Coach Dan Mullen Tuesday Press Conference

It would normally have been a cheerful head coach coming to the podium. An easy opening win, a holiday to savor it, and another home game right ahead. But Coach Dan Mullen had to address a somber matter first, with Jameon Lewis’ losing his brother tragically over the weekend.

“First I want to say all our prayers within our program are with Jameon Lewis and his family, with the tough situation that they’re dealing with right now and the tragedy with the loss of his brother. I know that’s really tough on him. He’s been home, he just got back to campus this morning and it’s great to have him back for our football family to put our arms around him and show the love of our family here.”

”On the football side of things for us, pretty excited. Look back at last week, I’m pleased with how we came out and performed in a first game. A lot of things I think we could have done better. I think our guys look at that, a lot of little things we could clean up. But in a game-one one I thought we executed pretty cleanly. We had three penalties, no false-starts. And a lot of little things that you see in game-one that you don’t want to see as a coach. I thought our guys showed some good mental discipline to avoid those errors.”

“Obviously the two turnovers on offense are unacceptable, we can’t have those. But our execution as a whole was pretty clean. We got to play a lot of players which is something we want to do. Not just in the circumstance of the game; play a lot of players throughout the course of the game, roll a lot of guys through, get guys experience and come back now and grade them all and see whether they deserve more or less game reps as we move forward.”

“This week, a great challenge for us. Obviously a different team, UAB looks like a very different team on film than they looked like on film last year. It’s always a challenge when you’re watching a team now that has only played one game as a program, with their coaching staff. So there’s not a whole lot to see of what they’re doing and how they’re going to try to execute, how their players execute their system.”

”But you did see a team that believes in what they do. They play hard, they had two backs over 100 yards rushing last week. They’re going to try to be a physical, power team and run the ball at us. We’ve got to be stout there. But you also have to be sound for all the play-action shots and the screens that are going to come off it. We have to fit right on defense, we have to really tackle well, and even that we have to be physical. They’ve got a big running back that is going to pound away at you, get those extra couple of yards with every carry; with some speed coming down the field. They show a lot of multiple looks on defense and are going to try to confuse you with a lot of different looks, come in a lot of different directions. So we’re going to have to execute on a high level on the offensive side of the ball as well in this game.”

“And a different atmosphere, playing a1:00 kick this time of year. Last week we ended up with a rainy, wet, thunderstormy night. Now we’re going to have a nice, hot afternoon go to play in, a different atmosphere. But we’ll need our fan base, which was unbelievable last week. We need that same home field advantage from everybody this week as well.”

What did you see from Preston Smith in the off-season that he’d have a game like he had? “Well, you see with a lot of players this year, this is it. This is his senior year going into it and there’s a desperateness about that. I think guys almost in every level when they know this is it, they see the light at the end of that tunnel there. That’s a tough deal, and not always a great light because it’s the end of college football for you. As underclassmen a lot of times you just think it’s going to go on forever. All of a sudden coming into your senior year you say that’s it. So I saw a guy that understood where he was, understood this is his last chance. I think he’s a guy that understands he’d like to play football beyond college and if he’s going to do that he’d better take himself to a whole ‘nother level. As well as have a great year to help our team and finish his career the right way.”

”So I think he’s had his best off-season, his work ethic has been great and doing a lot of extra little things to make himself better. He’s been able to do that and I thought he played fairly well Saturday night. He was named SEC D-lineman of the Week. But I think a lot of that stuff sometimes becomes about playmaking. You know, he made some big plays in the game. But on top of that I thought he played consistently well. That’s important to me as a coach; it’s great to make some plays but I want to see consistency out of you as well.”

What areas has Smith progressed in most? “One, in pass rush. But a lot of that comes from understanding the game. When you’re pass-rushing when to get get different reads. And are you rushing the passer and reacting to the run; or are you stopping the run and reacting to the pass rush, the transition that way. And just his overall understanding of the game I think is really huge, of how you’re putting yourself in a position to make plays within our system.”

”You look last week at his interception. They cut him, he felt the back leak-out and got cut; well that’s going to be a screen, so what do you do? Don’t rush the passer, just stop. He got his hands up in the air, tipped the ball, was able to tip it to himself, make an interception. That’s just some general football knowledge, of guys as they get older really playing attention to learning the game and do things the right way all the time.”

How satisfied were you with execution in the hurry-up? “I thought our tempo was pretty good, it’s something we’ll look at. Again, with some depth that we have I think it’s an advantage to be able to go out there and change up tempos and go fast. And it lets a lot more guys play. So I thought we did a pretty good job of that. There’s some decisions I think we can make better. I don’t know that we made many bad decisions but there are some we can make even better in moving forward.”

Was the tackling as good as it appeared? “For the most part. We had a bunch of missed tackle, the problems were a lot of our missed tackles were on the same play. We had three or four missed tackles on two different plays, which really added up to them getting some yards after contact. Which is what we don’t want to give up.”

“But overall I think defensively this week we certainly need to tackle better than we did last week. And make sure the first guy is getting them on the ground. But I think we have to run the football a little bit better as a team. I think we made a lot of plays defensively but I do think there’s a lot of little things we have to do. We have to be even better tacklers, we have to run to the football better than we did last week.”

How did you evaluate the tight ends? “I thought Malcolm Johnson is a pretty steady player for us, he does a really good job. Brandon Hill we’ve got to keep getting consistent all the time. He’s a fifth-year senior now so his potential is just about up, but when he’s doing things right…because he’s a physical blocker, really strong at the point of the attack, has good ball skills catching the ball, he’s athletic and can run. He’s just got to do it all the time , consistently.”

”And Darrion Hutcherson, it was good to get him in the game. As a big guy that has a lot of potential we just have to get him ready to play SEC football. There’s always that big transition, coming from junior college into the SEC, just understanding it’s a different game that you’re playing. Hopefully he’s going to make big improvements now that he’s been out there on the field.”

Dak Prescott only had a few carries, did you keep designed runs or did that just happen. “Yeah, a little bit. He didn’t play tons, he played the first series of the second half and didn’t play one series in the first half. So basically he played a half a game. That was kind of by-design. Fortunately we got ahead, and we wanted to force Damian Williams into some situations, get him on the field.”

”But I think there were only two quarterback runs called in the course of the game. We were running the ball well with our backs. When they’re running the ball well I’d rather feed them than Dak. So that just was one of those we didn’t need to get into many quarterback runs.”

One time he did run and slid, is that a point of emphasis to get down? “Well it’s just being smart. It was a kind-of slide I guess, a bad looking slide at that! When you’re a physical player it’s hard to slid sometimes, it’s almost more dangerous to slide than run somebody over.”

”But to me the point of emphasis for him is when you’re doing it. It was a play he got the first down already, so we’re good at that point. We don’t need to drop the pads and fight for that extra yard in that situation. Get down and play the next play.”

Jody Wright was a right-hand guy the first year, are you surprised to see him as running backs coach at UAB? “No, not at all. Jody did a great job when he was here with us. Jody is a real go-getter. One of the first things Jody did that impressed me, when I walked into the offense knowing nobody here…I mean I guess I’d met Greg Byrne and Scott Stricklin during an interview! But he came in right day-one and had a lot of different things written down, a lot of things organized, he was a grad assistant at the time. He sat down with me and just said hey, Coach, here’s a lot of stuff that has been organized recruiting for us; here’s some things going on name-wise. I said hey let’s sit down, we went through all the players on the roster. So just from day-one he was a go-getter. When you have that sort of characteristic in you you’re going to be successful and I’m really happy for him to see the success he’s had and how that’s translating to him having a successful career.”

How do you balance the hurry-up with the time of possession you’ve talked about? “I look at things in the course of the game. The time of possession I thought in the first half we won. Even though we had really good tempo going, I was great with that. The second half, especially rotating some players in, we didn’t get the first downs we need to keep the time of possession. But that’s part of it. I’ll take points over time of possession. Also that’s a stat we want to make sure we’re controlling the tempo of the game, and we’re controlling the football.”

How would you describe De’Runnya Wilson’s potential one game into his sophomore year? “What I’m happy to see is a lot of improvement from last year to this year in being a wide receiver, every down. Not just a playmaker, in being a receiver, understanding the game, blocking, being in position. I know he’s got good size and decent speed and he’s got great balls skills. But understanding the fundamentals of becoming an all-around player.”

”I think our receiver as a whole are much better, and he’s one of those even as a young player that has really bought into what we’re doing. I’ve seen significant improvement on the practice field, and it’s good to see that start translating into the games as well.”

What stands out in what you want to accomplish against UAB, from the game with Southern Miss? “I don’t want to turn the ball over at all on offense. I wasn’t pleased with that. We had three drives that started on the plus side of the field, got zero points out those three drives. And then the first half I think we had three 80-yard plus touchdown drives, it might have been all four of them. But three that started on the plus-side of the field, no points. That’s not good. You can’t have that happen, when you get the ball in good field position you have to take advantage of that.”

”The other things, I want us to be able to roll players through a whole bunch, I’d like us to be able to do that throughout the course of the season. What it does to you, it brings comfort. Hopefully we stay injury-free all year, that’s important. If you’re going to have the opportunity to win and have a great season you’ve got to be injury-free.”

”But I think by us getting used to playing a lot of different players, if we are hit with an injury guys are used to this other guy being on the field because he’s already played a bunch or he’s rotated in with different groups on both sides of the ball. That helps you. And it keeps guys fresh. We did not have any defensive player play more than 32 snaps in the game. We had a lot play that amount, but nobody played more than 32 defensive snaps in the game which for us is what we want. Guys that are fresh being able to play for four quarters and play at a very high speed, high level for four quarters.”

UAB gave up over 40 points a game last year, they gave up 10 Saturday. Do you see an improved defense? “I see an improved complete football program coming into this Saturday. One, they’ve run the ball very, very well. That certainly helps you play defense. Because you’re flipping field position, you’re controlling tempo of the game, you’re wearing people down.”

”On the defensive side of the ball I saw guys making plays on the field, in position, making tackles, getting the football. They give a lot of different looks to try to confuse you. That being said, this is a completely different team than you would have saw last year.”

Who is the backup to Damian Williams at quarterback? “Damian Williams is the backup.”

So there is no third quarterback sort of position right now? “Well we kind of rotate, if we ever get put in that situation we’ll figure it out then.”

Devon Bell seemed to punt well the first night, but how do you evaluate the placekicking? “I didn’t count it that way, one of them hit four extra points, one of them hit three extra points. So that was pretty good. It was hard to see, we had one field goal opportunity and had a bad snap on it. So it really was hard to evaluate because he had no chance, just off the snap.”

”So it’s pretty much where it was this time last week. They both went four-for-five in live situations yesterday at practice! So it’s pretty much status quo with that at this point. It was good to see them both kick in a game, both get that experience and that seemed to work for us last week. We might do the same thing this week, we’ll see how the rest of the practice week goes, though.”

How do you handle Lewis’ situation? “He just got back today, we’ll see how he does with everything. Let’s see how he practices today. Fortunately he’s a fifth-year senior so he knows the offense, he knows that stuff. He’ll pick up the game plan really fast, so I don’t worry about as much the missed time on the football side of things. We just want to see how he is emotionally and how he’s going to handle things at this point. And be there for him. We’ll see how practice goes today with him. A lot of times football is a great escape when you’re dealing with awful situations. That field is kind of your safe place in the world, it’s where guys feel the most comfortable. But we’ll see how he does in handling practice today.”

Was Ashton Shumpert’s suspension a one-game deal? “Yes.”

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