Sept. 5, 2011
"The substitution and operation of the game, when I look back on it, was a real plus for us - especially given their high-tempo, no-huddle. They're subbing a lot; we're subbing a lot - so the defense did a really good job on that. And then I felt Tyler managed the game really well from an operational standpoint, so that was good. Plus-three turnovers; as we know, that's the No. 1 indicator of winning and losing. And, of course, our pass game I felt like on both sides of the ball was pretty good. We gave up that one bad play - you can't get it back. But if you did take it out, they were about four yards an attempt; we were about 12½, which is a huge number.
"Like every game, there are a lot of things we need to work on to improve - starting with six balls on the ground. It's inexcusable, surprising that that happened. We work on it every day and hadn't had a big problem with that in camp. We were very fortunate not to have any turnovers.
"Our ability to adjust. Our youth showed up a lot, because in games it's never going to be how you plan it. They're always going to come out and throw different things at you, and you have to have an ability to go to the sideline and make adjustments. And we really struggled at that, especially some of the newer guys. We have to do a better job with that. I also felt (the lack of) an overall commitment on each play by the players, the new faces. What I mean by that is you run these plays a certain way for four weeks, and you have confidence and you're going fast. Then you get out in the game and you get a little bit unsure and you don't play as fast. I saw that.
"We need a lot of work on those things, but it was a good win. I was really proud of the team to start out the year that way.
"Our players of the week were Tyler (Bray), he did a great job for us. Statistically he was good, but he also managed the offense really well. Daryl Vereen on defense. He flew around - senior, senior, not surprising. He played fast, made some good open-field tackles and was disruptive. And Rod Wilks on special teams. Rod's a guy who keeps sticking with it and plays a very valuable role for us.
"Injuries - Mo Couch had a slight knee sprain; he's day-to-day. We'll probably re-evaluate Devrin (Young) next week, so he's still in the rehab. He can catch punts but we can't touch him. Next week, we'll see where he is and have a better feel for that. Herman (Lathers) update - he got his screws taken out; we're thinking 4-6 weeks. We hope by the second half of the season he can come in and get back in it.
"Cincinnati - prior to last year, 33 wins in three years and two BCS games (Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl). That's a lot of wins. Veteran group. I looked at their starting 22, and I think 18 of them are upper-classmen. Eleven seniors, seven juniors. I think they lost only one guy on defense in their top-11 production, so they've got everybody back. And their offense is one of those nightmare offenses, because they've got a great quarterback who was all-conference, they spread the field and generate numbers by doing so, and they have a fabulous running back who had over 1,000 yards and has a lot of speed. We're going to have to do a great job of tackling in space and we're going to have to do a great job with assignment football. This is a very good football team coming in, and we'll see where our team is.
"I'll open it up with that."
In terms of assignments and making tackles out on the perimeter against the spread, did you feel like you were noticeably improved from a year ago?
"I feel like we improved from a year ago, but there are a lot of scary things you see. The better the team is, the more you get exposed. Sometimes things look good, but you go, `Uh-oh.' And the other team's looking at it going, "Oh, wow. There's an opportunity there.' We're going to find out how we can really handle the spread this week, because these guys are really good. Even last year with the season they had - first-year coach, lot of change, it's always difficult - but they had Oklahoma beat. And scoring was not the issue; they score a lot of points. You put 72 - I don't care who you're playing, that's a lot of points. It's going to be a hard one."
How much does having seen the spread against Montana help? Is there a lot of carry-over schematically after getting to face a similar offense?
"There's a little carry-over, but every spread team's a little different. This team really has elements of everything. They do a good job because they've got weapons everywhere. Is there a little carry-over? Yes. But each spread team's unique, and probably what these guys do more than a lot of spread teams is they have an ability to generate big plays down the field. They push it vertically a little bit more than just dinking it out there all the time. They do it all. It's going to be hard."
Are you guys settled in the secondary?
"No, we're not going to be settled for a while. We're going to keep seeing where we go. Last week, we played about 50-50. When we went nickel, (Eric) Gordon was in there; (Brian) Randolph was in there sometimes. We'll keep playing with that, keep trying to figure out if we can use Prentiss (Waggner) different ways. It's a work in progress.
Which of those two would you prefer?
"The one that works, and I don't know what that is. That's why we're still experimenting. If I knew it, I'd already be doing it. It's not a committee."
What's the challenge in playing a quarterback who passes first and looks to pass, but is also a running threat?
"Just take our guy, Tyler. You don't worry about him running around. He still has to be able to generate some plays with his feet, but when you design pass rushes, your games up front, you never worry about that. But when quarterbacks can move, it's like you are one short somewhere. You're either going to compromise his ability to run and he's going to gash you, or you better have all that protected and it's going to slow you down on the pass rush or pull one out of coverage. It's hard.
"All those quarterback-run teams, the reason it's effective is because of an extra player they have that you have to account for. There are negatives to it too. There are not a lot of guys out there who are really good at both. That's always one of the challenges. Cincinnati has one that's good at both. And then, of course, there's the challenge of getting them through the year physically, because they're going to get hit. It's like any offense - there's good and bad to both. But when you have a guy who can do both, it's a hard weapon."
With the way their game went Saturday, you probably got a lot of looks at what they're doing well running the ball. I guess seven yards per carry.
"Yeah, and they only really played a half. I think they had almost 50 points the first half and then they put their second string in. So they didn't have to show a lot, because the little they showed was effective."
You didn't play as fast on defense as you wanted to, did you? And is that a concern against Cincinnati?
"No, I thought we played well. We had a few screw-ups. We were a little soft on the perimeter when they threw those little quick screens, but we adjusted. And we gave up a couple of big plays on missed assignments. If we have mental errors Saturday, it's going to be a bludgeoning. And if we can't tackle in space effectively with a lot orange shirts to the ball, then it's going to be a track meet."
Can you talk about what you got from A.J. (Johnson) and Curt (Maggitt) at linebacker and how valuable was it for them to see themselves on film?
"They had a real solid day, both of them. Didn't overwhelm you with anything they did but didn't make mistakes. They were where they were supposed to be; they fit. I thought that was encouraging, because you're always worried the first time they're out there. I think they're just going to get better and better."
Some of the offensive linemen said after the game that they were having communication problems and maybe a little breakdown in technique, especially when run-blocking. How did you evaluate the running game and the offensive line's performance?
"Let me start with the run game. We obviously have to get more production out of the run game; we're going to need to. I really attribute it to everybody. It always starts with coaching, but the offensive line didn't play as well as it's capable of, we didn't block on the perimeter like we're capable at receiver, and the runners didn't run consistently enough with that commitment. And that word commitment is what I thought we lacked in the run game - with the runners committing to the run, with the linemen committing to what they see.
"Montana did a lot up front. They did some things they didn't do all last year. They came out and ran some 3-4 on us. So it slowed us down a little bit, but that's not an excuse because every team's going to come in a do some different things. I think with experience, those guys - they were a little bit hesitant, and it showed."
You were able to get eight or nine guys snaps on the defensive line with a lot of rotation. Did you notice throughout the game if they were better by the end as far as fitness or being fresh?
"It helps us to have a lot of guys, but part of the reason we do that is because we don't have a lot of really good guys. It allows you to play more. But especially with these spread teams, there's so much lateral running and chasing the ball - you've got to keep fresh guys in there.
"I think every good defense, though, they have three good inside guys and three good ends so you're rolling at 6-8 guys."
Overall, how were the contributions of your true freshmen in the game?
"How many did we play? We had 12? No kidding. We're probably not done there. Let me think through them. Of course A.J. and Curt we talked about them doing a steady job. Justin Coleman got initiated a little bit. Marlin (Lane) showed some good things. The two tight ends played well - Brendan (Downs) and Cam (Clear) played with a nice calm. Brian Randolph is going to be good for us back there; I was pleased with him. DeAnthony Arnett and Tiny (Antonio Richardson) got in but only played a few snaps. And Vincent Dallas played and recovered a fumble.
"The guys who kind of stood out and played a lot of snaps were A.J., Curt, Marlin Lane, Brian Randolph, Justin Coleman and the tight ends. I think what was pleasing about that class was you didn't see them just panic and be so wide-eyed they couldn't perform. They had a nice calm about them. That was good."
You guys threw a lot to Da'Rick (Rogers) and Justin (Hunter), but do you feel like moving forward that you will have to spread it around more?
"If we can feed it to those two about 15 a game, we won't have to. But if they start taking that away, we're going to need some other guys. Those two guys are pretty good receivers; they are. What I don't want to do is say, `Hey, we don't want to show a tendency that we're throwing to Justin Hunter.' And then we throw it to these other guys and they make five yards.
"I'd rather just feed it to the guy as long as he can catch it. It's kind of the backyard in me. `That guy's good; throw it to him.' `They've got two on him.' `Well, give it a shot anyway. And if they stop it, then we'll think about something else.'"
How much of the six fumbles was the weather and how much was ball-security?
"There were some fundamental problems, more than anything. It usually goes back to fundamentals. What the weather does is it exposes poor fundamentals, if that makes sense. The weather doesn't cause it; it's poor fundamentals. But sometimes you get away with poor fundamentals when everything's perfect or you don't get it hit right (by the defense). I'm, a., glad we saw it and, b., really happy it didn't come back to haunt it. If those would have been six turnovers, guys, this would have been a whole different ballgame. It would have."
Tyler had the two picks that were called back. Were either of those bad throws?
"They were both probably bad decisions. One was a really bad one. Tyler's biggest challenge right now is not losing his aggressiveness, not losing his risk-taking, but knowing when to drop it down and hit a check-down. I don't think he's hit one yet in seven starts; he might have one because he was scrambling and he was about to get hit. And that will come.
"But what I don't want to do is say, `Throw it to the check-down, Tyler.' And then all of a sudden he loses that juice, because that helps us when we can push it down the field."
You talked after the game about third-and-short situations and always wanting to convert all of them. Is Channing (Fugate) maybe an option there on the ground?
"He may be. We had about four or five in the game. Two of them were sneaks. We only really got stuffed on one, I think. But we should be 100 percent.
"Tyler's a bad sneak guy, but you've got to have a quarterback sneak. He stands straight up and just kind of looks around. We've got to get him lower."
How is Rajion Neal?
"I think Rajion is back and we're going to use him this week. We've got to get him in the game plan and we need him, because he brings a little juice in space. Running back, maybe in a slot - we'll see. But we need to use Rajion and we're going to."
Do you subscribe to the theory that you have your biggest improvement from your first game to your second game and, if so, why?
"There's a lot of merit to that. We need a big jump and I told our team that. Our ability to compete with these guys this week is going to depend on how much we improve in a lot of these areas. That statement probably comes from teams who play really bad in the first game and then they look like a whole new team in the second game, and that happens too."
Last year, you went from UT Martin to Oregon. Is that hard to measure or did you see improvement against Oregon?
"I felt like we did improve. Of course, it was a totally different circumstance because it wasn't just the caliber of team we were playing but what they did on offense. It was almost like a first game. This will be a true second game. You're playing an opponent that has offensive skill as good as anybody and can score points as good as anybody you'll play. And it's going to be that spread up-tempo, so it will be a challenge. I'd rather not play these two kinds of teams this early, but that's what we face."
How important will it be to get a couple of sustained drives to keep that spread offense off the field?
"What was good to see on offense (against Montana) we had two drives that were a couple of plays and then we had three drives over 10 plays. That happened in the scrimmage too; we had a 16-play drive. We've shown an ability to stay with it and sustain a long drive, and we've shown an ability to hit a big play. There are times in games where you need both, and a lot of it just depends on what the other guys are giving you."
It seems like few of the spread teams actually commit guys to blocking, but Cincinnati's is a vertical passing game and those plays need time to develop. So is this one of those games where you feel you could get a really good pass rush?
"I hope so, but what they do to slow it down is you don't know when that vertical pass is coming. They still do a good job with all the other stuff of slowing your d-line down. And then, boom, you're over there looking around and, `Uh-oh, this is a drop-back deal.' Just like every game, we're going to have to get to the quarterback - nothing changes there."
Does (Cincinnati's Zach) Collaros remind you of any quarterbacks you've seen before?
"I don't want to compare him to anybody but it's rare to find guys who have the ability to run the ball and then be a real accurate down-the-field thrower the way he is. And that's why he was all-conference first team, why he's got probably more production than anybody. He's good."
When Cincinnati looks at you guys on video, what do you think's going to stick out about you?
"They're not going to worry about our run game very much, they're probably going to see a lot of holes in our defense - they going to probably be feeling pretty good this week. That's what I would think.
"I think this is going to be a big game for them. They had a tough season last year and this is probably an early monumental game in their eyes to keep their program at the level it's been. We're going to get their best, there's no question. They're going to be revved up and ready to go."
What do you guys do when the game is delayed? What did y'all do for that hour and 45 minutes?
"Nothing. I felt it was important to get them to take their pads off, take their shoes off, relax. What I didn't want them to do was have them sitting there like this (shaking), listening to music - that's what they do before the game. You can't do that for two hours and then go play for three, and that's what I was most concerned about.
"So I'm yelling at them, `Take your pads off and relax.' You have to make them relax; you have to scream at them to relax. And it's hard for them - `We've got to play! We've got to play!' I said, `It might be two hours.' When I told them that, you know, `Man, that is a long time.' As long as I had a good 20-minute warning for them, I knew we could get them back; that was the hardest thing. And then we finally did. And then they all started saying they were hungry, because they were just laying around not thinking about anything. So we had to manage that. But we did get them some peanut butter sandwiches at halftime. It is a long time; you eat pregame meal four hours before a game - that's a lot of hours without eating with the energy you're putting it. But it that old saying, `A hungry dog fights harder.' So you don't want to feed them too much."
Can you talk about Daniel Hood and how he played?
"Dan played about how he's been practicing all year, which is good. He's steady; he plays with good gap discipline and kind of plugs those holes in the middle. He's doing a good job for us."
How did Couch play before he got hurt?
"Mo did well too. We don't even know when he got hurt; he kept playing. He showed some good things. Mo's going to be good. It's just time; we've got to have time."
You rotated in maybe nine defensive linemen. Is that something you want to do all year or is that situational depending on your opponent?
"It just depends on a lot of things - what the offense is doing, the tempo of the game, number of plays. And it's still early, so we're still seeing how these guys perform. There are a lot of new faces in there."
You mentioned the plan to use both Michael (Palardy) and Matt (Darr) on punts. Can you elaborate on why?
"They're both talented, first of all. And some guys do some things better than the other guys, depending on the situation. We'll see how that plays out. Mike's got a little cleaner operation; of course, he has more experience in games. But Matt's a big leg and has big-leg talent.
"I thought we had a very sound kicking game; I was pleased with it. Our coverage units were great. Our kickoff return game, I think our average drive start was outside the 40. It was good. We didn't punt the ball as well as we needed to, but we made a big play, made a big turnover. If you get one of those a game on special teams, it usually makes a difference."
Justin made some catches over the middle and found some space. Can you talk about his role trying to take his game up as opposed to just being that deep guy or that guy in the end zone?
"He's worked very hard at being a complete receiver. The progress he's made in the last eight months has been monumental. It's a tribute to, a., he's got very gifted physical skills. He does. And, b., he's worked at it. He's worked really hard. He's put on, I think, 10 or 15 pounds, which is a lot of weight for a little guy. And it shows. He's stronger, he's more elusive, and we're moving him around. We had him at just one position last year, so we're trying to get him where he plays in the slot, he's backside, he's at the Z. Because we think he's going to be one of those guys that everybody thinks they've got to take him out of the game. So we're going to have to figure out ways to ways to generate some throws to him."
Are you comfortable with Channing in the passing game? It seems like he was pretty active there. Is that where he's going to get more involved in the offense rather than carrying the ball?
"He does a little bit of everything. We move him around. He can play some tight end, some wing, some fullback, we pop him out wide. He's the classic jack-of-all-trades guy, and I'm thinking master at nothing, but I didn't say that."
With Florida and the SEC opener looming the week after this, how do you keep guys from looking past this week against Cincinnati?
"If we're looking past anybody, we've got some serious issues - especially when we watch the film of this team (Cincinnati). I don't even need to address that with the team. This team, I mean, 33 wins in three years and two BCS. What else do we need to say we're playing a heck of an opponent? It blows me away. Everybody back, an all-conference quarterback - this team's good. We get caught up in names too much."
How did you think Austin Johnson played?
"He did OK. The more space there is, the tougher it is for Austin. And that's what these spread teams do.
All right, guys. Thanks."