Press Release


Sunday, December 3, 2017


What are your first initial thoughts about Missouri, a team that’s won six in a row, although they didn’t play Alabama or anything, but they’re still on a six-game winning streak?

“They’re playing some of the best football in the country right now. The quarterback I think finished the season with the most touchdown throws of anybody in FBS. They’re playing really, really well offensively. Obviously, I haven’t watched them on video. I’ve been out recruiting, but I know just from the numbers that are pretty gaudy. And I want to commend Coach (Barry) Odom for, this is a guy that’s had some adversity early in his tenure there and has stayed the course and has turned this season and this team around and, like I said, they’re playing as good of football as anybody right now.”

Obviously, the big news of the week was OL Connor Williams and DB Deshon Elliott, where do you think LB Malik Jefferson stands right now, and do you expect anybody else to pull out of the bowl game?

“No, I think the rest of them will wait to get their grades back and make some informed decisions based on some of the NFL stuff.”

For you personally, what does it feel like to go back to Houston to coach your first bowl game with Texas?

“I think it’s neat. It’s a city that my family and myself have called home on a couple different occasions, at Rice, at the University of Houston. That was kind of the city that we gravitated to even in our four years in Huntsville at Sam Houston State. So, it’s a city that I have a lot of friends and people that I know back there and I’m excited to bring our team out to Houston to play in front of them.”

Just from a recruiting standpoint, what do you think a big performance and win in this bowl would do in such a hotbed for you?

“The unfortunate thing is your bowl practices are during a dead period, so not much contact with some of the recruits, but I think a lot of them have already expressed to me that they’re planning on attending the game and Houston has been good to us thus far in some of our commitments and it’s really, really good high school football as is anywhere else in the state, but it certainly would be a nice shot in the arm, just from a momentum standpoint.”

How important was it, because of the way this season went for you, to get these extra practices and this extra time with your team moving into next year?

“That is critical. This is a team that had not had that kind of development and for the last two winters had basically gone home for four weeks, five weeks, whatever Christmas break is. That development is critical in terms of staying with your competition that are going to bowl games and have that developmental time. That’s what we’re going to use the early part of bowl prep for is we’ve got a long time between now and the 27th, so we’ll focus early on just development, getting our team better, getting some of these young guys better and then start worrying more on Missouri and the game plan later in the bowl prep.”

Do you feel like the time will help take the sting away from how it ended last week?

“Yeah, I do. I think that we’re a resilient group and I think just getting on the field for practice on Friday. It was as good a practice as we’ve had, guys were flying around, they were excited to be a part of the postseason, excited to play football. So, I think the sting is gone already and we’re looking forward to this. When you win a bowl game, they call you a champion. You’re the Texas Bowl Champion or you’re the whatever, Rose Bowl Champion. So, we’ve got an opportunity now to play for a championship and send these seniors out the right way, but also develop our program and get lot of momentum heading into the offseason.”

Along those lines, just like the game against Texas Tech, you still have the chance to finish with a winning record and for this program, just how critical is it that Texas finishes with a winning record?

“Well, I think it’s important. I’m not going to downplay the importance of just winning a game, but I don’t think one number difference on either side is really going to be a make or break anything in our program. We’re going to stay the course and we’re going to continue to develop our players and we’re going to try like heck to win the thing and prepare as such. We know it’s going to be against a really good opponent in Missouri, but I don’t see it as one way or the other, if you win is it going to propel you to so many great heights or if you lose are you going to be devastated. It’s a game and losing is awful and winning is really cool and it feels really good to win and we’re going to do our best to win it, but the number on either side of the ledger, I don’t know that that has much relevance in the importance of the game.”

Do you expect anybody to miss the game that is not expected injury-wise?

“Again, I’m down here recruiting, so I don’t have all that information in front of me. I think P.J. Locke (III) will be back. Jeffrey McCulloch should be back. The guy that we’re hoping to get back if he stays on track would be Patrick Vahe. So, those three guys are, from a concern level, I would say Patrick’s number one in terms of is it going to be enough time. Jeffrey is already out there running around doing some stuff as well as P.J. So, I think we’ll be pretty good from a health standpoint.”

Is getting OL Elijah Rodriguez back for this game an option?

“He was cleared for the Texas Tech game. So, he’s been practicing with the two offensive lines right now and we’re hoping that and he’s looked pretty good doing it, so hopefully he can work his way back into the starting lineup.”

How do you feel your team matches up with this Missouri team this year?

“I think it’s too early to tell. Like I said, I got the news on where we were playing and who we were playing when I was on the road recruiting. So, all I know is, from a statistic standpoint, their offense is phenomenal and has been for the last six weeks and just doing some quick look at some of their stats, the TFLs and sacks on defense certainly stand out as well, but I’ll know a lot more when I watch video on them here in the coming days.”

Right now, you don’t know whether LB Malik Jefferson is going to play in the bowl or not?

“No, I don’t know whether he’s going to play in the bowl, whether he is going to play in the bowl, whether he’s going to declare for the NFL and still play in the bowl, whether he’s going to come back. I think all of those options are on the table and he’ll make a decision. I don’t want to speak for Malik (Jefferson) certainly, but I think he’ll make a decision after he gets the grade back from the NFL.”

What does this practice time mean for some of the young guys like TE Reese Leitao and TE Cade Brewer and any of the young guys you have on the roster?

“I mean it’s critical. It is absolutely critical, especially these true freshmen that got here in June. They haven’t had a spring ball, they haven’t had anything other than a couple weeks in training camp in terms of football development. So, any time you can extend that by 12, 15, 18 practices, that’s absolutely critical for their development. The Sam Cosmi’s of the world, the Reese Leitao’s of the world, as you said, the Montrell Estell’s and the Kobe Boyce’s of the world – it’s just going to be fantastic for them in terms of their development as they head into the offseason.”

Any word from OL Jake McMillon on what his plans are and if he and OL Terrell Cuney practicing for the bowl game?

“They are practicing and I don’t have any word or update.”

When do you think the guys will be getting their grades back?

“We put them in on Monday and I think they said seven to 10 days, but this is only the second or third time I’ve gone through this, so it’s usually been around 10 to 14 days, but I think as early as early in this week I would imagine.”

At what position is OL Elijah Rodriguez working?

“Right now, it’s at right guard, but I think the thing that we loved about Elijah (Rodriguez) through spring ball and training camp is his versatility. So, probably going to play him a little bit at tackle as well this week, but the first two practices he was at guard, but because of his versatility I think he’ll get reps at the tackle spot as well.”

Do you guys have anyone else besides TE Kendall Moore at tight end? Are you guys working anyone else in or is he going to be it for you guys?

“That’s it. That’s what we got right now. I’m sure we’ll have to – plan B would be some other form of personnel packages, whether that’s two backs and no tight end or four wide receivers and no tight end. But yeah, right now, he’s running with the first team at tight end and in practice Reese (Leitao) and Andrew Beck are getting those reps and it’s unfortunate the way the red shirt rule is. We can’t – our starting tight end is healthy, but we can’t play him because he’ll lose the entire year of eligibility and I can’t wait for, hopefully, this new rule to pass where we won’t be forced into situations like this. But, as of now, this is the way the rule states and we’re not going to waste either one of those kids’ year of eligibility on one game. So, it’ll be Kendall Moore and then we’ll get creative if we need to.”

Do you plan to approach the quarterback situation the same way you did for the Texas Tech game with QB Sam Ehlinger starting and QB Shane Buechele getting a drive or two early and then kind of taking it from there?

“I haven’t talked about it. They’ve been both – we’ve only had two practices and they’ve both taken, they’ve rotated reps with the ones and twos evenly. So, I haven’t really talked about it much. The good thing is with these bowl preps, you can put these guys in some very game-like situations, scrimmage-like situations and see how they do. So, we’ll keep evaluating them and we’ll make a decision as to the direction we’re headed after a couple weeks.”


Just kind of curious to what your read is on Texas right now?

“Thanks for the question. I know that I’ve had the chance to watch a couple of games from earlier this season, just a cross over from when you are in a hotel and have a night game and maybe they had an early game, so I’ve seen them play a couple times. I got started on the video pretty soon after we learned of the announcement on getting into some preparation for them. I know they have recruited well. We have great respect for their coaching staff. I know that it will be a tremendous challenge and a great opportunity for our kids. We’ve recruited at the University of Missouri, we’ve recruited the state of Texas a very long time. We’ve had a lot of great players from that area over the years, so very familiar with their roster and the guys they have signed over the last couple of years and know that they are a talented group.”

Do you think people are excited to reignite an old conference rivalry even if it’s only for one game? 

“Yes, it’s awesome. I think anytime you have a chance to play somebody in an atmosphere, in a Bowl game like this will be, and then you add the historic references to it about having the opportunity to play somebody from a conference that you were once in, that means a great deal to our fan base and I know our kids are excited about it.”

What is the mood like around there? Just for any team to win six games at this level is just an impressive deal. How would you gauge how you guys have turned the whole season around, from where you were in mid-October to where you are now?

“Our team has shown great resolve over the course of the year. We didn’t play very well on game days early in the season. That’s obvious, very maybe the most elementary statement there is. We were doing so many really good things; we just weren’t transferring that over to playing a complete game. Finally, we started getting a little bit better, really in all three phases of the game and doing it collectively together as a football team. Getting confidence, we prepared better as the season went on. We understood who we were. Our margin of error was absolutely zero and we had to win the turnover margin. We had to play efficiently. We had to play smart as a team. Then we started doing that. If you prepare the right way through the process of the week and the game week, how it unfolds, and if you do that, then you have the opportunity to go play freely and play fast. That’s what our team has done. They have embraced the opportunity to try and get it turned around. They have done a great job of holding the rope together and all pulling in the same direction. The excitement that we have and the confidence that we have on an opportunity to go play one more together; our locker room is fired up about the opportunity and the chance to go do that.”

What has been the key about your quarterback play? He has more touchdowns than University of Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield who is getting all the Heisman talk in our neck of the woods.

“Drew (Lock) is a tremendous talent. I can’t put it into words how happy and proud I am for him, so excited that he is our starting quarterback. Tremendous leader. There is not anybody in our program and I don’t think in college football that puts in more time and effort in the knowledge it takes to play the position. Coach (Josh) Heupel has done an unbelievable job on leading him and transforming him into that special arm talent and turning him into a great quarterback and all the things that it takes to go do that. He’s got the ability to make a lot of throws, but it’s also, he’s playing well because he’s a talented kid, but he’s also playing well because our offensive line is giving him time to see the field, scan the field and go through the reads. We have been able to run the football and block well to point of attack and then our receivers are making plays. So, it’s ten other guys around him playing well. They have the ability. When you can run the football for us, that helps in a lot of different ways and Drew has capitalized and really put us in a right situation. The offensive staff has done a nice job on game planning each week and building the offensive of the week to try and give us a chance and put the kids in a position to be successful.”

When you were 1-5, what was the biggest lesson maybe you learned and how did you apply it to maybe staying level headed over these last six as well?

“I knew it was not and it’s still, we have a long ways to go. It’s not going to be easy. I knew the hand that we were dealt. I knew what we had. I knew how close we were to breaking down the walls to winning football. We weren’t that far off even though it sure looked like it at times and seemed like it. We stayed the course. We did make a couple of personnel changes that got guys moved around that helped us out a bit. But, more than anything, credit to our kids to continuing to stay the course, keep their heads down and work together and understand how the slim, fine line of preparing and how that turns over. You can prepare and do everything, your checklist throughout the week, but then once comes game time you better be able to go execute and that was the biggest thing for us is with a little more attention to detail in our practice habits, the things that our kids prepared a little bit better, a little bit more and a little bit smarter, and then our playmaker stood up and made plays and played well together.”

Knowing what you know about the way everything went down, some of the things that were said down here, do you get the sense from the Missouri side of it that fans, administrators, everyone, there’s a little more to this bowl game than just the two teams that are playing?

“I think it’ll be exciting for a lot of different people and the opportunity for us to compete against a team from a conference that we once were in, I think that will show some importance, especially to the fan base and our kids are determined to try to finish the season the right way and I don’t ever make too big of a deal out of the headlines. Let’s focus on us, let’s focus on preparing the right way. Obviously, make our team aware of the situation of an opportunity to play against a really good team and what that will do for us if we go prepare the right way and have the chance to play in a great bowl game.”

How much does it help you in having an assistant coach in Defensive Line Coach Brick Haley who not only recruited a lot of the players that are on this current Texas roster, but also coached a lot of them as well?

“I think, No. 1, Brick Haley is an unbelievable person. He’s done such a great job since he’s been here. I’ve known Brick for a number of years through recruiting. He’s as outgoing and relationship driven with our kids and student athletes as I’ve ever seen. A tremendous hire for us. Our defensive line has played really well over the course of this season and he’s done a great job developing that group. I’m so appreciative and thankful for he and Tina and his family, just the approach that they take every day on the opportunity to be here and work together. We have a great staff and he’s a huge part of that. I’m sure they’ve got coaches on their side that are familiar with a bunch of our players too, so there won’t be much played into that as far as he, from a personal standpoint, I know that anytime you play against somewhere that you once were and play against kids maybe you recruited, that’s difficult and I understand that, I’ve been through that a couple times. So, he’ll do a great job on getting our team ready to go play and I know he’ll have a lot of familiar faces down there that’ll be excited to see him.”

What do you see as Texas’ identity on offense?

“You look at what they’ve done, I know the playmakers that they’ve got and they recruited well, they got them all over the field, just getting into really studying them from the schematic part of it, they’ve got an opportunity on the quarterback runs. Just the game I’m looking at currently, I noticed him being smart with the football, he’s able to get in and out of areas that maybe, could be a negative play and he turns it into something positive. He looks like a great, they look very, very competitive in every area. They look well-coached. We’ll have a tremendous challenge on trying to be able to match up and put together a plan for our kids to be successful.”

Is it too early to say if there’s a team they remind you of that you’ve played this year?

“I wouldn’t want to make a comparison yet. That would be unfair for me to do at this point with the amount of video that I’ve been able to look at at this point today.”