Tracking Mack: Sept. 2
Sept. 2, 2009
Opening statement: The biggest thing about game week is guys will watch games on Thursday night and they will be so excited about playing Saturday. Then they’ve got Friday night games now, I think Tulane is playing Tulsa, and by the time they watch Saturday afternoon games they will be so pumped about playing that they can’t wait, and it seems like forever since we played Ohio State and even the start of this season. You’ve got the excitement of a new stadium. They’ve never played on this turf. They’ve never played in front of more than 100,000 people, and the fact that they spend all of preseason with us yelling about staying up and not cutting as offensive lineman and not cutting downfield as receivers, the defense hears, “Don’t hit the quarterback. Stay out of the cylinder,” and they get so tired of competing against each other every day that they need something different, so that’s why the opening game is so special every year, and after 12 years, this one is just as exciting as any other for us. We’ve got a senior team, a team that’s excited about getting started and playing.
Jordan Shipley will not return the first punt or the first kickoff. We’re going to look at some other guys and we may use Jordan during the game, but we’ll start out with Earl Thomas returning the first punt and Malcolm Williams and Aaron Williams returning the first kickoff. We just know Jordan is going to be such a valuable part of what we’re doing in the offense because he will play all three (receiver positions). He can play split end, the Z position or the sub B position, or he could play in the slot at the flex position like he did at tight end, so we feel like that we’re going to let some other guys work in the kicking game and may get Jordan involved, but maybe not early in the year, maybe later. We felt like we used Quan [Cosby] so much last year that he was beaten down at the Tech game and we lost him for that game and it really hurt us, so we’re trying to be smarter and utilize some other guys and get some backups there.
About the only other thing that has changed a little bit is that Fozzy [Whittaker] is still dinged. He’ll be a game-time decision whether he will be able to play or not, so we will not know until game time and it may even be questionable for the weekend, but we’ll look at that.
Looking at what we talked about on Monday with respect to ULM, we’ve gone back and talked to our players about the win that (ULM) had at Tuscaloosa. This group was sophomores because it’s a senior football team. There are 12 seniors that are starting, there are 18 starters back from last year’s team, so this team knows that they can go in to Tuscaloosa and win a football game. Last year, you go back and really study the Auburn film, the score was 17-0 at halftime but the two touchdowns by Auburn were defensive touchdowns. The offense of Auburn scored three points against this team. Then you go back and look at the Arkansas game, when you really study what happened, ULM was ahead 24-7 midway through the third quarter. So this bunch is an older team that will come in here excited. There will be a lot of question marks we have to answer about them, and they changed five coaches. Charlie Weatherbie has been around a long time so he will have them focused and ready to go, and you start looking at the defensive coordinator, we’ve gone back and studied our film with El Paso last year, which is the same defense because the defensive coordinator at UTEP came from New Mexico last year and we had trouble early in that ballgame picking up the blitz, and this will be 76-percent blitz as we get ready to try to figure out where they’re going to be Saturday night. They’re also an offensive team that’s different; the staff’s different, but the quarterback is different. Last year’s quarterback was more of a runner, so we’ve got to figure out what they’re going to do and then we’ll have to adjust to it during the ballgame. The other thing you notice about Sun Belt teams and Conference USA teams is they can always run. This secondary can really run, they’re all back, their receivers can run, in fact, we said the other day that Ambrose beat (USC RB Joe) McKnight in the 100-meters for the Louisiana State championship to be the fastest in their state track meet, so they’re a real fast football team and have good skill.
It will be exciting for us, you know how Colt’s going to respond, you know how a lot of your guys are going to respond, but we’ve got question marks. Are we going to run the ball better? We know we can pass protect up front and that will be a difficult thing because we won’t know where they’re coming from, but will we run the ball better? How will Vondrell [McGee] look? How is Cody [Johnson] doing? What about Greg Smith at tight end? What will happen with some of the young receivers? Will they respond well? And you start looking at the front on defense. Will we be aggressive up front against the run, and will we be able to get a pass rush like we did last year? How’s the kicking game in the opening game? All those things are questions that we think we know the answers to, we know we’ve got a chance to be really good, we feel like we will be really good, but it’s all talk right now, we haven’t proven anything, and Saturday night’s the first chance to prove that.
On blitzing opposing quarterbacks: You can’t project really, because you’re not sure how they’ll respond, but we felt like Florida Atlantic had a great quarterback coming into last year because he was such a prolific passer from the year before. The biggest thing is you need pressure on the quarterback because if he has time to throw, and they feel the same way, if Colt’s got time to throw, he’s going to hit people in modern-day football; the schemes are good, especially against zone. But the second part is you need him hesitant, so disguise is key. If you come every time and they know you’re blitzing every time, then sometimes it’s easier because you’re expecting it. What we’d like to do is have the ability to zone blitz change up people that are dropping, change up coverages in blitz, and then bring everybody and blitz and not let them know where we’re coming from or what percentage we’re blitzing.
On being more vulnerable blitzing experienced quarterbacks: It’s funny, people quit blitzing Vince [Young] at all. They just quit and they quit playing man coverage because they wanted somebody in the middle of the field because they felt like if they blitzed and missed, he might score. Last year, we had a whole lot of blitz and part of it was because people probably thought we couldn’t beat man coverage in some cases, but it was a blitz more than I’ve ever seen and just about every week we kept thinking, “He’s completing them all, why don’t they start going zone?” And what we heard last year was people are more afraid of Colt with zone because he’s got time. The best chance is to make him get the ball out of his hands fast and that will keep him from being able to throw it further downfield. That’s what we’ve heard and really and truly, that’s why you want an older quarterback, because he’s got a chance to know where people are and he can read the defenses better and we do feel like we’ve got some idea of what will happen Saturday night by scheme because of their defensive coordinator coming from New Mexico, watching them, because Rocky Long was one of the better defensive coaches in the country for years and at the same time that we had a similar type scheme from UTEP.
On running against a 3-3-5 defense: You’re blitzing everywhere so it’s hit or miss, that’s the problem in a game like this and especially a first game because when they blitz 76 percent of the time, even if they mess up the blitz and they run two in the same hole, you may miss them and they hit you in the backfield so there’s usually some ugly plays in this game.
On the offensive line responding to this type of defense: They’ve played a lot together so we think they’ll play well. I thing again the problem is not picking up the blitz as much for us, because we see so much blitz, as it will be having a consistent running game. That’s what’s more difficult when they’re all over the place.
On the running backs playing time: It depends on how they play. We’re excited about watching Vondrell and Cody. They’ve had outstanding camps. Vondrell is in tremendous shape and Cody has gotten in that position. He didn’t come in like that, but he’s done everything right in camp, so right now they would be the two guys that we would lean on Saturday night. You’ve got different packages, so we do feel like D.J. Monroe will play at tailback in some packages, maybe as a wide receiver as well, and we feel like Tre Newton could also play in certain situations if Fozzy doesn’t play. If Fozzy is ready to play, he’ll be the third guy.
On blocking punts: Duane Akina is the best I’ve ever seen at (coaching) blocking kicks and returning punts. It’s just amazing. It’s attitude, it’s confidence, he knows what he’s doing, he’s got credibility with the players, he takes the best players we have across the board, we give him carte blanche of anybody he wants on this football team, except Colt, and he sells the guys on, “We’re going to block a punt every game and if they keep us from blocking it, they’re going to be in (defending against the block) too long and we’re going to return one.” He’s just the best I’ve ever seen, it’s just his niche, he loves it and it’s something he does well. It was one of the things we got him back to doing, that and coaching secondary, which he does so well. We lost so much in that area in 2007. That was one of the deciding factors in getting him back to doing what he does best.
On the pressure to win: For us, it’s no different than last year. At Texas, it’s that way every time, whether you are 10th or first, it doesn’t make any difference. In fact, we were 4-7 before I got here and everybody said we had to win the opener. I think it’s who we are and what we’ve become, and that’s okay, and I think the players understand that. I was asked yesterday by a friend of mine if the team is feeling pressure. They’re really not. They’re excited about playing. Our team doesn’t sit around and think about losing, they plan on winning and they think they are going to win and they did last year. I told them I had concerns because there were some unanswered questions. It wasn’t questioning them, but they haven’t done it yet. Most of this team has done it, so the thing they need to do is go back and do it again and do it at a higher level. I’ve told them we’re going to be really good if they’re consistently good. If they create an edge every week and we play well every week, we will be really good and we need to stay healthy, which is always the case, but that’s the only question, so our charge as coaches and their charge is to have the leadership to create an edge every week to get ready to play.
On the freshman playing: We have the depth chart freshman and then we have some others that because of injury might step up this week that might play. The only one that wasn’t on that list that we think may play is Marquise Goodwin. The other guys would just be kicking teams probably if we played them. Kenny Vaccaro will definitely play, he’ll be a factor on kicking teams and he’s doing really well. [Alex] Okafor will definitely play, he’ll play in the first three series, the other guys we’ll have to wait and see whether they’re ready or not.
On the renovated tunnel: Our tunnel was ugly. We just had grass down there and it didn’t have any sun, so it got muddy and damp and then we were coming out on a cement floor and the kids would have to walk out very carefully because they would slip, but George Wynn has done an outstanding job of putting turf down there, so it’s safer for them coming out and they won’t slip. He’s made the Freddie Steinmark scoreboard, that needed to be updated, he’s made it what it should be as a true tribute to Freddie, and he’s working on a picture of an American flag as they’re coming out, so it honors our war heroes as they go out on the field. We want the entrance to be special. We want our guys to feel like when they are coming onto the field, it is a great experience and not many people get to do that and that’s what the smoke is about. It’s about them and their memory of how it felt, the exhilaration of coming out there to play for Texas.
On Marquise Goodwin: If he plays in a game, he goes from track scholarship to football. It counts for us and I’m not sure how it counts for [track]. We both recruited him the entire time and Marquise was highly recruited as a football player. We knew he wanted to come to Texas, and we knew he wanted to run track, so what we did is Bubba took him. What we didn’t know for sure was after he got here, because he has a chance to be an Olympian in track, whether he would get so excited about his track that he wouldn’t want to participate in football. So he wasn’t around any this summer, he didn’t go to summer school, so the first time we saw him was the first day the kids showed up and he said, “I want to play coach. I’m serious about my football.” You have to think about that he will not be in spring practice probably if he’s a good enough player, and then will he go to summer track and you lose him for the summer, so it’s a hard balance to do both and he’s a very good student so that’s another thing that gives him the opportunity to do both. We thought he was really good. He was recruited by nearly everybody. We just didn’t know if he wanted to play football as much as he does, and he’s really bought in to the football and playing hard.
On the difficulty of going undefeated: Number one, when we got here we were 4-7 and people didn’t think we were going to be really good, so nobody was really looking at us. Now, we’ve got a target on our back everywhere we go, so you better play good every game because it’s a big game every week for everybody. We sell out every stadium, home and away, and I think our league's better. You start looking across the board now, nobody is bad and everybody has got a chance if you don’t play well. I’ve gone back to look at the Alabama game with ULM and there’s four turnovers, there’s a blocked field goal, ULM had the ball all but 10 minutes of the second half, so it’s just things that happen in games. You’ve got to be at the top of your game every week now to make it, and it’s very difficult to do. We’re seeing fewer teams play for a national championship that are undefeated, and we thought that would happen, in fact, I think LSU won the national championship with two losses and who would have ever thought that would have happened, even four or five years ago?
On creating an edge every week: I told the players two days again that you would like to think you don’t need one, but I would ask our fans and the media, “Do they come excited for every game?” The answer would be no. You get your expectations up, some are more important to you than others, some are more exciting to you, some are more challenging to you than others. Our problem is they all better be exciting and challenging for us. We’re dealing with 18-22-year-old kids and they listen to (the media), they listen to fans, they decide whether this is important or not, and the other team, every time they hear they can’t do something, they get more excited. All of those things are philosophical things that we have to deal with for motivation and I’m amazed, I look up and every year you see teams across the country that look like they have no interest in a game. They’re just out there sleepwalking, and I think if you can play 14 and you want to play 14 and you spend three hundred and fifty something days preparing for 14, why wouldn’t you play your best for 14? It just does not happen with everybody across the country.
On comparing the 2009 team to the 2005 team: We addressed it with our team, and I’ve talked to fans about it. I can see the comparisons to preseason in ‘05 and ‘09 because we are No. 2, there’s an obvious No. 1 that won the national championship last year, we finished third last year, we finished third in ’04, we were so close last year to being in the final mix like we were when we beat Michigan. It’s a very easy comparison. In fact, I think it would be unusual for us not to compare it. The difference is that the ’05 team embraced the expectations and they played well from start to finish. They played well every game. That’s why we’re talking about the edge. [The ’05 team] had an edge. They played with it every week, it didn’t matter who they were playing. In fact, we could have taken Vince out of the game usually by the start of the third quarter or midway through the third quarter every week and that’s unusual. That doesn’t happen very often. What I’ve told this team is that there’s an expectation that you can be that good, but you haven’t proven it and that’s your pressure if you want to be that good. If you want to be average, then you’ll play average, but if you want to be that good, which is really hard to do and not many people can do that, then it’s up to you to prove it and that starts Saturday night.
On game week: I’m excited about watching our team play somebody else because you get to a point where it’s hard to get questions answered in your mind beyond what you’ve seen. When you’ve seen Charlie Tanner and Lamarr Houston every day for four-straight weeks, they’re ready for something else and I’m ready for something else. I’ve seen enough and that’s what an opening game does for you, it lets you evaluate who can handle the pressure, especially the young ones. Who is going to go out there and embrace the crowd and the night? I think we’re where we need to be. We’ve gotten a whole lot done. We’ll work a lot on kicking game today because kicking game scares you to death in the opener. We’ll work a lot on substitutions. With the heat, you never know who is going to cramp, you never know who is going to go down, so you just have to have things ready in the opener. You’re more ready for the second one and the third one because you’ve already been through that process. I would be more excited than nervous in openers for me because I think we’re good. I want to see us, and when you watch us every day like I have, I thought last year’s team was good, I got excited about them playing because I knew they would have a chance every week, and I think the same with this team. I think this team should be good and they should think they’re good and they should be good.
On the kickers: Right now, you are right in the middle of a competition with Hunter [Lawrence] and Ryan Bailey, and it really doesn’t matter which one goes out there, both of them are good. Those things, when it’s dead even, we go down to game time. We will actually be charting in pregame probably. It’s so hard to separate them. They’re both seniors, they’re both really good, they’re both starters most places in the country and you want to be fair to them and somebody will be disappointed.
On Eddie Jones: Eddie Jones will play early. We are so proud of Eddie. Eddie is well, seems to be 100 percent and that young guy, to go through what he’s been through and have a shoulder operation and an ankle operation, it’s amazing to me that he would still want to play as much bad luck as he’s had, but it’s also amazing that he can play like he does. He will be a really good pass rusher for us. We’ve told him that any time you feel like you do not want to play, let us know. I told Bo Scaife not to play anymore, I told Jordan Shipley I would think about not playing anymore because of my knees and my situation because I continued to play. Both of those young guys have overcome it and done really well and fought through it, and the same thing with Eddie. I’ve told him if at any point you feel uncomfortable, go to the doctors because you’ve been banged up a bunch, but he looks 100 percent. I’m really surprised from where he came in the spring. They had to operate on his ankle first because they had to get it well before they could operate on his shoulder, so he could get on crutches because he couldn’t walk. He was going to have the shoulder operation anyway, but he got his ankle hurt on a fake punt at Ohio State where somebody fell on him and broke his ankle while he was getting ready for his shoulder operation. That’s bad luck.