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September 12, 2016

Les Miles

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

LES MILES: Good afternoon, all. The SEC opener this week, a very good Mississippi State team, be carried on ESPN2. Excited about this week. Looking forward to getting in conference.

I felt like Jacksonville State was a very good team. I thought that they were prepared well. That is a fifth-year senior quarterback and an All-American in Eli Jenkins and really had a -- you could really tell he was a talented, talented player.

We started slow, and simply put, we felt like we needed a little pick-me-up, so we put Danny Etling in, and he scored the next 27 points. 27 points in the second quarter, threw for 100, ran for one, threw for a touchdown.

Certainly it seemed like we were moving the football well.

Now, we'll need both guys to play in every game. We're not turning our back in any way on competition in that position. I will not name a starter until I talk to my team, so I won't talk to my team until today after this meeting, and whether I name a starter. But I will communicate most effectively to them.

I kind of enjoyed the fact that we got some guys in the game, including Justin McMillan. I thought he showed that he could step in and play and be a good future for us at quarterback. But we have to have a fast start, and no matter who's taking the snaps, that's got to happen. We haven't scored any first-quarter points. Considering that Leonard was gone, we thought Derrius Guice, 155 yards and a touchdown, Darrel Williams, not only leadership and played him in a bunch of different situations, but added 40 yards, as well. And Nick Brossette in five carries had 40 yards. We expect Leonard to be back and ready to go in this game.

Six players caught passes. Darrel Williams led us with three catches and 27 yards.

The offensive line played better. We'll get Boutte back after he served his one-game suspension and see if we can infuse him into the line some.

Defense made some big plays, but they gave up some big plays. If we eliminated some of the broken coverages, angles to the ball, we could certainly have trimmed the score significantly. But all in all, I thought that they played very well. I thought that they -- when Lewis Neal and Arden Key go to rush a passer, there's some serious heat back there, and Donte Jackson's 40-yard interception return was pretty special.

We're getting a lot of players snaps, and if you watch our defensive line, we're rotating through a number of guys, and it keeps them fresh, in the game, and it allows them to play at a very high level.

Special teams, Tre'Davious White, spectacular 60-yard punt return, considering that 21 yards of it he went back the wrong way. It had to be about an 80-yard run. He was named co-Special Teams Player of the Week in our conference. I think our special teams certainly had a nice outing. Every outing there's a different challenge, but like Josh Growden, he averaged 40.8 yards on four punts, but that was also his net. So if you look up his net punting with no returns, I think you'll find that that puts him in a really good position in terms of being productive for his team.

Cam Gamble did a nice job in kickoffs. I thought he hit them well, put us in good position. Our coverage teams were really down there under the ball. I think we averaged 17 yards start of possession, and I can remember several tackles inside the 10. It was a nice day on teams. I thought our kickoff return was markedly improved.

I enjoyed this team's want to get in Tiger Stadium and look forward to play. There was some enjoyment when they took that field.

Mississippi State is 1-1 overall and a very, very talented team. They've got a dynamic offense. They've got Nick Fitzgerald, a running quarterback and throwing quarterback both, and he's set school records against South Carolina, 195 yards rushing and threw for 178 and two touchdowns. Very talented offense.

Fred Ross, again, very good wide receiver, made big plays for them.

Offensive line is big and strong and physical.

The defense hadn't allowed a point in the first half, held South Carolina to 243 yards last week, 17.5 points and 64 yards rushing per game. They've taken seven sacks in two games, and the senior, AJ Jefferson, is one of the best defensive ends in the conference.

We're looking forward to play. We're looking forward to being better in all three phases. I think we'll look forward to being in Tiger Stadium in a gold game, and really can't wait.


Q. How do you go about practice this week when it comes to splitting up the reps with the quarterbacks?
LES MILES: Again, I'm going to -- those kind of things I'm going to kind of address with my team first if you don't mind. I haven't had the opportunity to see them, so when I do, I'll be more forthcoming to those questions.

Q. Josh Boutte, does he go back in the lineup, or do you leave Maea out there?
LES MILES: Well, Maea played well. I think you move him around, but you integrate him into that line pretty quickly.

Q. Danny got on the field similar to the way Brandon did a couple of years ago against New Mexico State, then Brandon struggled a week later against Auburn. Did you learn anything from that provided Danny plays this week against Mississippi State and how you prevent against a similar letdown?
LES MILES: Well, Danny has had really great weeks of preparation to be honest with you. I think as he's approached game week, I think he's performed extremely well, so he was deserving of the opportunity. Again, we'll need both guys, and we'll expect that both guys will be ready to play.

Q. Considering his first time playing when the bullets were flying, how did Danny Etling handle the checks at the line, including the blocking checks and stuff like that, and how much help did he get from the coaching staff and offensive line during that process with the checks?
LES MILES: Yeah, I don't know that he got any help at all. I think he's the kind of guy that really prepares. He was in the building on Sunday on his own watching film, and he was -- so I don't -- certainly the coaching staff helps every guy that goes on the field in a check situation, but I don't know that any specific help was given to Danny.

Q. Would you like for your team to know who the starting quarterback is? Maybe we don't know, but would you like for your team to know who the starting quarterback is before Saturday?
LES MILES: And again, I'll address that to my team and visit with them, and then at that point I'll be a little bit more forthcoming.

Q. Does a game like Saturday, allowing Brandon Harris to kind of take a step back and take a 30,000-foot view of everything, does that help him a little bit more, being able to see someone else out there?
LES MILES: We would like to think that a respite from the starting quarterback and the pressures thereof might allow him to take a deep breath and step forward and compete. We saw it as a positive.

Q. What did you think from week one to week two with the offensive line in terms of what improvements you want to see and then how they played on Saturday?
LES MILES: Yeah, I think the offensive line played better. I think they will play better again with whether it's a rotation or a spot for Josh Boutte. I think the fivesome will play well. I think there's a -- I think there's six or seven guys here that can really play, and we look forward to them mixing and matching.

Q. With the way Derrius ran Saturday and considering Leonard is coming off the injury, are you kind of cognizant to get Derrius more care, look at Fournette and kind of monitor his carry attempts?
LES MILES: Yeah, we're going to be very cognizant of how Leonard feels and what's going on with his health. But we're fortunate to have -- we used a kind of running back by committee with Leonard missing, and I think it kept Derrius fresh and Darrel fresh and got some other guys in. But yeah, I think we're fortunate to have real quality backs to turn to when you have a guy like Leonard Fournette out of the lineup. We are looking forward, though, to seeing him return.

Q. Did you notice if there was a noticeable change in the stands when Etling came in, a lot more enthusiasm, a lot more excitement from the crowd? Did you sense that from your team, as well, on the sideline?
LES MILES: Yeah, I don't know more or less on the sideline. The only thing I can tell you is that Danny has a nice rapport with his teammates, and I think he's an asserting guy. I think he wants to make plays for them. I think everybody rooted for him as he took the field.

Q. And then on defense, the big plays you guys gave up, how much of that is maybe not being 100 percent certain on assignments and things like that?
LES MILES: Yeah, I want you to know, we think we can be a lot better in just simple awareness there. These were not big gaffes. These were poor steps. As an example, we had a defensive back go to catch a ball that was caught by the offensive receiver when he was the person due to make the tackle. In other words, he was taking an interception from behind the offensive receiver, and then the offensive receiver just caught the ball and went on.

So his vision keys were just terrible, and so we're going to fix that.

Q. I wasn't at the postgame press conference, so if you've addressed this before, please excuse me. What I'd like to know is when you changed quarterbacks, did you and Coach Cam discuss it? Was it kind of predetermined, or was it a spur-of-the-moment thing, the decision to replace Harris?
LES MILES: Yeah, there was never a schedule to do this. It was not planned after this many reps, et cetera. We told Brandon, go on out and have fun, don't look back, drive and win, and don't worry about it. But we were in position to make a change should we feel like he was not starting fast.

Q. With Leonard this week, do you anticipate a full week of practice from him, or do you get him healthy for Saturday? Is he going to get reps during the week?
LES MILES: Yeah, I think he'll practice, if not every day, certainly four of those days or three of those days.

Q. You talked about Danny being a serving guy. What kind of teammate was he last year? What did you see from him when he couldn't play for you guys, and what are his strengths and weaknesses?
LES MILES: Well, he was a scout team favorite. He was a guy that would run down there and make all kind of plays and be the quarterback for the opponent, and the defensive personnel all came back and said, that guy can play, and he has fun and he enjoys the game. I think those are some of the advantages he has. I think he has a very strong arm, very bright guy, kind of knows where he's going with the ball. Has some energy to him, as well.

Q. After looking at the film, what was your take on the Etling interception? He didn't throw it into double coverage, right? It was a one-on-one matchup?
LES MILES: Yeah, well, you kind of count on your guys to maintain a leverage. I think if he puts that ball out there a little bit further to his right, I think that that is an easy reception and something that he'll be able to do very comfortably. But then you have to -- when you put a ball up in the air and it's a 50/50 ball, a ball that you or the opponent could get, then one thing you have to do is play defense. If that ball is not coming to you, you are stripping, and that ball is coming out. That was something that we would have planned on doing.

Q. Just a quick follow-up, were you unhappy with the overall effort? Maybe after the game it seemed you were a tad upset with the way you guys played.
LES MILES: No, I've got to be honest with you, I liked how we played. I liked the enthusiasm with which the team played. I was probably -- I get a -- when we have a turnover, however many, and/or penalties, however many, those things kind of stick in my craw until after today's meeting.

Q. We asked you after the game about Malachi and his struggles the last two games. Have you been able to watch some tape, and do you understand at all why he's not coming down with some of these passes?
LES MILES: Well, I can tell you this: He's as talented as there is, and he's a guy that's a good person. He's going to care. But I've had some really good receivers, I mean, guys that have played in the NFL, and I probably should not use their name, but who had some troubles, and what they do is they go back to the basics. They fix it. They tie their mind to their hands, and they go make plays.

It's as fundamental as something I'm going to do today. I'm going to put myself in this position today. We'll certainly encourage him along those lines.

Q. Take us through last summer getting Danny here and how that happened.
LES MILES: Well, first of all, I think he's from Cam's hometown if I'm not mistaken. I think in his mind, he felt like he'd done what he needed -- what he could have done at the school he was at and decided that he'd like to take a transfer if he could. Came down, saw the place and liked it, and again, I think the Camerons have been certainly an acquaintance of theirs, so I think it became a nice choice.

Q. A couple questions about Tre White. First, could you walk us through your thought process as you saw him weaving backwards about 21 yards?
LES MILES: It was, no, no, no, and then it went, go, go. I swear, that's exactly what happened. I was just madder than hell initially. I said, what are you doing? What are you doing? Go, go. And then he knew where the corner was. That's the key.

Q. He's got two touchdowns now in two games. Do you feel he can make the kind of impact on this team that Tyrann did in 2011 as far as unexpected big plays?
LES MILES: I think there's a number of guys that can play like that for us. I think if you watch the field, you saw some real speed, and you saw them in a bunch of different places. What we have to do is make sure that our playmakers are in position to make some of those plays, on defense, on special teams, and certainly on offense.

Q. A couple of years ago, Mississippi State came to Baton Rouge and got a win for the first time in a long time. You've got a lot of seniors on this team so a lot of guys that remember that game. Is that something you bring it up to them and do you care if they bring it up to each other in terms of a revenge game?
LES MILES: I think a history of a series certainly is relevant, and I think our football team -- I think they enjoy winning. I think that there's a stark contrast from week one to week two, and I think the opportunity to play well at home is something that they're going to want to do again.

Q. What more can you say about Arden Key that you haven't already said? How much has he lived up to your expectations of him so far?
LES MILES: Well, he's a blur to block. He gives you edge pressure immediately, and he'll have the penchant for making big plays. If he keeps working hard and does the right things, he'll have a great year.

Q. Is there a part of you that regrets not giving Etling a chance in the Wisconsin game?
LES MILES: I have to be real honest with you, I don't think we were in the same position. I don't think the team was, and I don't think Danny was. I think that really his -- he really came into -- in the last two weeks, 10 days, into a much higher -- executing at a much higher rate and just understanding more. He's continued to improve.

Q. What is the challenge now with Danny? People didn't see anything of him before, now they've got a limited amount of him. I know you want to keep the competition at practice and kind of that vibe going, so as a coach trying to get that guy ready for a season and keep his team together, what's the challenge?
LES MILES: I don't -- I think basically exposing him to the things that we need to have him do and allow him to show us that he can continue to do what he's done. And then in the same vein make sure that Brandon Harris gets that opportunity -- because we're going to need both the guys, but make sure he gets that opportunity to compete and see how he's coming, and let's not turn a blind eye to a very talented quarterback on our team already.

Q. You've said repeatedly we haven't got Brandon comfortable, we haven't gotten Brandon comfortable. As you look back, were there things you could have done differently in that regard as far as his play?
LES MILES: What we did is we rehearsed. We script our openers. We rehearse them in a walk-through. We then meet and we go over the openers in a real formal sense, quarterback, signalers, what's your read, what's your thought process. I would have predicted that he would have started very fast. I'd have predicted that. I would have said that he's going to come out of the gate fast.

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