Tulsa Squares off Against SMU on Saturday
Oct. 6, 2008
Tulsa, Oklahoma -
Todd Graham PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES
It was a great win on Saturday for our program. I told our players in our meeting after watching the film that I thought it was a great team effort. We just really came together. We faced adversity in all three phases and responded extremely well. It was a really dominating performance. I'm pleased with where we're at right now and I'm excited to be 5-0. Our kids are getting better and that's the key for us - keep getting better every week. We have an SMU team that's definitely getting better every week. They have two of the most explosive receivers that we're going to play in (Aldrick) Robinson and (Emmanuel) Sanders. They're very capable. Their quarterback throws a great deep ball. They have a very explosive kick returner in (Jessie) Henderson. Naturally, going on the road in college football is a challenge. Our guys are getting re-focused this week to play a good SMU team.
HOW DIFFERENT IS THIS OFFENSE COMPARED TO THE ONE YOU JUST FACED?
It's different. There are similarities. They're definitely a spread team. Whereas Rice is more of an intermediate passing team, not a lot of the passes go further than 15-20 yards down the field and there are a lot of short passes, SMU vertically stretches the field. Robinson is as fast a receiver as there is in our league. I was very impressed when I watched the film yesterday and today with him. Their offense stretches the field vertically and they have some different concepts. They're very well-coached. Coach Jones is one of the best in the business. I have a lot of respect for him. We've competed before when he was at Hawaii. He has a great scheme. His scheme is different from what Rice does, in that it really makes you defend the field vertically a little bit more and not such more horizontally. He's got a deep threat, a big-time speed deep threat in Robinson. Sanders, both of those guys, are in the top 10-15 receivers in the country. They're very capable of the big play. I just see them ... I was so impressed with how they played Central Florida. They played extremely hard on all three phases. You can tell that they're working hard to get better. You can see the difference in how well they're prepared and how well they're coached. That's what sticks out to me.
CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR OFFENSE'S THIRD-DOWN PRODUCTION?
We just basically take what the defense gives us. We have a system in place with how we go about game-planning. We spend an inordinate amount of time in preparation. Coach (Herb) Hand and Coach (Gus) Malzahn do a great job with the offensive staff preparing and I spend a lot of time with them showing them how the defenses will adjust. We go through just about every single scenario you can possibly come up with. Preparation has a lot to do with that. We have some really good guys that we're doing it with. What is helping us be so good on third down is how versatile we are offensively, that there's not one guy that you can hone in on, or one thing that you can hone in on. It helps you be a little more successful. It's not easy. A lot of people think it's easy.
We faced some adversity this last week offensively. I like the maturity of our team and the maturity of our staff. No one was panicking or showing signs of frustration. We just dropped the ball. That's very uncharacteristic of us. That's why we didn't score on the first drive. You're going to have games like that. Stuff like that happens. We don't want them to happen. We dropped the screen pass that would have been a touchdown. It's something we catch every day, 100 percent of the time. That's why you have to stay focused and try to keep that mental edge. We went in at halftime. We came back out. It's nice when you have an off day and score 63 points.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE TOP 25 RANKINGS THIS WEEK?
I think we're the only undefeated team that's not in the Top 25 in either the AP or Coach's poll. I'm not worried about that. If we keep winning, that'll take care of itself. We're just focused on trying to keep our kids grounded and being prepared. Each week, it'll become more and more intense. It becomes more and more dialogue and a distraction ... we try hard to prepare our kids for that. Our focus is just beating SMU. If you beat SMU, you get ready for the next week. The ranking stuff will take care of itself.
We're at the midway point. This week is the sixth game of the 12-game regular season. We're ranked 27th in one deal and 28th in the other. We're sitting in good shape. It's what I told the coaches that other day. If you don't win, it doesn't matter. Naturally, everybody is going to talk about it. One of the things we've done as a staff is prepare our kids for that. The plan is to stay focused on the next game, like any coach would be doing, and to get better. If you go through this thing and you win all of them and you lose game 8 or 9 or 6, then it doesn't matter. We know what we have to do to reach our goal of being Conference USA champions. We want to do that.
Our goal is to have that (C-USA championship game) right out here. To do that, we have to go undefeated. For us to reach our other goal of being a BCS Bowl team and go on and win a BCS Bowl, we have to be perfect. I think the fact that we have talked about it and it's on our wall as one of our goals that you can walk in our locker room and see it ... it's important, people think you're crazy for having that goal, but why wouldn't you have that goal? Right now, the key for us is not worrying about all that. Coaches came down and I told them not to worry about rankings, but worry about beating SMU. If we beat SMU, we'll worry about the next week. Inevitably, we're going to be ranked if we keep winning. Everything else from this point forward becomes a distraction. You have to have tunnel-vision and look right in front of you. There's not a team on your schedule that can't beat you in college football, period.
AS A HEAD COACH, THOUGH, YOU HAVE TO HAVE THOSE LONG-RANGE BUILDING BLOCKS WHERE YOU HAVE TO CONSIDER BREAKING INTO THE RANKINGS TO GET INTO THOSE COMPUTUER RANKINGS?
There's no doubt in my mind, if we go 13-0, that we'll be in it. To give you a pretty big-time statistic, there's only been two teams in the history of college football, back in 1937, that have won 14 ball games. BYU in 1996 went 14-1. I don't know how they played 16 games, but that's what my research showed me. The only team to go 14-0 was Ohio State. Boise State went 13-0. That's a pretty big-time challenge. Last year there was only one team to go undefeated in the regular season, that was Hawaii.
You can speculate all you want, but the odds of people going undefeated in college football, with the parity, is very difficult. Why worry about it? You worry about winning the next game. All the ranking stuff will take care of itself. I'm not worried one iota, if we go 13-0, about being left out. I think it's silly to even speculate it. Right now it's so hard to win football games. This year, we've won a lot of games easier than we did last year because we're a lot better football team. But for us, the key is to stay focused on the next opponent, the next week, the next snap. If we do that, that's the key for us. We'd have as good a chance as anybody.
DO YOU EVER HAVE TO TAMP DOWN THE DISAPPOINTMENT WITH THE KIDS?
Not at all. The media and all those people talk more about that than our kids. Our kids are very focused and are very prepared for what their goals area. Our ultimate and No. 1 goal is to be Conference USA champions. Our second goal is to be BCS Bowl champions. I think the fact that that was a goal from the time I walked in here that that's been a goal since I got here ... that's an expectation. It's something our president talked to me about, our AD has talked to me about. We haven't done anything to warrant boasting or bragging about being a BCS-buster. Don't worry about it, keep your head down, keep working, win and it'll take care of itself.
Our kids, by no means, are disappointed by any poll. You ask them if you have a good football team, they'll tell you we do.
I like how we're maturing. I like how we took a focus and we took a beeline on Rice. Now we need to take a beeline on SMU. Because, I'm telling you, you see it all over the country every week. It doesn't matter who you are playing. You better bring it every week. You better prepare. You better work every week. Every week is championship week for me. This team has incredible synergy and character. It has coaches and characters that love each other and care about each other. It's a special group. I really feel good about this football team.
SMU IS STRUGGLING; AS A COACH, HOW DO YOU CHALLENGE YOUR TEAM NOT TO OVERLOOK THEM IN ANY WAY?
You just look at last year. They had won one ball game and we came off a big win and they came in here and really, probably should have won. We jacked around and weren't ready to play and played bad and poorly. We won with 43 seconds left on the board. I talked to the kids yesterday about that. That's the key. It's just like ... I kind of felt like the Central Arkansas game when I went ... the night it happened, I felt like we really didn't play very good and played down to their level, but as I went back and looked at the film, I realized that they were good. They came in here with an edge. That's what you have to understand.
As long as we go without the attention on us, that's fine with me. Because as soon as you think you've arrived, you're fixing to get knocked down. You have to stay hungry, you have to stay focused, you have to stay humble and understand to respect the next opponent. Through what we went through last year, our kids understand that. We won all the close games we were in last year except for one - UTEP. I think our kids know that SMU is a very capable team. You don't have to do anything but look at the film to realize how good their team is and how fast the receivers are. The two wide-outs we're playing against this week have better big-play potential than the wide-outs we played last week. There's no question about it. You turn the film on and watch it. Come in my office and I'll show you the vertical shots from SMU. They have the capabilities of making big plays.
They have a great kick returner in Henderson. They have great wide receivers. They have one of the best coaches in the country running their program. You better get your butt ready to play. I promise you the thing that I see in them, you look around the country, you find a 1-5 team, I see guys that came out and competed big time and playing hard for their coaches and wanting hard to get better and playing hard to get better. They're not playing like a 1-5 team. They didn't throw their hands up in the air against anybody that they've played. They will give us all we want. I've already talked to our kids. We're in the exact same situation as last year, except we weren't undefeated. We're in the exact same situation. They've won one football game. They were 1-4 last year at this time or 1-5 and we had just come off a big win. That's my biggest thing.
The difference is this much in your mental edge. I talked to the kids about focusing on one thing. Let's play harder every snap than Rice did. Every snap, let's play harder than them. That's the difference. It's so slight nowadays, because there's such great parity and great athletes.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RUSHING ATTACK THAT YOU HAD AGAINST RICE?
It shows how versatile our offense is. I'm really proud of our offensive line. When I came into this year, we thought the key for us offensively was becoming a better rush football team. We thought we could do that because we had a better offensive line. Usually ... we have great skill kids. Taking nothing away from them, but we have the best offensive line that we've ever had here. We can truly go out there ... and we struggle with that sometimes.
That's why we have two co-coordinators and that's why they work so great together. One of them wants to run the ball every play and the other wants to throw it every play. We have great balance about what we're doing. I think that really makes it difficult for the opponent if we truly practice what we preach and take what they give us. That's what we've been doing. That makes it very difficult. We're really a run-play action pass team. We threw for a lot more yards last year than we ran for.
What you see, which is critical in winning football games, is when you're able to rush the ball like that is the snaps of our defense go down. We're playing a lot fewer snaps on defense because of our rush offense. We're 10th in the country in our rush offense and that's something that's going to be critical down the road. We're a good rushing team.
WHAT'S MORE DEMORALIZING - GOING 80 YARDS IN 40 SECONDS OR RUNNING THE BALL BETWEEN THE TACKLES?
It's demoralizing when you're physically getting whipped and we physically whipped them. We had put our twos in at the end of the game and we were busting them right and left. There's no question ... I've coached defense for 22 years. When the offense is taking the ball and running over your rear, I haven't learned an answer for that. I can scheme up a pass play and figure how to stop a pass play.
I think the fact we have that going really helps us tremendously. I think this game helped us. As coaches, sometimes we're used to scoring fast. I think one of things we've done as a staff ... we operate as a group of nine. It's not just about what you're doing. Ultimately it's about us winning football games. If we can run the ball and go down the field and score, it's what I'd rather do because it helps us defensively and in the kicking game. But we're always going to be a team that throws the ball down the field, too. We have guys that can do that, too. Right now, we're scoring 56 points a game. Our goal is to be the No. 1 scoring offense (in C-USA) and the No. 1 scoring defense, and we're not far from that. What I'm most excited about is how well we're playing in the kicking game.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RED UNIFORMS:
Bubba Cunningham, our AD, and our administration, we wanted to have a throwback uniform to honor the opening of the stadium. We did that the first week. The kids told them as long as they win, they could wear what they want to wear. That's what they want to wear. I know some of our fans don't like the fact that their names are not on the back of their jerseys, but that's why the kids want to wear them. It's about our team. If they keep winning, they can wear what they want to wear. I'm letting them decide what they want to wear.
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