Joker Phillips Weekly Press Conference Coverage
Nov. 7, 2011
Head coach Joker Phillips
COACH PHILLIPS: First the injury report. Ridge Wilson has been cleared to play. Now we just got to get his range of motion back and his strength back. If so, he will be able to go this Saturday. That will be day-to-day, trying to get his range of motion and his strength back.
(Mister) Cobble and (Donte) Rumph look better today with their ankles. Looks more like Wednesday before those two guys will practice.
(Matt) Roark has a foot sprain similar to CoShik's from last week. He will be Wednesday, Thursday, similar to CoShik last week. Hope we get the same results we got from CoShik.
(E.J.) Fields has a hip pointer. His is day-to-day.
(Morgan) Newton is a lot better this week than he was last week. We'll see what he can do tomorrow.
(Raymond) Sanders will practice tomorrow. We'll see how he holds up.
Another huge challenge, this Vanderbilt team has made some tremendous improvement and turnaround this season. They're coming off three very close losses to Florida, Arkansas and Georgia. Had a chance in all three games. (Jordan) Rodgers has come in and done a great job. He's a dual-threat guy, threw for 297 yards last week against Florida, rushed for 277 yards this year. Has a nice receiving corps. (Jordan) Matthews is averaging 19 yards a catch. Tailback is averaging seven yards a catch, (Zac) Stacy.
Defensively is where you heard about them first early in the season. They were playing really good, strong defense, taking away the ball. They're second in the league in takeaways with 23. They have not given the ball away. They still have a plus-three turnover margin, which is fourth in the league. They're getting sacks, interceptions. Third in the league in sacks, second in the league in interceptions.
They're playing and winning the way we draw it up to win, which is rush the ball, stop the run, and takeaway. Doing a really good job. Again, a huge challenge for us but a heck of an opportunity to try to win an SEC game on the road.
Q. Everybody says this isn't Vanderbilt's normal team. What do you think that means?
COACH PHILLIPS: I don't know. They've always played well. Just been a hair from winning games, similar to what they're doing this year. Playing with a lot of excitement, a lot of emotions. Proud of the way Coach (James) Franklin has handled the team. They've done a good job down there. All he does is elevate our league. Made it a tough challenge for all of us in this league.
Q. You say you're proud of Coach Franklin. What's your relationship?
COACH PHILLIPS: He and I go back. We go back a ways. We had similar situations. Situation at Maryland was the same as mine here. We've communicated in the past. Didn't work out there. Got a chance to go to Vanderbilt, come in our league. He's done an outstanding job.
Q. Some of your players talked about holding together during this rough patch. Was there ever a time you were concerned?
COACH PHILLIPS: No, I've never been concerned. What we do is we always look at the next day after we've had a tough (game), we try to look our kids in the eyes, sit down, talk to them, find out where they're at with everything. They've all been on board every time we've talked to them.
Q. The defensive guys talked about the positives they had because the offense was able to put up some numbers.
COACH PHILLIPS: It definitely helps when offensively you can keep those guys off the field. We've had some situations where they've had some long drives. They have to go back in. I think that's really tough for any defense.
Again, we thought we would be a lot better statistically. I think we're a lot better on defense, but we thought we'd be a lot better statistically. A lot of that has to do with them having to play so much and having to go back on the field sometimes after three-and-out, sometimes after one-and-out. I think it's definitely hurt them.
They've played hard. We have two really dynamic players. I don't remember us having two as dynamic as Winston (Guy) and Danny (Trevathan). Now they're starting to bring some other guys with them. Ridge Wilson has played outstanding, Ronnie Sneed has played outstanding, Collins Ukwu came back. Actually last week was his first week back. Gave us some quality snaps at the defensive end. Those two inside have played really well in Cobble and Rumph.
We're excited about watching those guys play. The thing we have to do is keep them fresh. The way to keep them fresh is keep your offense on the field.
Q. (Question concerning the threat of Rodgers.)
COACH PHILLIPS: Really concerned. We've had to face this kind of guy the last four weeks really, a guy that could run the zone read, run some option, get on the perimeter, also a dual guy that can throw the football. He probably throws the football better than the other dual guys we've seen. (He) Threw almost 300 yards against the Florida defense. He's done a really good job. He's definitely a guy you have to be concerned with.
Q. Saturday you kept going to the deep ball a little bit, fade route. Did you think eventually they're going to hit on one? He missed several or you might have scored 40 or 50 points.
COACH PHILLIPS: I don't know if it was quite that many.
The thing with the deep ball, you hit a couple of those, you hit two or three of them, you can be easily up 21 points, score 21 points in a hurry with the deep ball.
We missed on them. But we were oh-so-close in the first half. We came in the locker room in the second half and just said that we got to keep going at them if they're going to play them as tight as they played us. Got a couple opportunities to get behind them, made the plays. Those things really got our offense going, by making those big plays.
Q. What is about the relationship between Max (Smith) and Roark?
COACH PHILLIPS: Max throws to the open receiver. La'Rod King was the guy that was getting open in our first read early in the season. He was way ahead of everybody in catching the ball. Now one thing we're doing is we're going through our reads, we have more crossing routes in our patterns. Matt is coming open.
The way these guys played us the last week, they played us to give us the inside fade, so we ran more inside fades. Who is inside? Matt Roark. Once they took away the inside fade, we had an opportunity to run the fade to the outside. La'Rod got a chance to catch the ball.
I don't think it's anything to do with him zeroing in on one receiver. The quarterback, if you do that, you get yourself in trouble because they take that guy away and now it's really hard to get to your second and third read.
The thing that you do see some teams doing is making that Julio Jones, A. J. Green, their first read, okay, but I think it's hard for a quarterback to just zero in on one wide receiver.
Q. re: Brian Adams
COACH PHILLIPS: He's done better. Again, we need him. We do. He and Gene McCaskill, the way Roark and King are playing, Gene McCaskill and Adams could make this receiving corps complete where you could throw four of them on the field and watch people try to cover them.
They're all big. Gene is probably a little smaller than those other guys but probably our best route runner when healthy. He's starting to get there. We need Adams. We need him to continue to come. He's slowly but surely getting to be the guy that we thought he could be. Injuries have hurt a lot of that. I think in the South Carolina game, he got injured in warmups, tweaked his ankle. He's got to stay healthy, continue to come and give us another threat at the wide receiver position.
Q. What do you know about Vanderbilt?
COACH PHILLIPS: You heard all along about how good they were on defense. Every week you'd check the statistics and they were one of the top teams in our league, top teams in takeaways. But they got some weapons on offense, especially with Rodgers and Matthews, Stacy at the runningback, offensive line.
Their offensive line is one tough group of kids that get in there and fight and scratch, try to keep your quarterback clean, try to open up running lanes. It will be a battle between their offensive line and our defensive line.
COACH PHILLIPS: Morgan has been great. He's been trying to help Max there. They are friends. He kind of took Max under his wing when he first got here in December, when he came in for those five practices. (I’m) Amazed how close they got in a short period of time.
Morgan has been the same way in talking to him on the sideline. That's when I see it, is during the game, how he's communicating with Max.
Morgan is an unselfish kid. The only thing he wants is he wants this football team to do well and he wants Max to do well. I'm proud that he put out that tweet. Usually not into them, but I'm proud that he did. I need to start following it.
Q. What is your philosophy about not losing your job because of injuries?
COACH PHILLIPS: If a guy performs at the level that Max performed at, I think you have to go with who has the hot hand. Right now Max Smith has the hot hand.
So, it's one of those (things) that's easy to say you don't lose your job because of injury. But when a coach is put in that situation, the guy comes in and performs like he performed, you got to make a decision. The decision is that Max has the hot hand. We have to stay with him.
Q. What has impressed he you most about Max handling the situation?
COACH PHILLIPS: He stayed levelheaded. He's a guy that when he steps in the huddle, now you're just watching his confidence, watching him grow. He's a guy that stands in there. Our offensive line knows where he is. He's not getting happy feet like some young quarterbacks do. He's been really poised. The other thing is just how he has been seeing the field, seeing what's going on.
Q. How important would it be for the program to go to another bowl game?
COACH PHILLIPS: Very important. It would be very important. It would be huge, especially from how we played early in the season. It would be really huge. That's one of our goals. We set our goals high. As those things fall, you got to regroup, reset your goals. One of other goals is to make sure we can get this thing into a sixth straight bowl game.
Q. How big is Saturday then?
COACH PHILLIPS: All of them are big, every one of them. Every one of them now. The second part of the season, the second season we talked about, they all are big.
Q. Do you ever get surprised by anything Danny Trevathan does?
COACH PHILLIPS: No. I do follow Danny on Twitter. I'm surprised by how inspirational he is with his tweets. He's always a positive guy. He's always trying to pick all the other guys up, trying to make his followers feel good. I've also got to know him. That's the one thing I'm surprised, he allows you to get to know him that well. Early when he first got here, he was one of those guys that was hard to get to know.
But on the field, no. The guy, he's a pro. He's a pro. He comes to work. He rolls his sleeves up, he goes into the meetings, he pays attention, he's coaching the other kids up now. Those are the things that we asked him to do. We knew he was a leader by the way he went about his business with this game. But now we asked him to be a leader vocally and he's picked that up.
Special teams-wise, he's one of our leading tackles on special teams also. That's not always a popular deal with starters. Starters usually want to use that as their break. But Danny has done a good job on all of our cover teams. We try to give him a break on our return teams. He wants to return kicks. Looking at the way he's returned some of those interceptions, he probably could do it, too. But we need him to play those defensive snaps and we need him to play those coverage snaps for us.
Q. What did you see in him during the recruiting process?
COACH PHILLIPS: Well, Danny was really one of those guys that wasn't talked about. When we went through our recruiting weekends (looking at the) recruiting board, he wasn't talked about a lot. He came to our campus as a 190-pound guy. Had a good look in his eyes. His film, an undersized guy that ran around, made plays, ran the ball well, did all those things.
If you can remember, he didn't really play much as a freshman. He played some on special teams. His sophomore year he really didn't play much because we were in nickel, had three linebackers, Micah (Johnson) and Sam (Maxwell) were the other two. We kept those two in on the nickel situation. Danny, the third linebacker, would come out, we'd put in a secondary guy. He didn't really play much then. The following year, which was last year, he got an opportunity to play every snap and kind of took off.
Again, every year he went about his business. Never complained about not being a guy that played every snap. Again, just continued to go about his business, doing all the right things. Guy is going to graduate, could graduate in December. Will probably happen in the spring. I think he was kind of trying to hold off on taking a class. That's for him to decide. That's what he decided he wanted to do so he could stay around and train.
He's a guy that's been a pro around here. He's the model when we talk about being a pro. The guy takes his business serious, takes his play serious, as you can see.
Q. Do you think he is getting shortchanged with some of these awards?
COACH PHILLIPS: I'm glad they did it. One of the kids was saying this as I was walking by. He was upset because he was taken off (the Butkus Award list). All he's done is had 34 tackles in the last two games, two interceptions, tackles for loss, he's leading our defense the way we expected him to lead it.
Q. Your thoughts on Missouri?
COACH PHILLIPS: Another quality university, quality program. We're happy to have those guys. Does nothing but beef up the SEC.
Q. (re: big plays)
COACH PHILLIPS: That's the thing that we have not done very well on defense, is stopping the big plays. We've given up a lot of X plays. Gave up six last week. Offensively we matched that. It was 6-6 in X plays.
The other good thing is their X plays, we were able to rally, get them on the ground, bow our necks and get them stopped. Their big plays were not touchdowns. Our big plays were touchdowns.
We definitely have to make sure we keep people in front of us, get them on the ground, make 'em drive. Last week Ole Miss had seven drives they had to go 80 plus (yards). Seven of their 13 I think they had. That becomes hard to score, harder to score, unless you have a big play. Like I say, we gave up a couple but were able to rally and keep them to a field goal. It's big for us to stop those.
Q. South Carolina's AD is pushing to have nine conference games once Missouri joins. Do you have an opinion about that?
COACH PHILLIPS: No. Our schedule right now, if you look on our board, one (team) on our schedule. I'm not worried about the future schedule, for sure.
Q. Last year you got frustrated visibly at times with Winston Guy. How has that turnaround been for him?
COACH PHILLIPS: That's been huge for him and us. Winston is one of the faster playing guys on our defense. He's a guy that, if you watched him in high school, one thing he was is a really good blitzer coming off the edge. He was a really good tackler in a small area. He was a guy that could cover the backside of the backfield. He could handle tight end at the point of attack.
It was just a natural fit for him to go there (to the hybrid safety/linebacker position). When Coach Minter came in, the thing we wanted to do was we wanted to allow guys like freshman Danny Trevathan, sophomore Danny Trevathan to stay on the football field. We don't want to take those guys off the field just because of a set that some offense is running. That plays right into the hands of the Winston type of guys, body types, that they can stay on the field, continue to play. The heavy sets, they can continue to play in the spread sets also.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
COACH PHILLIPS: Thank you, guys.
#46 Ronnie Sneed, LB
On playing Vanderbilt…
“They can hurt us in both the pass and runs. I believe that is Aaron Rodgers’ brother playing (quarterback). I saw that they switched quarterbacks. He (Rodgers) can throw it and he is pretty athletic so he runs the ball really well. They have good backs and a physical offensive line. I feel like it is going to give us a good challenge this week and we just have to have a good week of preparations.”
On the difference between this team and previous Vanderbilt teams…
“This year they are playing everyone close. Florida beat them by five at Florida. It is going to be a difficult game and we have to come and play these guys as we were suiting up like we were playing LSU or South Carolina. So it is definitely going to be a challenge.”
On this game being the critical part of the season…
“Both teams are going to be fighting and scratching to get everything that they can get to win this game. So I think that’s what’s going to make it a really good match-up.”
#21 Winston Guy Jr., S
On what it takes and took to get the locker room motivated…
“The main focus is that everybody has to stick together. We have to put the extra work after practice as well as in practice. The Nutter Center is open for everybody today so people can put in time that the coaches don’t have time for in the morning. Everybody is just so focused and keyed in on what they need to do. I feel like the defense played probably the best game the whole season. We might have gave up a couple of ‘X’ plays but a lot of us stepped up in big plays to cause turnovers and get off the field in the third down. So we just have to go in and watch film and correct a lot of things and try not to get a lot of ‘X’ plays. Vanderbilt is a very good team. They beat Ole Miss as well as we did. They had a chance to beat Florida. This is a quality team. They run a lot of sweeps and they have a running quarterback.”
On Vanderbilt’s improvement…
“I’m pretty sure it is something that the coach or the players have wanted to do. They are totally different. We have been watching a lot of film, myself included. They have a good running back and a quarterback that can run and pass so we have to respect both of (those). They have a good defense as well, they have playmakers on both sides so we have to respect that as well. We just have to go out there and put in as much work in as we did last week.”
#42, Nick Melillo, TE
On the focus of the team …
“Every single week the next game is the most important game of the season. I honestly think it’s just about competing and that’s what we’re doing right now … It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, it’s the biggest game of the season.”
On the team earning its first SEC win vs. Ole Miss …
“Winning our first SEC game feels great. I can honestly say every person out there, on the sidelines and on the field, was having a blast. We were really out there having fun.”