Q&A: Shannon Dawson previews Georgia

SHANNON DAWSON
On what stood out on the holding penalties against Tennessee: “I don’t know. It’s a good question. Penalties are penalties, gotta coach them better. We had a lot of them, they didn’t have many.”

On what worked in the power run game against Tennessee: “We were running the ball well. Everything that we schemed in our running game was well. I thought we blocked it well, I thought we ran the ball well. You always go back and second guess things, it’s easy to do. At the beginning of the game, just studying the film—nobody has moved the ball on them early. There were a couple of teams that didn’t move it past the 50 until the third quarter. I knew they were going to be hard to move the ball on and hard to move the ball early. I was going out there with the mindset of trying to create some diversion really to get some chunk yards at the beginning. It would’ve happened, we really had one guy here and there, different guys, but it was really more one guy not doing his job at the beginning of the two three-and-outs. We had two three-and-outs, it just so happens they were the first two drives of the game.

“Once we got on track, we had a 15 play drive then we started moving the ball. Obviously I’ll go back and look at every game and there’s things I wish I wouldn’t have done and there’s things i wish I would’ve done earlier. That’s 100 percent true in every game I’ve ever coached. It’s going to be the same way Tuesday when we talk about the game Saturday.”

On the approach he takes to players when trying to get them to execute: “I stay consistent. We don’t change much in our scheme and we don’t change much in our approach. To me, there’s flaws in changing your approach. I stay the course. The people that panic in my opinion are the people that don’t do very well. Me, I want to stay the course and push forward and keep doing the things we’re doing. Obviously you reevaluate week to week on what you’re doing good. But there’s not a lot of things that we’re doing that we’re really doing that bad. We’re just making some critical errors at times that kill us. It’s nothing schematically. When we ran laser and threw the interception that set up the touchdown that really put it a little bit—then we went down and scored and made it a 10 point game. That deal right there, if we wait a split second longer, it’s a 30 or 40, maybe a touchdown. That’s just something we’ve gotta work on. It’s just simple execution. It’s frustrating at times but to have little things like that happen that affect the whole mentality of the sideline is tough. You’re going to make great plays in the game and you’re going to make errors in the game. We have to minimize those errors, especially in critical situations.”

On what he’s seeing from Mikel Horton that are better: “He’s just playing better to be honest with you. He’s like a lot of our guys that are young guys, at times they’re inconsistent. Probably the same with me. It’s just harder when you’re younger. Hopefully he plays like that. If he plays like that we’re a better football team.”

On if he calls plays any different with Horton instead of Boom Williams:Nah. We just call it, let them play. Put the ball in play.”

On if there’s things either of them do better than the other:Well, there’s things that everybody does better. There aren’t 11 robots out there. But schematically, we call the same play. It might look different when Boom’s in there than (when) Mikel’s in there, but we’re just trying to create gaps in the defense and hand it to them, or get it to them in space. What we do with it after we hand it to them, it’s typically God-given ability, then that’s going to look a little different, obviously.”

On how important players-only meetings are for morale in his experience:I think it’s a good thing. Our kids care. I don’t think it’s bad or good. I think at times everybody, including myself, needs to be set straight. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having meetings and having leaders stand up and voice their opinion, not just on a team but in every sector of society. That probably works to the benefit of the group.”

On what Georgia looks like to him defensively:About the same as everybody else. (Laughs) You’ve been following us. Doesn’t get any easier. They’re big, they’re long, they’re fast, they rush the passer real good. What else? That’s about it.”

On if they do anything different to prepare the team for a noon kickoff:I do have one thing to say to you. OK? We got a 40-yard run called back. Can I add that to the stats? (Laughter) (Dawson fist bumps reporter, laughs) Nah. I mean, you just got to get their engines going earlier. There’s going to be things that we do different on the last two days of the week, no doubt. You got to get their clock pushed back a little bit. I was just playing with you.”

On the progression of the offensive line over the season:Thought it’s been good. I’m just gonna tell you: I knew that pass protection was going to be tough versus those guys. And it’s not just when we play ’em; it’s when every other team plays them. You can go watch. Pass protection in this league is not the easiest thing. I have to do a better job of protecting those guys. I thought Saturday that I did a poor job of putting them in situations to be successful. I got to reevaluate my approach in certain things and I got to do better. It has nothing to do really with them or their effort and their want-to. Those guys have been battling. We got a group of guys that we’re playing with at every position that’s played a lot of snaps, so to sit here to think that the season don’t wear on you, you’re a little bit naive. But I have to do a better job of putting them in situations of getting in manageable situations where there’s a little more evenness to the calls, where you can run or pass. When you get in situations where the defensive ends know you’re going to throw the football, you’re typically gonna – I don’t care what league you’re playing in. It’s a problem in today’s football game. I have to do a better job. In my opinion we were in too many third and longs on Saturday. That’s the bottom line. We have to get in some more manageable third down situations. We can’t be effective in those situations. I can do better with that. In the run game, I’ll be honest with you, we targeted the and blocked them in the run game as good as anyone did all year. I went back and watched it the last two days and just reevaluating what we’re doing good and what we’re doing bad and I went back and watched their defense against other people just to see what we could do different and I thought our o-line in the run game targeted them and opened up bigger holes than had been opened all year. I thought they did a great job in that.”

On if anything else stood out from his evaluation: “About our team? Yeah. A lot of that is about game planning and you don’t want me to tell you the game plan, do you?”

On if there are guys playing well for them right now that are going unnoticed because team isn’t winning: “Well, I mean, there are guys who are making plays and guys that, I think we’re dropping a few too many balls in critical situations. Windows are tight and at times we make hard catches look really easy and I think at some point those plays have to become routine for us to be a really good football team. It’s not just on them. There’s ups and downs at every position, at every position group. There’s times we look like a really good football team and there’s times when we look like we haven’t practiced, so I can’t answer that one.”

On more designed run plays and/or scrambles for Towles: “Yeah, no doubt. I like for him to extend plays and you watch football today and typically the teams that are really good on offense, when it breaks down, you can extend the play a little bit. He has the ability to do that and he does it at times. I think that if you look at — how many sacks did we give up Saturday, do y’all know off the top of your head? — it was a couple I know. But he saved us a couple times, too. He saved us and got the first down. Saved us and got the first down, so I mean, the more he can do that, the better. His overall comfort level with everything, he’ll start to do that kind of thing more, the more comfortable he gets.”

On worries about wear and tear on Garrett Johnson taking as many hits as he takes in middle of field: “Well, I worry about a lot of things. That’s one of them. But that kid, he’s playing his heart out. That position’s a tough position because he takes a lot of hits, but he makes a lot of big plays for us, too. I worry about him; we try to rest him. We try to do everything we can do to get him fresh for the game, but he’s no different than guys like Toth and other guys. They’re banged up, too. It’s the way football is at this time of year. There’s not many teams that aren’t. So you’ve got to push through. You can use it as an excuse or plow forward and go to work. The theme is everybody’s beat up. That’s the way life is.”

On third down issues and if it’s about being better on first and second down or something else: “Yeah, at times. I think at times, especially when you get to third-and-long, you can typically revert back to what are you doing at third-and-long? Typically you want to do better on first and second down. So back and forth. We’ve had games where we were really good on third down. Even in the Mississippi State game, we were 50 percent on third down, so that was the worst we were on third down. I think it was just a product a combination of me and a combination of Tennessee’s defense being pretty good in those situations. Really I think their pass rush was really good, their coverage was really good, and I think that probably my plan wasn’t the best, especially on third-and-long. But I don’t know many offensive coordinators that ever have a great plan on third-and-long. You know? It’s just third-and-long is something that if you get 25 percent on third-and-long or 30 percent that’s really, really good. So if you’re in third-and-long eight times and you get it two or three, that’s pretty good. That’s at every level. That’s just the way it is. That’s why third-and-medium and third-and-short are a little easier to convert. So, you want to get in those situations more. The more you get in third-and-long, obviously the more you’re going to be punting.”

On if he felt OK about third-and-short situations: “We were just 0 for 1 on third-and-short, but we went for it on fourth down and got it. So, really if you look at our third-down percentage I think we were 2 of something, 15 or 14, but we made three or four fourth downs. So a lot of them were kind of skewed because there are times on third down where Coach Stoops tells me, ‘You’ve got two plays.’ So I’m not necessarily trying to get it on third down. I’m just trying to get it close enough to try to get it on fourth down. Then on fourth down we were like 80 percent, so we were a little better if you look at the whole picture. But still we’re not good enough. We were just in those long-distance situations too much to me. I think that comes back on me, and I’ve got to do a better job of getting us in better situations.”

On if fourth-down percentage says anything about team’s sense of urgency: “I don’t know. I guess you could say that, but I think if you look at just the game in general the fact that we have a 15-play drive, the fact that we fight back — in both of the last two games when we come out from halftime we have a lot of things going against us and we still managed to move the ball. If you look at last week, I think it was 24-14 at halftime. Is that right? 21-14 or something? Then we come out, and I think the first drive we get like 20 or 30 yards, that’s when I think we throw the laser that gets intercepted. Right? I think so. Just trying to remember. Then the next drive we go 90 yards and score. If you substitute those two drives it’s a three-point game. You know? That’s how easy games get flipped. You make a critical mistake right there, and then it flips the game and gives them the ball on the 1-yard line. Then consistently after the first two drives of the game, which we went three-and-out – then the next five drives we move the ball every time. So, why is that? Well, I don’t know.

“You look at games and every game goes like that. Why did Green Bay have 70 yards passing the other night? Well, Aaron Rodgers is pretty good, so I can’t answer that other than the fact that there’s times when execution is really good and there’s times when it’s really bad and some of it has to do with the team that’s lining up across from you. So, you know, ultimately we strive for a level of consistency where we move the ball every time. That’s what we want. I think my point with that whole spiel was if you look at everything together we moved the ball decent at times then we shot ourselves in the foot, whether it be penalties or whether it be critical errors. We’ve got to clean up those to be successful, to keep the game close.”

About Jennifer Smith

Jen Smith has been a sports writer at the Herald-Leader since 2000, covering everything from high school sports to auto racing to various University of Kentucky sports. A native of Louisville and a graduate of the University of Kentucky (much to the dismay of her Louisville graduate mother and Indiana graduate father), Jen now resides in downtown Lexington with her husband and two young sons. You can follow her on Twitter @jenheraldleader or send her an email at jsmith3@herald-leader.com.

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