Every Tuesday Cincinnati head football coach Butch Jones hosts a media luncheon to discuss the previous week and the upcoming opponent. Here is a transcript from Tuesday's luncheon.
Even though the Bearcats did not have a turnover against Austin Peay Butch Jones still was not happy with the late game ball security. (photo credit: Brian Baker/Lacking Focus Photography)
“Thanks everyone for coming out, we must be playing a pretty good opponent this week. Just to recap last week’s game then move on to Tennessee. Obviously a great win to get the season started. A lot of great things happened, but also a lot of things that we need to correct and continue to improve to become a much improved and better football team. When you look at last week’s game, the first thing that comes to mind is turnover margin. That’s been a point of emphasis ever since last January. And, zero turnovers, five takeaways. However, I was not completely pleased with ball security at the end of it. And you say, ‘How can you not be pleased?’When you look at the film I thought there were times that we were sloppy with the football. We teach our players the three musts of ball security. We’ll continue to coach on that each and every day.
“As we continue to go into the season, ball security is at a premium but it continues to grow in importance. We’re able to gain some valuable experience with a lot of our freshmen and some players playing for the first time. You try to simulate game type conditions in practice, but you never really know until you play a game and their adrenaline is flowing a little and everything is happening a little faster. The speed of the game picks up. The blood pressure goes up. We’re able to gain some valuable experience that way. Those are great teaching and learning lessons for these players and it’s a great evaluating tool. As we see with our program, we need to have more depth this year.
“As we move on to Tennessee, our fundamentals have to take a great step forward. Fundamentals and individual techniques need to improve. And as we know, the speed of the game changes. The opponent changes, the level of competition. The speed level, everything now goes to the next level. It’s how we practice, it’s how we prepare, it’s how we gain those valuable reps. And the big thing about developing a football team is it’s one thing to know what you’re doing and your assignment. The next step is why you’re doing it and I think that’s the biggest thing. To say, ‘Hey, I have to have the B gap,’ and ‘Tell me why you have to have the B gap.’ That goes hand in hand with playing great team defense, executing on offense and special teams. Now, understanding what you’re role is, what the scheme is and why you’re doing some of things that you’re doing.
“Tennessee is a very, very good football team. They’re going to present many challenges for us – it’s the first road game of the season, going into an environment likeNeyland with 25 individuals traveling for the first time. A lot of those things are going to be great challenges, being able to focus and the mental conditioning that we talk about. It’s going to be between the lines, it’s not going to be in the stands – letting their fans get into it. It’s not going to be letting ‘Rocky Top’ have a hand in what’s going on. It’s all those things that we talk about – mental conditioning will be at a premium come Saturday at 3:30.
“Offensively, their quarterback is a great player, very light on his feet with a quick release. He can make plays. He’s made plays with three defenders hanging around because of his release. He’s able to get the ball off. Big physical line; I like their backs and talented receivers. And defensively, the back end is one of the strengths of their defensive unit. Up front, they are a typical SEC football team. Again, we have to have great preparation, focus and attention to detail.”
On the importance of turnover margin against Tennessee:
“When you look at turnovers, just around the landscape of college football, it’s a direct indicator of the outcome. Each game is like a new season; each game is a new story. It’s turnovers, eliminating negative yardage plays on offense and field position game. All three of those things go hand in hand with turnovers, eliminating negative yardage and special teams that goes on throughout the game. Fielding the kicks, our kickoff team has to make great strides from Saturday. We missed too many tackles. We did some different things somatically with our punt teams and we weren’t able to go into a game situation and gain live reps. So now, you go into a game and your punt team hasn’t been tested or put under fire. Everyone sees a great kickoff return by Ralph David Abernathy, but we turned a guy loose at the point of attack and he made a guy miss. That’s the mark of sign of a great returner. But, we can’t do that against a team like Tennessee.”
On if a win versus Tennessee could erase last year’s record:
“I don’t think any win can erase. It’s a new season. 4-8 did not meet our expectations; it did not meet our standards. But, I think we learned a lot from it. It helped build a foundation. Our team is a completely different football team. What everyone says that comes back from last year’s team is that the mentality and leadership are different. It’s all about winning. Our foundation was lead, but it’s always a motivation. This game is the most important because it’s the next game. And next week when we play Akron, that will be the most important game. That’s the thing: we can’t get ahead of ourselves. When we lost to Fresno, that was a letdown. When we struggled with Indiana State and lost to South Florida, that comes with mental conditioning and leadership with everyone, not just the players. The support staff stems with me first and staying focused at the task at hand. It’s very rare that a team goes undefeated in all of college football. It’s the teams that can suffer through adversity and preserve. Those are the teams that are usually playing for a championship come December.”
Containing Tennessee Tyler Bray will be a focus point for the Cincinnati defense on Saturday.
On how a win could create buzz in Cincinnati:
“Our program has a lot of buzz. You look at the crowd turnout on a Labor Day weekend. You look at the catwalk we had over 1,200 people in our new tailgate grid. Those are things that we talk about in building a college football program and an affinity for your school. You can’t have fans that waiver year in and year out. I love the term ‘all in’. We’re going to stick through it through thick and through thin. We had great support from the fans that came out Saturday. It was extremely exciting and I think we have great buzz. And we’ll continue to grow the program and go from there.”
On sophomore defensive back Deven Drane:
“He did a pretty good job – we try to simulate kickoffs, kickoff return. It’s hard to simulate game speed. And that’s why we’ve started practice with a live kick off versus kickoff return. The thing is making game-like decisions and choices. To up the tempo, we’ve spent a lot of investment in our return game. For a first game, I thought Deven did some great things, but he still needs to improve on understanding where the leakage is going to come from within that return.”
On his concerns for having 25 new players traveling:
“They’ve handled their business exceptionally well up to this point in time. There are different things that go into the course of a season. When you play at home, you have a lot of distractions from families coming in to tickets – distractions and clutter that that can bring. I thought that we handled that exceptionally well last week. Now it’s a different thing going on the road and a lot of time you more focus because you’re away. But it’s going into a hostile environment and not a lot of people have won on the road at Neyland Stadium. So, it’ll be a learning experience, but the great thing is we have a lot of players who have been through this before. They’ve done a great job of mentoring our younger players. You could really see that on the sideline Saturday night. When our twos and threes are on the field, our ones are coaching them as hard as our coaches are. The team is pretty special right now with the chemistry that we have going.”
On the credibility playing against a team like Tennessee:
“When you go in and play a team like Tennessee that has great tradition, great backing and great fan support, it adds credibility to what you’re doing. We can’t get ahead of ourselves. They’re a very talented football team with a lot of skill players. They play with a great toughness. It’s going to be a great challenge. Our players are looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to it because it’s a great measuring stick for where we need to grow as a program. When you play a program like Tennessee, there is a lot of credibility behind that name.”
On the difference between playing an SEC opponent versus any other conference opponent:
“The biggest thing that jumps out is the overall speed of the game – not just the skill positions. It’s the defensive line, it’s the linebackers, it’s even the offensive line. In the BIG EAST, we have some very talented football teams and players. I think there’s probably more depth from the speed standpoint of when you look at an SEC team, especially an upper-tier team like Tennessee.”
On whether it is a concern playing against a higher speed opponent:
“It is a concern. That’s why we make our practices extremely demanding. We do a lot of one-on-ones because we’re creating habits and training ourselves. You can be creating poor habits or good habits. Nothing simulates game speed reps. Our scout teams have done a great job, but we try to work a lot of one-on-ones and elevate each other’s game just with the speed level. It’s even more challenging in the special team’s game.”
On whether the upcoming game against Tennessee could be considered the biggest of his career at UC:
“I don’t really look at it in terms of that. Not to sound like coach-speak, but it’s really taking one week at a time. All of our efforts go into preparing for that opponent. I don’t ever sit and say, ‘this is the biggest game.’ It’s the biggest game because it’s the next one. We have goals and aspirations for this football program and it’s the next team on our schedule and that’s the way we approach things and that’s the way I expect the players to approach it as well.”
On whether South Florida’s upset of Notre Dame changes outsider’s opinions of the league:
“The BIG EAST might be the most competitive it’s been in the history of this great conference. I think it speaks volumes about our conference – our conference was 8-0 last week. It heightens everyone’s awareness of the BIG EAST to be able to go on the road and get a win. Make no mistake about it – South Florida is an extremely talented football team.”
On going into a stadium like Neyland:
“That’s part of the mental conditioning. We have a number of coaches who have played there before. We have two coaches who have spent over five years of coaching in the SEC a piece. They’ve been there a number of times. It’s trying to prepare your team to play the best they can possibly play and have zero distractions. If you’re dialed in and focused, that should become a non-issue.”
On how he thinks the players will react to playing at Neyland Stadium: “You do know them, but you never really know them until they’re in those type of situations. This will be a great measuring stick for us to see exactly where we’re at. Each team has its own identity and personality. To see our leadership and go into this kind of venue – we have 25 individuals going into this venue for the first time. How’s Ralph David Abernathy going to respond when he runs out there for the kickoff return? Those are some of the uncertainties and those usually come with the first three games of the year. You’re still trying to figure it out. When we go on the road, this is on-the-job learning right away for a lot of these young players.”
On how he feels about ‘guarantee’ games:
“I’ve been on both ends of it. What I’ve learned, I talked about this last week during Austin Peay preparation, is that you can never take any opponents for granted. That’s why you play the games. Football is an odd shape, it can bounce mysterious ways. You see that throughout the course of all the years of upsets. Being on the end of being the favorite, you never take anything for granted. That’s why you play the games. On the other side, when you’re the underdog, you relish that opportunity because you know if you get a win, that makes your program. I show a great respect for Austin Peay. They’re coached well. They’ll win some football games this year. You have to focus on the task at hand each and every week.”
On how the media affects the hype going into game day:
“As much as we talk about one game at a time and going in and being focused, I think in today’s society of media, everything is out there. Our kids feel it at times. It’s amazing how last year at BIG EAST media day, everyone wanted to talk to (senior quarterback) Zach (Collaros) and (senior linebacker) JK (Schaffer) and then you go this year and no one wants to talk to you. It’s a game of, not what have you done for me lately, but what can you do for me next. Our players understand that. We have to focus on that task at hand and that’s playing a very talented Tennessee football team. If you start thinking about winning and what that can do for us, that becomes a distraction. They have really good football players, so we have to think of how we’re going to be able to create a pass rush, how we’re going to run the football, how we’re going to be able to contain their explosive returners. You have to focus on the game and understand that. All the other details, we’ll let the media play that out. The biggest thing is we have to be a disciplined football team. We have to take care of the football and have to be error-free on special teams. If we do that, we’ll see what happens at he end of the game.”