Head coach James Franklin and junior offensive tackle Wesley Johnson met with the media on Monday to discuss the team's upcoming game with Kentucky on Saturday in Lexington.
Vanderbilt is 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the SEC. Kentucky is 1-8 overall and 0-6 in the league. Saturday's meeting will be televised on ESPNU at 11 a.m. CT.
Head Coach James Franklin Opening Statement: "We didn't play a real clean game against Massachusetts. The penalties weren't a positive. We did win the turnover battle, but we put it on the ground a few more times than I would like. Amazingly, we did win the penalty battle. The first drive wasn't the prettiest thing.
"I thought Jordan [Rodgers] played really well after looking at the tape. It's a shame that we missed two easy throws which would have set us up for more opportunities and given him an opportunity to set a school record, which isn't a huge deal but it would've been a cool thing for him.
"Four out of our top five tacklers were either true freshmen or redshirt freshmen. I think that's a real positive. I think we can improve in special teams. Our kicking wasn't as good; we didn't get as much distance and our location wasn't as good.
"Kentucky is 1-8 right now, but five losses have come from top 17 ranked teams in the country, which is similar to us. They've played very, very good competition. They've played 14 true freshmen, which is as many as I've ever heard.
"Kentucky really knows how to run the football. They do nice things with schemes and angles. They've played three different quarterbacks, and we're going to have to be prepared for all of them.
"This week is a great challenge: early morning game, going on the road. I expect to have many Vanderbilt fans traveling up the highway. What we see happen a lot in this league are teams that travel well. We want to have a bunch of black and gold in the blue stadium."
On penalty situation vs. Massachusetts: "We definitely can clean it up, and it was definitely frustrating. We haven't really had that this year except for a few problems on the road with the noise at Georgia. The procedural penalties we can live with, but it's the pre-snap penalties that drive you crazy. A little bit of that had to do with some young guys on the line. But it's definitely correctable. We just have to get back to doing what we're doing and keep the game plans clean. I don't see it being an issue for us."
On Jordan Matthews: "Obviously he and Chris Boyd are great looking kids, they pass the eyeball test right away. His success has been something that has happened over time. I think Jordan's very good, and he's been very productive. What's exciting to me is that he can get a lot better. That's not a knock, that's a compliment. He's one of the more productive receivers in the SEC and I think he's got a chance to really improve from here on out. He finds a way to make plays and he's a strong runner."
On Zac Stacy's injury: "He's told me he'll be ready to go. He told me that he could've gone back in Saturday, as well as our trainers. But [Wesley] Tate has shown all year long that he will run hard and that he has the athleticism and the speed. I think Brian Kimbrow has shown that he can make big plays as well."
On Brian Kimbrow: "He's an unbelievable kid. He's so driven. Brian just has a way with people, and you fall in love with the kid. If he protects the ball and does what he's supposed to do, he'll get more opportunities. He's growing every single day: academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. I meet with the whole freshman class once a week. They're passionate, they're driven and they're very excited about the future."
On Jonathan Krause: "I had a meeting with Jonathan either last week or two weeks ago and talked about him wanting to have a bigger impact. I've seen a change in him. He's much more aggressive right now. Even on short punts, he's taking off and attacking those balls. Just by catching them, he's saving us 15 yards in hidden yardage. I think the more success he has a returner will translate as a receiver and vice versa. He's got the ability, he just has to be aggressive and not take the back seat."
On 4th-down attempts and conversions: "I want to be first in the nation, not fourth, in attempts and conversions. We want to be first in everything. It's interesting, because when I got here, everyone was saying that we don't take enough risks or chances, and now we're too cute and go for it too many times.
"We're going to be aggressive. We're going to take some calculated risks. If it's a problem at the end of the game, blame me. Put it on my shoulders. We don't approach anything based on if we're favored in a game or not. We're going to play the same brand and style of football every single week. It doesn't matter who we're playing, because that's our identity. It really sends a message to our team that we believe in them and that we need to consistently execute.
"We don't ever have to practice punting. That saves us time to get better on kickoff coverage and returns."
On play calling creativity: "I think if you can just run the ball down their throat, then you do that. If you can do some things with tempo or take advantage of their aggression, you do that as well."
On Kris Kentera and Josh Grady: "When we got here the first year, we saw problems at quarterback. We signed three quarterbacks that year and it was late in the process. We got three athletic kids, and we knew they could move on to other positions. I think Grady is still growing in to being a receiver but he's doing well.
"Kentera is doing better than I expected. It's one thing to go from being a quarterback to lining up across from 260-pound defensive end. He's really got some good functional strength and movement. Over time, once he gains some weight, I think he's got a chance to be pretty good. I'm expecting both of those guys to have really good careers here."
On how the record looks: "This weekend is an opportunity to go 1-0. The significance of the games we played before or what we'll play after, I have no idea. We'll be 1-0 this week and go from there."
On health on offensive line: "It's about what we thought it would be. [The true freshmen] know that if we need them to win a game, if we need to put them in even to get one first down, we will. I think in a perfect world, you'd love to be able to hold them at this point in the season. But we're going to do whatever we need to win.
"I think [offensive line coach] Herb [Hand] and the line have done a good job of embracing the role of having to play different positions. Ryan Seymour played three different offensive line positions this week. Chase White played three positions on the line too. I think the flexibility has helped us."
On morning games and Les Miles: "Les has won a bunch of games, and I like Les. I like going to visit with him during SEC meetings. I think that's what our schedule is going to be. Wake up, go to the bathroom and go play the game. Sounds like a good plan. I'm going to adopt Les' plan.
"Early games on the road are nice. We can get back at a reasonable time, be able to get back early enough to have time with the family and get back to work on Sunday."
On new locations in the SEC: "I think it's great for the league. It's something new, exciting and different. I haven't been in the league long enough to have a great perspective. The venue I'm concerned about making the best in the SEC is right here in Nashville at Vanderbilt. It's getting better every single week and we just have to keep building on that."
Junior Offensive Tackle Wesley Johnson On the feeling the opportunity the team has heading into November: "The only opportunity we're looking for is to play Kentucky. We just want to beat them. That's our goal going into this weekend; can't get into much more than that."
On a win this weekend moving the team up to 5 total wins: "It makes us 1-0. That's our goal this week, so that's all we're hoping for. That's all we're working for."
On whether there's uneasiness on the offensive line on fourth and short: "No, and that's why we like the approach coach Franklin takes. We want to be on the field as much as we can. If we have to go for it on fourth-and-short because we feel like we messed up on either first, second, or third down, we always want to make up for that and get another six seconds to try and take control of the game."
On whether guys switching positions throughout the game affects cohesiveness: "It kind of does, but we work on it in practice all week. Plus, the group of guys we have we've been together for a while now, so we all kind of understand each other. We have all blocked next to each other before, so it's probably not as big of a problem as some people would think it is."
On whether that contributed to some of the early penalties: "I think that was us not being ready to play. We weren't as focused as we needed to be coming out of the gates. I think we sort of settled down, grouped up, and took care of business."
On whether the team was not ready to play because UMass was 0-7: "I'm not sure, whether it was homecoming... I think we just let the distractions get to us a little bit too much, but again we're happy with the win and we know what we have to do this week."
On discussions of a bowl game: "It's kind of taboo to talk about it. I think that's one of the things that's good about the kind of culture that we have around here. Guys don't like to talk about it because we can't afford to look ahead to the week after Kentucky. Whatever happens after this Saturday, we have to put all our focus in to getting this W."
On if bowl discussions came up last year after the fifth win: "Not really. I think last year we still had a few games left when we had won five games so we're still trying to just win as many games as we could and that involved just trying to get one win at a time."
On Jonathan Krause's big game on special teams: "We're all really happy that he had a big game because he's one of the harder workers on our team. We see him out there catching balls just as much, if not more than any other wide receiver. We see him running routes. He really stands out in all our running workouts. A guy that gives a lot of effort like him, we're all happy to see him have a good game, and I hope it does, and it should, give him a little bit of confidence because he did play well."
On Collins Ukwu on film: "I've watched some film. He's a good player. He's a big, fast guy. He's just another really good SEC defensive end that we've kind of gotten used to playing. I remember him from years past, and he's a real aggressive guy. He's a good player and we really have to be ready for them."
On the challenge Kentucky's big defensive tackles pose: "When we're going up against big guys, we just try to play mean, try to play low, and aggressive. We try to take advantage of the fact that they are bigger and that they will tire down. We'll try to wear them out. I guess that's our strategy when we go against guys like that."
On the mentality of upperclassmen going on the road this week: "We really haven't put together a very good road game yet this year, so I know we met as a council yesterday. We have a leadership council and we met and talked about trying to have everybody approach this week at practice with the right mindset of going on the road and playing our game, of not letting other things distract us like traveling and other team's fans, so we're just trying to focus on us and being the best Vanderbilt that we can be."
On if there is a sense that as a team they have not played their best football yet: "Yeah, kind of. Part of that is that we always know that we can play better. We'll never play a perfect game no matter how much we try to. We strive for perfection and we accept excellence, but there is kind of a feeling that we haven't put four quarters together yet."
On Brian Kimbrow: "He's fast. I know he comes in and he works hard. I was happy to see him come in and score that touchdown on Saturday. I was real happy for him because I know he has been wanting to get that chance and he took advantage of it when he came in. He's progressing. I've been real happy with all the freshmen and how they've all progressed."
On whether it's nice to make trips to new venues in the league and see the new teams: "Yeah, I guess so. It's interesting to see it. You kind of want to play in as many different places as you can, especially in all the SEC stadiums because it's kind of a once in a lifetime chance to get to play in all those stadiums. So yeah, I guess playing Missouri was pretty cool."
On Marcus Lattimore's injury and if it effected the team's focus against UMass: "No not really. If anything it helped us. He's such a great player and he's really classy guy too. Everybody around the league has a lot of respect for him and it was tough to see that happen. It reminded us that every single play could be your last play. Never in a million years would any one have thought that he would have gotten hurt like that on that particular play, so it made us be more appreciative of what we have and helped us to realize we have to take advantage of every opportunity we get."
On whether Jordan Rodgers is looking more confident: "Yeah, I guess he's a little more confident. I guess things are just starting to come together. We're being more cohesive. I guess you could say we're in midseason form or whatever, but I was happy for him to play well. He deserves a good game like that because of how hard he works as well. I was happy for him."
On Kentucky at home versus away: "To be honest I haven't really paid attention to that. I watched their game against South Carolina and I saw that they did fly around. They're a team that is very aggressive and I bet they're hungry for a win, so we're expecting their best this weekend."