“I think it is important for the seniors all season, but particularly here when you spend four or five days in another environment and making sure they are focused in preparation,” Rich Rodriguez said. “You have that balance as a coach.
“You want them to enjoy the experience and things that a bowl game presents, but to keep the focus on what we call the main thing, which is obviously getting ready to play the game. I think the seniors have done that.
“They have done a good job all year. It’s a neat group. There are some four year and fifth year seniors, there’s a couple two year seniors, and there’s even one or two one year seniors.
“They have all kind of come together and done a good job all year of sometimes being loud in their leadership and sometimes being quiet in their leadership.”
“I thought I could, but I think you get a good feel when you make a lot of mental mistakes during practice, particularly the last couple practices,” Rodriguez said. “Either your game plan is too much or your guys aren’t as dialed in as you think.
“I don’t know if that is necessarily the case, our guys have been pretty sharp mentally this week, which has been good. There have been other bowl games I have been in where we have had a lot of mistakes a day or two before the game and come out and played and executed really well.
“I think more than anything you can tell by their excitement level as the practices get closer to game time and our guys seemed pretty excited after yesterday’s practice. I don’t know if it was because the game was closer or practice was over, but either way I think they are ready to play.”
“It’s harder defensively because they will do a lot of things, but I don’t know if you can call them trick plays because they execute so well and do it so often,” Rodriguez said. “You have to be ready not only for the so called traditional trick plays, but unbalanced formations, unconventional looks that you will see.
“They do a great job of executing and that’s the biggest thing. They have good players that execute well and play really hard. For our defensive staff, they have to spend a lot of time on formations and possible things that can happen out of them.
“Then you have to rely on experience. We have a few experienced guys in the secondary especially that have to recognize when something maybe is a little bit off or something they have not seen before.”
“It was pretty focused,” he said. “I thought at the beginning of practice they would be more excited to get it started, but I think as practice went along, it was probably a little nostalgic for the seniors realizing it was their last one.
“We recognized them afterwards and had them get carried off and all that stuff. It was probably emotional and exciting for the seniors in particular and all of our underclassmen to maybe see what it is going to feel like hopefully for them when they get an opportunity in their last game.
“It goes by so quickly and the seniors would probably tell you this is a pretty neat way to end their careers.”
“There were a lot of question marks going in and we thought there was some talent there, but still there wasn’t anybody that was going to match Ka’Deem Carey,” Rodriguez said. “I thought he was one of the best in the country.
“We got Nick Wilson and Terris Jones-Grigsby that both did a nice job. Were they as good as Ka’Deem? No, but Ka’Deem was special. They did a good enough job for us to have some success running the football.
“At times we weren’t able to run as well as we would like, but they are good football players and I think our talent outside of the skill positions helped offset the loss of Ka’Deem.”
“We talk about it so much,” he said. “I thought even in the first day of practice back in August, this team has some talent, but we’re not a team that is going to get off the bus or just show up and dominate a team physically.
“We have to be guys that play hard, execute well, and just keep playing until the end. Conditioning is going to be a big part of it. I thought our guys were in really good shape at the beginning of camp and we tried to practice to keep that conditioning level up.
“I think our guys truly believe that they are in really good shape and can play for 60 minutes, but I think they also know we have to do it that way. Not that we don’t have talent, because we do, but we’re not so talented that we can go mess around and win.
“I have said for years that I will know we have truly arrived when we can show up, play poorly, and still win. We’re not there, but we have the ability to play well at times and do enough of that to give us a chance at the end.”