Sept. 21, 2010
"OK, let's recap Florida. Looking at the film there's always a few things you see that you didn't catch live. The obvious things on offense were starting with three turnovers. We'll have a hard time beating any team turning the ball over that much. But probably the biggest disappointment offensively was the number of just breakdowns, doing things they never did in practice. It was almost as if we were more starry-eyed this game on offense than the previous two. I'm not sure why. The defense was kind of the opposite. They were really starry-eyed against Oregon, and they played a lot better as far as playing with a little calm, doing what you're supposed to do. And it showed up against the run. But ultimately what killed us on defense is our inability to win one-on-one at every level, and that's what got us on third down. Our pass rush was terrible up front when we could never win any one-on-ones. We weren't coming at them aggressively. We weren't aggressive in coverage, never denied them the ball. So give them credit.
"Then on special teams, we're doing some good things. The punt game was really good. Chad punted the ball well and the coverage was good and our field goals are doing good. But our kickoff and our kickoff return was a big discrepancy in field position. We were going pretty good on the coverage units until Florida. We just weren't very aggressive. Again, doing things that we didn't do in practice. I don't know why, and we've got to correct it.
"If you look at the field position game, I think their average field position was the 41 and ours was the 26. That makes a big difference.
"We competed well. As many mistakes as we made, we're sitting there with 11 minutes to go and down seven, and we've got a chance to win the football game. We just didn't execute from there. So we learn from it, and I think at every position we have to figure out big picture where do we need to get better. We're going to do that, and we're doing that, and we will.
"Injuries, looking ahead this week, of course we've got (Marlon) Walls, (Ben) Martin, (Naz) Oliver (out). (JerQuari) Schofield probably won't play. Cody Pope probably won't play. Gerald Jones, (Ben) Bartholomew. So that's seven guys. (Tauren) Poole's banged up. Denarius Moore's banged up. They'll be day-to-day. I don't know what their status is going to be, so we just continue to thin up to make it interesting.
"Our next opponent, I know a lot of their coaches. They've got a great coaching staff. I know their two coordinators and their head coach very well, and I have a lot of respect for them. They're four years into their program. This is what you see your fourth year. They've got a deep team. They have 17 starters returning, and they've played in these kind of games so they're not going to be starry-eyed. They got more experience, more depth, and they don't even have to bring their best to beat us. They can beat us even without their best, and we have to worry about us improving and minimizing the mistakes or we're going to be real disappointed after the game.
"It's going be a real big challenge for us. Certainly coming off two top-10 teams, we've got to prepare as if this is a top-10 team, because it is, because it's the next game and it counts the same. So that's where we are."
On offensive breakdowns against Florida:
"There were a lot, I'll just tell you, at every position. First off on the offensive line, we struggled to get a hat on a hat a lot of times. They were doing some movement. We had some guys pop free. There were times we got whipped, and that's OK. There was some confusion, poor technique. Quarterback, we had a lot of decision issues and accuracy issues that affected us. Our running backs, poor in pass protection, technique-wise, and jumpy when they ran the ball. Our receivers, getting lined up properly and using good route technique. I mean, it was essentially everything and it showed."
How do you make corrections if you don't see those mistakes until game time?
"Well, I think it starts with having better practice. We haven't really put together a great week of practice. That's pretty common with a young team and a team that doesn't have a lot of experience and leadership -- learning how to prepare for a game so that you go into the game confident and when things happen you don't panic. So it starts with preparation. It always does because I've always believed that that's where confidence comes from. You have to earn the right to be confident when you hit the field, and you do that through your preparation."
You mentioned kickoff return. Can you talk about what you've seen from David Oku from that standpoint in the first three games?
"I've see nothing from him other than an inability to make yards. I don't think he's running with any conviction, and I've told him that. I think he runs tippy-toeing and searching."
He looks like he's maybe a little hesitant in the hole. Is that not trusting his blockers? Is it his mentality?
"I think it's probably a lack of trust. At returner, you have to commit. You can't blink. You have to go and press the hole and then hit the crease. If you're a little bit hesitant at all, the door shuts. ... It's all timing and spacing. So if your spacing's right with the blocks, the timing has got to be hit full speed and then boom, hit the crease. The good returners, they commit and they hit it. We aren't doing that right now, and it shows. We didn't do a good job blocking, but there's been a lot of returns out there with a lot of air that we're not taking advantage of."
Is that job possibly open at this point? Will you look at anybody else there?
"We're going to keep looking at David, but yeah, we're going to look at some other guys. But we've been doing that. Just like punt returner, I've been saying it since the spring, and most of the things that I brought up after the week of spring practice I'm still talking about them."
On punt returns:
"Eric's doing a good job so far. He hasn't had a chance. A lot of it is the field position, so they're sky punting and that hurts us. And then there just hasn't been a lot of opportunity.
"What's happening, the punt game's changing. You've got all these formations and the punters are spraying them everywhere. And because the rules are different than the NFL, the return game is less and less. It's almost like the more consistent and better the punter is, the more likely you can return some. Now it's like nobody wants to teach good punting, and so it's just spray it all around the field. And it's effective. It's working. It's hard to set up returns, and they've got these guys flying. But we haven't had a lot of opportunities. We'll see as the season goes."
Where you're shorthanded in some other areas, is the return game where you would like to maybe make up some ground?
"I've always said this, that the special teams is always sort of a microcosm of your team. And our depth issues, it really shows up on (special) teams. They outperformed us in the big space areas. Yeah, we want to make it up, but you've got to have two things to be good on (special) teams besides the obvious of coaching and working it and all that stuff. We all know that.
"You've got to have a good core group of guys, core meaning they've got the size and speed to be physical and athletic in space. And then you've got to have some special guys returning and specialists. We're still trying to develop both of those areas. I've been blessed where I've been to have that. We've always been really good in the return game everywhere I've been, and we're not right now so we're going to keep working to get there. And we'll get there."
You're down three on the offensive line.
"This game we'll be going in with sophomore at tackle, true freshman, sophomore, and we're going to play Zach Fulton a lot. He's playing better. So half the game, you're going see three true freshmen and two sophomores, and that's our offensive line. You'll see that half the game, hopefully, because that means they're healthy."
To say that, what goes through your mind?
"What goes through my mind is we've got to do a good job of developing a plan so that they can go out there and function and get hats on hats, like I said. I think if we do that, we'll be OK. I can't get them experience without playing them. We can't go look on the free-agent wire right now and pick up some guys on the street. It's what we are. We've got to coach them and go win with them. And that's what we're going to try to do."
Do you see a long-term benefit then?
"I do. As you know, I've always said I think those guys are going to be good players. Having Dallas (Thomas), James (Stone), Zach Fulton, Ja'Wuan (James) three years, yeah, I do."
When you were at LSU on (Nick) Saban's staff, the loss to UAB.
"Yeah, I remember like it was yesterday, John. Thanks for reminding me. I actually laid in my bed last night going through that game.
"Do you want to know what happened? Is that what you're going at?"
"If I recall, we had six turnovers in the game. Now you'll have to check the stats. Sometimes the coaches' memories get exaggerated, but I recall spitting the ball out. So turnovers were huge. They had some good players. They had some defensive linemen that we struggled to block. We were real thin up front. Now what was different, we had a lot of veteran playmakers. We had (LaBrandon) Toefield and Domanick Davis at runner. We had Rohan Davey at quarterback. We had Josh Reed at receiver, who was a Biletnikoff (Award) guy. So we had some skill guys, but it was the turnovers that got us.
"The week after, by the way, we beat Tennessee in overtime.
"The fans' reaction to Coach Saban's program changed drastically. I was there that whole week from the loss to UAB to the win over Tennessee. Yeah, I remember it. I'm thinking about it every minute."
How do you make a quarterback more accurate?
"First off is being confident with your decision, and if you're sitting there doing this and then you pull the trigger -- that's the first thing is being confident with his decision. And then I think on a lot of his deeper balls, he's driving them instead of putting some air on it.
"I think those two things right there'll help. Forget about the mechanics and all that other stuff. Giving our guys a chance on the deeper balls. We've got some guys that can go up and get it and we're not even given them a chance."
Can you talk about the play of Denarius Moore and his knack for the big play?
"Well, he's got pretty good speed, and what we struggle with Denarius is in his consistency. He's got ability to hit a home run, which is great and we need it. But we also need him to be more of an every down. Don't make the mistakes and play fast every snap, and that's what we're trying to get out of Denarius."
Talk about LaMarcus Thompson and his play.
"He's active. He's been very productive. He's been good on special teams. He's on our punt and kickoff unit. He's a steady all-around guy. He's a classic example of when you talk about deep, core guys, that's those kind of guys like LaMarcus Thompson."
How close is Gerald Jones to getting back?
"Yeah, he's not going to play this week. This week, he's coming out of his cast and getting into a splint. But he's got to have a week of -- I don't know, maybe we'll have a penmanship test or something because I say, `Let's go throw him some balls if he's coming out of his cast.' `Well, he's not ready for that.' What can you do?
"I played with a splint. Of course I was terrible. I actually played with a cast as a wideout. But I had to, because if I knew if I ever said I couldn't play, that might have been the end. Because they'd put the other guy in and they'd realize he was better. Gerald knows when he comes back, he's back in the lineup."
The defense has given up 20 points in the first half, 59 in the second half. Is that just a reflection of depth or other issues?
"Fourteen of the Oregon second-half points were not defense, so there's a start. That doesn't knock it down to 20 or anything. I think when you look at the two games, yeah, it concerns you. I was disappointed we couldn't get a stop in the fourth quarter with 11 minutes to go, and we gave up a big play, we gave up a third-and-9 and couldn't get off the field. You know, the Oregon game, they got us. They got us. They put it on us, and we broke. The Florida game, we just didn't execute."
Talk about the lack of a pass rush. What do you have to do to change that?
"I guess we just keep working. There's got to be times in a game where they've got to pin their ears back and go at the quarterback. And it looks like sometimes we're just searching a little bit, is it play action, is it a run, is the back peeling? You've just got to go and disrupt. Maybe that will help them."
Has that been a disappointment? Because if you look at the preseason, end was a place where you had some veterans with some ability.
"Well, we lost Ben, and so that left Chris. And then we brought in Malik, really more to bulk up the D-line, but we need to get Chris going a little bit in pass rush."
How helpful has it been with such an inexperienced squad to start your first four games at home?
"It might have helped if they both weren't in the top 10. I don't know. It's a good question, because we were pretty rattled in both of those games. Who knows what it would have looked like on the road -- I think that's what you're getting at. I'd rather play at home than on the road, but eventually they've got to learn to play on the road. I'm not sure having two games or four games under their belts is going to make much of a difference."
How do you feel about your team's leadership at this point?
"I thought a lot of it came out in the game, and that was good, especially on defense. You know, we've got a lot more veteran guys on the other side of the ball. It's been hard getting some leadership on offense, and it's not the players' fault. It really isn't. It's just because before you can affect others, which is what leadership is -- affecting others to do better, to act better, to play better -- you have to be able to do it yourself. Most of our guys are trying to get out there and function themselves, and the last thing on their mind is worrying about the other guy. They're just trying to get through the game themselves. So I think that's what's hurt us a little bit offensively from a leadership standpoint. There's nobody up front that's going to start really ratcheting heads, because they're sitting there going, `Is it deuce? Is it trey? Is it single? Is it double? What's this guy doing?' Matt's got a lot of leadership qualities. A lot. He's got good command, but he's focusing on him playing well. Receivers, they're just trying to get lined up."
The fact that Joseph Ayres played so much the other day, is that an indication that he's really coming on, or do you have other tackles that are just really not playing the way you want them to?
"I think it's a little of both. Joe's doing a good job, but Joe's limited in his size. He's got his limitations, but Joe plays hard and he does what the coaches (ask), the technique. He's fighting in there, and that's always a start."
You mentioned a hesitancy. Is there any way maybe to simplify things? Do you think guys are thinking too much, maybe?
"On what part of the ball?"
Well, you mentioned Oku was hesitant, and defensively guys not pinning their ears back.
"I don't think so, Dave. I don't think we're doing too much. We're doing a lot less than anywhere I've been around, so I don't think that's the case. I think it's just a case of they've got to get comfortable with it and commit. You know, we ran two kickoff returns the other night, so if we're thinking, we got real issues. We've got a real simple run game. What we're doing is really not complex."
How many do you feel like you have right now on special teams as opposed to how many you'd like to have?
"We don't have very many. Austin Johnson's an example of a core guy. Backup mike, good football player, puts his heart into it.
"Your intellectual capacity is an important part of playing football. When I say intellectual I don't mean your ability to read Shakespeare. I just mean your ability to retain schematically what your job is and then be able to play the play on principle, fast, when things change. That takes a quick mind, and we need more of that. I think we're a little slow-minded at times."
When do you think you'll get Schofield back?
"I don't know. It may not be for two or three games, from what I'm hearing."
Anything you can do to put some more bodies in there if Cody's going to miss some more time?
Yeah. Is it just Carson (Anderson) and Darin (Gooch)?
"Well, we talked about that. But James is our starting left guard right, so it would be hard for him to do both. We don't really have a backup left guard or left tackle. We have Zach Fulton, who's really pushing (Jarrod) Shaw. That's seven guys right there. Nobody else has really ever snapped. I brought that up today. Who's our third center? And the coaches laughed at me. I'm like, it's not funny. Carson got a concussion the other day on kickoff return, so we got him off of that."
You didn't mention (Michael) Palardy on the injury report.
"Palardy's back. He actually was about ready to kick, but he didn't practice all week, and I just was nervous about it. I probably should have kicked him. Hurt us there at the end. But he'll kick off."
Did you say exactly what was wrong with JerQuari's foot?
"I don't know. It's some kind of... McVeigh has all these medical terms. He essentially fractured a bone in his foot, for lack of a better diagnosis. In the foot, not the ankle. One of those little bitty bones."
My editors always ask. They always want to know.
"Well, I'm smiling because I should know. If ya'll haven't figured out, I move on when a guy's hurt until they come back. I don't want to spend energy on it. Which foot? What is this? Get him back. When's he coming back? Until then, I've got to figure out how to solve the problem. Who knows what foot? Painter, do you know what foot it is? Is it his right one? I'm going to say it's his right. I see Painter over there waving his hand. Left foot. Left foot."
You've been on the other side of these games. What do you think Coach (Neil) Callaway is telling his team right now?
"Great example of my first year at Tech and my third year at Tech. We had a MASH unit my third year. But it was three years into the program, and the way we completed my first year compared to my third year, it was night and day. My first year, we got strapped by Cal. We got strapped by LSU. We got strapped by Ole Miss. We didn't even compete. And then my third year, we had a three-point game with Auburn deep into the second half, and we were beating LSU at the half. And we were outmanned. But it was because they were confident, some guys had been there before, and that's what we're going to see from UAB. This is their fourth year in the program, and they go play these games every year. They're going to come up here to win the football game."
Was this the first time that pass protection from your running backs was an issue?
"I don't know why. It's just like they didn't do their technique and did something different. We had a lot of guys like inventing new stuff in the game."
How much did you blitz against Florida?
"We mixed it up pretty good, and what happened was, Jimmy, and it was the one-on-one is what I'm saying. They're going to pick you up, and instead of pushing the pocket and skinning off, they were just blocking us. You know, we probably need to do more different stuff or keep changing it up. But they blocked us when we rushed four, and they blocked us when we pressured. We just had a hard time getting back there, and then we couldn't hold up in coverage."
How was Coach Saban after that UAB loss?
"He was frustrated. He's pretty steady, the way I am. It's analyze it, what happened and we go get better. That's what you can do. We were still in the very early stages of trying to establish a way of doing things. That's a little bit like what we're doing now."
What's an example or two of the improvisation of what players were doing?
"You saw it up front a lot. What happens is you start seeing ghosts, and it's hard to explain. But when you haven't been out there a lot and then it's one of these games and they're doing some stuff on you, you lose focus of keeping the game simple. And that's what I always say is you don't have to do anything special, especially in big games. You just have to keep the game simple and do your job. Sometimes all the external things that are happening, your job appears harder than it actually is, like the rearview mirror deal. It's not as hard as we're making it. When you go up to block the linebacker, you don't have to dive at his feet. We've never done that. We've never coached that. So why are we doing it now?
"Keep it simple. Do your job. And Matt did that a few times. On this play, it's here to here. `Well, I'm looking over here because I thought.' No. Uh-Uh. Keep it simple. And if you do, your body tends to help you play out of it and then you develop confidence. But most competitors who are inexperienced, when they get out in those games, they feel like they've got do something different when all you really have to do is just do what you did in practice. And it works."
Can you talk about the challenge of facing a team that has a running quarterback and a backup that came in and threw for 360 yards?
"We've got to prepare for two different guys now, and that's always a challenge. The good thing they have is, if something isn't working, you can change it up, try to get something else going.
"Thanks for coming, guys."