December 2, 2005
THE MODERATOR: This time, we'll turn to Western Division champion, LSU head coach Les Miles. If you would just open it up with some comments about how your team is getting into this game and preparations for the game.
COACH LES MILES: Well, the start of the season was certainly unusual. This football team has overcome changes in schedule, short weeks, storms, a significant real-life drama that surrounded our campus and state, and has come through and found ways to achieve. I think the character and the style of player that we have at LSU on this football team is very special. I think that that's the reason that they're in the title game today.
Q. Coach, could you just talk about your personal experience in championship games and what's going through your mind and your players' mind the day before playing for the championship.
COACH LES MILES: When you approach a championship game, you look back on all the work and effort that you've had to put forth to put yourself in this position. You look at the season, and you say how we have, as a team, overcome certain burdens and obstacles and other teams and injury and short weeks, and to be standing at top of the West with the opportunity to win the title, recognizing that this, arguably, certainly not definably the finest football conference in America. It's a day and a game that culminates a lot of your efforts and your abilities. I think all you want to do is play awfully well.
Q. Coach, how much hope are you guys holding out that something might happen in one of those first two games Saturday? Will it deflate your team if they know both USC and Texas win?
COACH LES MILES: There's a guy after my own heart right there (laughing). Couldn't even come up with the other club. We really are focused on the task at hand. Georgia is a very quality football team. No, I think that the SEC title and the opportunity at that championship is a tremendous feat, and something that would mark this team as very special. I don't think an early score that kept us out of the title game that would affect us one way or the other. On the unusual on-set that a score could affect us positively, certainly that would be something that our guys would enjoy. But first and foremost, it's Georgia.
Q. Coach, can you comment on Buster Davis' season, the clutch catches he's made for you and that kind of thing, and whether he's been overlooked. Has he been your most consistent guy?
COACH LES MILES: Buster has certainly been a key guy to our success and really in most of our big games he's made key catches at times that we needed the veteran receiver and a very talented guy like himself to do. Buster is a key to our -- maybe the most experienced, plays all the positions, extremely fast, has natural ability to catch the football and may be, again, the more knowledgeable wide receiver that we have.
Q. After going through this, this is your first time, would you like to see there be an extra week of preparation before the SEC championship game?
COACH LES MILES: This particular year certainly is a tax on our team, the fact that this is our eleventh week in a row. Right now I am so excited and so ready to play in this game that I wouldn't want to wait another week to play it.
Q. Given there's no chapter on natural disasters in the coaching manual, how did you prepare yourself to get through this period that you guys had to go through, and what were some of the key things that you did to as you look back to keep this team on the right track?
COACH LES MILES: Well, I don't know that I made any unusual move to help this football team. The only thing that I know, what we've always tried to do in coaching, is try to eliminate distractions. This was not something that we could do that with. We had to talk about it and describe what had gone on, how it's affected our team, what our team can do. It became a regular agenda in our meetings. It's not something you could go by. Our players had relatives staying with them. They were not sleeping at night, they didn't have a bed. 10, 12 relatives in your dorm room, even in the short term created a lot of difficulty for our players. The only thing that I ever do, my greatest resource, would be the Bible. I didn't necessarily know exactly where to go for that (smiling). But I could only tell you that I felt like our guys understood and had to maintain a balance. I think that they had to go to school. They certainly had requirements from the community and their families, people that were a little bit more disadvantaged than them because of Katrina. We're fortunate not to lose any immediate family members. Yet when they walked across the white lines, they put that all in the background and they pursued excellence in football. To me, that in a day, and that in a season, maybe is this team's strength - the ability to focus on the task at hand, whether it's the second half at Alabama or a practice in a two-a-day where a storm has just ravaged our state. I just think that this team has an unusual balance. I think our staff is a group of compassionate men and understand that there are times where you just couldn't point them to the field, you had to address other issues. I think that that happened, and I think this team is resilient. They wanted to show their strength. They enjoyed taking on the responsibility to their state.
Q. You had the one extra day to prepare, to have some rest after ten straight weeks. Now that you've gone through that week, how important or beneficial do you think it was?
COACH LES MILES: I really think it was key. I think it allowed us to practice more fully on Monday and get our preparation well underway early in the week and allowed us to taper later in the week. I certainly enjoyed that extra day.
Q. Both defenses are ranked nationally very high. When you look at the two defenses, talk about the similarities. Can you talk about your front four's ability all season long to get a lot of pressure, therefore, the need to blitz has been less for you.
COACH LES MILES: I think our front four is a very athletic, big, strong physical group. Very difficult to move the football against. I'm talking about our defensive tackles and ends. I think there are similarities between Georgia's defense, their front seven, line backers, down men, are very capable. They're a rugged group. I think they have two very talented safeties and corners that can play. I see no weakness in that defense that we'll line up against. In a similar fashion, I see that we have like strengths. This will be a great matchup.
Q. You get asked a lot about the hurricane, singular. But do people underestimate the effect that Rita had, because you were just getting to a point where guys thought maybe normal was around the corner and here comes a smaller but stronger storm, there's more uncertainty. You know what you just went through, you had the schedule change with Tennessee. Was that second one just as disruptive in its own way as the first?
COACH LES MILES: The first one was as long-term a disruption and as constant a concern, but when Rita hit and changed the game against Tennessee from a Saturday night to a Monday night and really forced us for a great majority of that time inside, there was certainly another change that our guys had to overcome. It appeared that we had that done in the first half against Tennessee, but Tennessee mounted the return. Rita certainly at that time, the fact that we had no normal week, added to the unusual schedule.
Q. Do you think having to go to Arizona might have actually helped the team come together just in a sense of getting away from all that chaos and stuff? Just getting totally away from it...
COACH LES MILES: I think the away experience in a quality stadium, quality opponent, and the victory certainly helped this team come together. I think that could have been accomplished at home. I understand certainly the reasons why we didn't play that game at home, and I am for and understand and agree with the reasons why we didn't play that game at home. But to say that that would not have happened if we would have played North Texas and then Arizona State and then played them at home, I think the same thing would have happened. This football team would be improved and ready for the third game.
Q. With an athletic quarterback like D.J. Shockley, I know you guys like to blitz a lot, how do you prepare for a guy like that? Do you come all out? Is it something you have to taper a little bit? How do you look at that matchup?
COACH LES MILES: Well, he certainly adds another dimension to their offense. One, you have to tackle. If you bring extra guys, you're going to have him in a position where you ought to get there. And once you get there, you better tackle him. And when we do come, that's going to be key. And when we're rushing the passer and keeping him in the pocket, we're going to have to make sure our pass rush lanes are squared away and there should be an eye to the quarterback at all times. So he definitely is a great weapon for Georgia.
Q. Do you talk to Nick Saban? Have you talked to him recently? Is that a regular thing during the year? Also, was there a time during the off-season or this football season where this team kind of ceased being Nick Saban's football team and became Les Miles' team?
COACH LES MILES: I have talked to Coach Saban twice during this season, and I can tell you that I think it's a responsibility that I have to be the best coach I can be for this football team. But Coach Saban recruited a lot of these guys. I certainly believe that he understands and enjoys the success that this class is having. As I stood out there and welcomed them there on Senior Day to the middle of the field and saw a great group of young men, I certainly enjoyed the responsibility that I had as the head coach, but I also recognized, for Coach Saban, that he would have enjoyed being there just as well. Certainly, wherever he's at, he enjoys the success that these men are having. I would only hope that they will enjoy both coaches.
Q. You talked about the similarities between these two teams, especially defensively. A lot of times people look to special teams to make a difference in this game. Obviously both teams are capable in that regard. Could you talk about Georgia's return game and obviously your own.
COACH LES MILES: The Georgia return game obviously Flowers in the punt return is a very dangerous weapon for Georgia. Spent a lot of time in game plan with how we would attack him in that position. I think that both their return man and our return man, Skyler Green, can have great impact on this game. So if we win that phase, it will certainly help us in victory.
Q. Coach, in the Big 12, was the Bowl situation, where you might go, where you could go, the scenarios, was it as unpredictable as it seems to be in the SEC each year?
COACH LES MILES: I have not really given a lot of thought to the Bowl scenario, to be honest with you. I am more concerned about this game that we're playing against Georgia. Hopefully, we'll take care of our own Bowl scenario. I think Bowl season is an unpredictable time, period. It just seems that there's always somebody getting into a Bowl game, that the people, their supporters, general fans, didn't expect. So I have not given a lot of thought to it at this point.
Q. If there weren't a championship game, Texas would be a Big 12 champion, Virginia Tech would be ACC champion. Are these games always necessarily a good thing?
COACH LES MILES: I certainly enjoy the opportunity to play and participate in this game. This is a championship game. It's an opportunity for a football team to achieve. It's a definable championship. I think that that is the positive end of championship games. Certainly, we can't hardly wait to participate. There's other trains of thought. That if, in fact, you are the champion now and you don't have to play in a championship game, it's better for your football team in the overall scheme of things. There's another train of thought, that if in fact you're behind in what would be a national ranking position, that if you play in a national championship game, you have the opportunity -- excuse me, you play in a conference championship game, you have the opportunity then to improve your rankings. It just depends on the year and the year that you're in. I would like to see all major conferences have to play a championship game. That would be, in my opinion, fair. But until that happens, I like the position that we're in.
Q. You took over a team, obviously, that this kind of expectation to be here was. Is this almost relief for you more than celebrating what you've accomplished here, that you managed to go in and live up to those expectations?
COACH LES MILES: Relief (laughing)... I don't know. Understand something, we're preparing to play in a great game. Relief will come some time after that. We've enjoyed the season. We have a really fine football team. If you're a football coach, you enjoy your time. I've never felt like there was a moment where I needed relief. I enjoy great expectations. I certainly know our football team likes to plan to play to exceed expectations. So, no, relief may not be exactly the term.
Q. What was it that you learned about JaMarcus in September in particular, what he went through on and off the field, and how have you seen him evolve from there to now?
COACH LES MILES: JaMarcus has always been a very, very bright quarterback, a guy that could see the field, very athletic. The opportunity for him to make quality decisions on the field with the ball in his hand, he's done that regularly. He's also tried to make a play at times that you wish he'd throw away and not take contact or not take a sack or do the right things with the ball. I think as the season has progressed that he's done that, that he looks for the opportunity to make the play. And if the play's not there, he understands the opportunity to throw it away and what that means to his offense, that then gets to rehuddle and get another opportunity without making a bad play worse.
Q. Just to follow up with that, Rick mentioned that Georgia has been really good this year in terms of the turnover ratio. Obviously, you guys have gotten better late in the season. Do you see this game hinging on quarterbacks' decisions, turnovers?
COACH LES MILES: In every game that you play, you have to be careful of the ball. It's your opportunity to maintain it, it's a possession. We would like that our defense would give us a couple extra, and our offense would have none. I think at times in play-calling, you have to be smart where you're at on the field and time in the game that you might want to take the pressure off your quarterback. But we've coached that pretty aggressively all season long, and our guys have gotten better at it. We expect them to play well. But the turnover margin will always be a key indicator in a game. If at the end of this game we have less turnovers than our opponent and we have more takeaways, the opportunity for us to win will be increased greatly.
Q. Do you think the fact that you've been in three overtime games this year and played pretty well in two of them, benefits you in a game like this where it could come down to the very end?
COACH LES MILES: Yeah. I think that we've been in a lot of tight ballgames really from the start. I think that our team understands that and plays well from even or behind. I think that that's an advantage for us when we get into a very competitive game.
Q. When you have your walk-through a little bit later, what are the important things that you look for, you want to happen with that? Is that just getting a feel for the environment, or is there more to it?
COACH LES MILES: It's get a feel for the environment, get comfortable in The Dome. The good thing about this football team, they've been here before. Might get your footing, get the feel of your cleats and the traction on The Dome. Might take a few kicks, not many. Just more of comfort, get used to the environment, and maybe go over a couple of things that you might want to hit one more time.
Q. After we leave?
COACH LES MILES: After you guys leave, yeah (smiling).
Q. Conventional wisdom would suggest that when you have two division champions, you should have a close game, but there's only been three of these games that have been decided by a touchdown or less, and seven of them by two touchdowns or more. Why do you think when you get into a championship game, more often than not, somebody ends up blowing the other one out?
COACH LES MILES: I think it happens kind of naturally, for whatever reason. In other words, one team's better than the other team. One team handles the pressure of a championship contest better than the other. It's an unusual statistic. You'd think that it would be a very close game.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach. Appreciate it very much.
COACH LES MILES: Thank you.
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