Video: Ken Sparks press conference
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn.—Carson-Newman 38-year football coach Ken Sparks held his weekly press conference Tuesday morning in the Eagle Club room in preparation of Saturday's first road contest at Saint Augustine.
The following is a written transcript from the Ken Sparks press conference.
Sparks opening: It's going to be a long trip, a trip that is a little bit longer than what we are used to on the bus. We will have to have the maturity to handle that and we have to have the maturity to improve in some of the phases of our game from last week. You are supposed to improve a lot form the first ballgame to the second ballgame, but that doesn't always just happen. You can't just go around and talk like it's going to happen, you have to make a plan for it to happen. We have to be better football players. We have to be a better football team and players than we were the first game to take another step in improving. We are playing at team, even though they played one ballgame, they played against a Division I team that was a semi-finalist in the playoff last year, or at least a quarter-finalists. They played against a really good football team and sometimes it's hard to evaluate what they did that as normal and what they are going to differently this week. There is still an awful lot of preparation and unknowns and so that is what we are up against this week.
Q1: What kind of opportunities on these long bus rides is there for fellowship?
Sparks: There is not any question that being together and sharing a common experience, eating together, seeing some sights and lining up for battle, all that is good. That is the best kind of growth there is. Again, there has to be in some ways, coaches and leaders have to manufactory that in some ways to get the most out of it.
Q2: You guys are the most penalized team in the nation [laughs]. What do you from a coaches' perspective to work on that from week one to week two?
Sparks: You have to be really careful with it because you can make it an issue to where you start playing cautious. I'll be honest with you, I'm not sure I know how to coach at times under the rules we have now. A kid has to be cautious if an offensive player is going down to catch the ball and you are going down to make a play on the ball. If you hit the kid above the neck, it's a penalty and you're out of the game. Or, if a running back is running the ball and stumbles forward and the defender is going to make a tackle and you hit him in the head, it's a penalty. That happened at times on Saturday as we hit with our shoulders, but it was above the neck and according to the rules, you're out of the game. Play a coach, and tell me how you are supposed to tell a player how to go about that and to not be aggressive and to not go wide open against a player because they are going low? I don't know how to coach that and some of the other calls we got Saturday, to be honest with you, I don't know. We had at least two completions that were called incomplete, one being a touchdown. We just have to keep doing what we have always done and try to dodge bullets in some ways I guess. There were a whole bunch of penalties like false starts and offside, and a couple of more penalties before the ball was snapped, that could have certainly be prevented. Pre-snap penalties are awful, because they are probably stupid on our behalf. Post-whistle penalties are stupid because that probably means you are not disciplined, but none of ours were that. A few were pre-snap, but no were post-snap. All of our penalties were holding, and I don't know. I don't know.
Q3: You mentions Saint Augustine played a really good team in their opener and that it was kind of difficult to gather information from the contest. What were some of the things you were able to pick up from the film?
Sparks: They are very talented in places. They have some guys who can run and some guys that are huge. Their quarterback is really talented. He accounted for probably about 70 percent of their offense. He can run and throw and keep drives alive. He had capabilities.
Q4: How do you access how the young players on defense faired in their first game?
Sparks: Sometimes they did great and sometimes they failed by not getting lineup right or not covering the right man. We will get better. The mental mistakes are inexcusable and we have to simplify it enough to where they don't have to sit around and think about it and just go and play ball. As coaches, we can sit around and say what they should and shouldn't have done, but it's our job to get them lined up and understanding of what they are supposed to do in order to get it done.
Q5: Noah Suber's first start of his career, how do you think he handled himself under the circumstances?
Sparks: Noah Suber had a good football game. Was it perfect? No. Did he miss some read? Yes. Did he overthrow some receivers? Yes. It was a great opening-game to build on.
Sparks: Don't forget about Antonio Wimbush. So, we have three that can play. Keeping them well is going to be the secret. Boy, they will play hard and give an unbelievable effort. Did they block well? Not all the time. They led some guys run free at times. Did we grade out perfect? No. We missed the veer lane a couple of times. Overall, we don't have to worry about the effort form those three. They will give it.
Q7: You had an extra two days to prepare. Have you guys done anything between games differently during that time?
Sparks: Well, I got our SID out to give an evaluation of our punt protection and he listened to the whole discussion and even volunteered to come off the edge and try to block one, but he didn't give me a conclusion. So, I don't know. [Laughs]
Q8: You talked about punt blocked and kickoff returns. What is the biggest area to address on special teams?
Sparks: Well, we started practice yesterday with the kicking game because it is an emphasis. You have three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams. Offense and defense, you don't know going into the ballgame because there are a lot of variables. The kicking game should be the same every week and you better win that one. It doesn't matter what they do, you better win it because you have prepared for it. To lose the kicking game as bad as we lost it Saturday was distasteful and we have to get better.
Q9: Is there a particular player that sticks out to you from SAU?
Sparks: There are 11 of them that look pretty good to me that can run. They were playing against a team that had some pretty good speed and they matched up well against them so that is pretty scary. Speed may be the most important element on defense. I can't call any names because they are all look pretty good to me. We got to go block some of them.