Ole Miss Football Weekly Press Conference
Sept. 11, 2017

Ole Miss Football associate head coach/defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff and offensive coordinator Phil Longo met with the media Monday to recap Ole Miss’ 45-23 win over UT Martin and preview the Rebels’ upcoming road trip to California.

Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Wesley McGriff
Opening Statement…
“It’s great to be here at 2-0, coming off a win against UT Martin. We’re really satisfied to get the win, but there are certainly a lot of things we have to pay attention to on the way to that victory. You never begrudge a win, but you certainly have to look at some of the missed opportunities and plays in that game. At the same time, there are a lot of good things that transpired in that game. We’re looking forward to going out and correcting those issues and going on the road to play against a good football team in Cal, which is also 2-0. So we’re looking forward to that. We came out of the contest and we’re pretty healthy. Now we’re going into this week with the right mindset and get ready to head out to the West Coast.”

On the positives and negatives from Saturday’s win…
“The good is that we came out with a win. There were a lot of good plays. The defense played with tremendous effort. I thought there was tremendous effort all over the tape. An issue we have to pay attention to and must get corrected is tackling. We came away from that ballgame not satisfied with the way we tackled. We gave up too many yards on the ground. A kid runs for 195 yards and the offense went north of 200 yards on the ground — you certainly can’t win games when you give up yardage like that in the run game. When you play against a team that capitalizes on your mistakes, you make it a long day if you can’t stop the run. We certainly have to get better at stopping the run and containing the running backs.”

On the team’s health…
“We came out pretty healthy. We have some guys who are banged up but we should be at full strength provided we go out this week and be smart in the way we practice.”

On Dawson Knox…
“He’s practicing this week. We’ll know by the end of this week whether he’s full-go or not, but he’s certainly back on the grass.”

On what he’s seen from the Cal offense…
“You look at their offense, and we think the best player on the offense is the running back Tre Watson. He is a good running back, very explosive. He’s really good at catching the ball out the backfield, and we must account for him. I like the way the quarterback (Ross Bowers) runs the offense. He’s a guy who is going to scramble to throw the ball. He’s not a guy who is going to extend the play forward with his feet, but given the opportunity to run, he will certainly run the ball. On the edge, they have two explosive receivers out wide. So we certainly have to pay attention to them, know where No. 8 (Demetris Robertson) is. They’ll give him the reverse; he’ll stretch the defense vertically. It’s certainly going to be a challenge for us. They’ll spread the ball, get as much grass as they can to get their playmakers the football. We’re going to have a big challenge of tackling in space, and also stopping the run game. Right now, they throw the ball more than they run, but I can promise you, their first period in practice this week will probably be the run game. So we have to pay attention to that and correct that, because they certainly have some good running backs. They have (running back Patrick Laird) who had a great run in the last contest in the four-minute offense, 73 yards to close out the game. I can see them featuring that guy in the run game, trying to run inside to move the chains. That’s what we have to stop against this offense to be successful.”

On receivers coach Jacob Peeler (who previously coached at Cal)…
“We’ve already sent him a subpoena, to appear at the defensive nightly meeting. He’ll come in tonight and give us some strengths and weaknesses of the roster and the guys we’ll face. He probably won’t be able to give us much about their scheme, but certainly he can help us identify individuals who are capable of making explosive plays, tell us their strengths and weaknesses.”

On the second-team defense’s performance vs. UT Martin…
“We didn’t get a chance to play many of them this ballgame. In the back of our minds, as a defensive staff, that’s one thing we’ve talked about. We certainly want to see them get better. But we were thinking, hey, it’s about time to keep these ones out here as long as possible and play a complete game. We rotated some players in, but we didn’t do a wholesale change with second-unit like we did in the first game. Detric Bing-Dukes did a tremendous job coming off the bench. He’s one guy who wasn’t a starter and came in the game and did an outstanding job once he got on the grass. He’s a guy you’ll see get more playing time. It’ll be between him and Donta Evans. Who starts will be determined by how they practice this week. We’re looking at personnel, making sure we have the right guys on the field. Also defensively, one thing that stood out was we made a lot of mental errors. Although we’re really simple, we made some mental errors. And a coach has to pay attention to that. We’re going to reduce the menu this week so we can increase their performance.”

On what Matt Luke told him regard in his trip to Covington…
“He can only estimate. He said he could possibly return tonight or return Wednesday. We had great meetings before he left. We have the whole week laid out. He just wanted to make sure that we’re organized and that we stay focused on what we do each and every day. This football team and this staff has been mentally tough from day one. That’s been Coach Luke’s motto, and this is just another situation to show everyone how mentally tough we are and that we’re a family. Coach Luke has tremendous trust in myself and Coach Longo. We both operate each side of the football and there’s not going not going to be much changed. I stay focused on the defense and he’ll stay focused on the offense. We’ll communicate with Coach Luke as much as we can, but the roles aren’t going to change. When he returns, he’s going to expect that defense to be running on all cylinders. I’ll keep focused on the defense, and we’ll make sure we’re following his plan. He has a nice regimen laid out every week as far the number of periods and what we’re doing. It’s easy to follow, so we can just focus on the offense and defense as we’ve done the first two weeks.”

On the play of his secondary vs. UT Martin…
“They didn’t throw the ball much, so it’s awkward to say the corners played great, because you don’t see it in the stat column. But just in terms of press coverage, I thought Ken Webster was really good in press coverage. He didn’t get many targets because they ran the ball. He did a great job of just erasing their receiver No. 11 (Caylon Weathers). That was one of our gameplan notes — making sure we handled him. He won that line of scrimmage. Safety play needs to get better in terms of their run fits and stopping the run, but we haven’t had a challenge like the one we’ll see this weekend in the air. We have to make sure we’re shored up in that area. But, in order to get an opportunity to get a sack or an interception, you have to stop the run. If I’m UT Martin, I wouldn’t have thrown the ball at us either, because we weren’t doing a good job tackling and stopping the run. So they stayed with the ground game. Maybe the secondary will get tested this week.”

On depth chart competition…
“If you look at the safety spot, we have a number of safeties who have played in the last two ballgames. We really mean it when we tell them every week that you define your starting role by the way you perform every week. Every position has to go out and perform every week in practice to earn the right to start in the game. So we’ll certainly look at every position. From the D-Line to the linebackers and the secondary, everyone had their hand in the jar as far as giving up too many yards in the run game. It isn’t just one segment, everyone’s guilty of that. And you can throw me in that as well, coaches included. I looked at two or three calls and said, ‘Man I wish I had those calls back.’ So we’re constantly looking at the calls we make, the individuals, the scheme — we look at it in totality. We’re not pointing the finger at just one person. This is the ultimate team sport, and we have to pursue corrections like that. We’re not afraid to shift the depth chart. We’re signed up for a production-based business, and if you don’t go out and produce, you’re not going to be out on the field. We’ll take a hard look at that tonight in our personnel meetings. We’ll make some changes, some of them might be painful, but we’ll make changes and move forward.”

On the pass rush…
“Everyone’s coming in and running the ball. We tell the defense, you have to earn the right to to get an interception or get a sack. And the only way you’re going to do that is if you stop the run. You’re not going to see many teams that will put the ball in the air if they can get chunk plays on the ground. We have to get that corrected. We must stop the run to get offenses in the situation to throw the ball. That’s fact. That’s reality. Teams now are going to come in with a ground game to see if we corrected that area. If we corrected it and force them to throw it, now we have an opportunity to get a sack or challenge them in the passing game and get an interception. But first, we have to play in the running game.”

On D.D. Bowie’s health…
“We expect him to be back this week. As the week progresses, we’ll get a report from the medical guys. He’s getting checked out today to determine whether he’ll be contact or non-contact for the first day. We’re hoping we’ll get him back this week.”

On Breon Dixon and Austrian Robinson…
“Breon Dixon is a guy we look at who has a lot of ability to make plays. He got in and played some snaps and he did ok. We understand that we have to bring him along. He’s going to be a tremendous football player for us. He got in, and like everyone else, he made a couple of mistakes. It’s our jobs to keep him up, keep his confidence going and to get him prepared for the next contest. He was engaging in the meetings, and the best thing about him is he owned up to his mistakes. In last night’s practice, he was fired up to get another opportunity, and that’s what you want to see from a player. Austrian Robinson, I told Coach Freddie Roach the other night, I like him because he’ll fight you in a phone booth. He doesn’t weight a lot. He really shouldn’t be inside if you look at his measurable, but he shows up. He’s a football player, he plays with the right technique, plays aggressive, plays fast and he’s very productive. He’s one of those D-linemen who is very disciplined and he maintains his gap. He’ll make an assisted tackle by maintaining his gap. He’s a steady football player, and we’re glad to have him.”

On Qaadir Sheppard…
“He really looked good. We were careful about his pitch count. Coming in off that injury, we didn’t get too many, but he looked good. We’re going to accelerate his snaps this week. The plays he was in he, was very productive.”

On Benito Jones…
“He played some good snaps. We were in zero technique, where he just comes off the ball over the center. There were a lot of good snaps by No. 95. A lot of times with D-line play, their performance won’t show up in the production column, but are they striking the block? Are they fitting the right gaps? Benito is doing that, playing with tremendous effort. I don’t see any indication that his neck is bothering him. If you look at his play overall, he’s playing well inside.”

Offensive Coordinator Phil Longo
On wide receivers coach Jacob Peeler…
“Jake Peeler has knowledge on about every kid on the team. I could probably give you a pretty accurate rundown of the defensive personnel here, and he's been able to give us a good person-to-person rundown recap of each kid, so it always helps when you know personnel well, so that’s obviously an advantage for us this week.”

On the offense’s performance last week…
“I try to coach the game unemotionally. I always tell the kids we want to play the game enthusiastically, but you don't want to play the game too emotionally, because you get a little too high a little too low. I have to listen to my own advice, because I let our lack of execution, which falls on my shoulders, affect me at the end of the game, so I didn't feel great coming off the game, because the four-minute series we had at the end of the game wasn't pretty and I wasn't happy with that. I just had to check myself and make sure I didn't let that skew what I thought was a very good response to some halftime adjustments the staff made. I thought they played very good and explosive in the second half, which is what we wanted. Generally looking at the film, I was very happy overall.

On the team’s slow first-half starts…
“I think against the caliber of opponent we will be playing this year and even against the two teams we have already played, we had a really nice opening series drive against South Alabama, and then we really moved the ball in both first halves. The issue for me has been not finishing drives, and in each of the games we have had a first-half turnover which has really stalled some things. Total yards and production-wise we have been fine but that doesn't mean anything if you don't finish the drive. So, that was the emphasis at halftime in both games, and that will be the emphasis this week with the away trip. The focus is going to be on starting faster, no question.”

On expanding the playbook…
“Even though the offense is simple, I think earlier in the season, no matter where you are, you’re going to run your basic foundational stuff first. You like to get good at the stuff you want to hang your hat on. I do think as the season goes on there will be more wrinkles in the run game like there have been in the past games, so there will be a few things at Cal. But, I will say this like I say every week, if they load up and put eight in the box and give us throws, we are going to take throws. If they are going out to defend with eight in coverage, we are going to run with the ball a lot. So it really is just going to come down to what the defense decides is the priority. Sometimes it has been the whole game like the past two weeks, sometimes it will be by half or by drive or by play, but that’s how we are built. We are built to ID where the space is, and whether it’s run or pass we want to try and attack it.”

On the progress of Octavious Cooley…
“Octavious Cooley is an outstanding kid. When you coach great kids like that, you get excited for them. I’m a fan of Octavious, and I was really excited to see him come out. He practiced well, he did a good job of learning what he needed to learn, and for his first outing this year because he missed game one, I thought he did a good job. He made some heads-up plays. He's very physical, and for as big as he is, he's athletic. So you’re probably going to see his role in the offense grow as the season goes on.”

On the team’s rushing numbers…
“I'm going to probably bore you with my answer, but we want the offense to be simple. The explanations are going to be simple, and some of my responses are going to be simple. They’re not designed to skate questions, but you know at the end of the day, that’s really what we do. If they put everyone over on the right side, we are going to throw on the left side. If they put everybody deep, we are going to do something underneath, whether its run or pass. I'm not trying to over-simplify it, but that’s how we approach it with the players. That’s how we want them to understand it. It doesn't take a genius in the stands to sit there and say, ‘You know, there is a lot of space deep right, they might be going there.’ Yeah, we will be. So that’s about as blunt as I can put it. That’s really what we are looking for — space on about every play.”

On Jason Pellerin…
“Jason is an interesting guy. He is kind of caught in between. He’s not as big as some of the tight ends that are starting in front of him from a physical standpoint. He does a great job effort-wise physically in the box, and then he is not as clean cut of a wide receiver as the amazing group of wide receivers we have right now. So he really has just been a victim of some great personnel at the two positions that he is a hybrid between. So at some point, you’re going to see him. I don't know when and where, but you will. He's a great team player. He understands his role, and as the season goes on, you will see more of him. But right now, I couldn't give you a specific role outside the tight end hybrid spot he is playing right now.”

On Cal’s pass defense…
“Statistics are helpful sometimes. You can skew them in any direction you want to. Regardless if they are last in the country in pass defense or first, if that’s what they are giving up, that’s what we are going to attack. I think sometimes stats are deceiving just because they may have had two teams that run the ball a lot against them or two teams that threw the ball a lot against them. I would say right now pass defense from our first two opponents doesn't look great because of the statistics we had. They might be a little better in pass defense than you might think, it just happens to be what we prioritize the first two weeks.”

On which players stand out on the Cal defense…
“I think we match up well athletically up front, I think we match up well athletically in the secondary with Cal. It’s going to be more about us executing. There are some really good players out there. I think one we have identified is one of the more problematic players at Cal is No. 9 defensive lineman (James Looney). He’s great with his hands. He has some tremendous foot speed and he destroys blocks. He gets off blocks, so to me, that’s the big game-changer we are worried about up front. We are currently in the process of ID’ing the secondary guys right now.”

On Shea Patterson…
“It’s similar to last week. I know the fans appreciate the scrambling and they love the beautiful throws. Shea though excited me Saturday because there were five plays where I think in January he might have told you he would not make the decisions that he made Saturday, but he progressed so much through the spring and camp. Instead of having to check a play and change it or scratch it from the playlist, we were able to carry it and execute it on Saturday because he made a really good decision at quarterback. There were five plays that I thought were progressive mentally as I would put it, and he nailed all five of them. Those are the things that excite me, and those are the things that are going to make the difference in bigger games.”

On Eric Swinney…
“Swinney is a very sudden running back in terms of his changing direction. I think because he is coming back and he had a good camp, he is third on the depth chart right now. The plan this past weekend was to use him a little more than we did, but we didn't get to him. I thought D’Vaughn Pennamon and Jordan Wilkins were very productive in doing the things we wanted them to do. They actually enjoyed some success catching the football a little bit, and so we didn't quite get to him, but he's not left out of the loop there, and he's part of the game plan for Cal as well. It is our intent again to get him on the field a little bit more.”

On the offensive line play…
“When you get a three-man rush, I would hope so. That’s part of the deal with a three-down front. They didn't pressure a lot. There is nothing more frustrating than having a three-man rush and having your quarterback run around. Our guys did a good job ID’ing and in protection. Coach Jack Bicknell is doing a great job getting them geared up for each Saturday’s defensive front. Right now, I feel real comfortable where we are from a pass protection standpoint.”

On if teams start double covering A.J. Brown…
“That’s a conversation I’ve had with the rest of our receivers. I think we all think that at some point we are going to see some bracket or trap or some sort of two-man coverage on A.J. This is the design of the offense. We want that to be difficult to do, because if you’re going to invest two people in some way shape or form into defending A.J. Brown then you’re going to have to deal with D.K. Metcalf, Van Jefferson and DaMarkus Lodge one-on-one. Depending on the focus in the passing game by each defense, you might see two receivers one week have a big game and the other two another game, which is really going to be about who they decide to prioritize. In a perfect world, you like them to play balanced and just be able to chase space the way we want to.”

On Jordan Ta’amu…
“Comfort level with Jordan is good. He's a work in progress, but if we had to play him tomorrow, I would be comfortable. I don't know if the playlist would be as extensive as it is with Shea. I don't know how extensive we are anyways. We would probably cater the playlist a little bit more to what Jordan does well. The good thing for me is I don't have two different quarterbacks. You know Jordan can throw the ball. I think he is exceptional first and second level, he is improving on throwing the deep ball and he is an excellent runner. I say this all the time with no disrespect to Jordan, but he is no Shea right now, but he is Shea-like in terms of what his skill set is. So the offense I don't think would change very much if we had to play Jordan.”

On what head coach Matt Luke told him this week…
“One thing that I really appreciate with coach Luke, and I think the players do too, is he is very sincere and direct and upfront with you about everything. I can’t speak for Wesley (McGriff), but I would assume that he appreciates the way I do the trust that Matt has in the two of us. He's so busy with his head football coaching duties on Monday that he allows Wes and his staff and myself and my staff to go coach and game plan. So really today, there is no difference. If we are unable to get running backs coach Derrick Nix and tight ends coach Maurice Harris, who have already satisfied their Sunday workload yesterday, if we are able to get them back on Tuesday, there really won’t be any effect offensively in regards to coaching our guys.”

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