Bobby Johnson Monday press conference

Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson spoke with the media on Monday and answered questions about Saturday's Michigan game and the upcoming Alabama game.

Question: What was the most discouraging thing about you guys not being able to get your offense going?

Bobby Johnson: Not being able to run the football effectively was the most discouraging thing and not being able to take advantage of some opportunities. We were 13-7 at the half and we still had a chance. We had the ball, I think, on the other side of the 50-yard line when it was still 20-7 and we had some opportunities like we did last year against Arkansas. You know, we were behind, scored, came back and scored late in the game and won and hopefully we were going to be able to do that last week but we didn't get it done.

Question: Did you see anything going into the game that might have made you think that you might not be able to run the ball?

Johnson: Well, an appendectomy to our running back is probably the main thing and we looked back and saw some guys that we thought were going to play extremely well and they played well but they didn't play as well as they could because they missed practice. They missed practice a lot. They just weren't as sharp as they could be and I think that really was the case with Cassen (Jackson-Garrison). I don't think he was extremely sharp. And you know you've got to give a lot of credit to the Michigan defense, too. They were pretty good. You've got to block them to be able to run but there were some opportunities there where we could have run the ball a little bit better.

Question: How would you compare Alabama's front seven with what you saw Saturday and what do they do differently that will present you with some challenges that you will have to prepare for?

Johnson: Michigan would fit right into the SEC. They are a talented football team. They had some excellent linebackers – versatile guys. They were some tall, rangy guys that we had trouble blocking. Alabama is going to be physical, they are going to be fast on defense. That is what we are going to see all year so we might as well get used to it. I don't think that we are going to see otherwise. That's the name of the game.

Question: Talk about the performance of [quarterback] Chris Nickson, making his first big-time start at a place like Michigan.

Johnson: Obviously everybody can improve and Chris will. But we were pleased. I don't thing Chris was overly nervous or overly anxious. Obviously there are some things that we can do better. Number one: protect him better. But other than that, throwing the ball on time, making split-second decisions in the heat of the game is always tough for a first year guy to do. You know, those things happen sometimes before you know it. You go back and look at young quarterbacks I've had through my career and even Jay had a bunch of trouble early in his career. He probably made bigger errors than Chris did the other day.

Question: Talk about the decision to insert Jared Hawkins into the ballgame and was there any thought of trying to use him more considering the team's inability to run the ball early?

Johnson: The opportunity didn't present itself that much because we were doing some other stuff. We were throwing some quick passes, quarterback draws, things like that. You just didn't say "Cassen is having a terrible game, let's take him out." That wasn't the thought process. But we wanted to get Jared in there and he did a good job on the options. I'm sure that given the opportunity had Cassen been out there in those positions catching the ball on some green grass with some room to run he would have done the same thing.

Question: Bobby, talk about the uncertainty of opening days, especially when you are playing teams from other conferences that you don't play very often.

Johnson: You don't know what to expect offensively or defensively. They had new coordinators. Even though both coordinators had been involved in the program before it was a totally new offense and defense being run as far as they were concerned. You try to concentrate on the fundamentals of the game and make sure that you are running your offense or your defense the way you want to run it and then try to react to what you see in the game and I think that is probably what happened to us a little bit in the first quarter with our defense. I think we overreacted. We were over-pursuing them and allowing them to cut back a couple times. After that we settled down a little bit and made them start earning a little bit more what they were getting from us, allowing us to keep them out of the end zone until the fourth quarter.

Question: Did you feel in this first game that you had a good read on your team?

Johnson: Yeah, I think we do. I think we know who our contributors will be and who they are and we will try and build around that. We're still very confident that we can do some great things on offense with Chris and again we had some opportunities. We had the ball moving past the 50-yard line down 20-7 – 13 points and we fumbled the ball. You can't do that against any team, much less a team like Michigan or Alabama or teams that we are going to play this year.

Question: What do you hope for Nickson and the team as a whole to gain from walking off that field?

Johnson: He'll gain so much. Everyone on the team will, I think. It is just getting the butterflies out of you, just getting the uncertainty of "can I do this, can I do that, am I going to be able to step up and make the plays?" You know we saw Chris make some great passes over the middle, He had some good passes out in the flat. We think he can make all the throws that we want him to make in our offense and he can certainly handle the run game and we are looking forward to him making some big plays that way.

Question: When did you decide that Earl Bennett could play quarterback?

Johnson: Earl could probably play quarterback, he could probably play tailback he could probably play defensive back. All those receivers think that they are quarterbacks and think that they can throw and so we tried several of them. Earl just sort of naturally did it and that's what they play was. He just grabbed it in one nice little motion had it down there on a perfect strike and Marlon was by himself and gathered it in and that was a good play for us.

Question: Talk about Earl Bennett's ability to make plays despite the fact that he is now a known commodity.

Johnson: Well, I think our coaches did a good job of getting him in spots where he could get the ball Obviously Michigan knew about him I don't think you'd see about six or seven guys chasing him when Marlon was wide open in the end zone. People are aware of him and what to get over there and try and stop him. We ran the same play without the pass a little bit later and I think we gained about 12 yards on it just by his getting up field and being a good runner.

Question: Talk about the game played by Jonathan Goff.

Johnson: Jonathan played well. He did everything. He was good in his pass drops, he was good against the run. He blocked that field goal. He tipped another extra point. He is the kind of guy who makes plays for you.

VandyMania premium members can listen to all Bobby Johnson's comments by clicking on the links below:

Part 1

Part 2

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