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Dan Mullen met with the media on Monday afternoon to discuss what went wrong in the fourth quarter against South Carolina, the young skill-position players on offense, how the coaches grade the film each week, and more.
Here are the highlights.
- It was a great win last week, and he thanked the fans for creating an "unbelievable atmosphere" given the circumstances. He thinks they made some improvements from the first game but also made some critical errors such as the turnovers. Defensively, they didn't do a good job of getting off the field.
- For the privacy of the players with COVID-19 lingering, he will only disclose injuries if they're longer term ones. He says offensive lineman Ethan White and defensive back Ethan Pouncey should be available after the next two weeks.
- They tackled "significantly better" and had better effort on defense against South Carolina. They did a great job on third down, but it became a four-down game late in the third quarter. He thinks they need to do a better job of starting strong and finishing well. They've done a pretty good job in the middle part of the games defensively. More than a third of South Carolina’s total yards came after they went up 38-14. It was disappointing that they didn't finish on either side of the ball and cruised to the finish line. He thinks that killer instinct comes with game experience. You can't just go through the motions like you do in practice sometimes. It will be addressed in practice this week for every player on the team.
- Mullen said Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher does a great job on offense. He's innovative and puts his guys in positions to have success. He fits his offense to his players' strengths. A&M has a veteran quarterback, explosive skill players, the best defensive front they've seen so far, and veteran linebackers. "They are a legit football team." He thinks they did a good job of competing against Alabama if you take out some explosive plays.
- They’ll always play to the strengths of their players. Their goal is to be 50-50 every week, but they'll adjust based on how the game plays out. He thinks they've been efficient in the run game, but they've been so good at throwing the ball that they've called more passing plays.
- The young skill players on offense are making plays, he said. With COVID-19 and a 10-game conference schedule, you've got to have more guys ready than usual. When you look at the total number of reps after the game, it's very similar to last year’s receiving corps. Those guys have earned the right to get snaps, and that helps the program as a whole.
- He was asked about sometimes letting the opponent move the ball a little bit and use up the clock when they’re up big late in games. He said when you're down two scores, you have to make sure that you give yourself enough time to get the second score but not move so fast that you prevent yourself from getting the first score. The last two games, they've been on the other end of that. They want to get off the field quickly, but they also don't want to be so aggressive that they give up a quick score. There's a fine balance there. It was annoying to not get the offense on the field in the fourth quarter, but it also won them the game, which is their main goal.
- Redshirt freshman receiver Trent Whittemore graded out as a champion. The position coaches grade the film, and you either get an S if you did the right thing or a minus if you did something wrong. You can also get a double-positive or a double-negative. They assign a numerical value to every play, and anyone who grades out at 80 percent or above is declared a champion for the week.
- Mullen said he spends more time with the defense than the offense on the practice field, but he obviously spends more time with the offense in the meeting room. Their goal is to win the game, and the offensive and defensive coaches work together to formulate their game plan. If they're playing a high-tempo team, for example, they might try to play ball-control more on offense. If they're playing a great defense, they might try to be more aggressive on defense and force big plays.
- Quarterback Kyle Trask does a good job of looking at the matchups and anticipating where the throw is going to go without assuming anything before making his reads. That's why he's the quarterback. They do, however, have some get-it-tos that are designed to go to specific players. They try to create advantageous matchups for whoever is in the game. Trask's job is to take that game plan and manage it.
- Zachary Carter was named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week on Monday. Mullen said he's bought into the program as much as or more than any other defensive lineman they've had here. He's also done a good job of self-evaluating and knowing what type of player he is. He's not a twitchy edge guy or a big interior guy, but they’re able to create mismatches with him by moving him around.
- He thinks the offensive tackles have done a pretty good job so far, but he thinks they still have some things to get better at. When you throw the ball as much as they do, they get put on an island more, and they've handled it well. Having veterans there helps.
- Experience at certain positions and staff continuity has helped through the pandemic. On the flip side, so many of their routines are different, which has put everybody out of their comfort zones. That's been the hardest thing.