TENNESSEE MEDIA DAYHead Coach Phillip Fulmer
Opening Statement: “Over the years after attending different bowl games around the country, this is absolutely the very best. As far as a host city and host individuals, they make you feel very welcome to their community. They go out of their way to make sure the team, their staff, and the support personal have a good time as well as for example the facility that we’re able to practice in today and yesterday gives us the best opportunity to prepare for a game so we appreciate very much all help and the hospitality.
“The football team is excited about the chance to participate against a really fine team that Texas A&M is. We had exceptional work in Knoxville before we came and broke for Christmas and came to Dallas. We’ll continue that work here with high intensity that this youthful football team needs. We had about a 30-play scrimmage today which is our second scrimmage: one at home and one here. We had one against today against ourselves to get back into it and then two versus the Texas A&M looks. I like the way that we’re going about our business and preparing. We still have obviously our difficulties. Unfortunately, when we arrived here, Brent Schaeffer has the flu. We’ll hopefully get him out there really soon.
“We’re hanging our hat, as we would have anyway, on Rick Clausen, who I’m really proud of. I think he’s a great story in college football. The young man, at the time we decided to go with a freshman at the beginning of the season, continued to work hard, leave himself in a position to continue to improve during the course of the year even though he had very limited reps, and then when his opportunity presented itself he’s done exceptionally well and led us to the SEC Eastern Division Championship and the championship game and now here at the Cotton Bowl. I really appreciate Rick and we are very fortunate to have him in our system and doing as well as he has done, particularly in light of losing two quarterbacks in back-to-back weeks.
“Rick’s had excellent work since he’s been down here. A lot of our offense is centered around our running game. Our offensive line, even though at times it’s had to be patch-worked together, has done a good job. We have one running back over 1,000 yards and another one that I think is about 50 yards from being at 1,000 yards. As we approach this ballgame, it’s obvious that we’re going to have to lean on the running game as much as we can. Rick has done a good job using our receivers and his ability to get the ball down the field is going to be extremely important. We’ve worked hard and made some progress.
“Defensively, early in the season we were kind of finding our way. We’re kind of young on the defensive side. Early in the season we played against some really fine offenses, in particular running backs. I could see us improving, getting better, and working at it. By midseason Ð the Florida game particularly Ð on, our defense really carried the load as we struggled with some injuries on the offensive line and other places. They really did a great job. For whatever reason, the last three ballgames we have not played as well as we need to.
Texas A&M is a really fine team. Dennis [Franchione] has done a tremendous job in two years to turn that thing around. They’ve got players that are well-coached. If you look at their record, they’ve lost to top-five teams, as ours did, except for one, as ours did. That team could just as easily been 10-1 or better.”
On the passing of former UT star Reggie White: “We’ve had a really interesting week in the Tennessee family. The sadness certainly coming from the death of Reggie. In my mind for that one year he was the most dominant player I’ve ever seen at any position, his senior year. He would have been as a junior, but he got an ankle sprain in two-a-days and it affected his year as a junior. As great as he was in high school, at the collegiate level, in the National Football League, the greatest thing about Reggie White was the person that he was, and he carried his faith out front. Often time we would talk about all of the spiritual things about being a high-profile individual as he was was. He would come talk to the team; he would come during the summer and surprise us. He’d work out with the guys. He always did that with a great spirit. Our condolences go out to the family, his children, his wife Sara, wonderful people. We’re very, very saddened by the loss of Reggie White.”
On the SEC Championship Game: I think the Auburn game we definitely competed hard and I like that. It was a struggle but we took advantage of their turnovers, as they had taken advantage of ours in the previous game, and we hung in the game.There was a time we had tied that game and had things going our way, and I felt this team had really come together. For a young football team that stretch in the third quarter was as good as we’ve been. My hope is that we can take that same intensity and carry it over and be that same football team for an entire four quarters.”
On running backs Gerald Riggs, Jr. and Cedric Houston: “I think both those guys have done exceptionally well. Gerald is a heck of a story. It took him some time to mature and grow up into what we all thought he could be. When you talk about the backs we’ve had here (Jamal Lewis, Aaron Hayden, Travis Henry), Gerald Riggs is in that category from a talent standpoint, if he doesn’t let his immaturity get in his way. I’ve seen a lot of maturity, a lot of growth, in him as a person, and as a student, and as a student of the game. He’s a guy you can give the ball to 30 times a game and he’ll help you win all your games.
TB Cedric Houston
On his last opportunity to get a bowl game victory: “Once we found out who our opponent was, we’ve been increasing our intensity and focus. We have early curfews this week and our practices have more intense than ever.”
On the death of former UT star Reggie White: “I had a chance to meet him a couple of times, he’s a great guy, he has a great family. He’s a big part of the Tennessee history. He was like one of our brothers out there. My best goes out to his family.”
LB Kevin Burnett
On playing in the SBC Cotton Bowl Classic: “For me this will be my last college football game. It’s truly an honor to be back here where my family started, in Texas. I should have 8-12 family members here that will make the trip from Texas & California.
On playing his final collegiate game: “As a fifth year senior, it’s important for us to go out on an exciting note.
We’ve come down here with a business mindset. The Cotton Bowl is a fun place to be, but at the same time we have to take care of business.”
TB Gerald Riggs
On carrying his 182 yd. rushing performance in the SEC Championship game to the Cotton Bowl: “Across the board, everyone stepped up and played well to allow me to get some of those long runs and make some of those plays I was able to make in that game. It takes everyone doing their part to execute and make sure those things get done. Obviously, we want to carry that performance to this game. This is a big game for us to play against Texas A&M. They’re a historic program just like we are. In order for us to win we’ll need to win the time of possession battle, and running the ball will be critical.”
OG Cody Douglas
“This game is very important to us from a lot of standpoints. I think our whole team is excited about being here and excited about playing an opponent like Texas A&M.”
On preparing for the Aggies: “I’m very familiar with Texas A&M. I grew up in Texas. I watched Texas A&M a lot and I played with a lot of their guys. I know a lot of them personally. One thing I expect from them from the offensive side of the ball is a physical game. They come in with a great reputation on defense and you always have to be prepared for that. It’s just an exciting game to be a part of and I’m ready to get out there and play.”
On playing in the Cotton Bowl: “This is very special for me. I’ve always dreamed of playing in this game. It’s the one game that is always marked on my calendar. I’ve watched it every year. I’ve got a lot of family coming, I think have about 51 tickets reserved and I may have to get six more.”
QB Rick Clausen
On using the Cotton Bowl to strengthen the possibility of becoming the starting QB for the 2005 season: “What happens in the future is going to happen. I just have to make the most of the opportunity that is in front of me. Whatever’s best for the football team, Coach Fulmer and his staff will make that decision. Right now my job is to help this team beat Texas A&M. That’s the only goal and the only thing I’m trying to concentrate on.”