Dan Mullen spent close to 20 minutes with us hacks looking back at Tennessee and looking ahead to this week’s opponent, Middle Tennessee State (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2). And so let’s hit some highlights.
• Injuries: “Nothing new on the injury front. We got out of the last game with bumps and bruises, but really it’s an identical injury report to last week. So the guys that are kind of out are out, and the guys that are in are in! There’s Cedric Jiles, there’s the Hunter Bradleys, all the guys that have been out are still going to be out.”
• On the lift right guard Tobias Smith gives the team when he’s out there: “I mean here’s a guy that didn’t play a whole lot last year, he missed most of the season, didn’t go through spring, was held out of winter conditioning, minimal in summer conditioning, minimal in training camp. And yet still voted a captain by his teammates. It shows the respect he has on the team. So him being in the huddle I think uplifts the play of everybody around him.”
• On tight end Malcolm Johnson‘s highlight-reel catch against Tennessee: “You expect those things from Malcolm. He does have such great ball skills and even in practice you see him make those catches. Some of the easier ones, that’s where I get almost more nervous with some of the easier ones because that’s the focus and getting back in the rhythm. With his injury, too, he’s had a lot of time working hands. You can’t have contact, so that Jugs machine was fired up shooting balls at him since the first day of training camp an awful lot.”
• On whether the MTSU game is a trap game: “Every game is a trap game. We have a trap game this week, a trap game last week and it’ll be a trap game this week. Every game is like that. If you don’t bring your focus in college football today, you’re not going to win.”
• On the importance of winning a shootout versus Tennessee: “We expected that. We came in on Monday and said we’re going to have to score a bunch of points. This team can light up any scoreboard in the country. I still view Tennessee as a Top 25 team because we knew coming in this week we’d have to score points.”
• On whether there’s national championship talk among the team: “It’s out there, but to me I’ve done it enough, we bring up the words ‘SEC championship.’ If we win the SEC West, and we’re fortunate enough, then you have the opportunity to do something like that. I’ve said before, I tell the team, in my coaching career I’ve been undefeated once, and we didn’t get the chance to play for the national title. I have two national championship rings, but my only undefeated season we didn’t get an opportunity to play for it.”