Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin and senior defensive tackle Rob Lohr met with the media on Monday to discuss the team's upcoming game with Ole Miss Saturday in Oxford.
Vanderbilt is 5-4 overall and 3-3 in the SEC. Ole Miss is 5-4 overall and 2-3 in the league. Saturday's meeting will be televised on ESPNU at 6 p.m. CT.
Head Coach James Franklin Opening Statement: "We're testing ourselves a little bit with these turnovers. It's not very often that you lose the turnover battle and win the game, and this has happened a couple times now and we have to get that fixed. We need to do a better job of forcing turnovers and protecting the football. We did a pretty good job with penalties and played a mostly clean game. We met our goal on offense with eight explosive plays: four running plays and four passing plays, which is another example of the balance we had in the game. Defensively, we only allowed three explosive plays so we met our goal there.
"I think one of the biggest factors in this game is that we were 11-of-17 on third downs. It shows that we're getting better in that area and we're emphasizing it. I also thought it was interesting that we had five different players score touchdowns, which shows we have a bunch of guys involved. I'm really proud of our O-Line and Herb Hand and what they're doing. Wesley Johnson was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week, which is a tremendous honor for our team.
"Defensively, it's our second shutout of the season. That hasn't happened since 1964. It was our first SEC shutout since 1968, and the first time it's happened on the road since then. It would be nice to not have to say that anymore, that those things haven't happened for a long time, and hopefully we won't be saying that much anymore.
"Carey Spear is 81-percent on the year, ranked second in the SEC in field goal kicking, and he was the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week. That's a real positive there
"[The trip to Ole Miss] is a great opportunity to go on the road to a great SEC venue. I've not been there, but from what I've heard, it's great. Hugh Freeze actually called me this morning, just congratulated us and offered to help us in any way he could. I think they're doing a real good job on both sides of the ball. They're playing hard and they're physical. They have the advantage in the turnover battle and the penalty battle. They're playing very disciplined football, and lead the conference in penalties.
"Ole Miss is a huge pressure team, and they take a lot of pride in that. It really stood out to me against Georgia, where they had five sacks and played very aggressively.
"I've known Dan Werner for a long time, and they're doing a really good job. They run a no-huddle offense and are very fast-paced. The tempo is something we're going to have to be aware of. They have some very explosive players. Bo Wallace is a big, strong, physical guy who is throwing the ball well but also runs too. Jeff Scott is as explosive of a player as there is in the SEC and Donte Moncrief has made as many big plays as anybody."
On challenges of fast-paced offenses: "It's a challenge. You're not going to be able to make the perfect call on defense, so it's about executing better than them. I think some defensive coordinators feel that they have to call the perfect play to stop the offense based on personnel groups, and this eliminates a little of that. We'll be in shape and ready for this.
"The most challenging thing is getting together a scout team to show this in practice. It's hard to do it at the same type of speed. The main thing you can do is talk about it and make sure you adjust to the tempo as quickly as you can."
On simulating tempo: "Unless you run the same offense, it's difficult to try and show it to your guys. We'll do as much as we can, and practice no huddle. [Defensive Coordinator] Bob [Shoop] is a smart guy, and we'll find a way to get our guys prepared."
On the significance of this game and win/losses: "We want to be 1-0 this week, just like every other week. Any other significance doesn't matter. They're all big games. Every week is like the Super Bowl for us, whether it's conference, non-conference, at home or on the road. There isn't any other significance.
"At the end of they year, if people tell us we have the opportunity to go play for something, we'll go play it. Last year, the season was over after Wake Forest. The season was over. They scheduled us another game in Memphis called a bowl, so we talked about it at that time.
"In my interview, we didn't even talk win/loss specifics. Our message within the program is going to be consistent. I can't control what anybody else talks about but what I can control is what we're going to talk about as a program and I believe in it. I believe in taking this approach, being consistent and not getting caught up in any of those other things. We're trying to find a way to be a consistent, mature program. We have not won enough games that we have it figured it out. We haven't won enough of the games we're supposed to win, or 50-50 games, or the games that are really challenging. Once we win those on a consistent basis, maybe then we'll change our approach but I doubt it. Other people send those messages. What I try to do is keep our focus on us and the process and getting better.
"Even though we won the UMass game, I wasn't happy with it. It wasn't about the score. We didn't play the way we're capable of playing, and I want us to get better. I want us to be improving and growing every day."
On the performance vs. Kentucky: "I think we played really well in the first half. The second half, we could've played better. What's important to me is that we're playing well, smart and aggressively. It's not about the score; it's about playing well and getting better.
"Surprisingly, my message at halftime is that the first half doesn't exist, no different than the game before doesn't exist. Let's come out and win the second half."
On offensive variety in personnel: "I like the fact that we're able to get a lot of guys involved. That's helped us when we've had issues. We're able to put guys in who have experience. Playing as many guys as we can has helped us create depth."
On defensive success this year: "We haven't had as many splash plays with turnovers this year, but we have as many good players. The biggest difference is turnovers. Across the board statistically, we're better in 90-percent of the categories if you do the comparisons. The only difference is turnovers. This team is taking a blue-collar mentality and trying to consistently do their jobs. I think the turnovers will come if we just keep doing our job.
"I've been impressed with our resiliency. We've been able to fight back from tougher situations. Perseverance is how I would describe the defense this year."
On random turnovers and missing Casey Hayward: "It's a combination of factors. There is a little bit of chance and luck involved. We're coaching it exactly the same as we did last year and we're emphasizing it maybe a little bit more. We don't want to emphasize it too much more where it becomes a negative.
"We just stick to our plan. Casey does make a difference. But when a chance comes to make a big play, you have to make it. It's all of those factors, but it's not anything we're doing differently. There are so many factors in turnovers, like pressure in sacks and veteran quarterbacks in the league."
On 4th down conversions: "We're doing a very good job of moving the ball. Many times, our fourth down situations come somewhere in the 35-yard line range where it could be a long field goal. What are you going to do? Are you going to miss a long field goal and give them good field position or are you going to punt the ball and gain maybe 12 yards? It's allowed us to be aggressive in those situations.
"We're going to have to take some calculated risks. When we go for it, and it works, everyone thinks it's awesome. When it doesn't work, we're idiots. I'm comfortable with that, and I think we need to keep taking the risks. I want to play an exciting brand of football here and I want to be aggressive with everything we do. I think our players like it. Our defense thrives off of it, because it puts them in challenging situations. It shows the faith we have in our offense, and also the defense."
On playing at Ole Miss: "I'm excited; it'll be a great opportunity. I think their stadium holds over 60,000. I've heard The Grove is awesome.
"When we went and played in Chicago, people kept asking if we were going to visit Navy Pier. I've heard a bunch of things about The Grove, so I figured we'd get there an hour early, walk around, shake hands, have some barbeque and go play the game."
On injuries: "This is as healthy a team as I've been around. It's unbelievable. We don't have one issue. The guys told me yesterday that they feel fresher and healthier than they were when the season started. The depth charts, press conferences and meetings will never reflect anything different."
On Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace: "He's a big, strong, physical guy and he throws the ball well. That offense is all about putting him in very good throwing situations. You have to be ready for him as a runner, and Randall Mackey as a runner and a thrower with his quarterback experience."
On Kentucky Head Coach Joker Phillips: "I have tremendous respect for Joker, how he handled it and for him as a man. I've known him for a long time. I wish him nothing but success in the future. If there is ever anything I can do to help Joker Phillips I'll bend over backward to do it."
On Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze's phone call: "It caught me a little off guard. There was an accident involving one of his players up here earlier in the year, and I called him and just told him that if there was anything we could do to help him or his player's family while they were here that we would. Vanderbilt's hospital is so well thought-of, but I called and reached out.
"I've been impressed with Hugh. I've had chances to spend time with him at meetings and SEC media days. It did catch me off guard, because I don't think that's very common in the profession. But it was a nice gesture, and I enjoyed talking to him and I wished them the best as well."
Senior Defensive Tackle Rob Lohr On the difference in the defense this year: "I think it's just a mentality of 11 players functioning as one. That's how we look at it. We don't always have people that jump out at you on the stat sheet, but we work together well and I think we complement each other. We execute the defense and make plays. We don't really care who makes the play, as long as they're made."
On his play picking up of late: "I had to get back to my fundamentals. I had some offseason issues and I've been able to get back to my fundamentals the last couple weeks. Coach [Franklin] has pushed me to do that and it has definitely helped. I'm feeling much better and I'm ready to finish off the season strong."
On if the defense is doing anything schematically different this season: "I don't think there is anything really different. Compared to most SEC defenses I think we're somewhat undersized, but we use our athleticism and speed to hit our gaps and make the plays. We try to make it difficult for the offensive line and their schemes to work, so I don't think it's much different from last year. I do think we are executing better."
On if the defense is more consistent this year: "We're just trying to execute and the big plays will come. Obviously, the turnovers aren't where they were at this point last season, but it's just a matter of it starting up front and being able to get pressure on the quarterback to cause a bad throw. I realize we haven't gotten them up to this point, but we've still been able to win without them. When we get them, we'll be better."
On what he expects to see from Ole Miss this weekend: "They are going to come with a fight. I believe they are a lot better this year. Their offense is up-tempo and they have a lot of really good skill players. Their offensive line is solid and they pack a punch. Their fast tempo is tough to adjust to, so it's a matter of us lining up and executing. It will be a challenge, but we'll be ready for the challenge."