t finish the game and wound up losing and lost our chance to go to the SEC Championship game. I think it’s a lesson our team has learned. You wish you didn’t have to learn it that way. I think our mindset know is not to just to beat a team but to go ahead and finish a team off so they don’t have a chance at the end to come back.”

On if LSU is playing as well now as it did earlier this year:

“Considering all of our injuries in the second half of the year, I think we’re doing great. This team has overcome a lot of adversity this year. We’ve lost se key players for the whole year and we keep coming back. Here we are in a New Year’s Day bowl game and we’re playing against one of the top 10 teams in the nation. I think we’re getting the ball back rolling again.”

On facing Texas:

“They’re a good team. I think they’re the top team not in a BCS bowl game. Traditionally they always have a good team. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

DT CHAD LAVALAIS

On playing in the SBC Cotton Bowl:

“When I first got here, we had just had two losing seasons. Now we’ve been to three straight bowls. Just being in a bowl game is good for the university and for me personally.”

On the Arkansas game:

“For the first 60 plays we held them to about 150 yards of total offense, and the last nine plays they had 160 or so. There were some blown coverages and they just wanted it more. We had a game like that against Kentucky and beat them in the closing seconds. We used to have this mindset to play for 60 minutes, and in that game against Arkansas we didn’t do that. We played for maybe 55 minutes. Hopefully we can use that as a motivation to get us going. We need to play for 60 minutes and whatever happens, happens.”

On what Coach Saban has meant to LSU:

“He’s meant a lot to this program. He’s a great coach. Personally, I love playing for him. He’s done a lot for the school. He’s taken us to where we are now. We want to be like a Texas, or a Florida or a Florida State. We want to be one of those schools that people are talking about year in and year out and contending for a national championship. That’s what he’s done for this program.”

On how this season has gone for LSU:

“Last year we had some great players like Josh Reed and Rohan Davey. This year we have a lot of young players that have had to step up. It’s hard to replace the guys we lost from last year’s team, and for guys to come in a play at that level. I thought for the most part we’ve done pretty well. We were on a roll early this year and then went into a slump. We didn’t finish as strong as we hoped to finish, but we’re in a New Year’s Day bowl game and that was one of our goals.

TE CHAD EDWARDS

On this game:

“We’ve played through a lot of adversity this year and we’re been able to step it up. We don’t have anything to lose. We have to do what we have to to win it.”

On comparing this year’s bowl practice to last year’s going into the Sugar Bowl:

“We play the best when we go out there and just have fun. It seems like everybody is joining the practices.”

On Texas:

“They’re a good team. I think they are the best that didn’t make a BCS bowl. I think they have a really good defense, good running game and all around good team. I don’t think they are taking us lightly. They want to win just like we do.”

WR JEREL MYERS

On going to LSU rather than staying in-state to a Texas school:

“It was just my preference. I know I wanted to go to a school in Louisiana and LSU was my choice.”

On getting through adversity:

“Just like last year, we went through a little adversity (this year). That’s one of the words we talk about on the field during the game: adversity. We got through most of it and some we didn’t so that’s why our record ended up as it was.”

On playing his first college game in his home state of Texas:

“It’s real special for me knowing you get to play some of your old friends.”

LB JEREMY LAWRENCE

On the LSU defense:

“First part of the season, we were supposed to be number one (defense) in the nation. Then we went to some stuff, on and off the field. Now we’re getting back into our groove. We came here to prove a point this time.”

On defensive keys for LSU vs. Texas:

“It’s going to be the same as we do all the time in the SEC. We play quarterback like (Chris Simms) all the time. So things we’re going to have to do are put pressure on the quarterback and stop the run.”
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