Q&A: Spurrier previews Tennessee

Coach Steve Spurrier addressed the media Tuesday at his weekly press conference. This week, he previewed the upcoming Halloween game with the Tennessee Volunteers. He also addressed topics such as the Volunteers' new coach, facing the "Tampa 2" defense, and the Vols' all-American defensive back, Eric Berry.

Opening Statement: "Alright, we're getting ready to play the Tennessee Vols, 7:45 Saturday night, another ESPN game. I think we're ESPN's Saturday night team, so we're getting in a habit of playing these games and we look forward to it. Tennessee's a good team, they've been losing their close ones, that's why they've got a 3-4 record. I think all of their losses have been very close games. But anyway, they're a big, strong team like they usually are. I think they're third overall in defense behind Florida and Alabama in the conference. They rank a little ahead of us offensively also. So we've got to really play well, we've got to play better. We don't play real smart and real sharply at times. So hopefully we can put it all together because we will need to play a good game to have a chance to beat these guys Saturday night. But we're looking forward to it, should be a big crowd, biggest crowd of the year. A lot of our guys, young guys have never been there, so we're looking forward to playing in the big stadium and seeing how we can do against the Tennessee Vols."

Question: Coach, what is it that Monte Kiffin's defenses do that make them so difficult to score against?

Spurrier: "What do they do? Well, they play a little man-to-man, play a little zone. Seem to be in pretty good position all the time. I think Monte Kiffin is the guy that invented that ‘Tampa 2' defense. They don't play it quite as much as he used to in the NFL. They still play it a little bit, mainly on third down is when you see that one. But he's got good players, they're well coached, and you know they play with a lot of effort. Just another big, strong, defensive, fast team. And of course Eric Berry is the playmaker guy. He can pick up more loose balls and interceptions than about anybody in the country it seems like. We talked to our guys about that, we've got to quit dropping interceptions. For us to win some big games we've got to make the plays when they're there and that's something we've not done well all year."

Question: Coach, you've talked about getting guys to play smarter and sharper. As coaches, how do you do that?

Spurrier: "Well, you just keep coaching. The other night we had Andrew Clifford, our backup quarterback, to fire a few balls at the defensive backs and linebackers and so forth. So maybe some faster balls coming at them. We're trying anything to get our guys to catch those picks. Anyway, we're emphasizing it, talking about it and we'll see if it does any good or not."

Question: Coach, after last year's win you said it wasn't a typical Tennessee team. You said this year they're back to being the typical, strong team. What's the difference this year?

Spurrier: "They were strong last year, I think their defense was first in the conference. The defense was very good, their offense really struggled last year. Their offense is very good with Hardesty, a big strong running back, he's got a bunch of yards. And Crompton the quarterback has played very well most all of their games too, so they're a good offensive team and a very good defensive team. Good special teams. So that was sort of unusual having those kicks blocked last week. I can't remember Tennessee getting many field goals blocked over the years. But that big guy from Alabama was too much in there."

Question: Steve, what is it like preparing for a Tennessee team without having Phil Fulmer on that other sideline?

Spurrier: "I don't think it's much different really. We just watch the tapes, we don't watch the tapes of the coaches very often. So we just try to see what they do and hopefully give our players a plan where we have a chance to be successful."

Question: Have you kept up with Phil (Fulmer) at all since he left?

Spurrier: "A little bit. He calls every now and then. I talked to him after one of our games earlier this year. He watches them all on television and so forth. Yeah, I think he wants to get back coaching somewhere next year if it works out."

Question: Coach, can you afford to go to Knoxville and not have momentum (during the game)?

Spurrier: "We've been close at halftime about every week, so I was reading something about for some reason we've done pretty well in the third quarter most all of our games. And I don't know why it's worked out that way, but that's the way it's appeared to have happened. But again, we've not played near as well as we think we can. I've realized we've won some close ones. Even the one last week we had a lot of good fortune. So I think all of our guys know to beat some good teams we've got to be a lot sharper. We can't have all those stupid penalties that we had last week. It's hard to overcome all that. We need to play a lot smarter, more effective if we're going to have a chance. You can't play like that and beat the good teams, it's too hard."

Question: Steve, do you plan any changes on your kickoff coverage?

Spurrier: "Coach Beamer may have one or two in there. We had two guys fall down right up the middle. They were covering the kick and they sort of got bumped in the side and they both fell right over each other, which is not good to happen. Obviously that Vandy player was a lot faster than our guys when he got up the middle there. But we'll keep working on it.

Tennessee's got some fast guys. You know you hate to kick a grounder down there and let them start on the 35 or 40. I was looking at our possessions after the kickoff compared to Vandy's and they must've gained 150 yards right there. Of course they took one 99 (yards) back. (Culliver) for some reason wanted to run backwards on one of his the other night, so we started on the 10 and the 18 a couple times. So we lost a lot of yards on that kickoff exchange. Hopefully we can boom it down there and keep them inside the 30. That'd be good for us."

Question: When you mentioned about not watching the coaches tapes, just looking ahead, what they're doing this year, what they've done in the past, would something jump out at you that says they've got a different approach now?

Spurrier: "Well, their offense is different now of course than what they've done in the past. But defensively a little bit scheme-wise is different. Yeah, I watch mostly the defensive tape. But they've always been pretty good on defense now. I think it's good players, put them in position, they're well coached, don't get beat deep and stuff. Everybody's doing those zone blitzes now, coming from everywhere. You've got to get in the shotgun, catch it and throw it every now and then. It's hard to block them all from different angles."

Question: Steve, did you ever play the Buccaneers when you coached in the NFL?

Spurrier: "Yeah, we played them a regular season and a preseason game in those two years. We won the preseason, lost the regular season. Won the one that didn't count."

Question: What do you remember about playing the Tampa-2 and just Monte Kiffin's defense in general?

Spurrier: "A lot of NFL teams play that, a lot of college teams play that. Probably not as many as they used to. It's getting to where a lot of teams don't want their middle linebacker with his back turned to the running back down the middle of the field. Basically that's sort of what it is, the two deep guys play a little wider and the middle linebacker goes way back there. It's a good defense, all defenses are real good when played well. Certainly with Derrick Brooks down there at the Buccaneers, he got a whole bunch of interceptions playing that down there."

Question: Coach, when you watch the film on Tennessee's defense, how much does Eric Berry stand out, and is there anything you're going to try to do to neutralize him?

Spurrier: "We've just got to keep an eye on where he's going to be a little bit. But he's a safety that comes down near the line of scrimmage more than not. But he watches the quarterback and he goes for interceptions, he's not shy about going for the ball. That's why he gets so many."

Question: Coach, a lot of people talk about Berry, but I think Rico McCoy is the one leading them in tackles. He plays the same position as Eric Norwood. Watching him on film, how does he compare to Norwood?

Spurrier: "He's a little different type player I would say than Eric. Eric's an outstanding outside pass rusher as well as tackles behind the line of scrimmage. But hopefully our Eric Norwood will have a big game this week too. To do that, we've got to put them in throwing positions. They're going to, in all likelihood; try to run it down our throats. We've given up a lot more rushing yards than passing yards, so we've got to be tough against the run this week."

Question: You've moved a lot of players around this season, particularly on the offensive line. How has that helped you or hurt you this season?

Spurrier: "It's helped a little bit, not all that much. Of course those guys should know the position right next to them, left guard, left tackle. But we're still trying to find our best guys, simple as that. We found Alshon Jeffery about the fourth or fifth game. You've got to let everybody play in the games, see how they do. Practice is important, but once the real game starts some players play a little better in the real action than practice. So sometimes it takes a while to figure out who all your best players are."

Question: You mentioned Norwood, Steve. It's been a couple weeks I think since he had a sack. I know you don't watch a lot of that tape, but are you seeing teams doubling him and running and moving the pocket away from him?

Spurrier: "A little bit. Yeah, we haven't gotten ahead of anybody the last two weeks enough too much to throw. He just hasn't had a lot of opportunities really."

Question: Coach, Lane Kiffin, do you feel like he's good for the SEC, with all the attention he's brought to Tennessee?

Spurrier: "Oh, that's for all you media people to comment on that. I'll try to worry about my own team here."

Question: Do you approach this game like you approached the Alabama game, going into a hostile environment, having to score every chance you have the ball?

Spurrier: "We approach this game like we do all of them really. We try to get the best plan possible and try to get our players ready to play physically, mentally, emotionally, and all that. Talent-wise, I think they're certainly a top 25 team, but they've had some plays go against them. But again, we know we're a bit of an underdog going there, which we should be. And we've got to play well to beat them. But we're looking forward to it, we still haven't played I don't think up to our potential, but hopefully it will kick in here the last third of the season."

Question: In this last third of the season, given the teams you play on the schedule match for you. Is that something you've talked about with the team?

Spurrier: "Well, we should be pretty even with Arkansas and Tennessee. Our record's a little better than both of those teams. But some years these last four teams certainly have been better than South Carolina. We'll go one at a time, and this week's the Tennessee game, and really that's all we've talked about, one game at a time."

Question: Coach, are you trying to move closer this week to putting Alshon (Jeffery) and Tori (Gurley) on the field at the same time?

Spurrier: "It could happen, yeah it could happen."

Question: Steve, I know when you came to South Carolina you looked at the concept of moving up in the SEC, catching programs ahead of you. If you beat Tennessee, you guys will have the same number of losses during your time at South Carolina, they'll have one more win. My question is, in your opinion, do you think you've caught Tennessee as you try to move up the ladder in the SEC East?

Spurrier: "Well, every year is a different year. Certainly we have been very competitive with Tennessee all four games. We could have won the two we lost, but we could have probably lost one of the ones we won anyway. Last year we got ahead pretty comfortably I guess. Yeah, I sort of think we're close with them right now. We're 2-2 with them. (But) Again, we're 3-2 with Vanderbilt. We almost have a losing record against Vandy. Every game stands on its own merit. But we're going to need to play well to beat Tennessee this year.

Last year we really didn't play all that well, we had two big turnovers. I think Stoney (Woodson) picked one off (and returned it for a touchdown) and we got another one down to the 5 yard line, so I think that was probably enough to beat them the way their offense was last year. So we didn't do much on offense, but fortunately it was one of those games where we didn't have to last year."

Question: Steve, are you getting comfortable now winning 14-10 or 16-10, or do you kind of still long for winning that 45-35 shootout?

Spurrier: "No, I long for 38-10, something like that, that's what we all long for. We believe we're capable of playing a lot better, but we certainly haven't done it yet. So we'll keep firing at them, and having a go at them, and see what we can do down the road here, starting this week."

Question: You guys are 4-1 I believe in close games this year. Is there something to guys knowing how to win, coaches knowing how to win those close games?

Spurrier: "I don't know, sometimes the guy that wins a bunch of close ones, they all say that. I'm not sure so sure it (doesn't) just happen that way. That's sort of the way sports are nowadays, with teams so even. So anyway, we have been fortunate, we've played pretty decent in the second half, but we still should play a lot better I think."

Question: I think you guys are only averaging a little more than one turnover a game, how important of a factor has that been, as opposed to last year in terms of your success this year?

Spurrier: "Yeah, we haven't had a, knock on wood, had a turnover at home in two weeks. I think I've had four in my coaching career where neither team had a turnover. And we've had two of them back to back, so anyway."

Question: In the last three weeks, SEC refs have made some controversial calls that may have possibly changed the outcomes of the games. As an SEC coach, does this concern you?

Spurrier: "Yeah, our referees have struggled a little bit lately. We had a few missed calls in our game. We turned in a bunch of them, but when you win the game, you don't worry about it too much. Yeah they've struggled a little bit, but I can assure you our commissioner and our head of officials, Rogers Redding, is on top of it. I think he does a super job. I'm not sure his referees do as good a job as Rogers does right now, but yeah they're going through a little difficulty. But yeah I don't know the answer for all that, but to say I think they're trying to get it right. But they have made some errors here lately."

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