Tulsa Hosts UCF in Sunday Night Game
Oct. 20, 2008
Tulsa, Oklahoma -
Todd Graham PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES
We have a lot of former great players and Coach (John) Cooper, one of the greatest coaches that has coached here, that will be here this week. Jerry Rhome will be back as an honorary captain as well as Steve Largent and Howard Twilley. That will be very neat and our players are looking forward to that.
Steve Largent's jersey being retired is something that should have happened a long time ago, in my opinion, with the type of player that he was. We're excited to have him come back. To honor him and to have him and Coach Cooper and Howard and Jerry on the sidelines is going to be pretty cool. We're pretty excited about that.
As far as last week's game, I was really pleased with our team performance. I think we are getting better every week in all three phases. I think we did some things in the kicking game that we're excited about. We continue to get better. We are going to have to be on our best this week because we're playing the best kick returner maybe in the country in (Joe) Burnett. He's been very explosive against everybody he's played against. It's going to be a big part of our plan on how to handle him. Their special teams is one that's very strong. They've scored a lot of points and he's scored a lot of points on kickoff returns and punt returns. We have to have a great plan. Special teams are going to be a big factor this week.
We're definitely playing against the best defense we've played against all year long. Their secondary is the best secondary we've seen all year long. Their secondary is definitely the best secondary in the conference and maybe the best secondary in the country. They play very good defensive football. They've lost to three really quality opponents in Boston College, took South Florida into overtime and had the ball, 20-14 against Miami, and was driving to beat them. Miami blocked a punt on them and Central Florida fumbled a punt return. That's what resulted in a short field. We're playing a very good football team. I think it's the best team that we've played so far in how they match up with us. They've got a very good defensive football team and are very explosive. We're going to have to do a great job in the kicking game and of defending and covering. Our cover teams are going to have to do a great job and we're going to have to make sure we take care of the football. They've scored touchdowns with interceptions and they've scored touchdowns with kickoff returns and punt returns. They're very explosive from that standpoint. We have to do a great job in handling that.
Offensively, they've struggled at times. But they are very capable. They've got wide-outs that can stretch the field vertically and they do a very good job. How they match up with us ... it's going to be important for us not to give up big plays. We have to bring our `A' game again this week. This is a very big game for us. We've developed a respect for Central Florida. We've played against them in the championship in 2005 and last year as well. Coach (George) O'Leary is one of the best coaches in the country and definitely in our conference. I have a lot of respect for him. They'll come in here highly motivated. We've got to bring it again this week. We're excited to be sitting where we're sitting. We're looking forward to it. Our kids are maturing. We had a great week last week and we got a lot of momentum. The first quarter last week, we blew about four different coverages, but on the same hand, they had some quality wide-outs that ran by us. They had a good plan, then our guys settled down the last three quarters and give up 74 yards. Our guys did a good job making adjustments. I think we got a lot of confidence from those last three quarters last week.
THEY'VE PLAYED TWO DIFFERENT QUARTERBACKS, DO YOU HAVE TO GET READY FOR BOTH?
No, I think Coach O'Leary is much like we are. He's got a system that they're going to run. They know what we're going to do on offense and what we're going to do on defense. We know what they're going to do on offense and defense. It's about execution and playing hard. It's about which team makes the least amount of mistakes. Last year they beat us both times we played them. Last year, they created the negative yardage plays, sacked our quarterback and got turnovers. They also hurt us with the big punt return. That's the thing in this game. It's going to be ball security and big plays.
YOU SAID THE RANKINGS WOULD TAKE CARE OF ITSELF. BUT IN RETROSPECT, DO YOU TAKE A MOMENT TO APPRECIATE WHERE YOU ARE?
Yes. What I'm trying to do right now is keep us focused. I walked in this morning and my secretary smiled and I told her don't be smiling. I actually did that. One of the things that's important is that our kids stay in their normal routine. Just like I told you during the last two weeks, if we keep winning, the rankings would take care of itself. But it's very important ... it's like I also talk about experience. We don't have any experience doing what we're doing right now. It's important that we have a plan and we stick to it.
I've got - and I apologize to everybody out there - about 100 times more e-mails and phone calls than I've ever had and I haven't returned those. That breaks my routine to how I'm used to preparing and how I work every day. You can't buy into that. You've got to stay focused, you have to stay hungry and focused on one thing - that's going 8-0. I like the fact that we spent so many weeks under the radar because we didn't have to deal with that. From this point forward, every moment that we spend talking about it is a distraction. But on the same hand, are we excited to be No. 19 in the country? Yes, we're very excited. I think it's something that our program is excited about. I'm happy for our university, our administration and our fans. Our Tulsa family is extremely excited. Right now, as far as I'm concerned with where I'm at, I want to finish in the top-12 in the country.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT UCF'S DEFENSE, WITH THEIR FRONT AND THE SECONDARY?
The strength of their defense is their defensive backfield. All four DBs are in the top six in interceptions in the conference. They're the big-play guys. They're not going to let you sit there and throw a pass three times on them. They're going to take it away. We've got to do a great job in our intermediate passing game of being very deliberate with the football. If you're not, they're going to pick the football off. Going into this game, we have to have 100 percent ball security and can't put the ball in jeopardy and make sure you read it on every down. One of the things that they do is, you think they're going to play it a certain way, and one of the guys that has great athleticism will sit on an out route or a corner route and then they will make the other team pay.
I do think the strength of their team is naturally their defense and their special teams and the strength of their defense is definitely their secondary. They have four guys that have been playing together ... I can't remember them not playing together. They are as good as there is in the country.
LAST YEAR, YOU THOUGHT THEIR DEFENSIVE FRONT WAS ONE OF THE BEST YOU'VE PLAYED?
They've got the best defensive line that we've faced this year, but with all due respect to the guys that they had last year, they had three young men that graduated last year that were as good as there is in the country. I do think they're very good defensive-line wise. They're the best that we've played so far. We have to do a good job protecting our quarterback. Their secondary is just so talented and has so much experience, it's definitely their strength. The defensive line is definitely formidable. It dismantled us last year. We weren't able to protect our quarterback. That's going to be key for us, protecting our quarterback.
It's an interesting match-up because it's the best defense we've played to this point and it's the best pass defense we've played to this point. We have a good football team and a great deal of confidence in our kids. The bottom line - what we have to do to be successful is take care of the football and not have stupid penalties. If we do that, I like our chances.
HOW MUCH DIFFERENT IS THIS TEAM OFFENSIVELY COMPARED TO LAST YEAR?
(Kevin) Smith was incredible last year and they lost some key guys up front on the offensive line. So many people focus on the defenses in Conference USA and don't think they are good. I think they should focus on how good the offenses are. Look at the quarterbacks. Compare them to the Big 12 quarterbacks. Look at the numbers of Chase Clement and Dave Johnson and Trevor Vittatoe and all these guys are putting up. The offenses in this league are exceptional. They're very good. You look at different comparisons and it's interesting to me, there's not much thought to New Mexico, who just beat San Diego 70-7 and beat Arizona, who just beat Cal. That should say something positive about us. But it matters who you play.
Their offense is very capable. They have wide receivers that can stretch the field vertically. It'll challenge us because we have young guys on the back end. We have to make sure we don't give up big plays by their offense. We have to play defense. Our defense has to show up and play. I have a great deal of confidence that they will. We have gotten better. We are a better defensive football team than last year. We are better at special teams. We are better at offense. We are better at every category. We are better, and it gives me confidence.
HAS THIS DEVELOPED INTO A RIVALRY IN CONFERNCE USA?
The kids remember (last year's game). I don't have to tell the players that we need to get ready to play because this team put it to us last year and physically got after our rear ends. They beat us twice last year. We only lost to three teams and they beat us twice. We only lost to three teams last year. On the same hand, it's the 2008 season and it's a different season. That does help our kids in getting themselves up and ready to play.
Their record isn't an indication of what kind of football team they are. They took South Florida into overtime. They were driving on Miami. They have a good football team. They have one of the best defenses, with Tulane, in the league. It's a game that people want to watch. It was an exciting championship game last year. We've definitely developed a respect and somewhat of a rivalry with them. We have a lot of respect for Coach O'Leary and the job he does. We have great rivalries in the West with Houston and SMU. I do think this is a game, when the crossover match-ups happen, that people like to see.
YOU MENTIONED STAYING IN A ROUTINE. HOW DOES THE SUNDAY GAME AFFECT YOUR ROUTINE?
They've had 15 days to get ready for us. That gives them a little bit of an advantage. You can't worry about things you can't control. It doesn't bother me. We're very routine-oriented. What I'm talking about ... the key for us is that every single coach and player in our program is focused on getting better. We haven't accomplished any of our goals. None of the goals on that wall have been accomplished. We have to make sure we stay in our routine. We're not used to the attention that we'll get as we press forward. It's important that we stay in our routine and get better every day. That's the key for us as a program right now.
We'll be the same this week. Saturday will be like a Friday and Friday will be like a Thursday. We'll just get two Tuesday workouts in. It'll help a little bit. This time of year, we're really taking care of our guys. A lot of it is timing and execution and film study. I don't like playing on Sunday for the next week, but that's the way it goes. We're excited to play on national television.
I really encourage our fans to get out. We're a 7-0 football team playing on national television. We need a great home field advantage. When we went to Bright House Stadium last year for the conference championship game, the fans were a major factor. Their home field advantage and their crowd is big-time hostile. We need our fans to do the same thing. I was pleased with how the fans are into our home games. They're completely different this year. This is big for our fans to turn out. We need a sellout crowd and want to pack this thing on Sunday night.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BEST OFFENSES THAT YOU REMEMBER IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL AND DOES THIS TU OFFENSE COMPARE THROUGH SEVEN GAMES?
It's hard for me to talk about the best I've ever seen. I'm in the middle of trying to win games now. I think that what we're doing is very unique. It's well thought-out. It's adapted to the players we have and the type of players that we can recruit year in and year out here. It's very attractive to players. It's impacted our recruited tremendously.
I'd compare what we're doing to the wishbone. A lot of people will play us and say it's just smoke and mirrors. I can remember people saying that about the wishbone. It just tricks you and you don't know where the ball is going. We're in the infant stages of what we do offensively. The reason why it's like that is that every reporter calls it the spread offense. It's like saying the 4-3 defense - there's a multitude of different things. I don't know of any other offense which is like exactly of what we do.
IN TERMS OF PRODUCTIVITY, IS IT SIMILAR TO NEBRASKA'S FORMER OFFENSES?
I think you have to look at the numbers. It would be hard to beat the numbers that we're putting up right now. Nebraska's offense was totally dominating with how they pounded you in the run game. I think we're pretty balanced. We can throw the ball and run the football. Do we run the football like Nebraska did? I wouldn't think so. But we run it pretty good.
YOU SAID EVERY REPORTER CALLS IT THE SPREAD. HAVE YOU GIVEN IT A NAME?
The name of what we do is the hurry-up, spread, no-huddle offense. We aren't a no-huddle offense, we're a no-huddle football team. Much too much is put on the scheme. If you pull the plays out, we run similar plays, but it's how we do things. It's the tempo of how we do it and when we get someone worn down, it looks like it's pretty easy. We're not inventing anything. Football has been around 130 years. There's not a bunch of new plays to invent. It's the method that we go about doing it.
The biggest thing about what we do is the buy-in. You can't do it in your first year. People that go to the no-huddle, what you find is the first year is when you get to the end of the fourth quarter is you're as tired as the defense. That's what happened to us last year, but we still won 10 games. What's happened to us now is, as the quarters end, one of the things that our kids have bought in to our no-huddle mentality and it's not about tricking somebody and it's not about smoke and mirrors ... our so-called trick plays, we practice them every day. Those are base plays in our offense. We run them every day. We do like to be innovative. We think it's fun for the kids. It's about tempo. It's about training. It's about character. It's about mental and physical training and straining. I wish I could have videoed at the end of the third quarter when our guys sprinted to the other end and (UTEP) looked and thought something was wrong with those guys. Our kids have come up with that.
That's our statement. We're all about our training. To me, that's what will separate us down the stretch. The key to winning and being successful in Division I college football is staying healthy and when you get down to that fourth quarter, you have to be able to sustain it.
The first quarter, I'd never seen anything like it. Guess what? Coach (Mike) Price is a pretty good football coach. Those guys had a great plan and they went bang-bang and we busted a couple of coverages. I told the guys to keep going. I told them if it keeps going like this, I promise you they're going to get tired before we do because we do this every day, 365 days a year. Every day, this is the tempo that we go out.
The benefits of what we do is only just starting to show. It'll be in your third and fourth year when you get in the kind of condition that we want to be in. We're in pretty good condition right now.
AS A DEFENSIVE COACH BY BACKGROUND, DO YOU FEEL LIKE PEOPLE WILL LOOK AT YOU AS AN OFFENSIVE COACH WHEN YOU GET 791 YARDS OF OFFENSE?
I hope they do. Anybody that's around our program knows my involvement. I'm involved with what color socks we wear. Anything that we do, I'm very involved. What's made what we're doing special is that it's unique. What's unique about it is that I didn't say I was going to hire this offensive coordinator and he's going to run whatever he wants to. We sat and designed what we're doing offensively. One, we want to market and attract recruits that we would not be able to attract running a standard offense. That's worked. The plan is working. Damaris Johnson, Slick Shelley, Brennan Marion, Trae Johnson, Charles Clay ... if we were running an I formation, those guys probably wouldn't be here.
There was a plan in place that we wanted to put together a system that would attract those type of players. And then what I felt like is that I spent 22 years coaching defense and one of the things that I've learned from coaching and being a head coach in high school that helped me tremendously. All of the sudden I'm an offensive guru and that's not what I do, but what we did ... sometimes offensive coaches don't know what defensive coaches are teaching. We design, from the bottom up, everything that I hate to defend that I think is difficult to defend.
Where do we get the tempo? Where do I get the tempo from? Charlie Taft. He was the offensive coordinator at Maryland when I was at West Virginia. One of the things that he would do ... there's been no-huddle offenses, but they would stay in the same rhythm and guess what they all do. They all stay in the same rhythm. Just tell me do I have seven seconds to call the defense or 21. What Charlie would do is they would huddle, they would make 15 yards and bang, they would go no-huddle. Guess what I would call, base defense. He scored 29 points on me in the first quarter. We didn't know what happened. It's varying the tempo. I thought what would happen if our base way of doing this - Rich (Rodriguez) was a no-huddle (coach) - but we learned from Charlie Taft about varying the tempo. I never mentioned it to him.
Everything that we do offensively has been designed from what I hate to defend. I don't say here Gus (Malzahn), do what you want to do. He's the same way. One of the things that is unique. What I think makes Gus and Herb (Hand) different is that we set out in the beginning and said here's the deal. Here's the parameters and here's who we are going to be - if we lose and as long as we follow these parameters, I can deal with it. We're in it hook, line and sinker. My guys have three-year contracts. They don't have to look over their shoulders. But these are things that they are going to do. We designed it with an extreme amount of misdirection in the run game and pass game. Tempo is huge and varies, too. It speeds up and slows down, but the base pace is fast. In the third quarter, we look for guys putting their hands on their knees and on their sides. When you get them tired, it's a good feeling.
I've seen it work with Coach Rodriguez. The origin of what we do, I have to give Rich a lot of credit for that. The thing that makes our thing unique is that Gus and Bill Blankenship and Keith Patterson and I were former high school football coaches and we learned to be adaptive. We are not trying to be like someone else. We are trying to develop a system that fits our kids. We learn to be adaptive. What I like about this staff is there's not a bunch of egos about who gets credit. Everybody and their dog has a title on this staff. It's true, though. Herb really runs the run game and protections. Gus relies on him to do that. That allows Gus to do what he does. He's unbelievably innovative about how he does things. How I've challenged them is to be patient and take what the defense gives you. That's part of the parameters.
We're not going to be a spread team with four wide-outs. We have two backs in the backfield most of the time and all the components are moving much of the time. We're going in and out of structures ... that causes me problems as a defensive coach. All of that is built-in. The variance of our cadence. That play where we draw them offsides, we have a rhythm cadence. You get in a rhythm and stay in that rhythm for so many plays ... I have a philosophy about that ... and on this play, you go on two and they jump. Why? Because in all the years that I've coached, that's what I do. What do I emphasize on defense? Get off the ball.
That's the thing I would tell you that I think makes us unique and what most people don't spend much time on. We have a unique group of guys that really buy into this. There's nobody in this building that even questions what we're doing schematically in any phase. We all believe in what we're doing and we all have input. We meet together offensively and defensively. You'll see Keith in Gus' office ... when I was at West Virginia, I never spoke to the offensive coordinator. When I was here before, I never did that. We've tried to be different and unique of what we're doing. We're just scratching the surface to the benefits of what we're going to have from that. I don't mind being an offensive guy. I just want to win. We had a recruiting plan when we came in here and had a plan on how we were going to go about winning. It's nice to be able to score points.
YOU TALKED LAST WEEK ABOUT STYLE POINTS. DOES THAT CONTINUE NOW THAT YOU'RE RANKED?
The most important thing is being 8-0. That's the No. 1 thing. It's important that we play well. It can help us as a program. I can guarantee you that Coach O'Leary will have his team fired up and they'll be bringing it as well. All the rankings stuff takes care of itself. The hard part of it is winning 13 games to get to where you want to be. We're at step eight and this will be the biggest challenge that we've had so far.
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