Saturday, January 1st, 2005
TENNESSEE - PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTESTHE MODERATOR: Coach, I don't know whether you've been told or not, but the MVP trophies are going to go to your team.
The outstanding offensive player will receive the Sanford trophy. Rick Clausen, the quarterback, congratulations to you.
For the defensive player, the McKnight trophy will go to Justin Harrell, who is defensive tackle.
Coach, if you'd like to give us your take on the game, give us some opening comments.
COACH FULMER: Obviously, very, very proud of our football team and staff. We had a really good week in Knoxville preparing right after finals and came here I think very intent on playing well. Probably our best effort of the year as a team, or at least in some time. The offense was playing well, defense playing well, and special teams playing well.
It's been a struggle at different times during the course of the year because one side of the ball would play exceptionally well and the other side of the ball would fight its rear off. We'd find a way to win, but not always as pretty as we'd like.
Today against a very fine offensive team, our defense really made a comeback from what it had been doing the last couple of weeks. I'm proud of that. The secondary challenged themselves. Coach (inaudible) challenged them. Jason Allen, his leadership challenged them. We were talking about the whole Bowl preparation, about a comeback, playing better, not giving up plays that would end up being the difference in the ballgame. I'm really proud of that.
Obviously, we ran the ball well. First time in school history to have 2000 yard rushers. That says a lot for a lot of people. Line, runningbacks, lead backs, fullbacks getting it done, receivers, quarterbacks. A big accomplishment for us.
It's a young football team in a lot of ways, a lot to look forward to in the future if we can come back with the same kind of work ethic and attitude that this team had. As I told the team inside, I'm very grateful to the seniors and their leadership, particularly the captains and their leadership. It's been a wonderful year that way.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Coach, they mentioned they expected you to run the ball, and you came out passing. How much of a difference did that make?
COACH FULMER: I think it helped us open it up some. Rick has done extremely well throwing the football, obviously getting on the board early and first. CJ taking a good play and turning it into a big play, CJ Fayton was a heck of a starter for us. I think that kind of got them backed up a little bit.
Then after that, it was kind of pick and choose what you really felt like you wanted to do because I think we had them on their heels some.
Q. How surprised were you about the turnovers that A&M had today? Uncharacteristic of that team.
COACH FULMER: It is uncharacteristic. We set a goal to get four and I think we ended up with five. You saw the kids each time talking about it. Think our team speed helped us. Our first game maxim is the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins. We've really been trying hard to take care of the football. Did a heck of a job of that. Our defense did a great job of hitting, getting their hands up. There was even an opportunity for a couple more.
That was one of the ways we felt like we were going to win the game.
Q. Coach, you talked earlier in the week about Rick. I guess was this the perfect ending to it?
COACH FULMER: It's not ended yet. He's got another year.
We're very appreciative of Rick. You know, it would have been real easy for Rick and you could go back further than that if you want to. It is a great story. Rick played behind Casey, I'm not going to try to embarrass him, in high school. He really only had one year of being the starter. Went to LSU, because he didn't want to follow Casey necessarily.
As it turns out, he ends up back at Tennessee. We knew when he was running the scout team for us, his attitude, everything, threw the ball well, we knew he was going to be a guy that had a chance to be in the mix.
I sat down with Rick and CJ, but spent time with Rick particularly because I think he really understood football and talked to him about the freshmen quarterbacks, where we were, what we were thinking. They were really going to be good. He was never selfish, did a fabulous job of working and staying into it and helping us.
Then he came in and validated himself at the end of the year. Without question he validated himself as a quarterback for the Tennessee football team here at the end of the year. He did as well as anybody could have asked or expected of any quarterback. Not just a guy that's playing, he was legitimately a quarterback for us. It's exciting for me to see him do well.
Q. Rick, could you talk about this day, what it was like for you. There were a lot of stories during the week about how you had persevered and all that. I saw a quote where you said you expected them to make you throw the ball. Obviously that worked pretty well for you.
RICK CLAUSEN: Yeah. When I got receivers like the receivers that we have on our team and the runningbacks and the fullbacks and tight ends, my job is very simple: get the ball in their hands. Those are the guys that make plays.
I threw a five yard rout to CJ Fayton and it took it to the end zone. As long as I get the ball in their hands, good things happen. The defensive line all year persevered through the injuries and everything. Those guys really held the offense together. So I got to give a lot of credit to everybody else.
Q. Gerald Riggs, I talked to you earlier this week about what it's like coming into a team's backyard and winning the game, watching their fans leave. As far as the games go, you said you did it at Tennessee, you did it at Florida. Now you've done it here at Texas. What was the feeling like watching their fans leave in awe of being beating 38 7?
GERALD RIGGS: Well, it felt good because we won the game, so that's the most important thing. But to be able to come in somebody's backyard and really be able to focus and see the team bond, come together, and execute, having 11 guys on the same page, just shows what kind of focus we have and the maturity on this team to be able to come into a hostile situation and make the best of it. That's what we pride ourselves on being able to do, is being able to focus when our backs are against the wall and making things happen.
Q. Coach Fulmer, you went into some quick counts. I don't know if you were trying to keep a certain defensive package in. They had people moving around. Was that one of your game plans to get them to start in a defensive package?
COACH FULMER: Yeah, we felt like we had to do three or four things to keep them off balance. That was to use a quick count, to use the bunch formations, to be able to throw the ball down the field. We tried several deep balls. Really didn't hit any of them, but we felt like we could have hit a couple of those.
Then use the freeze play, which Rick did an exceptional job of it, where we go through the cadence and see what they're in, then play from there. Those four things were crucial, and we did all four of them exceptionally well. We got one penalty on the freeze, I think from the clock guys. Other than, that we handled the noise. We talked about poise for the noise. We were able to do that pretty good today.
Q. Coach, what about the fact, I know you talked through the week about wanting Bowl success because you've had some recent Bowl failures. Your team looked excited early, coming out, jumping up. Did you put a lot of emphasis on everybody getting into the game?
COACH FULMER: We're not a senior team. We're a very young football team in a lot of ways. 13 seniors and about five or six that really start.
You know, there's not any magic dust out there that you just sprinkle on somebody and say, Let's be excited. If you would have asked me Thursday, our Thursday practice was about as bad as we've had this year, to be honest with you. I mean, these guys know, I'm sweating bullets. I say, We may get run out of the stadium.
But young people are resilient. We talked about being here, the great opportunity we had. I told them, This is a tremendous Bowl, the tradition of this Bowl, to put the exclamation point on this season was extremely important.
We talked a bit after practice yesterday. Not that talk has anything to do with it. They came out and got it done. Then obviously this morning, we talked about, you know, the same thing, about what it's going to take to win the game, not so much X's and O's but from an emotional standpoint. We felt like if we played to our level, and we played well as a team, not just one side of the ball.
In the third quarter, the SEC championship game, I mentioned this, we played as a team. That was the first time in a long time. Then we've built on that. So hopefully we'll build on it even more in the future.
Q. Coach, the Auburn game in Knoxville seemed to be a turning point. Since that, both sides of the line really seem to have stepped up and had a much bigger impact, played at a higher level. Were there adjustments that you made out of that or anything you point to that you'd attribute that success to?
COACH FULMER: No. I think it was happening before that actually. We were making progress in the defensive front as we went along. We played some of the best runningbacks you can imagine early in the season. They were getting some yards, but less and less and less, and playing better. Then in the middle part of the season, our secondary was really playing outstanding, even though they were quite young.
The Auburn game was a bit, you know, with the six turnovers, kind of like today. We're probably not that much better than them, but if you turn the ball over, you're going to get your butt waxed pretty good. That's the difference.
Auburn is a good team, a really good team. They'll represent our conference as a BCS team. We're not that far from them.
Q. Rick, was there anything that you did specifically or anything you saw in A&M's defense that you were able to exploit out there?
RICK CLAUSEN: I think the biggest key was just to get the ball in the hands of the athletes. It's tough understanding and recognizing the coverages that they run because they're so multiple in what they do on the defensive side of the ball.
But just getting the ball out to the receivers in space where they can do something with it was something that we and Coach Sanders (ph) talked about. Just trying to get the ball out in space and let them have fun with the football. As long as I did that, as long as I was running the ball well, the offense will move.
Q. It looked like you defensive guys were getting a strong push into the backfield on the majority of the plays. Were you surprised at all that you were able to essentially push Texas A&M around like you did?
JUSTIN HARRELL: Coming to the game, we knew what we were capable of doing because we played against lines like Texas A&M all year. That was the main focus for us, going in there and getting pressure on the quarterback because we knew how great of an athlete he was, he could return and stuff.
We just set our mind on it that we was going to get back and put pressure on them all day. The defensive backs did a good job of covering receivers where we could actually get to the quarterback and make him move around and stuff.
That was a major focus going for us going into this game. We did a pretty good job of it today.
Q. Coach, your team is a Bowl veteran team. You guys are used to this. You've been doing it for 16 straight years. A&M is not? What kind of impact did that have on the game?
COACH FULMER: Well, I mean, A&M is as good a tradition as anybody in the country. Just recent tradition, I guess this group of kids didn't go last year. Before that, I think they may have. I don't remember.
But, you know, I think it helps us, the experience of it. The last couple we've had, haven't been great experiences, but you draw on the 2001, we played Michigan and win the game going away. I think one of the things, I said this to the lady on the TV maybe, I think the SEC championship game, us having another game and continuing to play probably helped us some.
I think we went at it in practice pretty good, you know, back in Knoxville. We had two big scrimmages, scrimmaged against Texas A&M. Our second team ran Texas A&M's plays. Came down here and right off the bat had a pretty good scrimmage on Tuesday.
I think our kids were physically ready. You run a little bit of risk of injuries or whatever. But we were physically ready to play this game and emotionally ready to play this game. Obviously, the way it started off, it really kind of mushroomed on A&M. They're probably a better team than what they played today.
You also look at it, they took Oklahoma to the last play of the game. We used that to get our kids excited, too.
Q. For the defense, you guys were able to keep their big play makers, Terrence Murphy and Reggie McNeal, Courtney Lewis, pretty much shut them down. Can you talk about how you were able to be complete in taking all three of those guys pretty much out?
KEVIN BURNETT: The first thing for us was go out there and contain the quarterback, don't let him beat us with his legs. Second thing was break the short routs, and the defensive backs did a good job of that. The last thing was get a pass rush. When all of those are working together, any football team is a hard football team to beat when you have those three things going well for you.
Q. Kevin, can you talk about after their two early turnovers, especially the second one when you tore McNeal's helmet off, he seemed a bit rattled, maybe begun shy, but he was definitely thinking.
KEVIN BURNETT: Any quarterback in the game of football doesn't like to get hit. Our job was to go out there and make him uncomfortable. We knew if we could get him uncomfortable, then he would have a hard time beating us. We were determined not to let one guy beat us.
We wanted to go out there and put pressure on the quarterback. We did just that.
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to congratulate you.