Countdown to Kickoff
Coach Mike Shula Press Conference: Tennessee Game


Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Coach Mike Shula
Coach Mike Shula

Tennessee Game Press Conference
Opening Comments & First Five Questions Transcript


"It's a big week for our players, a big week especially for our seniors; a huge rivalry. I'm excited to be back and to be a part of it. It's been a rivalry, as y'all know better than I do, that's been very streaky. It's been a game where the visiting team has always played well. Those are all the things that we've thought about over for the last 48 hours getting ready for Tennessee. We have our players coming in today. I know they are looking forward to this game and getting back on track and putting in the past what's in the past and moving forward."

The past two SEC games, y'all have obviously gotten off to a slow start both offensively and defensively. Is that almost an attitude approach or how do you explain that and how do you deal with it this week?

"I think it has something to do with attitude. I think we've just got to go out there with a mindset that we want to get off to a good start. One thing we want to make sure and be careful of is, all the sudden, let's say something happens where we don't get off to a good start. Now, we can't have the attitude of, `here we go again' and then fall behind and put ourselves into a hole which we did last week. It was a hole too big to dig out of. I think that it's a little bit of an attitude, it's a little bit of a mindset but the main thing is we've got to focus in on our things. Our players need to be feeling real good when the ball is kicked off Saturday and not worry about making mistakes, not worrying about anything else other than doing their job the best way they know how and going out and having fun."

Talk about some of the problems Casey Clausen can bring to your defense.

"Probably the number one thing is experience. I think he's got a good feel for their offense even though I think at times he's struggled. He's accurate. He's usually going to the right place at the right time. He's got good receivers that can go up there, if he gets it in an area, they're going to go find a way to catch it. I think anytime you play a veteran quarterback so to speak, when he comes in on the road he's going to do a good job. You've got to make sure you're sound fundamentally on defense and the same thing fitting in the right gaps and things like that because if  you're not, he's going to take advantage of that. And you'll see them on tape, they do some audibling and he'll change plays based on what he sees defensively."

Mike, when things have the potential to spiral down like they are right now this season, do you spend time maybe talking to some of the seniors or some of the leaders on this team to sort of get your finger on what the team is thinking, what the players are thinking and how they are feeling?

"Yes, we've talked to our seniors. Each week is basically a new season, so the main thing we talked about Saturday on the bus ride home was, `hey, we've got to get this one past us after we get our corrections and move on.' And we don't use words like `spiraling down' or things like that."

Mike, can you talk about the improvement in Bo Freeland in the last two weeks and how much more secure are you in those situations now?

"Am I, as a coach, because of Bo? Well, I feel great really in what he's done in the last two weeks. He's practiced well the last three weeks actually.  We've seen it all on Saturday, the last couple of weeks. Hopefully, again, we won't have to use him that much. This week will be interesting because we're going up against the punter who is probably the best in the nation, if not the best in the nation, in every aspect of punting. Distance, hang time, net average, and, probably most importantly is the way he hangs the ball up inside the 20 and can position the ball and pin, as an offense, pin the offense back up against their own goal line. So field position is going to be a big key. One of it is going to be because of the special teams and because of that we have to put a big emphasis not only on that but on protecting the football and making sure we don't do things to lose field position and give them a chance to start on their short field."

Are you concerned about your team's confidence level at this point?

"No, not really. I think there's a difference, kind of a fine line, between confidence and just going out there with an attitude that we're going to find a way to win a football game. I think that if something negative happens early in the game--obviously we want to get off to a good start, we're going to put a lot of emphasis on that---but the game lasts for 60 minutes. If we're out there and we're up two touchdowns in the first quarter, then we've still got to play just like if we're down two touchdowns. We've been in both those situations. We've got to get off to a good start and then finish a game and keep our poise regardless of the circumstances. I think at times we've done that very well this year. But last week we didn't do it as well."