KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee's assistant coaches met with the media on Wednesday as they previewed Saturday's game vs. No. 7/10 Auburn. Kickoff is slated for noon E.T. on ESPN.
NOTHING OVER THE TOP
Averaging over 306 yards per game, No. 7/10 Auburn leads the SEC and ranks sixth nationally in rushing offense.
The Tigers' high-powered ground game presents problems for all defensive groups, but Tennessee secondary coach Willie Martinez still wants his guys reading pass first.
"I think [the run game] has a lot to do with Auburn's [success in the pass game]," said Martinez. "They do a good job of running the football, which sucks up the play action, and they've been able to get the ball over the top of a lot of defensive backs."
Sophomore wideout Sammie Coates has been the Tigers' primary target over the top this season. Standing at 6-foot-2, Coates has been able to hit on 11 plays of 20 yards or more, and currently leads the nation with an average of 26.58 yards per catch.
"He's done a great job of catching the ball and the quarterback (Nick) Marshall has been on-point," said Martinez. "Whether it's Marshall or Jeremy Johnson, they've both done a great job.
"You have to be very disciplined. It's a lot like an option football team, because you have all the misdirection. You have to focus on your assignment and doing your job, and then in the backend it's the same thing, but you have to do a very good job with your eyes. You need to read your keys and stay disciplined. That's been the main focus this week."
Coming to Tennessee after coaching Auburn's secondary last season, Martinez never doubted the Tigers' talent and ability to claw their way to the nation's biggest turnaround through nine games.
"They just won a national championship three years ago," said Martinez. "It's a different team, but obviously they have talent. They always have talent. That's never changed. They've got different players that are making plays at crucial times and obviously they're having a great year."
CONTAINING THE QUARTERBACK
This week's game against Auburn will pit the Tennessee defense against a scrambling quarterback for the third time in four weeks as the Tigers' Nick Marshall has averaged 65 rushing yards per game.
UT was able to contain South Carolina's Connor Shaw to 78 yards and 4.1 yards per rush but last week Missouri's Maty Mauk was able to pick up 114 yards on the ground (8.8-yard average), including a 28-yard scamper on a third-and-10 that set up a missed field goal right before halftime.
As scrambling quarterback can be a real nuisance when the defense is trying to get off the field on third down.
"It's been the quarterback taking off on us," defensive coordinator John Jancek said. "When we went into the Carolina game, Connor Shaw had that reputation and we really worked hard on it with our D-line and our linebackers, keeping what we call our points on the quarterback. We were able to contain Connor. We've continued to emphasize that and have not had the same results. I think Mauk's faster and quicker than I gave him credit for initially."
There were four or five different times when Tennessee had free runners to Mauk, but the Vols were just unable to get him on the ground. Jancek pointed out that the solution is not necessarily a spy on the quarterback, but instead maintaining angles and focus on the quarterback's position late in a play.
"Sometimes when you spy the quarterback you kind of open up a can of worms in some other things like in the run game," he said. "We've just got to do a better job of keeping our points on the quarterback, not only with our front, but also with our linebackers when we're pressuring and our DBs when we're pressuring."
Jancek and the defense are preparing for more of the same from Marshall this week. Last week in Auburn's 35-17 win over Arkansas, the Tigers threw the ball just nine times.
"They have a lot of misdirection," Jancek said. "They really test your eyes. And then Marshall - anytime you run the quarterback, that's the great equalizer. We've just got to do a great job of containing him and getting to him if the opportunity presents itself."
Getting your first career collegiate action against the No. 1 team in the country on their home turf, and then following that up with your first career start against a top-10 team on the road would be enough to make anyone nervous.
But not Joshua Dobbs.
Dobbs has an unflappable confidence about him.
"Confidence has never been lacking with Josh," said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. "I think what he has benefitted from are the added reps that he has gotten in practice and the added reps that he has gotten in the game."
To the outside world, Dobbs has made a quick change in his football appearance. One would think it would be an improvement in confidence, but really it's just basic fundamentals.
"There has been a change, but I wouldn't say it is with his confidence," continued Bajakian. "Fundamentally he is improving every day; his ball location is improving every day. His decision making process is becoming quicker. Those are the main changes I see, it is natural with the added reps that he is receiving that those changes would occur."
The freshman made a few mistakes last Saturday against a Missouri defense that leads the nation in interceptions. But Dobbs was not rattled.
"He has done a good job of having that snap and clear mentality," said Bajakian. "He is ever even-keeled almost even unflappable at times. I think that is a good trait for a quarterback to have."
Dobbs is also known for his book smarts, and those skills helped him to learn the Tennessee playbook very quickly.
"He and Riley (Ferguson) both have grasped the offense quickly," said Bajakian. "I think there is a translation between his natural intelligence and his football intelligence, same thing with Riley and I don't think that is always the case for football players but these guys it is."
"I think both of those guys are further along as true freshmen then other true freshmen that I have ever had in the offense."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)