JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman football coach Mike Turner chats about their homecoming win against Mars Hill and the upcoming contest against Virginia Lynchburg to finish the three-game homestand.
Opening Statement:When the schedule came out for this year and we started working last winter we were really scrambling to get games. Obviously by putting four on the road out of the first five. We needed a home game and I was very grateful for the people at Virginia Lynchburg that they agreed to come down here and play because I felt like our kids needed another chance to play at home. They're a football team that's very dangerous in places, they've got speed and skilled talent on offense. On defense, we just watched them against Charleston Southern and going into five minutes or so left in the second quarter it was only ten to nothing. So, they're a dangerous football team. They beat Fort Valley State at Fort Valley State, but this week it's about us, Carson-Newman. It's about us making sure we're getting better. We've got things offensively, defensively and on special teams that we need to clean up. Three or four items on each side of it that we need to get better at. It's not about who we play, it's about how we play and how well we try to get better as we go along in the season.
Q1: This year they're 3-2 against division II and III competition, what's that say about the turnaround there?
Well that's a turnaround, and of course Bobby's done a great job. And Kyle, their athletic director is a good man and wants good things to happen for that university. Those kids are battling, no question, they're road warriors. About all of their games are on the road to play so you've got to respect what they're doing and what they've got to accomplish in a short period of time.
Q2: You talk about some of the more dynamic players such as DeAndre Johnson. A two-way player, averaging near 11 yards a carry, a couple rushing touchdowns, he's also got a couple interceptions. How rare is it to see that kind of talent doing good things on both sides of the ball?
Well I don't know that you look around college football you see that anywhere. That is very very rare. That means that's a great competitor, he's a football player and wants to play. Most kids these days are all special in their area and those kinds of things, that's a very unique situation.
Q3: You look internally, the ground game has morphed into a juggernaut these past three weeks. You've won three straight games, you're averaging 44 points and 450 yards rushing on that tilt. What has caused the ground game to be as effective as it has been?
I think some maturity, the number one thing it's about is execution. We are executing better and playing like we're a little bit older football team. And we've got some kids I think that have made up their mind that they're going to go out and get it done regardless. And that's one of the things we talked about Saturday, about finishing. You know we won a football game by 22 points and that's a great win, but I didn't feel like we finished well. We left some points out there on the field offensively, we let them get a touchdown or two defensively that they shouldn't have gotten. Not to take it away from them, because they played great and hard and they've got some players. But I don't think we finished the way we probably should have if we want to continue to keep improving and being a great football team.
Q4: Sherron Jackson has really started to come into his own, do you feel like he's grasping the offense at a higher level at this stage in his sophomore campaign?
Oh, I think he is. I think Sherron has grown as a young man, he's got a long way to go to keep learning what to do but gosh he's an exciting player when he gets the ball in his hands. What's got him on the field more and more is that he's learned to be a better blocker in the role that he has if he doesn't have the ball in his hands. We're excited about those kids at running back. You feel like you want six that can go out and play that you shouldn't see any drop-off in the quality of that and those guys are getting it done.
Q5: You've seen two quarterbacks rotate in and out the past two weeks, what have you learned about Derrick and Tyler working together?
I haven't learned anything because I've watched that go along as we went, that's totally not a surprise. I think what kids see on our football team is that those two guys provide a spark when they come in. Those are guys that both come in and are willing to sacrifice, willing to do what's asked of them, but also willing and ready to make plays. When you look at that position, and you talk about running backs and wanting to keep fresh legs in the game, same idea at quarterback. Both of those guys are very explosive football players and we're blessed to have them.
Q6: You've talked about the offensive line over the years and again you've made some shuffling there. How have you seen this group get better over the last couple weeks?
They are getting better. There's a growing part of it, you can be big and this and that and be an offensive lineman, but you've got to grow into the part that you can do it consistently. Five times out of seven is not good enough, it's not acceptable. There's never going to be an offensive lineman that grades 100%, I've played it, I've coached it, that's an impossible thing. We've got to keep those guys growing with a hunger about them. And there's so many little things, we tell the kids there's a lot of things I want to teach you, but I can't teach you till you grasp the big things. And we're getting closer to grasping the big things so that we can start talking about if you do this at the same time there's a chance to be successful.
Q7: Des is trying to make a play on punt return the other day and ended up giving the ball to Mars Hill but otherwise the special teams the last couple weeks has been pretty solid. Do you feel like that unit is kind of turning the table from where they were a few weeks ago?
Yeah and thank goodness they have. They're a very dependable group and I can understand Des was with the wind a little bit that probably knocked it down some and tried to make a play. He's an aggressive kid and believes he can catch it. So, you're not going to coach him out of being aggressive, the thing we've always been on him about is don't let the dadgum ball hit the ground. I've never seen it hit the ground where it didn't cost you 15 or 20 yards or more. If you had it in retrospect would you say back off and let it go? Yeah… but he kept trying to make a play so I'm excited about that.
Q8: Defensively fairly solid over all but one player kind of changed the game for them. How much do you take into account what Craig Rucker is able to do individually verses some adjustments that need to be made on that side of the ball?
Well we had kids in position, but you've got a guy like him, you can't be a half a step or half a hand out of position because once he gets the football that's where the scary part is. We missed probably a couple picks by just a hand. If we don't knock it down, he catches it and goes 40 yards. We had a coverage bust that gave them the long touchdown but gosh that's a kid that you better know where he is every snap. You better know exactly by scouting report of what he can do and what they're trying to get done out of those positions. Like I said we had leverage, we had positions, that just goes a lot of credit to him he makes a lot of plays.
Q9: Yeah, he catches 8 passes for 200 yards but they also targeted him 17 times, does that make you feel better make you feel worse?
No, it doesn't make you feel better *laughs*. And probably if the team had a do over they would've targeted him 25 or 30 times which may happen again next year. Gosh you've got a kid like that you better be getting the ball in his hand.
Q10: Overall how do you feel about your defense at this point in the year?
Oh, I feel great about our defense, I feel confident in them and what they're doing. We've got some guys playing up which is what you want to see. We've got some guys that make other people better around them and we've got some guys that we've challenged and said "hey, you're at this level now, raise your game." This is the eighth game of the year and we should be upping our level in certain places. They've done a great job, been very solid, I know they were wanting more turnovers and that's what you're always looking for. Hopefully we can start getting that done.
You bring guys in and watch them on video when recruiting and see what they can do and project them to be in certain places. And Zach has done a great job, he got hurt there a little bit early in the season, so we had Alonzo come in because gosh he was on the scout team and we couldn't block him. So, we moved him up, he elevated himself. So, he's done a great job of being a player and those two guys have made a difference.