Monday, December 30th, 2002

UT Head Coaches News Conference

Opening statement: “Being back in Dallas is really exciting for us because so many of our players’ families can come watch us practice. All of the high school coaches have been able to come out, and we’ve been able to see them over the holidays. É It would be a great week if you didn’t have to play a game. Those games get in the way. É When you look at what SBC has done in helping the Cotton Bowl, it’s really special. É It looks like it’s going to be another sellout, and we’re going to have good weather, which is always important on New Year’s Day in Dallas. É If you’re not playing for the national championship, you want to play somebody that you really respect, that’s a real challenge. É The SEC has been one of the more dominant conferences in our lifetime, and the Big 12 is trying to get there. We feel like we’re making a lot of progress. Every time you play a team like LSU that has won their conference championship and dominated Illinois in their bowl game last year, it’s a special challenge for us. Nick did a great job in the pros, did a great job at Michigan State, and he’s carrying on that same tradition and coaching style at LSU. They have the great players. They’re fifth in the country in defense. They’ve done an amazing job when they lost their quarterback early in the year. É to not lose their focus and come back and play so well, and put themselves in a position to be here.”
On the LSU defense: “Nick gets so much credit for his defense, and he should. They’re very physical, they stop the run and they put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.”
On the LSU offense: “I like the physical style that they play. They line up, run right at you, hit you right in the mouth. It will be a great challenge for our defense.”
On the LSU program: “I coached at LSU (in 1982). I know their tradition. It was a great time in my life. You go back and look at their history and LSU has not been consistent in a long time. Nick has put them in back-to-back January bowl games for the first time in many, many years, and he deserves a whole lot of credit. He’s got a lot of help in his state like we do in Texas. There are a lot of coaches who live in Louisiana. There are 20 million who live in Texas. But they’re both fun places to coach.”
On changes in the Texas defensive scheme since the school’s previous two bowl games: “We gave up a lot of points in the last two bowl games, but we also had a lot of turnovers. And usually if you turn the ball over on your end of the field, you put your defense in a tough spot. Turnovers are a key part of bowl games. É LSU struggled on offense after they lost their starting quarterback like everybody in America would, but they’ve done an amazing job of taking Marcus (Randall) and putting him in a position to try to make plays. So their offense is back on track. And to me that’s coaching. When you lose what you’ve got, when you’ve worked on it all year and have to change it in the middle of the year É that’s what Nick and those guys have done. So we’ll have our hands full.”
On the fact that running back Cedric Benson is now healthy: “Cedric has been banged up all year. It’s probably partly because he plays pro baseball in the summer. It’s more difficult for him to work out like he should when he’s on that bus, traveling around the country and hitting a baseball. It’s something we have to look at. Ricky Williams was so big and so strong, but in his last year he left summer baseball in July to come back and work out with the team so he would be in great shape. Cedric is going to continue to play baseball in the summer. So if that’s going to be the case, we’re going to have to be more aware of his conditioning and his strength levels immediately when he comes in. We’ll probably need to have him share time more early in the season than we did this year because we’re trying to run him into shape. É As far as the running game overall, we’re still not pleased with it. I would like to be a football team that can line up and run the ball when it wants to. We haven’t been able to do that the last four years. We were able to do that our first year. Ricky looked pretty good yesterday (in the NFL) so he probably had a little bit to do with that. É But we’ll continue to work hard. Again, I think it’s hard to win all of your games unless you can run the ball. So people are doing it because they play great defense. But to me the teams that usually win the championships are the ones who can run it the best. We have not run it as bad as some of our critics act like we have. Cedric has gained over 1,000 yards and is the first back to do it his freshman and sophomore years at the University of Texas. We have had games when we’ve run the ball really, really well. It’s just that we haven’t run it consistently well every week.”
An overall assessment of the 2002 season: “At LSU and Texas, your expectations are really, really high. And we haven’t been consistent in either program. É We feel like we’ve had a real good season. É This group of seniors has helped us over the last three years be a lot more consistent than we’ve been probably in the last 25 years. É Sometimes in this business, when you get down to it you’ve got to be lucky. You’ve got to be good enough, you’ve got to work hard enough, you’ve got to focus well enough, your players have to play well enough each week that you’re going to be lucky because there are a lot of good football teams out there. As far as the statement we want to make in the Cotton Bowl, we want to play really hard and really well. That’s important. É As far as this game, when you coach at LSU and you coach at Texas, you need to win every game. We’ve said many times that the only devastating losses at Texas are the losses. It’s the same way at LSU. You need to win. É These programs are such that your expectations are really, really high. There’s never a game you go into that you don’t need to win. And we’ll have to play as well as we have played all year. I think LSU would have played Georgia for the conference championship and probably beat them if they hadn’t lost their players at midseason. That’s how good I feel like they are. To lose two key offensive players at midseason and still keep your defense fifth in the country, that’s impressive because usually when one side struggles a little, the other side falls with them. They did not allow that to happen. I’ve coached with three coaches on their staff. I know how good they are.”
On how much difference the rest coming into the Cotton Bowl will make: “We’ve had a year where we’ve had a lot of people miss games like LSU has had a lot of people miss games. The difference was our quarterback play. As Nick said, that’s the key. But we’ll be more healthy on Wednesday than we’ve been throughout the season. (Wide receiver) B.J. Johnson has been banged up all year. Things kind of accumulated in that area. And our defensive front has some problems.”
On a possible college football playoff system: “When you say you’re for a playoff system, there are about 97 different models out there so nobody knows what anybody is talking about. But I’ve always said we need to keep the bowl system in place and play the top teams at the end.”