Sept. 30, 2009
Opening Statement: Open date week is good for a lot of things, but mostly reevaluation. We can go back and look at the things that we like after the first four weeks and the things we are concerned about, need to change, or need to tweak. We really have a chance to go back and start the season. We added the UTEP game into the first three games, even though that was not our original thought, because we thought it was a great ending place. A lot of great things happened in the game, and even though the score was lopsided, we still have a lot of things that we can fix.
We did release yesterday that Brandon Collins and Christian Scott will not play this fall. They are in school. They will continue to practice with the team. They are working with the team during all the drills and individual work, and then they will go to scout teams after we break up, and they will start working to get their jobs back in the spring.
For an injury report, Eryon Barnett's shoulder has been slipping in and out, so he will have a shoulder operation. Like Jared Norton, he will apply for a medical [redshirt] with the NCAA because he did not play in more than three of the first five games, and we feel like he will have a great chance. The only other one that came out of last week that will not play in our estimation against Colorado is Mason Walters. We still do not think that he will be ready to play next week, but we are still holding out to see if there is a chance he can play at least a large majority of the season when he comes back.
Some people have asked this week about the times of the games we have. Why 2:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.? We actually have no control over the time of the game. That is controlled through agreements, the way I understand it, between the Big 12 and TV. If someone tells us that the game is at 2:30 p.m., that is when we will play it. If it is not on TV, then we have the opportunity to schedule the game when we want to, but the large majority of our games are scheduled for TV, so we really do not have an opportunity to change those. The way I understand again is that we can keep them from changing the day, but if it is scheduled on the day that we initially scheduled it, then we cannot change the time of the game.
I was really excited about our conditioning on Saturday. It was really hot, and we did not have anybody with cramps. We did not have anybody getting I.V.s at halftime or at the end of the ballgame, so I thought it was a great tribute to the kids, the strength staff, and the training staff and the way they worked this summer. They are obviously taking care of themselves and hydrating because Saturday would be a day normally where a lot of people would have gotten hot, and you would have had some I.V.s at halftime, but again, we did not have any. We are really proud and played a lot of guys, which helped us as well.
[Former Texas Tech head coach] Spike Dykes talked about the intimidation factor of people coming into Texas one time. I really trust Spike as a coach and a friend, and he said don't ever underestimate what the crowd being in there early and 100,000 people does to an opposing team coming in. It is very, very intimidating. He also said if you do not play well early, and the other team can play against Texas even, they feel like they have a chance to win and really play hard throughout the game with more confidence. If you jump on somebody like we did the other day and get them down, they go from a real high to a point where they get discouraged and make more mistakes and play poorly. As we look back at it at the end of the year, you will see that this UTEP team was the same one that we played last year. They have 25 seniors and brought a lot of guys back. The difference in last year's game is that we did not start well, and they could run the ball against us, and we were sporadic offensively. In this game, we played like we were behind to start the game, and I thought that made a huge difference. You cannot have a blowout game like that unless you can force a lot of turnovers or they make a lot of mistakes, and that is what happened in that ball game. The UTEP team is not near as bad as that lopsided score.
For the schedule this week, we will practice this afternoon. We had a physical practice yesterday. After you work with your older guys, your more experienced guys, we had a scrimmage with the younger ones yesterday. Today we will work individual stuff with the younger ones. Then, we will practice tomorrow and give the guys off Friday and Saturday. They will come back Sunday night for a team dinner, and then they will practice at 6 a.m. on Monday morning, and we will restart the season just like we started it four weeks ago against Louisiana-Monroe.
Philosophically, a few things that we are looking at are the Wild Horn. When you have three games that we have pretty much blown out in the first four, you get to look at a lot of different things. We have just been looking at plays and toys. We have not run the Wild Horn on the goal line before in the red zone, but we did it the other night and did not do it well, so we are trying to tweak that entire formation and see where we go from here. We were disappointed in our red zone running game the other day - not goal line short yardage, we are doing that very well - but we do not think that we responded very well when we were in the red zone and kicked two field goals. We felt like starting at the eight or five-yard line that we should have scored touchdowns.
We are still trying to figure out who we are as a defense - a man team, a zone team, a zone blitz team. We are still moving people around and figuring out who is our best man guy and where does it fit with nickel or dime or that other linebacker in the game? We are also working on how we keep fresh legs in at the end of the game. Those are the things we are looking at.
We are also trying to figure out how we keep speed on the field for the kicking teams. We are proud of our punt return team. We are proud of what D.J. [Monroe] has been able to accomplish with our kickoff return team, but we need to get Marquise [Goodwin] in there and do a better job of getting him more looks because there was a poor decision between he and Eddie Jones where we had a ball hit the ground the other day, which could have cost us in a much tighter ball game. We experimented a lot the other day in kickoff coverage because kickoff coverage with the rule change is one of the more difficult things right now for college football. We are trying to look at squibs. We are look looking at sky kicks. We are trying not to kick the ball to the same place two times in a row because if you do and the kickoff return team gets a beat on your coverage, then that is a very, very dangerous thing to have happen during a ballgame. The same with the rugby punt. We are look at punting with our left foot, with our right foot, we are looking at what fakes are available because this is a relatively new thing for us and for college football. Those are all things that we are trying to look at and figure out.
Over the next four weeks, we have very tough conference games. Three of the teams are rated. We will get an opportunity to watch Colorado at West Virginia tomorrow night, so that will be kind of a scouting report for us because they played well against Wyoming last weekend. We are looking at Colorado at home, OU in Dallas, and then going on the road to Missouri, and on the road to Oklahoma State, so we have a very tough schedule here for four weeks. We will know much more about ourselves at the end of the four weeks than we do now. That is why I have always said that the polls should start in the middle of October because you have a better idea of who you are. All the people that are talking about upsets in the first four weeks of college football. How do we know realistically whether those teams were good or not? They were put up there by the ratings, but maybe they did not play their way up there, and that is something that I think we still should consider with college football. As I said, we will just restart the season, and it is a good break for us to start over.
There has been a lot of talk about Twitter with pro and college football teams over the last couple of weeks. What we try to do is learn from it. We try to look at what happens with the pros and how they are actually fining NFL guys for talking about their teams and their meetings now. We try to educate our guys on how to use Twitter. We are not in a position where we feel like with students using Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter across the country that we can tell our guys not to. We would discourage them, and we would ask them not to put anything on there that they would not want their mom to see because she is going to see it. It is public information and it can get public. We feel the same way about hurting our team. Don't talk about team business publically.
With the awful accident that happened at USC on Monday, our thoughts and prayers are with Stafon [Johnson] and his family. He is a great football player, and it sounds like he is going to be fine, but we are constantly looking at things in our weight room. It can be very dangerous down there, and when you are throwing around that kind of weight, anybody can get hurt. We have had young men get hurt before, and it is just something that you have to constantly watch and monitor. We try to make sure that if something happens good or bad with another program or in pro football or in society that we use it as a learning moment for our players.
On having the off week now: We feel like it's much better to have one after the fourth, fifth or sixth game during the season than after the second game, maybe after the first game. I think one year we had one after the first game and to me, that's a waste of time because you just tried to evaluate. You don't have much. We've got a lot of information now, so this has been a productive week for us because regardless of what happened with El Paso, there are still enough things that we can correct. There were too many weakside runs that were successful, the stats looked overwhelming, but really and truly, they squirted some runs down the boundary. Even though there were some passes that might have been open, we hit the quarterback before the ball got there, so we can do that and we express some of our issues on offense and the kicking game, but we've gone back and been really, really hard on ourselves and the kids about the first four weeks. We've gone back to every little thing that we need to do over the next four weeks to try to win each of those games as well.
On the biggest surprise this season: I think the biggest surprise is kickoff return, because that's something that I've been personally really frustrated with over the last few years because the rule changed, and we spent all of our time griping about the rule and that people could return kickoffs so well, but we were inconsistent doing it. Right now, we have a chance to be really good. I think we're sixth in the country and we've had one called back because of a late hit and the other day we messed the one up totally and it cost us a bunch of yards and that looked like it was blocked well, so, I think it's a pleasant surprise, but something that can really help us with field position.
On why certain players are successful at returning kicks: You don't know, it's like who can block kicks. You have to try them. Some fast guys don't get it, they'll run into piles, they're not patient, but D.J. [Monroe] has a great knack for doing it and we hope Marquise [Goodwin] does the same. We don't know that yet. He hasn't done it long enough for us to find out for sure and that's something that we really have to find out in the next 10 days.
On Jordan Shipley returning kicks: We know Jordan can do it, so that's easy. The thing that we have to do, we felt like we lost Quan (Cosby) for the Texas Tech game last year and we felt like it was because we had him doing too many things. Jordan is playing the position that Quan played last year, and he's touching the ball 10, 11 times a game outside of the kicking game. We actually had 39 kicking game plays the other day, so that's a whole lot of plays and we took Jordan out, we fair caught the only one he took after the half and then we took him out and let Curtis Brown fair catch the rest of them. But we do feel like that we've got to be smart with Jordan because he's playing so well and if we can get somebody else to help D.J. on kickoff returns, we'd rather not have Jordan in there.
On testing different types of kickoffs: We're doing those every day now in practice to make sure. I remember us sky kicking against Ted Ginn, Jr., and he caught it at about the 30 full speed and returned it about 60 yards right in our face and I thought, "Well that's great, let's pop it up short so he can get to us faster." The other day I thought we had the perfect situation for Marquise because if Eddie [Jones] goes up (to block) and Marquise catches it, that's at the 30-yard line and we've got room, so we are working so hard right now. We're working on kickoff return and kickoff coverage every day and we've never done that before and every day we work some on both of those phases because we think they're so valuable to us.
On testing different kicks versus UTEP: When the game got out of control, we really just wanted to try stuff. I know fans get frustrated sometimes with things that come up in a ballgame that's a blow out, but it's really a learning experience for us. We can experiment, kick it around, and we find out that a squib kick that's kicked properly is really hard to pick up and it was hard for them to pick it up. They averaged only 19 yards per return, but we still had a couple that were out to the 40 and that's what we're trying to keep from happening. If you could kick it out every time, you would.
On top-ranked teams losing every week: I think it is parity and I do think that our trend has been that it's more dangerous after a week like last week where more things happened right and it's a blowout and everybody is bragging on us. What we as coaches have to do is just continue to talk to guys about [how] the score was lopsided, but there are still a lot of things we need to get fixed and that a lot of those things were given to us. The snap over the punter's head, we didn't earn it, it was given to us and a couple of fumbles we got, but some of those thing you're not going to have every week, and if you don't, it may be a 28-7 game, so we go back and try our best to say, "You better play every week." We do constantly show them examples of top-10 teams getting beat, and at the same time, do not want to convince our team that there's a good chance you're going to get beat because you're in the top 10. You have to be careful not to convince them that this is going to happen because it's just what's out there. I think it's the parity of college football and from what I hear, I believe the regular season being so exciting is why the BCS wants to keep it like that and not have playoffs. I think our regular season a lot of times is more exciting than the bowl season.
On seeing the same few teams in the national championship game: The best teams, even with parity, still should be better, but they're still more likely to lose a game or two. I think it was seven years ago, older guys were talking to me about, "I'll bet you we start seeing a national championship game with two or three losses." And with LSU, that happened and I thought that would never happen, and it did, and I think we could see it again. It's an imperfect sport and you're also seeing teams that play great one week and awful the next week, and you can't say they're an awful team. They had an awful performance, so it's not about the team, it's about how you play that Saturday and I think that's more prevalent than ever before because everybody can beat you if you don't play well. If you take our game with El Paso, as I said last year, we had to score twice in the fourth quarter and they outgained us in every category and that's the same group of kids. So you can't say that last year's game and this year's game was so much different because of the players, it was just the circumstances of that Saturday.
On running back Fozzy Whittaker: He's only had the one game, but he's doing well. He came back and he has confidence now, so we feel like he's right back in the mix. Cody Johnson looked really good on the one carry he had Saturday for a touchdown and he's at 242 pounds and 13 percent body fat, so he's really gotten in great shape and we're back to having a good mix of four guys there to compete.
On narrowing the running back competition: What we think we will do is we'll put the guys in the game and if a guy gets a hot hand like Vondrell [McGee] did Saturday, we'll leave him in.
On the impact of the defensive line: Right now, it's really strong. We still need to continue to develop depth at defensive tackle, but we're really proud of Ben Alexander, Kheeston Randall and Lamarr Houston. Lamarr is playing at such a higher level than ever before, Kheeston is so much improved from last year, and Ben's a five-year senior and it's time for him to play. He's excited about playing every down. So, those three guys have given us a good base to start from. We've been able to work Sam Acho in there some and Sam's improved so much and Eddie Jones now. He was concerned a little bit about his shoulder the first couple of weeks, but the last two weeks, he's played lights out. Then you continue to try and get the young guys like Calvin Howell to come on, but we're in better shape right now than we thought we'd be at this time.