Coordinators, Players Meet with Media - Day Two
Citrus Bowl presented by Overton’s Player-Coordinator Press Conference
LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and linebacker Devin White
December 29, 2017
COACH ARANDA: I have not been out yet. My biggest thing so far is we’ve got the iPad to show practice from yesterday, so I was able to watch that yesterday. But that’s been it.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about your preparation heading into this game. What are the things you’re looking at?
COACH ARANDA: I think when you look at Notre Dame, you see a team that’s very intelligent, is very physical. It’s a team that game plans people. There’s a fair amount of scheme in there. And so I think the challenge is being able to fit everything up and defend, you know, a whole season of different things. And so I think what you have to be able to try to do is backtrack some and see how they see how Notre Dame will see an opponent and why they would to what they do and try to infer from that how they would see you and attack you. I think if you didn’t see it that way, if you didn’t approach it like that, then you’re repping a whole bunch of stuff and maybe getting lost in all of it. And so that’s what we’ve tried to do.
But even with that being said, a month is a long time. And I think these last couple days, these are the days, personally for me, where you try to stay on track as best you can. It’s very easy to get off track, where it’s this play. And, you know, we repped that three weeks ago but we haven’t repped it lately and this whole thing, so it’s about time for the game to get here.
THE MODERATOR: Before we open it up to questions, Devin, you guys had a strong stretch that landed you into a New Year’s Day bowl game. How do you feel heading into here and the success you’ve had and trying to build on that?
DEVIN WHITE: I mean, I feel like the success comes from, you know, the players and the coaches just sticking together and them putting — you know, great game plans. And that’s just, you know, doing what we had to do on the field so we can win those games. But at the end the day, it’s one team, one heartbeat. We always stick together. And we’re so grateful to be in this bowl game because last year was a great bowl game. As you can see, we always get a great opponent. I mean, we’re just ready to play.
Q. Dave, how much does the guy who’s sitting to your left, his attitude, enhance his skill set? It seems like Devin’s a guy that really wants to learn. Has that made it easier for you and, I guess, his eagerness to get the job done?
COACH ARANDA: Yeah. We were talking earlier about Devin. If we didn’t have Devin White, we couldn’t do three fourths of what we’re doing. When we rotate in and out of practice with our reps, you know, there’s freshman linebackers that go in, and it’s just — sometimes it’s like crickets, and there’s nothing being said, man. You know what I mean? There’s no talk. And we have to really work hard to get communication going.
Devin’s the quarterback of the defense. He identifies formations. He’ll communicate tendencies. There’s checks that we have. He communicates those checks. There may be motion that takes that check off. All of that’s being done. And I think there was a time where there was such an overwhelming piece, that it was affecting some of his play at times and I think he’s overcome that.
And so (he’s an) integral part, man. I go back to last year and I look at the role that Duke Riley played for us. I think Devin has taken on that role and exceeded that role.
Q. This is for Dave. I mean, going back to last year’s game, Devin had such a good game. Could you kind of see at the end of last year he was coming also and then you saw back in the spring the big leap?
COACH ARANDA: Yes. I think there will be times in the last year, in the beginning of this year — I think we were talking about this earlier too — where Devin’s got a great instinct for the game and for where the ball is. And I think in last year, at times, that didn’t always jibe with what his technique was or what his particular position on that play needed to be, you know? It was very productive. He made a lot of plays.
And I think as we’ve progressed — and this is all due to Devin and his want to. I mean, he’s got all the ability in the world, man, but he’s very driven to improve, driven to be the best. And so when you’re working with someone like that, man, you challenge yourself because you have to ability to meet those demands.
And so Devin’s improvement has been making plays when they’re not in your gap or not in your zone or not in your area but also making plays when we need you to be in a certain spot. And he’s done that. You know, I think towards the end of the year, we were on a pretty good roll. So I feel we could take the next step here coming up.
Q. Devin, this one’s for you. Last year, as a freshman, you played — had some big plays on the special teams. Didn’t see a ton of action on defense. To make that jump sophomore year to be SEC’s leading tackle, what’s that like for you and how were you able to do that?
DEVIN WHITE: I mean, it’s a great jump to make, and last year I wanted play more, but obviously I wasn’t ready. But you couldn’t have told me I wasn’t ready from a mental standpoint. But me and those older guys like Duke and Kendall and Dunn as well, they told me you’ve got to make an impact on the team somewhere.
If you turn on the film, I was probably one of the best kickoff return blockers that we had, always was motivated to drive my guy out of bounds. And at the end of the day, it was fun as well.
But I feel like this year, from a mental standpoint, I asked Coach Aranda, how can I be better? And I feel like he laid out a formula. And I took advantage of it. And as you could see from watching film and just practicing hard, you know, I mean, I guess you could be the SEC leading tackler.
Q. What’s it like to hear him praise you like that about how much you studied and how you guys couldn’t be what you are without you?
DEVIN WHITE: I mean, it’s great to hear, but at the end of the day, Coach never lets me slack off at practice. He’s always, you know, wanting me to go hard and go harder even when I feel like I’m going as hard as I can go. So at
the end of the day, I feel like he wants what’s best for me. So it’s easy to play for a defensive coordinator/linebacker coach like Coach Aranda. And he wants me to be successful and he wants the best for our team. At the end of the day, I’m going to do whatever I have to do for this defense to go forward in time.
Q. Coach, what has Matt Canada‘s offense brought to your defense in terms of practice and how do you improve on having to defend on that stuff in practice? How much has it changed your preparation each week?
COACH ARANDA: It was challenging in the springtime and fall camp. But what it allowed us to do was to be able to see everything, to our adjustments and unbalanced formations, our adjustments to motion, our adjustments to empty formations, quarterback run. And so, you know, I think there was a time where all the freshmen that we were playing with were kind of taking it all in perhaps too fast. You know, they were thrown right into it. We were using all these words that they don’t know what it means. These adjustments were saying, we’ve got to go red hammer to hammer and we have to make exon calls and whatever else, and they have no idea what we’re talking about. They were indoctrinated by fire that way. And I think the positive part about that was that when we did get to the season, it was, ‘Oh, Coach, I got you. I know what you’re talking about. We saw this before.’ There was a lot of benefit in that.
Q. Dave, I think we only talked to you once this year but when we did, you talked about having Arden in the mix and it being able to give you another step, another level, I guess, to your defense. You’ve known that you weren’t going to have him. Did that help with bowl prep?
COACH ARANDA: Much like in this game, it’s very much a team effort in terms of past rush. I look at it that way: I think whenever you did have Arden, you’re always playing an Arden rushing, so there’s really Arden rules. And whatever defense we had, we had to make sure that Arden was rushing the passer. I think it’s probably a good bet to make.
And if you don’t have Arden, you miss the pass rush for certain. But it also opens up other opportunities to show this look, to dictate this protection, to bring this pressure from the other side or to show wingside pressure, to get this protection, to bring outside pressure. You can do more of those things.
And so I think having a month to prepare has been good in that regard. I think the challenge for our outside guys, whether it’s, you know, it’s Ray or it’s Michael or whoever it is, is the pass rush part, you know, getting off the field on third down. But probably just as important is setting edges. Notre Dame does a great job of pin and pools. There’s big old linemen and they block out and they create seems. And having edges versus that is critical. And so to have that extra time to prepare for that has been good.
Q. Dave, I know Ed last year said that he wanted to give you a break when you guys were off for a couple weeks in between season and bowl preps. He said he came back with 20 pages of notes on Lamar Jackson of Louisville. Did you do the same thing this year with Notre Dame?
COACH ARANDA: Yeah, man. It’s hard to just chill. Christmas morning we were able to hang out, and the kids were real excited about opening up presents and all that. But then I think by 1:00, we were back at it. I think the iPad kind of lends itself to that. So we’re all fortunate to have that.
But I think there is a fair amount of time when guys we’re recruiting at the end of the recruiting period — there was a lot of work that was done at that point, at that time. So I think a year ago the difference was that I was out recruiting during that time. We were looking for linebackers and such. And so to have that time already, you know, the Christmas break was really defining the details, and hopefully we’ve done that.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks very much. That’s going to do it for you guys. We appreciate your time.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about your visit to Orlando. You’re kind of used to this place now. It’s like an annual trip, isn’t it, Danny?
DANNY ETLING: Yeah. So last night they put an event together for us at the hotel. It was a very cool event. I got my hair cut. I don’t know if you guys saw. It’s a very good haircut. Shout out to Ben for that one. That was really fun and all the players were having a great time and it’s not too often you get to come to the same place twice and they’ve treated us real well twice. So we’re excited to be back here and excited for the opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about the running game that you have the privilege to help engineer, double threat that is not necessarily as widely talked about as it should be. We all know about Derrius but you’ve got a lot going on there.
DANNY ETLING: You’re talking about me running the ball?
THE MODERATOR: Handing off that ball.
DANNY ETLING: So, yeah. We’ve done a great job of putting together a running game that involves everyone in our offense and is very creative, and that’s a credit to Coach Canada and what we’ve done in this offense and creating LSU’s offense and what we want to be in the future and everything like that. So it’s been a great job by Darrel to really come along and (give us) another threat to our running game as well as a lot of receivers to be involved. It’s been really good.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, do you feel like you guys are clicking on all cylinders heading into this weekend?
COACH CANADA: Yeah, I do. I think we have got some guys back. We had some guys who were injured a little bit here and there, and it is always good to get as many players back as you can. And the time away from the last game of the season to the bowl allows those guys to get some good treatment, to get themselves right.
We got to see some young players, certainly in bowl prep, show what they can do — you know, ongoing skill development, as Coach O talks about — and I think that has been fun. But I feel like our offense is ready to play, and they’re excited to play a really, really good defense and one of the best schemes you’re going to see in our game. So we’re excited about the challenge.
THE MODERATOR: You have the reigning Citrus Bowl by Overton’s MVP leading your running game and another guy that people need to be talking about as well. Can you talk about that?
COACH CANADA: When you look back there with Darrel and Derrius and the backs running the ball, we have been very proud of what they’re done — the unselfishness that our entire offense has. Some games it’s the backs. Some games it is the tight ends. Some games it is the wideouts. Some games we have let Danny run it, I think, once or twice. So everybody gets a shot.
But really, really, the biggest thing for us is Coach’s philosophy of one team, one heartbeat, and the unselfishness that we have on offense. We had a game when the wideouts didn’t catch a ball, and the wideouts — they were fine. They knew we wanted to win. Other games we had to throw it a lot. We had a big one the last week there, Danny threw it very well, and our wideouts did a great job.
So I think you look at our running game and what we do and what it opens up for us, it certainly starts with the kids up front. They deserve the most of the credit. And then obviously Derrius and Darrel do a tremendous job. And Danny does a great job of getting the ball to the right guy at the right time.
THE MODERATOR: A lot of conversation when this matchup was put together about the mystique of Notre Dame, and there’s also a mystique about SEC every week day in and day out. Can you talk about that matchup, just how you see it?
COACH CANADA: They are a tremendous football team this year. Obviously, the history, they’re a tremendous football program, and it’s the same you can say for LSU. This is one of the best programs over time. And certainly this year, what our players have done to come back and finish six out of the last seven with wins in the SEC, which you mentioned, is a great credit to them, and I think it’s a tremendous matchup on all sides.
What we do on offense versus their defense, they’re going to give us a lot of challenges because of how much they do and what a great job they do. And on the other side, Coach Aranda will have a great plan for us, but their offense does a great job as well.
So it will be a lot of fun, and probably in these games, special teams may end up being a big part. Those plays always come down and the chance to change field positions. So I think it’s a great, great matchup.
Q. This is for both of you guys. You kind of alluded to it, the job that Jeff has done, just kind of a MASH unit at times with that offensive line. It’s pretty remarkable to me. I guess, was it astounding to you all?
COACH CANADA: Coach Grimes is one of the best in the business. There’s no question about it. And I think the standard that is set, that we’re just going to have to find a way to get it done. There wasn’t ever any, ‘Oh, too bad.’ As a coach, when you coach to a certain expectation, you don’t really look at a guy and say, ‘Oh, well, he’s a true freshman. He can take the wrong step.’ I think Grimey did a great job of not allowing that to happen.I think a lot of credit goes to, certainly, those young freshmen who played, the two that played the most. Austin was in some. Lloyd, a redshirt freshman, had to come in. He played a lot in the last game as well.
But a lot of credit in that goes to those guys up front, to Toby, to Will, to Brumfield, to Malone, who ended up getting hurt and continued to be a great leader. That room is so tight knit and so close, that those guys couldn’t let each other down. Which is all of us, our offense is about all of us, right? Nobody matters but us.
So those guys stuck together. We’ve got to do our job so he can make a throw, so Derrius can make a run. So it’s a credit to everybody, but it was a tremendous job to do what we were able to do on offense because those guys got it done.
Q. To both guys, a lot was made about the Troy game, what happened that week, what happened after that week. What did you guys learn about yourselves and, I guess, kind of learn to work together to finish the way you did?
COACH CANADA: Great credit to our players. Again, it comes back to there was a lot of things said and when you lose a football game — we had four turnovers in that game. We had eight on the year. So obviously, you know, it falls on me. We didn’t do something that we should have done in that week to turn the ball over like that.
But the story really is coming back winning six out of seven in the SEC. And the story and the credit is to our players. They stuck together. They didn’t start pointing fingers at each other. They didn’t blame somebody else. We came in — I remember that Monday practice. That Monday practice, we went out there and we said, ‘Let’s go.’ We had a good meeting. We went out there, we were cheering, we were clapping, and all the things with energy that Coach O talks about doing and we had a great week of practice and we came off the field and believed without a doubt we were going to go down and find a way to win the game. And certainly, that’s what happened.
Great job by our defense, holding (Florida’s total to) 16 and our guys, at the end of the game there, that last drive to take as much time as we could and with three true freshman on the field. But it’s about the players, the whole turnaround is a credit to our players and that’s the story that ought to be being talked about and I know it is.
Q. For both of you, unless Danny wants to answer that question. Let Danny answer that one.
DANNY ETLING: After the Troy game, I think it was just a wake-up call for everybody. I think it was a combination of the players, the coaches, putting together a great game plan the next week and then, you know, we had some past players come back and talk to us and I think that might have been the biggest wake up call for everybody — them coming and kind of ripping us a new one and making us understand with all the young guys that we had on our team what LSU is all about and what we did wrong and what we need to be better at. And those were the things we fixed that next week and we were able to come out with a win.
Q. Question for both of you guys as well. How do you balance wanting to enjoy this experience of coming to a big time bowl game and all the cool activities that come with it with the grind of getting ready to play a high quality opponent and wanting to perform really well in the game itself?
DANNY ETLING: It’s obviously a balance. You want to enjoy spending a lot of time with your team, especially with the seniors that you have. It’s the last time that you have together. So that’s something you want to enjoy.
But you also need to work through that and continue to prepare and that’s something, I think, that Coach O did a good job with the schedule was making sure we came here a little bit later maybe and prepared at our site just as long as we could. And then when we get here, we’ve got to train through everything and enjoy the time that we have together and the segmented times that they give us really cool activities to participate in but then we also have time to focus and compartmentalize everything. When football comes, we need to focus on that and just continue to keep improving and keep preparing.
COACH CANADA: I mean, I agree. For us, it’s a business trip. It’s a great reward for our players. As coaches, it’s a business trip for us. It’s great for our families. They get to do a lot of fun stuff.
The biggest thing that I would say to follow up on Danny said, it’s a chance one more time to be with your players, one more time to be with the seniors and that’s something as the season goes along, the bonds you make, you know, those are why we do it. So it’s a great opportunity to do that and to come to a great site like you mentioned and a January 1 bowl is certainly a great honor.
Q. For Danny, you guys played well in this game last year. I guess being comfortable this time around, you know, were things just a little bit easier to kind of get to Orlando and get started because you guys have already been here before?
DANNY ETLING: Yeah. I think it was an easier transition but it’s also something that you have to fight. You know, there was a lot of excitement getting to play in this game and you come to it and it’s a fun experience. So we don’t want to make sure that we come this season and take everything for granted like it’s just a game. So we want to come out and still be excited about everything and still relish the opportunity to play in such a great bowl game.
Q. Danny, you’ve joked about having some really great running backs behind you, but what is the difference between a healthy Derrius and maybe a Derrius that we’ve seen, you know, kind of struggle through this season? How much of a difference maker is it when he’s full go?
DANNY ETLING: Those weren’t jokes. They were serious. Those are really good running backs behind me.
And I think it’s a little bit of a difference. He’s able to finish more runs and really be physical and he’s such a great player and I think when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best backs in the country, obviously.
Q. Hey, Matt, just looking through the stats, receiving-wise, you don’t have a receiver over three receiving touchdowns on the year, but you’ve got a couple that threw — a lot of guys getting involved. Would you rather have that consistency from so many guys to just spread it out or one guy have eight, nine, 10 touchdowns on the year?
COACH CANADA: I think I would rather that we win every game so in the three we didn’t, I wish we had done something different. Other than that, you’re going to work to get your players — you know, to get the right player to the ball at the right time. And that’s certainly a goal. Our offense is based on match ups.
You look at the numbers D.J. put up. They were big. We don’t sit there as a staff and think, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get a guy a touchdown here or there.’ Our philosophy has always been when the season ends, the ball will be spread around and a lot of guys will touch it. I’m not smart enough to be a defensive coordinator. But I would think if you only had one guy that caught all the passes, they would probably do different things to try to double cover that guy. So we’ve always believed if you have more guys to stop, right, if we can run it, if we can throw it, we can throw it to the tight ends, if we can throw it to the receivers in the backs.
And that’s why I think our breakdown ended up being 80 catches for the receivers, 40 for the tight ends, and 39 for the running backs. So we were very pleased with the way that went. Certainly, you know, could have thrown it more and done this and that. We were just trying to win every game.
And again, I think Danny did a tremendous job managing the clock in a lot of games. We were milking time with eight, nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter in a lot of games as we went through that good run. Danny, he deserves a tremendous amount of credit because while I know everybody probably sits and thinks that’s very easy to get everybody out and to not make your offense feel like, ‘Oh, we’re in the four corners here because you still want to get first downs and still want to move the ball,’ — again referencing that Florida game — we were using time. So how many guys catch it or touch it, that’s not a big priority. We just want to win.
Q. Why do you think the jet sweeps worked better than the intermediate passing game, especially early on in the season?
COACH CANADA: I don’t know. We probably felt like in the game they were going to work so we called them more. And again, as the season went on, we want it to be balanced. That was the goal. The goal is win, take care of the football, be balanced. Get your players the ball, spread it around, and the quarterback needs to be efficient.
We won nine. We turned it over eight times. We were 210 to 201 in the season. Now, some games we weren’t, right? BYU game we were whatever it was, and we ran it all the time. So it’s not jet sweep versus intermediate pass. Every game is different, and we’re going to try to do the best thing we can to win and to play situational football so we win.
Q. Coach, in leading this offense, what’s the next step? How much can it improve in year two as opposed to year one with this offense?
COACH CANADA: Improving year two will be getting us to a championship. Again, every game is different. I mean, I think certain plays and certain players played very well at times. Ultimately, it all comes down to wins. So I don’t know. Every game is different.
Next year will be a different team, different players. You mentioned in the previous segment talking about Darrel and what a great job Darrel did. Here’s a guy who is as important to this team as anybody. He caught it. He ran it. He did those things.
Russell Gage, you guys ask about him out there, and what he’s kind of — all of a sudden he’s unbelievably important to us on offense and maybe more so on special teams. And then, obviously, you spread it around. And D.J. came from a guy that everybody thought might be to one of the leading receivers per catch in the nation.
So I think it always changes. You never know how it is going to go. Those young kids up front are going to get better. We have got two true freshman, they’re going to be a lot better after a year playing.