Aug. 27, 2012
Opening statement: Welcome back everybody for another start to an exciting football season. Games are the place to be in the fall when you're in Austin, Texas. You can feel the buzz across not only the city, but the entire state and country about college football starting. It makes so many people happy. It gets a lot of conversations stirred up. It also helps the economy of Austin when we bring 101,000-plus people back in for a ballgame on the weekend.
We are 13-1 in openers. We have won 12 straight. We feel like we have tremendous momentum coming out of the Holiday Bowl going into this weekend's ballgame. There are a few changes for the fans to start the weekend. There's a new thing called "Stadium Stampede" with our team. Smokey the Cannon will be shot at 4:30 p.m. Our team will be pulling up around 5:00 p.m. up at the corner of 23rd and Robert Dedman Drive - that's just west of the LBJ fountain. So we want all the fans together at that point. The Texas Cheerleaders will be there. The Longhorn Band will be there.
Our players will pull up and they will get out of the bus. Instead of walking straight into the stadium they will walk down the hill, hopefully to a lot of fans, and they will walk through the Tom & Cinda Hicks [North Gate] at the north end of the stadium and go across the field to get ready to go. Players actually rehearsed that on Thursday night at our game scrimmage. They were very, very excited about the change, but we would like to have a great crowd there.
There's also a new video to bring the team on to the field through the smoke right before the ballgame. It's named "It's a New Day." It captures a lot of our history and our tradition, but is also modernized. We showed it to the players last night and they were jumping up and down screaming and gave it a standing ovation. So they certainly approved, and we want all the fans in the stadium to see it.
We also have a special moment that I want all the fans to see and applaud for. Coach [Darrell K.] Royal and Miss Edith Royal will be the honorary captains this week. They will walk on to the field for the coin toss before the game. I would like to have everybody in their seats and have the stadium as loud for Coach and Edith and as we have ever had.
As far as an injury report, right now, [junior PK/P] Anthony Fera is ruled out of the game for Saturday. But the medical staff thinks everyone else should be available to play in the game.
In our install situational scrimmage we accomplished exactly what we wanted. We felt like last Thursday night was game simulation. We did everything from the pregame meal to the walk to the game starting at 7:06 p.m., just like the game is going to start Saturday night.
We also met with Big 12 officials to go over all the new rules and get their thoughts and interpretations since spring [because] they have been meeting a lot and working very hard. So we feel like we have a better feel of how they are going to call some of the new rules than we did last time we met with them.
We included the kicking game into the scrimmage on Thursday night because you have to get all your substitutions ready. We felt like that that worked well. And at the same time, we had a very physical scrimmage and didn't have any injuries. [Sophomore QB] David Ash looked as sharp on Thursday night as I've seen him, and he did the same last night in practice. He and [junior QB] Case [McCoy] are ready to go.
It's been a challenging preseason camp. We have really pushed the guys hard. They are anxious to go play against somebody else. We know we have improved since last year in so many areas, and we really need to just see how much we have improved, and it's time to do that. It's time to put them out there.
We are still young but it's a very talented young team. [Associate AD/Media Relations Director] John Bianco told me this morning we have 15 freshman in 18 different positions, because some of them double-up in the kicking game, and 60 percent of our roster is underclassmen. I think we could have four seniors starting which is probably as few as anybody in the country.
Last night was our team meeting to end preseason. As I said, we showed the new intro video. The guys vote on the leadership committee, where they get three or four guys from their class that they want to bring ideas to myself and our staff, and let us look at them.
We also awarded two walk-on scholarships last night. They are both one-year scholarships. [WR] Cade McCrary, who was a wide receiver at Lake Travis [High School] that has been a scout team wide receiver for us. He's been our holder for the last couple of years, got one of the scholarships. [DS/S] Nate Boyer, our veteran of Military Special Forces also got one. He is a deep snapper for us. He's 31 years old. He has quite a story. He did not play high school football. He saw Texas on TV. He decided he liked what he saw. He got himself in school. He's a 4.0 student and a real credit to our country and so the players think the world of him. He has a chance to deep snap on Saturday night. He and Kyle Ashby are competing for that job.
Freshmen also have to sing 'Texas Fight,' and they have to sing it to the approval of the upperclassmen, which is not easy. There was more booing than I've heard in a long time in the room. Then the older guys get with the younger ones and they all sing it together and that's the end of camp. Then we walked outside and had a good practice and team dinner.
The players are off today. They will watch video of Wyoming and talk to you guys. That will be pretty much their day. They will practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We will have a normal week of practice, and the game plans and the substitution rotation we will finalize on Thursday.
Wyoming comes in off a successful season last year. They won eight games, which is the most they have won since 1998. [Head coach] Dave Christensen came in from [the University of] Missouri. We knew Dave as the offensive coordinator at Missouri, and he was the coach of the year in the Mountain West Conference this year. Many are picking them to win their league. They also have gone to two bowl [games] in the last three years for the first time since 1988 and 1990. The Cowboys were ranked 10th nationally, forcing 31 turnovers, and they were ninth in turnover margin. That's an area we have really been talking about for the last couple years that we need to continue to improve. So it should be a great test with them coming in, forcing so many turnovers and taking care of the football.
Offensively, they are much like Missouri. Brett Smith is the young sophomore quarterback, 6-3, 195 [pounds], and he broke records for total offense with 3,300-plus yards last year for a freshman. He had 31 touchdowns, and he's a dual threat. He had 20 passing touchdowns, ten rushing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown. But he threw for 2,600 yards and ran for 710 [yards]. Chris McNeill is the senior receiver that was their leading receiver last year, got hurt, and didn't play in the last four games. But they feel he'll be ready to go. They have three seniors in an offensive line led by [senior C] Nick Carlson, 6-4, 292 [pounds]. He was on the watch list for the Rimington Award last year.
Not only being an opening ballgame, but when you have coaching changes it makes it more difficult to prepare. They hired a new defensive coordinator in Chris Tormey. He was the head coach at [the University of] Idaho, head coach at [the University of] Nevada, and he came to Wyoming from Washington State last year. They will run a multiple defense. They will have four- and three-man fronts with a lot of disguises and a lot of blitzes.
They have a strong secondary with all those guys coming back. [Sophomore CB Blair] Burns and [junior CB Marqueston] Huff are corners. [Senior FS Luke] Ruff is the big-hitting free safety. Also they have two senior linebackers, one was out last year and is coming back. But [senior LB] Korey Jones was a leader at linebacker, and big [senior DT] Mike Purcell is a big defensive tackle up front, nose tackle, that is hard to block and over 300 pounds.
They have seven seniors on defense and seven returning starters from last year. They also have a new special teams coach, and their punter has been averaging well over 40 yards a punt in preseason. But we don't really know how they are going to line up in any of their kicking game areas because he came in from Nevada, Las Vegas, and we are just not sure exactly what they are going to do.
Excited about the new Big 12. Six of our ten teams are in the top 25. Should be a great year with a lot of competition, and again, we want to welcome West Virginia and TCU.
On the team's energy heading into the season-opener: They were really excited last night and had fun in the meeting. It was an animated meeting. You can tell when they are jumping up and down, and can't sit in their seats, and giving each other standing ovations. And they were excited about the two scholarship offers for the two walk-on players. I think they can't wait until Saturday. [We] have to make sure we don't play on Tuesday, because you can't practice on Tuesday with so much energy that it takes some away from Saturday night. So we have to make sure that we are ready to go on Saturday and not earlier in the week.
On sophomore RB Joe Bergeron: Joe is 236 pounds for one thing. He's a guy that is tough, and every day he learns to run lower and run more behind his pads. He started out a little high in preseason camp. And Thursday night, the defensive backs didn't want to tackle him in the secondary, so he was knocking them right and left. He has very good hands for a big guy. We haven't determined who will be the third down back or the wild back yet, but he could be a factor in both of those formations.
On if it is extra stressful preparing for the season-opener: It is. I think it's more anxious in the opening ballgames because you're not sure about the other team. Wyoming is a very good opponent because they have won. They played Nebraska until the fourth quarter last year in a real dog fight. And they have had some huge upsets in heir history. So they are not a team that gets intimidated when they go somewhere to play. Also, their head coach knows us very well from his Missouri days. So he'll have an idea of how to handle this environment when they come in. They have got an older football team, so that's a factor too. And this is a great opportunity for them, as well as us. So normally, we said that more first games are lost than won, because people usually lose them because they are tired, and that leads to turnovers or kicking game mistakes. So we have to make sure that we are in great shape and excited and fresh for Saturday night. We need our home crowd to start over here. As we get back into the national mix we have got to have the best crowd in the country. And we expect that Saturday night. We think that with new, fresh changes after 15 years, a lot of things are different now and we have truly started over. And I feel really good about where we are headed.
On if the scrimmages help the coaches gauge the energy level for the season-opener: Yes. And you aways get a feel about, "Are they a team? Did they practice hard every day? Did they get after each other? Are they emotional?" And in some cases you've seen a flat scrimmage. I saw a flat scrimmage in 2010, and then it ended up I didn't see the excitement and energy we needed at Rice that week. I knew we had some trouble then. This team so far has been fun, and they have really wanted to please the coaches. They want to please each other. We are excited about what we see for Saturday night.
On what he expects to see from the team on Saturday night: I want to see them excited. I want to see them physical. I want to see them playing with confidence. We are still working on "sacrifice" with their [season] theme, and they are still working on "swagger." So we tell them, "We'll know more about that swagger after Saturday night. You don't just get one. You have to earn it." That's what we are expecting to see out of them. But I want a confident team. I want an offense that's aggressive and looks like they are coming out to score every time they walk on the field, instead of one that's kind of feeling their way. And I want a defense that forces some turnovers and pressures quarterbacks and stops the run. And that's what we are looking for. I want a kicking game that's exciting, and every time we are in one of those situations we have a chance to score. I know people want to get up and go eat a hot dog when the kicking game comes - I want them to stay [and be] afraid they might miss something.
On if there is a measurable for the team earning their "swagger": I think it's probably midseason. You'll see when they walk into an away stadium, maybe Ole Miss. It's the first time that [they] walk in, and you'd better not walk into an SEC stadium unless you're confident and ready to go. Then you have to go to Oklahoma State after an open week right after that. It usually happens more on the road than it does at home.
On the growth of sophomore QB David Ash: I would say David is much more confident now than at any time last year, including the Holiday Bowl, or at any time during spring practice. I think the way that [Ash and Case McCoy] have competed throughout the summer and spring practice has really helped. Because until we announced it last week, neither young guy knew who would start. It's pressed both of them to handle pressure. It's pressed both of them to become leaders for this football team so they can reach out to the guys. And everybody leads differently. Case has always been very accurate. I've never seen David as accurate as he's been the last two times out, so hopefully we'll see that Saturday night.
On if naming a starting quarterback has led to more continuity in the offense: No, but I'm seeing more continuity in the offense because it's our second year. And the coaches are more comfortable with what we want to get done, because now they know what the players can do. And as far as the other, everybody practices a second team quarterback. Some people won't announce a quarterback until Saturday. But the players understand. They see practice every day. I think the drama of who is going to start at one position is more a public drama than it is private. I mean players that see it every day, they have got a feel of what's going to happen. And they know both guys are good players and that both guys can play. They understand that we make those decisions.
On the expectations for the freshman in their first game: One of the big question marks for the weekend is with youth. How will they respond? Some of them didn't even respond well in the first scrimmage and then they did better in the second and third scrimmage. And how does that translate to 101,000 [fans] and a TV audience and all the hoopla around the game on Saturday, a night game? They have to sit there and watch games all day. They have to sit there and watch games on Thursday night, and they have had a 17, 18-year dream of playing in a college football game. And specifically a lot of our guys that have dreamed about coming to Texas [since] they saw their first ballgame, and it's here now. All of a sudden in recruiting [they're saying], "I want to start." Then all of the sudden, Monday before the game [they're saying], "Ooh, I'm not sure about all this now. It's happening pretty quickly." What we will do with those that are trying to play, we will put them in a comfortable situation early in the game where they can gain some confidence, get those jitters out of the way and move forward. Usually it takes, I think, until about a quarter. They will be anxious the first quarter and after that they will get knocked around enough, and they will be ready to go.
On the elevated anxiety level heading into the season-opener: Yes, I'm 61 years old and get anxious for the game. So even for the guys that have started, they will be anxious, because it's, as they said, they have not played since December. So you can go out there and practice all you want. It's different when you are in game-speed mode playing somebody you've never met, and it's somebody that's trying to take away everything you've worked for for the last year. So there will be a lot of anxious kids on both sides. I think that's why in a lot of opening ballgames, things are - and especially since we have not seen their defense and special teams with their new coaches and staff - that's why you pretty much have to play the first quarter trying to figure each other out.
On if the defense causing few turnovers in training camp reflects well on the offense's ball security skills: I hope. One of the concerns we have had is that we have not forced a lot of turnovers in the preseason. And obviously that's a positive for the offense. So it's a very difficult thing if you come in here and say, "Boy, the defense forced 19 turnovers in preseason." Well, it's your offense they are forcing them against. Hopefully the offense is protecting the ball so well that it's been difficult for the defense, because they are trying. Most of the turnovers have been tipped balls that been intercepted coming off a receiver's hand, or maybe a defensive lineman tipping the ball. But we do feel like the offense has taken good care of the ball, and we'll need to do a great job on defense of forcing turnovers this weekend.
On his expectations from the defense against Wyoming: We want them to be aggressive. We want them to be dominating. You talk about new players you've got on the defensive side of the ball - there will be some new blood up front with the defensive tackles that will be rotating in and out. You'd have to think [junior DT] Brandon Moore, and even [junior OL] Donald Hawkins on offense, the first time they have played in this stadium, will be anxious. And then you talk about [sophomore LB] Steve Edmond and [junior LB] Demarco Cobbs, they have never started a ballgame. So they have to be anxious. And then you go back to [junior CB] Adrian Phillips, he has not been out there as a starter very often. So I think right down the middle, you're going to have a lot of anxious guys early. But we want to dominate. [Wyoming] is a good offensive football team. They have a good quarterback, and he's experienced. It will be fun to see how our defense can handle it.
On what the defense can do to disrupt Wyoming's offense: I think the biggest thing is you've got to stop the run, but you have to put pressure on the passer. In this league, unless you have pass rushers you're going to get beat. Because if you stand back there, the quarterbacks in this league are good enough to throw the ball and complete the passes. So you don't even have to sack him, but you have to force the quarterback to get rid of the ball a little early. And that's where you create your turnovers - tipped balls, bad throws - and we have got to do that. The other thing, it's going to be 100 degrees on Saturday. And it's going to be 93 degrees, is the speculation, at game time. So how much do you substitute? When do you substitute? What is the drop-off with [junior DE] Reggie Wilson and [sophomore DE] Cedric Reed at defensive end? And how tired do you let [junior DE] Jackson Jeffcoat and [senior DE] Alex Okafor get before you substitute? So all of those things are decisions we'll have to think about, make by Thursday, and adjust during the game.
On how anxious he is to see the freshmen play: I'm extremely anxious, but excited to watch them. They are all talented. I wish [junior PK/P] Anthony Fera was playing. He's one of the best in the country at punting, and he will not be able to play this weekend. But you also look at [senior P] Alex King. He's done a tremendous job punting in preseason. Coming from Duke, this will be his first time in this stadium. So we will not have a kicker or punter starting that has kicked or punted a ball at the University of Texas. Definitely that first kickoff, either way, a lot of guys will be anxious.
On how sophomore QB David Ash has improved since last season: He's running the huddle better. There was a touchdown throw, a great pass on Thursday night, that he threw for a touchdown. And last year we might have been in a position to say, "David, go, congratulate the offensive lineman for the protection." He ran to every offensive lineman. He ran down and jumped up and high-fived the receivers. He's understanding now that he's not so mentally bogged down by all of the things he's got to think about. And he's having fun again. And he can actually be animated some with the offensive kids.
On what he told his coaches he expects on Saturday: I told our staff in yesterday afternoon's staff meeting I want us to be aggressive throughout the game. Both sides of the ball.
On the attitude of this year's team compared to that of the 2010 and 2011 teams: Last year was better. 2010 I thought was my fault because whatever happened, it wasn't good. Just the looks, the air about the team. We acted like we were something we weren't, and we didn't earn that as a total group. Like I said, I was the head of that group. So I understand completely what it was like. Last year I thought we really fought to get through that, but we made a lot of progress. I was concerned we played so well against [Texas] Tech and Kansas, and then go stink at Missouri. I was concerned that we played well, come-from-behind at A&M, and then stunk at Baylor. So still, I thought we felt too good about ourselves last year, and then we couldn't win unless we played hard and played great. This year's bunch so far, they have really done everything that we have asked them to do. So we are hoping it shows on the field on Saturday. But they have showed up on time. They have stayed out of trouble. They have acted right. They have pulled for each other. There's just little things - even last night in the meeting, they were having so much fun together and all of those things relate to giving you a chance to be a better team.
On if this is the start of Texas being on top again: I think it's when we should start reaping some benefits. I think that when, after the tough season two years ago and all the changes were made, the first year you pretty much try to figure out your problems and fix them. Now you can start making more progress and we feel like that we are at that point now. And really and truly, the fact is that with four starters being seniors on Saturday, next year's opening game will be a lot of the same guys. So it's a fun time for me. It's a fun time for Texas. I think we are about to be good again. I don't know when it is, but it's coming. And I really like what I see. I like what our fans - the support our fans have shown through a couple of years that are not what we always want to be. I think Texas is a unique and different place. The fans have handled it better than I have. They have been great. And that's why I'm excited about being able to pay them back as well.
On former PK/P Justin Tucker being named the starter for the Baltimore Ravens: We are so excited about Justin. It's bittersweet this time of the year because you read and get texts from some of our guys that just got cut. And it's just an awful time for them. They have lost their dreams unless they get picked up here in the next couple of days. But at the same time, you have the joy of watching [former RB] Cedric Benson the other night which was fun with the Cincinnati [Bengals] and Green Bay [Packers] in a preseason highlight. But I got a text from Justin and texted him right back. And I don't think anybody has ever been as excited. I did realize that when I was looking at Wyoming kicking game this morning, I got mad that he faked a punt from the six-yard line. So that brought up a bad memory for him. But we are very proud of him and pulling for all of our guys to get through these cuts and have a great year.
On his 61st birthday and how he stays young: Thank you. I said, "61 is the new 41," and being around you guys every day just keeps me young.