ATLANTA -- Reports of the death of LSU's defense -- and the departure of head coach Les Miles -- have been greatly exaggerated. LSU cornerback Jonathan Zenon ran an interception back for a touchdown with under 10 minutes to play before linebacker Darry Beckwith picked off another inside the LSU 10 to cap the Tigers' 10th SEC Football Championship in school history.
The two plays put the LSU defense back on the map where they started the season -- among the nation's elite -- and put the Tigers right back in the middle of the National Championship picture.
LSU also earned its fourth Bowl Championship Series berth since 2001 and third conference title in that span.
On third-and-5 from the Tennessee 14, LSU cornerback Jonathan Zenon stepped in front of wide receiver Quintin Hancock and picked off Vols quarterback Erik Ainge at the Tennessee 18. He ran untouched into the endzone for a touchdown, LSU's first defensive score of the season.
Leading 19-14, LSU went for the two-point conversion, this time using Hester as a decoy in the short-yardage situation and opting to allow quarterback Ryan Perrilloux to take it himself into the endzone.
LSU's Case For No. 1
The victory was also the culmination of weeks of speculation about the future of LSU head coach Les Miles, who prior to the game debunked an ESPN rumor that he was taking another position by announcing that he will return to LSU for the 2008 season.
As SEC Champions, LSU's most likely destination looked to be the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1.
However, upsets of No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia could give the Tigers a shot at the National Championship game against now-No. 3 Ohio State.
The BCS pairing will be announced on FOX at 6:45 p.m. on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Perrilloux, the LSU sophomore quarterback, earned championship game MVP honors by calling the finest game of his short career.
Starting for just the second time in place of Matt Flynn, Perriolloux was 20-of-30 passing for 243 yards and a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
He also rushed nine times for 14 yards and scored the two-point conversion that gave LSU the final margin after Zenon's interception.
The Tigers converted 10-of-20 third downs while holding Tennessee to 4-of-13.
LSU running back Jacob Hester, who went over 1,000 yards on the season (1,017), was again the force that powered the Tigers' rushing attack. He ran 23 times for 120 yards to keep the Vols' linebackers and safeties from coming after Perrilloux.
LSU's defense was stellar, especially considering its health. It's front four lost Charles Alexander early in the season to injury also played without Marlon Favorite and Tremaine Johnson today.
All-American Glenn Dorsey missed more than half the game, yet LSU held running back Arian Foster to 57 yards on 21 rushes. Tennessee totalled 94 yards on 26 carries.
The Tigers finished the game with a 464-343 advantage in total offense, running 14 more plays than Tennessee and controlling the clock for more than 36 minutes.
LSU's defensive also pressured Ainge more than most have all season. Though not recording a sack, they held Ainge to 20-of-40 passing for 249 yards with two interceptions and two touchdowns.
The Vols then drove 62 yards in six plays and took a 7-0 lead on an 11-yard touchdown reception by tight end Chris Brown from quarterback Erik Ainge. LSU defensive end looked to have the pass intercepted when Brown streaked across the middle of the field, reached in front of Pittman and snagged the ball before sprinting into the endzone.
After that, LSU's defense lived up to its early-season reputation. The Tigers gave up only 31 yards for the rest of the half, forcing four-straight punts and allowing only two first downs.
However, the Tigers entered the Tennessee red zone three times and came away with only a pair of 30-yard field goals in the first quarter.
David missed his third 30-yard attempt to the right with less than 10 seconds to play in the half. It was his first miss in 11 tries.
LSU outgained Tennessee 271-93 in the half, holding the ball for 21:20 of the 30 minutes.
The Tigers took the second-half kickoff and did just what the Vols did to them in the first half -- they drove 76 yards in six plays to take their first lead of the game, 13-7.
On third-and-3 from the Tigers 31-yard line, Perrilloux kept the drive alive by scrambling out of the pocket and finding Brandon LaFell behind the defense for a 46-yard reception.
Three plays later, on third-and-16 from the Tennessee 27, Perrilloux again fired a dart to Byrd inside the Vols 5-yard line for a touchdown.
David added the point after for a 13-7 lead with 11:52 left in the third quarter.
Tennessee's attempt to answer was unsuccessful as the Vols plowed to the LSU 13 before missing a 30-yard field goal.
However, LSU gave Tennessee another opportunity with their first turnover of the game. After Trindon Holliday, took an option pitch for 19 yards into Tennessee territory, he looked to have another long run into field goal range. However, the ball was jarred from his grasp and into the hands of Tennessee's Eric Berry.
The Vols needed nine plays to re-take the lead, 14-13, when Ainge hit Josh Briscoe for a 6-yard touchdown with 3:09 left in the third quarter.
Another LSU turnover, this time an interception by Berry, Tennessee had excellent field position at the LSU 37. But the Vols couldn't take advantage of this gift, missing a 51-yard field goal to give the ball back to LSU.
The teams traded three-straight punts, including an LSU drive that featured a successful fake punt by LSU's Patrick Fisher.
Though LSU was unable to earn another first down after the fake, but Fisher's next punt pinned Tennessee at its 9. Three plays later, Ainge looked to his right for Hancock and was intercepted by Zenon for a touchdown.
LSU vs. Tennessee
Dec. 1, 2007 – Georgia Dome (Atlanta, Ga.) – SEC Championship Game
1. LSU’s game captains were 16 Craig Steltz, 18 Jacob Hester and 72 Glenn Dorsey.
2. Tennessee won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. LSU received the ball to open the in the second half.
3. Tigers extending their consecutive starts streak today were: CB Chevis Jackson (39), LB Ali Highsmith (27), LT Ciron Black (26), CB Jonathan Zenon (26), LG Herman Johnson (23) and DT Glenn Dorsey (21).
4. DT Ricky Jean-Francois started today’s game, his first game action of the season after being reinstated after serving a year-long suspension.
5. LSU has scored on its first possession of the second half in 11 of 13 games this season. Six of those nine scores have been touchdowns.
6. LSU’s 475 points this season (including the 21 points today) tied the school record for point in a season. The 2003 team also tallied 475 points set.
7. LSU’s fake punt for a first down with 12:03 left in the fourth quarter on a nine-yard pass from Patrick Fisher to Quinn Johnson was the first by the Tigers since Sept. 10, 2005 at Arizona State when Chris Jackson converted a first down on a 12-yard pass to Ronnie Prude. Fisher’s toss was also the first completion by an LSU punter since Jackson.
8. The Tigers tallied their first defensive touchdown of the season when Jonathan Zenon picked off an Erik Ainge pass and took it 18 yards for a score with 9:54 left in the fourth quarter.
a. It marked the first interception for a TD by LSU since Zenon recorded one in a 41-yard return versus Arizona on Sept. 9, 2006.
9. LSU claimed its 10th Southeastern Conference Championship with the victory and its first since the 2003 season. The Tigers other league titles came in 1935, ’36, ’58, ’61, ’62, ’70, ’86, ’88 and 2001.
10. The Tigers improved to 3-1 in SEC Championship Games and 6-1 all-time in the Georgia Dome.
11. LSU advanced to a BCS bowl game for the fourth time in program history. The Tigers’ other BCS appearances came in 2001, ’03 and ’06.
a. The Tigers became the first SEC team to reach BCS bowls in consecutive seasons since Florida did so in 2001 (Sugar) and 2002 (Orange).
12. QB Ryan Perrilloux became the third LSU player in school history to be named SEC Championship Game MVP. Matt Mauck (2001) and Justin Vincent (2003) were the Tigers’ other MVPs.
13. LSU recorded its fourth fourth-quarter comeback of the season. It was the ninth time during the Les Miles era the Tigers came from behind in the last period to win a contest.
14. The Tigers improved to 6-1 versus Top 25 teams with the victory.
15. TE Keith Zinger’s 27-yard reception in the first quarter was a career-high for the senior.
16. PK Colt David kicked a 30-yard FG with 8:29 left in the first quarter and 30-yard FG with 3:07 left in the first quarter. The successful kicks were his 36th and 37th of his career and the 24th and 25th of the season. With his first quarter FGs, David moved into a third-place tie on LSU’s career made field goal list.
a. David’s successful field goals in the first quarter extended his streak to 10 straight field goals made. His streak was snapped on a miss late in the second quarter on a 30-yard attempt.
b. David’s extra point in today’s game was the 67th consecutive PAT made by the junior, the fourth longest streak in LSU history.
17. With first quarter tackles, S Craig Steltz, CB Chevis Jackson, CB Jonathan Zenon extended their streaks to 23 straight games with a tackle and DT Glenn Dorsey extended his streak to 29 straight. With a third quarter tackle, LB Ali Highsmith extended his streak to 39 straight games.
18. QB Ryan Perrilloux tossed his eighth passing touchdown of both the season and his career with a 27-yard strike to WR Demetrius Byrd with 11:52 left in the third quarter.
19. WR Demetrius Byrd pulled down his seventh touchdown reception of both the season and his career with a 27-yard catch from QB Ryan Perrilloux with 11:52 left in the third quarter.
20. CB Jonathan Zenon’s interception for a touchdown with 9:54 remaining in the fourth quarter was the senior’s third of the season and ninth of his career.
21. LB Darry Beckwith picked off his first pass of the season and second of his career late in the fourth quarter. Beckwith’s other interception came at Tennessee last season.
22. RB Jacob Hester eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season on his game-clinching 20-yard run late in the fourth quarter. The senior finished the game with 120 yards and now has 1,017 for the season.
POST GAME QUOTES (courtesy of the SEC)
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with LSU. We're going to ask Coach Miles for some opening comments on the game, and then we'll take questions again just for the players and then we'll excuse them back to the locker room and continue on with Coach Miles.
COACH MILES: First I'd like to congratulate Tennessee on a great year, a very competitive game. They're a tremendously physical football team, offense and defense. I thought they played extremely hard today. Very, very worthy opponent.
I want to congratulate my team. They overcame adversity, injury, and in my opinion played a very, very strong game, did the things that they had to do to win and managed the game. I'm very proud. I'm very proud of this football team.
THE MODERATOR: Just a reminder, Ryan Perrilloux was named Most Valuable Player.
Q. Ryan, talk about the finger and the blood and how that all came about.
RYAN PERRILLOUX: Well, on the interception that I threw, I hit my finger on a helmet and split my finger real bad. But we just taped it up and kept on pushing, just kept on working.
Q. When you knew you were going to get the starting role and play significant minutes, just talk about your preparation, and Coach said it earlier in the week, trying to get you to do things you're capable of doing. It looked like you maybe made one mistake, but played with poise and led this team.
RYAN PERRILLOUX: Well, Coach always prepares each player like they're going to play. We just tried to execute the game plan that was at hand and get the victory, and basically it was a team effort as far as us just coming out and executing on all three phases.
Q. Can you talk about what this game specifically means to you. You've had some ups and downs. Obviously this will be your high point at LSU?
RYAN PERRILLOUX: It was a great feeling to be part of an SEC Championship team. It's definitely an honor just to be a part of this and share this with the guys that I see every day, and I'm just excited to be a part of this with them and with Coach.
Q. Jonathan, take us through the interception that put you guys ahead for good. What did you see on that play? How did it develop for you?
JONATHAN ZENON: Basically I seen those type of routes maybe like four or five times throughout the week. Our coach gave us great preparation. They gave us great schemes. Basically when I seen the formation, I knew exactly what they was going to run, and I had an opportunity to jump in front of the ball exactly when I did.
Q. I noticed a lot during the game on the sideline you were talking to Matt Flynn a lot. Can you talk about maybe the effect he had on you, the calming effect or what he tried to tell you?
RYAN PERRILLOUX: Matt Flynn is a great leader. He knew he wasn't going to be able to play today due to problems, but basically he just kept me calm, talked to me, made sure I was okay, kept my head level. Matt is just a great person to be around and a great person to learn from.
Q. This question is for Darry: You guys aren't sure who you're going to play just yet in BCS games. Y'all have an outside chance to play in the national title game, but talk about playing Hawaii if you go to the Sugar Bowl?
DARRY BECKWITH: I thought they were a great team with a great quarterback. I think we're going to not worry about who we play next and celebrate this game. We're going to celebrate this moment and continue to play better and get ready and come hard.
Q. For Ryan and Jonathan, can you talk about the distractions that there were before the game, or if they were distractions. And did you guys feel like you were out there playing for your coach or for anything beyond an SEC Championship?
RYAN PERRILLOUX: Everything we do we play for each other. We're all about team at LSU. We're all about each other. Everything we do is about us. We don't let outside distractions get inside our family. We just keep working and keep pressing forward and continue to get better.
JONATHAN ZENON: I think Ryan said it perfectly. Basically that's our number one rule on our team is play for ourselves. We play for the coaches, we play for the fans, basically like he said, no distractions on us. When we're on the field, we're playing football. That's all we're doing is playing football.
Q. Jonathan, describe your emotion on that interception. And also, did you think that was going to be the winner?
JONATHAN ZENON: Anything could have been a winner. Basically I think Darry's interception sealed the game for us. Just going out and doing the things that we do through practice, we've got to carry over to the game, and coaches gave us great preparation, and that's exactly what we did. We took everything we learned throughout the week to the game and tried to be successful.
Q. Jonathan, it looked like you guys switched coverages when they were making their audible call. And for Darry, can you talk about your interception and coming across and reading his guys?
DARRY BECKWITH: Well, basically it was in a cover four alignment, and my key was the running back. Usually when he flares out, I have to look for first inside, and he flared out, and the No. 2 receiver flared behind me running a spot route, and I just jumped right in front of it.
JONATHAN ZENON: Basically we did a lot of disguises, like we showed soft man but it was a hard man. Making sure he don't understand what coverage we ran. That's what we did, we gave him all kinds of disguises, and he couldn't pick up what kind of defense we were in.
Q. Darry, this senior class, they've accomplished a lot, and obviously this is a big reward for them, but obviously a lot of those guys were hurt and watching from the sidelines. Talk about the young guys that stepped in and made some plays in their absence. And obviously you guys have already alluded to the team aspect and the young guys contributing to that.
DARRY BECKWITH: We did a great job for this victory. Perrilloux came in and played hard tonight. The opportunity presented itself and he played well. Guys came up and stepped up and we knew we had a championship. A lot of teams can't call themselves champions, and we can call ourselves champions tonight.
Q. Ryan, since you hadn't played a lot this season, were you overanxious or anything going into the game, or just a little nervous?
RYAN PERRILLOUX: The adrenaline definitely was flowing, but the coaches, they just stayed calm, we prepared well, I felt like I prepared well, and we just came out and just executed. I just did whatever Coach asked me to do.
Q. This is for Darry: Your defense this year has not made a lot of stops in the red zone. Talk about that. Talk about the pressure your team was under in that last few seconds and what you felt you learned throughout the year to give you the chance to make that play.
DARRY BECKWITH: I think it's the character in the group of guys we have on the football team. Before the game Coach Pelini told us that a champion is not measured by its failure, but how he overcomes that failure and continues to work hard, and I think that's what we did. When we got in a tight situation we came together as a team and did our assignments. If it wasn't for the team doing their assignments, we wouldn't have made the interceptions. So everybody did their jobs tonight and fortunately we came out with a victory.
Q. Ryan, Coach had to address an issue this morning of a false report. For you as a sophomore, you coming back, what did it mean to hear Coach Miles say basically what he said, that he's your coach for the rest of your career, and obviously he said to the team he's going to be the coach at LSU for a long time?
RYAN PERRILLOUX: Well, it's definitely good to hear things like that. We know Coach is here with us, and we know Coach has been sticking by us from the beginning. And for Coach to say that, that definitely put ease on a lot of people's minds and hearts. We just went out and played for Coach and Coach coached for us, and we won as a team, SEC champs.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue on with questions for Coach Miles.
Q. Coach, you were so adamant about your speech this afternoon before the game started. A bunch of us just talked to your chancellor and asked him if he was confident you were coming back, and he said he's not confident, he is certain that you're coming back. You still left a little bit of wiggle room
COACH MILES: There's no wiggle room. I just want you to know. It's very difficult for me to take another job if I'm not talking to anybody, and I said that. I'm very fortunate to represent LSU. It's a great place. It's got everything. My family is happy. They said they want me. Chancellor said they want me. We've got great support, more supervisors have done anything that we need, give us every opportunity for victory.
It's a very special place. I'm glad to be home.
Q. After the penalty in the fourth they brought up 3rd and 15 and you mouthed the word "poise." You said "poise" a few times. Is that an attribute you like your guys to possess when you're in a tough battle like today?
COACH MILES: Well, the key to situations in the game is being able to manage them and not let the position on the field create any more pressure than the play that's called, just execute the play that's called. That's kind of what I was telling them. I was saying, okay, guys, just a piece of the field. It's not any different. Relax and play.
I think the offensive coaches did a nice job managing that situation, and certainly you make a mistake down there, it's points. We're fortunate that the quarterback did the things we asked him to do there.
Q. A couple games going on right now that are going to determine you guys' Bowl fate. If brings break away do you feel this team has made its case tonight for a shot at the national title?
COACH MILES: Well, I don't exactly know how votes will go, but we're the champions of the finest conference in America. We played Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida. I challenge any other team in America to go through this conference and come out unscathed.
You look at the losses, and these were triple overtime losses in a format that decides a winner, certainly a fair format, but not necessarily the mark of you don't necessarily know if you would have redone it that that would have been the turnout.
You know, you lose players at the beginning of the year we played a very talented Virginia Tech team, we lose early, and we just keep right on going. We went into an overtime time when we played 95 plays on defense, and about that many on offense, and the next week we played Auburn, and Auburn, a tremendously talented team, finds a way to win.
So you're looking at a team that will overcome adversity. Tonight we played without an All American defensive tackle, we played with our second team quarterback, and we're a very talented team. We stand at the top of the finest conference in America. I'm prejudiced, but that's how it appears to me. We'd like any opportunity. We'll get a quarterback back that's extremely talented, we'll get a defensive lineman back, and we're going to return to health. I'd line up against anybody and look forward to the opportunity. Anybody that saw this game tonight would certainly understand what this team arguably the finest team in the country.
Q. How concerned were you about the distraction of those guys in their hotel rooms, seeing this report?
COACH MILES: Very concerned. You know what, it's interesting, misinformation I feel as sad for Michigan as I do for my team. They didn't deserve that. I don't know how that information gets out. I'd challenge to find out exactly who said what. There should be some accountability when somebody says, "This is reported." Let me tell you something, they ought to confirm it with me. It's not true. It's not right. I've got a team that's sitting there they see me, I go down to chapel, when they see me, they're sitting there going, "Coach, sounds like you're catching a plane on Monday." That's not true. I had to tell them.
You know what, it's interesting, the unique and special situation that involves a championship game, they don't come around all the time, and in the history of the school this is the tenth. I did not want to in any way mar our kids' performance. I didn't want to in any way minimize the game. This is about two great teams. It's about a senior class that's the winningest senior class in the history of the school. This team has won 11 games three years in a row. This team has finished fifth in the nation, third in the nation, and Lord willing, we'll see if we can catch us another odd number here coming forward.
But for me to be an issue, for a coach to be an issue on a day like today, it's not forgivable. That's why I had to take the podium and tell the truth.
Q. Jonathan Zenon has been picked on a lot this year. There were times when I guess he could have packed it in tonight or any time during the season, but what does that tell you about him and the play he made?
COACH MILES: Well, I just hope more teams go to picking on Zenon. If you look at his play, you know, certainly when you play great teams, they have great players, too. They're going to make plays. But the mark of a champion is the ability to keep playing, and it's about the next play, and it's about the play that you can make, and you keep the pressure on your opponent and you work and you work and you find a way. That's Jon.
Q. When you heard that report or saw that report on television on ESPN, what were your emotions? You seemed pretty angry at your press conference earlier.
COACH MILES: I promise you, it's not a press conference I wanted to have. I wanted the game to be the focus, certainly not the coach. I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed that my name was on ESPN. I was embarrassed for my team.
Q. You just asked us to ask you, so I'm going to ask you, if Bo Pelini goes to Nebraska will you be interested in Jon Tenuta?
COACH MILES: I have no idea. I've given little thought to that. There's a number of guys that I'm considering if that happens. Thank you.
Q. Is he one of them?
COACH MILES: Sure.
Q. People who know you well say that the Michigan job was your dream job, and no offense, considering where you are in your career and your age, you may never get another shot at it (laughter). Considering they've had three coaches in 40 years. You have to have some feelings about that.
COACH MILES: You know, it's interesting, when I came here, my great mentor really there's two, Bill McCartney, who I call and I share any number of thoughts with, and Bo Schembechler, who was the great coach at Michigan. I always called him when it came down to making decisions. There was a job in the Midwest in the Big Ten that I had the opportunity to take when I was at Oklahoma State, and I called Bo, and I said, "Bo, I'd like to go to Michigan because this would be a great job." But he says, "That would be hard to do that from there. I said, okay. He says, "But I don't control this job. That's not something that I can guarantee."
Then not long later, I was fortunate to be contacted by LSU, and I said to Bo, I said, "Bo, what do you think about LSU?" He said, "Let me tell you something, it's a great place. John McLennan is a friend of mine, and he loves it there." Bo told me that LSU was a great place. So when I went there, when I came here, I didn't go with the pretense that there was only one place for me to go. I came here to make friends and find a great school and a team that loves to fight and play.
The sincerity of the relationships between coaches and players, they're real. Jacob Hester, Steltz, these are great kids. To think that there's anything less sincere than the relationship that I have with my team, there's nothing more important. I certainly love Michigan. I love Michigan. I will always be a Michigan man. I will always root for the next head coach there. I will wear those colors when it comes down to the Ohio Michigan game. I'm going to root and pull for the Blue, and they will eventually win that game (laughter).
There's a proud tradition, and they have to do the things they have to do. I'm for them, and if there's any way I can help them, I'd love to help them. But I'm not going there. It saddens me at times. I can't be at two places. I've got a great place. I'm at home.
Q. On the other side of the coin, you said you didn't want to be a distraction, but do you think this might have given your team a lift and made the difference or made some difference in the game?
COACH MILES: Not me, not me. I think the coach is just a coach. I think this team needed to be pointed in the right direction and kind of hit it out of the barn, and they were going to play. I felt like I had to if there was distraction, I had to remove it, but I don't really think it was all that big a deal. I think that they could handle it.
Q. You had a chance to go to the Sugar Bowl last year because of what happened with Florida going to the National Championship. How does it feel going into a Bowl game this year as the conference champion, that you earned your right to go to the Bowl game?
COACH MILES: You know, when you're a little kid you think about winning championships, whatever league, whatever spot, whatever little baseball team, wherever you're at. Winning a championship in this conference is why you play. It's as great an honor to be a part of this team as anything I've done in my career. Wherever we play I'll feel that way.
Q. At any point during the process did anybody representing you talk to anybody representing Michigan?
COACH MILES: No, no. George Bass is my agent, and he's not talked to Michigan, and I did not, as well.
Q. You said a couple weeks ago at your press conference that you hadn't talked to anyone in the area code of Michigan except one person. That person seemed a little surprised you weren't coming to Michigan. Do you keep anyone in the dark?
COACH MILES: I can only make the decisions that I can make. It saddens me that I can't be in both places.
Q. Sorry to split every hair on this, but yesterday you did say that you would talk to Michigan after this game, and today you're not going to Michigan.
COACH MILES: Correct.
Q. Was there something that happened in the last 12 hours or 14 hours that changed your mind?
COACH MILES: Well, first of all, the school here wants me to stay, and this is a great place and I've got a great team. I've got a great recruiting class started, and it would appear that we'd be able to finish it very strongly.
There's a lot of pluses right here. I've not talked to anybody from Michigan. The idea that I could allow a misinformation to occur and that, in fact, if I'm going to stay, there is no finer time to make a decision than before we play the championship game. That's how it comes.
Q. Kind of a similar question I asked the players: Most of your talent or a lot of your talent was watching. Talk about the guys that stepped in their shoes and made the plays.
COACH MILES: Well, Rick Jean François didn't play all year, and he stepped forward and made some plays, and he's a big ole strong man inside. Gary Beckwith returns from the injury and plays. We lost a wide receiver in the early part of the year and we lost early again in this game, and Demetrius Byrd and Brandon LaFell and those guys stepped forward and made big plays. That's the way a great team operates.
Guys that given the opportunity to step into the game make plays.
Q. Have you given any thought to contacting ESPN and kind of debunking where the misinformation came from? Because I think it came in the morning on their show.
COACH MILES: I contacted I didn't have a lot of time today to do much. I contacted our sports information director, and I'm certain that they did that. I can tell you that it'll be interesting to find out where their sources were.
Q. Looking over the last week, is there any, I guess, regret that you didn't have this afternoon's statement, say, last Monday and kind of put all this away and let your team obviously the results are going to be the same
COACH MILES: You like to operate in anonymity and you'd like to feel like you didn't need to make that statement, until this became an acute issue. So I enjoyed anonymity there. The decision to stay is based on how great the school is, with the opportunities that I have before me, the opportunity to the board supervisors and the chancellor and the president have agreed to allow me to stay in those terms. There's not many places in America as good as this one. It has everything, a great school, great campus, great state. I'm home.
Q. With that early information coming out on that report, especially from an Ohio State guy, do you think it's safe to say that Kirk Herbstreit might be off your Christmas card list?
COACH MILES: I think it's an Ohio State plot (laughter). I keep an eye on those guys from Ohio State every chance that I get.
THE MODERATOR: We're going to ask Coach Fulmer for some opening comments, his thoughts on the game, and then we'll take questions just for Jerod and Erik, and then we'll excuse them back to the locker room and continue on with Coach Fulmer.
COACH FULMER: Well, we came down here to win this football game. We prepared hard, and believed that we could. I give a lot of credit to a really fine LSU team and Coach Miles. They played well enough to win the game. We had our opportunities, didn't quite get it done.
I am very proud of this team for getting themselves here and very proud of the effort that they gave today. Our defense played its absolute rear off, considering that some of the shortcomings that we had with some injuries and other things, and a great effort, as did the offense. They played really hard. You know, usually a turnover backed up will get you beat, and that's kind of what happened.
Erik Ainge is the reason we're here, one of the reasons that we're here, and we certainly don't we win as a team, we lose as a football team, not any one of us.
Q. Jerod, can you just talk about defensively you guys did give up some yards, but when it came to the red zone, you were able to make stops there. Can you talk about what happened in those situations?
JEROD MAYO: That's been pretty much the way this defense has played all year, given up yards but not the amount of points. I'm really happy with the guys, how they played up front, and defensive backs. But there were plays in the game where we could have made a difference. Just a team loss, and LSU did an excellent job.
Q. Erik, a lot of teams have tried to pick on Zenon this year. Was that part of the game plan, to go after him? And what do you think he did on the play to return the interception?
ERIK AINGE: He made a good play. I shouldn't have thrown the ball out there. I mean, just as much as he made a good play, I made a bad decision. We played good, we protected all night. The guys played hard, I throw an interception for seven points when it's a tie game, it's going to get you beat. It's on me.
Q. Erik, it looked almost like they maybe switched from zone to man on that play, is that what happened?
ERIK AINGE: They changed to a different kind of zone, but it shouldn't have mattered. I saw them change to it. I should have thrown the ball to Austin Rogers, No. 21. We would have had a big play.
Q. Erik, do you think they may have got away with some pass interference penalties there? It seemed like there were three or four no calls?
ERIK AINGE: You've got to credit them playing tough and physical. If you can play hard and play physical, the less you're going to let the boys play, then that's what you've got to do. I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with you, I'm just giving them credit for playing physical. You've got to credit them.
Q. Jerod, could you comment on Ryan Perrilloux. It seemed like you guys hit him a few times, but he had a pretty good day.
JEROD MAYO: He had a good day. We didn't know who we were going to see today. He came in and made some good throws. The defensive line did a good job of getting to him. When it came down to it, he made some good plays.
Q. Erik, talk about that last interception, what you saw there.
ERIK AINGE: Trying to throw a post to Quintin Hancock and they defended it well. When you get out of the norm of what you're coached to do, and I tried to come back to something late, guys are flying over there when your eyes are to the left, guys come from far those guys are fast, they come from far distances, and I didn't see him. He made a good play. But 1st down, throw it away, 2nd down, throw it away, 3rd down, throw it away, and then you can make a play on 4th down if it's not clean.
Q. If you could pinpoint one thing, what would you say the difference was today?
ERIK AINGE: Turnovers. I thought we did some good things on offense, we did some great things on defense, enough to win the ballgame. Really that first one for points, that turnover will get you beat any time. SEC Championship, second game of the week, it doesn't matter, practice, scrimmage, if you throw a pass like, turnover like that for points, you put yourself in a bad situation?
Q. It looked like in the second half you guys really created some momentum by getting those turnovers of your own. Where did that come from? Did you make adjustments at halftime?
JEROD MAYO: Coach did an excellent job at halftime making a few adjustments and calling some great plays really. Those guys up front did an excellent job with the movements and things like that and opening up gaps for linebackers to shoot in. We made some plays like that, but we just didn't make enough.
Q. Erik, you've made really good decisions all year. Did you feel like today was just a case of just trying too hard and trying to make a play because you could see it within your grasp, winning the title, and just trying to make a play?
ERIK AINGE: I mean, you know, with the exception of those two plays, I made pretty good decisions about all day. It takes one play to get you beat. You know, sometimes you think something is going to be there based on same thing that happened to Florida. You know, that zone, yeah, he should have been open, guy made a good play, and you can't you've got to see what you see. That's what Coach Cutliffe says, see what you see. Just because something should be open, doesn't mean it's going to be. It's on me.
COACH FULMER: I don't want to interrupt. We play as a football team, and as I said earlier, we wouldn't be here if it weren't for the play of both of these young men on my right. He's sitting here and being very forthcoming and some of that, but he also played a heck of a football game and got us to Atlanta to play in this game, so I'm not going to sit here and let him take all the blame. We could have darn sure played better in a lot of places, and you win as a team, you lose as a team. There's enough blame to go around for the staff and the coaches and the players. It's not that kind of game. Football is a team game.
Q. Jerod, were you all aware of how many of their players were leaving the game, getting knocked out, and did you think at any point that you were taking away some of their playmakers and their ability to make some things happen?
JEROD MAYO: It was a very physical game from the first quarter all the way to the fourth quarter. Some of our guys got knocked around a little bit, but we got back up, and some of their guys did the same.
When it came down to it, their players were in there and their players made plays. On the defensive side of the ball we didn't make the plays we needed to.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue on with questions for Coach Fulmer.
Q. Can you describe Ron Perrilloux's efficiency today.
COACH FULMER: I thought he played real well. I thought they called a plan within what he does well. The one throw before the half against two deep was an outstanding throw, but it was also it was in the air long enough, we probably should have made that play. I don't know whether the corner found the receiver long enough or the safety just didn't get there. But they used his running ability all the way up to the last play there. He's a good player certainly, and they did a good job of doing what he could do.
Q. Would you mind discussing the decision to go forward on 4th and 4 there in the fourth quarter instead of going for the points, kicking the field goal.
COACH FULMER: There was a lot of things going through my mind right there. I felt like we could make it, and we had a really good play on, and we just didn't complete the pass or we would have been a 1st down. You kick the field goal, you've got to score again, you've still got two timeouts. You've still got to score a touchdown again, and I felt strongly that we could make it. The field goal kicker missed two field goals. That really had nothing to do with it, but that was in the conversation there that we had for a short period of time.
Q. At linebacker I know Ryan went out in the first half and Nevin got hurt. What kind of adjustments did that force you guys into?
COACH FULMER: Well, with Nevin out it took us and Ryan, it took us out of any of our mustang package in the second half. We're so thin anyway in the secondary positions, which those guys Nevin plays. So I thought Nevin came in and did a good job for Ryan, and when Nevin got hurt, I thought that Alex did a good job at Sam linebacker. When Alex got banged up and hurt I think Adam came in and did a good job. They were thin, you know.
Q. With as much time as LSU held the ball in the first half, any concern with your defense wearing down in the fourth quarter?
COACH FULMER: Yeah, I was very concerned. We're a well conditioned football team because we've been on the field way too much all year. Some of that is getting ourselves off the field, as well. There in the fourth quarter what did we have, three three and outs? That give us new life because we didn't have to stay out there forever. We played way too many we played 46 snaps in the first half. Offensively we just weren't keeping the ball nearly enough. It was a concern.
Q. How much were you influenced by watching what Arkansas was able to do last week, by using the two backup quarterbacks that you did today and the kind of plays that you used, the options and that sort of thing?
COACH FULMER: That's a little package that we have run most of the season, but it does give us a little bit of change of pace with Gerald Jones there.
Q. Talk about Eric Berry, there was a big game by him. And also talk about Jerod's played down the stretch.
COACH FULMER: Jerod Mayo has played unbelievable down the stretch. He's truly an All Conference player if not an All American player. He's played outstanding. LSU has had a very efficient running game, and if it hadn't been for him out there it seemed like he made about every tackle there for a while. He's a heck of a player.
Eric Berry is going to be if he stays healthy and everything, he's going to be one of the best players to play in the secondary in this league before it's all over with. He's doing really well and grown up a lot during the course of the year, and we'll just keep getting better.
Q. Does this loss hurt worse than 2001?
COACH FULMER: (Laughing) No, no. I mean, they all hurt the same. 2001 obviously meant not going to the National Championship game, then we were probably a much better of a team back then just as far as personnel quite likely, not nearly as young. We're playing a lot of young people right now, which is exciting for the future, and it's exciting to watch them grow up here. It also makes you have some gray hair sometimes.
Q. I know that you were quick to defend Erik there just a few moments ago, but what did you tell him after the game? And what was his attitude like, if you had a chance to speak with him?
COACH FULMER: This group of young men have been unbelievably unselfish and hard working and picking each other up all year long, and that's basically what I told them after the game, that it wasn't any one person's fault. It's not. It's not. He's played hard, trying to make a play. You know, I told Erik same thing I said to you guys. He helped get us here, a big reason that we're here, and he has no reason to blame himself. You know, athletics, that's the way it's going to be. Somebody is going to win, somebody is going to lose, and you hope you take your lessons and you get better from them.
Q. Can you kind of describe the frustrations with how hard it is to get to this game, and I know Tennessee is now 0 3 I think since '98 in this game. Can you describe the disappointment?
COACH FULMER: Yeah, but we've also been here five times, please print that, as well. A whole lot of people would like to be here since '98, and not very many people have.
Yeah, it's a great scene, it's a great game, and basically in this league you have to win the conference twice. I don't know if there's a better venue in the country than what we have here in the conference.
Everybody talks about our team. You know, we had three really quality wins, just like everybody else on the Eastern Division side. We earned our way here, just like whoever won it last year or the year before or the year before. We played our rears off when we got here. We're looking forward to coming back and winning it.
Q. Do you have a Bowl preference at this point?
COACH FULMER: Yeah, we'd like the Rose Bowl, how's that (laughter)?