Tuesday, September 17, 2002
"Let me give some comments about the Southern Miss game---I think I've been preparing for these guys for three years now counting the bowl game at TCU. They had a fine team that year. It's early in the season but this may be the best team I've seen them have. They're 3-0 right (and) playing with a lot of confidence, playing very aggressively, playing well on both sides of the football and in the kicking game. You look at their stats right now. They're number one in their conference in total offense and they're number one in scoring offense. They're number one in total defense. They're number one in scoring defense. They're just a very complete ball club in looking at them in their first three games. They're talented.
"The thing that probably sticks out about them the most on offense is their running back (Derrick) Nix. I don't remember him a great deal from a couple of years ago and, of course, we didn't play him last year, but he's running very well. He seems to get stronger as the game goes on. He's made some of his better runs in the fourth quarter. He's a big strong guy. He got right at 200 last week and the backup got over 120, so you get two backs over a hundred and 300 and some yards rushing out of them and you've done pretty good.
"Their offensive line is an experienced one. I believe they are four starters back. They are athletic. They're very solid. Their quarterback is new but he's playing very solid football. I think he's thrown one interception so he is certainly doing the things that he needs to do for them. The running game is taking a lot of pressure off him because they're running the ball so well.
"They are always aggressive on defense, always solid on that side of the football. (They) Make a lot of plays. They can make a lot of big plays on their defense. One of the things that we were able to do last year when we played them was neutralize some of those big plays just a little bit and that gave us an opportunity to not get behind the chains too many times.
"Hopefully this year we don't have to play in a monsoon like last year. I haven't built an arc or anything but may have needed one that night. Hopefully we'll have better weather to play those guys this week."
Fran, are you disappointed that the NCAA didn't give you any relief with the appeal?
"I've said all I want to say about the NCAA. I made my statement and any time I spend talking about those guys is a waste of time and energy, and I'm going to focus my time on what I have control over and that is this game and Southern Mississippi and this football team. That hasn't changed for me. Today hasn't changed anything for me either."
Coach, do you view it as an advantage or disadvantage the fact that you won't play your first SEC game until September 28th? Many other teams in this league will have played two. Is that good, bad or indifferent?
"You know, I'm not sure. Probably what you make out of it, Herb. I like the fact that you get to play your non-conference games in the beginning. Last year we played Vanderbilt the second week and, especially (with it being) my first year, I thought that was a little uneasy to have to play a conference game quite so early. So I like having the conference games the first part of the schedule. We don't have the benefit of exhibition games in college football, but if there's anything close to it, it would be playing your non-conference games before you play your conference games. I grew up watching Big 8 football where they played four non-conference games for years and then played their seven conference games. I don't think it hurts to have one intermingled in there. Basically, you've got to play everybody irregardless of when it is. But I don't like starting with a conference game too early. If you win it and have it behind you, it's kind of nice though."
Coach, you talked before the season about how this season would be your biggest motivational challenge. This week, are you worried that your players will struggle to have the same tunnel vision that you do regarding the events of the day?
"Not really. I think they'll focus on this game as they have every week. I think they'll get prepared to play. We have tremendous respect for Southern Mississippi and the kind of team that they have and the athletes that they have and the coaches that they have and I know that they'll look at the film and see that and be concerned about it and they'll know that they have to get ready to play."
For a program like Southern Miss to Sustain success as long as they have, is there a secret to that, or, from your experience can you identify a common denominator that's been so good in their program?
"I think you've got to give credit to Jeff Bower. I'm not exactly sure how long he's been there but he has been there quite a while. He's given them continuity, consistency. He's had his plan and worked his plan. He's got coaches that fit in and believe in that. He understands the university and their recruiting areas very well. Traditionally, I think they've been a pretty good football school down through the years. There certainly has to be some reasons to go along with that but I think their coach deserves a lot of credit."
Given Southern Miss's propensity to jump around on defense before the snap, can you talk about how well-prepared your top two quarterbacks are going to be to interpret what they see and then make the checks and just the work you have to put in on that this week.
"It is a demanding week because of the multiplicity of their defense. But I also believe it's a demanding week for them because of the multiplicity of our offense. Right now I think we're at about 207 or eight (208) yards a game rushing and passing. If you look at our stats, we're exactly the same yardage wise in both. With all the formations and things that we're doing and the personnel grouping that we're playing, they've got to fit to those just as we have to fit to them. We're going to see a very similar defense probably for the next two weeks. I don't have film that I have looked at, but I would anticipate Arkansas being very similar to Southern Miss, too."