2017 ACADEMY SPORTS + OUTDOORS TEXAS BOWL TEAM LUNCHEON PRESS CONFERENCE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, December 26, 2017
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS HEAD COACH TOM HERMAN
“Merry Christmas. Hope everybody enjoyed their couple days with friends and family. Nothing really in terms of an opening statement other than we are excited to be here, excited to be back in the City of Houston, excited to be able to practice at U of H (University of Houston). If you haven’t been to that new indoor facility, it is as good, if not better, than anywhere the in country. That thing is off the charts amazing, and hats off to Hunter Yurachek and Major Applewhite for finishing that thing really, really well. I mean, it is impressive. We’ve had a lot of friendly faces, a lot of familiarity. We’ve got a lot of guys on our team from the Houston area, so it was nice for them to get done with practice yesterday and be able to spend the afternoon and evening with their families and we are excited about the game tomorrow. Excited to be representing the University of Texas in a bowl game once again, and we’re going to have our hands full, though, with a really, really good Missouri team.”
Can you talk about, you’ve got seven of the Top-10 recruits in Texas. Usually if coaches go to a bowl game, this is part of the recruiting process, and you’ve already got a lot of that done, how much of a jump start does this give the program?
“Yeah, we needed to. This class had to be good and it’s not just good, it’s great. You know, not only did we sign that many of the top players in the State of Texas, but a lot of these guys are coming in in January. We’ll have nine early enrollees in whatever, two and a half weeks, and so to be able to have that extra six months on the rest of the freshmen class, really gets them hopefully prepared to play for us because we’re going to need a bunch of these guys to do that. Again, it was monumentally important that we keep the best players in the State of Texas at the University of Texas and we feel like we did that at an unprecedented rate, depending on which rankings you look at. But the thing I’m most proud of with that class is the – again, I keep stealing the line from Chris Petersen, “Our kind of guys.” These are – I didn’t have to worry about talking about depth charts and playing time and you know, any of the superfluous things that sometimes can get in the way of recruiting and really tarnish a kid’s competitive spirit. These are kids that all want to come in and compete, and that’s exciting.”
A lot of this, the bowl games, are which team really wants to be there. What indicators were you looking for from your team as the team that really wants to be there and what step do you want this team to take in this game heading into the spring?
“I mean, haven’t been in a bowl game in three years, so if that doesn’t excite you as a player, then you probably need to quit football and go do something else. Go join a club or something like that. But our guys, we have had some really, really spirited practices and that’s been really fun to watch, especially some of these young guys. We’ve gotten better and I think we’ve had 17 practices, something like that. You know, will it manifest itself in the game tomorrow? I hope. But if it doesn’t, it doesn’t mean we didn’t get better because we did. This is a team, if you’re an older guy on this team, you’ve had somewhere around 35 less practices than your opponents. Your opponents in Norman, Oklahoma or Stillwater (Oklahoma) or Lubbock (Texas) or whatever, you know, you’ve missed that, and that is crucial for the development of the student athlete. I’m just excited that we had that opportunity. And then, you know, I think winning this game will be important for us in terms of momentum. It’s not — you know, it’s not life or death, but we sure as heck could use this to springboard us into the off-season for 2018.”
Do you expect LB Malik Jefferson to play?
“No, but I’m hoping for a miracle.”
Big picture. Here you are, here at Houston, sitting at 6-6 in the Texas Bowl. If I could give you a few mulligans, as many as you wanted, what are some of the things you would have done differently this year?
“I don’t know. You know, I don’t think — obviously I thought about it there for a good few seconds but I think the timing for evaluation is after the season. You know, we’ve still got a game to play. You’re always evaluating schematically, you know, what can you do, what can’t you do. You know, how do you put your players in the best position to win. So that is ongoing. But I don’t know that you – I don’t know that I could give you a concrete answer without really diving into, you know, that kind of self-evaluation that goes on in an off-season.”
Since the Texas Tech game, you’ve been dealt a lot of blows: injuries, suspensions, going pro. How do you think the team has handled that and kind of responded to the challenge of getting through each time something like that’s happened?
“Great. We don’t – we don’t blink. These are guys that are still here and still playing. They are tough dudes, you know, and they just — you know, it’s just another day at the office, so to speak. But you know, I mean, it’s real. I mean, I feel for Tim Beck and our offensive staff. We have one tight end, one scholarship tight end that’s not being red-shirted. We have, you know, two running backs that have played in a game. So you’re really limited in terms of what you can do from a personnel standpoint and then the plays that you can call and then God forbid, a guy gets hurt and it’s like, ‘Okay, now we go to Plan B here real quick.’ But our team has responded at every turn and I’m proud of them for that.”
You’ve been with these guys for nearly a year now. What can you say you’ve learned about this team, some of the makeup, just the players, what different things have you been able to glean in about a year’s time?
“That three straight losing seasons takes its toll on kids, really does. It’s difficult for them, especially when you’ve dealt with – when you deal with adversity, it can be a ‘Here We Go Again Syndrome.’ So that has been an ongoing challenge of, you know, reestablishing the right way to handle adversity and the right way to compete and the right way to go about our daily business. But for the most part, I’ve learned, also, that these guys are hungry for that and that they want to be great and that they want to compete. And so — but it’s been a challenge to reprogram a lot of these guys.”
The decision to start QB Shane Buechele tomorrow, was there one main factor in that, and does that give him a leg up on starting position for next year or will it be a clean slate for all four?
“Definitely a clean slate. Neither of these quarterbacks have done anything so egregious that you would say that a guy is behind the other one, but neither of them have done anything really to take the bull by the horns. I think the decision to start Shane (Buechele) is just, you know, we didn’t play well at that position in the last game and probably, to answer your question, maybe one of the things to do different, probably should have played Shane a little bit more in that game. And so, you know, he hasn’t done a whole lot to lose our trust, nor has Sam (Ehlinger). So I don’t know that it’s – I guess it is externally, when you guys look, I mean, who takes the first snap. Great. It’s who takes the last snap and who is – because Sam’s going to play. So we’ll figure out who is playing better and who is in a rhythm and who is seeing the defense better and playing the game better and you know, ride that guy for as long as we can.”
You said that this team has gotten better during bowl practices. What do you want to see on the field, because you said even if you don’t win, it doesn’t mean you haven’t gotten better. What do you want to see tomorrow in the game? Are you going to be playing more guys that haven’t gotten as many reps during the season?
“No, I don’t think you’ll see any new faces out there. I think again, as long as we’re playing hard, and playing physical; we had a reaffirmation of – we got re-acquainted with a quote that’s around our building in a bunch of different spots, which is, ‘The pride and winning tradition of the Texas Longhorns will not be entrusted to the weak nor the timid.’ You can’t play timid. If we go out and we play with our hair on fire, figuratively, of course; if we play with our hair on fire and we’re flying around and we’re hitting people and we’re playing aggressively, then I think, one, hopefully the result will bare that, will be positive based on that level of play. But you know, that will be key for me in how we handle adversity. I mean, this is a really good Missouri team; one that they are averaging 52 points a game in the last six games, on a six-game win streak. They finished 13th in the country in tackles for loss and top 25 in sacks on defense, too. So there’s going to be some adversity in this game and how we respond to it I think will be a big key for, you know, to judge our development.”
How do some of the absences affect matchups for this game?
“Not good. You know, when you lose your starting safety and starting corner for a team and a quarterback that led the country in touchdown passes, you know, that’s – we’re going to have our hands full on defense and then offensively, the strength of their team is their front defensively, and we’ve got to grow up in a hurry there. I feel good about where we’re at from a personnel standpoint. I mean, Derek Kerstetter is still a true freshman, but he got better over the bowl preparation. Elijah Rodriguez will start at left tackle and he’s had a really good session of practices. I feel as good about that group as I have all season. Now we’ve got to go do it.”
Specifically with Missouri QB Drew Lock, when you watch film, what do you see?
“Touchdowns (Laughter). I see a guy that is comfortable in the offense. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s getting the ball out of his hands quickly and accurately. But I also see guys, supporting cast, that are making plays for him, too. That is a very, very talented receiving core that they have and obviously you’ve got to get the ball to him and he does a great job of that, but they are also helping him out quite a bit, too.”
Is the plan still to run DB P.J. Locke III in DB DeShon Elliott’s safety spot, and how has he looked in practices?
“Correct. P.J. (Locke III) will play the boundary safety and Antwuan (Davis) will stay at nickel. P.J.’s looked great especially as we started to install the game plan, if you will, for Missouri early. Early in bowl prep, it’s a whole lot of just scrimmaging and not worrying about who you’re playing, because you get worn down if you are running the same thing over and over and over again. But P.J.’s looked great. I’m excited to see – I mean, he’s a captain. We have been – you think about just from a leadership standpoint, we’ve had one captain playing every game and that’s proved forward, I believe, and we’ve got five of them. Andrew Beck hasn’t played all year. P.J. was out significant time. Connor (Williams) obviously missed a ton of time. Naashon’s (Hughes) actually, probably I think he’s played in every game. But that’s been a leadership void, too, that it’s been nice to have him back.”
UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI HEAD COACH BARRY ODOM
“Good morning. Thank you all for being here today and covering our football team and our football program and our great university. It’s been such an unbelievable week for us in the City of Houston and you know, a lot of – many, many thanks to all the folks, the great hospitality. We’ve had a number of kids from Texas on our roster and from the greater Houston area, and it’s great for them to be home and for us, continuing to build our program. The recruiting emphasis in the State of Texas will be a large part of our footprint moving forward. So for many, many reasons, it was great to be in the City of Houston and in Texas. The bowl game, you really look at the Academy Sports + Outdoors (Texas) Bowl, all of the different things that they have provided for our team and the experiences that they have provided this week for all of our young men and the entire travel party; so grateful and thankful for them. I know it’s a 365-day job for that organization and for them to put on the work and the tireless hours and all of the work that they have put into it for our kids and our student athletes, to have an experience that they will carry with them for the rest of their life, I am forever grateful for all the work that they put into it. The volunteers that over the Christmas holiday and holiday season, that they were away from their families to help make this the experience that it’s been. So thankful for that. And you know, congratulations to Coach (Tom) Herman and his staff and team on being here. Tremendous opportunity and challenge for our football team to match up against a really good football team. Very well-coached, as you start looking at the video when we did after the announcement, should be a great game tomorrow night. We are locked in as a football team and a program. In our small world, it’s Friday, Friday around 11:30. So we’ll get locked into that. We’ll have a walk-through and position meetings as soon as the luncheon is over, get to go to the stadium and have a chance to do a walk-through there which will be great for our guys and then we are into a normal Friday night routine for us. I’m proud of our football team. My staff and the group of guys, 18 seniors that we’ve got, I’m going to address some of the same things in here as I do next door. So if you go to the luncheon, you’ll be bored with my comments. But I believe with great conviction that I’ve got the best job in the world and the reason I have that is because of my team and my football players and the student athletes that we’ve got. I’m thankful for their efforts and all the things that they have done. We’ve learned a number of great life lessons this year together and they have shown great resolve. They have worked together, tremendous effort on holding together when things weren’t great and fighting through adversity and continuing to build our football program the way it needs to be built. I’m thankful for the things that they have done. And now we’ve got an opportunity to go play one more game together and that means the world to me and it means an awful lot to 115 guys that we’ve got that make up our university and the athletic program representing all of the things that this football team has done, we’re excited about it. So open it up to questions and again, thank you all for being here and all the coverage you’ve provided for our football team and this bowl game specifically.”
Does this still feel like a neutral site game to you? How does it affect your outlook on playing a former Big 12 opponent?
“Well, if you’ve covered our team and the local reporters that are here know that I’m not real good with two-part questions, so I may have to ask you to repeat some of that. But I know well enough on where we are geographically on how many people are going to be in the stands and what colors they are going to be wearing. We’ve talked about that. One thing with our program and our team and this group of guys, and every team is different, we deal with each other because we’ve built such true and trusting relationships. We deal in fact and in honesty. We know where the game is. We’re excited to have that opportunity to step into this environment, one of the greatest environments, and to play the game of football – I was at the stadium yesterday watching the Texans play and what an unbelievable environment it will be for our kids. We’ve got to the point over the course of the year that it doesn’t matter if we’re at home, away, playing in the parking lot – our guys are ready to go compete and go play. We had a press conference, or on with the radio show before the Texas game yesterday, Coach (Tom) Herman and I, and as I watched the fans interacting with us on the stage, there weren’t many waving at me. There were a whole bunch waving at him. We’ll take it for what it is. We’ll embrace the opportunity to go play a really good team in this environment.”
Have you decided who is going to be calling offensive plays for you and how does that change the performance on the field with QB Drew Lock getting the calls in his headset and relaying them to your offense?
“Well, on the plays that work, if we happen to have success, offensively, then I called those, okay. I made those play calls. In the college game, you can’t relay. The players don’t wear headsets or microphones. We signal all of our plays in. Our offensive staff has on a tremendous job on continuing to build on what they did during the season. Nothing has really changed as far as the approach on what we’ve taken, on putting our kids in position to be successful; and that’s any time that you go into a game plan, you take the personnel that you’ve got, you’ve got to be a tremendous teacher and then you put in play what you think will put your guys in position to be successful. So the offensive staff has continued to roll on moving in the right direction. Coach (Joe Jon) Finley, who was brought up in this system, will make the play calls tomorrow, and he has for the last couple weeks in practice. They have done — credit to them. They have done a heck of a job on stepping up, and everybody’s got a little more on their plate when you have coaching departures. That’s the name of the game. I wouldn’t say we see any noticeable change as far as what we are doing offensively as far as the play calls go.”
What did you specifically change after your 1-5 start? I’m sure half the coaches in the country want to know.
“I’m going to sell it for $19.99 and if you call now, you can buy one, get one free. We’ll see how that goes in the off-season. Really, we didn’t change much. We’ve got a really good group of kids that were bought in together; that cared about each other; that knew that we were doing a lot of things in our program the right way and we were getting so close to breaking down the wall. We just weren’t playing really good on Saturdays. The things they continue to do, their practice habits were exactly the way we needed them to be. Their preparation was getting close to what it needed to be to put us in position to play successful and then we started to gain some confidence, even though we were coming up short at the end of four quarters, we weren’t scoring enough and we weren’t holding to less points than we needed to. So we were gaining some confidence you know, and like I’ve said earlier, I wouldn’t recommend starting 1-5. That wasn’t really good on anybody, but our guys did enough. They believed and they trusted in the process and in each other to hold together and then we were able to execute a little bit better on the game field.”
Did you really have a bonfire?
“We did. It was big. It was large.”
What all was in the bonfire?
“It’s been well-documented. There was a whole bunch of stuff. I thought the players were going to throw me in there; they had enough of it. Really they drew a line in the sand and they were ready to go win a game. And again, we had done so many really good things within our program. Nobody wants to hear it but it’s important, about your class attendance, the way you work in the weight room, the way your locker loom – the health of your locker room. All those things that add up to having a chance to win a game on Saturday. We were doing all those things. They were moving in the right direction. We just weren’t winning football games, and at the end of the day, it’s a results-driven business. I understand that. Our guys continued to battle and show great resolve and got it done together.”
With all the guys that aren’t playing for Texas, does it make them a tougher scout when you’re watching them on film and certain guys aren’t going to be in the game?
“I think you read, there’s an enormous amount of information out there. I know this – they will have 11 guys out there when we start the game and so will we. You stick true to what you’ve seen on film. There’s always in-game adjustments as you go through. You don’t wait until halftime to make adjustments. You make them between series and a lot of times as the series is going on. So we feel like we’ve done a really good job game planning on who we think that they are and you look at a bowl game, in most of them, you’ve got about 15 opportunities to go through and change some things, either side of the ball, and you know, we’ve made some slight adjustments like we do week-to-week and I’m sure they have done the same thing.”
Specifically at quarterback, Texas Head Coach Tom Herman said both his guys are going to play. What do you see out of either of those guys and similar or does the offense change?
“There are similarities. Anybody that’s playing multiple quarterbacks, you’ve got to prepare, obviously, to see both of them, and I think we will. That’s happened throughout the course of this season and our conference that we’ve seen some of that. You also know that your calls don’t vary too much. You’ve just got to be aware on how you call it with which quarterback’s in. They are both great competitors, and you know, as I watched their – from start to finish on their season, they have improved on the course of the year and they are both really good players.”
What did you see in bowl practices that excites you about your defensive line heading into this game?
“Well, specifically with the defensive line, but overall, our football team, we had 14 really, really good practices. I mean, the guys were eager to get out on the field. They enjoy the opportunity to get better and compete, and they understand the process of what it takes to go play a complete game. We didn’t waste an opportunity. I was happy on really every day we made progress. We made progress of our vets that have been in the program, as far as game planning and executing the game plan out throughout practice. And then when we set aside time to fit in our younger guys and get some developmental work for our program, they approached that the right way. We have got a pretty mature football team, and they did a lot of really good things over the last three and a half weeks.”
What are some examples of what makes QB Drew Lock, Drew Lock?
“Well, I think you look at his approach to the game, his study and desire to be a great quarterback. He’s got a tremendous football IQ. He understands what we’re trying to do offensively. He’s got a good grasp on when we get a certain coverage on where we need to go with the football, or does he check the play and get us into a run option that will help us a little bit more. So all of those things have to do with, No. 1, he’s a tremendous competitor. He wants to be great, and there’s not anybody in our building that has out-worked him in his preparation on trying to lead this football program to wins.”
I’ve seen a lot of national people, in doing their bowl matchups, they look at this game and they seem to be sort of dismissive about your winning streak because of who you beat and how those teams ended up. I’m sure you’ve seen some of that talk, too. Does that get under your skin a little bit? Winning games in the SEC seems legitimate to me but is that –
“If you read a lot that’s been out there this year, and you know, there’s – you could let your mind go a number of different ways. For us, we’ve focused on trying to go 1-0 one more time and it doesn’t matter, like I said earlier, where we’re playing, who we’re playing. Our focus is on us, on making sure we do all the things and the steps necessary to get into the competitive environment and then go play our best game. So we’ve taken – this team serves it pretty well, just to look at it one game at a time, if you’re worried about what we did two weeks ago or three weeks ago or six weeks ago, then that has no effect on how we’re going to play on Wednesday night. And same thing for us, looking ahead, it does us no good. So we’ve got plenty of motivation. We’ve got internal motivation for us to do it for 18 seniors to finish the season the right way, to go 1-0 one more time, and I wouldn’t want to be lined up with another team in America trying to go get that done.”