"We've had two good practices. The practice this morning went very well. We've got good leadership, but there are a lot of things that we have to improve on. In order to be successful in this game of football, you've got to understand that and you've got to work toward it every day and we're trying to do that. There are some things that we'll adjust on both sides of the ball and on special teams. We've got to improve in all those and we've got to understand that probably in three weeks, we'll still need to improve. That's the fun part of the game, you're never perfect and there's always something out there that you can try to improve on. What happens happens, and what's done is done and our players have put it behind them because we know that in four days, we'll play another opponent that will come in here and play very hard and try to play as well as they've played so far.
"Tennessee got off to a slow start, as we all know. Their team is a lot like ours in that they've had a change in offense, a change in offensive coordinators, a new quarterback and they've had some set backs, but they're still Tennessee. They're a proud football team that plays very hard. When we play them, it's always a very physical game. We both understand that, going into this game, both teams have a loss in the conference and both teams will have to play hard to try to stay out of the loss column again, because both teams are very similar in terms of programs and how things have gone. But we're looking forward to it and it should be a good game. We've got some players that are a little beat up, but I'd expect everybody to play this week. Coming out of a game like last week, you always know that the guys are going to try to pick themselves up off of the field, get themselves out of the training room and get back out on the practice field. I feel good about most everybody playing."
How did Coach Franklin do with calling the plays from the booth?
"I used to call everything from the field as a defensive coordinator, but you don't have as much to see on defense. Defenses are called after offensive personnel during the games. You've got to make your decision a lot sooner. That's the big thing that Tony wanted to do. He wanted to go up and be able to make a quicker decision. He wanted to be able to see the play and make a quick decision in terms of downs and distance on the field. I think it helped us. The communication was a lot better. The guys looked more confident getting the play in there earlier having more time to settle down. I thought it was a good move and it was his choice. He wanted to be down there because he wanted to be close to the guys, but after three games, he felt like it was time to go up and really be able to see the game where you can see it best and make the calls. I think it really helped us."
Were you surprised by the many misalignments by your defense against LSU?
"Usually, we don't make that many mental mistakes and it wasn't anything that they did. It was the calls that we made sometimes and we didn't react quickly enough sometimes. But again, a lot of times, you make a better play when you're misaligned. You've still got to play and most of it was defensive linemen who weren't in the gap that they're responsible for, but they've still got their techniques and their fundamentals. All you do with linebackers is you switch gaps and so it's not nearly as fundamentally unsound as you would think if you did a lot of those things on offense. So, that didn't get us beat because when we got lined up, we played hard and it wasn't anything like us being outflanked. Most of the time, if you're going to make a mistake on defense and you have gap control and they get outside of you, it's usually because you are outflanked by them and they've got an angle on you. LSU didn't use angles, they went north and south. It's more of an organizational problem when you're playing a team like that and not getting your defensive linemen all lined up all of the time. It wasn't too many times, though. Out of sixty-five plays, we're only talking about five or six plays that we would've liked to have gotten our linemen lined up correctly. They did a good job of changing the snap count and getting to the line of scrimmage and getting you out of your rhythm. I thought they did a good job with that."
How close is this offense and this team to putting it all together?
"We're real close and getting better, but you're not going to win a lot of games rushing for 70 yards in this league. If we look at one thing that we would've like to have done better, it's being able to have more rushing yards, but the defense usually has something to say about that and they were pretty good in terms of being able to get off of blocks. We didn't sustain our blocks as much as we would've liked to against a team like that, but at times we did. We had some good runs down the field and we made some plays. But you've got to get over 100 yards. My goal, every game, is 125 yards of rushing for our offense and we gave up way too many on defense for us to be real consistent. You know that on both sides, there was going to be a give and take in a game like that. Both teams played hard, these two good football teams, and they're not going to be perfect on either side. There are some things that we did well that they didn't. So, that's the way those games work out."
How hard is it to come back from physical games like that and play
"It's tough. They're all physical. This one is going to by physical this week and then we go play another physical game next week. They're all physical. I've always said that the teams who can survive and have the depth on defense are the ones that are going to consistently win games. We've got a little depth, but it's chipping away. It was our fourth game and most of our defense had to play a majority of the game. It'll start chipping away as you go through the year. The younger guys start filling in another row and they've got to be successful and if they're not, then your execution is going to fall. Somebody else on the other side of the ball is going to have to pick up some speed and make more improvements. Then you have to be lucky. We didn't start out too well in terms of our injuries, losing three players to surgery, but we've had some guys step up and make some plays."
Is Spencer Pybus one of those guys who have stepped up?
"Pybus has done a good job. He's just a true freshman running around and trying to learn on the run. He was out there last week on one of their touchdown passes. He was just a little bit late, but that's the difference between winning and losing sometimes in this league. One thing that he does it that he comes to practice everyday to learn. He listens, he watches film and he's going to be one heck of a player. Right now, he's having fun and that's what I want him to have because he's playing on true determination and having a learning experience when he probably shouldn't have to. He's playing because of injuries in front of him."
What was it that made some people hesitate about giving (Pybus) a
"At one point, we were finished recruiting linebackers and after the determination of not getting another guy at another position, he was a guy that we knew he would be a good player. We didn't know if we wanted to drop a notch in another position and take him, or not take him and grab another player. But we knew that he'd be a good player and that we should take him and so that's what we did. He was a guy that we had recruited all along, but we had never offered a scholarship to."
Was Franklin direct with you about him taking the blame and what do you
think about his version of accountability?
"I think that some guys like to be accountable more and he takes blame. I think that when you're new and you're trying to win over the fans and the people who don't really understand what you're doing, he's trying to get the message out that ‘Hey, we should've done something else.' But I think it's good that he's being forthright and honest and he's the same way with the players. We've got nothing to hide and we know that we're trying to get better and I think that the best way for us to get better and for people to understand certain situation is for a guy to stand out there and say ‘This is what we've got to do to get better. We've made certain mistakes and I've made some mistakes and I've got to try to get better. I'm learning our talent and the teams on the other side.' He's learning who he's coaching against and the coordinators. When you've got a new coach, there's a lot more to it than just calling plays. You've got to figure people out, but you also have to be somebody who sells people on what they're doing and I think he's done a good job with that. The players know the strengths and weaknesses that they have because he tells them and you've got to go from there."
Do you wish that you didn't have to play the LSU game so early in
"Well normally when we play it earlier, we are a little more successful. There are pros and cons of it. This year since we lost it, I wish we had played it a little later in the year. It's always a great game. If we played it the first game of the year, it would be a great game. Both teams are pretty much similar in terms of the philosophies that the head coaches have. I think that is what you can look at a lot. We recruit running game speed on defense and they do the same thing. It's just hard for us to play them that early and know one of us is going to lose and then the other one has got to play catch up and now it's us. We know where we stand now and what we have got to do. We know where we are at."
Can you talk about the fine line between dealing with a loss and being
consumed with it?
"That is the tough thing about being a head coach. You have got to get it over to your players. For instance, this week it is natural for our guys to say we just lost to the team that won the national championship last year. Who is going to beat them? Who is going to give us a chance to get back in the saddle even if we win the rest of them? This is a funny league and there are going to be people that are stepping up each week that are better than we thought, and they are playing better to their expectations. This time last year I would think LSU would never have thought they would make it to a national championship the way they were playing, and then they are going to lose another one after that. This is a conference that is very competitive. You can't worry about what happens. You have got to play and try to get better. We haven't talked much about Tennessee. We didn't talk much about LSU last week. We talk about ourselves because if we don't get better it doesn't make any difference who we are playing. As I tell all of our players, you just keep sawing wood. We keeping hoping that we improve but we can't live in the past no matter what you do. You can't do that. You can't worry about what people are saying. I think it's important that we are true to ourselves and understand where we are at, why we got there and what we need to do to go the other direction."
Do you think that you have convinced fans why you switched to a new
"I'm sure there are a lot of people questioning, now that we have lost a game, why did we do this? As a head coach, you are always looking for ways to do better, and looking for ways to improve. Again, I look at the overall aspect of what we are doing. Number one, recruiting and what are the high school kids looking at on their level and what they are learning and what type of players you can recruit There is no doubt that the wave of the future is what we are doing on offense. Is it perfect? No, we are not perfect. We are going to have to tweak it as we have every week. Then again, I think that is what is important for Tony (Franklin) to come out and put it on the line of what we are doing and how were doing it to everybody, not just our football team, but everybody that is a fan to try and understand what we are doing. It is just important that everybody is on the same page. If we would have stayed in the offense that we were in last year, would we be any better? Nobody knows, but I like the direction that we are heading. I like the direction of recruiting and where that is heading. It has been the best that we have had. I obviously would sure like to be rushing for 150 yards and throwing it for 200 yards and score a lot more points. I think that's in the future if we just believe in what we are doing and keep sawing wood."
Have you not thrown a lot to set up the run like Tony Franklin talked
about before the season?
"Again it depends on what the defense does. If they have eight people in the box, you have got to throw it. It's no different really than any other offense. You would like to start out by throwing short passes to get them to loosen up but now that people see what you are doing and your strengths and weaknesses, they are going to line up to take away your strengths and you've got to do the other. It's fine to say we are going to do this first, but if they are not running an eight-man front and they are running a seven- or six-man front you're going to run it. If they are running an eight- or nine-man front, you've got to throw it. It's still apples and apples and oranges and oranges. That is how this offense is set up, to have three or four wide receivers in the game. We want to do that, but you've still got to take what they give you."
Do you expect an eight-man front from now on?
"Well we've got it most of the year. Everybody does the same things on defense. Everybody is going to run a five-man front, six-man front, seven-man front, eight-man front. They are going to blitz, but you have got to execute when you play against it. We will get the same thing the rest of the year. Everybody in our league is pretty much the same on defense in terms of philosophies and what they do."
How important is it to have past examples of teams who have lost two
games and still made it to the National Championship?
"It makes it good. Of course we have gone undefeated and not even have a chance to play for it. This is a hard profession. I tell our coaches every day that we are in a profession where everybody wants to win the national championship, but we are the only profession where every game in the regular season counts, every one of them. You expect that if you lose one of them that you are out of the race, but that's not so in the SEC. It's just too hard. After seeing everybody for four or five weeks, it's going to be near impossible for anybody to win every game. That's not to say that it can't happen, but there are just too many good football teams in this league for everybody to be ready to play mentally and physically ready to go. One game and two games you are not out of it, you have just got to keep playing."
Does it help in motivating the team that LSU had lost two games last
year and still went to the National Championship?
"Yeah and one of them was at home at the end of the year. We are obviously going to have to have help from a lot of people across the country in this conference to have a chance. As I said earlier, it's near impossible to win each and every game then turn around to beat somebody that's real good in the championship game. Every day you say to your players not to worry about what happened, try to play better the next week and try to get as many wins as you can and see what happens at the end of the year. If you look too far ahead, you are not going to get better. We lost last week. We didn't lose a lot of battles. We just lost the war at the end. We came pretty close. That doesn't help. I think a lot of people looked at it in turns of the voting that we played pretty good. We didn't drop 15 or 20 spots like we would have every other year for some reason. I think people notice that we do have a pretty good football team. That really doesn't make any difference right now. It's how you play each week. If we don't go out and play real good this week, we'll have two loses. We'll get a great game from Tennessee so we'll have to go out and play as good or better this week. We have just got to worry about ourselves."
How much is Aairon Savage missed in the secondary?
"It's just the depth and experience. He played a lot last year. He played safety for us, and we moved him to corner. He actually came out, and (Walter) McFadden and him were fighting it out for starting corner in the spring, and Aairon came out number one going into two-a-days. Then of course he messed his knee up the second or third day. It's tough to lose experience like that that has been on the field. Last year we were better in the secondary only because we had corners that we could put in that played three or four years. We lost I think three corners last year that really affected us defensively in the secondary. We are playing some young guys that are having to learn. They are getting better every day and making an improvement. No matter what position, if you lose experience it really affects you starting this time of year when you start getting beat up."
Is there something different about Robert Dunn or why has he become so
dangerous as a punt returner?
"That is a position that is really not natural. You have to develop as a punt returner. He has taken his licks now. I make the entire coaching staff and team watch special teams every Sunday. That is the first thing we do. I want them to know how important it is. There have been many a day in here over the last two or three years that he hasn't had a lot of positive things said about returning footballs because he has made bad decisions, which directions to go or what to do. You have to make very split decisions as a returner, and that's first after catching it with ten guys running at you wanting to tear your head off. That is not a fun position to play. I've never done that. I didn't have enough nerve. He is a tough young guy. Last year at about the middle of the season, he started getting better and learning how to make people miss, make a decision very quickly and after that you are going to get a little help. Most of it is ability, just making people miss and seeing the field. I think the last three or four games he had some great returns, and of course this year he got off to a very good start."
Did you consider replacing him?
"Oh yeah. Last year we did a couple of times. We put somebody in his place. Sometimes you can get too bold and brave back there. He was starting to do that catching in the crowd. Those are huge decisions that returners make about eight times a game. It changes field position. You put one on the ground and it could cost you the game. You have to be smart. Of course we work with him day in and day out trying to convince him that he can be a guy that can make a difference. He has been a big difference his year so far."
Did you go pretty hard today at practice?
"Yeah we went about two hours and 10 minutes. It was a little longer than we went last week. There were some things that we needed to work on to try and get better. We went a little long on Sunday. This time of year the guys start dragging around a little so we had to make point. They are into it. They want to get better. They understand the implications of this game. That is the main thing as coaches, to get over to them the importance of it and let the seniors take over from there."