Nov. 22, 2010
"Just reviewing Vandy, we knew it'd be a tough game - I knew it'd be a tough game - and it was. I'm proud of our team for finding a way to win, which is ultimately what you're measured on. So it was good. You're not always going to go out there and roll over people. They're going to be tough, and this one sure was.
"I thought we came out early and played well. If you look, I think the first 15 plays of the game, we had five explosive plays, which is really good. I think Tyler (Bray), he started out 12-of-14 for 172 yards and two touchdowns. The first quarter and a half, we really felt like we were executing the game plan well. The defense was playing well, and we were in command of the football game.
"We get the big turnover on the 30, and from that point on, things changed a little bit. Tyler had three (poor) passes in a row, the last two of the half -- the first one was just a poor read and we missed it; the second one was an interception. And then coming out the next series in the third quarter makes another bad read and throws a pick.
"I think that kind of got us a little bit out of sync. It probably did a little bit as coaches, and it probably did a little bit for Tyler. So we didn't score, and weren't as explosive that second half the way we needed to be. Had a lot of opportunities to put the game away and didn't get it done.
"We were good on third down, which is good. But we had the two interceptions and the penalties, and we really struggled to block them up front. We got whipped -- a lot. That's kind of the offense.
"The defense on the other hand, I thought, played exceptionally well. I was real disappointed after the interception that Vandy went on that 17-play drive, but it's hard to give a defense more adversity in a quarter than what they got in the third quarter. We come out and they have a great three-and-out to start the half, so we're going to get good field position and then we fumble the ball on the punt return.
"They come out, and they hold them and then they miss a field goal. Then we come out and throw an interception, so there's another piece of adversity on a sudden change. Then we intercept it for a touchdown, get it called back -- there's another piece of adversity. And despite all that - and we blocked a field goal - we held them to zero points in the third quarter, which was huge. It was a great job by the defense, and that's what you need when you have those kinds of games.
"Players of the week, Gerald Jones on offense. He continues to be a steady hand for us. Caught a lot of good underneath routes for us. Kept the chains moving. On defense, Gerald Williams and Janzen Jackson both had great football games. Janzen's really playing better every week. He made two phenomenal plays down on the goal line, one before the first half that kept them from a touchdown and the other one, of course, the interception. We gave it to Gerald for special teams because he blocked a field goal.
"No real serious injuries that are going to keep guys from playing this week as of today. Banged up, bruised up a little bit, but nothing. Our concussion guys, I expect them to be back. We'll see, but we'll go day-to-day on that stuff.
"When you look at Kentucky, I think it's as explosive a football team as we've seen and as they've had in awhile. They've had some great offensive teams. I know that '07 team was good, and back in the late `90s they had some good ones. But these guys are really good, and as good of a football team I think as they've had since even when they were really incredible in the late `70s.
"They have the formula. They have a veteran quarterback. They have two receivers that can pierce you -- one of them being an all-purpose guy who's a phenomenal football player -- and they move him all over the field. And they have a good solid, excellent running back. When you have all those parts in place, you're going to be good. And they are good.
"You look at the two teams going to the SEC Championship Game -- they beat one and the other one, not many teams have come close to beating, they're sitting there tied with them midway through the fourth quarter. So we've got our hands full.
"There'll be a lot of talk about bowl and there'll be a lot of talk about streaks. I'm not really interested in talking about either one of them. I don't think that any of that talk is going to help our players prepare to play better and play better on Saturday. What I'm interested is our team focusing on the things that they can control, which is what their preparation is each day. We need to have a great day of preparation today and we need to stack about four in a row after that leading up to the game. If we do that, hopefully we'll play a good game and get the result we need.
They're talking about it without much coaxing. Did you drill that into them this week just to erase that bowl thing from their mind?
"I didn't meet with them yesterday; I'm meeting with them today. We have our team meeting to kind of kick the week off like we do every week. I'm glad they're talking that way. They need to talk that way. I told them after the game that I was disappointed, especially offensively, in our week of preparation. I knew we weren't going to play well. I mean, it's a sick feeling that you have all week. I hope we learned a lesson from it, and we need to, that it's a hard game. If you don't recommit yourself every week to focusing on the right things, then you're going to go out there and not play well."
It sounds like you feel that most of the problems on offense were more of Tennessee's own doing.
"I don't think that's fair. Vandy did a great job. They did. And I don't want to take away from the job they did. They had a good scheme. It wasn't a different scheme. It's the same scheme they ran all year, and the same scheme we prepared for. But it's a good, sound scheme. They play with great discipline and great effort and play with great toughness. Two things have to happen: One is they do their job, and we do our part. We certainly did our part in not playing as well as we could have."
What about Kentucky's defense? What kind of problems can they present you?
"They've done a good job. A lot of times, they've had some games where they got behind. Like the Georgia game, there was an opening kickoff return and it gets them in a hole. They haven't been as statistically productive. They lost some really good players from last year. But they've made the stops they need to make when they need to. They're going to cause us problems, because every defense does."
With all the difficulties you've had in the return game, to have a guy like Randall Cobb, who not only secures the ball but can be a threat, that has to be a luxury?
"For them, not for us. Philosophically, I think that's a critical position. I don't view that as, `Who wants to be a returner?' I've always gone out and sought them a little bit, because they can change the game. It's so critical. The hidden yardage, the field position. That has been a problem for us all year. It's hurt us in field position, and it's certainly killed us as it relates to turnovers. So it's something we're going to have to fix for next year."
Can you talk a little bit about Randall and what you've seen from him?
"Phenomenal football player. Versatile football player. It's really hard to say take him out the game because he's everywhere. They do a great job. They have an excellent coaching staff that knows what it's doing. They can play him at quarterback, at slot. They can play him outside. They can put him at runner. So you can't just say take him out of the game. Nobody has and nobody will. You just hope you minimize the big plays."
With Montori Hughes, how big of a loss is he at this point? I know you've said he doesn't always play up to expectations. Is it a big loss?
"I do, because we're so thin and unproductive at defensive tackle. So anybody we lose there, it hurts the team. No question. But we have an academic accountability system that they understand, and they know the consequences. I tell them it's the same old line, `Everybody can do what they want. Everybody's got freedom of choice, but nobody's got freedom of consequence.' At some point, you can't play."
Potential for him to be available for a bowl game?
"Well, yeah. But not if we don't beat Kentucky."
Did we in the media maybe put too much on Montori Hughes in the preseason? Or what did you expect to get out of him this year?
"I thought there were some unreasonable and unfair expectations on Montori, like there are a lot of high school guys. That's why I don't get caught up in the stars. There's so many things that go into playing to your capacity and being a good player.
"There was really no history of Montori playing well. Was there?"
He had some big scrimmages and practices.
"A couple of scrimmages, yeah. I think we beat Middle (Tennessee State) on him."
On Gerald Williams, was that by far the best game that he's played?
"Yes. I'm proud of Gerald, too. If y'all remember, we put Corey (Miller) in ahead of Gerald a couple of games ago. It's a great example. Here's a senior and all of a sudden two weeks ago we start Corey over him. It goes back to your attitude. What are you going to do about it? Some guys sulk and say, `Coaches don't like the old guys.' I'm not saying on our team, I'm just saying hypothetically. Some guys blame things. Well, here's Gerald, came out with even a better attitude, out-played Corey in the game he got benched, got his job back and then had his best game of his career. That's what you love to see as a coach. And I wish every player could learn from that. Most of them don't. It's human nature. They want to blame, point fingers. I'm proud of Gerald for that."
Malik (Jackson) has had some problems with personal fouls. How big of a concern is that for you?
"It is. One's one thing. We're going to have to talk to him. How many has he had? Three? Yeah."
Three in the last four games.
"I don't know if he's feeling a little bit good about how he's playing, so he's getting more aggressive. I don't know. I'll sit down with him. I need to talk to him about it. When you have three now, OK. One, that's one thing. Two, now you say OK, now. Come on. Now he's had his third. We'll address it."
Have you had situations like that previously at other stops where guys are playing a lot after the whistle and you've got to rein them in?
"I actually wish we had more. We've had problems with it in the past. You like those guys that have got a little nasty to `em. It's hard to push them. It's a lot easier to rein them in."
So it's only a problem on touchdowns, then?
"That's where it's a major problem. It's a problem all the game. You don't want to give up 15 yards, but you don't want guys to not play through the whistle. The more experienced you become and the more you play, you start learning when you can pull it and when you better back off.
"Now, with the quarterback, you've really got to be careful. You've got to be careful. We were hitting that guy pretty good. And we hit (Jeremiah) Masoli pretty good. We emphasize hitting the quarterback like every team does. You need to hit him because it affects him, and then they start throwing it to us. But you've also got to know when not to hit them. It was a personal foul. It was stupid."
Talk about the importance of this senior class as you started to build this program.
"Well, they've been through something like no other senior class in Tennessee history has been through. I just appreciate all of them for embracing a third way of doing things in three years, and that's not easy. I haven't had one problem with the senior class wanting to do it how we want to do it. I'm very grateful for that because it very easily could have been different."
Chris Walker, do you feel as though he's played up to the expectations you had, and how much has his season been affected by injuries?
"I think his body is not what it should be, physically. I do think that's had an effect on him. I'm sure if you asked Chris, he'll probably say he hasn't played as well as he could. Now the last couple of weeks, we've noticed him playing really well. He was our player of the week last week, and he had another pretty good game this week. But I do think he's not been as healthy physically as he had hoped."
On punt returns, is it a problem with just the return guys or are there maybe some issues with blocking?
"Well, they're allowed to fair catch it if their blocking isn't there. There's a new rule they put in. I told our guys if there's a guy in your face, they're going to allow you to stick your hand up and they won't hit you. Janzen didn't know that. I'm just kidding.
"There are always issues blocking, that's why they allow you to do this (raise hand). This one was a call that you're supposed to do this. Because we didn't block them, because we were trying to block the kick. We were going for the block, and our returners know when we go for the block that it's automatic fair catch. But when you've got a new guy in every week, they make mistakes.
"He actually caught the punt. I don't know if you all know that. He just fumbled. If he'd have just stuck his hand up, we might not be having this conversation. But he didn't."
How does the returner get the call for that certain play? Gerald Jones said on his fumbled punt, he didn't get that call either.
"That's what they say? The punt return is signaled by the same guy that signals it every - how many punts has our opponent had? For 52 times this year, the same guy's done it at the same location. And it's everybody's responsibility on the punt return unit, including the guys that are out there on defense, to look over there and get the call, just like any other defensive play that they do every down.
"So, it's the player's responsibility. I know it's hard to put some responsibility on these guys, because it's never their fault, to look and get the call. I don't know what else to say. We signal it, we signal it, we signal it. They don't let us run out on the field and tell them. So we have to have a signal mechanism. And it's worked 51 out of 52. Gerald didn't get the call."
You talk about inconsistency in the run game. How much of that is related to changing the personnel along the offensive line and how much is related to just getting beat up front?
"It starts with the inexperience coming in. So you have an offensive line, none of whom have played next to each other. And that's OK, because each week you expect them to get a little more comfortable and better. But then you hit on the next thing. Every three weeks there's been a change, and it has affected us. I will defend the players a little bit on that. It's hard. There's a lot of communication that goes on up front, and learning how to communicate with each other and what the other guy does and his body language and everything, it's important. I think it has affected us."
Has David Oku played his way back into that No. 2 role?
"He's our two right now. He's played better than any of the other guys trying to play two. But I don't think anybody's been as productive a two as we need them to be."
Did it seem like he was more intense getting downfield?
"I did sense that, and that's good. It tells me that he's trying, and that's important. I think Tauren sometimes doesn't do it. Let's get your pads down and go. I noticed that with David the other night, and he caught a little rail route. So he let Rajion (Neal) know he isn't the only one who can catch a rail route, which is good."
Talk about the progress that Tyler Bray has made.
"This is part of his growth as a quarterback, learning that you're not going to go out there and rip them for 50 points every week. That he still has a long way to go as it relates to preparation, as it relates to understanding defenses and learning defensive structures and getting offenses into a good play.
"He's still, to me, a true freshman playing quarterback. But he's also still making a lot of good plays for us. That's what we've hung our hat on."
On Nick Reveiz being nominated for Burlsworth Trophy, given to a player who began his career as a walk-on.
"Oh, man. Where do you want to begin? Tremendous leadership. Tremendous leadership by example. Does it right on and off the field. He's our most productive player on defense. He gives back to the community as well as anybody. Very strong in his faith. He's what I think everybody when they raise their boys, they want them to be like Nick Reveiz. That's a testament to his parents and his family, but it's even a bigger testament to him because he's the one that's done it. He's just a great example for everything."
Have you thought about honoring seniors in practice, and is that something you've maybe done elsewhere?
"I've never done it in practice, but it's something we talk about. I always like to remind the young guys that one day they're going to be seniors. And one day, they're going to have their last game in Neyland Stadium, which is a special time. They're going to want the young guys to play their best for them. I think it's a good reminder for the young guys that one day they're going to be sitting here playing their last game, and how you would want everybody else on the team to play so they can go out with a good feeling. And we'll talk about that."
Do you feel like the secondary is playing better now?
"I do. I think we're playing a lot better for a lot of different reasons. First off, both of our safeties are really playing better and better each week, and that's because of experience. Brent (Brewer), seven weeks ago, he was struggling. True freshman, hadn't played ball in five years. Each game he plays, he gets better. And he gets more confident and more physical.
"Janzen's the same way. Janzen, we know has phenomenal talent. But the more you play -- did he play a lot last year? A ton?"
"Every down? Maybe because it's a new season."
He missed three or four games.
"I thought he missed three or four from suspension."
He played 10.
"He did play 10? That hurts my argument a little bit. New system, you know. Experience in the new system. But he's playing better every week.
"At corner, Marsalis (Teague), he's another one. We can't counter that without acknowledging that the last three offenses we've played haven't been as explosive throwing the football as some of the previous offenses. Ole Miss and Vandy both run it. That's kind of their deal. We can't sit there and not acknowledge that.
"The test is going to be this week, because I don't think anybody throws it much better than these guys. This will be your final, how much better have we gotten? Well, stay tuned."
Talking about Cobb, he is a threat throwing the football out of that `Wildcat' or `Wild Cobb' package.
"Is that what they call it? The `Wild Cobb'?"
Yeah. Talk about how difficult it is to defend a guy who is such a passing threat out of that formation.
"I just think it's difficult anytime a player is multi-purpose. The reason it's difficult is how do you take him out of the game? If a guy's one-dimensional and he just plays flanker and he's out wide all the time and they don't move him around, then you can do some things structurally to try to take him out.
"But his ability to play anywhere on the field and the job that their coaches are doing in getting him to do that, it makes it a challenge. Inevitably, he's going to be sitting there in a lot of space and maybe athletically in a mismatch situation, and that's why he's been productive every game."
You talked in the preseason about how much you like the Wildcat package. Was it just injuries to Gerald (Jones) and depth issues that you never got to use it the way you wanted?
"We've got so many other issues. It's like, `Let's go ahead and put that in and create 10 more.' For the good it brings, it's going to bring eight other issues. Snap, turnovers, timing on (shotgun) snaps. We've had three centers. We'll get to it one day. It won't be Gerald.
"There's a lot of things. Same thing in special teams. We've done some more things the last couple of weeks, but it just takes time. They have to understand some of the base systems before you can keep growing and advancing."
I think on the first drive you guys got to the 34-yard line and maybe would have attempted a long field goal but you punted instead. Is that maybe because of (Daniel) Lincoln's quad injury?
"We were in that gray zone all night. Man, it was driving me crazy. We stalled three times right around that 35-yard line. I just felt like field position in that game was going to be important. I didn't want to give Vanderbilt a short field if we didn't have to. There are three things that can happen. You can make a long field goal, and everybody's feeling good. You can miss a long field goal and now you've basically just given them two first downs, 20 yards of field position. Or they can block a field goal and then it turns disastrous. I went with the conservative approach and played field position."
"And every game's different. I don't think there's a black-and-white formula. A lot of it's feel. It's feel for your kicker. What do they do on field-goal block? There are a lot of variables that go into your decision."
Is (Anthony) Anderson going to return punts again?
"He will, unless he has a couple of bad days here. But he'll be fine. He's 1-for-1 in catching the ball. No, he's 2-for-2. But he's 0-for-1 in returning the ball and maintaining possession. And we implemented the no returner again the other night. So we still have that in, in case we need it."
Have you used that more this year than ever?
"I've never used it until this year. You kidding me? I've never used it."
Your team has played really well in the first quarter; you've outscored your opponents by 50 points. Do you have any explanation for that?
"No. Brent was hitting me with that early in the year. What I concluded was that our young guys are confident with those early calls because we work on them a lot. They go into the game knowing what those first 10, 15 calls are going to be.
"But as the game goes and you've got to make other adjustments, I think that's where the experience started breaking down for us a little bit. I don't know what the answer is to that, though. But that's at least an answer. I don't know if that's the answer."
You've said before there's really no evidence coming off an open week that you're going to do better or worse because you've had that break. But Kentucky got its off-week last week. Do you think there's any added benefit in getting an off-week this late in the season?
"Here's where coaches are, all right. When you don't have the off-week and your opponent does, it's a tremendous advantage for them. They get to rest. They get two weeks of schematic preparation. They get more reps. So it's a tremendous advantage for Kentucky, and it puts us at a disadvantage.
"Now, had we had the off week, and we're playing a team that doesn't, I would say this is bad because we're hot. It's getting us out of our rhythm, and I don't know how the players are going to manage it.
"I'm just being honest with you. The coaches just shape it to whatever benefits them. The reality of it is back to what I concluded originally: you don't know. It might help Kentucky; it might hurt Kentucky. I don't know. It all goes back to how they manage it. Does that make sense?"
Part of it's mental.
"Well, it's just different. You only do it once a year. It's new for the players. There are so many things that go into that week in their mind. It can be a tremendous advantage, or it can be a little distracting and get you out of your rhythm."
Would you like to see two open-date weeks? They had that a couple of years.
"I don't know. I don't like them. I liked it how we had it this year. I kind of got into those Wednesdays and Thursdays (at Louisiana Tech). I started enjoying it. I hated that; I was a traditionalist. I know we'll never do that in the SEC, but that got kind of fun because you got nine days here and 10 days there. It was like a week and a half instead of two weeks.
"I think the open dates are good. If you go two open dates, then, I don't think we have enough weeks do we? When we went to 12 games that eliminated that."
You would start a week early.
"Oh, God. Please, let's don't do that. I enjoy my July."
Sometimes on a senior day, the seniors take about a quarter before they really get into a football game. I don't know if you've experienced that or not.
"Is that here? Is that a tradition? We've got a lot of traditions, man. We've got to break that one."
I just didn't know if you'd experienced that somewhere else.
"Let's see. It's emotional, there's no question. I'm thinking about our last home games, I think we played pretty well the last three years. I don't know. I don't know. I can't give you an answer. I've never thought that, though. If they're starting slow, it probably had something to do with the three days leading up to senior day, not the ceremony on the field.
"All right, guys."