"The first SEC road game should be a challenge for our guys. Obviously we're playing a team that has got some talent. They played with a lot of emotion in the first half, they played really well and made a bunch of plays and had a good halftime lead on the number-six team in the country. So we're going to have our hands full going up there at their place. It will be a big game."
A year ago you came out throwing against Kentucky, this year they give up a lot of rushing yards. Do you approach it differently? "Statistics a lot of times will balance-out at the end of the year. There's such a small amount of things to base statistics off of so far. And with each game that can play-out, it's interesting."
"I think they are a little under 200 rushing a game they're giving up right now. But last year, I mean they put nine guys down at the line of scrimmage. No matter if you're good or bad rushing, it's hard to run the ball when they've basically got two guys unblocked every play, they're going to be a pretty good run defense. They gave us the pass game and we were able to throw on them and make some plays in the air on them. We missed a couple of plays, too, but we made enough to come away with the win."
"So you have to see what plan they're going to bring in and what approach they're taking to the game. I think we're a little more balanced this year than we were last year. So if they're going to defend the pass a little bit more opportunity to run; if they're just going to crowd the line of scrimmage and keep man coverage on the outside with everybody else staying on the line of scrimmage they're going to force us to throw the ball some."
Last year was one of Tyler Russell's best games, is it good to have that experience going on the road? "Yeah, hopefully it's one of his best games again this year. We count on him a lot for things."
"I think it will be nice for him to get a little relaxation, get some rest and get ready to roll. And we do put a bunch on him. But he's got to make plays throwing the football for us, to make people respect the pass and get them off (the line) so we can run the ball."
How much will it help getting Malcolm Johnson back for an eight-game stretch? "It's huge. I mean we've got to see what he can do. He hasn't done any live stuff yet so he still has some recovery time left, the adaptation time to get back in it. He hasn't played any football since last April. So I think it will be a slower process, it's not like hey get back in there and go. Basically his training camp has started now and everybody else is half-way through the season. But it's huge for us because he is a playmaker and tough to match up on."
The forecast is for thunderstorms at Kentucky, does that change the routine with the team or Tyler? "No. I mean, when they let us go on the field we'll go out there and get warmed-up. If they say no warmup, just go out and play, we'll go out and play! They're projecting maybe some storms here this afternoon, so what time to they practice today I guess?"
"But none of that really gets to us too much. Home game is maybe different because we'll walk-through outside, so you get wet."
But no different for the quarterback, or wearing gloves? "No, I haven't seen him wearing gloves? For other guys, nah, we play when it's rainy outside and wet. I never notice the rain. The only time rain is a factor is in your mind, if you let it be a factor. Now thunderstorms, if they keep us in the locker room and don't let us play that makes it tough. It's hard to score when you're not on the field!"
Typically open date has been later in the year, this time there are eight straight weeks ahead. Is this like a second season? "Yeah, you don't want to call the first four games preseason but it is different because it's so much conference-oriented now. When you come in, your goals are to find a way to win your side of the conference and play for a conference championship game. These are all the games that really matter, starting now, for us. Even though we had the one conference game earlier on, which was good, but I do think it is different."
"We'll see with the bye week. I guess everybody is probably fresher than normal at this point in the season with the bye week. Week seven or week eight, when we usually have the bye week, we'll be a little more tired in not getting that rest at that point. I think the bye week (was) dead center, in number of games of football. So, it's not a bad break for us. Bye weeks can be beneficial or they can hurt you because you get into such a rhythm sometimes. I think it is OK right now that we've had that, we're kind of rested. We go eight weeks, seven of those are conference games. It's time for us to get into a rhythm and build up to what we want to accomplish this year."
After Kentucky started fast against South Carolina is it important you start faster this week? "It certainly helps. You see the emotion that the fans had, their team had and what was going on. If you get up early, you have a chance and you're kind of controlling the emotion of the game. That was a huge deal and you saw that in that game on Saturday. They kind of started snow-balling the emotion in making more and more plays. If they had scored right before the half, it might have been a different result."
"I think any time you're on the road, you want to start off fast because if you can start off fast, you have the opportunity to take some of the emotion out of the stadium at that point and try to control the homefield advantage a little bit. Any time you're on the road in the SEC, though, you're going to play in tough environments."
When will you decide on how to play right guard? "Probably Saturday. We'll wait until warmups. I want to see how Tobias is and how he's feeling, how confident he is with everything going on. If he feels really confident and 100 percent, then you probably go with him. If he's not, you're probably going to go with Justin (Malone). A lot of that is determined as the week goes on (for Smith). He'll get a little bit of practice this week. Either way, he has to get practice. Sometimes after practice he's really sore and you think, OK, well, he might not be ready for the game. But we've got to get him into practice to see how it is and see if he feels great about going."
This is getting close to the time we expected him back. We originally thought, with the trainers, that this was about as close as we thought about getting him back. He came back early for the Auburn game and I don't think it set him back any, but I'm still not sure they're ready to say, let's go."
Was the off-week at an ideal time then? "We'll see! It's yet to be determined. If we win the rest of our games, then I'd have to say yes. I don't know. For our guys, I think it came at a good time. You see the look in our guys' eyes, they were ready for a break. I'm going to be honest with you, I guess the ultimate ideal week would've been this week to be a bye week because it's fall break. Our guys still had to go to school. We gave them Friday off from football, but they still had school Friday, where this week there's no school Thursday or Friday. I guess if you want to do it the best academic way and tie in academics and football, give them the bye week whenever your fall break week is."
This is a second-straight year going to Lexington, might you get some leeway in future SEC scheduling? "I think this year was to get a balance. I don't think they're sitting there saying, OK, let's give them some leeway now in the scheduling for going to Kentucky two years in a row. Interestingly enough, as an assistant I've been there twice, and now it's my third time as a head coach. I'm kind of familiar with going up there and the routine you get into. It is what it is with how the league schedule played out. We'll just be adjusted to it as we move on in the future. I guess we would've had to go somewhere else. I don't know where else that would've been."
With Max Smith out how do you plan for Kentucky quarterbacks, especially a true freshman who might play? "Towles, we've watched some high school film on him. He's a complete quarterback, throws the ball really well, was their state player of the year. Looks like a winner when you watch him on film in high school. Has all the tools: can run, has size, good decision-making, strong arm. For us, you've got to kind of prepare for both. You'd think if they would take a redshirt off a guy, what are we in October? that you're going with him. You're just making the decision, that's the guy we're going with if we're going to burn a redshirt year. We almost did that with Tyler Russell a couple of years ago, we just said, hey--and if we had done it, it was over. He was the guy the rest of the way. Actually a quick turnover I think prevented that from happening, and I calmed down on the sidelines and I decided to redshirt him. You make that decision, especially with a week of practice, you're making the decision to get him ready and go with him."
"The other guy's pretty athletic, though. From what you saw with him, he threw the ball really well, even though they didn't make it complicated on him. Just kept it simple and let him play with talent. A lot of times when you go with a true freshman, you're going to let them play with talent and let them play off their emotion and their excitement. And they can make a lot of things happen as they go, because you're keeping it as simple as possible for them. You just let them do what they do well and execute very easily, especially that we haven't seen a whole lot on him. Where it's hard to see, OK, where's the scheme that week two now that they let him do a couple of things and they probably weren't sure he was going to be the guy last week. They had a small package for him. Now they put the full package in for the freshman, what it actually is, that's kind of like playing the first game of the season against a new coaching staff. That's what makes it a tough deal with both guys, and I guess which one they're going to go with. I guess the Towles kid is more the complete player. Usually if you take a redshirt off, that's who you're going to go with."
"That's what you see I guess from high school film. He can still run but you see a big, strong arm as a quarterback in high school film."
What game did you think about pulling Tyler's redshirt? "The Houston game, my first year and…just had enough. We weren't doing very well and made some silly mistakes and I just, it was one of those where I had to make a decision. It was a quick turnover and I said ‘hey, warm up' and he didn't really have a chance to really get his helmet to get in the game. I think we went down the field and scored so I calmed down."
Did Saturday's game start an itch to begin putting up all those points? "As a head coach, with teams putting up a lot of points I feel like getting in with the defensive staff. Heck of a day if you're Baylor and score 63 points. Unfortunately you lost. You're patting yourself on the back for scoring 63 but you lost. My only concern is if we score one more point than the other team. If we win 3-2, if we win 42-41 then I'm just as happy whichever way it goes."
Is there a change of the culture towards offense? "Nah. I remember the Tennessee-Georgia game was like that three years ago. There's weeks there's 17-10 games. A lot of that can come with just how things play out. A couple years ago, in the championship game Oklahoma had scored 60 points five-straight weeks and only scored 14 points. It can always play out that when you have competitive teams playing each other. You can have a game one week where I bet Georgia-Tennessee could play again this week and have a 21-17 game instead of a shootout."
State has trailed just ten minutes in four games this year? "I think it's big where every time we've been in that position, we're responded the right way. I do think our guys watch football at other places and when you watch Alabama, who fell behind for the first time in like a year or something like that, that response. Our guys watch and pay attention to teams that are championship level teams. With Alabama being the defending national champs, what are they doing well? We do as a staff and point out to them, that Alabama played well in the second half and got fortunate. You always look at what teams do well. As soon as you face adversity, what's your immediate response to that and we've been pretty well with that. We need to make plays, we seem to make plays."