Video: Ken Sparks press conference
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn.—Carson-Newman football coach Ken Sparks participated in his weekly press conference Tuesday morning ahead of Saturday's South Atlantic Conference game against Mars Hill at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
The following is a written transcript of the Ken Sparks press conference.
Sparks opening remarks: Mars Hill is always an interesting team to play. They have speed and I think they are about to get a couple of guys back to play us. They have a good deal of trick plays and we will see some of them. They do some things defensively very well as far as technique, so they will play us tough. It is kind of one of them neighborhood games if you want to call it that. They are so close to us geographically. And I believe they are still a Baptist school, or at least they used to be. Tim [Clifton] is the second oldest couch in the league in longevity. Coach Barnett, the defensive coordinator, has been there for years. So, we know a lot about each other. I think it is an important game to them and I know its an important game to us. It will be a good challenge for us.
Q1: What sticks out to you about the receivers?
Sparks: Speed. They are very talented and get the ball in space. The odds of getting them corralled when they have the ball in space are not as great as some other people because they run so well. They can run out of trouble and they have given us a fit every year. They have scored points against us every year. They are probably watching film and licking their chops the way we are playing defense right now and thinking they can probably score some more against us. We have to be better tacklers than we have been. There's no question about that.
Q2: Catawba was able to convert a number of third and long distance against the defense on Saturday. Do you owe it entirely to missed tackles?
Sparks: Not entirely. We still had some mental breakdowns lining up in some places. Our football sense at times is not every good and that comes from playing some young players who haven't gotten a lot of playing time before. We started a freshman linebacker, two freshman at defensive tackles, a freshman at corner and another redshirt freshman at linebacker. That is a bunch of new people on the field and even though we know they have talent, we are making freshman mistakes. The speed of the game is faster than what it was in high school and we are just not getting the job done.
Q3: Mars Hill has a transfer at quarterback. What makes him tick under center?
Sparks: He has an exceptional arm and still runs well. If they give him time to throw, he is very, very dangerous. And speed again. He has speed and the running back has speed. They have speed and they have always had some nasty offensive lineman that like to get after people. They have the ingredients for a good offense.
Q4: You mentions Tim Clifton earlier. This will be the 24th time that you guys have butted heads on the gridiron. What sticks out to you about him as a head coach?
Sparks: He is very competitive. He is a little ole bulldog that likes to get after people. He never says that he can't do it. He is a trickster and they will always come with something we haven't seen before that they save for Carson-Newman. That goes for both sides of the ball as well. They are a tough team to prepare for.
Q5: You've had two losses in the first three weeks of the season. Where do you see the team's mentality at this point?
Sparks: I don't know. Ask me on Saturday after the game. I should have a better outlook then. I hope we are growing up physically and mentally. All of that starts in the heart and we have some kids with good hearts. I think we have some that are trying to figure that out too. You never know until you get under the fire exactly how someone will react. We have some that have melted under the fire and we have some that we are trying to figure out how to get them through it. We have a few that need to get all the way in or all the way out. That's the only way I know how to do it in order to be fair to everybody. We are still working on that.
Q6: Five turnovers for the offense. What do you do to try and tighten that up in practice?
Sparks: It's a big word. It's called execution. That eliminates turnovers. There were some times Saturday that we didn't execute. It didn't get knocked lose by a hard tackle except for maybe one time. The rest of the time were just mental mistakes.
Q7: You mentioned how young you are on defense, but Lane Bloom seems to be a guy that has stepped up over the course of the first few weeks. What have you seen from him?
Sparks: He has some physical tools. He can run but he needs more experience. He didn't play a whole lot last year. Consequently, this past Saturday he made a fundamental mistake by not looking at the right place and a guy ran right by him. Lane is going to get better. He is a quality guy and everything you dream about coaching. That is what gives us hope in so many situations is that we have some guys that are going to get better.
Q8: What's it take to create some more turnovers defensively?
Sparks: One of the great things about a defense is that if you aren't tackling really well or lining up correctly, you can at least get a couple of turnovers. We aren't doing either right now. But it's all about of the inexperienced and youth package at times but we still aren't tackling the way we need to. Usually you aren't going to have turnovers if you aren't tackling well. We just need to continue to work at it.
Q9: Defensively for Mars Hill, they have a good linebacker anchoring that unit. What sticks out to you about him?
Sparks: He has played a lot and been there a long time. He is an experienced guy and has lined up a lot against us. He is their leader on defense and makes them go in a lot of ways.
Q10: You never want to think about the playoffs this early in the season, but with another loss, it's a mountain to climb to get in. How do you treat that with the team and the staff as a whole three weeks in?
Sparks: We haven't talked about that a whole lot except to say this. Right now, everything is still alive for us. But we have to change our ways a little bit. The thing we are concentrating on right now and today is to not waste a minute. We have to make the days of practice count. Right now in our situation, if we think about tomorrow we will be in trouble because we need to focus on today.