Video: Ken Sparks press conference
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn.—Carson-Newman coach Ken Sparks held his weekly press conference Tuesday morning in the Eagle Club room ahead of the Eagles' first South Atlantic Conference showdown against the Catawba College Catawba Indians Saturday in Salisbury, N.C.
The following is a written transcript from the Ken Sparks weekly presser.
Sparks opening remarks: Well, Catawba is a typical Catawba team, especially since Curtis [Walker] has been there, they have depended a whole lot on their defense to win. They got eight starters returning and they are very, very well coached. They have four great linebackers and they depend on them a whole lot. Offensively, the key for them is to not turn the ball over and be sound. They have some guys who can play and a quarterback who can run and throw. That seems to be something that has been a thorn in our side of late because we haven't responded to it as well athletically that we needed to in the first two ballgames. Anyway, Catawba is very sound in the kicking game with a great punter and a great kicker. They are not going to beat themselves and we are going to have to earn what we get. They beat us 14-7 last year because we didn't move the ball very well. We are just going to have to line up and play.
Q1: The quarterback, Sheehan, he is getting good pass protection and hasn't been sacked yet this year against two pretty good defenses. What sticks out to you about their offensive front?
Sparks: They are mobile and a little bit different than they have been in the past as in not being as beefy, but more mobile. Plus, the quarterback is mobile. He's hard to bring down and always finds a crease to squirt through and make something happen. He is a widely veteran and has been doing it for quite some time. They are sound and don't make mistakes. Like I said earlier, they are not going to beat themselves by turning the ball over. We are not getting takeaways like we need to right now. We are very fortunate to be plus-one in the turnover margin right now.
Q2: You have known Curtis Walker for decades now as being a player and now a coach. What makes him so effective as a once player and now a coach?
Sparks: He is a great competitor. He sure enjoys beating Carson-Newman and he has always been well prepared as a player and a coach. He is a motivator. When Curtis shows up, he plays hard if he is playing and he will coach hard if he is coaching. He's a good football coach.
Q3: Defensively, you've talked about the linebackers, but what do they bring to the table?
Sparks: They bring a whole lot of toughness and speed and the ability to make plays. That is what you want your linebackers to do.
Q4: It's rare that you see an opponent maybe fighting for their playoff life this early in the season. How do you express that desperation to your guys knowing Catawba is going to be hungry for that first win?
Sparks: I'm sure Catawba is going to approach Saturday like the first game of the season. It's the first conference game and I know they place a lot of emphasis on conference games. They did last year and they were preseason picked first this season and so I think we will see a whole different motivated football team than what they've been in the first two weeks.
Q5: How well do you think your defensive line played last week in controlling the line of scrimmage?
Sparks: Not very well. We have to get a lot better. We were very fortunate because we travelled with only four defensive tackles. One of them got hurt and another one was playing hurt to start with. They played 70 snaps in that heat and that was a miracle in its self. I really appreciate their toughness in that ballgame.
Q6: When you look at a guy like Dan Gallman, an AFCA Good Works nominee. What does he bring to the culture at Carson-Newman?
Sparks: Dan is a good leader. He is a guy that has been there and done that and has earned respect. Not only with the way that he has played but because of who he is. He is about a month ahead of schedule from his injury, so he will continue to get better as the season goes on. When Dan is in the huddle, we are a better football team, so we are glad to have him.
Q7: You mentioned last year that your offense couldn't move the ball against the Indians. What kind of adjustments have you made for this year against Catawba?
Sparks: We grunt louder [laughs] and try to get a couple of first downs that we didn't last year that were critical for us. We run the option and we weren't reading the option last year. You have to read it. We just didn't have a god ballgame all the way around offensively. We played good enough to win defensively, but offensively, we laid an egg last year in that game.
Q8: Carson Wise didn't have one of his better days on Saturday. He missed a PAT, a field goal and kicked a couple of balls out of bounds. What have you said this week to try and challenge him from that off-game last Saturday?
Sparks: We have to make sure that it doesn't become mental. The worst thing in the world is to let that become 'stinken thinkan' and let that have self-restrictions on yourself in ways that is shouldn't. That's has been No. 1 that we have talked about. No. 2, we are going to change the work schedule a little bit with him this week to see if we can't get some of those kinks out of there. He is kicking the ball so hard that I think that sometimes if you are kicking it a long ways and the degree of off-ness is just a little bit, it will carry off badly. He may have a little bit of an alignment problem at times. We have to get him a little bit more to the right and not to the left. He will work at it and get it straightened out.
Q9: When you look at the wide receivers on paper, they have looked pretty good in the first two weeks. However, there have been some long balls that have just dropped through hands and dropped passes in general. How do you get that group to take that next step?
Sparks: It's a great group of kids and they are fun to coach. They all want to do it and do it right. There were times this last ballgame that they didn't block really well and we had some dropped passes. They ran the wrong pattern two or three times. We have some new people in there and its part of the process of them growing up and getting better—just like our whole ball team is.
Q10: What does a six-hour trip over to Raleigh, N.C. do for team bonding?
Sparks: It has a lot of possibilities because any time that you have to do something besides the regular routine, it has the possibilities of bonding. Getting to know each other is key. We had some interesting things on this trip that I hope won't happen again. We had one bus that had computer service and TV service, and one that had none of it. That is terrible on a six hour trip.
Q11: You look at the spiritual growth, something big happened prior to the SAU game with the baptisms at Mossy Creek. What does that mean to you that several individuals who made that decision regarding their faith walk?
Sparks: Its special and that is from some of their decision that they made during camp and some of the things that the Lord has been convicting them with. He is constantly convicting, the key is if we are spiritually alive enough to know it. It was a great experience to have a bunch of kids baptized. It was the best night of sleep that I had in the last three or four weeks because of the satisfaction of seeing those guys respond that way.