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September 5, 2006

Mike Shula

COACH SHULA: We are back at home which is nice. We got Vanderbilt coming in, our home opener, SEC opener. Of their team is a we coached team for sure. Coach Johnson does a great job. They have got -- we've got some similarities, we both have young quarterbacks. They -- replacing guys that have been very, very productive at that position. Offensively, I think they are still doing the same thing, pretty much they did last year. I think their quarterback Chris Nixon, he probably runs it a little bit more than Cutler last year.
And when he ran it and moved around, he ran it on quarterback draws and on options, things like that last week against Michigan. That's probably where they made most of their yards.
Defensively, they are a little bit different than last week's team and not as much -- going into the game they not as much blitz as what we saw last week from Hawaii going into that game. They kind -- they are always going to be in the right. They are not going to give up many big plays, they are disciplined, so we're going to have really do a good job of being disciplined ourselves and not getting greedy and not trying to --- they are waiting for us to make mistakes, so hopefully we'll play consistent and move the ball, make first downs and find a way to get the ball in the end zone.

Q. Just talk about did you recruit [] Chris Nixon, what are your memories?
COACH SHULA: Well, we watched him throw a bunch of passes to Nick Walker and what a productive football team that has been over the years since we have been here. We liked him. We liked some other guys as well. I think he was the same class as John Parker; is that right? And obviously we got the commitment John Parker Wilson. That was the only one we were going to sign. He was -- as we all know and remember he was Mr. Football in the state and happy for him to see him doing well. I know the coaches really like him up there. I hope he doesn't do too well this weekend.

Q. When you look back at the games here with Hawaii what gave you all problems running the ball and how did you --defensive going to stack the ball against a young quarterback like John Parker?
COACH SHULA: We weren't quite as sharp overall, but I think we're going to be able to run the football. I think Ken [] Darby is going to do a great job. We didn't do as well as we could have last week. We played defense as just about every week that have stacked the box. And last week we probably got caught by surprise a couple of times when they didn't and we were throwing the ball. They were in deep in their cover too, but we're not quite getting all that stack the box that -- what you might think. We just got to execute a little bit better, finish, there's a couple, different looks. But hopefully we'll get back on track and have that good balance which when we're moving the ball well in the running game and the passing game, we usually have good balance. Statistics are, in my opinion, are a little bit misleading when you throw the ball and have success and a drive throwing it, you know, 60 yards out of an 80-yard drive then all of a sudden your runs are going to be -- but we got to do better job -- if you are talking about last week's game at the end of the game we had a chance to make first downs and keep the ball away and we didn't do well enough and that is where we have got to do a better job; not just in the running game but also in the passing game.

Q. (Inaudible) productive as he was in the first half. When he plays like that, what does he do well and then what is he trying to work on?
COACH SHULA: This is his first --really his second year in playing the position. Last year he was -- everything was new to him. I think as we have all seen him throughout the course of the last year he got better toward the end of the season running with it. He got better in spring practice in watching the spring game. He has gotten better in fall training camp and he plays that way. He just needs to, I think, keep getting reps and he's going to get better with experience. The things that he needs to work on is continuing to be disciplined with his footwork and running the holes; not trying to cut back too soon. We keep reminding him that he is a big back; keep running like a big back.

Q. Talk about the change in the rules with the play clock; how guys handled that?
COACH SHULA: The game went by faster. I think for sure the first half went by real fast. You just got to be aware -- I think the officials did a nice job. That was probably one of the better crews we had. They did a really nice job communicating all that stuff, letting us know, reminding us know that the clock is going to be starting. Obviously, the most important thing is right before the end of the half, and also right before the end of the game to understand the rules there. Things change at the end of the game, if you have got the ball and you are trying to figure out how much time, what it's going to take to run the clock out, all those numbers change from years past and the same thing if you are behind you need to stop the clock and when to use your timeouts, all that kind of stuff. So that, plus the, you know, you want to do a good job of saving timeouts, so you can have them for the end of the game in that situation plus for the ability to challenge.

Q. When you are preparing for a quarterback like Nixon who hasn't seen a lot of playing time, how much more difficult does that make your job more because you recruited him so much, you kind of know the style quarterback he is...
COACH SHULA: We have seen him --obviously we're going to go a lot on this past week but we know that he is a quarterback that can do both. He's been very productive in high school. Now he has had some time to sit and watch a very good quarterback and now it's his turn, so -- and he's going to, as we all know, guys, when they first start, they are going to improve usually dramatically from the next week and after they played for the first time. So we got to make sure we contain him. He can beat you throwing the football. He's got a good arm, accurate, he can beat you running the football. So we need to do a good job of containing him; not letting him make a bunch of plays on his own and then have to worry about him as well as everybody else that he's throwing to or handling the ball off. I thought he handled himself with poise. Michigan's defense is pretty good. They hit him a few times and he never backed down and he was the same guy in the fourth quarter as he was in the first quarter.

Q. I was hoping you can talk about Keith Brown a little bit. Did he show you levels of toughness this first game maybe than he's shown all of his first two years?
COACH SHULA: Yeah, I would agree with all that. I think that the last two times we have been on the field he's really done a nice be job. I think last week, especially, knock on wood, hopefully that's a sign of things to come where going up and making some toughs catches when the ball wasn't quite exactly thrown where it needs to be thrown, and making some plays. He's tall as we all know. He can jump, an all of a sudden when you are doing that over the -- you know over the middle of the field, that gives you a lot of confidence as a quarterback and as a coach so hopefully we're not going to lead him over the middle too much way up in the air, but I think that if he continues to do that he could have a real good season, really help us.

Q. Talk about that improvement from week one to week two and how with John Parker what did you see on film that you are really going to address during practice this week?
COACH SHULA: I think mainly with John Parker is just the continued -- the fundamentals in practice and how important they are to be consistent in the game, with his footwork. He had -- a couple of his throws were a little bit off, a little bit high and even the ones that he completed, and we know he's an accurate passer -- so sometimes you kind of get in a little bit of a rush when you are first in a scrimmage or first in a game and you throw it before you have got your feet set an you are a little bit off balance, things like that which, in my opinion, are very correctable. Those are the things that we will continue to work on really throughout his career, but especially at this stage in his career. I thought overall mentally, I think he played a very good game which might be the most important thing that's going to the right place with the football and did a nice job in that aspect.

Q. What did you think of the play of Jeffrey Dukes and what did he do to win the starting slot?
COACH SHULA: Well, he's pretty much wanted over the course of really the end of last year in spring practice and training camp, he was guy when he first came in here, that if there was ever a guy -- I said this last year if anybody remembers -- that boy, you could really see him get better every week. When he when he first got here he could run but he really struggled tackling and then he started getting better as a tackler, but he didn't have a great understanding of our defense. Now you start to see him moving around and reacting without thinking. He's experienced and he's very talented so he can cover the field and now that he's tackling better that makes him a better football player and a better defensive team.

Q. The red zone offense, that territory, is that something you are going to focus on this week? And if so, how exactly do you practice that? What do you do to try --
COACH SHULA: You spend -- we've spent a lot of time down there in practice, we did in training camp, and in the spring. We'll continue to do that.
We're not going to -- we need to score touchdowns, but if you just say that to your football team, hey, we need to score more in the red, plus territory. Okay, well how do we do that. Well number one, we get the ball out a little bit faster to Keith Brown so he doesn't -- now all of a sudden that's a touchdown. You know, we protect just a little bit better on another pass to Keith Brown and that's a potential touchdown. We don't drop a pass on a slant rout, you know, those are the things that you attack. I am not criticizing our players but that's how you attack. That's how you talk to them about the difference between scoring and not scoring. We're -- it's an issue, so to speak, but not a big one, it is like protecting the football. We don't just screen, got to protect the football, got to protect the football, but we work on all kinds of things in practice and remind them about certain things, and then they go do it. The guys that do it the best are on the field. So those are the types of things that -- of how -- what our approach is like.

Q. How much of a factor of not putting them away earlier in the game could be attributed to youth or just a matter of execution or something else?
COACH SHULA: We could have executed better. Now is that because we had younger guys in there? I don't know. I think the main thing is just -- the premium -- what we're going to talk to our guys about as we do every week is the premium on every play, how it can affect the next play. Especially down in there. I think the execution just in general, when you talk to your guys, if you -- if you get down inside, you know, there's not as much room for the defensive backs to drop. You have got to be aware of that as a receiver, got to be aware of that as a quarterback. There are a lot of different ways, so those are the things that we'll talk to our guys about.

Q. There appears to be a lot of sand or dirt being kicked up on the field much earlier in the game. Was the field in good condition?
COACH SHULA: Yeah, I think it's fairly similar to the last few years. Go back and watch the last few years it is about the same. Ours isn't the only field. About every field I've been on. They are more sand based now and softer.

Q. Ken Darby looking a he will better off. Does he appear to run the ball the same to you as he had in the past? Anything look different to you?
COACH SHULA: No, I think -- I know he got nicked up a bit with his hip. But you know, he ran hard, you know, did he have his best day? No. But at a couple of runs, like I said after the game, that were held back for holding calls that were going to be real good runs, and know, we had a couple of drives where John Parker was hitting some big passes. You hit a big pass you are not running the football. The one thing that he did, he probably played more so that anybody else on our offense as unselfishly as anybody did because we knew going into the game that our backs were going to have to protect because when they blitzed, linebackers and safeties, you need someone to pick them up. And he, Le'Ron and Tim Castille did a nice job to allow John Parker to get the ball off to Keith Brown and some of these other guys. That goes unnoticed, but if you don't have that, you don't have some of the plays we had in the passing game. Never said a word about that. I did a bad job of not giving him enough credit to you all.

Q. Can you talk about Langford and Bennett?
COACH SHULA: They are both good players. Bennett is going to be one of their go-to guys for sure. He's a productive football player. And Langford is a guy that is one of their keys to their secondary and to their defense, really. He's a guy that's a big guy that they like to play down in run support. And is going to be, you know, going to get better and better. He's been a pretty productive player.

Q. How involved were you with either of those guys coming out of high school?
COACH SHULA: Not really. I know we knew of them, but we had other guys that we had had commitments from but we liked them both for sure.

Q. To follow-up on a question on Keith Brown, I wondered, what do you feel like happened with him? Is this a case of a player maybe seeing that it was his time to step up and prove he can be a dependable every game player? How have you seen him develop?
COACH SHULA: I think number one, it is one game. But it was good to see from one game. If you go back from last year, it's two games, but I think more so that anything else maybe his maturity. He's older now. He's wiser it seems to be. Really from day one of training camp he's really worked hard since he's been right at the start of training camp. So he has got talent. So he's starting to understand more so now that he did before, how to use that talent and he's just got a good look in his eye.

Q. Now that the renovation has been completed, wondering, looking at it from this angle how big of a difference is this going to make; not just the stadium but with all the facilities?
COACH SHULA: I think it is going to make a big difference. I think that especially to the obviously the recruits, but I think even the parents, when you show them the academic center and when show them this facility. The message when a recruit and his parents come up and they see the message -- to me, it's a message is what is being sent, that people want -- the people that are supporting our university want the best for our kids and that's hard to beat that message. You see what they -- stadium-wise as you all saw the other day, anybody who watched, anybody that saw -- was there when we got off the bus, that was pretty unique. So this facility, everything, is just trying to do whatever we can within the rules to give these guys the best experience, give them the best opportunity to be a champions. I think that message is definitely going to help in recruiting.

Q. Talk about the availability of DJ Hall and also Jamie Christensen and in regard to Jamie, how much more confidence do you have in Leigh Tiffin than you had this time last week?
COACH SHULA: DJ, like I said, he was hurt last week. He practiced Sunday night, and I think he's going to be all set. We'll see today how he is.
Jamie won't know -- we will know a little bit more today. I know he's still a little bit sore. We'll kind of take the same approach as we did last week, see where he's at. Yeah, we have got more confidence in Leigh just watching the way he went about things, even after he missed that one kick which he should have made, but he kind of bounced back after that, and didn't have any excuses or anything like that. So he's another young man that's pretty mature as a true freshman. I thought Andrew Friedman did a nice job coming in with kickoffs. You guys remember now, they changed the rules with the kickoffs. They lowered the tee now, so it is harder to get that ball higher in the air and further into the end zone. Probably going to see less touchbacks. We need to get Jamie back. He's been a productive player for us, but if not, we have got a couple of guys that have done a nice job that we think we can win with. Thank you all.

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