Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin and select players discuss the Northwestern game at the Commodores' weekly media session on Monday. The Commodores and Wildcats will tangle in Evanston, Ill., Saturday at 7 p.m. CT. Interviews and quotes are posted below.
Opening Statement: "We're very excited about playing this week. I've known (Northwestern Head Coach) Pat Fitzgerald for a while and I think he's done a tremendous job there at a similar-like institution. It's amazing that he's already been there seven years. Pat was actually a graduate assistant at Maryland right before I was there, so we have some history that goes way back. There are some guys on their staff, Bob Heffner who I am very good friends with and worked with at a previous institution. The thing that is most impressive about Northwestern is the fact that they have been able to win so many close games and the fact that their team doesn't give up. If you watched that Syracuse game last week, they lose the lead late in the game and then Northwestern is able to find a way to come back and win. So, they've played in a bunch of big games, they've played in a bunch of bowl games and have had a lot of success. I've been very impressed with them.
"Offensively, what they do in terms of running the spread and throwing it around and using the quarterback in the running game as well, has served them extremely well in the last I don't know how many years. Defensively, they run a 4-3, cover four is basically what they've done and have had some success on the defensive side of the ball. Coach Fitzgerald has a pretty impressive resume, himself personally and what he's done playing defensive football. I know it's very important to him and that's an area that they are putting a tremendous amount of focus on. Special teams, it's about stopping their returner, who I think is one of the top returners, if not the top, in the country right now, Venric Mark, who is also their tailback. Obviously, he has big play potential and you better be ready for that. I've been very impressed with him, as well as their quarterback, Kain Colter. As an athlete, I don't think I've ever heard of a player that led the team in passing, rushing and receiving. Then last week (Trevor) Siemian came in and he did some really good things. He made some big plays for them as well.
"On defense, the two guys will be Quentin Williams, a defensive end, and the other guy that really jumps out to us is Ibraheim Campbell, their safety. They are the guys that we have to be prepared for. Being able to have a game on the road and in Chicago, I know our guys are excited about it so it should be a great opportunity."
How do you avoid an emotional letdown after a tough conference game to start the season? "We've had a bunch of emotional wins and a bunch of emotional losses. We haven't had too many blowouts in either direction. For us and what we're trying to build here, they're all going to be emotional because we have to put so much into it, to get where we want to go. I think we were able to play somewhat consistent last year by sticking to our process and we're going to continue to stick to our process this year. That's all we know is positive attitude, great work ethic, compete in everything you do and you must be willing to sacrifice other things that other individuals and teams aren't willing to do."
Is there any concern on starting this season with another close loss? "It's really the same answer. That's just what we do; we're sticking to our process. It's not going to change and like I mentioned after the game, let's understand and make sure we have perspective as well. Last year I think the score was 21-3, this year the score was 17-13 against the No. 9 team in the country. Last year our defense gave up 367 yards, this year we gave up 272. Last year we had 77 yards of total offense, this year we had 276. We outgained them. Last year we gave up six sacks, this year we gave up five. Last year we didn't have any sacks, this year we had three against a better team. I think South Carolina has improved and I think we improved. If you just focus on the scoreboard then yes, but if you look at the progress we're making as a program and you look at the strides we've taken, that's where our focus needs to be and we need to learn from the mistakes we're making."
Does playing on Thursday give you a couple more days to fix some of those mistakes going into Saturday? "It's really not areas to fix or tweak. We didn't play the way we needed to play early in the season against a great opponent. If you're playing a different opponent the margin of error isn't as small and you can make a few early season mistakes. We did the things we talked about that we couldn't do: turn the ball over, penalties, missed assignments and things like that. Things that you hurt yourself, it has nothing to do with the opponent, you just hurt yourself. The reality is, South Carolina and we were very similar, in terms of mistakes and penalties, except in the margin of error. We didn't play as clean as I would have liked to play and thought we would have played, but we still played pretty clean overall in comparison to an early season game against a really good opponent."
Would you say the margin of error this week is a little greater? "I still don't think we're at that point. I think every single week our approach is to maximize everything we have. I don't think we've got to the point where our margin of error is big for anybody. We have to handle our business. You have to remember Coach Fitzgerald has been there seven years building his program. Coach Spurrier has been there I think 10 years building that program. We've been here 21 months now."
Do you buy into the improvements from week one to week two by leaps and bounds? "I think it helps, year one to year two and game one to game two. I think it helps because although you may practice extremely well and do all the things you are anticipating doing, some guys how they react under the lights and on national television in a game is different than practice. I think it gives you a better feel of who you are going to be able to depend on and who still needs some growth."
Against South Carolina, you relied heavily on the run at the beginning of the game, was that because of the rain or was that your gameplan? "The pouring rain had a big part in that and it's not like once it rains it's over, you still have soaking wet pants, which caused the quarterback to have some issues with the ball. We also had some plans with their two defensive ends. They want to sack the quarterback. That's what their two defensive ends want to do, so if we could kind of take that away from them and frustrate them, then they couldn't just tee off and rush the quarterback every play. That was a little bit of both, but we were probably a little bit more one-sided because of the rain, but that was partly in the plan as well."
Do you feel comfortable taking shots down the field against Northwestern's secondary? "We want to take shots every single week and it doesn't matter if anybody has struggled or not before we've played them. It's how they are going to play against us. Every single week I want to make sure we get the ball down the field and challenge teams vertically. With the height we have at wide receiver, we should be able to do that every single week. Once you do that and establish that, it opens up all your underneath passing game anyway. That's something we'd like to do."
When you look back at the 51-yard field goal attempt against South Carolina, would you make that call again? "Looking back is easy. At the time, the way we were kicking and the way we were kicking off I felt like we had a chance, Charles (Bankins) believed we had a good chance and so did Carey (Spear). We went for it and he miss hit it. Obviously, when it's not successful and you look back and say `yeah we should have went for it on fourth down.' At the time I felt that was the best decision."
Do you feel like the secondary passed the test the other night? "Yes, I do. The things we have to do, No. 1 is with our philosophy and No. 2 just with the rule changes and how they are going to enforce different things. I would like to see us play the ball a little more, go after the ball. I think if you have to choose between going for the big hit or going for the ball, the way the rule changes are, you're best interest is always going for the ball. Plus, we want to create big plays and turnovers."
Did you get a chance to watch any other games this weekend from around the league? "That's pretty much all we did was sit around with our families and watch some football. It was great for me to spend time with my wife and two daughters. They still love me and that's good. Getting a chance to watch other teams was good. We play in a great league. The Big 10 is a great league. Being able to sit there and watch the Northwestern-Syracuse game was interesting because I could sit there and watch the whole game because a lot of times you are watching a little bit while doing other things. We were able to watch it from beginning to end. We sent a mass text out to the team for them to watch it and I think most of them did."
Can you talk about Pat Fitzgerald and the process he has went through at similar institutions? "I really can't. Pat's a vet, our ages might be similar, but there are not too many coaches across the country that have been at the same institution for seven years in the head coach role. He's a veteran and I think he's done a great job there. We are similar institutions and I think that's why both administrations like to play each other. I know our fan base and alumni in the Chicago area are excited about it as well. It's a great road trip for our fans, but I can't really speak on Pat and his program although I do have tremendous respect for him and I have tremendous respect for Northwestern as a university as a whole and the Big 10."
Do you expect Northwestern to concentrate on stopping the passing game going into the game? "I don't have any doubt that they're emphasizing the passing game and I also think they're going to do some things to help. I expect them to play a lot more cover two, which they haven't really shown, but I would expect them to do that. That's like when I was watching the game and the announcers were saying `I don't know why Syracuse doesn't test their corners again late in the game?' Well, they weren't in a coverage where you could test the corners. They were playing Cover Two, so I would expect a little more of that and we're going to try and run the ball like we do every week."
Is Northwestern QB Kain Colter comparable to South Carolina QB Connor Shaw and does it create a challenge trying to prepare for Colter and the backup QB? "I think it does create a challenge. A lot of times when people play multiple quarterbacks, they are still similar but those two guys are not. I think that is going to cause some challenges. I think Connor Shaw was a really good quarterback who managed the game well and could make plays with his feet, but this kid (Colter) I don't think there are too many athletes in the country playing quarterback that would lead their team in rushing and receiving as well. He's a unique guy. The other thing that I was impressed with him when I watched the Syracuse game, when (Siemian) came in and threw some of those touchdowns at the end of the game, the guy who was most supportive of him and was out there congratulating him as soon as he came to the sideline was (Colter). I think that shows you a little bit about the type of kid he is and the type of program they're running there. I think that talks about Northwestern as a program and their head coach Pat Fitzgerald because they are teaching great values. It's about the team, not the individual."
Josh Jelesky, Senior Offensive Guard On moving on from the South Carolina game:
"Obviously we're a little disappointed (about the South Carolina game),but just like in football every week there's a new game and we got to move on.There's a little bit of a bad taste in our mouth, so we're just excited to play Northwestern this week."
On getting to play near where he grew up:
"It'll be nice for some people (back home) to see us play, but like coach Franklin said it's not like we're going to be out there sightseeing much. It's about the game and that's really what we're focused on."
"They are a good, quality opponent (Northwestern) as we saw last week when they came back and played a great game to beat Syracuse. We just have to treat them like any other team."
On not starting the year 0-2:
"We'll worry about our total record at the end of the year. Right now we just got to beat Northwestern."
Archibald Barnes, Senior Linebacker On moving on from the loss:
"We're 0-0 now. It wasn't that hard to put that game behind us. It was a Thursday game and it's done with now. It's a whole new week and it's time to focus on the rest of the season."
On slowing down Northwestern's offense:
"We've got to prepare for the entire offense. They've got a scheme and we've got a scheme. We just have to perfect our scheme, and if we can handle ourselves and be perfect in our scheme, then there's nobody that can stop us."
Javon Marshall, Junior Safety On moving on from the loss:
"We live by each week in the game of football, so we've moved on. We're sour, but we keep going."
On coming out on top in a close game:
"We're getting in the right direction and taking the next step. Like Archie (Barnes) said, if it does come down to a close game, we're learning how to close games."
On stopping Northwestern's passing attack:
"We feel real confident going into this game. We've been studying real hard, and as you saw Connor Shaw got hurt last game so he couldn't throw the ball as much. So we've been focusing a lot on the quarterbacks and their pass patterns, things like that. We have a lot of confidence coming off the first game."