JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - Coach Mike Turner spoke with the media Tuesday ahead of Carson-Newman's NCAA Division II playoff game against Lenoir-Rhyne.
"Well it's a privilege and an honor for our kids to be in the NCAA playoffs. It's a great atmosphere to be a part of and to be able to play in the second round of the playoffs – it's special. It's special that we're playing football on Thanksgiving week. We get to be together at a time that a lot of people are with their families and this is their family right now. Our family. And our coaches and their families will be together with our kids on Thanksgiving Day and hopefully having a great time together, being understanding what it is to be grateful, what it is to know you're blessed many times over, to spend some quality time with each other and still have an opportunity to go play a great football team like Lenoir-Rhyne.
On the challenges and advantages of facing a team you've played before in the regular season
"The challenges, we know we have got to go over there and play. They're a great football team; they're 12-0. That says enough about what kind of quality of football team they are. We also know that the last time we were over there we had great expectations, we made some mistakes early and spotted them 16 points. Fought our way back, there was no give up, no quit in those kids. So, we know it's going to be a great challenge, it's going to be a great atmosphere to be a part of and talk to them about, 'Hey, we got to play like we're playing, make sure that we're Carson-Newman and we play like Carson-Newman.' We can't get caught up in anything going around except get caught up in us. That's the main thing, be about us.
On what coach has seen out of senior running back Antonio Wimbush
"All those kids Saturday, told them in front of the whole team that is as great of an example of running backs not being denied. Last Saturday, that whole game, those were kids that were making great plays, they had blocking but they were also making yards after the contact. They refused to get beat and that's a great example of those kids. But, gosh, to see a guy like Antonio have over 200 yards production in a game rushing the football and catching a catch and a throw there, he is what you look for in Carson-Newman running back. He's setting the legacy for himself and for those running backs to come in the future."
On the Lenoir-Rhyne defensive line
"They're big, strong people. They move well to the football. They're very, very sound in their technique. They're attackers, they're going to attack the line of scrimmage the same way we've got to attack it on offense, attack the line of scrimmage, but those guys are solid players, no doubt about it. When you've got the Defensive Player of the Year in that group and two or three, four others around him, they're a solid defensive front and (at the) linebacker level, they're a very solid football team."
On how impressive the LR defense has been without safety Kyle Dugger
"I think that tells you what kind of talent is on that defensive team. Kyle Dugger is an impressive, outstanding football player and has been for years in this league, but those other cats around him, they are good football players, they're very talented and they're like our kids. They've got great expectations of how they're supposed to play."
On the C-N defensive staff and how the defense has performed
"It's been outstanding. To watch those guys, our kids understand that you can't be in a situation where you give them the same look every snap. You've got to create things that they see different so that you've got chances of rushing the passer or blitzing a linebacker and bringing them inside. I told our kids yesterday, the whole defense and the whole offense together. A year ago, two years ago, this football team would have had a hard time finishing that game (against Bowie St.) and this is a great credit to them how they've grown as a football team, how they've grown maturing wise, to be able to say, 'Man, our backs are to the wall."
I gave them the last few minutes of the game, 4:27, and they've got the football and they were driving it and we couldn't get them slowed down and made some big plays. But, we found a way to get an interception. Then, there's a minute or whatever or two something left and we've got the ball at the one-yard line or three-yard line, two something left and we were able to go 30-plus yards right there and pick up two first downs and get in my most favorite offensive formation there is it's called a victory formation. So, a year ago, two years ago, those kids may not have been able to finish, but they did that Saturday because there was a…I'm not going to be denied (mentality), I'm not going to get beat. So, that's growing up."
On how special it was to see Ja'Quan Smith come up with the interception late against Bowie St.
"That's great for Ja'Quan, he's a great young man. He's a solid player for us. He's been one of those guys that does whatever he's got to do. Whatever position he's got to go in, he's going to do that, do it to his best, and to see him make a play. You know, he's a quiet guy, and he made that play and he was excited and you could see what our football team thought about him, how excited they were for him. Great to be in that position to get it stopped. Again, Bowie State, an outstanding football team, no doubt about it. But just the way our kids finished that game, that's playoff worthy and they weren't going to be denied."
On preparing for a playoff atmosphere against LR
"You got to understand, this is the second round and there's 16 teams left. So, there's 16 teams left, everybody else has put the stuff up and you're going to get to play in a game of the magnitude, that's great. But now, remember this, how did you get there? How did you get there. You didn't get there by going around, looking around and counting signs and how many people are in the stands. You got there by your focus, you got there by your heart, you got there by trusting your teammates, your team, and you got there because it was about us. That's the kind of focus that it takes. All these games now, this round, the next round, the next round, all those games, it gets magnified more and more. But you've got to remember, we've been in a playoff mode for the last five weeks probably, or six weeks, so our kids have had to understand that, 'I've got to be focused, I can't let this affect me,' because this is what we're doing as a football team."
On the execution of the throwback screen on Saturday against Bowie St.
"You work during the week and you try to set up a special play by formation. Where you think you've got the best angles, especially on the screen. Who's going to be guy that's (the) contain player, who's going to be leverage player, that type of thing. So, yes, we worked it that way and yes, we have spread it out a couple times and had some success one time or two times, couple times didn't, so to sprint out and throw it back across the grain has always been a good play for us here at Carson-Newman. Tyler (Thackerson) did a great job of getting him (Wimbush) the football and a guy you do want the football in his hands in that kind of situation because Wimbo has run that screen many, many times in his career. A great job of our offensive lineman being down downfield and the key right there was the tight end on the backside of clearing it out and stripping the corner of middle of the field and the rest of the secondary had rolled that way. It's just very well executed, I was proud of them."
On the job Tyler Thackerson has done at quarterback
"Just been very impressive. He's been a steady player and I also talked to him yesterday about, we were playing the team last Saturday that led the country in turnovers (forced) or takeaways and those kinds of things and we took it away twice on our defense and we gave them no turnovers on our offense. That all starts with a quarterback, so I've been very impressed about how he operated the offense. And he knows this offense, he knows the checks and he knows what the play is to get us in the right place and he's a guy that all those kids have great confidence in."