Iowa State vs. Missouri: Quotebook

<b>AMES, IA --</b> Iowa State faces Big 12 North rival Missouri Saturday afternoon at Jack Trice Stadium, bidding to lock up its first divisional title of any kind since 1912. Head coach Dan McCarney previewed the game with the local media during his weekly press conference Tuesday morning. Here is a transcription.

Opening comments:

"The MVPs for Kansas State, and these kids all got game balls, were: Kory Pence in the offensive line; Stevie Hicks at running back; Cephus Johnson at defensive end; LaMarcus Hicks at cornerback; Ellis Hobbs on special teams; and Bret Culbertson at placekicker."

"The special teams captain for Missouri is Todd Miller, who is one of 21 seniors that will play their last game in Jack Trice Stadium."

"There are no new injuries coming out of Kansas State. I think Tyson Smith will play Saturday. We'll know through the next three days whether it's a little bit, a lot, or quite a bit. He ran last week and is feeling real good. Nobody is happier for Tyson Smith than I am, if he can come back and have a chance to play in his last game."

"Missouri is still a very talented, dangerous football team. I think everybody realizes that. They were picked preseason number one in the Big 12 North. They have a dynamic quarterback in Brad Smith and the number one defense in the Big 12 Conference. They have lost some close, heartbreaking games. Instead of playing for a title this week or possible bowl bid, they've got to play to finish strong and go into the offseason with a good taste in their mouth.

"With the exception of last year when they just completely blew us out on the field in Columbia, most of these games have been very close, competitive and physical. We fully expect that here Saturday. There is no question they're a dangerous team."

"We've got a lot of incentives and are playing for an awful lot. I've got to do a great job as a head coach this week to make sure we're keyed, excited, ready, and focused. But we can't make more out of it than it is. It's a football game and opportunity. It's a great opportunity and history-making opportunity, but it's just that – an opportunity. We're looking forward to getting back in front of our fans and fully expect a sold-out stadium. These kids deserve it."

On differences in games between these two teams:

"I haven't talked about that part of it. It's pretty obvious that nearly every team we've played this year, it's been the same scenario. They dominated us, embarrassed us, blew us out, and now you have an opportunity to play them better this year. But I don't come in here every Sunday night and give them the scores of 2003. They know. The kids that were here know we weren't even competitive with teams last year. That's how bad we were.

"But we're a much more competitive team this year. The resolve of this team is unbelievable. If you don't have great team unity, you couldn't have done what we did in the fourth quarter down in Manhattan. This team's will and endurance is inspired by a lot of things. That's why it's so much fun to come in here every day."

On getting team prepared for Missouri after K-State game:

"We've had a lot of celebrations in recent weeks, which is great. We've approached it the same way. We've got one more victory. It was a 24-hour celebration, and then it's all about the next team.

"We all know about the game in Lincoln on Friday, and possible implications, yet all I told the kids is that it had absolutely nothing to do with what we've got to do here Saturday. ‘I don't want you to sense relief, regardless of what happens.' We need to win this football game and put ourselves in position to do that. This is going to be a highly-motivated Missouri team coming in here that's very loose and ready to play."

"Our preparation will not change. I'm not cutting back one minute of meeting time or practice time because this is our 13th week of the season since the Northern Iowa game. It's a formula that's working and I think our kids believe in that."

On leadership of senior class:

"It all started with these kids drawing a line in the sand putting their foot down last December, the senior class. ‘We're not going through this again.' I don't know if we could be playing for a Big 12 North title or a possible Big 12 championship, but we were going to put our foot down and draw a line in the sand. This ain't going to happen again. It's not fair to the tradition that we've built or to the Iowa State fans. That was a meeting here in December, 11 months ago, and they've followed through with it. This has been all led by the seniors; they've done a remarkable job."

On Ellis Hobbs' impact:

"There are just special kids that come along every once in a long time. We are all around very gifted athletes and football players, but to have the leadership of a man that acts like he's 30 or 40 years old and been through a number of life experiences even though he's just a senior in college, and put that with unbelievable determination, heart, real good talent, and the inspiration he brings to the program every day, you've got something special.

"Everyday they know that they'd better be ready because number 11 is going to be ready. He wants you to practice like he does, have the passion that he has, and he wants you to have the determination that he has. You can literally will kids to play better with your approach, motivation, and examples like Ellis Hobbs. He has done a great job of that."

On Hobbs' potential playing at next level:

"I don't think there's any doubt. How he'll get there, I don't have any idea and wouldn't want to project or predict. I've been around it too long. I don't think there is any doubt he'll be playing a lot of football after Iowa State."

On Tyson Smith's comeback from last season:

"When you fracture a leg as badly as he did and have the surgery that he did, I know there are players around the country that wouldn't come back off of that. They'd take the medical, get their degrees, and go on and live a productive life. Tyson was not about to do that.

"You can't put into words the pain and heartache he went through dealing with an injury like that. But when he went down with a knee injury in practice, he was leading the Big 12 in tackles-for-loss and was third in sacks. He was one of the top players on our whole football team. Nobody is cheering for him more than I am, maybe other than his mom and sister. I love the kid. He's been real special to me and my wife since he came to Iowa State."

On play of younger players on this team:

"With youth usually is enthusiasm. Maybe they don't know about some of the hard lessons, tough lessons, or bad lessons of the past that may have happened. There is a confidence and brashness. These young kids bought into the team concept because of the leadership of my seniors and older kids about as good as any group of young kids I've had. You have just seen the confidence grow with all those young kids.

"It's not just the obvious ones like Blythe and Meyer that have really improved and impacted our football team. There are a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing on this team. They don't play like it, act like it, and we don't treat them like young guys. They're all veterans now and we've been playing a long time.

"We've got an opportunity to go from first to worst if we take care of business Saturday. Whether it takes one season or five seasons, those are usually some of the greatest experiences young people and coaches can ever have in life. We're on the verge of that and hopefully we'll be able to finish it Saturday."

On big plays by defense this season, scoring touchdowns:

"I'm real pleased with it. John Skladany and his defensive coaches have done a great job this year bringing these kids along. If you don't have a great team concept, there is no way you lose three of your top defensive players and still win games like we have with Brandon and Tyson being out.

"We're second behind Miami right now with seven non-offensive touchdowns scored. You've got to have talent, but you want something to happen early in the season whether you block a kick or intercept a pass. We got two of them against Northern Illinois, which is a team that was in the top 25 for a while. Once they've done it and experienced it, let's find a way to do it again. We're disappointed we don't have two or three more, because we could have more defensive scores right now.

"But when you do those things, get hot, expect to do them, and kids have seen it and done it before, hopefully they can do it again. It's the same way with turnovers. In our last four Big 12 victories, we've got 13 takeaways and only two turnovers offensively. There are many statistics that are meaningful in the outcome of games, but that's the most important one."

On play of Luke Vander Sanden:

"I can only imagine how proud his mother is. His father passed away years ago and is watching over him. He's one of those guys that is a quiet talker. He doesn't yell or scream; he really never has. But he likes to get in front of the team and talk. Everybody loves him and respects him.

"He's playing outstanding football. We have a winner's performance award that we give out to players each week, based on their performance, and with the exception of one Saturday he's had it every week. He's had a tremendous senior year.

"We're doing more with him. It's not just blocking that guy that's on his nose. We're pulling him, and you've got to be athletic enough to do that. Once you're in the open field or in the second level of linebackers, you've got to be able to do that. He's had a tremendous senior year.

"He and Cale Stubbe are playing the best football of their careers, and probably played about as well as they have in their careers on Saturday. Those two have led the resurgence and improvement of our offensive line."

On importance of establishing run game Saturday:

"They've got extremely physical, big, athletic defensive linemen. James Kinney is the leading tackler in the history of Missouri football. They're not number one in total defense, one in pass defense, and three in scoring defense without having real good defensive players. But we've got to find a way.

"Stevie had a major impact on that fourth quarter run. He's playing possessed right now. He's got that look in his eye and wants the ball and carries. Right now, he reminds me a lot of Troy Davis and Ennis Haywood as a blocker. His blocking right now is about as good we've had in recent games from the running back position. Those guys set the bar as blockers."

On strides made by offensive line:

"I give all the credit to Barney Cotton and the job he's done. I never forget when he got up in front of this team, and I documented it to you guys and mentioned it weeks ago. He said it was going to take some time, but you guys will be as proud of us and this offense some day as we are of you, talking to the defense. It surely has happened, and we're not about to stop now."

On development of Bret Meyer throughout the season:

"It goes back to his maturity and character. I think the way we handled him made a difference, with Barney Cotton and Todd Fitch. I didn't feel in my gut that either one of those kids could handle 70 or 80 plays. We talked about it as a staff. It goes right back to the way Bret's coached every day by Todd, to bring him along and then when we finally felt like it was time.

"The kids have just never looked back. He's got giant steps in front of him of ways to improve, but he's real special and I think everybody is starting to see that and understand it. He's got a great look in his eye on gameday, and is mentally and physically tough. The number one intangible you'd better have as a quarterback – he's got those things. He'll just get better and better now with the experience he's getting every week."

On concerns with Mizzou quarterback Brad Smith:

"He's every bit as talented and dangerous. Maybe the offense hasn't made quite as many big plays, but I'm not any less nervous about playing Brad Smith than I was the last two years. He can get you on any play. He can throw it 60 to 70 yards on a rope. He can beat you with his feet on any play, whether it's a quarterback counter or draw or scramble. He's one of the most talented players in college football, there is no doubt about it. Nothing has changed my mind watching the last few games of him.

"We've got to be great tacklers, sound, and great contain rushers. If you let him outside and he buys time with his feet, he can burn you at any time."

On how Tigers have been successful defending the pass:

"I think it starts up front. Their defensive is better than it's been since I coached against them. They're getting better pressure, more frequent pressures on the quarterback, more collapses, and more sacks. It all starts up front. Then they've got a real talented, athletic corps of linebackers. Their secondary plays with great confidence. It's not because teams are going up and down the field running the football, and they don't have to throw. They're hard to run on, too, and that's why they're number one in total defense and three in scoring defense. We have got to do a great job of blocking these guys and giving our backs and quarterbacks a chance to make plays."

On ISU's pass blocking in recent games:

"We're way over on sacks from where we should be. None of us are satisfied with that. More of those came in the first half of the season, but we still have to improve. It's not just offensive line. It's everybody. Tight ends and backs are involved in protection. Are we holding the ball when we should throw it? Should we throw it sooner or throw it away? There are a lot of variables, but the good news is that we've improved."

On what his thoughts are looking back five weeks when some fans were calling for his head:

"This has never been about me coming to work trying to make somebody look silly for something they may have written or said about me. I remember getting an email after the A&M game from a guy in California. This guy was trying to be positive, I think. He said, ‘Coach McCarney, I really appreciate what you've done at Iowa State. You've had a great 10-year run, things probably aren't going to work out for you this year, but I think you belong on the search committee for your replacement.' I think he was trying to be positive, but it sure as hell didn't come across to me like that.

"We just come in here every day. I'm not a different guy than I was after we got hammered by Texas A&M, or than I was last year when we went through a disappointing season of 2003. I want Bruce Van De Velde, Greg Geoffroy, and the Iowa State fans, my players, and the coaches that work for me to be proud of the job I do as a leader. If it's good enough, great, but if it's not I'll be the first one to pack my bags."

On changes in goals or expectations of the team during streak:

"The goals haven't changed one bit, but what I share with the kids and the opportunities that are there each week have grown. Now they're to the point of multiplying with what we're playing for. There are a long list of things and it took me more time to go through those things Sunday night. But it's a positive, a great thing. You have these opportunities because of your hard work, dedication, and never giving in to adversity. That's what we've got. I want to bring a championship to the Iowa State fans. I can picture nothing that I would enjoy more than to hold that Big 12 North title up here in our stadium with these kids Saturday."

On team's thoughts of Bret Culbertson:

"You don't have any idea about how much affection and respect he has from his teammates. When I passed out those six game balls, the roof almost came down in here when I gave it to Bret. I also announced that he was the Big 12 special teams player of the year. The kids love him. Is it his personality, practice habits, or the way he fits into the locker room? I don't know about all that stuff, but he's 19-for-20. That's the first thing they like about him after going through the nightmarish start to the season.

"How about the other day when you miss the first kick of your career, and we give him a chance to go right back on the field and he strokes one right down the middle. You talk about something special, an unknown major reason for our success right now.

"We were going through all the evaluations. We had a manager out there from the time we started practice, charting all those guys, and Bret Culbertson wasn't even close to Brian Jansen. It was a rarity when he was hitting it down the middle. He had a strong leg, but was spraying it all over the place.

"But out of my frustration and not any practice performance, I finally gave Bret an opportunity. I was sick of seeing all the missed kicks. I told Terry Allen, ‘What the hell are we going to do be worse? We're missing every kick we're kicking now anyway.' So I finally put Bret out there and look what he's done. We could not be on the streak and have the opportunity we have Saturday without him."

On opportunities for Culbertson getting a scholarship soon:

"If he continues to do a good job here, without setting dates, times, or guarantees or anything, I have taken care of every player in this program that's come in here and contributed. That's starters, backups, special teams, walk-ons. That's the reputation we have here. We'll take care of him. Eventually, if he keeps contributing, he'll be taken care of here."

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