Vanderbilt Head Coach James Franklin and select players met with media members on Monday to discuss the Commodores' upcoming game with Arkansas. Interviews and quotes from the session are posted below.
Saturday's matchup is scheduled for 11:21 a.m. CT (SEC Network) at Vanderbilt Stadium. Tickets are still available and can be purchased online or by calling (615) 322-GOLD (4653).
Opening Statement: "I think one of the big issues in the game again was the turnover battle, which we were able to win. We're now ranked sixth in the country in turnovers gained, and 15 interceptions, which is tied for the lead in the country in interceptions. I think another thing that really jumped out was explosive plays, offensively there were 11 explosive plays with seven runs and four passes that we considered explosive plays, which is runs of 12 yards or more and passes of 16 yards or more. We keep track of that each week. Defensively, we gave up three explosive plays, which is an area we have to improve. I think we're playing really good defense but we have to limit the big plays that occur. I know Coach Shoop and the defensive staff is putting an emphasis on that. Defensive line, really proud of those guys, really proud of Coach Shoop. We've taken are area that was a major concern at the beginning of the season and we're getting better each week. Have we arrived yet? No we haven't, but we're really doing some positive things. Some of those things are: the offensive line has only given up one sack now in the last three games, dramatic improvement from the beginning of the year. In the last two weeks, we've rushed for 544 yards, 344 yards against Army and 200 yards against Georgia, which I think is a real positive. And then congratulations to Ryan Seymour, who was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week, so really happy for him and proud of our guys.
For Arkansas, tremendous respect for them and their program. Bobby Petrino. I've been following his career for a long time, he's really done a great job, especially on the offensive side of the ball, been very impressed with him. I think the turnover battle is going to be really important; right now I think that's something we have a little bit of an advantage in. We're ranked 6th in the SEC, Arkansas is ranked 9th."
On the offensive line's improvement: "I think it's a combination of a lot of factors. Those guys have been playing for the most part as a unit--we did have to move some things around the first half of last week--but basically the same guys have been playing. And we have created a little bit of depth as well. I think the other thing is Jordan coming into the game, and he's been able to eliminate some of the sacks with his feet, making people miss and turning some negative yardage plays into some positive yardage plays. I think that's helped us as well. I think Coach Donovan is doing a good job of calling the game in a way that eliminates some of those things. I think it's a combination of all of those things."
On Andrew Bridges: "I think he played very well. He's a very athletic kid; he's extremely strong for his size. I would probably make a lot of comparisons with him, now, where Wes Johnson was last year. Probably still a little undersized, I think his upside is really good. But I thought he played really well and I think he showed that we're going to be able to continue rotating him in and getting more reps."
On the Commodores' position in the SEC East standings: "I really have no idea. It's funny because I come in here in the morning and scour the Internet before anyone else gets here and just try to figure out what's going on. And it's funny because I don't even know who's playing right now in major league baseball. I read something and I was shocked by it. All those things outside of our world, who's ranked and all those things, and where we're at in the conference, we've really spent very little time talking or thinking about that. Our focus right now is on Arkansas."
On Zac Stacy's adjustment to workload: "I've been impressed with Zac, I haven't gone back and looked at the numbers and seen probably from the beginning of the season, he's carried it about the same each week. I don't look at it as he's carrying that much more of a workload than he was early in the year. As the offensive line's improving and we're able to stay and keep the game competitive, we can stick to our game plan longer. I think he's doing a great job. He's been great on the sideline from the leadership perspective; he's been great in practice.
"I truly believe that if you focus on the process that the results will take care of themselves. That's not only on the football field, that's in life. I talk to them about, they want a promotion, they want a raise, they want a job to take care of their kids some day, they do a really, really good job coming to work with a positive attitude and working hard every day, those things will take care of themselves. No different than on the football field. We work hard and have a great attitude Sunday through Friday, and Saturdays will take care of themselves. Their opportunities to impact the game will take care of themselves."
On slowing down Arkansas' offense: "Obviously we have to minimize big plays, we have to tackle well, and we have to execute our game plan. We are still getting that in the works. We are getting that together right now. So hopefully when we get out there this week, and work on it and get a look at their different looks and different personnel, we can execute what we put together this weekend."
On preparing for the speed of the Arkansas offense: "They are just like any other team in this conference. They have big, tall, strong guys who can run fast and we play against that every weekend. We have those type of people as well, so we are looking forward to the challenge."
On Bobby Petrino's offense scheme: "They are pretty talented at the wide receiver position and the quarterback position. Offensively, all around, their O-line and everybody at each skill position has talent, and like I said, we face that every week in the SEC, so we are looking forward to that."
On Tyler Wilson (Arkansas QB): "He can make every throw and that's what you want out of your quarterback, he moves his feet well, and he knows how to step up into the pocket, and reads through his progressions quite well, so he's going to be a challenge for us and we are definitely looking forward to it as a defense."
On Arkansas: "I have watched quite a bit of film already. They are always going to have a lot of athletes on the field, they are coached really well, but we just have got to be able to do what we do. Move the ball like we have been doing the last couple weeks with the run game, and hopefully that will open up the pass game."
On being a run first QB: "Definitely not a run first quarterback, that's not something I want to bank on doing. I think it is a great aspect of my game that can help the team when I need to. We definitely had a lot more called quarterback runs this week, which helped I think alleviate some of the pressure on Zac, he had a ton of carries and played great, rushing for almost 200 yards. But, I would like to use my feet when necessary. There's a couple of situations, on film, that I would like to stay in the pocket a half second longer and deliver the ball, but definitely want to be a pass first quarterback. That's what I want to be and that's what this offense needs I think."
On seeing open field and being willing to tuck and run: "We have done a great job of not getting any sacks the past few weeks, which is a tribute to our O-line and how well they are playing, but also, if a quarterback holds the ball too long, it is going to put pressure on the O-line. So when I am going to go through my first couple reads, 1, 2, 3, and if I don't see anything and I see some green grass, I'm going to go. That will just keep us from getting into any negative plays with sacks, and that's been a huge part of our game being able to eliminate those sacks and be able to keep our offense moving."
On playing at home and protecting the stadium: "Well that's huge. Anytime you get to play at home you have a little bit of the advantage. Us being 4-1 at home, it's big for us, and we need to win our home games and win in front of our home crowd to get people coming back and that's what we have been doing. So it's always a big point of emphasis, but then again, every game is as important as the next. We just take it one game at a time, and if it's a home game it's a little easier for us. We don't have to travel and get to defend our house in front of our home crowd and don't have to deal with the noise as much. That's a point of emphasis, as always, and we have been doing a good job of that."
On keeping up with Arkansas' offense: "It is a different focus than it was last week, Army was really a `control the ball' type offense, and we focused on really controlling the ball ourselves on offense to keep the defense off the field for long periods of time, sustaining drives. This offense we are facing this week has the ability to quick strike and score a lot of points, so we need to sustain drives and put points up on the board as always. Our defense is going to play well, and have been playing well, so it's our job as an offense to back them up and put points up and give us a chance to win."
On the improving strength of the team building confidence for playing Arkansas: "Huge confidence, we have won four at home and that gives us confidence going into this game, and really the most confidence, really, that we gain is knowing that we haven't put together a perfect game yet. We watch the film and we leave a lot of plays out there, but we are still putting up points, we are still winning games, and that's a big encouragement. I think once we put it all together, that's something that this team looks forward to doing and it's going to be good when we do."