Wednesday, December 29th, 2004


Offensive Coordinator Les Koenning

On the week of preparation thus far: “It has really been good. The kids have been focused. We’ve had some very, very spirited practices. Guys have gotten after it. É We’re a high-rep organization. We do a lot of teaching on film. That has probably been the roughest part for us because the Cotton Bowl does such a great job with festivities and keeping our kids going. We’re trying to squeeze in some film work and be able to watch that in the morning. But it has been absolutely great. The kids have really come back with a great attitude and worked really hard.”

On what other teams the Tennessee defense can be compared to: “Their defensive coordinator and our defensive coordinator are really good friends. They always share ideas with each other. So what we’ve noticed is a strong resemblance to playing against our team. In this week’s preparation, we’ve gone ‘good against good’ because the schemes are fairly similar. É They clinic together and they do different things together, so it has allowed us to work against our defense a lot, which has been helpful.”

On the Tennessee front seven: “Don’t ever think you’re going to get the same front twice in a row. Their idea is to change things up. With the schemes these days, you say you’re a four-man line team or a three-man line team, you better be able to utilize both of them. They also use multiple looks in the secondary. É That has helped us because it has allowed us to be able to work against our own defense. É We’re always looking for mismatches. We’re always looking to mismatch maybe a receiver with a linebacker. Also, one of the characteristics that our team tries to bring to the table is speed. É They’re very good up front. They run to the ball extremely well, they tackle well. É We’re going to have to plant our foot and get rid of it in the throwing game. In the running game, we’re going to have to sustain blocks and finish.”

On whether the Tennessee secondary is vulnerable: “One thing I see is that they’re young in the secondary. They’re a lot like us up front. We’re young up front. É I think they’re getting better every time. É They do such a good job of mixing it up. We also do, I think, a pretty good job of changing formations where we put people in different positions.”

On the protection that has been given to quarterback Reggie McNeal: “That’s a tribute to our guys up front. They’ve done a good job up front. É One of the big moves we made this spring was moving Geoff Hangartner from center to offensive tackle. It has allowed us to secure the perimeter on some of our perimeter runs. He has done an outstanding job for us.”

On how much the option will be used: “We have the ability to run the option, we have the ability to throw it. I think those are two things as a defensive coordinator that you look at and say, ‘Well, how do you prepare?’ That helps us. The other thing that will help us is spreading the field. As long as we can spread the field and be able to stay in our game plan, that’s important to us.”

WR Terrence Murphy

On being a team leader and making other players feel a part of the team: “I try to make everybody feel comfortable. Any and everybody on the team, I know their names, I talk to them. That’s just the kind of person I am. People might expect me to be one of those guys with a big head and stuck up, but I’m just humble. É I’m like that with everybody. I’m like that with kids, elders, anybody I meet on campus. I’m like that with everybody, no matter their race or creed. É My mom raised me like that.”

On if the Tennessee secondary is vulnerable: “I just think they had some breakdowns in some games. But if they play sound football like they can, they have a really good secondary. É I think they will come out ready to play. They play hard, man. The front seven all fly to the ball. We’re going to have to run straight at them because running sideways, they can fly to the ball.”

WR Jason Carter

On the earlier loss to Baylor: “We definitely took something away from it. Baylor played their hearts out that night. They hung in there until the end of the game. We had our chances to put them away, but we didn’t. When you don’t put them away when you have a chance, anything can happen.”

On the fact that his brother, Matthew Carter, has been serving with the Army in Iraq: “I got news last night that he made it back to Germany. Everything is going good, so I’m thankful for that. We’re just blessed to have him back in Germany safely. Hopefully, sometime in late January or early February, he’ll be here to see me. É He went in the Army straight out of high school. I haven’t seen him since last Christmas.”

On the Tennessee defense: “Their defensive line is real good. But I really think our offense will make out really good against them. We have a great group of skill players.”

RB Courtney Lewis

On the progress from last season to this season: “In the spring we started coming around. We tried to emphasize certain things to make us better as a whole. When two-a-days came around, everybody just stepped up their game. After the loss to Utah, it was like an eye opener because we knew we were better than that. We came back and got our heads together. We did what we had to do to win. É We concentrated on everybody not being selfish. That’s why they took the names off the backs of our jerseys. We had a lot of selfish players last year. We just had to make a turnaround from where we used to be to where we are now. We don’t celebrate as much as individuals. We try to celebrate as a team, especially when somebody scores.”

On the Tennessee defense: “What impresses me is their front four. They’re quick, they can move, they’re fast. They can get off blocks very quickly. They’re impressive. They remind me of Texas. Their front four was quick. We know what we have to do to compete. The week of preparation has been very good on both sides of the ball. We took an extra step by getting here. So we need to take another step to try to get the win out of this.”

QB Reggie McNeal

On earlier injuries: “You just overcome it. I’m 100 percent right now. You play 10 or 11 games, you’re going to be tired and banged up. That’s everybody around the country. You just have to go out and get it done. It’s something you’ve got to do. É I’m fine now. I just needed a couple of days off.”

On the adjustment for quarterbacks from high school to college: “Especially playing quarterback, there’s so much to learn. The speed of the game from high school to college is so much faster. When I was being recruited, there were a couple of schools that just told me straight out that they were going to move me because I played safety in high school, too. They were going to put me in the secondary. They found out that I wanted to play quarterback, and they changed their minds. I talked to Coach (R.C.) Slocum, and he said he would leave me at quarterback. And that’s what I wanted to play.”

On adjusting to the speed of college athletes: “You have people running a 4.4, a 4.5. You have to adjust to that. É You have to learn to get down and avoid taking some of those shots. You have to get out of bounds when you can. When you’ve already gained 10 or 15 yards and there are two or three people coming at you, there’s no use in trying to take somebody head on. Defensive men want to hit a quarterback. They love hitting quarterbacks. There’s no use in taking those shots. É You continue to hit the weights when you have time so you can get bigger and stronger.”

On which Tennessee defensive players are impressive: “Really, it’s their whole front seven. All of them run well and are strong. It’s more than just one or two people. They play as a team. Everybody is on the same page.”

OT Geoff Hangartner

On the Tennessee defensive line: “They have some big, physical players up front. They play good, solid run defense. É. When you look at personnel, they’re comparable to Oklahoma and Texas. They have those kinds of players. I don’t know if they’re as fast as Oklahoma, but they’re definitely a big, strong, physical team.”

On coming into a bowl game just after the Christmas break: “I feel we’ve done a good job of preparation this week. It’s hard when you’re at a bowl site. You have to focus. You have to think about getting yourself ready to go practice. You have to know when it’s time to go to work. It’s something I think we’ve handled well. When it’s time to go to practice, we get in the frame of mind we need to be in.”

On what it means to the program to be in a Jan. 1 bowl: “It shows how far we’ve come from last year. We were 4-8, and in some of those losses we got beat pretty handily. It wasn’t a play or two here or there. We got beat pretty badly in a couple of those games. This just shows how far this program has come in one year. É It gets kind of boring sitting around the house when you’re not in a bowl game and watching everybody else play.”

--69th SBC Cotton Bowl Classic--