Head Coach James Franklin and select players met with the media on Monday to discuss Vanderbilt's upcoming matchup with Ole Miss. The Commodores will host the Rebels Saturday at 11:21 a.m. CT on SEC Network. Tickets are available for purchase online or by calling (615) 322-GOLD (4653).
Opening Statement: Thanks for everybody being here. I’d like to start out with a brief summary of the UConn game. The turnover battle has been a real positive for us; we won that 4-3, but we have to get back to protecting the ball on the offensive side of the ball. The defense has to continue to create turnovers. That’s been the story so far this season, and we want to continue to build on that.
Scoring on defense, or setting up a score on defense, has been big for us as well. Two turnovers turned into 14 points again on Saturday, which was huge. Penalties; we had 11 for 81. Too many penalties this past week - we’re going to be a disciplined football team. That’s who we are, and that’s how we’re going to play.
It was a little bit bigger environment. It was a little bit bigger game. Again, I think our kids haven’t been in that environment, and been successful in that environment, so we were a little bit tight and made some mistakes that we haven’t made. The most important thing is we found a way to win in a tough situation, and overcame that.
Explosive plays have still been a real positive. We had seven explosive plays on offense. Our goal is eight, so we came a little short on that, however defensively we made our goal. We only want to give up two or less explosive plays a game, and that helped our defense.
Red Zone success; we need to get to the red zone, and we need to score touchdowns. Our defense is obviously playing really well. When we can get down there and hold our opponent to a field goal or less in the red zone then you’re really playing well.
Special Teams; we have to start to make big plays, and must eliminate the negative plays. It’s not very often that you have a punt blocked, and also give up a fumble for a touchdown, and still win the game. That doesn’t happen very often, so we need to make sure we clean those things up.
We need to build on how Larry Smith started the game. His first quarter stats – he was five of seven for 90 yards and a touchdown – we have to build on that. I’ve talked to you guys since I arrived on campus about protecting the quarterback and making plays. We really improved in making plays for Larry. We reduced our drops significantly, but he took way too many shots in the game, and gave up too many sacks.
Overall on offense, we need to be more consistent and we need to protect the ball. We need to eliminate the penalties. The defense is playing very well right now, but areas for improvement are that we need to start strong and finish strong, we need to run to the ball with our pursuit, and tackle better. On special teams we want to continue to create big plays and eliminate negative plays.
Rob Lohr was the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week. We are very proud of him. It’s an individual award, but it really talks about our defense as a whole. Casey Hayward was the National Defensive Back of the Week for the College Football Performance Awards, so we’re really proud of those guys.
Now that’s over with. I will now talk to you guys about Ole Miss and Houston Nutt, who I have tremendous respect for. Keys to the game: We’re going to have to win the turnover battle again. That’s been big. We have to win the penalty battle. We have to get back to play how we’re going to play. We have to get into the red zone. We need to score touchdowns, and our defense needs to continue to play how they’re playing.
What we’re going to see is a 4-3 defense. We’re going to see a Cover 4 team behind it in the secondary, and they have six returning defensive starters. We have to get back to executing our offense and take what they give us. I thought the first week we did a pretty good job of getting the ball out quickly, and taking what the defense gives. Last week we got into getting the ball down the field and more shots. We have to find the balance between the two, which I also think will help Larry [Smith]. We need to keep having explosive sacks and improve on third down. The key defensive player for them is probably (DE) Kentrell Lockett. We have to be aware of him.
Defensively, we’re going to see a multiple pro offense. They have nine returning offensive starters. They play three quarterbacks, so that is similar to what we saw this past week. They have a good set of running backs, despite the injuries to Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis. They have a big, well-coached offensive line. Their run-game coordinator and offensive line coach Mike Markuson has been with Coach Houston Nutt for years and does a good job.
On special teams, we need to stop the big returns. Jeff Scott is doing very well for them. I think he’s leading the country in punt return average right now, so that’s going to be a challenge for our guys, and especially (Richard) Kent to be more consistent right now. We need to secure our protection up as well.
On Chase White playing left guard: We all knew coming in to this season that we had some challenges on the offensive line. When you lose a starter the week before, and really have to adjust, it’s not the ideal situation, but it is what it is. I thought Chase White – for a guy who was actually All-Camp playing right tackle, and to move him to play left guard – I thought he did well. We have to build on it. We’re not content with how he played, but I thought for being thrown into that situation, he handled it very well. We need to build on that though. We have to start to gel and be more consistent as a group.
On overcoming challenges against UConn: Although I would have loved to have played cleaner and executed in all three phases in the game, I think being able to win that type of game and overcome adversity, and find a way to swing the momentum back in our direction, is probably more powerful. We’ve talked about how we went up and down the sideline and made sure the players understood that this is not what people would characterize as the same old Vandy. This is the 2011 Vanderbilt.
On the importance of the next game: This game is no more important than what Elon was. This game is no more important than what UConn was. The game that we are playing this week is the most important game on our schedule. No other game exists. I don’t care if it’s out of conference. I don’t care if it’s in conference. The game we are playing this week is our focus.
On Vandy’s recent history against Ole Miss: We’re not talking about what has happened in the past. The 2010 team that beat Ole Miss is nothing like this year. We have to handle our business. That game last year, in my opinion, has no relevance this year. It’s this team. It’s this season. Do they have some memories? Yeah, there’s no doubt about it, but I want those guys to focus. I don’t think we’re in any position to be over-confident against anybody. We just have to go out and handle our business, and play the way that I know we are capable of playing.
On Mississippi’s defense: I think they’re a big physical team. They have a bunch of new faces on that defense, with a bunch of junior college transfers. If you look at them physically, they have a big, good-looking team that can run. What we have to do is come together offensively, especially on the offensive line, to handle our business and allow us to do the things we want to do.
On Ole Miss Head Coach Houston Nutt: I’ve followed his career for a long time. I was very impressed with him at the SEC Coaches’ meetings. Like most of the head coaches in this league, he’s very intelligent and very charismatic. He was great with me. He was one of the guys I sat next to in a bunch of the meetings and I had some really good conversations with him. I’ve followed his career, and know what he’s done, and have respect for what he has been able to do.
On being comfortable in first two games as a head coach: I wouldn’t say I was surprised. I will tell you that I was more comfortable this past week, although I thought it was a more challenging game to manage. I received great advice from my staff on how to handle the game, how to manage the game, and when to call timeouts. I was looking at the stats in they said that we had a delay of game penalty. I was thinking “we didn’t have a delay of game,” but it was that we actually took a delay of game to run time off the clock, which helped us. I was just more comfortable on the sideline with what to do and how to do it.
On UConn’s punt block: It’s very correctable. They did a good job of attacking us in that situation, but everything we saw on film is very correctable. We didn’t get it done in that situation. It wasn’t anything scheme-wise that we did wrong, or they did right, we just didn’t do our responsibilities the way they should be.