Dan Mullen Monday Press Conference

“You look back Saturday, a great win for us. We’ve had to win big games a lot of different ways, we knew that coming in. We actually talked to our team about that, we were going to find different ways to win games throughout the whole season. We’ve won some high-scoring games, now we’ve won a low-scoring game.”

“We’ve won from ahead holding on to a lead. Now we’ve come from behind to win. We’ve won being able to run the ball really well. We’ve won having to throw the football. We’ve won having to make goal line stands and defensive plays to win games, we’ve had to make offensive plays to win games.”

“So I’m proud of our guys. I think they understand all the different ways it’s going to come out throughout the season. You always have to be prepared for that moment to win a game, and however you can and whatever opportunity presents itself that winning is the most important thing. So our guys have been able to do that. They’ve bought into that, they’ve continued to battle. They play with confidence throughout the course of the game and different guys step up and found a way to win games.”

“Obviously this week is going to be a challenge for us. We’ve played UT-Martin before with Jason Simpson as their head coach, I know him well. A very, very well-coached football team. They’re a little bit unorthodox at times, come at you on defense a lot of different directions. And they run an up-tempo offense. They’re on a four-game winning streak right now, dominated their last two opponents 62-38, 37-37 their last two games have been big wins.”

“So their team is playing with a lot of confidence right now. And obviously to their guys this is a big opportunity for them. You’re at a smaller school and have the opportunity to go in and play against a power five team, as always for your guys is a great opportunity. And they can always come in with a chip on their shoulder. So it will be a huge challenge for us.”

”I think we’re very fortunate to get a 3:00 kickoff on Homecoming. I don’t know if there’s a better time to play a Homecoming game at. Where we’ve had unbelievable home-field advantage, I think that’s helped us win several games this year by having a sold-out stadium, a loud stadium creating issues for the opposing team. We need that again this Saturday. With the kickoff time there’s Homecoming activities in the morning, there’s Homecoming activities in the night. And there’s a football game right in the middle of the day, you couldn’t ask for a better time.”

”So hopefully everybody gives us that home field advantage again this week, because it’s been so important for us throughout the year. But we’re excited. I guess first Homecoming game ever here as #1! So I think that will be a pretty cool deal for everybody. We are today, anyway, right in some polls or some peoples’ opinion we’re #1.”

When did you start seeing the change with guys not looking around for somebody to make plays but saying they would make plays? “Well, this season. During the course of this season we’ve really just seen that. I think the attitude coming off of last year, how we finished last year and the confidence we had finishing the season. I think a lot of guys through off-season conditioning realized that I have experience, I’ve been on the field, I’m a guy that can make a play.”

”You look at the receiver position with all those guys coming back at receiver and tight end this year, they all looked and say hey, I’ve been in game situations before, why not me be the guy to go make a play? Josh Robinson has had big games before this season, hey why don’t I be the big guy to go make plays? Experience in the offensive line. In the secondary a Will Redmond might not be listed as starter for us. Richie Brown might not be listed as starter. But they’ve played a bunch of football for us. So why not us? I can be the guy, I’ve played now, t’s not like this is the first time getting on the field to be that guy, to step up, to make those plays.”

”So I think the confidence that guys have played in games before and have experience playing in a game before; going through an off-season as a veteran player, coming into a season as a veteran player gives them that confidence.”

Looking at performances the last couple of weeks, is this team better than it was three, four weeks ago? “Yeah, I think in some ways we certainly are. I think with a lot of veteran players you don’t see drastic improvements from week-to-week. Sometimes you have a young team you’re going to see big jump from one week to the next. What I want to see is slight improvements off of us.”

”Now, do we do some things that you can’t do, yes we did on Saturday. But to me an improvement, I told our guys at halftime what a great opportunity we have here. Now we’re losing at halftime. There’s a stat I saw that we’d only been trailing for seven minutes the entire season. Here we were trailing for almost a whole game and still finding a way to win.”

“So that is something we improved on. Did we improve on protecting football no, or winning the turnover ratio, no. Those are things we look at from week to week. But we found a way in a different type of situation to be in a different situation and come out on top.”

You’d turned the ball over 18 times the past two seasons, 17 times this year. How concerned are you? “Well that’s huge. We talked about that at the team meeting yesterday. You know, we’re still in the plus-side on the season in the turnover ratio. But that’s something we take a lot of pride in, in protecting the football. And to almost get two years’ worth in eight games so far, not real happy with.”

”But one of the things is to look at the turnovers. I thought both interceptions were really bad interceptions on Saturday. Because I don’t think either of them were Dak. Some of those he’s made, he’s giving guys opportunities to go make plays, and we’ve made probably more than we’ve missed throughout this year. And it’s really helped us in being an explosive offense with giving guys opportunities to make plays. Those weren’t that way. I think those were poor reads or poor decision-making, he didn’t see the mike linebacker on the one play, got to know where that guys is on that read.”

”And then obviously the fumbled punts, that’s a major concern. That’s a skill. It wasn’t like they did anything, they didn’t play great defense or special teams on that play. That’s just us really making mistakes. You look at did the defense make the play to create the turnover or did we make the mistake? Saturday we made mistakes on all of them. Most of the year I don’t think our turnovers have been that way, it’s kind of a defense making a great play.”

”But also though you’re getting some different things from teams. One thing we have to look at now when you’re more the hunted not the hunter people are throwing the kitchen sink at you. You know, you’re going to get things you haven’t seen in games before. I mean teams are going to blitz you more or do a lot more trick plays, or just throw everything out at you to get that opportunity to get a win when you’re the hunted. Our guys have to do a good job of managing situations because you might see some stuff you’ve never seen before even on film coming into the game. Because you’re going to get the best shot of every team coming in here.”

Freshman J.T. Gray was special teams player of the week in his first college game? “Yeah, he had four plays and three tackles on special teams. Two assists and one solo.”

”It was one of those deals, we had a meeting with him. Zach Jackson had an injury, he’d been medically cleared to play. He didn’t feel real comfortable about it, didn’t practice much during the week. So we went into the game with kind of a ‘slash’, it was either Zach/J.T. We got to Saturday and Zach didn’t think he could go. So J.T. was willing to jump in and ready to go.”

”We had kind of talked about it earlier in the week, saying it’s not a definite. I talked to his family about it and said hey, it’s not a definite but as the ‘slash’ if your number is called what do you think about it? He was ready to go, wanted to play. And he got an assisted tackle on the opening kickoff, his college snap. I thought he did a great job and again seized the opportunity. You see it in practice. On scout kick off team he’s a maniac running down the field. We talk to our guys about that. I think he’s got to see that. You look at our young players, the great thing in our program now we talk about you’re going to play like you practice. He sees that from all the older guys. So our young guys practice so hard because they realize they want to play hard one day. His opportunity just happened to be on Saturday night and he was ready when his number was called. And we’re thrilled for what he was able to do on Saturday.”

In the non-conference games you alternated with Damian Williams, is there a plan to use him this week? “Not yet, no. To me, always at the beginning of the year that’s kind of a plan to get the guy in rhythm and get him ready for the season. Because training camp seems so forever ago. If he hadn’t gotten reps in games at the beginning of the season and then he has to go play, it’s hard to even have anything to call on. Because you’re thinking he hadn’t been in a game since last Thanksgiving. That’s more of an earlier in the season plan than a right-now plan. But if we do have one it wouldn’t be until later in the week. We kind of get the whole gameplan together to see what we want to do.”

You said punt return is a skill, do you have a plan there moving forward? “We’re going to see. We’ll see what we do at practice. He was in that spot because at practice he was the best guy doing it. But you just see him, on that play he thinks he’s got a shot at a return and takes his eye off it and looks down at the coverage right before he even catches the ball. You’re not going to catch balls that way, it’s like running with the ball before you catch it as a receiver, all of those things. Those are just little things he’s got to continue to improve on.”

The SEC has a lot of big backs, Josh Robinson isn’t tall but he fits the mold of tough. How big an advantage is a guy like that? “Well, it’s huge. Not just the backs, it seems every year in the SEC there’s a lot of big physical players in every position across the board! But at running back I think it his huge.”

”Josh is a guy, people have heard me talk about his maturity, he’s a guy that can bring a lot of different things to the table. If he needs to carry it in the mid-to-high 20s he can do that. If he’s getting a little bit less touches running the ball he’s still going to be a really good blocker. This Saturday he was more of a weapon in the pass game, he’s able to do that as well. That does go on the maturity of understanding every team is going to play you a little bit differently. You always have to kind of take what a defense is going to give you.”

”And I think our guys understand that. You don’t see guys getting frustrated on the field that if someone is going to try to take me away in one aspect of the game out of the gameplan I’m going to do my job in other aspects of the game. That is going to fee other people up. Josh has certainly got that way. And his size and skill set allows him to be an every-down player. That he can be a threat in the run game, he can be a threat in running the ball, he’s a threat blocking, and he’s a threat receiving the ball.”

How prevalent is advance scouting teams in football? “You always are doing that. We have our guys that are breaking down the film. I saw today they were making sure all the Vandy film is broken-down and the school up north film to keep that up. You keep that scouting going throughout the whole season.”

”But for the coaches, I’ve never done that. I struggle with that especially if I’m going to be calling plays. Our focus is completely on beating UT-Martin this week. But our guys are breaking down the film, inputting all the data and stats. Because next Sunday morning I’m coming in the office and I need everything. The scouting report, everything already ready So those guys are always two to three weeks out in advance.”

Did you have any nicknames you remember from players past and how does that come up from teammates? “Yeah, I don’t think I had a whole lot of nicknames. I can’t think of any ones that I had. I think they just come across of something funny that happens and they throw it out there. I mean, a lot of different weird ways. So I don’t ever remember how most of them get there. We had a kid named Jogger on my college team. Because he used to jog from drill to drill, the coaches would yell to sprint and he’d still jog. So he got nicknamed Jogger and it stuck. I still talk to Jogger. I still call him Jogger, it’ll on my phone from Jogger. We had another guy named Steak on my college team. We played a road game once and his dad arranged a steakhouse for us to go eat at the night before the game. So he got nicknamed Steak. He’s still in my phone as Steak!”

“That stuff, it’s much more something of the camaraderie of the game, how close everybody is on a team. It’s kind of like a family deal; and something will happen and somebody will throw a nickname out there and that nickname will just kind of stick and that’s just what you’re known for from that point forward. Everybody kind of buys into it. And once you’ve got one that’s how your known within the team and within the family.”

In developing gameplans how much does the previous week’s performance affect that? “Not as much. Because a lot of times the defenses are so different from week to week. Same thing on the other side of the ball, the offenses are so different. You’re going to look and say oh boy, this play really worked well against this coverage. Well, they don’t run that coverage this week. So even though that play worked well it’s going to come out differently.”

”We’ll look at things that we do well, things that we execute at a high level. But also we scout ourselves as to what our tendencies are. I’m constantly trying to look at tendencies for us, even in-game. We have people that are tracking my in-game tendencies, because a lot of time you’ll get into a rhythm in a game.

”And you’ll find that you have a tendency in the course of that game. And you have to be careful about that. Or you find that the defense has the tendency, they’re always blitzing in this certain situation. Well then I know they’re going to blitz here, if they’re going to keep this tendency let’s beat it. That type of thing, much more than maybe what scheme worked. It’s what we’re executing at a high level more than the actual scheme. Because there are some things we ran last week that we might not run again for two weeks because it’s a different style of team.”

The 1 and 2 defenses mixed more than before, how did that work? “It worked out pretty well, of points that’s for sure. Play-making, we made some big, big plays on defense. We didn’t give up the points. Which for us statistically in the end that’s the most important aspect of it. We still gave up yards, and I still think we want to get off the field more. But you look at a team like Arkansas, the big challenge with them is they’re a ball-control team. They did a great job controlling the ball, keeping our offense off the field. You look at starting field position, I think they averaged starting at the 32, we were at the 16. They had the plan in place to win, if you look back they did the things they needed to do to win.”

”What we were able to do to overcome that was make a big play. They won the turnover battle, they won the field position battle. And in the end we just made one more play; made a goal-line stand on fourth down, get an interception in the end zone. And make a big play to get the game-winning touchdown on offense. So that is tough in those situations for us. But statistically speaking you’d like to be maybe a little different defensively. But we’re doing the things you need to do to win games. The most important aspect, which is not giving up points.”

Devon Bell made the big punt out of the end zone, coming off his injury. How has he handled his situation? “Well I think that was huge. And his punt at the end of the game we had a bad snap he snatched the ball out of the air. He used all of all his 13-inche vertical leap to get up there and get that ball!”

”But coming off the bench those are huge plays for him. I’ve talked about that Devon is a very competitive guy, very self-critical, pushes himself. Very much a hard worker at his craft and at his skill. It’s great to see him. You talk about I love competitive but more important is competitive excellence. Almost everybody loves to compete, but can you not just compete; at the key moment can you compete and perform at the highest level which is competitive excellence. I think I really saw that out of him Saturday. When we needed the big play he was there to do it. And he was limited, we only punted a couple of times, he only played about four plays maybe. But all his plays were excellent plays.”

He’s only started one game, what is it like going against a quarterback, Dylan Favre, who played for you? “I don’t know. He’s a play-maker, I know that. He’s a gamer and he’s a play-maker and he can make things happen on the field. We always knew that when he was here. You put him out there, exciting things happen; some good and some bad. When he was here exciting things happened for him. But I don’t know that it gives us much of an advantage. I do know for someone like him, he’s going to be used to the environment. He’s played in the stadium and played spring game in the stadium and scrimmages in the stadium. So he’s been in that environment before.”

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