Nov. 4, 2009
Opening statement: So far the guys have had great attention to detail this week. They remember the 2007 game and how close it was and how competitive it was. Watching the Marshall game the other night, they saw Central Florida fight until the end, and they know that it is going to be a 60-minute game. I think they are also excited about being at home. They had three rough road trips, and there are only two games at home left for the seniors. They love playing in this stadium, and when they know it is about through, it starts to be emotional for them. They are really excited about restarting the season and having this four-game stretch at the end.
This becomes a national game now. If it were at the first of the season, it would not have been talked about a lot, but if you look at it now, we are in the mix at the end where everything that we do is important. This game takes on a lot more importance than it would have if it were the third game of the year.
The Miami stats, when you look at what the Central Florida defense did against them, have really gotten our team’s attention. Miami rushed the ball 46 times for 70 yards. They averaged 1.52 yards per attempt and gave up six sacks, so George O’Leary knows what he is doing on defense, and they play hard.
There are also some other things that are significant on Saturday. It is Veterans Appreciation Day, and with this being Royal Memorial Stadium, obviously for many, many years this stadium has cared about and honored veterans. There will be a doughboy statue that comes on Veterans Day, and they will place it outside the stadium.
The honorary captain is Admiral James Stavridis. He is a commander in the Navy that is in charge of the European command. We are very honored that he will be here in honor of all of our military personnel. There will also be a flyover during the game with Texas graduates, which will be neat to honor our guys that have gone ahead to the military.
Some people have asked what the two American flags that we carry out on the field are in honor of. They are in honor of two brothers of guys on our team who are in the military – Fozzy [Whitaker]’s brother is on his way to Afghanistan and Adam Ulatoski’s brother is out at El Paso and preparing to go to the Middle East – so that is why those two flags are carried by seniors in honor of our military personnel each week.
We carry a Texas flag any time we go on the road. We do not at home simply because we have the huge Texas flag and the group that takes it out there before the game. We will put a new decal on the helmet. We will take off the yellow ribbon this week, and we will put the yellow ribbon up with symbols for all five of the segments of our military. It will still be the same little decal, the same size, but each one will signify the importance of all branches of the military that we have. That will be on the helmets for the first time this weekend. We have also asked our players to dedicate the game to somebody, if they feel the need to, who is in their lives and is in the military. We would like for them to play for them this weekend. We would like the fans to call and recognize someone who they care about as well.
The other things of significance this weekend: there is a 40-year reunion of the 1968, ’69, and ’70 teams. I am sure coach (Darrell) Royal will enjoy going back and talking to the guys who won 30-straight games. We would like to welcome all of them back to town. Sanya Richards will also be recognized for her two gold medals at the World Championships for 400 and one mile relay wins. There will be an acknowledgement of the 50 years of Dave Campbell magazine. Fifty years ago, running back Jack Collins was on the front and this year Colt McCoy is on the front of the magazine. Dave has meant so much to all of us in this state, covering high school and college football, and he has had a great run. It is also the alumni band day. So we have a lot of things that are going on here with only four weeks left in the season and two more home games.
On how his opinions on the military may have changed after a trip last summer to the Middle East: It is much different because after being in hospitals and seeing people, we know when you start looking at walls where people have given their lives, it is pretty emotional, but it is also emotional to see guys that have lost an arm or a leg or their lives have been indefinitely changed by the fact that they have been in the military and given who they were and, in some cases, had to reinvent themselves when they got home. I think that my opinions changed even more after my trip last summer to the Middle East.
On whether he stays in touch with anyone that he met while in the Middle East: I do, more the soldiers than anyone else. They say in touch, and I gave them my number, so they text and follow the games. That is really important.
On whether the team has had other military personnel as an honorary captain: We have. In fact, next week for the Baylor game, the Lt. Col. [Greg] Gadsden, who was coming for the Texas Tech game, will come and be our honorary captain at the game. He was the soldier who lost both legs in the Middle East, who was instrumental in the New York Giants game and on the sideline at the Super Bowl two years ago. He was coming in to talk to our team and spend time with us before the Tech game, and he lost his mom. This was the only other game that he could come to. We wanted him to come for a home game, but since he can come for the Baylor game, he will travel with us.
On the impact of UT football on the troops he met with: It is amazing. It is humbling that these young people – the average age of a military soldier is 19 and the average age of a pilot is 34 – tell me, “We just love this, coach,” and they get up at four in the morning to watch the games, and then they have to go back to work the next morning, so they do not even get to sleep. They did not care at all, so it is a message that I have been able to bring back to our team. Their performance is not only important to the people in this state, but to people worldwide. Armed Forces TV is a great thing. They do not get to choose their games, and obviously Army, Navy, and Air Force get first priority on their network, but they get to see a lot of the Texas games. They also get ESPN, so I think that is the other thing. They can see some of our games late at night.
On Aaron Williams’ status: He is day-to-day. We will watch him today and see how he can do. There are three phases that go on with an injury during the week. The doctors have to release him to practice, and then that comes from our trainer to the training room. Our coaches do not talk to the doctors. Then, the trainer in the morning will tell us what he is able to do – he is out for practice; he is practicing on a limited basis; or he is full speed. The trainer sits down then with the position coach and goes over what limited would mean. Sometimes we put a green jersey on guys to make sure that they can go full speed without any contact. Obviously if it is a defensive lineman, that is impossible. If it is a defensive back or a receiver, they can do everything except they do not have to hit, and then the coach has to decide along with me whether the player has practiced enough during the week to be able to play in the game or has he missed so much that it would be wrong. Sometimes if a guy is well but has missed practice, he could be on special teams because they have done that enough, and they might not be able to be involved in the game plan.
On Central Florida: They don’t blitz very much at all, it’s really amazing. Like Oklahoma State and Bill Young, they will play very sound, they’re very well coached, they’re very simple, they’re going to try to force you to throw the ball and they’re going to try to force you to throw it in front of their defensive backs. They are not going to let you get it over their head and then try to force turnovers. They did that against Miami. It’s a 17-7 game with 10 minutes left to go in the game and Central Florida’s got the ball inside the 10-[yard line] going in to score, so they had their chances to win the game and that’s gotten our kids’ attention. I think the other thing they do on offense is they’re going to line up and just try to physically run the ball right down your throat and they’re going to do it time and time and time again and three to four yards to them is a big run. One back carried it 49 times against Memphis, and they want to take time off the clock. They had four possessions the other night in the first half because they’re 12 to 15 play drives, so you cannot allow them to run the ball. I think I’ve seen they had six fourth-down situations, made five of them, but went for six fourth downs during the game so they’re going to try to stay on the field and if you don’t stop the run, then you allow them to start staying on the field, hit some play action passes and all of a sudden, your offense is off the field.
On the punt return team being the best in his years at Texas: I think this would be the best because they’ve done both [blocked kicks and returned punts]. Here after eight games, what Aaron Ross and Nathan Vasher, I think they had the best results without thinking about it here, and Jordan [Shipley] has done it for two or three years so he would have to be in that mix with the best and I do think nobody has returned two kickoffs, so D.J. [Monroe] has been the most productive kickoff return guy, and we want to do better in kickoff returns too, we’ve dropped off there a little bit. We haven’t had as many, but we’d like to get something big there and [Central Florida] covers like Colorado - they’re two of the top four cover teams, interestingly enough, in the country.
On Monroe and Tre’ Newton getting more playing time: When Tre’ got hurt, he really didn’t get to play maybe a week or two weeks. I guess it was one week he didn’t get any practice, so he missed the game plan and Cody [Johnson] and Fozzy have done a good job running the ball since, that was going into Oklahoma, so I guess for three straight weeks we’ve run the ball pretty well. With our team, there are a lot of good players, and if something happens that you lose your chance for reps, you have to wait and earn that right back and right now, if Fozzy and Cody continue to do so, they won’t get more. We’d like to get D.J. in the game more. Marquise [Goodwin] can do the things D.J. can do and he can run all the routes, so it has taken some of his snaps away, but we’d still like to get him the ball more.
On this team having a similar stretch to end the season as 2005: I don’t think we did very well back then. I’ve looked at that this week very honestly to see where we were in 2005 and where we are now, and in both instances through eight games, we had one close game and that was we had Ohio State back then and there was a three-point game here with Oklahoma, but both the teams pretty much handled everybody else without a lot of problems. I do remember at the end of 2005, we’re down 28-9 to Oklahoma State up there and we didn’t play great at [Texas] A&M. I can’t remember, I think Baylor we played well and Kansas, so it was a very similar schedule to this. Kansas we played real well. We jumped out and I think it was bad at half. The thing that I do feel right now is this senior class – these five-year seniors – were around during that stretch. So I do think that they’ve learned from watching those guys, and I think we learned a lot from last year. You can’t be mentally tired as a coach or a player and there was so much talk about the four-game stretch last year, for whatever reason, we didn’t finish well against Oklahoma State last year, going back and looking at that. There should have been a 17-point differential there and we just didn’t finish. We had our chances. Everybody said that was a close game. It was, give them credit, but we didn’t play well in the fourth quarter, even down to the fourth-and-inches, we didn’t even score. We gave them an extra three or four plays at the end and the same thing against [Texas] Tech last year. It’s like we tried, but we weren’t mentally fresh, we just looked mentally tired to me and there wasn’t as much energy. This bunch practiced with a lot of energy yesterday and that was a huge question. I thought it started a little slow and I was about to scream and throw something and start practice over, but after five, 10 minutes, they picked themselves up and I thought they had a great practice, so I’m seeing different things right now than I’ve seen. The freshmen feel like they’ve got forever here. They don’t have an urgency, and that’s a danger. The seniors understand that [Brian Orakpo] and [Roy Miller] and [Quan Cosby], that bunch last year missed an opportunity of a lifetime to win a conference and national championship because of one game, and these kids now get it, and they’re trying to make the young ones understand how important it is. In fact, a couple of the seniors have said, “You’ve got the rest of your life, we’ve got four weeks. Keep your mouth shut and play.” That’s kind of been the message around here – don’t mess it up for us because there’s a lot of young kids playing. It’s funny, it’s a young team with older leadership, and that’s a pretty good combination for us.
On opening up with a five-wide set last week: What we’re trying to do, we’ve talked so much about the running game and the power runs and the misdirections and the motion with it and all that, (Oklahoma State defensive coordinator) Bill Young is such a good football coach and he’s so calculated, we wanted to come out and get them off their rhythm a little bit because we knew they’re really good at stopping the run. They were given up 99 yards a game and we knew their game plan would be predicated on that, so we just wanted to throw them off a little bit and try to get fast-paced and get the ball out of Colt’s hands and send them a message that we may play different than they thought. I do think that when we started throwing it every time, it got less effective. Now that we have the ability to run it by mixing in some no huddle and five wides, it becomes more effective again because you’d like to make the defense work on option, five wides, play action, power running, you’d like to give them more things, and we got in a position where in four wides, there’s only a few things you can give them in the running game and then you can get predictable in the passing game. When you work on it all the time and that’s all you do, it’s harder to move it than if you use it as a mixer.
On hearing about people making plans for the National Championship: I think I’ve learned enough about it. In 2005, it wore me out, Sally too. Here we are at midseason and everybody’s saying, “It looks good, it looks like we’re on our way,” and I’m saying, “You know, I’ve got practice Tuesday, I’ve got practice Wednesday, I don’t want to hear it.” The same ones that are patting you on the back will be griping if you don’t play well. What I’ve learned though in looking at it, I told the kids and coaches this – people have to make plans. It’s hard to get tickets to games down the road. It’s not a guarantee. Flights are expensive. So what I’ve told our guys is don’t make that look like they think you’re definitely there, but they have to make plans as fans and that’s okay for them. Last year, there were some that were making plans and that’s okay for them and it didn’t work out, so they understand that, that’s the risk they’re taking. We’ve still got to be us, so what I’ve learned is I don’t take it as an arrogance that there’s no way they won’t go to the national championship game, what I’ve taken it is if this all happens like we want it too, I don’t want to miss out, so I’m going to try to get a head start and you know that’s fair.
I remember our first year here, we were playing [Texas] A&M and Ricky [Williams] had broken the record and I can’t remember the score but it seems like we went up 23-7 with about eight minutes and 30 seconds left in the game, and they said there was a record number of calls from the cell phones in the stadium to the Cotton Bowl because everybody wanted to get their tickets, and then A&M scored quickly twice and they said the calls died. I thought they were calling back to say they were kidding. Then we kicked the field goal and they said the calls jacked back up, so I think that’s what happens, and I haven’t ever been a fan that buys tickets and goes to game, I just don’t do that, but I’ve had some friends that said, “You know you need to get off the ‘people looking down the road’ thing. They have to. You can’t, but they have to. That’s who they are, they want to get a better price and they want to get earlier tickets and that’s people hoping you get there and people pulling for you, but it’s not people just saying it’s automatic, it’s people preparing.” I think that’s fair and I told the team and the coaches that, so don’t think every times somebody said, “I’ve got my tickets,” that means they’re saying for sure that we’re going, it means that they hope we do and I’m pulling for you and I want to be there if we get that chance.