Sep 9, 2013
"Last week at this time we spoke about our team from week one to week two needing to make significant progress. I thought we did make progress in a number of areas last week, in all three phases: offensively, defensively, and special teams. There are still some areas of concern. I think the one that's evident is just our overall depth and the only way that you'll prove that is to develop your players and recruit. So, that is what it is. This is a concern right now as we continue to move forward and our quality of opponents continue to increase, the physicality of the games continue to increase. That obviously is a concern. I think our overall style of play is still developing by which we want to play defense, the way we want to play offense, the way we want to play special teams. It's our players understanding consistency and performance and taking pride in their performance. Not just on game day but throughout the course of the week of preparation. We had a lot of individuals who had great performances perform that way in practice.
"We had some individuals who I was a little disappointed in their performance and it was the way that they practiced. We have to learn to come to work. In order to get better, you have to come to work each and every day with a hardhat mentality. Our players are getting there. I think they understand that. I think we had about anything and everything that could occur throughout the course of the game, occur. We had to suffer through some adversity, some momentum swings, and that's all mental conditioning. It's how you embrace sudden change. About two or three minutes to go in the first half we suffered all that. I liked our mindset. I liked our focus. At halftime there wasn't any panic. Our team needed to suffer some of that. They needed to go through that.
"I think it's also our players understanding the complimentary plays, how each play sets off of each other. There are good examples and there are poor examples. The first example is on the special team game. We downed a punt on the one-yard line and the next possession Justin Coleman interception, touchdown. That changes the complexion of the game. Third-and-one we don't get, which is unacceptable, and then they come back, drive the ball, and score a touchdown. Momentum's changing, it's third down, we throw a pass and it's dropped that could've resulted in a touchdown. That's points off the board. We punt the ball and boom they score. Then at the end of the game, we throw a deep ball and the receiver has to go and high point it, quarterback's got to get it out there, and then we give up a blocked punt which is flat out inexcusable, especially on a two man rush. Those are things that each play sets up, and like I told our team, a game can be influenced by two to three plays that can make a difference.
"Really, four to six plays can make a difference in a season and you never know which plays those are going to be. That's why you have to be dialed in. You have to be locked in on each and every snap. I did think our team took strides. I thought we progressed.
"As we all know, going to play the number two team in the country, they're 31-3 at home in the last five years, four consecutive BCS bowl games, and they're as good as advertised. Probably the most complete team I've seen in a number of years to date. Team speed, everything that you think of when you think of Oregon comes to your mind. A very, very athletic quarterback that can throw the football, make plays with his legs. Great team speed on the perimeter, great running back, physical offensive line. Defensively, very, very physical, very skilled in the secondary, and then where you really notice it is in the special teams. Our special teams game, just from a speed standpoint alone, is going to be challenged this week. So, I'll answer any questions you may have."
(On mental conditioning and the importance against Oregon)
"Absolutely. We call it mental conditioning for success in everything that we do. It's controlling the mind. Not only are we talking about a physical presence, but a mental presence. How do we respond? First of all, first road game with this football team, a number of individuals will be making their first road trip and what an environment. The week of preparation, what it's going to take going on the road, just let alone a communicative standpoint. Being able to handle sudden change and not get down, that's that confidence, that's that don't look up at the scoreboard, that's leadership. All that goes into that."
(On how to talk to the guys about being big underdogs)
"Well, I think it gets back to focusing on the process. Obviously they're a great football team. It's a tremendous, tremendous challenge but it's also a great opportunity. We have to have a great week of preparation. You talked about mental conditioning, that toughness is going to be on display. We're going to have to be able to withstand without substituting seven, eight, nine plays in a row. Can our defensive front play mean football for eight, nine plays in a row without substituting? Can we get lined up fast and decipher the call and execute our assignment when you can't hear, you can't communicate? You're on the road, you're in a hostile environment, and you're in a different environment that nobody's used to, even being in. That's all part of that mental toughness, that mental conditioning. So, it's all going to be on display and a lot of our younger players are going to have to grow up in a hurry."
(On how difficult it is to replicate Oregon's tempo in practice)
"Each offense has it's little nuances and little differences in their style of play. Our defense has been practicing against it since spring but they do a great job of mixing their tempos up. I think the thing they do a great job with is they create space in everything that they do. It's space and pace. That's the way they play. It's pace and space, pace and space. So, we're going to have to be great one-on-one tacklers. We're going to have to win our one-on-one matchups. They do a great job in the return game as well in creating space and letting their athletes go to work. Also, with Oregon, they're not a finesse football team. They're a physical football team. They have depth, and it's probably the most complete Oregon football team I've seen in a number of years. When you look at the returning starters that they have on offense and defense, you can that, and they've done a great job of recruiting as well."
(On how his defense has done with playing in space thus far)
"Well, I think our tackling has improved but I believe we had five missed tackles last week and we can't have that. Missed tackles are a direct correlation of big plays. So again, the speed level is going to be different, space is going to be different, and we have to continue to work on that. A lot it is just fundamentals. It's running your feet, it's having a great base, it's keeping your head up, and it's war in your sights. The other thing that they're going to challenge us in is our overall eye discipline. Did we improve from game one to game two with our eye discipline? Yes. Is it where it needs to be to play winning football and championship football? No, not anywhere where it needs to be and we're going to be challenged with their play-action game, and all the tempos, and all the different things going on Saturday."
(On how he emphasizes turnovers in practice)
"It's a standard by which we live by each and every day, even though you have to coach it, you have to teach it every single day. We even do a ball disruption video. Just creating habits. Dontavis Sapp, I spoke about it after the game, was textbook. We had a gang tackle, he started the lawn mower, ripped the ball out, and then recovered it. There's also a technique to what we call ground recovery. There's a technique to scoop and score, knuckles on the ground. So, you can see some of those fundamentals and some of those habits taking place. That's some of the progression and progress that we made from game one to game two. Obviously, we're going to be challenged that much more. We live it everyday and we take great pride of it in our program."
(On if he had them restart a drill because performance wasn't acceptable)
"Absolutely. It's the way we run the football. It's the ball disruption. It's simple things as impacting the quarterback. Everyone thinks how do you impact a quarterback? Well, hits on the quarterback or sacks. Well, there are more things than just impacting the quarterback. It's mirroring the off hand of the quarterback. It's getting your hand up in the throwing lane. Those are all things that you have to practice over and over and over again to form those championship habits that we talk about. It's still a work in progress. We're not still habitually there where it needs to be. Again, that's been the staple of our football teams in the past and also taking care of the football as well. We teach a lot of pictures from the game. I think pictures speak a thousand words."
(On the error of the blocked punt)
"Just a fundamental aspect and not squaring the defender up in a two man rush. I'm responsible for it. I coach the punt. We've had very few punt blocks in, I want to say, 15 years of running this punt. The individual is very prideful. It was a mistake and we'll get it corrected. It was just a fundamental. You're supposed to take him on square and we didn't. We picked a side and he squeezed through. The shields didn't do a good job of covering it. We spent as much time on punt as any aspect, as you guys know, in our football program. It's inexcusable."
(On not letting big plays snowball)
"Well, I think first of all it's a mindset. They're going to get their plays. They're going to make their big plays. That's a function of what they do. That's part of their offense. But it's not letting one big play equal two, equal three, equal four, and have a snowball effect and that's part of that mental conditioning. We have to force them and make them drive the football on us, and that's very challenging. You just have to look at their body of work this year, but not just this year, but over the last three, four, five years. So again, staying the course. It's focusing one snap at a time, just one snap at a time. That's going to be at a premium on Saturday."
(On Oregon's defense)
"You're exactly right. You just hit it. I talked about complimentary football plays. Also, they're playing great complimentary football as a team. Each phase compliments each other. Defensively, they're physical, they're athletic, they run to the football, they have disruptive quickness up front. This is an explosive defensive line. Their linebackers are out there and they can play man coverage. When I said a complete football team, everyone when they think of Oregon, they think of offense. They look and they think of skill and they think of fast pace, but really they're well coached, they have an identity, and their identity is found in all three phases."
(On Oregon's new coaches)
"Well I've said it, the great programs they win with consistency and continuity. If you look at their coaching staff, they've had that consistency and continuity. So, the teaching is the same. Even with Chip (Kelly) leaving it hasn't changed much. They've done a great job. I look at the fundamental aspect of the football team and we spoke about a lot of times when you play fast, the things that are compromised are your fundamentals. I don't see this with this football team. I think they've been on the cutting edge in college football from the sports science part of it, of having resources available to their players. Being able to monitor where they're at with being able to take care of their bodies, sleep, nutrition, and all that. I think they've been a step ahead in that world and I think it all shows."
(On preparing for the up tempo offense of Oregon)
"Well we've practiced that a lot and so we say it's always easier to slow down than it is to speed up and we're going to play our brand of football. We'll mix our tempos up but we're going to do whatever it takes to win the football game and it's going to take a phenomenal effort but again our kids are very prideful and I know we're looking forward to the challenge but we have to do a great job of really putting our players in a position to succeed and win their one on one matchups and it's going to be a great challenge but the tempo part of it, mixing the tempos up, that won't change."
(On how they'll prepare to play in Autzen)
"No we just have to continue to use the tools that we use you know and communication again is going to be at a premium and that's one of the loudest stadiums in the country so I think it's a great opportunity and I think it's a great deal in developing this football team to be able to go on the road in a place like Oregon. It's extremely difficult in the venue that it is and perform at a championship level and everyone has to bring their A game so we'll prepare our players just like we do each and every week and we'll have the controlled chaos. You know, it's challenging. Where it's really difficult is to really simulate game conditions against Oregon is your scout team. You know that's where it's going to be a challenge for our defense and we're going to have to find some creative measures in terms of really getting them to finish the play and get back and get the call and get lined up and that's the thing that we can't lose sight of is that it's still about finishing plays. I think sometimes there's a mindset that we've got to get lined up, we've got to get lined up that players forget to finish plays. And at the end of the day it still comes down to one on one matchups and finishing plays."
(On the offensive difference in the second half vs. WKU)
"We just executed. We didn't really get into a rhythm in the first half and I think a lot of that was a byproduct of the nature of the game and every game is different but we executed and that was great to see. We started executing throwing which was good to see. We made the plays and like with the plays I spoke about earlier in the press conference, those are all in the first half and the second half I thought Justin [Worley] calmed down. I thought he was extremely efficient; there was one throw that we would have liked to have back, really two in the second half. Again another great teaching tool, we drive the ball the length of the field. We have third down and long and we're in field goal range and we force the football. Hey, sometimes throwing the football away is a great play because it's one play and we have three points in our pocket so lets take the three points. That's the maturation of a quarterback but we just executed."
(On slowing down the offense in the second half against WKU)
"We just slowed it down to give our defense a break. I think that's the thing, just playing great defense is also at times an offense protecting its defense and we wanted to slow the game down a little bit and we knew that Western Kentucky had an explosive offense. They're efficient so we just wanted to slow things down."
(On playing Oregon and Florida back to back away games)
"Well it's a great challenge for us and we're asking a lot of our players you know it's going to be a great challenge but we'll find out more where we're at. It is what it is but we need to focus on the preparation for this week and playing winning football. You look at the overall nature of our schedule this year, like I told you, some people said it is the most difficult schedule in the history of college football and that's why I keep talking about competing for ourselves, championship habits, focusing on the process, and being able to stand and persevere and show great resiliency because our schedule dictates that as well but schedules are so set up and laid out far in advance, years in advance, but a lot of times that's just the ways it occurs and there is nothing we can do about it. Again it's also a great opportunity to and it's putting Tennessee on a national stage when you're going to play the number two team in the country so there are some benefits that come from it as well."
(On Oregon's quarterback Marcus Mariota)
"It makes it extremely challenging. That's the thing, not only do they have great backs and great receivers and great tight ends but they have a running quarterback so now you talk about discipline from your defense and executing assignments. You know, one missed assignment can be catastrophic to a defense. One guy having an eye violation whether he's the pitch or the dive man or the quarterback with no backs and a quarterback draw. It's going to challenge our discipline. I think it limits your packages too because of the tempo."
(On the very successful Oregon offense)
"It is and you know you're very, very beat and that's the thing is you can't key on one individual. They do a great job of mixing their personnel up, rotation of receivers at times. When you have a quarterback who's a dual threat who can run and who can pass that makes it double the challenge for the defense."
(On the different routes in the Oregon passing game)
"No you know our defense is used to that. They just always give you the mindset that they're always attacking. We have to have an attack mode back defensively and we have to be poised, we have to be calm, we have to be collected, we have to be confident."
(On being poised, calm and collected on defense)
"We talk about that all the time, not just because we're playing Oregon but we talk about it in team meeting."
(On Daniel McCullers)
"Well Daniel has really improved his pass rush skills and Saulsberry has been giving us a great rush in our third down package. We try to rotate our defensive lineman to keep them fresh. Dan continues to be work in progress. Dan is still one of those individuals though that need to learn that your practice habits are critical to carrying over to your game day performance and Dan is doing things that I have not seen him done off of film. Positive note: I think he's playing with greater effort, I think his mindset, his physicality have improved and he's very, very prideful. He doesn't say a lot but he listens and holds to every word you say. But we're still trying to teach him the importance of practice and he's going through the exact same learning curve that John Hughes, who's the starting defensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns who was with us at Cincinnati, he's going through the same maturation process that Derek Wolfe went through in his first year with us who's now with the Denver Broncos and they had great, great, great senior years and we expect a lot and demand a lot from Dan because he is very capable of being a difference maker and I've been pleased right now with his progress. We're in a relative early stage of the season."
(On McCullers during 1st and 2nd down)
"We'll you know he is [disruptive], the other thing is about staying ahead of change and you know in the first half last week we did a great job when we needed him on first down. Second and long, where we ran into issues in the first half of the Western Kentucky game was third and long and second and long. You work so hard to get ahead of the sticks and now you have to cash in on that and that's a point of emphasis. If you can win first down and stay ahead of the sticks, whether its offensively or defensively pretty much playing the law of percentages you're going to be pretty successful."
(On the injuries to Jacques Smith, Curt Maggitt and Corey Vereen)
"Well we totally anticipate having Jacques Smith back and he's been cleared to practice. He'll practice today. Curt Maggitt will be another; we'll see how he progresses throughout the week of practice. He's continually getting better and progressing. Corey Vereen, we'll know a little bit more about how he progresses throughout the week of practice but I'm very encouraged by all three individuals."
(On the importance of limiting missed tackles this week)
"Critical, you know the secondary is the last line of defense so we have to be sure tacklers. We have to understand how to leverage the football. Most big plays given up by the defense are usually by mental errors, missed assignments or lost leverage on the football and then missed tackles. We have to do a great job this week of really - we stress it every week - of really leveraging the football and getting 11 hats to the football."
(On the Georgia and Florida losses)
"You know I've been so focused on us and the SEC is the best football conference in the country. It's just I've lived in a bunker. All my focus has been on Austin Peay and Western Kentucky and now Oregon. My car goes home, office and so I don't pay much particular attention to really what's going on I've been so focused to getting this team ready."
(On having multiple running backs)
"Well I think in today's world of college football from a durability aspect and the pounding running backs take, not only are they getting hit every snap they run the football but they're involved in pass protection when they're on the perimeter. You need more than one running back. In a perfect world in our offense we need three or four running backs and Marlin and Rajion right now are really complimenting each other and I believe combined they had like 170 yards rushing and the great thing is they're feeding off each other, they're encouraging each other. They're a one and one punch so when you move forward with our football team, we have to have the ability to recruit a number of these type of running backs because we want to use them like we do in our offense. We want to use three or four, sometimes we may use up to five if we're able to."
(On running backs running north and south)
"I did, you know I thought that was something making strides from game one to game two. I thought Rajion got more north and south and ran behind his pads. I thought Marlin Lane did the same thing so I thought we took strides in that area."