RUSTON, La. (Nov. 14, 2011) - Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes, along with select players, spoke to the media Monday following Tech's 27-7 win over Ole Miss and in advance of the team's game at Nevada.
Head Coach Sonny Dykes
"Good win on Saturday. Going into the game, we thought we had to play well early on because Ole Miss was recharged and would be playing with emotion. They connected on a wheel route early on to go up 7-0. We fumbled but our defense did a good job of holding them. They missed a field goal and from that point on, we played with a lot of confidence."
"Looking at our past history, particularly last season and early on this season, we would have allowed things to snowball on us, but our defense has not done that at all this year. When we get off to a bad start, we do a good job of getting settled in and correcting those mistakes. To ignore what happened early on in the game and play well for the rest of the game was critical in winning the game. We missed some scoring opportunities in the first half, dropped some touchdown passes and missed some open receivers. We missed two field goals and got a fake punt called back, so we were struggling getting something going in the first half."
"The field goal to end the half was very important. The biggest parts of the game were when our defense made the stop after the turnover and Hunter Lee's long run that allowed us to kick the field goal at the end of the first half. It gave us some momentum and energy. The last two minutes of the first half are very important because they set the tone for the rest of the game. Our kids were excited when we went into halftime with the lead and we made some big plays in the second half, capitalizing on their mistakes."
"Defensively, we played very hard. The defense scoring two touchdowns was very crucial and is a testament to how well the defense has been playing all year. Defensive football is about assignment, effort and technique and our guys are playing well. They are executing the calls well, and are tackling well. When you run to the football and play as hard as our guys do, you will create turnovers. Our pass rush has been great all year and force quarterbacks to throw under duress. That is a big reason for the 16 interceptions we've had."
"Looking back at last season, we probably dropped more interceptions than anyone else in college football history and guys are making the plays this year. It gives us a chance to win every game. Our guys are playing free and that's important on defense because they are not worried about making mistakes. They play fast, hard and are fundamentally sound. It was a good outing for us against a quality team. Ole Miss has a lot of good players."
Q: A huge win against an SEC team, but more importantly, now you are bowl eligible. Where is your confidence level heading into this final stretch?
"Our goal to start the year was to win the conference championship. If we continued to play well and improved game by game we knew we could compete. We were a little young to begin the season and knew there would be some growing pains. We improved on a lot of the mistakes we were making early on, and that's one of the reasons why we are where we are as a program. If you want to win a championship, you have to beat some good teams on the road, and Nevada has a great program. They have won 16 consecutive home games, so we have to find a way to go in there and get a win."
Q: With Ole Miss' coaching situation, a lot of people thought this was a coaching audition for you. What do you have to say to those rumors?
"People talk about all kinds of things. Things like that always get started. I would hate to discredit our kids in any way. What we're trying to do is play for a championship, so I'm not concerned about that. This is about our kids and not about the coaches, so we're just worrying about winning a championship."
Q: What was it like playing against a program that had a head coach in a "lame duck" situation?
"Their head coach (Houston Nutt) has been around for a long time and was very professional. I'm sure he and his staff didn't change the way they approached the game and it's a testament to them. It's a hard situation for coaches and players because you have to handle some type of adversity as a team. They were prepared, played hard and took an early lead on us."
Q: What do you think about Nevada's offense, even with the changes going into this season (Colin Kaepernick was a 2011 second round draft pick for the 49ers)?
"They are excellent and plugging in new guys and not losing a beat. Everyone in the program understands the system they run and are great at executing their game plan. Their quarterback is playing at a high level and they are good up front. They are an excellent blue-collar football team and they play hard in all aspects. They are well coached and have good athletes. Rashad Matthews is an excellent running back who is probably one of the best offensive players in the conference. When they run the ball as well as they do, they can hurt you with play actions and boots."
Q: Talk about the situation that Hunter Lee is in, where he was a walk-on but has succeeded at such a high level.
" It's good for everybody because it gives people perspective. So much is made out of recruiting and it goes to show that there are a lot of good players that fall under the radar. He was a fantastic high school player and we were lucky to get him here. It wasn't hard for us to see that he would be as successful here as he was in high school. He is one of the best players on this team and does the right thing all the time. His body of work is excellent and it's a credit to him. He plays hard and consistent and it's unusual for true freshman. Saying all of that, I do not think anyone has been surprised by his play because he was a good football player coming in."
Q: Why do you think he wasn't recruited as heavily?
"He's not a real big kid and he's not a kid that would necessarily test extremely well. If you look at him, you'd swear he weighs 170 pounds but he is close to 200 pounds and carries his weight well. He is one of the strongest players in our program. He has put a lot of work in and was prepared to play at this level. He makes sure he relishes every single rep and if you can find guys who are that committed to doing the right things on and off the field, you will have a good program."
Q: How did you get him to come to Tech?
"We knew who he was and were nice to him. We told him that he would play for us next year when he and his dad visited the campus. We were sincere about that and it's a real testament to the program he was a part of in high school. They get as much out of their players as any other high school program and run a great program."
Q: How did you know his name?
"I always go through statistics and see stats from areas like Dallas and Houston; areas that I feel have kids that get overlooked a little bit. I saw his rushing and receiving stats and got some film on him. Nobody was really recruiting him and thought if we had a chance to get him, we should take it. He'll be on scholarship beginning in the winter. We have many players who play a lot who were former walk-ons. If you do not have a good walk-on program, you do not have a good program. When you are recruiting second tier players, you will have more kids who do not work out, whether it's because of academic risks, or projections. Building a walk-on program is critical because you do not want to miss on good players."
Q: Chris Ault (Nevada's head coach) was the creator of the pistol offense. Can you talk about defending that type of offense?
"It's kind of unusual because it's a combination of a lot of different things. They have an option element and a zone read element. It's unique because they play faster and it forces you to make defensive decisions faster than you normally would. They rely on making sure you make mistakes on reading their offense and built an offensive game plan around that. Their coaching staff knows what they're doing with it. Their backs and receivers are fast. You can see why they've had success."
Q: Your defense has had quite a few takeaways this year. Their turnover margin is +13. How important is that element going forward?
"I was disappointed that we made two turnovers on Saturday with the interception and the fumble. If you split our season in half, and see us when we were 1-4 and now when we are 5-0, you can see that the biggest key is minimizing turnovers. If we had done a better job of doing that early on, we could have won against Houston and Southern Miss. When you're playing as many competitive games as we are, turnovers make the difference. Nevada executes extremely well and their offense lends itself to making big plays, so we have to limit their possessions. They go on time consuming drives and eat the clock, so we have to capitalize on our possessions."
Q: With four straight wins is it safe to say you are confident going into this week's matchup?
"What I like about it is that we don't even talk about it. We just go play and let our play do the talking. We let the guys that play hard and do the right things play. We put the guys that want to play on the field. We are a blue-collar team and just go out and play. It's a great group of guys to work with and I've been happy with their approach every day."
Q: The forecast is 38 degrees with a chance of sleet/rain. How does that factor into the game?
"If you're a good football team and are mentally tough it doesn't matter. If you're looking for excuses then it does, but our guys are not looking for excuses. We just have to go play and I'm excited to see how we respond to the weather."
Q: This is a big game, because of the implications surrounding it. Is it a bit of a relief knowing that you are already bowl eligible going into it?
"It's good to be bowl eligible but not really. We've gotten better and improved but we're still striving to get better every day. Nobody is satisfied with where we are right now. Our guys have done the right things all year and motivating the team even when we were 1-4 was not a problem. It's a credit to our guys and coaches and everybody has done a great job staying focused and correcting the mistakes we made early on. Our coaches have done a really good job this year and we have a great staff."
Q: Early on, I saw that on the fake punt, their guys turned and not one player stayed around to watch the punt. Is that something you saw? Have you ever seen something do that before?
"I was surprised nobody has faked a punt on them all year because that's something they did consistently. We had two fakes going into the game and almost called it after the first one was called back, but I was talked out of it. You do what you do and that's something they've done all year. We lined up incorrectly on the play, so that was kind of disappointing."
Q: What does it say about the talent level on this team, when an SEC team double-teams wide receiver Quinton Patton all game?
"If you're a defensive coach, you go into the game trying to limit their best two or three players and plays. It's easy to see Quincy Patton is that guy for us so they did a good job of limiting him. If they played single coverage on him, they knew we were going to throw it his way."
Q: Two players were in the same spot in the end zone. Was that a mix up?
"The route was a double post, so we were going to high-low the safety. It was a play action play and DJ St. Julien was the inside receiver. The safety reacted so fast on the run fake and usually the inside post goes in front of the safety but the safety ran so far up on the run fake, that DJ ran right over him. Part of the reason why they were both at the same spot was because the safety reacted so fast and not because of a mix up. Colby (Cameron) was throwing to Quincy and I don't think he ever saw DJ, because he did not expect him to be there."
Q: There was a play where they called for a fair catch and then the punt returner ran for five yards. Is that a penalty?
"It depends because we've had some different interpretations on that. We were told by WAC officials that if you punt the ball and a guy signals for a fair catch and the ball hits the ground and then fields it and runs with it that is a penalty. However, SEC officials told us that the ball is dead on the spot."
Q: You had a few injuries in the game. Lennon Creer and Myles White both went down. How are those guys doing?
"They are both going to be fine. Chad Boyd was also a bit dinged up but he'll be fine. Come game time, we'll be as close to healthy as we have been all year. Adrien Cole has been a bit dinged up as well as continues to work through it. It's that time of year though, where everybody has a bit of an injury. Cole has a few injuries listed but he'll be fine come Saturday."
Q: You were disappointed with Cameron's interception. What do you think of his play after that?
"He played pretty well after that. It was a big interception because we could have kicked a field goal there to give us a three score lead. Luckily we intercepted the next play and ran it back for a touchdown. We ran a route similar to that earlier in the game and the safety covered it perfectly, so Cameron threw it away from him. But Cameron played well. He runs well and made good decisions, especially with the touchdown pass to Taulib Ikharo. His arm is live right now and the ball is coming out really well. He is still learning. He has to come out a bit faster, but he is a bit inexperienced because he hasn't really played a lot. He is improving and playing well."
Q: Colby Cameron was up for the Manning award last week and had Blake Griffin giving him a vote of confidence, telling people to vote for Cameron. How much of a confidence boost is that for your guys, knowing professional athletes are talking about the team?
"It is always fun. We don't get a ton of media attention so it's more meaningful for our guys than other programs that get a lot of media attention. Any time somebody recognizes your effort, it's a good thing because they appreciate your hard work, so it's a good thing for us."
Linebacker Adrien Cole
Q: You talked about turnovers on defense being contagious. Are big interception returns just as contagious?
"Anything that can help put points on the board for us is contagious. We had two big turnover returns on defense that helped put a gap between us and Ole Miss and that was critical to winning the game."
Q: How jealous are you that you don't have a pick six?
"Not at all because if I get to the quarterback quickly and make him throw under duress, it allows our secondary to capitalize on a rush throw and gives them an opportunity to intercept the pass. If I'm able to rush the throw, then players on our defense like Jay Dudley can hopefully create a turnover and take it to the house."
Q: A huge win making you guys bowl eligible. How's your confidence level going into this week's game?
"It is the biggest game of my collegiate career. We expect an excellent battle against one of the top rushing teams in the nation. We have a pretty good rushing defense, so hopefully we can limit their offense."
Q: Are you surprised by the amount of turnovers the defense has created this season, specifically the amount of turnovers returned for touchdowns?
"No because we stress that in practice. We practice how we play in games and try to rip the ball out of offensive players' hands whenever we can. That's not enough though, because we want to create the turnover and then take it to the house every time."
Q: You have faced many different offensive schemes this season. Does that help you going into this week, when you face a pistol offense in Nevada?
"Nevada has its own special offense, but seeing every type of offense has allowed us to apply a similar scheme and practice that all week long in preparation for Nevada."
Q: What do you think the key is to stopping the pistol formation?
"They have great running backs so it's going to require great defensive line play and great tackling. The entire defense has to be able to converge on whoever has the ball and bring him down."
Q: It takes a special guy to pull off a beard like that. Have you talked some guys on the team into growing one?
" Kendrick James has a beard growing in, but there's nothing to it."
Q: How much fun are you having during your senior season, especially the last month to six weeks?
"It's tremendous seeing all the hard work coming together and I am grateful for having this opportunity. It's great to be able to start and end my career as a Bulldog. It's a blessing in itself."
Q: After the win, the team goes over to the sideline and has about 3,000 fans there. What was that like?
"It was great because it felt a little like a home game. When you score, they score so it was an awesome feeling. We have great fans."
Q: Nevada has had Louisiana Tech's number the last few years. Does any of that creep into your mind, or does it even matter?
"It doesn't matter because every year, it's a new team. You never know what to expect on a new year and we expect a tough hard fought game with them."
Q: Do you have extra swagger to you after this past month or so?
"We're excited to finally be able to apply coach Tommy Spangler's game plan and not just do so in practice. It's great to be able to play well defensively."
Q: How tough has it been this season to go against different offensive schemes all season long?
"One of the great things about playing all of those different offensive variations is that we go against all of them during practice each week. It allows us to improve and also allows the defense to help the offense and vice versa. We practice against many offensive schemes all week in preparation for whoever we play that week."
Quarterback Colby Cameron
Q: Talk about being bowl eligible after beating an SEC team.
"It's exciting because as a freshman, I knew how great it was being a part of a bowl game. After not being able to play in a bowl game the last few years, it's great to have an opportunity to go back."
Q: What's it like being the offensive leader of a team? You took over during the Utah State game and have made the most of your opportunity. What's it like going into a game that can potentially put Tech atop the WAC standings?
"You have to make the most of your opportunities and I've just been applying our game plan. Our defense, offensive line and special teams have been great all year."
Q: Your defense has made many scoring plays this season. Are they momentum shifting plays and what do they do for your offense?
"It's huge because our offense sometimes struggles. When our defense makes a big play, it's a momentum shifter and gives us confidence."
Q: Does it give you confidence (offensively) knowing that the defense has the capability of turning any play into a touchdown?
"When you can get seven points without doing anything it's a great confidence because you know that if you are struggling they can pick you up."
Q: You've had some ups and downs since being here. Reflect on your experience in Louisiana Tech so far.
"Coming from California, it's hard being away from home but the guys on the team are great and we play for each other. They are like my second family. We are all one big unit and came together and it's a great feeling knowing that the offense, defense and special teams all play together. Coach Dykes implemented a system that has all of us play for each other and it's a great program to be a part of."
Q: Why did you come here from California?
"I visited the school and liked the school. I came here a few months later."
Q: What do you think about Nevada's defense?
"They play good defense and have great athletes. We're more worried about making good reads on offense and protecting the football."
Q: You played high school football in California. The weather for Saturday's game is projected at 38 degrees and a chance of sleet/rain with a lot of wind. Have you ever played under those conditions?
" Not really but I'll keep warm but it will not be a factor."
Q: Wind was blowing pretty good at Oxford this past weekend. Did that play a factor in some of your throws?
"No, if there was a bad ball thrown, it was my fault. The wind did not play a big factor."
Q: As a team, you guys have thrived on the road.
"The type of game is what really matters, but we have played extremely well on the road."
Q: Hunter Lee has been a great story for the program. When did you recognize how good this kid was?
"We threw routes throughout the summer and we had a talk over the summer. He was a kid that wanted to make the most of his opportunity and wanted to play. He does a great job for us and is a great player."
Q: Talk a little bit about your leadership role.
"I've been here a while and as a junior, I try to take on a leadership role and try to help out the freshman on the team."
Q: All you California kids have celebrity ties. Blake Griffin was voting for you last week. Talk a little about that.
"My brother started it off and it turned into a snowball effect. I'm not a big fan of the limelight so it made me laugh, but he's a good friend so it's all in good fun."
Q: Talk a little about your family.
"I have two sisters and a brother. My sisters both played sports in college and my brother is playing with the Cleveland Browns. They have been a great support system and role models. I'm the youngest one so they help me out a lot. It's a great family and a great group.
"My brother tells me to make the best of my opportunities. He did not play much in college (USC) and told me to make the best of my reps. When I go home, it's great to have somebody to work out with and he's been a great example."