Ole Miss head football coach Houston Nutt met with the media on Monday to discuss the Rebels' upcoming matchup with Vanderbilt.
Opening Statement It’s good to get into our regular routine. Sundays have always been a time where we can come back, watch the film, put that rest and get right back on the field. That was good feeling – getting back out there yesterday. I thought we had a very good practice. It was good to see the sunshine. We got on Vanderbilt and we are looking forward to getting back out there again tomorrow.
Q: How was the team’s attitude coming back to practice this weekend? It was very good. They had an excellent attitude. As much as that hurt, we had to get the message across that there is nothing we can do about that now. We can learn from it, correct our mistakes and get back out. We have another conference game against a very good football team. So we have to go. Our guys ran around really well and had a good focus yesterday.
Q: Will there be any changes in the offensive line? We are trying to put the best guys on the field, and we feel like we have the best group out there. We just have to get better. If you look at the film really hard and study it, we just (have to) finish a block, take one more step, run through a block, get a few more positive yards, some first downs, and I think they saw that. We’ve got the right guys on the field. With A.J. Hawkins, Brandon Green - those guys right there are still working very hard. They are the next guys. The ones that we have on the field are our guys.
Q: What are some options to help Bradley Sowell? He’s not the only one. It’s not all Brad. I think he is getting a lot of the credit for that. There are some times where we have to get rid of the ball quicker. There are times where we have to run a better route. It’s a combination. You are talking about a first-year guy at left tackle. I don’t want to give him all of the credit on that deal. We can help him by chipping a running back or we can put a tight end to his side a little more. Things like that. We can mix them up a little to help.
Q: Is Dexter McCluster’s role at running back going to expand this week? I’d like to hold that. He’s so valuable. There are just so many different ways (to use him). We want to get him the ball - that is first and foremost. You don’t want to go a half where you don’t get him the ball – that wasn’t our intention. When we got behind the count a little bit, it made it very difficult. He will play all of those positions. We aren’t going to say how many he’s going to be playing where. It just depends on the flow of the game, how we are executing, how we are making first downs and hopefully scoring. He’s a vital part of it.
Q: Have you been surprised at the lack of offensive rhythm? That’s probably been one of the most disappointing things – not being able to really come out and get in that rhythm like we are accustomed to. Keeping the ball, getting first downs and putting points on the board – it has taken us too long to get going. I expect that to change now, I really do. The way practice went yesterday – I had a good feeling about that. We are getting better.
Q: What part does Jevan Snead play in getting into that offensive rhythm? It’s just hitting open receivers. Don’t see ghosts. Don’t expect something to collapse or don’t feel like you have to concentrate on what is below you. We want his eyes downfield like he did last year. Just play the game like he is capable of playing. When he does that, our team moves – we move the football when that happens.
Q: What are the statuses of Gerald Harris and Andy Hartmann? What I hoped to see is that they are going to be back soon. I’m hoping Gerald (Harris) will back this week – we don’t know for sure. Andy (Hartmann) will not be back this week. Those are two vital parts of the puzzle that are missing. When you take out two older, senior guys that are very knowledgeable and tough – you can tell they are missed. Hopefully Gerald will be back this weekend. We won’t really know until we see how he does this week.
Q: Do the quicker running backs help with the inexperience offensive line? I think the quicker backs, the guys that see it a little quicker (help). Dexter gave us a big lift because he got behind John Jerry. They couldn’t find him and he found a crease. He hit it, and that is the same thing with Rodney Scott. We have a lot of confidence in Brandon Bolden. I thought Cordera (Eason) ran very hard. Enrique (Davis) is a very hard runner. We have some hard runners - guys that are very physical, in-between the tackle guys. As tough as South Carolina’s front is, we needed a jump start, some quickness – and that is why we went that route.
Q: Was the team ready to handle all of the “Top-5” attention? We didn’t handle that one good. The thing about the top-5 is that it is really hard to tell a team that is in this position for the first time in over 40 years, to forget this and that. Every single day they see it. That’s hard. It’s hard to put that away and say it is blocking, tackling, executing, throwing to our guys and it’s playing together. That is what’s hard. Deep down inside, I probably knew that, that we weren’t No. 4 or No. 5. But I’m not going to go say we’re not No. 4 or No. 5 when (the media) tells me that we are. That is just the way it is. We have to do a better job. They were uncharted waters and I knew that. I can’t control the media and I can’t control where we are picked. If you notice, there are a lot of teams in the same shoes that we are in. You see it every Saturday and you are going to see it again next Saturday. This is the toughest conference in America. You’ve got to be ready to go. It is the team that plays the best during those three hours. The one that makes the fewest mistakes and takes care of the ball – that is the team that is going to win.
Q: How is Jevan Snead going to find his groove? The best thing that Jevan has is a year under his belt. The things that he’s missing are a staring fullback, a starting tight end and a left tackle that was a first round pick and starting for the Baltimore Ravens – those are all factors. He has to trust his teammates. Trust what we are doing and just play the game that we are trying to lay out in front of him. We are going to have a nice, simple plan and just execute it. He has done it before. He started this way a little bit last year, and he worked himself out of it. That is the bottom line – he worked himself out of it.
Q: Is Jevan Snead’s slow start just going to have to work itself out? We feel like we (know) the things that he can do. When we lay everything out, we rep it and execute it over and over. This guy can handle it. I saw him do it the last six or seven weeks last year. There are some plays this year that he’s made that were very good. But he has to be consistent and stay in the rhythm. I have all the faith in the world in him.
Q: How much are you counting on the seniors for leadership? That stated Sunday. That is why I feel so good about Sunday’s practice. We’ve got 22 good seniors that really want to win. They’ve tasted winning, they understand it and they know how tough winning is. It’s about getting back up. You got knocked down, so you get back up. What’s critical is that you don’t let the bubble burst. People say that we didn’t deserve the No. 4 ranking. They hear all of those things that are negative. My kids didn’t have anything to do with that ranking. That is where you have to just put everything aside and play football. We are going to Nashville and we got off to a great start Sunday. It’s important to have two more good work days. Here we go. It is senior leadership and we have some good guys that are doing that.
Q: How do you get the passing offense to click? That’s what we have to do. We try to mix things us and throw on first down. We self-scouted ourselves to try to keep the defense off balance. That is the problem. The defenses and the teams we play are so fast. If your running game is hitting, now you’ve got it. Play-action, boot legs, waggles and things like that can keep people off balance. That is the question, but I think we will just keep executing. It starts with that run. You handle that. Everybody does their job with that. Then you play-action, mix it up with three-wides and four-wides. Do it where there aren’t tendencies and keep them off balance.
Q: How is the offensive line handling being under a microscope? I don’t see it that way. They want to do well. They are used to winning. Coming off last year and winning the first two ballgames – with all of the hype – (losing) is a sick feeling. All of us want to get better - that is the microscope I want to be under - starting with me and the staff. I don’t want it to get so tight where they can’t even play either. This is a little baby boy’s game. It is fun and one of the greatest games in the world. You can’t play tight. You’ve got to go out there, relax and play as hard as you can play. Everybody has to get better. (You can’t be) worried about being under a microscope and pressure. You can hold a glass of water for only so long. You may drop that thing. So just relax. Take the glass of water and drink it – let’s go.
Q: How do you feel about your defense after the South Carolina game? The defense was outstanding. I still think we can tackle better in some spots. Tyrone (Nix) had an excellent game plan and Terry Price had those defensive linemen running to the ball. They held up beautifully and I thought he did a great job substituting. There aren’t as many questions about the secondary. I think they are doing better. We don’t want to hold, but keep playing the ball with their eyes. They played hard, and really played well enough to win. That is what makes you sick. But you have to have all three phases. We win together and lose together. Our special teams got better, our punt return got better.
Q: How was Tyler Campbell’s performance? He did pretty good, but he can do better. He hit the ball good and had a pretty good average. I have seen him do a lot better, but for his first time under the gun – not too bad.
Q: What is holding Bradley Sowell back? When you have the greatest athletes in the country that are sitting right there, with their ears pinned back - it is the toughest job in football - to back peddle, give ground, take two kick steps and block a Greg Hardy or a guy as quick as Eric Norwood. Go down each one of the teams in this league and they have that, an Eric Norwood. Just not one team, but every one of them. We have one this week (against Vanderbilt). It is the toughest thing there is. The only way he can do it is to get better. I have been so proud of his toughness. I think he has gotten better. There are some holes that he helped make, that go unnoticed when you lose. He did a good job. There were some protection times where he did a good job. It is all of us. We all have to get better. That job on the edge is very visible because that guy is coming to get your quarterback.
Q: What is the status of Tim Simon and D.T. Shackelford? I think will be able to get a medical redshirt for Tim. I really hate that he got hurt. D.T. is still hobbling along. We don’t know yet. We don’t think that he will be ready but we don’t know. He is a tough guy.
Q: How does D.T. Shackelford’s injury impact the defense? He was on his way. We have never had two freshmen linebackers like Joel Kight and D.T. Shackelford. They are just outstanding guys who are relentless and big playmakers. It hurts our depth. We have three good linebackers right now who are healthy – Jonathan Cornell, Patrick Trahan and Allen Walker. (Lamar) Brumfield is hurt and D.T is hurt. That really hurts our depth (on defense) and special teams.
Q: Will Lamar Brumfield be available this weekend? No, probably not. He’s got a foot/ankle problem.
Q: Will there be any changes to kick return team? If there would be, it would be putting a rocket back there to return – that is what you are missing. We are getting better at blocking upfront. You feel like Cordera (Eason) and Brandon (Bolden) are going to get us to the 25 or 35 yard line. I don’t know if they will be able to hit a homerun but they are getting better. They are secure with the ball and understand the schemes. Cassius Vaughn has worked well back there, but I am scared to death because of the corner depth. If he gets hit, you lose him. That is the problem – the depth. As good as you have it on the defensive line, you aren’t as deep in the secondary or at linebacker. You are trying to juggle that. There may be a time when we put a Rodney Scott, Cassius Vaughn or Marshay Green back there. You are just concerned about injury.
Q: What do you see in Vanderbilt’s team? They are always sound. Offensively, they have an athletic quarterback. They will have an offense a lot like Memphis’ – shotgun, bootlegs, inside zone and option. They spread you out and try to keep you off balance. Defensively, they are very sound. I’ve been going against Bobby Johnson for a long time and you know that you are going to have a hard-fought ballgame. These guys are running around. Broderick Stewart – their defensive end - is very talented. They have had a couple of injuries – one safety and another defensive end has gotten hurt. I thought they’ve really had a chance to win every game when you look at it – Mississippi State and LSU. They could easily be 4-0 if the ball had bounced a little bit differently and they had played a little better at certain times. They have a good team. They are a sound team and they blitz at times you don’t think they are going to be blitzing. The number on thing they do is they play extremely hard.
Q: How did Greg Hardy hold up against South Carolina? I was really proud of Greg. He had about 32 plays. He is still limping a little bit but he gets in there and produces- he gets a sack or two. Everybody is aware when he is in there. Everybody starts pointing and they’ve got to protect. He is a force and hopefully he will just keep getting better and better. He had a good practice Sunday.