Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson discussed his new starting quarterback, play calling at Vanderbilt and more with the media on Tuesday night. Here’s a full transcript of what he said:
On how Drew Barker has responded to being named the starter: "He’s been good. He’s had a lot of energy, and he’s excited about the opportunity."
On what Barker has improved since the competition in fall camp: "I mean, we’ll see. I mean, we will, but I think that overall he makes good decisions, he makes quick decisions, gets the ball out of his hands. So, hopefully – looking for more of just a spark really. We’ve got to inject some confidence back into the group."
On what he’s seen from the team since the Vanderbilt loss: "Kids are pretty resilient. I’m not going to lie: probably a little more resilient than me. They move on. Of course, losses like that hurt, hurt more than most. They probably move on a little quicker than I do, to be honest with you. So, they’ll be fine."
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On what he would do differently on the goal-line situations at Vanderbilt: "Well, I mean, you know, the goal-line situations, there were two things that really I would do different. The pass on second down – they were all run play calls, but we threw the ball twice where we shouldn’t have. Really, that’s the two I would do different. Everything else really had a chance to score. It was just all about execution and hitting it hard. But, those two were bad, and so ultimately I’ve got to do a better job of coaching those situations, and I will."
On if the plays were changed at the line of scrimmage: "No. A lot of stuff down there is just run/pass. So you call a run, and you can throw it if you see the leverage you like and not throw it if you don’t see the leverage you like. I have to do a better job of teaching that leverage that we like. Bottom line. Does that make sense?"
On what exactly he needs to teach differently: "Well, we don’t want to throw post routes when guy’s inside leverage and we don’t want to throw fade routes when a guy’s outside leverage. That’s about as simple as I can make it. So, basically both of those throws were that. So, I’ve just got to do a better job of communicating that and coaching that."
On how he feels about the recent performances: "I mean, I think we’ve been against some pretty good defenses lately, and I think that at one point in the season we were a top-five red-zone offense. That was about three games ago, where we’ve played three pretty good defenses. I think Vanderiblt is No. 4 in the nation in red-zone defense. I think they were four before the game, so I’m sure that hasn’t changed. So, that’s not an excuse. We’ve got to score when we get down to the 1-yard line. That’s the bottom line. We’re going to make a strong emphasis of that, we’re going to do a few things different and we’re going to have a better plan.
"We’re going to coach better, we’re going to play harder, but ultimately there are about four plays in that game that give it a black eye. Really. Overall, we didn’t play that bad. I know people probably don’t want to hear that, don’t want to believe that or whatever, but there’s about four plays in that game that if you take those four plays away we probably win 30-0. But you can’t take those plays away, and ultimately we failed on those four plays and that failure cost us the game. Bottom line. I can’t sugarcoat it. It is what it is. I’m not naïve. We got to do better in those situations. We moved the ball as good as anybody did against them all year. We got the ball down there more than anybody did. We just didn’t score when we got it close. There were a couple situations where I thought we could have scored and we didn’t, and so we’ve just got to do a better job in those situations."
On what happened on Barker’s pick six: "He just triggered it a little quick. He could throw to the underneath guy at that time, and if he wants to throw the bender guy he’s just got to let him clear for a second. He just triggered it a little too quick."
On how much winning the last two games could change things: "Well, the best medicine is this game is winning, and we haven’t won in a while. That’s probably why everybody feels like they do. So, ultimately, to answer the question, yeah, it would do a lot better than the alternative. Right? So, you’ve got to take it week to week. That one’s a frustrating one, no doubt, because that falls directly on me and on us. So, we had about four or five plays that cost us dearly and I wish that I could take them back, but I can’t."
On what Charles Walker brings to the table: "He’s got great energy. I mean, the kid is a tough kid. He’s got very reliable hands. I mean, he’s had a wrist injury for the most part of the year, so he’s had to wear that brace or whatever. But a really tough kid. Tough-minded kid. Good energy. Just a good kid to be around."
On Stoops saying he wants to see Jojo Kemp in short-yardage situations: "He’s just a big, physical guy. He’s a big, physical guy that’s done well in those situations. Part of our game plan in those situations Saturday was to really go fast when we got down there, because when they get lined up they’re pretty good. So, when we got down there a lot of the times I was just trying to tempo run. It just so happens that when you tempo run you can’t sub. Probably an error on my part. I probably should have slowed it down and subbed, but going into the game just watching those guys play goal-line defense, whenever you let them settle in they’re pretty good. So I was just trying to catch them off guard and punch it in. Just so happened that Boom was the guy that ran it down there. If he gets another yard on the long one – that’s what I told him at the end: ‘You know, you can run that all the way if you want to. Would save me a lot of heartache.’ Ultimately, we have to have a better plan down there, and that falls directly on me."
On if switching quarterbacks can have any effect on the drop problem: "No. You’ve just got to make plays. We’ve got to make plays. We’ve just got to go out there and play loose and play free and not play uptight and make those plays. Bottom line."
On if he wants to do anything differently on first downs: "That’s a tough question, because, I mean, there’s times we take shots on first downs. And when you take shots, you get in a second-and-10 and the game changes a little if you don’t hit it. So you’ve got to be pretty calculated in what you do. There’s times on first down where I’m just trying to get a drive going. So really depends on the flow of the game and what the defense is doing, to be honest with you. There’s times – you take the start of the game, I was just trying to put the ball in play and get first downs, and we got five, we got four and then we got a first down. And there’s times where ultimately you see things and you want to take shots. I mean, you’ve got to take shots. That was part of our process going into the game: We wanted to attack. So, when you attack and miss, what is it? Second and 10. That’s why you’ve got to be calculated with that.
Then you’ve got to have a good second-and-10 game plan, which to be honest with you, those two downs -- we were pretty effective on those two downs. We got in decent third-down situations. We were just 1 of 6 on third-and-short. Really, if you get those, we’re over 50 percent on third down. You should get those. We didn’t. I think that’s just an overlying theme of the whole game: We were bad on short yardage. So, that’s ultimately a mentality. That’s ultimately a plan. So, we have to do better."
On if that mentality can improve in a game against a non-conference foe like Charlotte: "I hope so. Yeah, I think we’ve just got to stress it and have that mentality no matter who we go against really. I mean, typically things that you stress you get as coaches. Obviously it’s something we’re going to stress."
On if he changes game plan at all for Barker: "Not really, no. They’re not different enough to change. Does that make sense? It’s not like they have two widely different skill sets. I just watch the defense we’re going against and try to attack it. Ultimately and this is the case with every quarterback I’ve had, throughout the course of the week of game planning and practicing, if there’s things they feel uncomfortable with, they usually tell me, ‘Look, Coach, I don’t like that.’ And that will happen. That typically happens for at least one or two plays for every week."
On if he’s ironed those things out with Barker yet: "No because the game plan’s not in place. Today was the first practice, so we have probably about 70 percent of it in place, but all of it’s not in place. I typically have those conversations on Thursday and Friday because that’s when -- Thursdays is more of a walk through of the script, so when we meet, it’s, ‘Look, man, is there anything we feel uncomfortable with?’ Especially in critical situations, I want him to feel comfortable in third down situations and red zone and score zone situations. If he doesn’t feel comfortable, we’ll definitely -- it’s not about me feeling comfortable, you know that. I’ve said that a million times."
On dealing with first start for a QB are concerns: "Just making sure he’s comfortable. And he doesn’t have an issue with that. He was calm Saturday when he got in there. He’s a calm kid. I’m not worried at all by his demeanor. I’m really not. Get ready for the game and plan, get a game plan in place and go execute. Do better on short yardage."
On how Towles has been: "He’s been awesome. Been awesome. Even in the course of the game when we put Drew in there, that kid -- Patrick’s a great kid -- got great character and it was no doubt in my mind that if that happened that he’d be 100 percent supportive and he has been. He’s been good."