"The First Conference Game Is So Critical"

"The First Conference Game Is So Critical"

"I'll start off with an injury report. Malcolm Johnson is still going to be out this week. And we're going to upgrade Templeton Hardy to probable for this week. They're the only injuries that we discuss."

"We're ready for this game. Obviously it's great to get the SEC season underway. A big game for us. I've made a huge emphasis, I've talked about it over and over, one if you want to compete for a championship you have to win all your home games because the competitiveness of being on the road in this league is tough. (The) opportunity to start a SEC season at home against a West opponent, it's very important to find a way to win this football game and catapult yourself into the rest of the season within conference play."

"And I think our guys are very focused. It's a great opportunity with the day off from school today for us to get a lot done. We've already put the last game behind us, watched that film this morning, taught off of it. Now we'll come back and practice later this evening for the guys to really get a jump start on this week's game, get ourselves focused and get ourselves ready to play a tough team to prepare for."

"Obviously they have two new coordinators, so you really only have one game to watch of them to see what they are. I don't know what they held back, they probably held a bunch back last week so you don't know what else they're going to going to show that they decided not to show last week. I know you guys bring that up a bunch, about guys holding back on week-one. So I'm sure they held a bunch back so there will still be some things we haven't seen out of them. We're going to have to be kind of prepared for the unknown in this situation. But the the key is if we execute and take care of the ball and play hard, we're going have the opportunity to win the game."

In the larger context of your tenure how important is this game?
"In this season it's very, very important. It's always important to win the first conference game of the season. I've believed that since I started coaching. Whatever conference you're in, that first conference game is so critical to win. Because it's a two game swing. Right now the winner of this game is two games ahead of the other one because you have the head-to-head win too. So week-two of the season you've either catapulted yourself to the top of the standings or you're two games back already. So I think that's always a huge deal for conference games."

Do you keep moving Matt Wells around and let him play two or three positions?
"Oh yeah. That's part of camp, using guys and trying to create advantageous matchups on the field is something we want to do. And have packages to put our best players on the field. I don't want to be sitting there and say well, we're limited to one package so these guys can't play. And I'm looking and there's a good player standing next to me on the sidelines. I want to try at all times to get our best eleven guys on the field. If he's a good playmaker then we need to have him on the field."

How much of the first game can carry over to this week against Auburn?
"I think the speed of the game is going to be a little bit different this week. Auburn has a very athletic defense, very experienced defense, a lot of guys who played for them last year are back. I think that adjustment will be a little bit different for our guys. But we go against a fast defense in practice every day all through training camp."

"So I think it was good to get that game under our belt, for our guys to get back into game mode, and get out of practice mode. You can have big scrimmages and you can put guys in situations. But you can't simulate a game. You can't simulate the intensity of being on the field, being in that crowd, being in that atmosphere when it really counts."

"So I think it's great that our guys have kind of gotten that out now. And they can really get themselves re-focused into the routine of game week. I think it was great to refresh that routine, and now we're refreshed, ready to go."

Did any of the young or new players look impressive?
"I don't know. I still wanna play a lot of guys. That's in how you look at things. On the offensive line, obviously I'd like Tobias and Gabe get more reps this week than they did last week. I've seen them play a lot of football around here, so I wanted to force feed some guys who hadn't. I still think, especially playing an 11 a.m. kickoff, a hot day, the speed in which the games goes, you want to rotate a lot of players through. I don't know if there's somebody that really jumped out to me more than anybody else, but for us and our mindset, we still wanna try to play a lot of guys."

Do you know what to expect from Auburn coordinator Scot Loeffler?
"Yeah, some. I've known Scot a long time. Good friend. Really good football coach. His foundation comes form Michigan and running the Michigan offense for all those years and what he played and what he coached in and came up with. Then I think he's added to it, some of the stuff we did in Florida. It's a combination. The tough part is seeing where his personality strikes. He's a guy that's a good football coach, gonna utilize their personnel to do what they can do well."

"I don't know if we've got to see the total personality of that offense is, what their focus is, what type of team they're gonna be. Are they more older Michigan? Are they more, kind of, a little bit spread-based? A little bit of both and what percentage are they? Power-running game, that stuff. For Scot, I look at Michigan, that's kinda what they did back in the day there. It does have that flavor and some touch of that spread offense in there. We'll see. I don't know, especially in the first game, that they opened up the entire playbook. I think we'll see a little bit more out of them this week."

What did Clemson do well in pass defense?
"They got some pressure on the quarterback, but their quarterback is pretty good. He's mobile and can create on his own. He did in that game. He still created and did some things on his own and I think they're going to want to spread the ball around a little bit more. I think he got comfortable looking at one or two receivers and I think we've got to do a good job of trying to take guys away from him and make him get to his third or fourth option on different plays. If you make it easy for him, he's going to be able to throw and they're going to be able to execute."

After Jackson State what is one area you want to improve on?
"Boy, one area. Missed assignments. We had a lot of missed assignments and, to me, that's something that's one of those deals that takes zerotalent. We had 120 snaps and we had 40 missed assignments. That's something that takes zero talent. That's all concentration. That's all focus on doing your job and I think with a lot of young players, when you do that in there, they're in the game and so excited that sometimes they're just trying to play on emotion instead of playing with emotion and doing their technique. That's a big thing that I really us to improve on: that focus. Do your job on every play. Play with emotion, but don't let that come over you."

What did you see from Devon Bell and the kickers?
"I thought they all did an excellent job. In every situation. With Devon with the field goal. You can see, I mean, a really fast get-off time. The juice got to him a little bit. He was fired up right there, over-strided on the kick. He was plant foot was way out of position but, to me, that was energy. I think he was fired up, ready to go crush that ball and got himself similar. Instead of playing with emotion, he played on emotion and let that carry him and get his whole body out of position for the kick with his technique. I thought he played really well."

"Charlie Grandfield comes in, great get-off time, went right through the uprights. Egan has a couple of touchbacks in his opportunities on the field. Baker got to punt once and pinned them one the 8-yard line, I think it was. I thought the execution on the kickers was good. They're going to have a lot more confidence coming into this game week and repairing for this game now that they have that under their belt."

Will winning this week erase the perception of struggles against the SEC West?
"I've never had that thought. And I mean, we've beaten Florida, Georgia, Michigan and we've beaten a lot of teams so we've lost to a bunch of teams too. I really think about this season and my goal every year is to win the SEC West; well to do that you really need to win your first conference game. I think it's tough to lose your first conference game and come back to win that first conference game. Teams have done it but you put yourself in a uphill battle so that's something you guys think about (but) to be honest with you I've never thought of it."

Did you track how few dropped passes there were Saturday?
"We do (track it). We had one with a pass interference at the goal line with Robert Johnson, which I thought should've been a catchable ball. The throw to Arceto Clark for he misjudged it and he turned, if he keeps running I said he catches it. That wasn't really a drop but a misjudge. That's it. I pretty pleased with those guys. There's some things we have to get cleaned up with the receivers in that game. I want them to be much sharper and crisper as a whole but we threw them the ball, they made plays and that's important."

What did you think of Marcus Green's performance?
"He's dependable, and he's been in it. The great thing about Marcus Green is when I got here I think he doubted, there was a lot of doubt, personal doubt in his mind in believing what we did. And that's all changed. He is an all-in guy within our program, does his job, does what he's supposed to do. He's graduating with his masters degree this December. A lot of people are trying to get players graduated, he's finishing grad school at the end of the season. So he's really kind of bought in to what this program stands for, and that's great to have not just on the field for guys to see, because they know he's going to do his job. He might not be doing spectacular things out there on the field, but he's always going to do his job and take care of his business. That's a great role model for the young guys."

How does John Banks stay focused when he isn't being challenged?
"He told me that some kid on their team was making YouTube videos about how he's going to eat him up and all before the game. He was kind of wishing, he was hoping they'd throw at him a little bit more, and it didn't happen."

"I think John knows, you watch John during the course of the game, and he understands his role on the team, not just his role as a player on the field, but his role as a leader. That's the one thing I like. You watch him, even if he's not involved in the play, even if they go away, his leadership and his motivation of other players, his coaching of other players, his passion on game day, is very important. That's what you want out of a leader, the captain of your team. That's really what he brings. If people throw away from him, you're going to see him even be more and more of a leader, because if he's not making the play, he's going to make sure everybody else is ready to do that."

Is Auburn the first big test for Tyler Russell?
"It's the bigger test this season. He started games last year. He's been put in games in a lot of big moments throughout his career. As far as that goes, I don't know if it's his first real test. He's been tested, but this is a much bigger test for him this week than last week's was. I know he wants that role, he wants the game to be put on his shoulders. He wants to be the leader and the guy that's out there making the plays and leading the offense."

How did the offensive tackles play?
"They played well, and we got to play several of them in there. I was pleased with the way Charles Siddoway, that was his first action in a game for us. I thought he played really well for us. Blaine Clausell, pretty steady and is continuing to improve. Damien Robinson got in there, and you could see did some really good things, and then you could see some nerves coming through at different times, especially when you had him and Justin Malone next to each other."

"The communication aspect of it, maybe not their performance, but they're a little hesitant when they're communicating the calls, and just different combinations they had to work with and combination blocks. A couple of miscommunications, those guys working together, which you expect in a first game. They're out there worried, so much thinking about what I'm supposed to do, they're not really communicating with the guy next to them to make sure that they're both on the same page."

Justin Malone seemed to play well?
"Yeah, he did. They did good, but there were times when they really needed to be on the exact same page, were asking, ‘Did you make the call?' No. ‘Did you make the call?' No. Those types of situations in there for them that if they had just spoken to each other, because Damien decided to do one thing, and we said, ‘Did you tell Justin you were doing it?' No. 'Justin, did you tell him what you were doing?' Nope. Speak out there every once in a while."

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