"I think that it is a little sign of progress that our players, our coaches and our fans are upset that we didn't beat the No. 7 team in the country. We certainly had an opportunity to do that. I think our players played extremely hard and kept the faith and kept battling and came back and made a game of it in the second half. We are obviously proud of those guys and what they did but we also want to continue to work and try to get better and eliminate the mistakes that maybe prevented us from winning that football game. To do that will help us go on an win the nest two."
How did you sense your players and fans were upset?
Johnson: "I wouldn't say upset. I think they're upset we didn't win. I don't know if they are upset at us. But they expected to win. I think we had a good crowd. We had people out there cheering our guys on. You see the players and it is easy to figure it out. They expected to win, wanted to win and for the most part played to win."
This is the third SEC game that you have lost despite beating the other team on the stat sheet. Can you put your finger on why that has been?
Johnson: "I think Florida is a pretty good team. I think sometimes the other team forces you into mistakes and into doing things beyond your control. We had a tight end playing tackle. He has been playing tackle for two weeks and we are trying to make a comeback, throw the football almost every play and we have him protecting against one of the best pass rushers in the league. That is not lack of concentration. It is probably a lack of experience. But he was out there battling. They were doing as best as they could."
Kentucky had that big win over Georgia Saturday and your team also beat Georgia. Can you remember the last time that Vanderbilt and Kentucky beat the same SEC East opponent in the same season?
Johnson: "I cannot remember it because I probably wasn't keeping up with it at that time. I don't think I was here. It is obviously unusual. You have to take your hat off to Kentucky. They have done an outstanding job. Coach (Rich) Brooks has done an outstanding job. He has stayed the course and has stayed with his plan. Now, they are winning football games. They have got good things going up there and have done it the old fashioned way – they've worked at it. A lot of people doubted them but they have come through in big fashion."
The games with Kentucky are usually close. What is it going to take to get over the hump and win these close games?
Johnson: "Eliminate mistakes as much as you can. There are going to be mistakes in every game. The winning team makes mistakes but nobody looks at their mistakes because they won. The losing team makes mistakes and everyone says 'that's exactly why you lost.' Well, sometimes it is and sometimes it is not.
"You give yourself the best chance by eliminating, reducing and minimizing mistakes, especially the ones that turn the field over or create a big play for the opposing team. After that, it is just execution. Hopefully your guy is going to make the catch or your guy is going to block the guy, your guy is going to make the tackle. The other team is trying hard to prevent him from doing it. So that is why you play the game. It is a good battle. And we had a good battle this past week and I was proud of our guys for battling."
What have you seen out of (OT) Thomas Welch in terms of his development?
Johnson: "No. 1, we like his mobility. We like his tenacity, too. I mean, Thomas battles. There are guys who have been playing that position for a long, long time. You learn tricks and you learn techniques. He has been doing it for two weeks. I think he did an outstanding job for somebody who been plying it for that long. But that is part of football. You got to get someone in there to play. You have injuries, and you have to replace them. Somebody got in there and Elliot (Hood) went as long as he could. My hat is off to him, too, for going out there and playing hard when he was hurt. Thomas came in and did his very best."
Are you going to go with Elliot (Hood) the next couple of weeks and just let him go as long as he can?
Johnson: "Yeah. I don't think we'll get any quicker turnaround on his injury until the spring if we do anything to keep him out or have an operation to fix it or whatever. I don't think he'll come back any quicker. Elliot wants to play and you just never know how handy those 20 plays will be. He goes out and plays as hard as he can. Those 20 plays are important."
Urban Meyer said Saturday night that Vanderbilt gave his team their toughest battle of the year. What does it mean for the coach of the No. 7 team in the country to say things like that about your team?
Johnson: "It is a great compliment and we certainly appreciate it. I hope he wasn't just saying it because they won a close game. I hope it was evident that our guys played extremely hard. Our guys hit extremely hard. We had four sacks. We outgained them. At times, we weren't making mistakes in the kicking game, we played very, very well. We put pressure on (Chris) Leak that other people haven't been able to do. They didn't run the ball very well. So we did a lot of good stuff. But to beat a team that is as good as Florida, you can't help them out. We helped them out a little too much."
Have you been able to take more chances defensively this year because your defense as a whole is better?
Johnson: "I don't know if we are taking chances. I would say they are calculated risks. And some of them didn't work. We had some third and longs that we didn't get pressure on. We brought pressure and didn't get to him and (Chris) Leak – like (Andre) Woodson – is good enough to where if you give him time to sit back there, he is going to have a chance to get you."
"Coach Fowler and his staff have done a good job of trying to figure out when we can take that calculated risk and our guys have done a good job. Kevin Joyce did an excellent job of rushing the passer. We wanted Jonathan Goff to get more aggressive rushing the passer this year and he busted through there. And, of course, Curtis Gatewood has been doing it all year."
When you look back on the two blocked punts, where did the breakdowns happen?
Johnson: "The first one was just that only one guy saw the guy coming off the edge and he timed it perfectly. He took a running start and went right down the line and right when we snapped the ball he was coming across and we just didn't get out wide enough to pick him off. The second one was right up the middle. We had a blocking breakdown between the center and the right guard. Because of injuries, that was the first time that he was playing the position this year."
Can you see on tape the kind of confidence and momentum that Kentucky has got going right now?
Johnson: "I think I do. I think you can see it in them. They don't mind playing anybody in this league and I think they have confidence in what they are doing offensively and defensively now. Woodson is back there pretty calm and cool in the pocket. They have got some weapons. They have some excellent receivers and their tight end is an excellent receiver. And their backs, even though (Rafael) Little hasn't been playing here lately, have been doing a great job."
Does it continue to amaze you the way that Earl Bennett continues to get open and make plays?
Johnson: "I think it is pretty good schemes. I think the coaches have done a good job of being creative in getting the ball to Earl, and Earl has talent. And we have some other receivers who have talent so you can't just double-team Earl all the time or try to put your best guy on him. George (Smith) caught a touchdown for us the other day, Marlon (White) made some big catches. It is impossible to double-team someone the whole time. So he is going to have his opportunities. And we are still going to have to be creative to do it. And I think our coaching staff has done a great job."
What do you think Kentucky has improved on the most over the past couple of years?
Johnson: "They have settled on a quarterback. I think Andre Woodson has done a fantastic job for them. They are getting more confident on defense, they are not giving up the big plays like they used to. Just good, fundamental football has taken over there and they haven't beaten themselves near as much as they had in the past."
Chris (Nickson) has obviously has been improving every week. What do you see that maybe we don't see that points to his evolution as a quarterback?
Johnson: "Maybe his confidence level and experience. He hadn't started a game until this year. So every time he sees one look or sees a blitz, he says, 'Hey, I'm familiar with that now, I can react to it, I know what to do.' It just helps him out. He gets more familiar and more confident. Believe me, if you are unsure, it is probably the worst thing you can be as a quarterback. He is more sure of himself now, and more sure of the people around him. Really, Chris had one real bad game and that was about it."