Looking back on the Iowa State game, we really played pretty well defensively. I was pleased. We had a number of guys make Victory Club and play really well.
I was pleased with the way our secondary played. They kept the ball in front of them. They gave up the one big play, but didn't give up the big play that hurt you. And that was critical in this game.
Offensively, we're just misfiring. We have some good things going, we're just inconsistent and we're not executing very well. There are times we do, and then times we don't.
We just have to tweak a few things and keep working. We're not going to throw out the system, we're not going to do any of that sort of stuff. The system works, and we'll just keep working and getting guys better. That's really the only approach we can take.
Special teams, we asked them to be special, and they were special – in every category. Stephone Robinson was probably the one that was overlooked the most last Saturday. We rushed the punter every time and Stephone still averaged 10-yards a punt return. We say if we can get 10, that's one less first down we have to get. Stephone did a great job catching the ball and getting what he could without a return (blocking scheme).
Terrence Wheatley's kickoff return was nice as well.
Mason Crosby just did a great job. So did John Torp. John was just outstanding. We're doing some things in the punt game that help his net average a little bit, where he can recover pretty well. We're doing a good job with protection.
Going to A&M is really an unbelievable challenge. That team has just grown and grown and grown leaps and bounds. Their defense is very, very impressive. You watch them and you want to turn it off for a while and go sit down and relax. Because they really are good. They've become one of the best defenses in the country.
Reggie McNeal is just an outstanding football player. He's probably playing the best of all the quarterbacks in the conference right now. He's really, really good. He throws it, and he's got the same kind of running ability as Brad Smith. He's got receivers, the running game is going. He seems to really have a good feel for what they're doing. They're making big plays. And he himself is a big weapon. If he doesn't have anybody to hand it off to or throw it to, he's a weapon.
So a huge challenge for us on both sides and in special teams. Playing down there we know it's going to be hot. We know it's a notoriously difficult place to play. But we play in tough places, and that's not going to affect us. We train at altitude, so hopefully that's going to help.
We've got to prevent big plays, make sure we're aligned, keep the ball in front of us. On offense, we've just got to get more than three or four cylinders going. We've got to get all of them going, make some plays, make some third-down conversions. Keep our first-down percentage going. That gives us a chance. We've got to convert on third-down now. That gives us a chance.
And then defensively, we've got to make some plays on third down. We've been giving up some third downs.
But we have been a bend-don't-break defense. We're good in the red zone. Everybody asks me why and I don't have a reason for it. We just seem to tighten up for it. Maybe the other teams tighten up there, I don't know. We've done a good job there statistically, and I wish I could tell you we have this great red zone plan. But we don't. We just play, and that's the way it works out.
There a lot of big games in the Big 12 this week. If you're a fan there are a lot of games that are being played that have widespread implications for the rest of the year. This conference is going to be crazy before it's all over with, and we hope to do our part to make it crazy.
Q: With Bobby Purify possibly not being able to finish any more games, how does that affect your game plans?
Gary Barnett: We really have to work hard at getting somebody ready to take the load. We did that some last week, and we'll do it again this week. We're just hoping that eventually this (shoulder problem) will get better. IT gets a little bit better each week, but when he plays each week, it gets hard for it to get better fast.
He wants to play, so we'll just have to do the best we can with it. During the week we get a lot more reps for Lawrence and for the two young freshmen. It's too bad we've got Brandon Caesar out for the rest of the year because Brandon would have been a big addition to us right now. He probably would have been carrying the ball a lot.
Q: Would you consider resting Purify for an entire week to see if he made significant improvement?
GB: Talking to Steve Willard, I don't think that would help it that much. Either way, you don't know which is the right way to go with it. Bobby has five games left. How many do you want to pass up? He's missed so many games in his career already, he doesn't want to miss any more. It's one of those things where as long as the doctors tell him he can't hurt it more if he plays, and he wants to play, then I'm going to go with what he wants to do.
Q: Does that situation mean Daniel Jolly will work more at fullback?
GB: Jolly is just a fullback right now. We'll go to the freshmen if we need to (at tailback).
Q: Joel Klatt talked about him needing to stop being ‘Captain Joel Klatt" and just be Joel Klatt. What do you make of that?
GB: I heard that comment from Joel as well. I can see where that probably might have happened. You get on a team that has so few seniors, you feel as though it's all on your shoulders and you have to do more than just play the game. And so you tend to do it.
That's why last week taking four days off and not being the starting quarterback, and getting a chance to reflect on everything, and look at it from a little different perspective probably was the most valuable thing to happen to him this year. We'll see what he does with it. I think he went into that game as a team member, and not as Joel Klatt, the captain and quarterback. When he came into the game he was the quarterback. This is speculation, but this is how I saw it playing out. He went in and went right on and didn't miss a beat.
Q: How would (being Captain Klatt) show up?
GB: Trying to be too perfect, trying to make a play himself, trying to force a ball into a hole instead of making a check down. A quarterback never wants to throw it to the tailback who's sitting underneath the coverage wide open 99 percent of the time. That's a four-yard completion.
Everybody writes that people don't throw the ball down the field enough. So they read that stuff and think they've got to get the ball down the field instead of the guy that's going to get a three-yard catch and probably run for 15. It's just the mentality you get into.
Q: He also said he thought he was here too many late nights studying film. Is there a danger for overkill for that kind of thing?
GB: I'm sure it's by personality. You're doing it because you think you're supposed to be doing it, rather than you're doing it because you're getting something out of it. Probably all of us in this business fall victim to that.
Q: What has Texas A&M improved most in and how did they get so good so fast?
GB: I think you asked me last year a couple times about A&M. My response has always been we know what kind of players A&M has recruited, and we know it's just a matter of time there – getting used to coaches, systems, rules, styles, all those sort of things had to happen.
They did recruit seven junior college players. However, if you look on their roster, only one is playing significantly, Mike Montgomery. He's probably their best defensive player.
But for the most part it's just everybody getting used to each other. Whenever there's a coaching change, there are guys who like the new guy and guys who don't like the new guy. It just takes time.
They had athletes in place. Coach Hankwitz thought they had athletes in place. You just hit a bump in the road when there's a change in a program that has the resources that A&M has.
Just watching from the first game to their last game (this season), they've grown. They've made huge strides. Most of it's just confidence.
Q: How much confidence did your team come out of Iowa State with?
GB: The kickers feel good about themselves. Defense feels good about itself. But the offense is struggling from a confidence standpoint.
They're not struggling from a perseverance standpoint. We had a good crisp focused practice yesterday on offense. They all want to make it work. They're all as befuddled as you are, or I am as why it doesn't work at times. But we also know that everything works, we've just got to keep working at it and clear up some things.
Q: What have teams done that have had success against A&M's defense?
GB: Kansas State had some success because they got some turnovers, and they had some short fields.
The quarterback runs are the ones that have stood out the most. If you look at the Utah game (a 41-21 Utah win), the quarterback had three really big runs, he had a big day in the passing game, they got them on a couple trick plays, got them behind at home.
But most of the things that I've seen be successful have been around the quarterback and his ability to scramble and make plays.
Where do you place McNeal among the top quarterbacks in the country?
GB: I haven't seen enough players to really be able to say. But of all the games I've watched, I haven't seen a quarterback able to do more things than he has in our conference. And I've seen everybody play I think.
I don't know how that goes out to the rest of the country. I can't say that. But he certainly is a really valuable player.
Q: Do you plan to work Bernard Jackson back into punt return rotation as he heals?
GB: Yeah, I think Bernard, as soon as that (elbow) gets a little bit stronger, we want to continue to look at him. He catches punts every day. We want to see if he can bring something else to it.
Stephone is bringing us consistency right now, and he's catching the ball. That's No. 1 in all punt returns.
We'll just have to see if there's chances to work Bernard in there.
Q: Are you doing anything to fix the penalties this week?
GB: Well, we're going to have 11 guys on the field, which we did not have on that one punt. We had four (illegal formation) penalties. We went back and looked at our alignments for the last five games and they were the same. B
What happens is the officials decide each week that they're going to emphasize something. We normally get a fax saying ‘we're going to emphasize such and such.' So we go around to our coaches and say, ‘they're going to call this, let's be careful.' But we didn't get a fax last week.
They kept saying we had one tackle or tight end that was too far back. We'll just make sure that we're up there close on the line of scrimmage.
Those were our critical penalties, too. We are going to do a few things to create some consequences for those types of things in practice.
Q: Is A&M's defense more of a physical defense, or a sideline-to sideline defense?
GB: They really run well. But I'm really impressed with their tackling.
They put a lot of pressure on you. A corner has four sacks. So they're always bringing a corner off the boundary as an additional pressure. Many times you don't account for him. He's been real effective.