KNOXVILLE -- Monday's media day luncheon day transcript from Tennessee head football coach DerekDolley.
The Vols travel to LSU for a 3:30 p.m. game on Saturday.
“Well, let’s recap the game. When you watch the film, the thing that jumps out at you is the first four drives we had on offense, we’re sitting there, we have 171 yards and 17 points, and we’re rolling pretty good.
“Then we had some negative plays there in the second quarter, a big tackle for loss that really put us behind the sticks. Jumped offside on a third-and-1, so we got in a little rut in the second quarter. But we’re sitting there at halftime in good position, especially with the big interception, and I felt like that third quarter was going to be critical for us.
“We started off great on defense and the kickoff unit, and we get the ball at the plus-39, and then you look at that third quarter and we had some critical plays that I think just got us into a rut. We dropped two third down balls that would’ve been conversions and big plays for us. Both of them had we caught it, we’d have been on the 20-yard line going in ready to get points. We couldn’t come down with a post pattern that was wide open.
“It was probably 100 yards of plays on three occasions, and then all of a sudden UAB gets life. We didn’t play on the other side of the ball with any toughness or effort that we need to play with, and that’s why we really didn’t slow them down all game.
“The good news was we didn’t turn the ball over, which is extremely important. We only had 20 yards in penalties, which was good even though some of them were critical. Three of them were on third down. I felt like we controlled the field position in the kicking game when you look at their drive start and ours, and we played well the red zone so we forced them to field goals. I think those were the things that kept us alive and had us a chance to win it.
“Our injury situation right now, it looks like we’re still going to have about six guys out this week. The three that have been out for the year plus Cody Pope, (JerQuari) Schofield and (Ben) Bartholomew. Nothing tells me that they’ll be back. Art Evans, Herman Lathers, Tauren Poole and Gerald Jones will be day-to-day. We’ll find out more tomorrow, but there’s a chance all four of them could play. And we need them to play.
“We gave them today off and yesterday. We watched the film yesterday, had a lot to correct. Usually there’s a point during the season where you want to give them two days off. I think two days is important periodically, physically. It’s important psychologically. I think there’s a big jump in recovery with two days, and I felt like our team was at that point. Normally I do it about five weeks into it, but then we only had one more week and then an open date where you can give them some time too. Given where we are with our injuries and our depth and the way we played the other night, I just felt like we need to take a couple of days here.
“They need to clear their minds and get physically well. We need to evaluate our personnel, where we are and where we need to go these next few games and come into tomorrow ready to go.
“The challenge this week is obvious: talented program, deep, one of the winningest in the country the last 10 years. Phenomenal on defense and special teams. I think they’re No. 1 in kickoffs, punt returns, No. 3 in kickoff returns. So much team speed. Defense, they’re giving up 12 points a game. They’re No. 1 in the league in total defense. Six interceptions. Two scores on special teams. As good as anybody out there.
“The bigger challenge besides that is it’s going to be the first road game for almost half of our travel squad. I think I counted about 30 guys out of the – we’ll probably travel 66 to 68 guys -- 30 of them have never even been on a road trip at Tennessee. So we’ll have to talk a lot about that and how we handle it professionally and how we handle the crowd, and a hostile environment. So a lot of challenges this week.”
Is there anything you do to prepare for an away game?
“Well, I was going to paint the field. But that didn’t work for Oregon State. If they had beaten Boise, I might have put a big eye on our field.
“We’ll do crowd noise, which we’ve done some crowd noise for home. We’ll probably do a little more crowd noise, maybe play a few songs just so it won’t be the first time they hear them. But I think it’s also important just to talk about it. I don’t know how you simulate Tiger Stadium, unless we had practice and we had all our fans come to Neyland and just start screaming against us, because that’s what it’s like.”
What personnel areas are you looking at?
“Really all of them. Where some of our younger guys are. Do they need more reps and playing time? Where some of our older guys are. Are they performing the way we need to perform? I just think it’s something you always do. We’ve got four games in. We go another four games, and we need to do it again. I don’t think you should ever stop evaluating your personnel, and I think the players need to know that. It’s not personal, but the guys that go out there and produce consistently are the ones who deserve to play.”
Does that create a more competitive environment on the team?
“I think when you have a deep team and you have a lot of competition at every position that that’s the best motivator you could ever put on a player. Because these guys want more than anything to play, and when you’re comfortable playing other guys, if you’re not getting production then I think that’s healthy on a team. That’s what sports is all about.”
Psychologically, the way you guys won last week in double overtime, what kind of carryover would you expect to see going to LSU?
“Well, you know it’s always good to win when you don’t play well. I think there are lessons in victory, and there are always lessons in defeat. The lessons in this victory, there’s a number of them. How were we able to win? I think if you look at it, we kept fighting. We didn’t divide internally. There was never at time where I saw the players bickering at each other, pointing fingers. I didn’t see the coaches doing that. And that’s important when it gets thick, and I’ve said that. You’ve got stay together and just keep believing, forget about the last series, go to the next one, and we did that. That was good. We made the plays we needed to make down the stretch. So I hope that’s a lesson in victory we remember the next time we’re there. Let’s don’t divide; let’s stay in it and stay together because there will be more.”
The two-day break, is that something Nick (Saban) did when you were on his staff or is that something you started at Louisiana Tech?
“No, we did it when we had consecutive, usually it was about five weeks in a row of the same schedule. I didn’t have to worry about it at Tech because it was really rare to play on Saturdays there. We played Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Tuesday. So we always had these different days were you could throw it in there. It kind of fit. We had some nine-day breaks, ten-day breaks, two-week breaks, then some three-day and four-day. So we didn’t have this Saturday-to-Saturday schedule. I did it at Tech, but it kind of fit in a real clean way when you played some of those midweek days. This is the first time I’ve had to do it where it was a true Monday off.”
You touched on this after the game that the need to work on tackling is hard when you’re also trying field a team. Are you hoping that second day, fresher legs, you can be a little more physical the rest of the week?
“It’s going to be hard for me to compromise being physical and tackling. And if that means guys are going to get hurt, I’m going to have to live with it. What I can’t live with is watching a team that doesn’t tackle well. I’d rather have the worst players in college football who are going to go tackle than have good players who won’t tackle. So, you know, I’m sorry. I mean we’re going to be physical in practice, and we’re going to tackle. I may be kicking myself in three weeks, but, man, it’s hard. I don’t know what’s worse. It’s hard to look at a team that doesn’t tackle very well, and we didn’t do it Saturday.
“Now the Florida game, we tackled great; tackled great. Didn’t have a lot of missed tackles, and they had a lot better skill guys that would cause more missed tackles, Florida did. So it tells me it’s mental. It’s mental. It’s mental energy. That’s what it tells me.”
Clearly you’re not giving the days off just to help Matt (Simms) get healthy, but he’s taken so many hits over the last couple weeks. Does that help your quarterback a little bit?
“Yeah, and we don’t hit him in practice. He has taken a lot of hits. I think we’re leading the country in sacks, probably. And that doesn’t count the ones he threw away and got shell-shocked on. We’ve got to do a better job protecting him because he won’t make it. But he’s tough. I give him credit. Not many quarterbacks take a lot of hits and don’t get affected, and he hasn’t been.”
On a couple of occasions, you had 10 men on the field on defense.
“Yeah, we had two plays Saturday.”
What happened there?
“We had a substitution error, where a guy doesn’t go in the game. That’s our fault as coaches. We call out different personnel groupings, and a guy doesn’t go in and then it’s too late to run him out there. Then from there we went to field-goal block, and we had back-to-back substitution errors. When we’re counting guys on special teams, especially when we go from defense to field-goal block, the guys in the booth are watching how many guys run off and how many run on. You’re assuming there’s 11 out there. So, three off, three on, we’re good. Well, we had 10 out there. Three off, three on and we’re good. Well, hang on, we had 10 the last play. You can’t sit there and go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… That’s what happened, and we’re going to correct that. That’s 100 percent coaching.”
Who’s in charge of substitutions?
“We have different coaches. We’ve got a lot of coaches involved on substitutions.”
Have you had to defensively substitute as much as this defense substitutes?
Is that situational?
“We have more D-linemen substituting than probably we should be. And we’re just trying to figure out our best chance to win, and we need to probably minimize some of that. I think we’re probably doing a little too much. But let me tell you, when you play 96 snaps, now, you’ve got to do some substituting. Because that is a lot. We need to be in the 70s.”
So you got a third-down stop with 10 men on the field.
“We did, and we might put that defense in, in the future. It confused the offense so much. The good news was we actually had one player that recognized it, that came off and said, ‘Coach, we only had 10 out there.’ Only one guy.”
Who was that?
“Prentiss Waggner. He came up to me. That’s what we wanted.”
He said the referee told him.
“Oh, is that how he knew? See, he didn’t tell me that. That’s how he knew? You guys are relentless, man. (Laughs.) We had 10 guys out there one time in 96 plays.”
Are either Tyler Wolf or Brent Brewer close to being able to give you some more snaps at safety?
“We need them to be, and we need them to play a little bit better. Tyler has been playing well, doing great, and he went out there and he made a mistake and blew a coverage on third down and it was a big play for them. And then you get spooked as a coach. We should have put him back in, because he wasn’t the only one making mistakes. Tyler needs to play a little bit more. Brent’s still coming around. He hasn’t played football in five years, and, man, it’s hard.”
What about maybe Greg King or Stephaun Raines, another couple guys who helped out last year?
“I think Greg is a guy who we need to get going little bit. He has not been the same coming back from all his injuries physically. He missed spring practice. He missed training camp. He’s missed a lot. But he’s a guy. You know Raiques Crump ran down on kickoff and did a good job. Dontavis Sapp ran down on kickoff and did a good job. These are some young guys that we got to maybe coach a little bit more.”
You’ve said inconsistency from a punter can possibly lead to a better opportunity to return punts. Obviously LSU is leading the conference. How important is it that Chad (Cunningham) has a good week?
“It’s incredibly important, because this guy’s the best in the country. If we serve one up to him, I mean it will be the fastest six points you’ll ever see. And two teams have already seen it. We’ve got to do a great job of punting and a great job of covering the punt. These guys, they’ve hurt some teams on their return game. Kickoffs, too. They’re good. It’s a weapon.”
You’re going up against a guy at defensive coordinator who’s got some history here. What do you know about John (Chavis) and what do you expect to see?
“Played against him a lot, and he’s always had great defenses. I played against him twice, or I played against him at LSU three times. I didn’t play, obviously, but just watched him, and then at Louisiana Tech. He’s good, man. He’s one of the best in the country. His defenses are always aggressive and fast and physical, and he brings a lot of pressure. You’ve got to earn it. You’ve got to earn it the hard way. So it’s going to be a challenge for us. And I know he’s going to be licking his chops right now seeing our young offense and our problems we’ve had in the last four games. He may be going home early at night.”
Do you feel like you gave up too early on the run game last week?
“I think when Poole went down, we weren’t having some of the success right away. We also felt like we could throw it on them well. We just felt that going in, and early on it proved true. So we came out in the third quarter wanting to throw the ball and push it down the field. Had we caught those balls, we’d be feeling pretty good right now. So then when those didn’t execute, now you go back to the run game and everybody’s pressing a little bit. They were packing it in there, total blitzing, and you’ve got to be able to throw and catch and hurt them. We had plenty of opportunities to do that.”
You’ve been on the sideline in Tiger Stadium as an assistant at LSU and as an opposing coach. Talk about the differences.
“It depends on how the Tigers are playing. If the Tigers are playing good, it’s hard to be an opposing coach. If the Tigers are not playing good, sometimes it’s hard to be a coach for the Tigers. But it’s about like most great venues -- the best thing the opponents can do is come down there and play well. If you allow the crowd to be a weapon, it’ll be a weapon. It’s no different than Neyland Stadium. Look, that’s one of the things that makes this conference special are these gamedays around the league, and this is one of them. Ours is one of them.”
You talked about Matt being unaffected. Do you expect that to continue on the road?
“Yeah, I don’t know. This will be fun to watch. It’s like I said, half of our travel squad this will be our first trip together, road trip. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Just think about when you got in the car with your four buddies and you’ve never been on a road trip before and you hit the highway, man, you don’t know what’s going to happen because you don’t know these guys. That’s what we got.”
How was (Zach) Fulton on Saturday?
“Zach did good. He worked, and he’ll keep getting some reps. He’s going to be good for us.”
Do all the sacks in the past couple games start to affect play calling?
“Yeah, it does. And it’s hard because you don’t want it to be what you can’t do. It’s tough on Jim (Chaney). When you’re struggling in a lot of areas, all you do is you’re calling plays trying to protect people and things. Then at some point, you’ve got to just say call the play and be aggressive and run it. And if we can’t do it, we can’t do it. It is. It’s hard on a play-caller because you feel a responsibility to try to protect some areas, whether it’s what the quarterback can do, what the offensive line can do, the young receivers. Then you end up, you’re protecting so much, you lose a little bit of your aggressiveness and tempo. I think that’s tough. I think every play-caller’s been through that.”
On getting Rajion Neal more carries:
“Just throw him in. That’s the only way they’re going to learn. We got no choice.”
Do you think getting Gerald Jones back might help you a little bit on third down?
“I hope so. I do. I think the first couple of third downs of the year, Jimmy, we hit Gerald on it.”
On third down, you had third and 10 or more on average.
“I was about to say, we had nine times where we were third and seven-plus. So we’re having some issues on first and second down. We had two third-and-ones where we jumped offsides. Two first-year guys. We jumped offsides three times on third down. All first-year guys. That’s where your inexperience -- they’re up there doing all their junk blitzes, they stem, they say, ‘Hut.’ It’s like high school. All those things we’ve got to correct. But a of lot issues on third down. Whether it’s being in third-and-long, is an issue. It’s protection, it’s an issue. It’s decision-making, and accuracy is an issue. It’s drops, an issue. And generally when you’re where we are on third down it is everything. We’ve just got to play out of it.”
Are you concerned those penalties could become more abundant this weekend being on the road?
“That’s always your worry with the crowd noise. We’ve had that problem in the past, and we’re going to work on it in practice.”
Is the mental energy you referred to in tackling and some of the drops, is that just a part of the maturation process or is that the team not being as focused as they should have been, or what do you think it is?
“I was a little concerned with how we were from Thursday night to game time, mentally. As much as you beat it in them, I’m not sure how locked in we were. Because the evidence suggests that we weren’t locked in the way we needed to be. The first three games, we came out competing really good early on. This game, we didn’t even though offensively we did some good things. From the first snap on defensively, we didn’t look the same.”
Is that just maybe a non-conference opponent?
“It’s something. Something. The most inexperience we have is on offense, and they came out a little better. Our experienced guys didn’t. So something happened Thursday night to Saturday from a mental standpoint.”
We talk to players and a lot of times they say they like playing on the road, they like the crowd against them. As a coach, what’s your experience? Is there big difference with your team playing at home and the way they perform on the road?
“It’s fun to go on the road when you’ve got a good, confident team and go in there and play well and get a victory. I think everybody in athletics likes that. I think everybody, if they had a choice, they’d play at home. We’re just going to go see how we do. I don’t know how we’re going to perform. I don’t know how we’re going to get affected. When you have this many new guys, we’re going to have to coach it all week and get them ready and then when we get in that environment, see how they respond. And if they’re struggling, we’ve got to coach them out of it.”
I guess it would be kind of a stretch to describe this team as a confident team?
“(Laughs). If they are, I’m doing a terrible job of communicating to them. They need to play confident. I want them to be confident, but you earn that right to be confident. That’s what I’ve always felt like. That if you’re going to be confident, then you earn it through your week of preparation. You earn it in how you practice. You earn it in how much film study you put in outside of the time allotted. You earn it in your mental preparation from Thursday night on. And then when you hit the field, you will be confident even if you’re inexperienced. That’s where I think we haven’t really gotten yet, the importance of the preparation part developing confidence. Instead of just walking out there saying, ‘I’m the guy.’ We’ve got a lot of that, ‘I’m on this’ and then we make a hit and we do all that, whatever that is, instead of just going and wrapping up, tackling the guy and then getting back in the huddle and knowing I’m a good player. So we need to get a less of the ‘I’m good’ and then we need to work and prepare like we’re good so we can play good.”
Is there something special about going to a place where you were?
“I have a lot of friends down there. I see them every time I’ve gone down there and gotten my tail whipped. The strength coach, the trainer, video, media relations. All those guys were friends of mine, and they still are. So that part is fun seeing them. It was weird the first time I went down there when I was at Louisiana Tech. It was a little bit weird. But then the second time, you’re so removed from it now. It’s no different.”
Last week you talked about Oku on kickoff returns. Is that going to be open or are you going to look at some more guys this week?
“I think we need to keep looking. We’re still searching at both returners. We had a lot of air the other night. I felt like we left a lot of yards out there. Punt returns too. We had some big windows to hit, and we’re not hitting them. So we’ve got to keep working on it.”
LSU held West Virginia to 58 yards rushing. That’s a pretty good running team.
“Yeah, I know.”
What makes LSU’s running defense so good?
“Well, they have phenomenal talent. Let’s start with that. Their defensive line, I mean it looks like watching an NFL team on defense. When I say phenomenal talent at every position, they probably have one of the best secondary guys in the country, and they have great coaching. So when you combine great coaching and phenomenal talent, and you can tell that they believe in their system, you’ve got a great defense.”
Is Gerald (Jones) cleared to practice tomorrow, or is that what you’re waiting on?
“He’s cleared. We’ve just got to go see him get in the mix. He’s got to wear something.”
Will you just know then when you see it the next couple days?
“I don’t want to (say), ‘He’s back,’ and I haven’t seen him run a route or hit somebody.”
How’s his penmanship?
“I don’t know. (Smiles) Ask (Jason) McVeigh.”
You said he has to wear something?
“He’s got to wear like a splint or something. Yeah, I don’t know.”
With him just coming back does that make you more hesitant to look at him at punt return even though he’s been there in the past?
“I probably won’t put him back there right away. We need to get him playing receiver.”
What’s been your biggest issue in blitz pickup?
“I think the backs need to do a better job from a technique and toughness standpoint, that’s No. 1. And then No. 2, a lot of times the blitzes just create some one-on-ones up front and when you’re a little bit hesitant of who to pick up, when you set you don’t really set at the right position. You’re not in good relative position. You get a little off balance. It just takes a lot of experience up front, and then sometimes you get some one-on-ones so some of the guys can’t help you and you might get a little mismatch every now and then.”
In terms of doing a walk-through at a different stadium, are you planning on doing that with so many new guys and a new environment?
“I’ve kind of changed on that because I used to like that. It kind of hit me. They say go to the stadium because you get a feel for it. So you go and it’s real quiet, and you see the field and you say, ‘Boy, this is a nice stadium,’ and you do your little walk-through. And then the next time you come out the next day, it’s like [roars], like a monster that came to life. I finally said we may as well just show up when it’s a monster because you don’t really get a feel for what it’s like, even though they say go there and get acclimated. But nobody’s in the stands. So we just go to the stadium when it’s gameday. We had a little better success that way.”
Will you hold a light practice here before you go?
“Yeah, we’ll do a little walk-through here.
“All right, guys.”
(E-mail Stan Crawley at email@example.com)