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Coach Mike Shula Press Conference: Mississippi State


Tuesday, November 02, 2004

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Transcript of Opening Comments and 1st Five Questions

Opening Comments:

"I think our team is excited to be back at it after our bye week. We used the week to rest a lot of guys, a lot of the older guys, and I felt like they benefited from it. We had a good practice Sunday night. We're going into this week facing Mississippi State, another SEC game. The guys are excited about trying to find a way to get their sixth win. We realize Mississippi State is one of the hotter teams so to speak in the SEC right now with their two back-to-back wins against Florida and Kentucky. They're playing with a lot of confidence right now. Their quarterback is making a lot of plays. Their running back has three consecutive games over 100 yards. Defensively it looks like they've made some changes with their linebackers and have gone to some younger guys. They're playing, like I said, with a lot of confidence, and sound football. You can see they can feel some momentum, and that's something that we've got to get back as a football team after a tough loss two weeks ago. We talked about during the course of the bye week of just getting our focus back and doing all the things that it's going to take to win football games: not turning the ball over, defensively, continuing to play solid defense, not giving up big plays, getting to the football fast; and special teams, we felt like we've played well but at times we have given up a couple of big plays, and that's something that we've got to make sure doesn't happen this week.

"We're at that point in the season now where, with three games left, we've got to be totally focused, one week at a time, on this stretch run so to speak. I think our guys have responded good and we had a good practice and hopefully we'll have three more this week."

Mike, with Tim Castille out, just talk about what that means for Ken Darby and Le'Ron McClain and really your overall offense.

"It's going to allow some other guys some more playing time. Aaron Johns will factor into that. Josh Smith could factor in to that. Clint Johnston and David Cavan, we've used them this year at times this year with a single back. We could possibly do some of that. Losing Tim is a big loss for us because, number one he is a football player. A smart football player, very instinctive. He's a guy that you want on the field with the game on the line. So anytime you lose a guy like that, he's going to be tough to replace. With that being said, Le'Ron McClain is having a great year. Now, he's not going to carry the ball as much as Tim was carrying it, especially in the `I', but he's got some carries this year. Le'Ron has really improved over the course since last year with his blocking, with his catching, and he's in much better shape and he understands what we're doing a lot more than he ever did at any point.

"So the combination of Le'Ron and Ken Darby, Le'Ron and Aaron Johns and Josh Smith now moves up the depth chart and he becomes our number two fullback. And he's had some playing experience this year on special teams a little bit toward the end of some of the games this year as well as last year in some critical games for us last year and critical snaps."

Mike, talk about the distraction this week, the sidebar, obviously, is going to be Shula vs. Sly Croom.

"You've already read some of the papers from Mississippi State (beat writers) and all that. I kind of look at it, first of all, any time you coach or you compete against someone that you have a lot of respect for, which I do in Sly and have known him since I was here (as a player). He was one of our coaches that we respected as players and then had the opportunity to coach with him under Coach (Ray) Perkins at Tampa, and our relationship since then has grown and I've gotten to know his family. Any time you compete against somebody that you have a lot of respect for, you always, I think, that motivates you more because you want your team to do well against a team you know is going to be well coached because of the guy that you know is coaching them. Hopefully for our players' sake and their players' sake, the story revolves around them. They're the ones out there on the field competing and going through the hard work they are going to go through during practice.

"They are coming off two big wins. They've got a lot of momentum right now and they're excited. We're coming off our bye week. We're looking for our sixth win. We're working hard to continue to find ways to win games and overcome injuries and things like that, and our guys have shown a lot of leadership and have shown a lot of movement toward doing things the way we want to have them done. Hopefully, all the hard work that they've put in and that they'll put in this week will pay off Saturday and we'll go from there."

Coach, a lot of the coaches have been saying that the practices have been going well and that Spencer (Pennington) has been performing really well in practice. What are some of the things that you see in Spencer that gives you the confidence that he's going to be a really good quarterback?

"He continues to feel more comfortable with what we're doing. He picks things up quicker. That's probably the biggest thing as far as when you're talking to him about certain things and certain reads and progressions. His awareness of blitzes, things like that are all things that he's progressed with. In practice his accuracy is improved. We've missed some throws that we felt like if we would have made them we would have had taken advantage of some opportunities, and that's where we have to get better. And he knows that and our receivers know that, so that's what we work toward each day."

Mike, could you talk about Brian Bostick and the year he's had this year and looking back on what all he went through last year during the season and in the off season as well?

"He's been one of those guys that, if I was a player on this team, I would look up to Brian Bostick for the way he carries himself. He's quiet. He's always going to be in the right place at the right time doing and saying the right things. He's worked hard. Like you said, he's been through a lot on and off the field but has just kept his focus on how he can improve himself. He's made some big kicks for us this year and I know we're going to need him for sure this week and the rest of the season. But it makes you feel good as a coach to see a guy who has gone through some tough times, has committed himself to being a better football player. He does real well in the classroom, too, and to see that hard work pay off (is pleasing)."

Mike, just a follow up on the Tim Castille question earlier: that big set was so successful for you guys during the year, and now with him gone, I know you use tight ends in that situation. Is there any chance we could see a defensive lineman thrown back there, kind of like `The Fridge?"

"Which one? What do you want, Anthony Bryant? ...There's always the chance. It might be slim. It's something that we'll have to look at with our short yardage and goal line package for sure. You like big backs in there and big full backs and things like that. But, you know, 34 (Darby), he plays pretty big, too, even though he might not be 230, he's 200, and he runs big so to speak, gets tough yards inside."