Opening Statement from Coach Johnson: "It is back to the SEC and I think or guys are going to be anxious to get back into conference play. We are going to have to play better than we have played in the past couple of weeks, but I think we will have an opportunity to get better in practice. I am a little concerned about some injuries we had in the Temple game but we are just going to have to wait until tomorrow to see what the status of some of those guys are. That is going to be a key factor this week."
You said at the outset that you are going to have to play better. What areas specifically are you going to be looking at?
Johnson: "We are just going to have to play smarter. We are going to have to eliminate some big plays that we are giving up on defense. We need to eliminate some penalties that we are making and we need to get back to where we were on special teams. We had two missed extra points. We cant do that against good teams in the SEC and expect to win. I think it is a refocusing and just get back to the level that we have been playing right when we were going."
Is the run game beginning to pick up the momentum that you would like to see heading into this stretch?
Johnson: "I think so. We ran the ball well. There were some gaping holes for Cassen (Jackson-Garrison) and Jared (Hawkins) and Gaston Miller to run through so I am very pleased with schemes. I am very pleased with the execution. Our offensive line was doing a really good of blocking and our backs are following the blocks and doing a good job of getting the ball into the end zone. If we can continue that, no matter who we are playing, that would be a big help to our passing game. It would take pressure off of Chris (Nickson) and hopefully we can get some things going there a little better."
Coming off of two straight wins and looking at a game against an Ole Miss team that is 1-4, do you worry about overconfidence?
Johnson: "Well, I think you just put on the film of Ole Miss and Georgia. Ole Miss ran the ball extremely well against Georgia. I think Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis had 135 yards and I don't know when somebody has rushed for 135 yards on Georgia in recent history. I think Schaeffer is getting more comfortable in the passing game. Even though his statistics weren't as good against Georgia I think Georgia had a lot to do with that. He is dangerous just running around and making things happen. We had a little trouble with Antonio Heffner (of Tennessee State). Those things can ruin our defensive game plan when one guy starts improvising and doing things and putting pressure on you in ways that you don't plan."
Ole Miss quarterback Brent Schaeffer has taken a lot of heat. Is he the kind of guy that can get on track in a hurry?
Johnson: "Well, I hope not. But he looks to me to be a very fine athlete and a fine quarterback. He has got a good arm and I think he has just got to get used to what they are doing there. And I think with the running game stepping up like it did against Georgia, that will certainly take some pressure off of him and he will probably relax a little bit."
What are some of the similarities between Schaeffer and Nickson?
Johnson: "They are very similar. Both have good arms and you expect them to break through any second. They have made good throws and they can hurt you with their legs and do all kinds of things that set up other people. I think the run games on both teams have been helped by the mobility of the quarterback."
What is the defense going to have to do in order to counter a guy like Schaeffer?
Johnson: "We have got to put pressure on him. We can't go with a light rush. We have got to go in there and put pressure on him. And when he does decide to pull it down or run we have got to have people in position to contain him and keep him in the pocket. And that is easier said than done, believe me. He has run around some very good players and there is not much they can do about it."
Is it good to get back to the SEC after playing two non-conference games in a row?
Johnson: "Yeah. I think it is good to be back. I think it gets the players' attention. Certainly practice will probably be a little bit more focused, even though as coaches we are trying in these out of conference games to practice as hard as they can. But it is always a bit more special when you are playing an SEC opponent. I think that will serve us well."
Defensively, does the fact you have practiced against Chris [Nickson] all season help in your preparation for Schaeffer?
Johnson: "Sure. I think they are very similar, not that that helps you that much. But we certainly won't be surprised. We are going to see a lot of film on Schaeffer before we play them this week and our guys will get a good idea of how he operated and what he is capable of doing and what we have got to do to counteract it. That's the key thing. We have to be sound in what we are doing and make sure our rushing lanes are intact every play. When he starts scrambling around that's when the big plays happen down field. If he is scrambling we can't leave receivers wide open. He can avoid the rush for six, seven, eight seconds and it is tough to cover them that long. So we need to just be sound and make them work for everything that they get."
The offensive line has improved so much since the beginning of the year. Talk about what is going on there.
Johnson: "Well, what is going on is the first game we were playing Michigan and that had a lot to do with or running game. That and Cassen was coming off of an emergency appendectomy so the chances of us having a great running game against Michigan weren't great. But we have confidence in a lot of our guys and Coach Caldwell has done a good job of moving people around and getting them to be able to play multiple positions. Brian Stamper has been hampered the past two weeks with the sore hamstring so he has played 19 or 20 plays each game. Josh Eames has been able to go over and play tackle. Elliot Hood has been back in there, and Mac Pyle has done a good job for us. We have several players who can play several different positions and we have more depth than we have had in the past few years."
How would you characterize Chris [Nickson's] development toward becoming an effective and efficient passer?
Johnson: "I think he is right on schedule. We had four dropped balls the other day. You add those four catches and he's got a pretty good percentage for the game and probably a good many more yards. So everything you see in the passing game is not always the quarterback's fault, or to his credit. We think he is going well. There are things that he can do better, but there are things everybody on or football team can do better. When you look at quarterbacks, you see them with the ball every play and everybody says 'yes he did' or 'no he didn't.' But you could look at every position like that and you'd be surprised. Quarterbacks get too much credit and they get too much blame. We are very pleased with his progress."
Does winning a couple of games in a row like you have send your guys into the next game a little swagger, a little confidence?
Johnson: "I think so. There is nothing like winning, I can guarantee you that. It makes everything a lot easier to go through the next day. Class for them, work for us, press conferences, radio shows, everything."