"There is a lot of room for improvement," Coach Tommy Tuberville said on Sunday. "When you win by 25 points and you feel like you have a chance for improvement, you have a chance to become a better team. We got off to a good start, but now we have a short turnaround for this game. We have to get a lot better. We'll see what happens."
Things appear to be OK on the injury front for the Tigers. Among the players hurt in the Vandy game, only Antarrious Williams is listed as doubtful for Thursday night's game against Mississippi State after suffering a twisted knee in the first half.
Offensive tackle Taylor Bourgeois, who continues to be bothered by a shoulder that pops out of joint, should be ready to play this week, but Tuberville said the play of Marcus McNeill on Saturday should help to alleviate any concern the coaches have regarding the strong tackle position.
A positive sign on defense is the return of end Kyle Derozan to practicing full speed. Out Sunday running with the third team, Derozan brings some immediate help to a position searching for more production. Sophomore linebacker Mayo Sowell did a commendable job Saturday against Vanderbilt with one sack and several, but he'll be hard pressed to handle the wear-and-tear associated with the position in an every down situation. The return of Derozan along with Reggie Torbor brings the Tigers back to nearly full strength at end.
Other injured Tigers were Jay Ratliff (ankle), Tommy Jackson (cut hand) and Cooper Wallace (sprained wrist). Torbor and fullback Brandon Johnson, both held out of the Vanderbilt game because of injuries, should be close to full speed for Thursday night and are expected to play. Center Ben Nowland, who returned to action against the Commodores after sitting out the Western Carolina game with an ankle problem, came through Saturday's game in fine fashion and is healthy for Thursday night. All that adds up to good news for Tuberville and staff.
"Everybody else came out good," the coach said. "Ben Nowland came out in real good shape. Both tackles (DeMarco McNeil and Spencer Johnson) did a good job and we feel like they made it through it. Both had about 40 plays. We came out in real good shape considering that we have to play four days from now."
Quarterback Daniel Cobb played perhaps his best game as a collegian in the win over Vanderbilt while center Ben Nowland performed well in his first game back.
Practicing for just under two hours in shorts and shoulder pads, the coaching staff began the tough job of implementing the game plan for Mississippi State in a short week of work. After working on schemes and watching video during the summer and last Friday on the Bulldogs, the coaches put it to use on Sunday with an introduction to what the players will see on Thursday. Quarterback Daniel Cobb said this will be a tough assignment for this team on just four days of work.
"If you could have it the way you want it you would like a regular week," Cobb said. "Especially for a coordinator as respected as Joe Lee Dunn. But this is the way it is and there is nothing that we can do or say to change it. We just have to suck it up. We had a Tuesday practice today even though we didn't go quite as long. It was still with the team and blitz periods. I was real happy with the tempo and the attitude of the guys out there today coming off a game yesterday."
One concern for the coaching staff is on special teams where a mistake-prone day occurred against Vanderbilt. A blocked field goal and dropped snap on a punt were things that Tuberville said had to be corrected if the Tigers are to come away with a win on the road at Mississippi State.
"Obviously, we have to get better on some areas of the special teams," Tuberville said. "He's (Damon Duval) going to have to be a captain. I talked to him about stepping up and being a leader on all the special teams, not just one or two of them."
"The blocked kick was not kicked low--we just did a poor job on the wing," Tuberville said. "Our wings were not keying the ball. The ball was snapped and the ball was already back to the holder before we even broke down for our positions. They were keying the ball and we weren't. That's basically what it turned out to be, but that's easily corrected. We did correct it and didn't have any problems the rest of the game."
Facing I-AA opponent Jacksonville State Saturday after having an off-week, the Bulldogs have likely been working on the Tigers in some capacity since losing to Oregon on Aug. 31. That is a definite advantage and Tuberville said his team has to go out and answer the challenge this week that has been presented to them.
"I don't think there is any doubt they've been working on us for a while," Tuberville noted. "So it will be tough for us. It will be a tough game. We're playing on the road. It's their first conference game. They'll be fired up and ready to go. We've learned to win at home. Now we have to learn to win on the road. The USC game we played well--we didn't play well enough to win. We just need to go over and improve and hope we play better than we did last time."