Saturday, December 27th, 2003



Opening Statement:

We are thrilled to be in Dallas and at the Cotton Bowl. We had everyone report but one player, Stacy Andrews, who had some car problems in Arkansas so hopefully he will get here sometime this afternoon. Everybody is reported and ready to go. We had everybody at practice, even a few of them that got a little banged up at home. We’re back at work today and that was exciting. We treated this day like our Monday practice and we’re looking forward to tomorrow. It was a good experience. We had a good attitude today. We know we have a big challenge ahead of us. Oklahoma State is a very good football team, a very physical football team. We have some great concerns from that standpoint, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.

On his experience with bowl game preparations:

I think experience with bowls certainly helps. There is so much we can gain as a program and as a team from the preparation itself. We have a system where we try to take periods of practice time and make it as much like a game week as we can. We actually put our game plan in back in Oxford. We went through a simulated game week in Oxford and this gives us a chance to repeat it. That’s what we’re doing now. We’ve had a good mixture of contact and taking care of the players. All of those things you learn through the years hopefully make for a good system. Nothing is fool-proof. You still have to play on Friday.

On how big a game this is for Ole Miss:

I think the indication of the ticket sales quickly tells you how big this is for the Ole Miss family. We’ve talked about it a lot about what this means for our program. It raises the bar to a level you want to compete at year-in and year-out, to have a chance to be in a bowl game with the kind of tradition and magnitude of the Cotton Bowl. It’s great for recruiting. It raises the level of your program to where you expect it to be, and we’re trying to take advantage of that opportunity. We’re just extremely happy to be here. We’ve earned the opportunity to be here. We belong at this level. The challenge will be year-in and year-out to stay at this level.

On how the team looked at practice today following the Christmas break:

I thought we had good work today. I thought we threw and caught the ball extremely well. We were throwing and catching it well when we broke (for Christmas) but I wondered myself what it would be like today. I thought we were sharp from that standpoint. I thought we looked fast and rested. You could tell they had a few days off the field. It was positive work today. Tomorrow and Monday will be our biggest days of practice and hopefully we’ll be ready. We kind of eased into this thing a little bit (with their practice schedule). Rightly or wrongly, that’s what we chose to do. Tomorrow we will really see where we are.

On Oklahoma State:

In all three phases of the game they are an outstanding football team Ð offensively, defensively and special teams. Offensively, you don’t know where to begin to try to stop them. They have multiple weapons. Certainly they can run the football and they have big-play potential with their passing game. They have an outstanding quarterback-wide receiver combination. They are a very physical offensive team. They just keep bringing one after another after you. So it’s a great concern to try to slow down a team that’s averaging 36.5 points a game. Defensively they are very aggressive. They have some quick players that certainly concern you from a standpoint of the pass rush. We have some concerns that they can get to the quarterback and do so quickly. They have a very similar defensive scheme to ours. They are a very physical tackling team. In the special teams area, they are a great punt return team and are solid in all other areas everywhere. As I look at this team, you don’t see any glaring weaknesses. They are a balanced, solid football team. That’s why they had the type of year they had. But that’s the type of team you expect to play when you get into a Cotton Bowl. It will be a challenge, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.

On the emotion of coaching a Manning for the final time:

It’s passed through my mind. I guess for the last 10 years there’s been a Manning on every team that I’ve coached. I’ve given it some thought, but that’s college football. I’m looking forward to seeing him in the future at the next level.

On how injuries have affected the Rebels this year:

At times it’s been better than some, but it’s been interesting. It started back in camp when we started losing offensive linemen. We lost (center) Justin Sawyer. We had one of those years when at a couple of games like Auburn when we wondered if we’d have enough offensive linemen to get through the game. Defensively up front we’ve had some people hurt. The biggest issue has probably been people not playing at 100% physically more than being out. We lost (defensive lineman) Jesse Mitchell for a period of time up front. He came back but wasn’t quite 100%. The same thing with McKinley Boykin. For the most part our guys have pushed through all of that. I think that’s a sign of a veteran team. A lot of these guys, especially the older players, have played a lot of snaps and they play hurt. I think right now I think we’re as healthy as we’ve been. We’ve had time to let a few things heal. They are not injuries that prevent people from playing, but they’ve kept people from playing as effectively as they should. I’m hoping the health of our team is a positive for us going into this ballgame.

On how beneficial it is for Ole Miss that both teams run the same defensive scheme:

They are an eight-man front team like we are and in a 4-2-5, but that’s were most similarities stop. Within the system, there are two different types of schemes. There will be some familiarities for both offenses to a degree, but some of the things we do they don’t do and some of the things they do we don’t do. A lot of the stuff we’ve been working on offensively has been new to us. The alignments are somewhat similar, but they are different schemes.

On Oklahoma State’s attacking defense:

Oh, yes, they attack you. It is very much zone-blitz oriented. They are not afraid to play man coverage. They’ve got good corners. They will bring their linebackers and their safeties, the outside players in the 4-2-5 scheme. That part of it is similar to what we do from a philosophy standpoint.

On if the three losses built character on this team, and what 10 wins would mean to this team:

The early losses were certainly going to be character-builders. The old saying is that you’re going to learn something win or lose, but you better learn something when you lose. I think we learned some things from the early losses. This team has character. I think that if it didn’t have character it wouldn’t have overcome those early losses, and to have a 2-2 record going to play at Florida and the part of the schedule we had in front of us was going to be the toughest part of our schedule. We just never quit believing and that was extremely important. To win 10 games would be a milestone that I think a lot of teams are looking toward. It doesn’t happen all that often. Across the board every year, not that many teams are 10-win teams. If you look at the history of the school, I think we’ve had five. So it certainly is something we’ve set our sights on and it’s one of our major goals. When you play in a bowl game of this magnitude, you know that’s not going to be easily done.

On how comfortable he would be if it’s another high-scoring game:

I worried about having to resuscitate (defensive coordinator) Chuck Driesbach. The way the bowl games are going (with the high-scoring games), who knows? I’ve never been one to get in the prediction game, and it may be just the opposite of what people think. Whatever way it goes, we’ll have to take it. It’s been the trend to this point where teams are scoring a lot of points for whatever reason.

On how Ole Miss will stop Rashaun Woods:

I don’t think anybody has stopped him. I think what you’ve got to do is contain him to where his catches and his plays don’t result in as many points or big yards as potentially they could. He’s really strong and really a play maker. If the ball’s up for grabs, he seems to always make the play. We’re certainly going to double cover him and get some help, because he’s not a guy you want to be one-on-one with all day long.


On Oklahoma State’s defensive:

They have good defensive ends. They have a good pass rush and we’re going to have to watch out for that. We might have to keep our (running) backs in to get that blocked. It’s going to be challenge for us to get things going. We’re going to try to establish the running game, and if we can do that try to hit some play-action passes and throw the ball successfully.

On if he wants to get into a high-scoring, shootout kind of game:

You never know what kind of game it’s going to be. Obviously it’s two explosive offenses, so everybody’s first thought is it’s going to be a high-scoring game. But you never know what the weather’s going to be and that might make it a defensive battle. First we have to see how the game starts off and play that way. If both our defenses are playing well, then I know I have to play smart football and not turn the ball over and not force things. If it turns into a shootout, then you have to change your gameplan a little bit and know you have to score and maybe take a few more chances.

On finishing his career playing in a game like the SBC Cotton Bowl:

It’s exciting. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do. We’ve had a great season, and we were close to having an even better one. We played LSU about as well as anybody else has. We went 7-1 in the SEC, which is hard to do the SEC West. The last three years teams won it by going 5-3, so we just picked the wrong year to go 7-1. It’s been a fun season and hopefully we will end it on a good note.

On how this year moved the direction of the program:

We’re trying to get Ole Miss football to the top notch with some of these other schools like Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and LSU. Those schools have good programs, and we’re trying to get Ole Miss up there with them. We have a lot of good players and we work hard at it. We needed this year to move us in the right direction, and I think we are. We’re getting a new indoor facility and things are really getting better for Ole Miss. I’m glad to be a part of that.


On playing in the SBC Cotton Bowl:

It’s a great bowl to be a part of. There’s a lot of history and tradition in this bowl. I think to be invited is a good thing. We’ve worked hard and won nine games this year and we’re looking at this as a step in the right direction for our program to go to a big-time bowl game.

On Oklahoma State:

They’re a good team. They’re better than Alabama. They’re that caliber of team and we’ve got to go out there and play our best, and if we don’t we’re going to get beat.

On how the team improved from 2-2 in September to 9-3:

I think all the guys saw how the last couple of years we had a losing streak and we didn’t want that to happen this year. We knew we could play Florida tough and it all started there. Coaches took care of us and didn’t beat us up during the week and we started playing better on Saturdays.


On what this game means to the Ole Miss program:

It’s a great stepping stone for this team, for recruiting and for the younger kids to see us in a New Year’s Day bowl game. The Cotton Bowl is a great bowl and it just proves how much we’ve stepped up our game the last four or five years.

On how the team improved from 2-2 in September to 9-3:

We didn’t make any changes. We just worked hard and put our mistakes behind us. We just focused and worked hard and we got here.

On how the Rebels will slow down Rashaun Woods:

He’s an outstanding receiver, probably a first-day pick. He’s going to make a lot of GMs happy. We have to attempt to neutralize him the best we can, but we can’t focus our entire defense on him because (RB) Tatum Bell will rip us up. They have a top-20 ranked rushing offense. We can’t focus solely on the passing game because they have an excellent rushing offense. Hopefully we can neutralize him and contain him.


On Oklahoma State’s defense:

Our defense runs the same types of schemes and we go against them every day at practice. I think that’s an advantage for us. From what I’ve seen on film, they have a great defense. We’ll just have to go out there and make plays against them. Any defense is capable of giving up plays. We have to go out and do what we do and make plays.

On this being his final game with Eli Manning:

I really haven’t thought much about it. We haven’t sat down and talked about it. This is a business trip for us as well as a pleasure trip. We have to focus more on the business part right now.

On how the team improved from 2-2 in September to 9-3:

Those two (early) losses made us stronger and brought us together. We challenged ourselves as a team that we weren’t going to put ourselves in that position again. We came closer together and started challenging ourselves, and the coaches challenged us as well. We just got it done. The Florida game was the turning point. We knew it would be tough to beat the Gators in their house but we had faith in each other. Coach said we were going to win that game before it happened and we did.

On if the game is a high-scoring shootout:

I’ve thought about that. If we get into a shootout then we have to keep scoring. If one team slips then the other team will go ahead. Hopefully it won’t be that. I think we’re going to step up and do a great job. It’s a great matchup. Both teams score a lot of points. I think it’s evenly matched.


On how to stop the Oklahoma State running game:

I think it starts up front with the offensive line. They’re big and physical and athletic and that’s a dangerous combination, and they have the running backs to complement them. Their running backs run real well off their blocks. Any of them can bust it at any time. It’s a big challenge for us, but it’s one we’re ready to step up and handle. We just have to prepare and be sound.

On how they will put pressure on the quarterback:

Right now we’re more concerned about stopping their running game. We feel we have to stop their running game first and get them into passing situations. Once we do that we’ll try to get their quarterback the best way we can. I don’t know if we will stunt or blitz, but whatever we call we’ll bust our hump to get there.

On how the team improved from 2-2 in September to 9-3:

I’m not surprised we’re here at all, despite the start. Our guys stepped up to the challenge and played big. Coach called us out and we definitely stepped up and started playing the way we knew we were capable of playing.

On finishing your career in the SBC Cotton Bowl:

This is the way you want to finish your career, playing in a New Year’s Day game. This is what you play for. This is the elite of college football. We just want to go out with a bang with a 10-win season. The seniors have talked about doing this, and this is what we really want.


On playing in a high-scoring game from the defensive standpoint:

You just have to get back grounded and get your feet under you. That’s what it was when we played Texas Tech. We almost felt helpless. Whenever that happens, we have to go back to the sidelines after a score and get situated and not freak out. It kind of worries me, because we’ve seen all of the offenses in the bowl games and they’ve been pretty potent. This is going to be a tough test.

On if they will focus on stopping one part of Oklahoma State’s offense:

Our goal is always to stop the run first. Hopefully our offense will get ahead and force them into passing situations. If that happens then we will try to blitz.

On how the team improved from 2-2 in September to 9-3:

It’s a great feeling to get here after that start. We really had our backs against the wall and we stood up to the challenge. We kept on fighting back and got to where we are today.

On the possibility of winning 10 games:

Ten wins in one season is something we haven’t done here in a long time. That would be a great milestone for our program.

On if the Rebels program has turned the corner:

I think our program has turned the corner. I’ve always been an Ole Miss fan. We’re slowing climbing but we had plateaued and were winning six or seven games a year. This year we broke through and were close to being in the SEC championship game. I think we’ve definitely hit a high note this year.

On Oklahoma State:

They’re kind of like an SEC team. They run the ball a lot, in contrast to Texas Tech who passed it so much. I think we match up pretty well with them. It should be a great ballgame.


On the importance of the punting game:

They’ve got the number two punt returner in the country (in Darrent Williams), so it’s going to be a tough task to contain him. We’ve got to keep doing what we’ve done all year, which has been effective.

On how he will kick to Oklahoma State:

I prepare like I do every week. He’s a great return man. I won’t kick as much away from him as I will kick directionally to help our coverage team.

On how the team improved from 2-2 in September to 9-3:

This team kind of gelled off that start. There was something special about this team. After that Texas Tech loss, we had a kind of different attitude when we got on a roll.


On Oklahoma State’s defense:

Their defense is like our defense. We have experience running against them. We’ve faced every defense there is to face. We’re going to try to change the speed they are used to seeing. The SEC is faster than what they’re used to, so we want to hit them quick and see how they reach to that.

On how the seniors have moved the program to a new level:

The seniors have shown great leadership this season and made this program better. We’ve won more SEC games and made it to a major bowl. We’ve been leaders for the young guys. We’ve started something and it’s up to them to continue it.