On the possibility of finishing on a high note, and what the Nebraska game means
Sam Wilder: It's an important game every year, no matter what the records are between the teams. This is one of the few games we have on our schedule red-lettered. There's not a better way to finish the season than beating Nebraska.
Q: Is there any luster off the rivalry because both teams have struggled at times this year?
SW: No, I don't think so. It was just three years ago we were in here beating them up. We know this game's important every year that we play it. We make it important as players and the coaches make it important as coaches. I'm sure it's important for them in Nebraska too.
Q: Was that (62-36) game one of your highlights as a Buff?
SW: Yeah, for sure.
Q: Was it THE highlight.
SW: I don't know about THE highlight, but it ranks up there pretty close.
Q: How beneficial was the bye week, or would you rather have played?
SW: I would have rather played. But it was nice to get rested up. I'm feeling healthier, and I'm sure many of the other guys are feeling healthier.
Q: How many times in your career have you had a stretch of three days off like you just had?
SW: Never. It was nice. I did a lot of lying around.
Q: What do you know about their defense?
SW: They're a pretty good defense. They're not as aggressive as they have been in the past. They're going to be well coached and they play hard. They've got a linebacker (Barrett Ruud) that makes plays. And they play a lot of man coverage.
Q: When you say they're not as aggressive, how does that show up?
SW: Just in terms of blitzing. If I remember correctly, they brought a lot more pressure last year. We'll see how that goes in this game.
Q: How is the offensive line playing as a unit at this point?
SW: I think last week against Kansas State was the best our O-line has played this season. We did a lot of good things. And I think we're really coming together. We definitely have to grow after Kansas State and continue to get better though.
Q: Did you guys watch the Kansas State-Iowa State game as a group?
SW: Yeah, quite a few of us got together and watched that game. It was a little frustrating. But that's the way it went. Regardless of what happened last week or what happens this week, we've got to beat Nebraska.
Q: This is a big game for them; if they win they are bowl eligible.
SW: Yeah, we're certainly going to get their best shot. We always do from those guys. It's a rivalry game and it's important to them. They've been to a bowl game for 30 or 35 straight years. I'd like nothing more than to send them home (without a bowl bid).
Q: Does it mean anything to you that some of the Nebraska players admitted after last year's game that it's a rivalry?
SW: I guess so. I don't know. We're still going to prepare the same regardless of whether they think it's a rivalry game or not.
Q: If you beat Nebraska and finish 7-4, is there a measure of satisfaction for you considering all the stuff that CU went through this year?
SW: It's been a rough year for this team and this program. Things didn't always go the way we wanted them to, but this team kept fighting. I guess there's some comfort in that fact. In terms of it being a success, I don't know. If we don't get to the Big 12 Championship, then we haven't met our goals.
Barnett opened his portion of the press conference reading a prepared statement on the departure of athletic director Dick Tharp, who resigned earlier in the day.
Gary Barnett: I want to say that Dick Tharp loves Boulder, Colo. He loves the University of Colorado, its student athletes and its coaches. Under very difficult restrictions and limitations, Dick Tharp has found a way to keep the CU athletic program competitive in Division I and in the Big 12 Conference.
I personally have appreciated working for a man who cares about the student athlete as a total person, and who has persevered through adverse financial and political constraints in supporting us as coaches. Only someone who's walked in his shoes can fully appreciate Dick's labors on behalf of CU athletics.
It's a big game. It's huge. Everybody knows it's a huge opportunity for us. It's one of those games where all I've got to do is tell our players what time the bus leaves. I don't think much more has to be said.
We had a good week last week, and then we gave our players three days off – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That's new. We haven't done that before.
We'll come back today and practice hard today and tomorrow, then taper it off and go.
We can only control how we play in Nebraska game. That's all that's really important to us. Anything else that happens isn't up to us, and we can certainly benefit by it. But there's not a thing we can do about it.
This team has seemed to find the ability to separate out the things that are important from the things that aren't important, and focus on the important things. A perfect example of that was last week when we played Kansas State.
I know several folks have made issues about us having jerseys without names on the back. I was asked if we were going to put the names back on the jerseys. I didn't even really think about it. I said, "sure." We played the game and I got home, and my wife pointed out that we didn't put the names back on. I said, ‘Sure we did.' But I watched the highlight, and sure enough, they weren't on there.
So I asked our players on Tuesday when we met, I said, "Did anybody even notice that we didn't have our names on the back of our jerseys?" No one had even noticed. No one even knew.
When your team's thinking that way, when they aren't concerned about little things like that, and they're only thinking about playing the game, then they've been able to separate out the things that aren't important from the things that are important. If there's a place you want your team this time of year, that where.
We've emphasized playing better at the end of the season. We have a gold box drawn around all the games that get played in November. Our emphasis is always to try to play our best football at that point in time because they remember what you do in November. That's when you win championships.
We've at least put ourselves in a position to maybe have that happen.
Nebraska, for our team, is always a big game. It's a rivalry that Bill McCartney started. We haven't done our part at Colorado in keeping the rivalry up. I think in 22 years we've won five games. But from our end of it, I know that Bill picked a program that he respected so much that he wanted to beat. That's how the whole thing got started. It's stayed that way. We have tremendous respect for Nebraska. So much so that we've picked them out to go after them.
Their season has been one of those seasons where they've had a coaching change, and have had some bad luck with some injuries. It's not unlike what happens at many, many places — to have a wholesale change in coaches, you generally have this kind of season.
For us though, it's still Nebraska, it's still their tradition, it's still their players, it's still their talent. We have to find a way to slow down Cory Ross, who's a tremendous football player.
The other side, we've got to find a way to run the ball. They're the second best run defense in the league. Everybody's thrown the ball a little bit on them. But we can't get one-dimensional. We've got to find a way to run the ball.
I do think our special teams have been very good all year. On paper, this is an area where we do have an advantage, and we do need to make sure we play that way on Friday.
It's an early start, but I don't think that's an issue for us. We're looking forward to playing the game.
Q: You normally get their best shot, but in light of them playing for bowl eligibility, do you expect them to be extra amped up?
GB: Of course. You're playing at home with so many things riding on it. But it's a lot of pressure riding on them too. We'll get their best shot, there's no question. And they're gonna get ours. It should make for a great contest.
Both teams have a lot (at stake). This is the way you want this game. It's not two undefeated teams playing each other, but it's still two teams who have a lot at stake. Every year that we've played them since I've been back it's been a war.
Q: What do you see in looking at them early in the year to now in terms of the West Coast Offense?
GB: They've narrowed some things down. I think Joe Dailey's gotten a little more comfortable at the quarterback position. I think they've used Ross more and more. Losing their big tight end Matt Herian hurt them somewhat, but they've still got ample talent and a lot of guys that play well. It's not going to change their scheme.
It'll be a matchup of our front seven guys trying to slow down Ross.
Q: Did you watch the K-State-Iowa State game, and was that one of the toughest fourth quarters you ever had to sit through?
GB: I did. (The fourth quarter) wasn't a lot of fun, I'll tell you. I think I was putting the bats in the bag. It was the ninth inning and I was putting the bats in the bag, and I know better than that.
On the Nebraska defense
GB: They've got really good players. They got all the players back from last year and the linebackers have grown up. They tackle really well and have the leading tackler in the conference (Ruud). He's really good. Up front they're just really stout; a big team as you would expect.
Q: Has Nebraska been a different team at home from what they've been on the road this year?
GB: They definitely are a better team at home than what they've been on the road. And they always have been. There's not very many teams that have gone in there and beaten them.
Q: Has Nebraska lost the intimidation factor they used to have? Texas Tech scored 70 points on them this year.
GB: The intimidating aspect about Nebraska has always been their physicalness in the option, and doing things you don't prepare for any other time of the year accept when you play Nebraska. Trying to get ready for them, especially in a week, was really difficult. When you could run the ball as effectively as Nebraska could run it, they just assaulted the moral of your defense and your team. That was the intimidating factor, I think.
For years, it was just the quarterback and the tailback and the fullback. And then the tight end, then the quarterback and the tailback and the fullback. You just get tired of getting hit in the mouth. They're a different scheme now. I think that's what's changed. Not what's been lost, but what's been changed.
Q: What can you learn from your common opponents?
GB: There's a lot. Those are valuable films for us.
Q: Regardless of what happens Saturday, if you can beat Nebraska, does that give you a measure of satisfaction for this season?
GB: You look out there and there aren't a lot of 7-4 teams. Just doing the voting, an 8-3 team is going to be a top 15 team. It's amazing how many teams are right at 6-5, 5-6. But winning a game in Nebraska, getting seven wins and going to a bowl game – you tend to think more about those than the ones you lost. Even though the game at Texas A&M will haunt us a little bit, we can't let it.
I'm going to have a great deal of pride in this team. I'm extremely happy the way this team has kept itself together and handled everything and played hard.
Q: Do you think coach votes should be made public or remain anonymous?
GB: I think they should remain anonymous. I really do. If they're not, it's not a big deal. But I think you should be able to keep it anonymous if you want.
Q: If things work out Friday, how tough is it going to be to sleep Friday night in anticipation of the Iowa State-Missouri game?
GB: Yeah, I've got to get those Tigers fired up. Seriously, I had trouble sleeping (last) Friday night waiting for those two games on Saturday. So it'll be an issue. But that doesn't make any difference. The only that matters right now is Friday.
Q: How surprising have Missouri and Iowa State been this year?
GB: I think the Missouri team is the biggest surprise to all of us. A puzzle, more than anything else. It certainly, on paper and every other capacity, looked like it was going to be a really good football team. When we played them, we shot ourselves in the foot in that game and didn't get a call at the end.
They won the game and we felt like they were a good team, and we were a good team at that point, too. So I'm a little puzzled they haven't held themselves together better. I don't know what the turning point was; you'd have to ask Gary Pinkel. It could be the Nebraska game.
You could watch Iowa State on film and see they were a team that was going to get better. One, they're really young; two, they're playing with a really good defense. And the quarterback just gets better every game.
We knew going in to our game with them that was a tough defensive team. I know Dan McCarney said on the Big 12 Conference call today they gained a lot of confidence by playing the way they did out here. We walked off thinking that was a pretty good football team, and that they were going to win some games.
Their game with Nebraska was the big one for them.
Q: How much does last year's loss at home to Nebraska factor in?
GB: I don't think it's a big thing. We haven't addressed it as coaches. They may have addressed it in the locker room. Things like that don't hang over the way the general public thinks it does.
Q: Do you expect their crowd to be any less enthusiastic than recent years?
GB: I don't know what to expect from them. I haven't heard from other coaches if that's an issue. It's still Nebraska and there'll be a lot of read, and usually it's really loud. I know that's one of the things our players have said to our younger players, that it's really loud there.
We'll do crowd noise on Wednesday. We'll do it in the stadium to avoid any tickets.
Q: Given the incident at South Carolina last week and the Detroit-Indiana NBA incident, will you address your players about any of that, given that at Nebraska you have to walk near lots of fans on your way to the playing field?
GB: When I was talking to Les Miles last week I said I was going to bring something up at our coaches meetings. And that was that I've been really impressed with the kind of clean play and respect, and none of that nonsense in any of the games we've been in. It's really been the cleanest I ever remember. I haven't had an official come to me and say anything about our players or their players. Every game has been hard fought and respectful and great sportsmanship at the end.
So this thing that happened is bad. It's bad for everybody. The whole combination of the weekend, the way it rolled out is bad for sports. I would expect those two conferences (ACC and SEC) to take action, as they should. We have rules about it. Every one of those guys (that was involved in fighting) should miss a game.
I probably will mention it, just because it would be so unlike us to do something like that. And we are going in to an atmosphere where if somebody said something, it could get taken the wrong way and somebody could lose their temper. We're just not going to do that.
Q: You mentioned Les Miles. Anyone at Missouri you might call this week?
GB: (laughs)Sure. But I don't think my words of encouragement is going to do much good.