Interview with Joker Phillips

Phillips on Hartline: Mike's been the guy that's never been on list for missing things. He's always done the right things. And that's the guy that you want leading this program. He competed his tail off this past year, this past offseason to get him into the position to now he's playing as good as any quarterback in this league.

COACH PHILLIPS: The injury report: Chris Matthews suffered a non-football-related injury. (Laughter) SEC wide receiver can't stay in his seat. Safe to say that Matthew (Mitchell) floored him. (Laughter).

But our injury report -- Danny Trevathan will practice on Wednesday, Thursday. He's beat up and needs some time to heal. Joseph Mansour, won't kick until Wednesday. He'll practice on Wednesday. Derrick Locke will be noncontact until Wednesday. He'll go tomorrow with a red shirt on and we'll try to get him some contact to see how he does.

Ronnie Sneed will be no contact all week. He's suffering a shoulder sprain, AC sprain. Josh Gibbs will be okay to practice on Tuesday. (Martavius) Neloms will practice on Tuesday with an ankle and Raymond Sanders we should get him back on Tuesday/Wednesday.

A lot has been said about the Bowl streak, and all those things, but it's obvious that one of the things we have to do is we have to get Bowl eligible first. So our focus has to be on winning, getting Bowl eligible, getting the six wins.

And up next is Vanderbilt, a tough opponent. Our games in the last seven years have been decided by less than 12 points. And the last three years the visiting team has won. It's a huge challenge for us. Those guys, you put the film on against Florida and it doesn't look anything like the score. It does not.

They did a really good job of defending Florida's offense. Their defense does a really good job. They jump routes when passing and reading. They did a really good job of that. It reminded me a lot of our Ole Miss and of our Georgia game where they got a lot of short fields.

They go three and out. The next time you see it, the ball's on the four-yard line. It reminded me of us offensively of our whole game against the Ole Miss game and the Georgia game.

I thought they did a really good job of competing and getting after those guys on offense and defense. They turned the ball over and then they had some special teams blunders, too, but it will be a physical game like always and it will be a huge challenge for us in trying to get ourselves eligible for a Bowl, period. That's it.

Any questions?

Q. How important is it maybe mentally to get it out of the way now not have to sit on a bye week without Bowl eligibility?

COACH PHILLIPS: I'd like to get it out of the way quick, but actually our focus has to be on Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt only. And getting ourselves prepared to play those guys, because like I say, it's going to be a huge challenge with only (no more than) 12 points deciding the game in the last seven years. Nobody has dominated a game. It's been down to the wire every year since we've been back here the last seven years.

So it will be a physical game and a big challenge for us.

Q. When you talk about Vanderbilt, they seem more dangerous when they don't have anything to lose.

COACH PHILLIPS: In this league, they're all dangerous. Every time you line up in this league, they're all dangerous. From top to bottom. It's not (only) Vanderbilt. People are announcing that we're dangerous. So every team in this league is dangerous.

Q. Can you talk about your seniors, Ricky (Lumpkin), the fifth year guy, but you don't have a whole lot of them, but these guys who have been to Bowl games every year, that's all they know is winning, and what it's meant to continuing to build the program?

COACH PHILLIPS: First of all, it will be an emotional game for those guys, because they have put so much into this program. Ricky Lumpkin's a fifth year, Mike Hartline's a fifth year. Derrick Locke has been here four years, been through a lot with injuries and so forth. It will be an emotional game for all our seniors. We'll start talking about that. We want to play on those emotions, too. So we'll start talking about that tomorrow with getting each one of those guys explaining what it means to play their last game.

Q. Seemed like a lot of coaches worry about that being a negative, but do you think that could be a positive?

COACH PHILLIPS: No, I think it could be a positive. They'll be playing in front of this crowd, the last time they'll be playing in this stadium for their careers. So I think we'll use that, use those emotions. Because I think it always helps.

Q. What will your emotions be like?

COACH PHILLIPS: First-year head coach. Hopefully it's not my last game there. (Laughter) But I mean, it will be different going out with those guys before the game. I've been through a lot with all those guys. Been to all of their homes, been able to see their parents and see the growth of each one of them.

We're going up to Hartline's house on a snowy -- it's always snowing in Akron – but seeing him and he's sitting down with he and his parents. And his little sister who will be there. Now she won't be little anymore. Seems like it's been a long time, but it's been a short time.

But it will be an emotional time sitting down with all of those guys this weekend.

Q. (Re: Hartline having to battle for his position through his caeer.) Could you just talk about what this means for him? COACH PHILLIPS: You've got to earn everything you get in this game. And Mike has earned everything he's gotten. He earned it by taking care of business, too.

Mike's been the guy that's never been on list for missing things. He's always done the right things. And that's the guy that you want leading this program. He competed his tail off this past year, this past offseason to get him into the position to now he's playing as good as any quarterback in this league.

And he's playing as good as -- the way he is in this league, he's playing as good as any in the country. And I'm proud of him.

Q. Off the beaten path a little bit. We had some fun with Ricky and Matt Smith and Chris about the hook and ladder that Charleston Southern ran earlier, and they hadn't seen that in forever. And they're thinking what in the world were they thinking? How much guts does it take as a coach to call those plays in certain situations?

COACH PHILLIPS: I mean, that's a part of their offense, first of all. So you put on their film and every week you're seeing those types of things from them. Just gotta call them. You just gotta call them. We've ran a few with reverses and those things. But you just gotta call them. And they do a good job of calling them.

They call a couple every series. And that's been a part of their offense the whole year.

Q. You've been aggressive going for it on fourth down a lot. Are you less conservative than you thought you would be as a head coach?

COACH PHILLIPS: Sometimes I think I'm more stupid than -- (laughter) -- because Saturday, you always think ‘Oh we can get this, two and a half yards. It's easy.' But it's not. It's not that easy.

Georgia game was -- Georgia had a yard to go. Half a yard. You think it's quarterback sneak. I think we can get this. Get some movement. And we don't make it. And then like I thought last week, me being selfish. It was. Instead of punting the ball and giving them the long field, they get the short field and score.

And you can't be selfish. You gotta sometimes play the numbers and the numbers in that situation should have punted the ball.

Q. As a rule, are you going to fall into the aggressive --

COACH PHILLIPS: We want to be aggressive, no question about that. And there's got to be times where we go for it. But then there's got to be times that we think you gotta punt the ball and play the numbers. Because our defense was playing -- we're playing well. But wanted to continue to possess the ball and we didn't. It was fourth and two and a half. We thought we had a good play.

We hit Randall (Cobb) in the flat and we came up a little short.

Q. Can you talk about Winston Guy and 16 tackles. Has he gotten better as a tackler, or does he have a ways to go?

COACH PHILLIPS: He's gotten better. The thing we've asked our safeties is to show up a little faster. What I mean by show up, when they're running the ball, we are only showing up close to the line of scrimmage. Earlier we thought they were kind of passive in getting downhill in making plays. Now you've got to make plays in space, the longer you wait. If you go, pull the trigger now, it's not as much space because the ball's either bounced or inside the tackle box. We need our guys to go pull the trigger quicker.

And they both did last week, Winston and Michael Bailey. So we need those guys to continue to make plays closer to the line of scrimmage. I told you guys this in the spring, the difference between a good defense and an average defense is the safety's play. Because you can't account for blocking those guys. Those guys don't get blocked like linebackers. They don't get blocked like corners. Therefore your safety's got to show up a lot quicker than we've been showing up. And I thought we showed up a lot quicker this week.

Q. How does something like a Bowl streak play into recruiting? Is it something that coaches talk about a lot?

COACH PHILLIPS: It plays big, but we've got to focus on Vanderbilt and make sure we get there before we can reap the benefits. And we're not there yet.

Q. Any more confidence in whether Locke will play this week?

COACH PHILLIPS: I was confident three weeks ago that he would play. But he hasn't. It's going to be a day-to-day deal with him, whether or not he can protect himself and he feels comfortable, because the doctors -- they have cleared him. It's just whether or not he feels comfortable in being able to take care of himself.

And also Locke doesn't want to do anything to hurt this football team either. If he can't protect the football he's not going to play.

Q. They've done a bunch of tests on him?

COACH PHILLIPS: No, it's just now him gaining strength back, full strength and holding the football. They have done tests and he's passed all the tests from the doctors. Now it's just him gaining strength and ability to hold the football.

And he gets fatigue on him. That's when he doesn't feel as comfortable.

Q. All your seniors that are going to go through Saturday which will be the most emotional?

COACH PHILLIPS: They all will be. They all will be. I mean, there's some that have not played a lot here. Those guys, it will be emotional seeing those guys. Brian Murphy hasn't played a down this year. And it will be emotional because of how much he's put into it.

Q. How do you think your offensive and defensive lines have played --

COACH PHILLIPS: We've played solid. We haven't played great. We had a huge streak without giving up many sacks. And last three or four weeks we've given up a lot of sacks. I thought our defensive line has sometimes held the point really well and sometimes there hasn't been times when they held the point.

The thing that you like those guys to do up front defensively is keep them off the linebackers, which we've allowed Danny Trevathan to run around and make plays. We've just got to get our other linebackers to run around and make plays.

Everybody talks about DeQuin Evans having this type of year and everything. But there hasn't been a lot of tackles by defensive linemen. Jerrell Powe (of Ole Miss). He'll be an all-conference guys. Doesn't have a lot of tackles. You just don't make tackles. A lot of times those guys up front, their job is to bounce things, make things bounce and now everybody else rallies. Those safeties unblocked rally to the ball.

The guy that's probably the best is the Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley. Nick doesn't have a lot of tackles. He has probably 40 tackles. But he's one of the more dominant in the country. So defensive line, their job is to make sure it allows our linebackers to run and Danny Travathan is leading the league in tackles. Does he have 100 yet? Q. Yeah. COACH PHILLIPS: I'd rather see those guys be making the plays because that means the guys up front are doing their job and having those guys make 100 tackles. Danny Travathan is usually the guy that can make things happen behind the line of scrimmage because of those guys. Sometimes you want your tackles to be able to create double teams, your ends to be able to bounce things and sometimes contain things. So they've played solid. Haven't played great, but played solid. Q. Speaking of DeQuin, how frustrating do you think it's been for him? COACH PHILLIPS: The most frustrating is for him to stay healthy and stay on the field. I think that's been most frustrating to him than anything. He got hurt in spring and was hampered with injuries in the spring, and he got hurt in fall camp, and I think all of that slowed him. Q. (Question about turnovers) COACH PHILLIPS: We've got to fly to the ball and tackle the ball. We've not done a good job of creating turnovers. We haven't created one in three games since the South Carolina game, we haven't. Got one on offense. That was them trying to lateral it. But we've got to do a better job of that. We haven't done a good job of creating turnovers. But we've got to tackle the football and put your hat on the ball. We haven't done a good job at it. THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.


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