The game tomorrow is going to be exciting for us. As I look at the progress of this football team, in my first year here we had a 5-7 season, last season we were 7-6, and now we're 9-3. I tell these young players on this football team, "You have to improve to get to where you want to be." I think we've improved a lot in a lot of categories, but this game is going to be a big challenge for us, because we have not won 10 games in a long time at the University of Miami.
It's going to be a very competitive game. You have two teams that have similar styles, similar records and have been through tough times. Looking back, both teams were 7-6, now both teams are 9-3, were 5-3 in the conference, and both teams are looking to get 10 wins. Most times when you have a 10-win season, you can end up in the top 12 or top 10 in the country at the end of the season. It's going to be a challenge for us as a football team to understand how important it is to stay focused and do the things we normally do.
This season, there've been some ups and downs. There've been tough games and great games, but the one thing that I see for this football team is that we've been down a lot of times in these games, 10 points at halftime, 14 points in the fourth quarter. And you look at this football team, and they keep competing and stay alive in games, and they won a lot of games that way towards late in the fourth quarter. I think it's going to be a big challenge for us, but I think we've practiced well and done a great job this week. It'll be a great game to watch.
On areas of improvement for the Hurricanes from last year to this year
Last year at some in point in time, we played 22 true freshmen and went 7-6. We were 7-3 last year, and had the chance to win the Atlantic conference. But, I always tell everybody - when you're playing true freshmen against older fifth year seniors, it's like seventh graders playing against twelfth graders-it's kind of difficult to hold on.
I think the maturity factor of this team, the way they have progressed from last year to this year, has really shown. We were down in the fourth quarter in a couple of games this season. Wake Forest, we were down in the fourth quarter; Florida State we were down in the fourth quarter. The maturity factor of these guys the way they keep playing, keep having faith in each other and having faith and confidence in what we are doing on offense and defense. We've won some games and started a trend, for example Wake Forest. The muffed punt on special teams really got us going, and that turned around the whole situation of the game where we won the game at Wake Forest. I think just the maturity factor of these guys playing hard and understanding what we are trying to get done.
On the Champs Sports Bowl being a springboard for the 2010 season
The end of the season is the key. Anytime you can win your last football game of the season, you go into spring football with some excitement and enthusiasm, especially when you get 10 wins. For us, and for Wisconsin, 10 wins can put you in the top 12 or top 10 at the end of the season. If you are returning a lot of guys from the following season, it will probably put you in the top six or seven in the country. It's not a situation where you are starting out of the top 25, where you bounce in and bounce out; it's a way to really get your season going.
Thoughts on Wisconsin
When I look at Wisconsin, I look at the University of Miami. Both teams like to run the football. Both teams like to use the play-action pass. Both run a 4:3 scheme on defense and play some form of coverage the same way. The team is similar in every aspect. They have a great kickoff returner, and punt returner, and we feel we have some guys who can do it. It's not a team that you look at and say, "What do they do really good?" You look at a team that resembles what you can do.
I think that's probably the best matchup, when you look at two teams who are similar. You can go out and say "Ok, this is what we are going to run on defense," and you'll see the same thing in Wisconsin. You can say these are the running plays they run at Wisconsin, and you'll see the same things from Miami.
It's going to come down to the execution. Turnovers are big in this game. At the beginning of the season, and always toward bowl games, turnovers and tackling are always key. Those are the fundamental things that you have to preach day-in and day-out, protect the football and wrap up. When you get in games like this, some football players on defense tend to want the big hit, and you're not wrapping up. Offensively, everyone wants to make the big runs. There's nothing wrong with an eight- or three-yard run, but when you're trying to make a three-yard run a 70-yard run, bad things happen, fumbles happen. Those are the things that we preached all week long for those guys to understand on the football team.
On new defensive coordinator John Lovett and offensive coordinator Mark Wipple helping growth process this season
You look at both the offensive and defensive coordinating, Coach Lovett and Coach Wipple, two guys that came to the University of Miami. I treat it from this standpoint; basically our whole football team was freshmen in spring football because they had to learn a whole new offense and another type of defense. When you have two coordinators coming in and grinding and making sure the guys understand what we are trying to get done offensively and defensively, but then also you see the players respond to it.
This was not a process where we just came out and did everything the right way. It took probably, on offense, until about the sixth game of the season for the receivers to actually run the correct routes day-in and day-out. It took us five or six games for the offensive line to get in tune on exactly how to get our steps down, and run the track and do those types of things. That shows a lot of confidence in what our offensive staff has done from Coach Whipple, all the way down to coach Stoutland, to coach Pannunzio, to coach Robinson, have done a great job.
Defensively, we started off fast because we weren't banged up. Towards the middle of the season we had a lot of injuries. We could have faulted and gone backwards, but I think that's the maturity of the football team. You have guys understanding that we've been there before, and that's when guys like true freshmen Ray-Ray Armstrong came alive, Ramon Buchanan a true sophomore came around, and Curtis Porter, a true freshman. When you coach and have guys being productive like the true freshmen that we weren't expecting, that shows you the coaches are doing a good job.
On quarterback Jacory Harris
Jacory is a fine young man. I've known Jacory since probably ninth grade, but I grew up with his dad. Watching Jacory develop from high school to college, his demeanor hasn't changed. He came in a basketball player, and some of the coaches dragged him off the basketball court to play football. He's always been the same. He's low-key, calm and his demeanor is never going to change. He doesn't get upset.
The one thing that I love about him, and I've been watching this for years since he was in high school, -- he's a competitor. I've watched him get sacked in high school, get sacked in college, and he'll get up and go tell the offensive line "Hey, that's my fault. I have to get the ball off quicker. I held it too long." He'll take the blame for a lot of things on the football team because he wants his players to have confidence.
He is a guy that will take chances, but when he takes those chances he'll come off the field he'll tell you exactly, "Hey, this was cover three, coach, and I should've went the other way but I thought I had confidence in my guy to make that. I understand now."
He's a very mature, understanding kid. You see him on campus and he's a normal guy. At basketball games, we play in the ACC conference, we upset a team at home, he's running the court with the students. He's not an arrogant type kid, not a guy who wants publicity. If it was up to Jacory, he'll stay away from the media. He just wants to be treated as a normal guy and I think this football team treats him that way and that's where his success comes from.
Thoughts on Urban Meyer and the stress that goes with coaching college football
One thing I will say is us coaches, head coaches, assistant coaches, we are all family. That's the one thing you have to understand. Each coach always wishes well for the next coach health wise and any other things. I would never want anyone to get fired or have anything happen to anyone physically. Urban is a great coach. He's done a great job at Florida. It's sad to see anybody who goes through those types of things. That's from me as a coach and our coaching staff. I can vouch for every coach in America that they don't want those types of things to happen.
We're going to wish him well and a speedy recovery. I want him to come back into college football because he's been good for college football. As far as the stress related to coaching, every job is stressful. Your job is stressful; everybody wants to be the best at what they do. You just have to take each day one day at a time, believe in what you are doing and find a relief. A lot of coaches do a lot of things to relieve tension. Every coach knows their limits, knows their player limits and we all feel that were doing the right job and the best to our ability and we make the right decisions that are pertaining to us, as coaches our team and our football players.
On how playing in the Champs Sports Bowl impacts recruiting
It always helps when you're on TV. The greatest thing about this game is it's the only game that night. It's an 8 p.m. game in primetime. Everybody in the country will be watching it from the east coast to the west coast, and that's great. You have two teams that will be showcased in America. It will probably be unbelievable ratings, and that's what you want. You want to be in those types of settings all the time, as a coach and as a football team.