A Q&A with Coach Stock at the halfway point
Defense has been biggest surpriseOctober 13, 2006 · MT Media Relations
You are 3-3 at the halfway point of the season and 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference. What is your overall assessment through the first half of the season? I think we are pretty much on track of where we need to be. In our three losses we were competitive in two of those games (Maryland, Louisville) and the other one (Oklahoma) we were never in the game. A lot of that had to do with who we were playing coupled with how poor we played. In our wins, we are holding serve in conference play with a big opening win over FIU, a non-conference victory at home against old rival Tennessee Tech, and then a second league victory on the road at North Texas. I thought we played pretty well at North Texas and did some nice things on both sides of the ball. Overall, we are where we had hoped to be but I don't think this is where I thought we would be at this point. I would say we are ahead of schedule at the halfway point of the season.
Much has been made of you being a first-year head coach. Halfway through year number one, what differences have you personally seen between being an assistant and a head coach? To be honest, I have not felt overwhelmed at any capacity. I said when I got here I was well prepared and ready for the challenge. After 10 months on the job I feel comfortable and really enjoy what I am doing. Dealing with the media is one of the biggest changes because as an assistant you might talk to those guys once every two weeks about your position where now it is something I do on a daily basis. As an assistant you also just coached your position, but as a head coach you are responsible for everything, including travel, what movie the team will watch on the road, what time you leave for each function, along with all the decisions you have to make in a game. But again, I have not been overwhelmed.
What have been the biggest surprises to this point? I think the biggest surprise has been the consistency of our defense. We have not given up a lot of big plays except in the Louisville game we gave up a few but overall we have kept everything in front of us. We have played well and created turnovers which is always a big key for a defense. Individually, Damon Nickson has played well and is a better football player than I thought he was coming into the season. Our front on defense (Erik Walden, Trevor Jenkins, Tavares Jones, and Sean Mosley) have played above expectations. Offensively, Desmond Gee has opened some eyes and showed what the future may hold. Also, Jonathan Grigsby has played better after six games than I ever thought he would. He is by far the biggest surprise on offense and has made some nice plays for us. Jonathan plays with great effort and I have really been impressed with him the first part of the season.
Are there any areas where you are disappointed or felt you might be better at this point in the season? I am disappointed in our receiver play but I did not expect a whole lot coming in. I told them the other day they don't have to make the one-handed, miraculous catch each time, just make the catch and move the chains. The tight ends have also been disappointing this year. They have not blocked well in the running game and have been very inconsistent overall. If we are going to be successful over the next six games, those two positions have to improve.
Despite losing three starters and the league's Defensive Player of the Year from 2005, your defensive line is putting up even better numbers in 2006. What do you attribute this to? That group had a great offseason and they worked extremely hard in the summer and improved their strength and their conditioning which has allowed them to play at a high level each game. Coach (Les) Herrin is the best I have ever been around and they are really buying into his teaching philosophy, his coaching technique, and the fundamentals he demands. It is a good combination of Coach Herrin's leadership and the players playing at a very high energy level.
Middle Tennessee's defense has consistently been ranked in the Top 30 all season despite playing games against nationally-ranked Oklahoma, Louisville, and at Maryland. Has this unit exceeded expectations to this point? When you lose the guys up front like we did from a year ago and have to move a guy like Tavares Jones from linebacker to putting his hand on the ground I think you go into it not expecting very much. Tavares is really like a freshman, Trevor Jenkins played sparingly as a true freshman, Sean Mosley is undersized, and Erik Walden is just a good football player. For these guys to step up and control the line of scrimmage like they have this year and enable the linebackers to make plays has been a huge surprise. J.K. Sabb, Justin Rainey, and Marcus Brandon have made a lot of plays and are three of our top four tacklers which is a good sign of the way our front has played. In the secondary, I thought that should be our strength entering the season because of the experience but because of some injuries I think that group is just now starting to come around.
Where is the offense at the halfway point of the season and are you pleased with their progress? We are making some progress offensively. The big thing is that we don't have a lot of speed on offense which limits our big play capabilities. At receiver, we are playing a lot of guys who have never played before and they are learning from play-to-play. I just think we have to create more big plays on offense and I believe we need to incorporate Eugene Gross, Desmond Gee, and DeMarco McNair more in the passing game because they are all capable of making a big play. I think we have done a great job of minimizing turnovers and penalties so that we are not behind the chains. We are getting there. What we are is what we are. We will not change a whole lot until we add more speed.
The kicking game always plays a huge role in a college football game. You and your staff have put in extra time in that area. What are your impressions of the kicking game? We have put a major emphasis on the kicking game this year and for the most part I believe we have done a good job. We had a big punt in the FIU game that influenced the final results in that game and Damon Nickson's return for a touchdown against Louisville was a big play for us. I think we are covering kicks well right now and for the most part we are doing a nice job. We had a return for a score against us at Oklahoma, we dropped a punt at Maryland, and we had a blocked punt against Tennessee Tech. Hopefully, we have put those bad plays behind us because we will not be able to afford any breakdowns over these next six games if we expect to be successful.
One of Middle Tennessee's most glaring turnarounds has been a decrease in penalties and turnovers, which lends to discipline and decision making. These have been sticking points with you from day one. Are you pleased with the results to date? I think we are averaging about 4.5 penalties per game and I have never been on a team at any time with that few of penalties and penalty yards per game. It just goes back to discipline. If you do the fundamentals on how you are coached and you take pride in not making foolish penalties like hitting someone out of bounds or blocking them in the back, then you can take a major step toward winning a football game. I am very pleased with where we are in the penalty department and I like the way we have forced turnovers. Offensively, other than the Oklahoma game, we have done a great job of protecting the football.
You had a late start with this recruiting class and could only sign 13 players. Nearly half of those signees are playing a big role on this team. Can you assess their progress at the halfway point? It looks like this will really turn out to be a solid group of players for Middle Tennessee. Desmond Gee has made the biggest impact because he brings us a lot of speed and big-play potential. Danny Carmichael is playing a lot now on special teams and at linebacker, along with Cam Robinson. Phillip Tanner started out on offense and was going to play a lot for us at running back but we got beat up in the secondary and we had to move him. He will come back in the spring as a running back. Alvin Ingle was playing a lot before he got hurt and I believe he is going to be a really fine player for us down the road. The quarterbacks we signed are doing well and I am excited about their future and offensive lineman Jamal Lewis has a chance to really help this football team. I just hope right now we can stay healthy enough along the line so we can redshirt him. Considering our late start and the limited numbers we could sign, I think it will go down as a very solid class.
Home attendance in on the verge of setting a single-season record and the students have been incredible with their support during the first three home games. Can you talk about the attendance? I said from the beginning, if people just give us a chance and let us show them what we have and how we play the game that they would be impressed and want to come back. I think the students have been phenomenal the first three games and we are very appreciative of their support. Now, we have to continue nurturing them along and encourage them to bring just one more friend for our next two home games. They need to understand how important they are to us. We can not survive without them and their support. Hopefully, they will say they need us and that we help make their weekend a success.
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