LSU head football coach Les Miles met with the media on Tuesday to discuss the Tigers' upcoming matchup with Vanderbilt.
"First of all, I’d like to comment on the reunions taking place on this campus. We’re absolutely thrilled to be hosting teams, certainly football teams of past eras and we look forward to seeing those Charlie McClendon teams on this campus. It’s always a great time to relive your college years and reacquaint yourself with teammates, and it’s always been a great time for those that participate.
"I'm glad to be home. I’m glad to be playing Vanderbilt in Tiger Stadium. I think it’s a very fine Vanderbilt team. It’s just nice not to have to leave on Thursday and not to have to come back Sunday. It’s a very comfortable schedule. In our travels to Washington, I can’t tell you how many Washington people came up to me to tell me how many Baton Rouge and Louisiana natives they’ve run into in Washington. They said, ‘You guys are really excited about playing football, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘If there are 25,000 there or 10,000, they’ll make enough noise to be represented.’ We were pleased to see the many faithful Louisiana State supporters at that game.
"I can tell you that Washington is a very good football team and is much improved. We saw them at their best, in my opinion. They were healthiest, and they were least susceptible to depth issues. Injuries are not an issue at this point in the season. I think our football team accomplished the goal. The goal is certainly to win and to overcome the new era of Washington football, the core system team that practiced entirely in the vacuum of their schedule for this LSU team without the need of school and the idea that this LSU team never traveled 2,500 miles and through time zones to play.
"With that being said, it was a job well done, but we didn’t play as well as we would’ve liked. Certainly our football team is understanding that we will play very fine football teams moving forward, and we have to be better. Our football team understands the want to play best. I made that point on Monday when I met with the team, and it came in that group of men that we want to play better. It was a nice way to start the season with a victory. I think we played efficiently.
"I have to say that, offensively, I thought Jordan Jefferson, early in his career, managed an opponent’s stadium crowd noise and really did a good job managing the game. I felt like Terrance Toliver had a big night with several touchdowns, big runs after catches, and 117 yards. The offensive line played well except for some miscues in communications. If we had eliminated four three-and-outs, the offense would have been in the game longer. They only played 48 snaps. It’s hard to get into a real rhythm. I also want you to know that the plan was to get Russell Shepard in the game. That was a want of our staff. But again, in tight quarters, down seven, we wanted to make sure we handled the ball with great efficiency and didn’t make mistakes, and I really didn’t think it was fair to put a true freshman in the game at that point on the road at Washington.
"Defensively, I think early on if we had tackled more crisply, the game is much different. The opportunity to play better is certainly there. I felt that the adjustments that were made at halftime were sound and that our defense played better in the second half. There are five plays in that game that could have been eliminated with tackling and playing the call the way it was supposed to be called. The last drive of 80 yards was the defense playing the situation of the game. There was an opportunity to play over the top. If the ball was caught, it was caught in front of them and not play aggressive so much that you give up big plays. By situation, we played it in front of us. We’d like to play it a little closer. We’d like to have been a little bit harder on that offense to move the football, but again, that was something that our team needed that defense to do, and they performed well there. If you eliminate those five plays and take that 80-yard drive at the end of the game off, that could have been a really nice defensive outing. Certainly, that’s’ where we’re headed. That’s what we need to do. That’s the plan.
"I thought on special teams in the game, Derek Helton, when he hit it, he hit it right. He mishit a couple of punts, and that’s not him; that’s not how he plays. I felt like Josh Jasper came in, hit four PATs and a field goal and was really good in kickoffs. I feel like he started fast. The return yardage was not there the way they kicked off to us, but if you look at when we kicked the ball off and they kicked the ball off, our starting possession was about the 35-yard line. Their starting possession was the 19-yard line, so we gained about 15 yards every time we kicked it off with our opponent. I felt like special teams, with exception, did some really good things. Again, it’s a mark of where we play.
"I felt like Patrick Peterson and Jacob Cutrera made some really good plays on the defensive side. I think Peterson had nine unassisted tackles and really seemed to be in position for most of the game to make plays. Jacob Cutrera, who in his first year starting and first year of a lot of football, tipped the pass and returned it for a touchdown. Certainly, I hope that’s the start of a lot of Saturdays for him like that. The issues for us are to improve. The goal of the team is not just to win. It certainly it is to win but secondly, to improve, and our football team knows that.
"As we line up against Vanderbilt in Tiger Stadium, this is a team that returns 18 starters. They were a bowl team a year ago and won against Boston College in a bowl game. (Head coach) Bobby Johnson is in his eighth year. He does a great job in coaching. That team is well-coached and is always in position to make plays. They beat Western Carolina, 45-0. They put up 620 total offensive yards against Western Carolina with 433 (yards) rushing. Two freshmen, Zac Stacy had 133 yards and Warren Norman had 105. They have a quarterback in Larry Smith that has mobility and can throw it. He passed for 153 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 66 yards.
"Defensively, Vanderbilt returns seven starters. They allowed 115 yards to Western Carolina41 rushing and 74 passing. Western Carolina was 0-for-13 in third-down conversions, and they only had four first downs on the day. They also had four turnovers, so Vanderbilt’s starters executed at a very high level. We look forward to hosting them this Saturday in Tiger Stadium in a game that counts more than the game we just played with the fact that this is an SEC opponent."
On the change in time zones affecting the team’s play... “I think 83 plays were played by the defense, and I don’t think that tired was necessarily the case in my mind. I watched that film, and I didn’t see lack of effort nor did I see closing speed. I saw it. I did not see it at all. I just think with 85 plays, any time you play that long and that consistently, it’s going to wear you (down). I can tell you that we did give thought to that. A very deliberate plan was in place to shift our sleep patterns, and I really felt like our defensive guys did a decent job there. I think they approached it in the right way, but I didn’t see lack of focus or concentration on the back end, and frankly, that was a concern of mine. I wanted to make sure that we started that game at 9:30 our time and we play in the heat of the game in the back end of the game between 11 (p.m.) and 1 (a.m.). That was a concern of mine. It was nice to see a key drive by the offense and the ability of our defense to manage the game on the back half without a mistake. In other words, they give up an early score, and there’s an opportunity at an onside kick, that becomes a much different finish, but the opportunity at managing the game, letting the clock run down, letting them catch the ball in front of them, and in my opinion, that was tactically what we needed to do. I didn’t see either on the offensive or defensive sides any lack of focus based on what I would consider a sleep issue.”
On the conservative play calling... “I don’t think conservative was the issue. There were some calls there that we didn’t get the opportunity to execute based on the communications. Some of it was certainly the stadium that we were in and some of it was the youth at quarterback, but overall, I felt like he (Jefferson) did a really good job, and I didn’t think we were conservative. I felt like we did the things that we needed to do in the back end of the game to win. Early on there were some things we wanted to have happen that didn’t work quite as it was planned.”
On LSU’s unique structure of changing plays at the line of scrimmage... “Any time you go to an opponent’s stadium where it’s loud, you have a difficult time communicating. You feel like the best way to handle that is to use all the time that you can at the line of scrimmage, so rather than have a 40-second clock when once you call the play, you’re in the huddle and it takes six to eight seconds to get to the line of scrimmage, maybe 12 or 15, and suddenly you’re trying to communicate with a time where you said you would get the people in the stadium ready on your mark, get set and make noise because when you come to the line of scrimmage, that’s the time to make noise. But, when you’re at the line of scrimmage for the entire line of scrimmage, it’s just not as consistent an issue. Certainly the quarterback has all the 40-second clock or as much of the 40-second clock as he can to communicate to his team, and it’s quieter because it’s not an on your mark, get set, ready to make noise. I’ve always enjoyed huddle, but there are certain situations that no huddle is best, and certainly that was one.”
On the injury to DL Pep Levingston and the safeties... “I think Pep (Levingston) is nicked. It’s not terribly serious. It’s one that may keep him out of the next game, but I’ll have to let you know on a week-by-week or day-by-day basis because it’s really been good news. It’s not a surgical issue in any way. He’ll need some rest and some rehabilitation, but he’ll be fine. At safety, Brandon Taylor missed a piece of game week based on an illness and came back thereafter. We really enjoyed him. Danny McCray played some there, and Karnell Hatcher came in and made some really nice plays as well. We’re going to look at personnel pretty routinely. I think Brandon Taylor still holds a leg up on the spot, but we liked how Karnell Hatcher played, and at times, we liked how Danny McCray played.
On if fans and the media are expecting too much from Defensive coordinator John Chavis too soon... “Not when you look at (Jake) Locker, their quarterback. Their quarterback comes in as a veteran and understands what it’s like to be in the huddle. You’re not going to rattle him. He’s got great feet and ability to make you miss and get out and make first downs. He’s a very accurate passer. I think he will be a first-round draft pick. It’s the first game out of the shoot, and we probably played one of the best quarterbacks that we’ll play all season long, and we play him in his backyard with a team that has Chris Polk. That tailback is pretty talented and skilled and guys that are young that can catch balls, understand what they’re doing and really in a position to make a Jake Locker as good as he looked. I think we’re all ambitious about how well the defense should be playing and will be playing, but I think it’s fair to say that we’ll play better as we go forward. I’m not too worried about what’s being done. I know it’s all being addressed, and I think it’s time to enjoy the development of the defense.”
On Jordan Jefferson running the option... “I think we’ll always have option in every game plan. I think there is a piece and time when you get into the secondary and your quarterback is not to sustain contact. He (Jefferson) needs to slide and get down, and that’s been instructed and something we’ll seek to do. This guy is a tremendous competitor, and he wants at it. We want to pull him back and let him be more tactical with our quarterback. I know it’s his body, but it’s certainly our quarterback. We would like him to get into those open voids, get what he can and then, get down. I think it’s admirable that he has that kind of courage, but it’s something that we want to control. One of the hits that he took was getting out of the pocket on a run. He scrambled out and just got knifed in there. Again, we want him to go down low and go get the yards he can safely. I think he’ll learn that; it’s something that he needs to learn for us. Whether Russell Shepard is the guy who comes in and takes those snaps or not, we’ll have options. I think Shepard has more of an understanding that those are plays he might be able to run and maybe run a little differently.”
On any parallels from the defensive performance against Arizona State in 2005 to this past game... “Each season certainly is different, and each team that you coach—offense, defense and special teams—has different personalities. The people that wear the helmets are specifically different and have different characteristics. I look forward to this team. I think this team is a group of really good, young men. I think they care and want to get better. I like John Chavis and what the defensive staff brings. I think our team—offense, defense and special teams—will improve as we go forward. There are some similarities with that Arizona State game that was supposedly a home game to a cross-country, four-day stay in Washington.”
On WR Terrance Toliver... “We knew that Terrance has that ability and had that ability. We wanted to see more. He will be a part of every game plan as will Jo Jo (LaFell) and a number of guys. The opportunity to throw for us is certainly something that we look forward to. We think Jordan Jefferson is getting better, so yes, all those guys will be a part and certainly Toliver as well.”
On Richard Murphy’s character off the field... “Richard Murphy is one of those guys who are really invested in this team without a mother or father. There’s more of a family feel to Richard Murphy in his attachment to this team. He has great, lifetime friends, and I like him. He has a great spirit and great core values that make him fun to be around. The three players of the game, one of which was Terrance Toliver on offense, Patrick Peterson on defense and on special teams, two big time plays on our kick off team were by Richard Murphy. The question was right on point.”
On Washington’s high third-down conversion percentage... “If you look to some of those receptions, there were some spectacular catches. I think our guys were at times pretty much in coverage, but yes, I think there were some advantages for them with Locker, sometimes with his feet, sometimes with a great throw, and there were still guys with some great catches. I think we can be better. Again, there’s some awareness with the call and how it can be played technically, and that’s going to take some time.”
On if using TE Richard Dickson as an H-back will hurt his chance to be effective in the passing game... “We don’t really think so. We really think that the opportunity to get him out on routes from that position will be just as effective for him and allow him a release that does not tie him to a tackle or line-of-scrimmage spot. The fact that they can hem him in pretty good on the line-of-scrimmage alignment, whereas if we get him off, it might allow him a more elusive release.”
On if Jordan Jefferson’s scrambling had to do with defensive counters or the offensive line still getting acclimated... “At least one time, there was a faux pas and mistake made, not necessarily made by an offensive lineman or a back. The direction of the protection was called the wrong way. When a quarterback makes that mistake, he knows to get out of the pocket very quickly because that guy is not blocked. I think our protection certainly can be better, but I thought for the most part it was really good.”
On attacking Washington on that final offensive drive... “The opportunity to finish the game was what we wanted to do. There was never a point in time when we were going to sit on it. We got there and talked about driving it in there a little slower to eat the clock up, but the opportunity to get seven (points) certainly meant the game was out of hand, and that’s what we wanted to do.”
On the defensive line getting worn down and the offensive line on running plays... “I’m probably more concerned about consistent pass rush, but after 83 plays on the field, the defensive front can be worn down, and there’s also a point in time when you say to their very elusive quarterback, ‘Stay in the pocket. We don’t need you to beat us with your legs.’ I think there was an issue there certainly with the number of snaps and the amount of scrambles that their quarterback was capable of. We would certainly have liked the opportunity to run the football a little bit more aggressively. I think there is a point in time where the defense moves up, and you have to throw it. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how many runs you run, you’re not going to meet air. I think that’s more or less the issue. To me, it also speaks to the last drive. On the last drive, we knew exactly what we wanted to do, and we went right down the field. I think the issue becomes that we need to get to that drive earlier in the game. If we get to that drive earlier in the game, I think you come back with a much different impression of how the offensive line played. To answer the question more fully, that would get some of the folks stuck in the box out of the box and would allow us to have some of those runs that we’d like to have with Charles Scott.”
On Washington having LSU out of position on lots of running plays... “Early on, the runs that their tailbacks were getting were after they were getting run into our guys. To me, it appeared that had we tackled more crisply early on, the first half could have gone by much more effectively and much more like the way we had planned. I think early on it was missed tackles. The number of missed tackles early in the game was much different than the back half. We hit it and brought it down much more efficiently in the second half. It's attention to detail, being in position and the technique of tackling—wrap up, use your hands, drive through and the things that have to take place technically.”
On if he was surprised by how well Jacob Cutrera played... “He’s so veteran. There’s so much football that he’s played over time that has just allowed him to understand what he needs to do. It was no surprise to me that Jacob Cutrera would play like he did.”