Transcript below (also includes Garrick McGee and Todd Grantham)
BOBBY PETRINO AND KEVIN SUMLIN
COACH SUMLIN: Great to be here. Just got through with the luncheon. I know that our guys, our team, our travel party, the administration, has had a fabulous time here in Nashville.
The city has been wonderful hosts. Franklin American Mortgage has done nothing but provide us with first-class events. Our guys are really, really appreciative of it, practice overing at Vanderbilt. Want to thank them, too, being able to utilize their facility and stadium and locker rooms, practice facility, it’s been great for us, too. Everything has been very, very convenient from that standpoint.
We are excited to be here. Facing a very, very quality opponent in Louisville and well coached team that’s been red hot down the stretch here. Has lost some very, very close games to quality opponents. We recognize what Coach Petrino has done, not just this year, but over the course of his career and this is another fine football team that as you watch the video, they have gotten better every week and have come through and played some really, really quality opponents right down the wire and won seven out of their last nine.
So this was a team that obviously comes into this game hot, and a team that we need to be ready to roll early in the game because they are explosive in all three phases.
COACH PETRINO: I’d like to thank Franklin American Mortgage for everything they have done for us at the Bowl site.
Like Kevin said, it’s been a first-class set up, first-class organization, from where we practice to the weight room that we use, the meeting rooms, and the events that they have had for our players. I think it’s been a great experience for our players.
This is a fun game for me, because I met Kevin a long time ago, he was coaching at Washington State and I was coaching at Idaho. We would hang out a little bit together and have some fun. Ever since that time, I followed his career and get his film from every season, see what I can steal from him. So it’s fun to be able to coach against each other.
One of the things that really jumps out at you when you put their video on is how fast they are and how talented they are and how well-coached they are. But I’ve been really happy with our preparations. Some of the years are harder than others, but this year has been great, and our preparation, our guys have had great attitudes. They have worked hard. A bunch of young guys that like each other and like football, so there hasn’t been any issues with being on time and practicing and doing things they are supposed to do. We try to balance our preparation and Bowl experience. We are excited to be here in Nashville with our fans that will come down from Louisville and our fans that will join us here today and tomorrow. So with that, just open up for questions.
Q. (No mic.)
COACH SUMLIN: He is a guy that came to Texas A&M, late after we had some highly-recruited guys. He understood where he was. He understood the challenges ahead of him, and I think because of his even keel, his level-headedness, he’s gone through some things a little different than some of the other players, and now with his time and his turn, because of how he’s handled things before that, I think he’s been able to handle things a little bit better.
And, let’s face it, the guy’s been around a little bit. He’s been at another university, a junior college, an older guy that’s traveled around a little bit. He’s used to adversity and I think he’s handled it well so far.
Q. (No mic.).
COACH SUMLIN: No, he’s not. He’s suspended from this game, yes.
Q. (No mic.)
COACH SUMLIN: We’ll deal with that later. I hope we don’t have any more before tomorrow.
Q. (No mic.)
COACH PETRINO: We go back a long way with Kevin and his philosophy ands all of us have some patterns on what we like to do schematically and what we believe in, and then you try to mix them up on what players strengths are, and one of the great challenges we have is they are very, very talented at the receiver position. Running back position. It’s really going to be more about how do we defend that and how do we defend the schemes that Kevin likes over the years than just one person.
Q. (No mic.)
COACH PETRINO: What we did is we took the first part of the Bowl preparation and went back and did an installation to try to really coach the young guys and re-teach our young players that are on the team. So you just install and you go right back to it like you would if they didn’t know anything.
And then once we got that over with, then we moved on to your preparation for the game and you kind of put that aside saying that this is going to show up and help us when we get to spring ball.
So our preparation for this game has been like a normal week and how you go about your business for a normal week.
COACH SUMLIN: Sounds like we are very similar in approach. Early part of Bowl preparation, concentrated on the younger players, the players who didn’t play as much, maybe some of the red-shirt, second, third string guys and went through installation, again, offensively, defensively, even special teams, the same drills that you do during fall camp, getting guys back used to what we do as a Texas A&M.
I say it all the time: Those guys that are red-shirted are used to being — Vanderbilt or Auburn or somebody else during the year and they get away from running your offense, running your defense, your special teams philosophy.
So we get back into game preparation week for a little bit more and really flip those roles back. And the travel squad guys get back to a really game-week mode mentality, and just like we talk about, my wife gives me a hard time because I don’t know what day it is, to me, today is Friday. We operate that way in a game week and play games on Saturday, so that is for me tomorrow. You guys can say whatever day it is, but we’ve got practice here in a little bit and we’ll have our regular Friday routine.
Q. What jumps out?
COACH SUMLIN: The first thing that jumps out is the guys up front are big and physical and they run well. As a defense, they play extremely hard. Very, very well-coached. I think you watch how they get to the ball, not as a single person, but as a group.
Todd has always been a really, really fine football coach and you see that on tape. Those guys are playing hard. And when you have a defense or any side of the ball that is well-coached but also gives great effort, I think you see the result of that statistically from their defense.
Again, that’s a great challenge for us because of the multiplicity of what they do, particularly if they can get new third down situations. So that’s going to be really a key for us in this game to be able to manage third down situations and be able to handle some of the exotic things that happen. But they are talented players that integrate scheme and are well-coached and play hard. That’s where you get the type of numbers that you get.
COACH PETRINO: Yeah, I think we still have a ways to go. When you look at Clemson and Florida State, and the speed that they possess, I do feel like being a fast football team is not just your 40 time. Being a fast football team is really understanding what our schemes are and what you’re supposed to do, and then having a great understanding of the other side of the football.
So there’s no hesitation, and you play full speed and you play fast. Being a young team that we had this year, there were times when we weren’t playing fast. We were hesitating and we weren’t sure. But I do think that the last five games of the year, that we got better at that. And we improved, and maybe at times we cut back a little bit so our guys could play faster.
Although we do want to go out there and recruit good 40 times. We want to go out there and recruit guys that are really fast on track. But it’s up to us as coaches to allow them to play fast by doing a great job of teaching..
Q. (No mic.)
COACH PETRINO: I hope so. I hope so. Although that’s a pretty good senior crew.
Q. (No mic.)
COACH SUMLIN: When you start talking about fast, I think he fits into what Coach was just talking about, guys that have an opportunity to change the game. And you just take a look at the last ballgame that was played, it was really a tale of two halves, and one half where a guy basically took over the game and ran away from a bunch of people on the field.
So you have both sides, and I thought that from a team speed standpoint, and that’s probably the challenge that we have, when you get outside of your conference, that you’re able to look at different teams and say, all right, we played these guys, see where they are here. The interesting thing about Bowl games, I think, are you really don’t have any real judge for that, and being able to get up to game speed, adjust to speed in this game is going to be very, very important, because we haven’t played since Thanksgiving week, No. 1 and No. 2, you’re playing the opponent that really, we’ve got — we have really one opponent in Auburn and that was a long, long time ago for all of us to judge that against.
Yeah, it’s easy to see what Coach is talking about, because this is a fast football team that we are playing against, and our challenge is going to be to get to game speed in a hurry and kick them.
Q. (No mic.)
COACH PETRINO: No offense, I hope he doesn’t. (Laughter).
Q. (No mic.)
COACH SUMLIN: No, he’s been fabulous, nothing short. I think I might get in trouble for it, but I’ve been public with it. I think it was a mistake. For him to not even be invited to have a chance to set a national record, for a guy who has been consistent over whether you’re going to talk about a career or whether a single season, he was more than deserving of not only being there but winning the award.
He’s been fabulous for us and a combination of penalty, distance, net punting, but being able to knock the ball down, not only inside the 20 but inside the 12-yard line which is something that he works very, very hard at.
So he’s a complete punter. He’s a next-level guy and like I said, no offense, he’s had a great career. I’d just like to keep it that way. I don’t really want him to play a lot tomorrow night, but if he has to, we’ve got a good one.
Q. (No mic.)
COACH SUMLIN: Philosophically whenever you have a coaching change, obviously you’re doing that to get better. And as players start to understand, the philosophy, and coaches start to understand the players a little bit more instead of just trying to make things work, you tend to get a little bit better.
So everybody being around each other over the course of the year, I think really helped, and you know, you make changes for a reason, and the reason is to get better, otherwise, you don’t make those changes.
We’ve gotten better on defense and I think we are going to continue to get better over time. Any time, just like I said a week ago, if the results that you have, in hindsight, it’s always going to be 20/20. If they were both still here, then you don’t have that conversation; they are not. You are always going to go back and re-evaluate how you do things and you’ve heard me say beforehand: The good things we’re going to evaluate and try to stay ahead of the curve. Things that didn’t work out, we’re going to look at what we need to do to fix it.
At no time, did we recruit guys that we want to leave the program. Yeah, we’ll evaluate where that is. We’ve already looked at that and we’ll see where we’re going from him.
I think when you’re inside the situation, I don’t think our guys see any turmoil. I think what they see is we’ve had Bowl practices. We’ve concentrated on the guys that are here, and there really has not been a distraction inside the program because those guys are practicing and we have been traveling. There’s really been nobody on campus but us.
For our guys, it’s been a chance to become closer as a team and in particular, get home to your families for Christmas and get to Nashville. For us, I haven’t seen much in practice or in a meeting.
Q. (No mic.)
COACH PETRINO: You don’t know. What you do is you just prepare on a weekly basis, and it challenges your beliefs, there’s no question about that. And it challenges attitudes in the locker room. Losing is hard. It’s hard on everybody.
But that’s why I think that I have so much respect for our team and for our players that we never experience bad attitudes. Our guys continue to work hard, continue to like going to practice and being in the meeting rooms. And we were able to turn it around. Obviously it’s not something that we ever want to do again. We did not enjoy the experience at all.
But we fought through it and they are all — what I tell them is, it’s all going to happen to them sometime in their life where things are going to go good for a few weeks or three weeks or a month, and hopefully this experience helps them understand what you have to do to get by it.
Q. (No mic.)
COACH SUMLIN: To be honest with you, I don’t think Jake is thinking past tomorrow night with everything that’s happened. That’s a question you can probably ask him after the game. We’ve been consistent in our approach since — whether it was here or Houston.
This is a reward for our seniors and a way to really reward our older players for what they have accomplished over the course of their career. It’s important for them. For a lot of them, it’s the last football game they will ever play. For those guys, it takes — there’s a certain amount of passion that they are going to bring and we expect them to bring.
But until you’re there, at that point in your career, it’s hard to explain. But for our young guys, it’s a chance to really start the year off the right way.
And so, yeah, that whole message is never going to change in how we approach Bowl games and I think our guys have a pretty good understanding of that.
TODD GRANTHAM: First of all, this is a special group to me defensively. We came into this year losing seven starters from last year and really worked hard throughout the season to find a combination of guys that allowed us to win seven out of our last nine games. I think these guys have worked really hard.
They have probably ventured the University of Louisville into the hardest schedule in the history of the school. Didn’t start out the way we wanted it but guys kept grinding and guys kept working. Like I said, we won seven of our last nine games, thought guys played really well and were able to turn it around and do some great things. So we are looking forward to sending our seniors, the few guys that we have out, the right way and cap it off with a victory.
GARRICK McGEE: Yeah, just like Todd said, we are really happy with this team, the way that they stuck together throughout a really tough season. You know, on offense, when you got so many young people playing, so many true freshmen playing, it’s hard to find true leadership and guys that you can really hang your hat on throughout the game.
I just think that our captains, Aaron Epps, Kelby Johnson, those type kids, they really good a good job of keeping us together so that we could fight through the tough times that we had and then we get an opportunity tomorrow night to send our seniors out the right way; and to get our young kids headed in the right direction for next season. Really excited with the season but I think our kids are really excited to be the day before the game.
Q. (No mic.)
GARRICK McGEE: It’s been said a lot that our approach with them when they got back was to go back to training camp, because Lamar got there in June and it was his first time to even start learning any of the terminology.
So we were able to go back the first week or so of Bowl preparation and teach him the offense as if he didn’t know anything about the offense. And he ended up learning a lot more because he heard some of those terms before, because he knew some of those concepts, but when you go back and re-teach it, I think he has a much better grasp right now than he did after the Kentucky game about the way our concepts and our protections and things really work.
And then fundamentally, we got a chance to just go back to day one basics, getting under the center, getting your feet in the right position, how to handle the ball under the center. And I think you’ll see some development from him in the game tomorrow, as being a true quarterback.
Q. (No mic.)
GARRICK McGEE: Well, there are some more different concepts that he’s able to handle now. You’re going to see him in some different situations than you’ve seen him in the past because he’s a little more developed. I think we’ve had 11 or 12, maybe 13 practices, which is almost spring ball. So after 13 practices, you should be a lot better than the last time you played.
Q. (No mic.)
TODD GRANTHAM: Well, first off, you’ve got to have good leaders and you’ve got to have guys in the locker room that are going to be voicing the things that you’re talking to them in meetings. I think our leadership is really strong. I think we’ve got some guys that are workers.
But the other thing is, after each game, you have to take a critical look at the tape. So we always came in on Sundays, took a critical look at the tape and there were things we did really well but at the end of the day we didn’t win the game. The most important thing is you didn’t win the game and you have to find ways to finish the game. Our players bought into that and they kept grinding and the biggest thing is they didn’t listen to the exterior noise. They listened to the guys in our building, they listened to our coaches and they listened to our leaders. Guys kept grinding; you could see on tape.
We are really close to finishing those games off and the biggest thing we had to do was just really take a critical look at your tape and find ways to make yourself better and if you make yourself better, then you take a team approach, then our team is going to be better. And that’s really what we did, and we took it one game at a time and kept building on it and got some momentum at the end of the year.
GARRICK McGEE: No, it wasn’t for us at all, because we were 0-3, but when I went and talked with them about all three of those games, they were one-possession games. We lost to Auburn by seven points, Houston maybe a three-point game and Clemson a three-point game and I think we had seven freshmen starting at that time.
So they saw it as not only are we in college but we are actually out there competing against some of the top teams in the country and we are going to be fine. We’ve just got to continue to get better. So it wasn’t hard for us. We just had to keep grinding them, keep them confident and hopefully things start to slow down at some point for them. That was the plan as we started off so slow.
Q. (No mic.)
GARRICK McGEE: It’s a little different for us because we were so experienced last year. We had a lot of seniors last year. Well, this year, there’s a bunch of young kids. So the preparation is a little bit different. These kids are looking towards next year.
I think that’s why when Coach talks about the attitude of the team every day, they are really pushing to get better. We challenged everybody to get better in their fundamentals and techniques every single day, not just focus on this game but focus on becoming a better player. And so it has not been — it’s been a lot different this Bowl preparation has been for us on offense.
TODD GRANTHAM: Yeah, defensively, we are really young in the sense we are other losing four players that played for us in the course of the year. These guys are workers. They want to send the seniors that are leaving out the right way because of the leadership that they provided through the beginning of the season, and really, just what they have meant to our program.
I mean, to be able to take a program into a new conference and be able to have the success that we’ve had over the first couple years is exciting. And you know, we want to send those guys out the right way but we also want to kick-start our season for next year.
Q. (No mic.)
TODD GRANTHAM: Well, you are always working for depth and each year is a lot different, we were different last year personnel-wise than this year because of the guys that we had coming in. It’s going to change a little bit next year with the addition of a few guys. I’m big into cross-training guys. I think it’s important that you’re able to play multiple spots because at the end of the day, defense is about winning one-on-one match-ups and you’ve got to find ways to get your best players on the field at the same time and you can only play with 11.
So sometimes a guy has to play more than one spot. Josh Harvey is probably a great example of that in the sense that he’s played our star position but he’s also played safety. Sheldon Rankins has played inside for us as a defensive tackle but yet he’s played outside for us.
And by being able to cross-train guys, you can get your better players on the field together, and it’s always about what is the best combination of players that you can put on the field to help you win the game.
So that’s the big part of it, is really just being able to cross-train guys and getting the experience they need.
Q. (No mic.)
TODD GRANTHAM: Not really. When you look at their team, first of all, they have done an excellent job of recruiting. When you look at the players that they have, up front, they are young, but they have got talent and they have gotten better throughout the year and they work hard to finish blocks. They have got a downhill runner that can move and it turn a three- or four-yard gain into a six-, seven- or eight-yard gain or double-digit run.
And then when you get outside, they have got guys that are tall with length and they have guys with speed. They create mismatches that way and then they are fast and well-coached. It’s really more about the system, than necessarily one player. You are always going to tweak things relative to the personnel that you’re going to see but for the most part we are preparing for that system the same way.
Q. (No mic.)
TODD GRANTHAM: Well, first of all, because of these guys are leaving to go home for Christmas or I should say new years, and they were there during the Christmas holidays, so I’ve had conversations with those guys to give them some information to look at. Because they have got to think through some things and they have got to make the choice that’s best for them. And it needs to be an educated decision because you are talking about the future and it’s an investment in them.
This is their brand. This is a future for them as a business person. I mean, so they have got to really look at it and do what’s best for them. Each guy’s different. I’ve kind of talked to each one about my opinion on it, and where they should go or stand.
And they both have got to make the decision that’s best for them and I think the biggest thing is you provide them with the information to allow them to make an educated, calculated decision moving forward.
Q. (No mic.)
GARRICK McGEE: Yeah, well, it’s really important to win any game. It takes a lot of pressure off your quarterback when you are able to run the football and what we have been talking about is running the football with our tailback, not just Lamar running the ball. But at certain points during the game, you end up doing whatever you have to do to win and if that means Lamar is carrying the ball, then it is what it is.
We don’t want to get cared away with making sure everyone else is running the ball and Lamar not running the ball, because that would not be what’s best for our team; that he is one of our most explosive players, he’s one of the most dynamic players probably on the field.
So to give us the best opportunity to win, we need to let him do what he does best. And you know, so we are not going to get cared away in a one-game situation with making sure everybody else touches the ball. We are going to let Lamar carry it if he needs to carry it.