Ted Cain: We had a lot of frustrating losses. That is well-documented.
From the offensive side, definitely the Kentucky game sticks out. In the first half, we did a good job of moving the ball up and down the field. We got in the red zone and could not convert. We scored a touchdown. We missed a field goal from the three. We could have had some working room.
Coming into halftime, we had done a good job. I think we had over 200 yards. The second half, we were not executing the same plays we executed in the first half, and they were running the same defense. You just scratch your head. We had to finish it off.
We opened the second half and drove the length of the field and scored a touchdown and missed an extra point. Then we got bogged down and they beat us at the wire. The defense was playing well enough to win the game. I'm glad there were no loaded pistols around after that game. That was a very, very frustrating loss.
VM: With the facemask non-call in the Ole Miss game and the over-the-line call in the Rutgers game, is there a feeling among the staff that Vanderbilt does not get the benefit of the doubt from the refs because of years of losing?
TC: We want to put that out of our minds. It is frustrating sometimes out there and you ask, ‘Why did they not see this?' We complete a ball to the Ole Miss 3-yard line, and all the sudden a holding call comes out. You scratch your head a little bit, but you can't get bogged down. You have to worry about what you can control. If you start looking for other areas to blame, then your players will look to other areas to blame.
We have to overcome those things and move ahead. We have to control our own destiny. Matthew Tant scores on a 66-yard run to make it 30-13 against Ole Miss, but we line up incorrectly. The officials made the correct call on that. You have to control what you can control.
VM: Is there a particular freshman you are eager to get your hands on and throw out there against the competition?
TC: The group that has the chance to contribute the earliest are some of the wide receivers. We're very anxious because we feel very good about Erik Davis and Marlon White, but the wide receivers, I'm looking forward to working with those guys early in camp and seeing if one or more can contribute right away.
VM: Is this a make-or-break year for the staff?
TC: I certainly hope not (laughing). Hopefully the administration here and our fans can see the progress that we have made. Not so much in wins and losses, but the way our games have unfolded since we've been here. The first couple of years, it was frustrating for us where we would have some of these close losses and you'd get some positive feedback. I remember the first Ole Miss game, we were way behind and we came back and should have beat them. Coming from Furman, where we expected to win every time and if we didn't we were totally devastated, that was a little different.
But hopefully the way the team is going about their job on the field and off the field, that we are making some progress. We are not near satisfied, but we hope as a staff, we are making progress and we'll continue to improve every year. We are going to make it happen as quickly as we can. Our goal is to qualify for a bowl game and make progress.
We want it to happen overnight, but there are so many parts to a football team. It takes more than 22 of them out there. Some of the sports, there aren't as many cats out there. You get a big 7-foot-4 guy, or a scratch golfer, or an ace pitcher and then the right fielder never gets any action out there. In football, if the left guard screws up, it doesn't matter what Cutler does back there. Football is a big, big task. Vanderbilt is a tough gig, but we're excited to be here.
VM: If your kicking game improves, how much does that change your job?
TC: Coach Johnson is very good about telling us if we are going for it on fourth down in the red zone before it is fourth down. You have to know that, because that influences your second- and third-down call. We need to make sure those are manageable distances.
Hopefully our kicking game improves, and we have less of those fourth-and-fours. Those grind on you, to be perfectly honest.
VM: Talk about the importance of winning the opener from a confidence standpoint.
TC: Confidence is so very big. The only thing I do athletically is play golf. If you sit up there on the first tee and smoke that first drive, you're feeling pretty good about the day. It is the same thing in football. You get that first one, you feel good about yourself.
Now if you bogey that first hole, you can't quit. You have 17 more to go. You have to stick the tee in on No. 2 and bear down.
The kids have worked so hard in the off season, to see those kids not have success in those first games is frustrating. One thing Coach Johnson has done with the kids is keep them on task. It is not all or nothing on that first one.
He keeps them battling. Two years ago, we're playing Kentucky on a cold, dreary day and we have one win. Some teams might have bagged it, and we win the game. And then last year, we lost that tough one against Kentucky, and then played Tennessee like gang-busters.
I feel for the fans, but after games, when you go into the locker room and see those kids that worked day in and day out all summer and you see their faces. As a staff, you just want to draw something up that works every time.