Vanderbilt Head Coach James Franklin, offensive lineman Wesley Johnson, defensive end Walker May, and quarterback Jordan Rodgers discussed the upcoming Tennessee game with reporters at the Commodores' weekly media session on Monday. Interviews and quotes are posted below.
Saturday's conference matchup between the Commodores and Vols is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT at Neyland Stadium.
Vanderbilt Head Coach James Frnaklin
On Kentucky game and Logan Stewart:
"In the turnover battle, we went even there, didn't really help ourselves but we were able to go even. We both had a turnover. But we're ranked 4th in the SEC in turnover margin, 41st in the country. Penalties, it was an advantage for us, and I think that was a real positive in the game. We had three penalties for 25 yards. Kentucky had 10 for 105. I would like to address something about Logan Stewart, because I want to defend my players. This is in no way being critical of the officiating in the conference; this is talking about my players. I want you guys to understand what Logan is getting called for is not an illegal block, per se. What I mean by that is that he did have a block earlier in the year that was in the back of a guys legs and we corrected that. But what he's getting called for is a block that they are considering once the play has ended. He is throwing a legal cut block on a defender but they are considering it after the play has ended. The way we teach our guys, and what we've always taught our guys is that you play from the ball is snapped until the whistle has blown. That block occurred before the whistle is blown. But he's supposed to know when the play has ended and the whistle does not signify the end of the play, as I'm being explained the rules. "
On Tennessee game:
"This is a really big game for us because it's the next game. That's kind of what our focus is. Tennessee is 4-6 right now. They've played an extremely difficult schedule like we all do in the SEC. I think one of the things that is important, they have five teams that they've played that are currently ranked in the top 15; we've played four, so there's a lot of similarities between our schedules. You look at the turnover battle, that should be an advantage for us if we continue to do what we've been doing, protecting the football and getting turnovers. We're ranked fourth, they're ranked seventh. If you look at the penalty battle, that's an advantage Tennessee has. We're ranked eighth in the SEC, and they're ranked fourth, so we've got to continue to improve in that area like we do each week. Tennessee will play a 4-3 defense. They really line up and let their athletes play. They're pretty much a base defense. Obviously the big story there is their quarterback and who is going to play. I think the Worley kid is playing really well for them for a freshman but I think Tyler Bray, getting him back, which is kind of really our expectation and what we're going to plan for, is to face Tyler Bray. I think that'll give them the spark of energy getting him back, because he was playing very well early in the year."
On difference Bray will make if he comes back:
"I think the fact that he played very well early in the year, when you're able to get a guy back like that on your roster, I think it has an effect on the coaches in terms of confidence in what they can call when you have an experienced quarterback, and receivers seem to run better routes when they've got their guy, tight ends same thing. It'll have a spark for them for sure. But it won't change a whole lot on what we do and how we approach. If you look at what they're doing offensively, it hasn't changed a whole lot. This Worley kid seems to be a pretty smart kid and pretty poised kid."
On third downs, holding Kentucky:
"I think Coach Shoop did a great job of mixing in some coverages that maybe we hadn't done a whole lot throughout the year. We were able to get back to pressure the quarterback a little bit more through a blitz, and just our normal down rushing. That's what you have to do."
On confidence taking on the road to Knoxville:
"I think our guys are gaining and building in confidence each week. It's a great challenge and I've talked about it with the team, and winning on the road in this conference, there's no doubt about it, that's where our focus is, to go out and improve each week. We've had enough experience playing in difficult environments. I would think all of those experiences that we had this year would help us go to Tennessee and play well."
On Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee series, and being favored to win:
"I am not too familiar with it, but I know that it's been a while since we've gotten a win over there. I believe Cutler did it. I know it has been a pretty lopsided meeting between the two schools, so anytime we have a chance to go get a win over a team in the same state, it's going to be a good opportunity. It is just another game for us to go and prove how much better we have gotten this year."
On the VU vs. UT rivalry:
"I do not know too much about it. I know there's a ton of Tennessee fans in the city of Nashville, as there are Vanderbilt fans, but Tennessee has been good over several decades. They have a winning tradition over there, they've got a big crowd, it's a tough place to play, that's about all I know."
On being a good time to play UT with their problems:
"With how much we've improved, I think it is a good time for us to be playing anybody. I feel like we've gotten to the point where we're confident that we can get a win against anybody we face, if we play how we know we should and execute how we know we should. So, for us right now, we go into every game thinking that we should win, that we should be able to compete. So, right now it's a good time for us to be playing anybody."
On beating UT being better than the Kentucky win:
"I'm not too familiar with the rivalry enough to know that it's a huge deal. Anytime we get a win at home, it's a big deal. Anytime we get a win in the SEC on the road, it's a real big deal, so I think anybody we play on the road in the SEC is going to be a big game, and it's going to be a tough place to win wherever you are at and especially in Knoxville."
On the adjustment between offensive tackle and offensive guard:
"It's a little bit of an adjustment, but we all have experience at the position, so it's not as drastic of a difference as it would be had I been started cold turkey at left guard."
On extra pressure to clinch the bowl this week:
"No, not really. If we put the pressure on us, then it changes our mindset, and I feel like our mindset, so far, has been working. So, we are going to keep trying to do the same thing."
On the confidence as an offense putting up the yardage going in to Knoxville:
"We're excited. I mean we've really been clicking the past four or five weeks. Everybody's started playing better. I know the receivers played a great game, Jordan [Rodgers], Zac [Stacy], the offensive line, we've all been playing well."
On Bray possibly coming back for Saturday, did they save him for Vanderbilt:
"Who knows? They probably could be since this is a rivalry or whatever, but this is just the next game for us, and it doesn't really matter who's back there for us. We are just going to do our thing."
On Bray so far this season:
"I know that he has a pretty good passing average per game. That's what I've heard, like 300 or something like that. I've heard he's pretty good, so we're excited for the opportunity. [We] just have to get pressure on him, make him make a bad choice and throw it up for the DB's to make a play."
On facing a UT team that's 0-6 in the SEC looking to salvage their season:
"I'm sure they are eager. Everybody's eager in this conference to get a win. So, it doesn't matter who it is every week, we are just going to prepare like normal and get out there and go play."
On the team's feeling going into UT:
"Confident, we feel real confident. We feel good, loose, ready to go, it's so fun. We are looking forward to this weekend, not looking back on the Kentucky win. We looked back yesterday (Sunday), but we are looking forward now."