Overall, I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made as a team the first three games. I think sometimes you lose sight of the fact that we are 3-0. We have improved in a lot of areas of our team and will continue to focus on the technical aspects of what we need to do to improve in some other areas. Get some mistakes and mental errors corrected and continue to try to develop the players so that they have a better opportunity of being successful in whatever we have to defend or whatever we have to attack on offense or whatever we have to play against on special teams.
We had some players that played really well in this game. Jalen, Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, Bradley Bozeman on offense. Keith Holcombe, Levi Wallace, Da’Ron Payne on defense. Special teams, JK, Mack Wilson, Andy all did a good job in their particular areas.
From an injury standpoint, I don’t know what status of these guys will be, we’ll see how they progress through the week. But Rashaan Evans and Anfernee Jennings and Dylan Moses will all return to practice today. Miller Forristall is out. What we thought was the issue and the case after the game is the case and he will need surgery.
We certainly look forward to the SEC. This is our opener on the road against a very good Vanderbilt team who as you well know just beat K-State, who is a ranked team. They are 3-0. They have a lot of starters back, nine on offense, seven on defense. Their defense leads the nation in scoring defense. Kyle Shurmur is the leading passing efficiency quarterback in our league. They do a great job in terms of their coaching and how they attack people, how they play on offense and defense. Very sound, very well coached in all areas. Very balanced in terms of run/pass.
They’ve got three receivers that all pretty much share in how they spread the ball around. This is a very good overall team and probably a team that deserves to be in the Top 25.
Vanderbilt’s defense seems to play some odd fronts, different looks. What have you seen from them?
I think most of the stuff that they do that is exotic is on loose play downs. But I think what they’re trying to do is create issues in the offensive line. All offensive linemen want to know who the four down linemen and the Mike are; that’s who we have to block. When they’re doing these kinds of things, it makes it much more difficult for them to ID the front and know who to block. So it’s creating confusion to some degree but also they do a good job from a schematic standpoint of being able to attack you out of those things and get pressure and they’ve got some really good players to do it.
A couple players said there would be a players-only meeting on defense after the game. What’s your philosophy with that?
I think it’s really up to the players but I also think that every player has got to look at what they have to do to try to improve and get better. I think everybody can contribute in a more positive way by just a little better execution. The effort was good in the game, the toughness was good in the game. And really for three quarters in the game we played pretty well against a pretty good offensive team. We just didn’t finish the game like we needed to. I don’t think anybody needs to be panicking. I think the leadership on the team is making an attempt to affect other players maybe to prepare a little better. Eliminate some of the mental errors. Play together as a unit. Communicate a little better. These are all things that the coaches will certainly emphasize to the players to try to help them play better. It’s our responsibility to get that across. But we don’t want these things to be like feel-good meetings where everybody feels good when they leave but they were concerned when they started. It could be good and bad depending on how it’s handled.
What did you think of the third down efficiency, defensively and offensively?
You guys get stat sheets after the game, don’t you? You see what they did on third down. We didn’t do very well on third down. We didn’t get off the field on third down. We had three penalties negate first downs on third down in really critical situations on critical drives, especially in the fourth quarter. We need to do a better job in those areas. I think we’re very capable of doing that and will continue to work on it.
What kind of role can Levi Wallace and Jamey Mosley have on the defense and its identity this year?
Levi plays corner so the best identity he can do is cover his guy. Jamey Mosely has done a good job of doing his job and we’re pleased with the way he’s been able to fill in and prepare well, not make a lot of mental errors, be in the right place. I think that he plays with a lot of effort and a lot of toughness. That’s kind of what we start with and what we build on around here. You like to reinforce all those things in a positive way.
Can you see some maturity from Vanderbilt? A lot of players who have been in the system a while there.
Oh yeah, no question. They do a great job of executing on both sides of the ball. I think the results that they’ve gotten so far this season certainly bear that out. The quarterback’s a really good player and he’s very efficient in what he does with the offense, run and pass. They make some explosive plays. They run the ball effectively. They’re physical. Same way on defense. There’s no question about the buy-in to the program and the job that he’s (Mason) done there.
How much can the linebackers returning from injuries help?
Well, that remains to be seen. First of all we don’t know how healthy those guys are going to be, how fast they’ll be able to get up to top speed. We won’t know that until later in the week in terms of we see how their sort of rehab is going. We’ll try and make a decision for how we’ll use them in a game and how effective they can be.
How has the secondary held up in coverage? Also, we’ve seen some corner blitzes. How do you get the timing right on those?
Well, you know we got pressure a couple of times last week, the ball came out quick on the screen and so forth, and we missed tackles. So we need to clean some of those things up. All in all, we have not gotten the kind of pressure on a quarterback, or affected the quarterback the way we want to regardless of who’s blitzing. (We saw) a whole lot of screens to try and slow us down and I think we just have to try and play those plays, continue to be aggressive and try and affect the quarterback. I think that’s really, really important when you play against a good passing quarterback, which certainly is going to be the case this week.
Are you comfortable with there you have Minkah Fitzpatrick in the secondary?
I’m pleased with where we are right now. Hootie’s played really well, Ronnie’s played well. The two corners have been OK so far. So we’re comfortable with him playing where he’s played. This team he’ll be in a lot more regular this week, probably about 80 percent of the time in regular downs which we haven’t against much. So he’ll be back to safety for the most part in that part of the game.
How much have the lack of turnovers have to do with Jalen’s improvement?
He’s done a good job so far. I think his production has improved in every game. His efficiency has improved in every game. He would be the first to tell you that there are things that he can work on like every player on our team. We’re certainly going to try to help him do that so that he can continue to develop and progress, and be even more efficient in what he does. But we harp on ball security. The first thing we do every day in practice is ball security drills. We include him in those drills and he has done a much better job of taking care of the football, and we’ve done a really good job of that on offense.
What have you seen from the place kicking so far?
I think he’s done a nice job. We missed a long one, but JK hit it well. I was hoping we would get an opportunity so that JK would get an opportunity to kick. So I’m pleased with it so far. He’s done a good job. He’s especially done a good job in the area inside the 42-yard line, 42-yard field goals is kind of what our expectation is from him. So I think he’s done a really good job so far.
What have you seen from Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt’s running back?
He’s a good player. They do a good job of running the ball. They’re physical on the offensive line. He’s a really good downhill runner, he’s physical. These guys play hard. He runs with a lot of toughness and tenacity. I think he’s a really good player.
What have you seen from Vanderbilt’s secondary?
Well, I go through the course of the week, I haven’t watched their defense a whole lot, just in one game. But they’ve done an outstanding job. I mean when you give up 95 yards passing that’s pretty good regardless of what the competition is. They play extremely well, but their front does a really good job of affecting the quarterback as well.
Does it mean more when you get an interception off a tipped ball versus a straight pick?
I think a pick is a pick, you’re always happy as a DB when you get one no matter how it comes to you. But I do think that when you have people breaking on the ball that those opportunities will come along and it’s something that we always try to emphasize with our players, that ‘Hey, you’re going to break to on the ball 25 times, and then all of a sudden there’s going to be a tipped ball or something where you have an opportunity to make a play on the ball, and you have to do it every time so that you’re there when the opportunity presents itself.’ We need to really emphasize attacking the football. We haven’t created – we got some interceptions – but haven’t created the turnovers that we’d like and that’s something that we really, really emphasize and really want to continue to do as we go into SEC play and hopefully get a little better result.