“Well, we had a very, I would say, acceptable bye week last week in terms of the work and the things we were able to do. A lot of opportunities for a lot of players to improve and get some repetitions on the young players especially to be able to get closer to being able to play winning football.
“This is obviously the most challenging part of our season. We need everybody’s energy. We need everybody’s focus and intensity to be able to prepare for the games, this game in particular, especially, because this part of the season really defines who you are and defines you as a team and creates a total identity for the team that you are.
“So good preparation and focus is really important and get lost in what’s in front of you in terms of the challenges that we have starting this week with a very, very good LSU team.
“LSU has gotten better as the season has gone on. Probably the worst thing that happened for all of us in the SEC is when they lost to Troy. They’ve really made a turnaround as a team, which I think speaks volumes of the coaching staff and the job that Ed Orgeron has done there to get the players to re-center, refocus, work on improving. They’ve been very productive since that time and playing very, very well as a team. This game has turned into a huge rivalry through the years, since I’ve been here especially, but probably even before that. Since 2007, I think, both teams have been ranked in the Top 20 in each one of these games that we’ve played. I don’t think this one’s really any different.
“LSU has done a great job of taking care of the ball this year on offense. They only have five or six turnovers for the whole year. Offensively, they’ve done a great job of running the ball. They’ve got a great running back. The quarterback has been very efficient in his passing and how he runs the offense. They’ve got a great receiver in No. 7. Their defense is ranked nationally in a lot of categories and has played very well. Pretty typical LSU team in terms of how they play and what they’re doing and what they’re doing very, very well. Always good on special teams, because they have really good team speed. They’ve got really good returners, so they’re very, very good in the return game.
“All around, I think this is probably the best team we’ve played to this point in the season, especially the way they’re playing right now. This will be certainly the most challenging game that we’ve had to this point.”
What are some of the challenges of defending Matt Canada’s offense and all the pre-snap motions?
“What you really want for the players is to be able to prepare well so that when the game comes they’re really focused on what they need to do and not sort of all the shifts and motions and tackle over unbalance and rocket motion and all that sort of eye candy, I call it, for a defensive player makes a guy not focus on his real keys and play fast and remember that you’ve got to play block protection. You’ve got to tackle. You’ve got to play the plays. You’ve got to read the keys and do your job. It is a little different, especially from anything that we’ve seen this year. But having a little extra time probably is a good thing when you play an offense like this because there are a lot of multiples in terms of formations and motions and how the defensive players need to understand and adjust.”
What differences have you seen from LSU since the Troy game?
“They’re just playing better. They’re throwing and catching the ball better. They’re blocking better. They’ve got more positive runs. They’ve got more explosive plays. It looks like the players are a lot more confident, not in what they’re doing, what they’re expecting to do. They’ve got really good players and they’ve gotten confidence through this season and they’re playing really, really well right now. I mean, I’m not making any comparison to early in the season but I see a team that’s improved dramatically and I think statistically, relative to points scored, points allowed, yards per play, yards per carry when they’re rushing, all those things have improved dramatically.”
Do you have an update on Josh Jacobs and Da’Shawn Hand coming back from injury?
“We haven’t seen them this week. We’re going to practice today for the first time. Both those guys will practice today and we’ll just have to go day to day with them and see how they progress. We feel like they’ve responded well to treatment. They’re both in position and cleared medically to be able to participate in practice, but it still comes down to how a player feels that he can functionally do his job, and we won’t know that until we sort of progress through the week.”
This game has been so close in recent years, has that made players focus more on the game?
“I think that’s what you hope for. I think you hope that your team really understands what it takes to be more physical and play against a team that tries to be physical. How important it is to win on the line of scrimmage. How important it is to be well-prepared and well-focused in the game. I think again that goes back to that energy deal. When you have the right kind of mental intensity, your energy’s good, your focus is good, your preparation is good and you go into the game with a lot of confidence and you have the right mind-set to be physical. All those things are really important in a game like this. For the players who have been here and played in this game before, they should really understand that.”
How have you seen Hootie Jones progress over the course of his career?