Tulsa's Todd Graham Meets the Media for Weekly Press Conference
Sept. 22, 2008
Tulsa, Oklahoma -
Todd Graham PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES
After reviewing the film, I'm real excited and I think our staff is excited. It was probably one of the best games we've played since I've been here. As a team, it was a great team effort. There were a lot of positives. The thing I was most excited about was the home-field advantage that we have. I said this after the game, when I walked out and kind went through that tunnel and came out the other end of that helmet and looked at the crowd, it was overwhelming. We haven't had that kind of big-time Division I atmosphere here. That was incredible. I think it really helped our kids. Our kids fed off that.
What you hope for each week is that your guys are getting better and we got better as a football team and set a different standard. That's what I told our kids. We need to move forward from here and continue to get better every week. Do that and we have a chance to have a very good football team.
I also want to challenge our fans. We need them this week. Every week, you have to show up to play. We're playing a team that's undefeated this week. We need our fans to show up for our guys and create that same type of atmosphere. We've got the next two at home. The next game is the one that's the most important. I really appreciate our fans coming out and supporting us. It was a completely different atmosphere with the crowd noise and the stadium's a different structure now. It creates a great home-field advantage because of the noise and the crowd being right on top of you and how our fans were very much into the game. We are very excited at this point and enjoyed it on Saturday.
We're ready to move forward and get better. We have to continue to get better every day, but I thought it was a total team effort. We've gotten better in all three phases, which is something that excites me.
David Johnson IS GETTING SOME NATIONAL ATTENTION. HOW IS HE HANDLING IT?
I'm really proud of Dave. I challenge our players to stay grounded in what we're doing. Dave is an even-keeled guy. We've got talented players. One of the things that's real important in our system and what we preach to our guys is it's about team. It's about 11 guys, it's not about one. Dave would be the first to tell you that his individual success is due to the guys that are around him and the system in which he plays is designed for him. We're real proud of Dave.
Even though I told him we had our worst outing in terms of ball security. We don't need to do that. We played so well that those things didn't come back to haunt us. We counted nine times that we put the ball in jeopardy and we don't need to be doing that. I think the kids really understand that. All of those ball-security problems happened when we were 40-something points ahead. But even at that, it still doesn't need to happen then. We're really proud of Dave and the leader that he is. Each week we vote for captains and he is unanimously selected every single week to be a captain. He's a leader of our team. I think it's well-deserved. He's shown in three games ... you have to earn it every week ... but he's one of the best in the country.
YOU HAVE A DOMINATING WIN OVER A GOOD FOOTBALL TEAM, BUT THE PLAYERS SAY THEY CAN GET BETTER. HOW DO YOU GET BETTER?
There are lots of ways we can get better. I think that's the thing that excites me. I see how well we're playing in certain phases. I think we made great improvements. I challenged our coaching staff defensively to not ... sometimes we tend to want to do what we've done in the past and we have to adapt what we're doing to our players. I think we've found some things that we can do that our kids do really well.
We had four or five personal-best performances in that game. There are lots that we can get better at. The key is to get better fundamentally. It's just like when you look out there and I ask you how do you think we tackled 21 (New Mexico's Rodney Ferguson), who is one of the best running backs I think in the country, you'd say we tackled him pretty good. We mis-tackled a lot, but we had 11 people around the football gang-tackling. It appeared that we were tackling extremely well. I like the effort, I like the focus.
We played in that game unlike we played in the first two games. We need to be consistent. We play good enough to beat the teams we beat in the first two games. I told them we set a different standard the other night in how we play, but you shouldn't need a home opener, you shouldn't need a new stadium opening to play like that. I like these stadium openings and these dedications. We play pretty good when we have those. Our kids, I think, really, where we're at, we have guys that are just now growing up mentally. Defensively, we have five guys that never played in a Division I football game. I think we've really grown up and had a mental focus that was different. We need to build upon that and continue to get better.
I told Charles that he played as well a game at free safety as any kid I've ever coached. That was as good a football game that any kid that I've ever coached has played and I've been doing it for awhile. He played the run exceptionally. He tackled well in space. He executed the game plan. It kind of hurt us. I didn't realize the magnitude when Charles wasn't in there against UAB and not in there against North Texas. He's the quarterback and gets us lined up and had great interceptions. We just don't have misalignments when he's in there. He's a smart young man. He's not very big, but plays extremely big. I was really proud with how he played.
Mike Bryan played well in week one, better in week two and better in week three. He's really playing well. He's the guy that does have experience in that group and I think the other guys feed off of him. Tanner Antle had a personal-best game. Mike Bryan had a personal-best game. Charles Davis had a personal-best game. Roy Roberts had a personal-best game. Then you have guys coming off the bench like John Flanders, who played for John Destin, who got dinged.
We're playing disciplined football right now. We're not having illegal procedure penalties or holding penalties. I thought our defensive line, Moton Hopkins, Wilson Garrison and Terrel Nemons were absolutely dominating. They had a good line. Our guys really dominated and I think that had an impact. I'm really happy with George Clinkscale. We had to move him back to linebacker because Zach Wallace wasn't able to play. He practiced one week and went in there and did extremely well. Our kids are hungry and playing well.
I'm really proud of our coaching staff, too. I've really challenged them to adapt quite a bit in the last couple of weeks when we were off. We wanted to make improvements and not just have a week off. We wanted to schematically adapt to our players.
Damaris Johnson is as explosive of a freshman or any player that I've seen, freshman or senior. He is really a talented young man. He runs unbelievable routes. Slick Shelley, I really think right now we're better than we were offensively. We have more weapons. We have just a diverse arsenal of things we can do. It gets to be third-and-1, you can turn around and hand it to Courtney. Courtney came and played the most snaps that we've asked him to play. We've brought him along slowly.
We were 14-of-15 (on third downs) and we dropped the other one. It hit us right in the hands. We could have been 15-of-15 on third down. Charles had a couple of plays that I thought he usually makes. He made a great catch for the touchdown, but we had some dropped balls that we can do a better job of. And I think in the run game there were some things we could have done a lot better. There's a lot of room to get better.
That's the key. Everybody wants to start doing this, patting you on the back. We haven't done anything yet. I'm very proud of how we played against New Mexico. We did beat and dominate a very good football team. That's something to celebrate and be excited about, but we didn't reach any of our team and season goals the other night. We have all those intact. To do those, you have to be hungry every day. I told our kids not to believe everything you read. You keep your head down, keep working and getting better and we have a chance of being a really special team.
IS THAT HOW YOU KEEP THEIR FOCUS WHEN PLAYING CENTRAL ARKANSAS THIS WEEK?
How I get motivated is I know that everybody is waiting to say I told you they couldn't do it. That's what they do. I think when East Carolina got beat by North Carolina State this week, everybody said I told you they couldn't do it. They couldn't be a BCS buster. You have to bring it every single week. Last year, Appalachian State beat Michigan. This team we're playing is undefeated and a well-coached team. I've looked at their film. They're very talented. Their quarterback is ranked as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation by the NFL. They have very good skill kids. They're going to come in here with nothing to lose. It's the second time they've gotten to play a Division I school. They're going to come in here playing hard.
We have to get ready and improve. Who we are competing against every week is ourselves. That's what I try to tell our kids. You have to stay hungry. That's the thing that excited me. I watched the film until the wee hours of the morning on Sunday because I was so excited because I saw a hungry football team on that field. I saw a team that was very focused and determined. I saw a physicalness in us that I have not seen this year. Sometimes, as coaches, it's getting used to that. That start of last year was different. We played Oklahoma and BYU. You find out in a hurry where you're at and you have to rise up. I thought these kids knew, looking at that film, they watched New Mexico beat Arizona soundly. Our kids knew that they were in for a challenge. They raised up and bowed up and brought it. I was excited about that.
IS THIS LIKE UCA'S BOWL GAME?
They're going to give us their best effort. They have a good team and are undefeated just like we are. We're going to have to play. Our focus is on us and us getting better. They are very capable and have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball with their quarterback and receivers. We have to go out and take care of us and what we're doing. If we don't turn the football over and continue to play like we're playing, that's all we have to be concerned with is ourselves.
IS THIS A TOP 25 FOOTBALL TEAM RIGHT NOW?
I think so. You have to earn that on the field. That'll take care of itself as we continue to win. But don't take winning for granted. On any Saturday, you can go out there and get beat if you're not prepared mentally. That's indicative of our season. You can see mentally we started the season with some young guys and played a poor first half and then came back and dominate UAB in the second half like we should have for four quarters.
Then we played a North Texas team. We go out and play pretty good in the first half and slop around in the second half. This game is 90 percent mental. Especially when you're at the level we're trying to compete at. The difference is the mental aspect of it. We have to keep that focus and that intensity mentally where it was this week. We've been (up and down) and we jumped up to a different level. I've challenged our kids to stay at a different standard. We have to bring it this week. Our focus is going out there and winning another football game and moving to the next step.
I do think you just keep your head down ... those things are all distracters in what you're doing. I'm not looking at the poll and wondering what we have to do. I'm not looking at any of that stuff. All you have to know is last year there were zero teams that went undefeated. Hawaii went into the Sugar Bowl undefeated, but no teams finished undefeated. All you have to do is keep winning and the top 25 will take care of itself. As you win and are successful, there's all these distracters that creep in with your kids. All the individual accolades ... you start seeing national things coming Dave Johnson's way. You have to keep all that in perspective and understand that it's not about all that. It's about the next opponent. It's about the next practice. It's about the next snap, the next play and getting better every single play.
I do think we have the potential to do some special things. I really do. My motivation is I don't want to hear those words "I told you so. I told you, that you couldn't do it." I don't want to hear that. I think our team has great potential. But you have to keep those things out and not worry about those things. And you have to be prepared for them. If you're able to do that and we're able to keep winning each week and it builds and builds, you have to be prepared for that. That's what I hope we're prepared for. When people asked me what our goals were and I told them early in the year and as that stuff builds, if I never talked to the kids about that ...
There are some guys that aren't playing to the level that they should be playing. Because they had success last season, they should have success this year. That's not how it works. You have to prove it and earn it every day.
IS THERE A FINE LINE BETWEEN DISTRACTIONS, BUT ALLOWING THE PROGRAM TO GET NATIONAL ATTENTION?
To me, there's nothing to distract you unless you let it distract you. Bubba (Cunningham) was so concerned last week because people were setting up tables while we were trying to practice and people were drilling and sawing and we couldn't hear. He said, Coach, sorry about the distractions. I said what are you talking about? It's not a distraction, it's a motivation. I was here five years ago. I was teaching kids with water an inch deep because it had rained.
We want to be a nationally recognized team. We want to be a top 25 team in the country. First and foremost you have to believe that and you have to see yourself that way before it's ever going to happen. To me, it's only a distraction if you let it be. How it becomes a distraction is when you get guys thinking as individuals and not as team players. We're not going to let that happen. It's a different deal. I've always been in programs ... when I first came in here with Steve (Kragthorpe), it was a lot easier to turn it than to do what we're trying to do. It was easy going to Rice and turning it instead of doing what we're trying to do because the margin here is if we don't win a conference championship - not just go to one, but win it - and win at least 11 football games, we've had a disappointing season in my opinion. There's a little less margin for effort in how you do things.
We've got guys ... when you're successful is when you have to coach harder and push them harder. Kids watch too much TV and think there's a certain way you do things. We're old school in our approach and how we do things. It's like I tell our coaches ... you can't get too swelled up with importance. You have to stay grounded and understand it's the guy next to you that's helping you be successful. It's how we operate as a coaching staff. Gus (Malzahn) has certain skills that he brings to the table. Herb (Hand) has certain skills. I really think that's why we're so good offensively, because those guys are so diverse in their talents. They're willing to put their ego aside and let the other one do the things he's good at and vice versa. I do the same thing in what I try to bring to the table with them. On the defensive side of the ball, the same thing. We have to demonstrate to our kids that confidence and passion and selflessness it takes to win in this game. That's why it's the greatest game on earth, because it's played by 11 games and all are 1/11th of what's going on. If you can get them to surrender to that and deny themselves and take up the team, you have a chance.
That's what happened on Saturday. I pulled out stats and looked at conference stats for most receptions. I don't think we have a guy in there. Some guys have stats, but the ball is spread around so much. There are so many different guys catching touchdown passes and different guys emerging. We've taken what the defense gives us. I really like that demeanor of our team right now, but we have to have a plan. If you continue to win, which is our plan, it continues to build, which is to me exciting.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR RECEIVING CORPS?
In the last year, I haven't been asked about Jesse Meyer. I don't think a question has been asked about Jesse Meyer. He's an unbelievable receiver and unbelievable blocker. He's one of the guys that make our offense go. This receiving corps is big-time talented. You have Brennan Marion, Damaris Johnson, Trae Johnson, Charles Clay, who is as good a receiver as there is, Slick Shelley is added into that. He gives us a bigger, taller guy. A.J. Whitmore does great things. We dumped the ball off to him the other night and he's a hard guy to tackle.
One of things that Gus said the other day when we were watching film late into the night was that our kids really like each other and care about each other. I've not one time seen one of our guys pout. That's hard to do when you're coaching a bunch of talented guys. I told our coaches that one of the main things is you don't see our coaches pouting and acting like that either. It doesn't matter if we run the ball or throw the ball. It doesn't matter who gets it. They love what we're doing. What we're doing is unique and it makes it fun. There's enough snaps ... we got the most snaps that we've gotten all year long. You'll notice that we haven't gotten as many snaps this year. A lot of that has to do with our opponents and how they're eating the clock. Some of that has to do with how we're handling things. We're trying to manage that better and not play as many snaps on defense. I don't want to play more than 75-80 snaps on defense. I think that's helping us defensively, too.
Our receiving corps is as good as there is in the country. Statistically, it's kind of a shame. I know we'll have quite a few of them with 1,000 yards or more, but we really spread the ball around a whole bunch. It's fun to watch and exciting. You see a lot of different guys doing different things, as well as our running back corps. Tarrion Adams, Courtney Tennial, Charles Clay, Jamad Williams is a guy that silently goes out there and has great games and does great things.
New Mexico is probably one of the most complex blitzing teams and blitz almost every down. Our offensive line and our running backs did an unbelievable job in protecting the quarterback. Our running backs ... Charlie O came off the bench. He's explosive and he's going to be a great back. I'm really proud of our offensive line. I don't ever give them a game ball. They're just expected to do a great job. Tyler Holmes has came in ... I think it's the best offensive line we've had since I've been here. The offensive and defensive lines are the best since we've been here and throw in the fact that we have some really good skill people. We have a chance to have a really good team if we continue to get better.
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