I had the opportunity to play against Coach Leach and Texas Tech one time when I was at Ohio State in 2002. Texas Tech has a very exciting offense, and they bring a lot to the table in that regard.
This is an outstanding opportunity for our football team. It's a chance to step back and rise up once again. As Mark (Hollis) mentioned, it's an opportunity to go to our third-straight bowl game which is something we shot for as we moved into the mid-point of the season. We wanted to get back to that third-straight bowl game. It's not been done here since 1995, '96, '97.
The program is going in the correct direction in that regard, and we look to build on this and represent ourselves on and off the field in San Antonio. So now, I'll just take questions. Q. Mark, obviously the weakness on your defense has been pass defense. That's what they make a living on. So do you look at it as just an opportunity to prepare and get younger guys that experience practicing against it? How do you approach it?
MARK DANTONIO: When you look at our football team, we've played against football teams like Northwestern and we've played very well against its passing offense.
This day and age, you watch football teams and watch how pass defense is being played and all the different offensive concepts you see against it, formations, and great football players. So there are going to be yards allowed. What you have to look at is yards allowed per attempt. Your opponent throws the ball 70 times and you give up 300 yards, so you're not feeling too bad about that.
So this is a game that is played every week. This is a bowl game, so we have an opportunity to get ready for this. We have an opportunity to spend three weeks to get ready for this.
So our plan will be intact. We need to execute our plan and get ready to play. But it's very unique when you prepare for a college football game, I think, because every game is a little bit different because of every offense. It's not like the NFL where a lot of offenses are doing the same things conceptually.
We'll look at those things and get ready to play, but we're excited about the challenge.
Q. With the extra practice time, do you anticipate maybe putting in some new packages offensively or anything of that nature, maybe with (Keith) Nichol or just improving on the wildcat formation with Keshawn (Martin), things like that?
MARK DANTONIO: Those are the things we have to talk about as staff as we move into the preparation here. I'm sure every football team has some wrinkles as they go into the bowl season. The first thing we'll do is critique what we do and look for the reasons why we were successful or not successful and how we can change things and become a better football team.
Those are the things I think you do naturally. The biggest thing I think as a football team, when you go to play a bowl game after a month layoff, the most important thing you have to be able to do is tackle in space. You also have to catch the ball and have precision, execution and timing. If we can do those things, we'll play well. If you can't do those things, that's where I think there really becomes difficulties. So we'll look to do things mechanically and structurally sound, but focus on fundamentals especially early.
Q. In bowl practice, a lot of people get a chance to play. Are there any specific younger players thinking about, not looking at the opponent, this could be their breakout opportunity or someone you want to now work into this rotation?
MARK DANTONIO: I think in every football game there are opportunities for younger players or players, for example, Keshawn Martin is a guy that coming into the season he had some success last year, but I think now he's become a featured guy. We can look to see how we can get the ball into his hands as we move forward.
I think we've been trying to do that. So you have that aspect of our offense. You have some other young players that have played very well. (Brian) Linthicum comes to mind. And certainly we have (Edwin) Baker and (Larry) Caper, who are now really sophomores now. So they're farther into the process. There are more things you can do with them, and we can build on those things in the next three weeks that we have an opportunity to do this. So those are the positive things, I think.
Q. Because of your friendship with (Oklahoma's) Bob Stoops, are you able to call him, maybe get some insight from him; he's done very well against them? Does it help you? (Mark) Mangino is another one.
MARK DANTONIO: I talked to Bob, I think it was right after they played Texas Tech. He was down a little bit about that game. Mark Mangino and his staff there, Clint Bowen, defensive coordinator, along with co-coordinator Bill Miller, who used to be here, who I know very well. Ed Warinner is the offensive coordinator out there. So we know a lot of people, not just in Kansas and Oklahoma, but throughout the Big 12. But I'm sure that's reciprocated on their end this way.
So over the course of time, you'll have reviewed their entire schedule. We'll know them very well. Things will change as other things will change on both sides somewhat. But it will come down to who tackles best and catches the ball best and throws it best and runs it best. Usually that's what has to happen, and you've got to play well on special teams. All the intricacies of an opening day game will be evident in a bowl game. I think that's the important thing that we recognize.
Q. Two things, the shorter question is: Do you know or are you willing to share where you are depth-wise at wide receiver with the two players that are missing, beyond Blair White, of course?
MARK DANTONIO: I don't really know because guys are playing different positions. So we'll sort through that and see where we're at, and we'll experiment with some different things as well.
Q. That could still be determined in the practice?
MARK DANTONIO: That will be determined here in the next couple of weeks.
Q. What's challenging about putting together a game plan that you normally have for Sunday to do for a Saturday opponent and now you have three weeks to do and a team you're not familiar with?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think we'll look at that football team from A to Z. We'll look at all 12 games. So there will be a tremendous amount of things that we look at and then we'll have to choose and focus on certain things that they do conceptually.
Now, in addition to that, whether it's offense or defense, you can look at the same thing, special teams as well. There are going to be changes that they bring forward, because you're going to have a football team that's not played for three or four weeks, and they'll have the same amount of practice time.
So that's the challenging thing. But I think the real challenging thing, as I mentioned before, you've got to get yourself ready to play at game speed against great athletes, and you have to do that and practice that and not get anybody hurt. That's the challenge. We've got to go hard here like we did the other day.
We went for two-and-a-half hours at practice Saturday. We went live in a lot of situations just to be back in that mode. But at the same time you can't get anybody hurt. So we have to be very careful how we approach this. But we also have to get game ready speed-wise, and I think that's the challenge that most people have.
Q. This is your third-straight year here going to a bowl. What's the feeling like when you get the call with that bid and does that feeling ever fade?
MARK DANTONIO: No, that feeling never fades. I think that when you have an opportunity to go to a bowl game, it says success. It paints the word success on the program. And obviously the higher you go in the bowl structure, the more success you're going to have. That's human nature, I guess, as far as football is concerned.
But going to a bowl game, being one of those teams that are playing in January at a bowl such as this, which I think this is a great bowl game. It's a marquee game in terms of the exposure that you'll get, media exposure from ESPN on a Saturday night, I think at 9 p.m. eastern time.
So the exposure you get from that and the opportunities that you get to work with your younger offensive linemen and do the things that you have an opportunity to do in that extra time are things you can't put a price tag on. It's extremely important to our program. So we welcome this opportunity.
Q. Texas Tech is a team that has a tremendous amount of overall team speed. Is there anything you can do or try to do to slow them down somewhat?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, we'll have to look at that and look at their films first and then make decisions on how to play things and get ourselves ready. But everybody has a plan until they get hit. I keep saying that, but we better be ready to play. There's no doubt that we'll be ready to play. I think our football team will be focused, and I think we'll come ready to play.
But me standing up in front of a microphone saying that, we'll find out January 2nd. So we'll just wait and see.
Q. You told your players after the Champs Sports Bowl, no more bowl rings if it's not a New Year's Day Bowl. Most 6-6 teams wouldn't get to play in a Jan. 2 bowl. Will there be bowl rings?
MARK DANTONIO: No, no bowl rings.
Q. What does it mean to you to have . . . this is only the third time that this program has gone to three straight bowl games. What does that mean to you as a coach?
MARK DANTONIO: As I said earlier, we're having success. We're building success. We're starting to build the foundation here, and it takes a while to build a foundation.
And sometimes you take steps up like last year when we went to the Capital One Bowl as a 9-3 football team. We had an opportunity to win 10 football games last year. But maybe we took a little step back in terms of the number of games that we won (this season). But I think it does mean that we are still moving forward because we're maintaining success. We haven't gone up and down in terms of whether we've gotten to a bowl or not.
So if we can be a player in the bowl picture as we move forward, that's a positive thing. And we'll continue to do that and continue to point towards things.
We're a young football team, with two sophomore quarterbacks. But when you have sophomore quarterbacks and neither one has started before (this season), there's a great deal of experience that's drawn from games. We now have a junior quarterback. That's the way I look at things. So, again, these are things we live and we grow.
We had two freshmen running backs who were basically the focus of our football team for the second half of the season, certainly. So we're a young football team. And we're going to grow. So just hang with us and we'll be fine.