Player and coach comments after the 27-10 setback to Tennessee in Knoxville yesterday.
LB Coach Shawn Slocum: (On LB Patrick Willis playing) He wasn't able to practice this week, but he stayed in everything mentally this week. He was in every meeting making calls and paying attention. About Thursday, and yesterday, and even this morning, I didn't think there was any chance Patrick would play today, but he told me he wanted to go out pregame and test his knee. He went out there and was great. We were very careful with our decision, putting him through drills to make sure he could move. He was ready to go so we let him. We told him there was no grey area - either you can play or you can't and if you say you can, we are going to count on you being 100%. (On what Willis' presence means to the defense) He's the first guy the rest of the defense sees in the huddle and he makes the calls. They get a good feeling when he's in there because they know he's going to make plays all over the field. (On Willis' future) I think he can build off this outing. My goodness, he didn't even practice and had 14 tackles today. If he can do that, imagine how good he'll be when he practices. He has the quality of making those around him better, but he's still in his infancy of development. His upside is unlimited. (On the "club" on his hand) He missed a couple of hits due to that, but he fought through it and compensated well. (On frosh Quentin Taylor getting some playing time) I thought he did a couple of good things and that was encouraging. We need he and Robert (Russell) to keep progressing and helping our defense.
Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone: (On capsuling the game) I saw some good things, and we were better today on not making penalties, but we had a huge turnover early that gave them a TD and Michael (Spurlock) missed some throws he's got to hit. On the plus side, Mico (McSwain) made some good runs, we converted a few good third downs when we needed them and I was pleased we seem to have kind of settled on a starting OL to give us some stability and continuity there. As the game wore on, you could sense us getting better up front. Not good enough yet, but better. Our offensive effort was an improvement over last week's, but not enough, obviously.
TB Mico McSwain: (On UT's front seven) They were real fast, but as far as being physical, they weren't as physical as I was expecting. Their speed threw us off at first, but once we got adjusted to it, we were OK. We just dug ourselves too early a hole. Early on they were doing some different things that caused us some problems, but once we recognized and adjusted, we felt the plays were there to be made. They are the best defense we have played, but as disappointed as I am in the loss, our effort gives me some hope and confidence about the direction we are going offensively. We were much better this week than last week, in my opinion. What encourages me, in one sense, is that we weren't manhandled by them. On the other hand, we keep making mistakes that are killing us that I know we can eliminate. It's time to do that. We have to stop beating ourselves. (On his long run) I thought I was going to go all the way, but the DB had an angle on me and just ran me down. That's another example of their speed and they are well-schooled on taking the proper angles in pursuit.
QB Micheal Spurlock: (On the game) We sustained a couple of drives today, which is good, but we have to do that more often and become more consistent. We had too many three-and-outs and kept our defense on the field too long. We have to do like UT did today - have drives that take 8-10 minutes. (On the interception he threw for a UT TD) I have to be smarter than that. In that situation, where Mike (Espy) and I miscommunicated, I should have thrown the ball away. A punt there would have been a good thing, but I forced it trying to make a play and the result was bad. As soon as I released it, and saw Mike cut upfield, I knew it was a bad mistake. (On the offense) We gained confidence as the game wore on, but our start killed us. We have to eliminate the dumb things, like that interception I threw, in order to beat the UTs of this league. (On the UT defense) They are very quick and played well. They kept pressure on us, but there were plays to be made we didn't make. (On being behind 14-0) That's not what you want, obviously, but we know it's a 60-minute game and we didn't let it break us. It hurt, badly, but mentally we felt we could fight back. We played them pretty even after that. (On his passing) I was a little off today - not terribly, but off is off against a defense like this. I should have made more throws than I did. I should have hit Taye (Biddle) early with the bomb - he was wide open.
DE Jayme Mitchell: (On the defensive game) I think we played pretty tough, but we had opportunities to make more plays. On one side, it was encouraging, but on the other we know we can make those plays and aren't making enough to them to get ourselves off the field. We could have done worse and we could have done better. We will have to work through this adversity and work ourselves into being better. I feel like we give good effort every game, but it's time for some of us to step up and produce with that effort. We have to make more plays. (On Patrick Willis' presence) It was very good to have him back. Not saying anything bad about his replacements, but P-Willie is our main guy. He makes us whole. I wasn't surprised he played - he's a tough cat who wants it badly. (On UT's offense) They weren't more physical than us, we just didn't make enough plays when they were there to be made. I think the offense feels the same way. It's real simple - make plays.
OG Andrew Wicker: (On the OL and no substitutions) We felt we gained some continuity today and, on the whole, established a rhythm. We still have a lot to do, but we were starting to come together today as the game wore on. This is a bad feeling right now, because we want to win and nothing else matters much, but we have to look at the positives too and one positive is that I think our starting OL can start showing improvement and showed some today. (On UT's front) They are very good, like all teams in the SEC, but I think we held our own physically against them. (On his play) I felt good out there during the game, but after the game, when we lost, I don't feel good. We put together a couple of long drives and scored on one of them, but we have to do more of that. The problem we are having is the third-and-longs. That puts the coaches in a big bind to have to come up with third-and-14 plays. We need to be 2nd-and-6, third-and-3 and then we can call our offense and operate with the defense on their toes not knowing what we are going to do. We are not helping the coaches out any with their play-calling flexibility. That's on us.
CB Travis Johnson: (On the defense's rhythm) We tackled better, for one thing, especially in the second half. Our coverage was a little better too. It helps us out a lot to have P-Willie in there. He's important to us. We held them down in several big situations, but not enough to secure the win, which is what we are out here to do. (On third-down stops) We did a little better today and got the ball back to the offense a little more, but we have to keep improving that. We've got to get that percentage down from 50% (9-18 for UT) to 40% or less. (On UT game versus Wyoming game) We played a lot better on defense. We left it all on the field today. We can live with that. I'm not sure we did that last week.
WR Taye Biddle: (On UT's defense) They were good, but we had plays out there to be made we didn't make. Early on the pressure up front hurt us, but the OL adjusted and did better as the game wore on. Their cover guys were good, but we had some openings in their coverage we did not covert on as much as we should have. Mike (Espy) had a big day (10 catches, 115 yards) but the rest of us could have done better. What is killing us is the third-and-longs. We have to get to shorter third-down situations. (On being behind 14-0) Not one player got down and that was the key. If one person hangs their head, then it's contagious. Nobody did that and we fought back.
MLB Patrick Willis: (On playing) I feel OK. I just put a little pain aside and gave everything I had to the team. The cast was awkward and aggravated me a little, but that's no excuse. You find a way to get it done. I think it caused me a couple of missed tackles, but I adjusted OK. (On his feelings about playing versus not playing all week) I prayed to be ready and the Lord gave me the strength. I woke up today and I was good. He was out there with me the whole time. (On his preparations) I stayed alert all week in meetings and in practice in case I was feeling better. I spent as much time learning their offense this week as I have any other week. Not being ready mentally would have been the easy way out and I don't even want to take that route. (On the difference in his presence) Robert Russell has done a great job getting ready, and I know he's disappointed he didn't get to play. I thank him for the opportunity to get ready. He helped me buckle my chinstrap because I couldn't with that club on my hand. To have teammates like that makes you want to lay it all on the line. To answer your question, Robert would have done as good as me - he was ready, but I'm older and have been there before so I suppose my experience helps. I thanks Robert for being with me and for having a great attitude about it.
OT Tre' Stallings: (On the OL) We felt a lot better out there as a unit, but we have to find a way to make plays and stay out there longer. We hurt our defense today some by not being able to sustain drives, but I felt us getting better, which was different from the last two weeks. I hope we can develop some stability and get some things going. (On UT's DL) I thought we did OK with them. We weren't consistent enough, but when we all did what we were supposed to against their different looks, we were successful. We just have to get to the point where we are doing that more often. Michael Oher is getting better and better and Andrew Wicker is a warrior who just needs more snaps. Darryl (Harris) had a good outing today too and seems healthy finally. We need our rhythm and hopefully we started establishing some of that today. We know we have work to do, but now we feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel.
SS Jamarca Sanford: (On the future) We are going to continue working as hard as we can. We will keep our heads up and keep pushing. It's hard to lose, but the key is to not let yourself get used to it or to give in to it. Don't let it get in your head and succumb to it. We'll be fine. (On his knee) It feels pretty good. It got stiff some on the sidelines, but I kept it loose. It was OK.
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