Tennessee coach Derek Dooley talks about working with Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, the advantages and disadvantages of the bye and the injury situation on Rocky Top. Read the official transcript of his press conference below.
DEREK DOOLEY MEDIA LUNCHEON TRANSCRIPT (courtesy of UT Media Relations)
“Well, it’s going to be a real – and I’m going to tell the team this — what a great honor it’s going to be able to play in games like these. Growing up, you always know about the Third Saturday in October. We screwed that up when we added more teams. But this is always one of the great traditions in college football, Tennessee-Alabama. It’s what makes this place special. It’s what makes the SEC special. So it’s going to be a great opportunity for our players and a good responsibility on how we compete going against a phenomenal football team that’s been kind of a standard in college football the last two years. Deep, talented, well-coached. We all know about them.
“From an injury standpoint, let me just give you some rundowns here because I know you’re going to ask. I’ll preempt it. First of all, the guys that are out in addition to the standard (Naz) Oliver, (Marlon) Walls and (Ben) Martin. Cody Pope’s still out. Greg King, he still hasn’t been 100 percent. I think Greg’s got a great future here, but he just hasn’t been full-go since I’ve gotten here. We went in and scoped him, cleaned it out a little bit, and it needed it. So he’s probably going to be on the shelf for the year. (JerQuari) Schofield, we’re going to start working him back. We’ll see today and tomorrow and the next day, but my history has been whether he’s available on Saturday or not, the reality is if so it will be a limited role. I found out last week you guys tweet right in the middle of this thing. Is that what you all are doing? Sorry. I come back and they go, ‘Hey, I heard you said this.’ I said, ‘Was it on TV?’ ‘No, they were tweeting it.’ It’s a whole other — I don’t know where I was. That’s why I don’t allow cell phones in our meeting rooms.
“So where was I? We were talking about Schofield. Even if he is back, I don’t know. I’m kind of assuming he’s out, and it’s gravy. Dallas (Thomas), hopefully he’ll be 100 percent. But if he’s not, that’s a concern because he wasn’t 100 percent last week and he struggled. Daniel Lincoln, we’ll find out today. He’s going to kick today. If he’s got any problems today, the likelihood of him kicking is not very good. Montori Hughes, right now, I’m considering him out. We’ll find out more in the next two days. (It’s an) Ankle. Prentiss Waggner, we really have been holding him out of all contact in the open week. We held him out of contact the week before Georgia. We’re going to have to hold him out of contact this week, so that’s not good. You’re about to play two of the best backs in the country, and we’ve got to tackle.
“Other than that, we’ve got a pretty healthy squad we’ll be fielding on Saturday. I’ll let you guys take it from here.”
Alabama’s had several teams in a row coming off the bye. What to you is the biggest advantage, not in terms of health, in preparing for a team when you have an extra week to look at them?
“Well, it can be an advantage and disadvantage. In fact, I think they did the stats. The statistics show it’s no advantage. It’s like 50-50. I don’t know. You could break it down. It can be an advantage because you obviously have more meeting time. You have more time to work some fundamentals. The obvious things tell you it’s an advantage.
“The disadvantage is you get out of your routine. You’re a lot longer from the game speed and the tempo. So sometimes teams come out early and it’s like, ‘Oh, man, it hasn’t been this fast in a while.’ Sometimes you can over-coach them. You feel like you have all this time and you put in all these plays and have all these great schemes and you go out there and look terrible. I’ve seen it work, and then sometimes you grind them so hard in the bye week, they come out flat. I’ve seen it across the board. I’ve seen us coming out of the bye week ripping it. I’ve seen a team look unprepared and everybody in the stands goes, ‘What did they just do for two weeks?’ and for good reason. I’m glad we had it because I thought it would help us heal, but then when you hear that. Had we played Saturday, Dallas probably wouldn’t have played. Prentiss might not have played. Daniel Lincoln wouldn’t have played. Montori wouldn’t have played. Whether they play next week or not, I don’t know.”
How much more do you look at them on film?
“Certainly you watch them more. But like I said, you get smarter and smarter in your meeting rooms and then the ability to give it to the players and them go execute it, you can over-coach it sometimes. It’s not how much the coaches know. It’s your ability to communicate it to the players, the players to understand it, the players to believe in the plan and then go out and execute it.
“Sometimes, the simplest plan’s the best.”
Going up against a guy you used to work for, can you overthink it because you try to guess what they’re going to do? Do you see it that way?
“They’re complex and always have been. I say that, but the base philosophy and ways they win are very simple. It’s the right things. It’s stop the run. It’s pressure the quarterback on third down. It’s good return game and special teams to control the vertical field position, and it’s run the ball. That formula has been around for a long time in football, and it’s what I believe in. And it’s why I was in the same program for seven years because that’s what works. And they do it really well, and they do it with great players. That part’s pretty simple. But they’re very aggressive and good at what they do. They get complex in the back end sometimes.
“I guess you can overthink it and outscheme them, but ultimately the teams that have given Bama problems are the teams that come out and compete and go toe-to-toe. They hit them and they go four quarters and they keep putting the pressure on them. They do a great job of tackling, which Ole Miss did a good job containing the runners. South Carolina did a good job containing the runners. But there’s not a lot of plays out there. They’ve been pretty incredible on defense. We looked at the explosive run tape from this season. And there was like six plays.”
You worked with Coach Saban for a number of years. What separates him? What makes him a great college coach?
“I don’t know how to answer that, Jimmy. First of all, philosophically, those things that I said that he believes in, I think, stand the test of time. He’s always believed in that. He’s shown that he’s done a great job in recruiting, to get really good players, and each year always doing a great job of evaluating what they do and how they can do it better. He’s done a good job of that, and I think that in its simplest form leads to success and consistency.”
If you’re looking at film of Alabama this week, could it be like you’re looking at film of LSU when he was there? Is a lot the same?
“There’s a lot of similarities. The colors are different obviously. But yeah, there’s a lot of similarities. Schematically, things are different. But when you talk about how they’re winning, there’s a lot of similarities. You turn on the film, and you’re used to seeing that. It doesn’t make you feel any better.”
Are there some similarities as coaches? What are some differences you guys have?
“I don’t know. Philosophically, I’ve always believed in what he believes in. That’s a starting point. A lot of our organizational structure is very similar. But we’re very different personalities. We have a lot of respect for each other, and we’re friends. But it’s like any coach, you believe in some things philosophically the same but everybody’s personality’s a little different and how you put it on the program.”
Given the injuries you’ve had, has very much surprised you about where Tennessee is at this point?
“I think, John, we always expect more – and we should – as coaches. If I look at what’s disappointing and what is encouraging instead of surprised, I would use those two words. There were times when I was disappointed in how we competed, and then there were times I was real encouraged with how we competed. Given our roster and given our injuries and all that, as much as we want to be in a lot better shape, I think what’s important is not to go in the tank because the results aren’t there. You stay focused on the process. You believe in the process. You believe in the structure we’re putting in, and we’re always going to do that. I think over time, the results will come.
“It’s hard. It’s hard to say don’t get frustrated by the results because that’s what we’re all measured on. But that is in fact what you must do in order to show improvement.”
Even if it’s not this week for JerQuari, when he comes back what will that do to the other pieces and for James, who’s been filling in for several weeks?
“One of the things that we’re going to probably play around a little bit with is moving Shaw to center some. I’m not saying in front of (Darin) Gooch, but we’re going to look at Shaw there. I think the reality of Cody (Pope) being back — I mean how much more can you wait? We’ll play with that.
“I think in the short term, it means we’ll see Schofield and Stone rolling a little bit before we figure out where to go there. I think that’s really all it will affect for now. If they’re both full steam and playing well, then we’ve got to decide where we go from there. There are not a lot of parts there. (We will) see how Dallas is doing.”
The last three games, Alabama’s running game has sort of been held in check. Are the opponents doing something scheme-wise or do they just have good players up front? What have they been able to do contain Alabama’s running game?
“It’s a good question. It starts with beating blocks and running to the football and then doing a great job of wrapping up the runners. I’m sure there’s things on the other end where the other team feels like they didn’t do as well too. It’s always who knows? Who knows? I know this: We haven’t stopped the run very well or the pass. That’s something we’re going to have our work cut out for us, as we do every week.”
Is it particularly difficult with a guy like Trent Richardson, because you see in games all the time where he’s hit but he just doesn’t go down.
“I think the reality is — and same thing with (Mark) Ingram — to sit there and put it on one guy. A lot of these, it’s OK, that’s the free guy. Schematically, we put the extra guy down. Boom, they wind it back, you’ve got the free guy.
“To put it on him, you’re fooling yourself. Because more times than not, he’s going to make one guy miss in space. I don’t care how good a tackler you are. Even a good tackler, a really good back – you all have heard me say this – that a good back makes an offensive line. I’ve always felt that way. It’s that age-old debate. But when you have good backs, they make guys miss. Then what happens is, it generates yards and it generates juice. The O-line gets more confident. They play faster and more physical. It’s critical that the other guys get off the blocks, that you minimize the space to make guys miss and then you gang tackle. And if you don’t do that, you’re just asking for a big play.
“A little bit like what happened that first play of the LSU game — take that. We all know we had the extra guy, he’s right there at 3 yards. But there was a lot of air on either side. And boom. When you play good players, you’re going to miss tackles. It happens in the NFL every week when you’re playing these really good players.
“Now, you’ve got to minimize the number of missed tackles. You’ve got play with good technique when you tackle. I think a lot of times people come up there and you can get a little bit starry eyed, so you don’t use good tackling technique. You’ve got to play fast and confident and physical and gang tackle.”
As you look at the SEC East standings, you see every team’s got at least two losses. Does that surprise you? And as badly as things have gone here, is that maybe giving the team a little bit of life?
“If we’re looking at the SEC East standings, we’ve got real problems. We need to be looking at our team and how we can win a football game. What is this, the fifth double-digit blowout prediction that we’re going to play? Is that right? We’re talking about the SEC standings?”
Are you surprised every team has at least two losses?
“I think it’s obviously unique. But it happens. In ’01 (at LSU), we made it to the Dome at 5-3, a three-way tie. So it’s going to happen. It’s cyclical. But your point is right. When you go 6-2, may not get there. And certainly as dominant as Florida has been in recent years, that’s what probably has changed. It’s probably unique to this time of year, isn’t it?”
At this point in the season, do you have any other options with the return game?
“We’re going to stick with Eric (Gordon). Not a lot of options. We could make a change, but Eric has, knock on wood, been really the most dependable day-to-day catcher. You know, he muffed a punt. The kickoff was a technique issue. He’s switching the ball when he shouldn’t be switching the ball and they hit him right when he switched it. Hopefully we’ll work the technique, and he won’t do that again. He’s a freshman. I hate to just throw the guy on the shelf right now, especially given that there’s not an obvious replacement.
“But if we feel like we need to make a change, we’ll make a change. We’ve got Janzen (Jackson) we can always throw back there. Rajion Neal, we put him in the Georgia game. Dropped it, scooped it up one-handed 3 yards deep in the end zone.”
Just the way you coached it?
“Yeah, just how we’ve worked it in practice. You see some stuff out there, now. I’m thinking the same thing you all are: Who’s coaching these guys? And the answer is me. You know, that’s the problem (laughs). We certainly don’t coach that.
“One second note. It’s just hard to go shelf guys when they’re freshmen. I wish I didn’t have to put a freshman out there. What I’m saying is, there hasn’t been a history of that in practice. And he’s gone several games without that, so I hate to. He wasn’t the only that played poorly last week. So we’ll ride him out a little bit more, and I may be saying, ‘Boy, that was stupid,’ or we get through it.”
What impresses you most about Alabama’s defense?
“Well, first of all, it’s nearly impossible to run the ball. I think they’ve gone, how many games without a 100-yard rusher? That isn’t luck. They’ve got some stout guys up front. I mean stout. Thick. They play with great pad level. There’s just not a lot of room in there. And they fly to the ball.
“And then, like they always do, they get you behind the chains and then here comes — affect the quarterback. Ole Miss had what, 40 yards at halftime, 47 yards at halftime? That’s not luck. That’s good defense.”
Did you look at film of the South Carolina game? What did you see that was different about that game that was different than other games that Alabama has played?
“Well, I saw their opponent played a great football game. They really were energized. They broke tackles. They made one-handed catches. They made catches with a guy in perfect position pulling the jerseys. I didn’t see Alabama playing poorly. I saw a team really playing a great game. I saw a back break tackles, like not many backs have done, just like he’s done against everybody. You see how important a guy is like that. You saw it last week how important it is. It takes a real special effort to do what they did.”
You said you were going to work Tyler (Bray) in. Do you have a set plan for that?
“We’ll figure it out. Let’s watch this week of practice and see where we go. But we’re going to play him. We’re going to play him. We’ll play him early, try to play him early. I don’t want to get to halftime and we haven’t. But sometimes you never know how the game goes.”
Obviously stopping their running game is the focus. If you are able to do that, can you talk about the matchups when they try to throw the ball?
“Our matchup against any passing attack has not been good. As long as they’re running routes and throwing the ball, it’s a bad matchup. But we need to play more aggressive, and I’ve made that comment. I feel like we just need to play more aggressive, and if it means we give up some plays, then that’s what we’ve got to do.
“They’ve got a solid pass game. They’ve got all the parts. I think we’ve got to continue to try to put pressure on the quarterback. We’ve made some progress the last couple of weeks at that; getting a little better. That’s the key to any good pass defense: quick pressure on the quarterback. And then we’ve got to play aggressive on the back end. I think we’ll get better at it.”
When you say play aggressive, do you mean the players or the scheme?
“The players. Play more confident and aggressive. When you’re a little nervous and apprehensive, you back out of there. Then they catch a pass and then you’ve got 5 yards of space, you’ve got to get the guy down. When you’re playing aggressive, you’re getting your hands on him. You’re knocking him around. You’re grabbing him a little. And you’re not worried about getting thrown over the top. You’re seeing crosses, you’re coming up there and cutting them. You’re hitting them. It’s just playing aggressive. Challenging the receivers. It’s like being in the yard. Are you going to challenge him or not? When you don’t challenge a good team, and a good quarterback and receiver, and you’re just kind of hoping I’m going to be in the right area and I hope they don’t complete it, you’re going to end up giving up a lot of yards. And that’s what we’ve done.
“We’re going to keep coaching it and get them to play a little bit more aggressive and hope we don’t give up some shots.”
How difficult is to make that transition to be aggressive on Saturday for a guy like Prentiss who can’t hit during the week?
“I think it’s hard to be a good physical tackler, no question. It’s hard to go a week and you don’t have contact and then you’ve got to go into a game that is a collision. It’s 75 snaps of collision. Now, he’s gone two weeks. It’s a little bit of an issue. It’s not what you want. Could you get by with it with a real veteran, aggressive, nasty guy? Yeah. You could probably get by with it.”
How good do you think Julio Jones is?
“He’s good. He’s good. He’s good enough to wear us out.”
Do you see any comparisons between him and A.J. Green?
“They’re all good. They’re all good. I’d take them all.”