Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham, Offensive Coordinator Chris Klenakis, Senior Wide Receiver Jamari Staples and Senior Linebacker Keith Kelsey
Q: How are the preparations going right now?
TODD GRANTHAM: Welcome. Glad to be here. I think our guys have done a good job of understanding when it’s time to practice and meet. We’re working and we’re doing the things we need to be successful. And when it’s time to have fun, obviously Orlando offers a great environment for our players and our families to enjoy it. There’s been a good balance of both work and pleasure and obviously now that we’re getting close to a game, it’s time to get our minds right to go out and play.
Q: Has Coach worked you guys hard enough this week? Are you ready to go?
JAMARI STAPLES: Coach, he always makes sure we work hard. We’ve been having a lot of fun, just bonding as a team and just as a family, but we’ve been getting after it as well when it’s time to practice. So we’ve been out there working.
Q: How’s all the preparations going for you and the offense?
JAMARI STAPLES: Everything’s been fun so far. Orlando’s been a lot of fun, different experience for us. As far as practice goes, it’s been going good. Everybody’s been working hard. So everything’s going well this week.
Q: What is the game plan preparing for LSU?
CHRIS KLENAKIS: Well, the game plan is simple: Score points.
Q: How is everything going this week?
CHRIS KLENAKIS: It’s been going great. We’ve got actually a great three weeks of preparations. The two weeks back home were great. Guys went back to work, you know. Went back to our basics and reinstalled our offense and then came down here and really focused on our game plan against LSU.
Q: So if I can just stay with the players one more moment, will Keith [Kelsey] and Jamari [Staples], just the experience down here in Orlando, you’re no strangers to postseason play, but getting to come to Central Florida and all of the attractions, it’s an ultimate educational test I guess for work-life balance.
KEITH KELSEY: Man, we have been having a lot of fun, but we have been able to balance it as well. It just feels good to be in Florida as well, being that I’m from here. I mean, the weather is great. I’m really enjoying my teammates and my coaches. It’s my last game with them, so I’m just enjoying the ride.
Q: How about you for your last game as well?
JAMARI STAPLES: I mean, like he said, like you said, we’re just taking it easy, balancing it out pretty well, having fun but working hard at the same time, because we came down here to win a football game. But as far as my last game, I mean, it should be fun. We have a good opponent and it should be a fun game.
Q. Chris Klenakis, how has this week been different for you, acting as the offensive coordinator?
CHRIS KLENAKIS: You know, we’ve got a great offensive staff and anything we do, we do as a staff. We game plan as a staff and we lay out our practice plans and stuff. We’ve kept it right in rhythm and stride. And like I said, our staff’s done a great job in preparation.
Q. For Keith Kelsey, could you just talk about what you see from LSU and the difference. Obviously, they don’t have Leonard Fournette, but with Derrius Guice, and what you see with their offense and what you guys have been preparing for?
KEITH KELSEY: LSU has great players. They’re a great physical football team. With [Leonard] Fournette being out, [Derrius] Guice is a great running back as well that we’re prepared for. So it’s going to be a battle, but we’re looking forward to it.
Q. Keith Kelsey, what makes them so offensive running the ball? What do they do so effectively?
KEITH KELSEY: They have a great front, the whole line. It creates a lot of big holes for the running backs, the fullbacks, and the runners are able to find the holes. So that makes any team, really, a great running team.
Q. This is for Coach Todd Grantham. How will the loss of the two players that was announced yesterday, how is that going to impact? Where do you miss them the most defensively?
TODD GRANTHAM: Obviously, both of those guys contributed to our play this year. I think James Hearns is a guy that came on and really played well for us, allowed us to be 7-1 in the league play as a team. You know, that’s why you recruit. That’s why you coach during the entire year. That’s why we have, you know, crossover periods where our backups get reps. I’ve always said injury kind of creates depth, and it gives people opportunity. So the guys that we have, you know, Amonte Caban, Gary McCrae, Malik Staples, those guys are going to get an opportunity to play, and we’ll obviously coach those guys up and be able to develop them, you know, throughout this game. And, you know, some guys have to dig in a little bit. Jonathan Greenard, who’s a guy that’s started for us at times this year, made some plays for us. He’s obviously going to have a big impact. Devonte Fields, it’s his last game, is going to be in this game. It’s just one of those next-man-up kind of attitudes you’ve got to have as a team because things happen. We have really good leadership with Kelsey and our seniors that we’re going to make sure that guys are ready and they’re prepared.
Q. Todd, what about the depth in the secondary? Are you all nicked up back there as well at corner or anything like that?
TODD GRANTHAM: Right, yeah. So, you know, with injuries that we have, we’re going to continue to work the guys. I mean, Zyk Cannon can play multiple spots for us. Khane Pass is a guy that’s done a really good job at times, and he has shown up on special teams. And, generally speaking, when guys show up early in their career on special teams, it generally means that they’re going to be a good player on a certain side of the ball when it happens. So, once again, it just gets into that next-man-up, you know mindset, and if you take the field, and you’re one of the 11, you’ve got to go play. So that’s the mindset that we have, and that’s the way we’re going to play it.
Q. Jamari Staples, you talked to this LSU defense. They’re very confident. They’ve done a good job of keeping guys out of the end zone. You guys put up points, get in there. I asked Jamal Adams if Louisville has ever faced a defense like LSU. He told me absolutely not. What would be your response to that? What makes you guys so potent that you think you can break down this LSU defense?
JAMARI STAPLES: We’ll just let the game do the talking for that. People can say what they want, but at the end of the day it’s all about the points on the scoreboard. As far as the defense, they’re fast, physical. We know that. They’re good upfront, but they’re also strong on the back end, too. So it should be a good challenge for us.
Q. Do you compare them to anyone else you’ve played this year?
JAMARI STAPLES: No, not really. You think SEC, you think fast, physical defenses or whatever. But I mean, I wouldn’t compare them to nobody, no.
Q. You think that’s because that’s maybe a level up from what you’ve played defensively? Have you played a defense better than them?
JAMARI STAPLES: Clemson was good. I’ll say that. Clemson was good. But outside of that, no.
Q. Todd, can you just kind of — first chance we’ve had a time to talk to you about it. What — going back to the Wake Forest stuff, what you heard from Lonnie Galloway that week, what you may have — how that would have been implemented in you all’s game plan, just your general knowledge or involvement in that whole deal?
TODD GRANTHAM: When that issue came up, our athletic director, Tom Jurich, and as well as our ACC commissioner, they both investigated the situation. They dealt with it and they really handled the situation. And you know, we really considered the matter closed and right now, we’re working to prepare for the bowl game.
Q. Coach, what have you seen from Derrius Guice and how have you prepared for him?
TODD GRANTHAM: First of all, I think Coach [Ed] Orgeron has done an excellent good job since he’s taken over this team. They play the strength of their team, meaning that they’re physical up front with their offensive line. They have multiple tight ends that can not only block but catch the ball. They got wide outs outside, because they’re good at running the ball, they can run play action passes and get balls down the field. 15 [Malachi Dupri] can do that. But going back to the running backs, I see a guy that’s really hungry, a guy that wants to prove himself, a guy that’s really talented in what he’s doing and he’s got some people around him that compliment him very well. When you look at their offense in the five games they’ve won since Coach Orgeron’s taken over, I mean, they’re averaging over 40 points a game. And really when you go back to it, the only two losses are the two teams that play in the SEC championship game in Alabama and Florida. So we understand that they’re talented. We understand that they’re very good at running the ball and any time you’re good at running the ball, though, you’re going to have the ability to throw the ball down the field. We understand that that’s going to be something that we have to emphasize and stop and work on and have good discipline in the back end as well as how we play our gaps and we know it’s a challenge but we’re looking forward to it.
Q. Kind of a follow-up to that, I’m just curious, did you watch much film of LSU’s first four games as opposed to since Coach Orgeron took over, and what was the difference you saw?
TODD GRANTHAM: Well, because we’ve had so much time, I have looked at pretty much every game, but I’ve really emphasized the ones since he’s taken over, and I think he’s done a good job of having passion on the team. You see energy by the players. You see them doing the things that good teams do. And like I said, they’re 5-2 in those seven games, and the only two losses — you know, the Alabama game, it’s a one-possession game in the fourth quarter. They got the ball on the one-yard line against Florida, and both those teams play in the SEC Championship game. So they’re obviously a talented team. They can run the ball, and anytime you run the ball, you have the play action passes off of it. So we understand that, and we’ve just got to go play.
Q. Coach [Chris] Klenakis, what makes their pass rush so effective? What makes that front seven so tough?
CHRIS KLENAKIS: I tell you what, besides being very talented up front, their technique is outstanding. They are extremely well-coached. Obviously, Coach [Ed] Orgeron, at the beginning of the year with the deep front, but then bringing in Pete Jenkins, who’s one of the most renowned defensive line coaches, brought him out of retirement, and their techniques are great, their effort, and just the way they go to the ball. They run very well, but they’re so technically sound, it’s very impressive.
Q. Guys, a lot of times people say a key to bowl games is who’s motivated to be there. Where is your motivation level to play in this game and to win this game after you were so highly ranked not long ago?
KEITH KELSEY: It’s a lot of motivation. This is the last game I get to play with my teammates, and I want to have a good memory as well. A lot of us are from here as well, you know, families, friends, everybody in the stands. I mean, you don’t want to go out like that, you know, with the university on your back as well. We’ve got a lot to play for. You’ve got to play for the guy next to you.
Q. Jamari [Staples], it’s got to be difficult to have, you know, teammates who were shot. I’m just wondering about the emotional toll that it’s taken on you guys and how you’ve been able to work through that.
JAMARI STAPLES: We’ve just been able to come together and just stick together close as a family. I mean, we’re already close, but this just brought us even closer, you know, just keeping those guys up and being positive in the situation, looking at everything else we have going on around.
Q. And then for Coach [Todd] Grantham. Coach [Bobby] Petrino just seems to have this ability to push through distractions, you know, publicly and things like that, whether it’s the shooting or the leaks and things like that. I’m just wondering, what is it about him that’s able to ignore those things?
TODD GRANTHAM: I think that Coach [Bobby] Petrino is very passionate about playing and about coaching. He’s very driven to be successful and, you know, he stays focused and stays the course, and I think that allows our players and our team to kind of have the same focus, too. So I think it’s something that obviously affects our players, and it feeds off onto our players, and I just think it’s the focus on maintaining or doing the task at hand and handling that.
Q. Can you address that and then move on or not even address it?
TODD GRANTHAM: I think with social media today and media today, I think that it’s a little bit like parenting. You always have to address things as they come up and you have to, you know, educate guys and move on from it. And understand that things are going to happen and as they do, you educate. You build on it. You make your life better, and then you work on the next thing and try to be a better person, better team.
Q. For both players, the way the season ended with Houston and Kentucky, does that add any urgency to this game or does it have any impact at all?
KEITH KELSEY: It has a lot. You know, you want to go out on the right note. I mean, we didn’t finish the season how we wanted to. But we have a chance to bounce back and rebound in this game here.
JAMARI STAPLES: Yeah. We’re definitely playing with a chip on our shoulder this game. Like Keith [Kelsey] has been saying, this is our last year with the seniors, last year with a team so we’ve got to go out with a win.
Q. Lamar [Jackson] won the Heisman, took the tour, had a week. What’s it been like with him around and how has anything changed and talk about his preparation because you talked the other day about maybe being rusty the first day but shaking that off. What’s it been like?
JAMARI STAPLES: I mean, nothing’s really changed really. I mean, Lamar [Jackson] is still being Lamar [Jackson]. I mean, he won the Heisman. Yeah, we know, but Lamar [Jackson] is still Lamar [Jackson]. He’s still the same goofy guy. The first day of practice was a little iffy, like he said. But we got it together and we know what’s at hand, so we’re trying to win the game.
KEITH KELSEY: It’s amazing, you know, that he won Heisman. He deserves it. I mean, it’s a great feeling. Felt like the whole team and coaching staff won the Heisman. I mean, nothing’s changed. He’s the same person, as Jamari [Staples] said and we’re just expecting him to go out there and play like he normally does.
Q. Does he feel like it took a knock on you all’s integrity or anything like that or the value of that win or anything like that as it was projected in the media and the public?
TODD GRANTHAM: No. I think pretty much, like I said, our athletic director addressed the situation. The ACC Commissioner addressed it. They handled it. We consider the matter closed and we’ve really just moved on.
Q. Chris [Klenakis], just wondering about the play calling for the game. How will that work and what would that look like?
CHRIS KLENAKIS: Nothing will change with our play calling. Coach Petrino calls our plays. He calls our offense, so he makes the decisions and calls the plays so everything will stay the same in those regards.
Q. What’s your perspective of Louisville’s defense? Do they get the credit they deserve for how good they’ve been this year?
CHRIS KLENAKIS: Our own defense — our defense is outstanding. We see them every day in practice. We see them every day in camp, you know. Our defense has great pass rushers. Our linebackers, Keith [Kelsey], they don’t come any smarter than him as a football player, and our back end is good, and that’s what makes a good team. We have a saying that iron sharpens iron, and when you compete against good people every day, it makes you better.
Q. Coach [Todd] Grantham, you’ve talked about injuries. Just the circumstance of the two guys you lost most recently, and I don’t know how much you can even talk about that yet. But as a coach, when you hear about that, what goes through your mind, and how do you react to it personally? And can you tell us anything more about any of those circumstances?
TODD GRANTHAM: Well, first of all, when you do find the information, your heart stops a little bit because, you know, we are talking about student athletes and young men that are working to get their degree, and they have a vision of playing football and continuing their career. But fortunately for everyone involved, they’re okay. They’re going to be fine. And the most important thing is, they’re going to be able to move forward with their lives. And you always use those things — unfortunately, with the society we live in today, things happen, and it’s always an opportunity to educate guys and let the next person understand what can happen and just make sure that you’re safe as you move forward in your life. So, fortunately both guys are fine. Everybody is okay. Our thoughts and prayers, obviously, go out to all the victims that were in it. And the biggest thing now is to get those guys healthy and let them move on and live productive lives.
Q. Coach, since Steve Ensminger took over, it seems like LSU is throwing the ball to the tight end a lot more than they did in the past. Some of the LSU players joke he’s getting the ball —
TODD GRANTHAM: It’s because he coached him, right?
Q. That’s right. He’s getting the ball to his guys. I’m just curious, what kind of challenge does that present, I mean, even with all the other weapons they have?
TODD GRANTHAM: Yeah. I think, first of all, it all goes back to the running game. I think that when you have the ability to run the ball, and you can be effective in running the ball, it can affect your eye control sometimes. And guys that are blockers, meaning tight ends sometimes that are usually blocking all the time, now they can slip down to the middle of the field. The fullback can get in the flat. So you have those kind of things that you’ve got to deal with. They can run over-routes and things like that. So, you know, because of the effectiveness of the running game, it can make — it can affect your discipline with your eyes, and you don’t focus on what you need to, and then that one time they can get a play down the field. And then the other challenge is the talent of the white-outs outside because, you know, to be able to take away the running game, you’ve got to have some one-on-one matchups outside, and when you do that, you’re going to have to make some plays on some balls that are down the field. So it’ll be an opportunity for us to make those kind of plays, and it’s certainly a challenge, but we’re looking forward to it.
Q. Jamari [Staples], has anything changed for you guys since Coach Galloway’s not here?
JAMARI STAPLES: Everything has still been going in order. Our Coach Mark Slack has been doing a good job so far with us, but we have been smooth sailing. I mean, it’s just as if he was still here. We’re practicing, making plays. Everything is going smoothly.
Q. Jamari [Staples], I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to you since the Kentucky game. What was your injury there, and are you back from that?
JAMARI STAPLES: I’d rather not speak on it.
Q. All right. What do think about the three losses that ended the season? What did it do for you guys and how much motivation is that?
KEITH KELSEY: It’s a lot of motivation. Don’t nobody like losing. We got a chance to redeem ourselves and play a good team, LSU, as well. What better way to go out than playing them in the bowl game and everybody is going to go out there competing.
JAMARI STAPLES: Like Keith [Kelsey] said, this is definitely a game that we want to win. Losing those three games at the end of the season was definitely not something we thought would happen, but this is a game we can bounce back and have something to look forward to going into 2017.
Q. You are ready to play now, right?
JAMARI STAPLES: Yeah, I’m good.