Sugar Bowl: One-on-One With Mike Yurcich

The transcript of the media's question-and-answer session with Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich on Tuesday from New Orleans.

Q. Coach, first off, what is the thought process being here, Sugar Bowl, great bowl game.  What is the mindset of the team going in the game?

MIKE YURCICH:  I think we're excited to be part of something, such a historic bowl and to be part of that and be part of this history. You know, there's a lot to learn.  We have had such great experiences so far.  Went to the World War II Museum, and last night the staff got treated to a night out at the Bon Ton. So it's been a wonderful experience and educational experience. The culture here in New Orleans is something I'm sure some of our guys have never experienced. So I think just that educational experience is a big part of this bowl.  I think there's a lot of pride in the culture here and in the people.  And you can see that.  And it's just great to experience that.

And this bowl game means a lot to us as a team.  Our guys have worked extremely hard to get to this point in the season, and now we want to, obviously, finish it and win the ball game.  That's the ultimate goal, and that's what we're striving to. And we're practicing real hard.  We have had several very good practices, very productive.  You know, our method and Coach Gundy and his ability to keep us on schedule with his bowl experience and making sure that the right amount of reps are being dealt with is exceptional. And his experience is really, really important. And very grateful for that.

Q. What has J-Dub been like?  This is the last time you're going to have with these guys, especially in a big bowl game.  How has he been? What's his mind set?

MIKE YURCICH:  The one thing about J-Dub is that he is never going to be too excited and he's never going to be down in the dumps.  He is a very poised individual.  I know he is excited.  We know that this is a great opportunity for him and for him to go out on top. So this is a great opportunity.  But it's something where you have to stay composed and stay within yourself and stay focused on the task at hand.  That's assignments and that's execution. So he is poised.  That's the best word to describe him.

Q. How would you identify the quarterback situation now? And how is Mason doing?

MIKE YURCICH:  They're sharing reps, and they're both looking good and sharp, and they both have their packages. And as we get closer to the game, we will make decisions based on the flow of the game and the productivity as well.

Q. You guys have always utilized this time between the end of the regular season and postseason really well.  How have you gotten better in the run game over that time, would you say?

MIKE YURCICH:  I think the communication up front is something, when your five guys are able to play and have continuity and communicate with one another and the technique improves.  The bowl time gives you ample or extra time, I should say, to get back to the basics. So it's good to just strip it back down, get back to the basics, starting fresh early in bowl preparation, and then get more scheme%u2011specific as you go along. So that extra time helps tremendously.

Q. How would you characterize your defense? And have you seen anything like it this year?  I know it's a 4-2-5 base.

MIKE YURCICH:  I think we have seen it similar because of the athleticism that they have and the xxx and there's a lot of football that has been played. There's some experienced players.  The best players are experienced players, which is typical. But they're a very athletic bunch and they're very multiple.  They can align in a lot of different fronts. They can give you an assortment of coverages and blitzes. So typical to what we've seen from very good defenses that we have played this year. So there will be a challenge for us, obviously, whenever you can have that amount of athleticism and the sophistication and the style that they bring.

Q. How does the loss of Robert Nkemdiche affect how you change how you prepare for this defense?

MIKE YURCICH:  I wouldn't say it changes your game planning.  Obviously, you want to be aware of such a strong player and where he is on the field at all times, but it's not going to alter your game plan. But it is significant because he is such a dominant player.

Q. Glenn [Spencer] was asked yesterday, and so was the offensive coordinator, about the possibilities of a shootout.  I mean, obviously, in the Big 12 your offense has no problem.  They have been in shootouts, and they know what those things are like.

MIKE YURCICH:  I'm not going to speculate and look into a crystal ball.  Our goal is to start fast and to come out, gain momentum, move the ball, and score points, eliminate errors. We have to secure the ball and get in the end zone.  So any speculations about shootouts or any of that is just not going to be spoken about in our meetings, that's for sure. And that's something that is for, I think, the media and for the fans to talk about, but there's no crystal ball in front.  If we win, we're happy.

Q. You mentioned starting fast.  I mean, obviously, this team ... I go back to the TCU game.  If you can put out a blueprint, that was such a good blueprint.  Offense started out quick; defense gave a turnover quick.  Everything jumped out, and it was almost like that snowball TCU couldn't get on top of. You guys were just rolling downhill on them.

MIKE YURCICH:  Yeah, it's critical. Momentum is a heck of thing.  At the same time, we have also been on the other end where we had to come back.  So we have been on both ends this season, and obviously we know one alternative is better than the other. That's for sure.

Q. When I look at you guys on offense this year, you have been creative in time, especially with some of the play-calling and, I'm not saying trick plays, but just plays that catch teams off guard. Has there been any creativity that has gone into the planning?  Not asking for a game plan or anything, but any creativity that you have installed?

MIKE YURCICH:  With those sorts of plays, what you're trying to do is create misdirection and confusion.  At the same time, there is lot of risk at times.  The better the defense is, the harder it is to get off some of those plays because they get to the ball so fast. So you have to be very careful which plays and how you want to try to have some of those creative plays a part of your package.  So the ability and the talent level on the defense sometimes dictates that.  However, they're hard to defend when executed properly and awfully effective and entertaining as well.

Q. How much does a healthy defense, maybe not as banged up a defense as we've seen in so many plays help you guys? How much does a healthy defense and not as banged up defense, as we've seen in so many plays, help you guys this week? For you guys, I mean, for Oklahoma State.

MIKE YURCICH:  I think any time you're healthy, it gives you a better opportunity. There's a lot of emphasis and importance on the depth of a team offensively and defensively. So you're able to share reps; you're able to get your backups prepared. And then you're also able to save the legs of your starters, get more reps. And so it's all about preparation, and having depth is a big part of that.

Q. Talk about the offense, you know. What is kind of the key?  What would you say the key to your success has been?

MIKE YURCICH:  I believe our leadership has increased this year. So I think we have good continuity.  Our players enjoy playing the game.  I think that is key overall.  They understand the importance of ball security and the importance of putting points on the board.  So we have an unselfish team that likes to play the game.  And then we really focus on the basics and the fundamentals of the offense.  And I think, in broad strokes, that's really what has made us effective this year.

Q. What are your thoughts impressions of all this on film?

MIKE YURCICH:  Physical.  Fast.  Experienced.  Sound.  And disruptive.  I think those are the adjectives that best describe that defensive unit.

Q. I don't know how much you pay attention to actual personnel, but with Nkemdiche out in the middle – he's in the tackle – they obviously have good players behind him, does that change anything, or is it still the same from a scheme standpoint?

MIKE YURCICH:  It's something you have to be very aware of with a player of such impact. You are surely aware of personnel and changes.  Does it change you?  I don't think so.  We're going to run the same plays. But with a player of that caliber, you're definitely aware.

Q. But you know that he's maybe not going to be playing?


Q. What has practice been like? How is the preparation?

MIKE YURCICH:  Well, I think we have an awesome leader in Coach [Mike] Gundy, who has got tremendous experience, with him and Coach Glass.  So the amount of practice and the duration of practice and the strength training that goes into it and how much we run and the reps and all of that is calculated out, and I think those guys do an excellent job with their experience in bowl prep of putting us in a great situation. So there's a system to it that Coach Gundy sticks to. And, obviously, with his experience coming into ten straight bowl games, you're going to be pretty sharp on how to get ready and how to get your team maximized with performance. And I think that's a huge key.  So that's something that, as an assistant coach, you definitely appreciate because you have experts that are getting the team ready, and that's also going to be a part of that.

Q. I asked Marcell [Ateman] about the change, going from a 7 and 6 to a team that's first 10 and 0 and gets to a New Year's Six bowl. He said it started in the winter.  When did you notice, hey, we might be pretty good this year?

MIKE YURCICH:  I think it goes all the way back to the Bedlam game last year when we beat OU at OU with six freshmen on offense.

Q. That kind of lit the fuse?

MIKE YURCICH:  For sure. That was a big momentum game.  And, again, it was something that gave us momentum and confidence and rolled into the offseason. And the bowl win really will help you into that offseason in gaining momentum and confidence in yourself and a belief in football or any team sport or any company or anything. And from my background and from my knowledge, if you have belief and you have that confidence, you have a really good chance of being successful.

Q. Anything else that you like about this team?  You know, the quarterbacks, some teams can't deal with two quarterbacks.  That's fairly unique.  I have seen it here, and it worked one time.  I have covered Ole Miss since the '90s. Coach Cutcliffe played three quarterbacks in South Carolina, and that was the only time it worked. So how did you get that to work?

MIKE YURCICH:  I don't think I can sit here and say it was one thing or another.  But what I do believe, and I have said this several times, is that I think teamwork and the selflessness that goes into this sort of thing, the foundations of that happening begin with communication, clear communication. But the foundation of that unselfishness starts with how those kids were raises. So their parents deserve a lot of credit; their youth coaches deserve a lot of credit; high school coaches deserve a lot of credit. Because they must understand that from a core standpoint, and I think that's where it all starts. So I think that's a big part of it. Well, what is most important? Yourself or the team?  So we understand what those guys feel because they have proven it.  Saying it is one thing, but actually doing it shows us that you really know.

Q. I know that the video that you guys watched obviously had Robert [Nkemdiche] in there.  What were your impressions of him and what do you think that line looks like without him?

MIKE YURCICH:  They're still a very talented defensive line, and they're still a force to be reckoned with.  There's no question about it.  His abilities were just the natural physicality, tremendous get off, tremendous start.  Just that amount of force, power, and speed combination. And he doesn't play like a 300-pounder.  I mean, he doesn't look like a 300-pounder in the way he moves and his agility. So just a heck of a player. And, obviously, we're aware of the personnel adjustments. But at the same time, they're still a very talented defensive line unit and something that obviously we have to play very well up front in order to have a chance to beat these folks.

Q. What do you see in secondary that your two quarterbacks are going to have to overcome or get through to have success?

MIKE YURCICH:  I think the multiplicity of their coverages and how to disguise those coverages.  They feel – and rightly so – that they're athletic enough to play a lot of man-to-man.  They mix up some zone, obviously, and they have an assortment of blitzes. So just the rotation of safeties, the physicality of the safeties and their versatility and personnel, how they can flip people around and move guys around and still have that athleticism and be able to match up with the inside receivers, with the athletic safeties, nickelbacks, and that sort of thing.  They are a multiple defense, and they understand their schemes very well.  They're sound.  So we had to be on top of our game in every facet from our progressions, knowing where our guys are going to be and identifying defensively what they're in.

Q. Does not having Nkemdiche for them change how you attack things?

MIKE YURCICH:  No.  I think you have to be aware, obviously, of personnel adjustments, but at the same time the game plan is a still the same.  Obviously, there's an awareness that goes into it and that sort of thing, but it's not going to drastically change what you're doing.

Q. Is there a defense that you played this year that compares or similarities to Ole Miss?

MIKE YURCICH:  I think so.  Any time you face a defense that has that amount of physicality and athleticism, there's going to be comparisons.  In reality, there's only two types of coverages, man and zone. So everybody plays both. So there's a lot of comparisons. And our own defense that we go against each day is a very good defense. So how we're tested up front real good with our guys and when we compete and go against good on good, it's a good challenge for us on a day-to-day basis. So we get that experience and get that competition regularly, which is a nice luxury to have.

Q. What are the keys to making, for lack of a better term, a two-quarterback system work?

MIKE YURCICH:  The keys are unselfishness by those individuals, first and foremost.  That's at the core.  Secondly, it goes into communication so everybody is on the same page.  I think those are the two biggest keys for being able to execute what we have this year in that position.

Q. In this case is it helpful that J.W. Walsh is a guy whose (skin?) is on the wall?

MIKE YURCICH:  Absolutely.  Because if you look at his – his opportunities have come, and we call upon him in critical situations, whether it's coming out of our end zone or whether it's third and short, fourth and short, whether it's score zone or goal line situations, four%u2011minute drill at the end of the game and trying to run the ball out, sometimes – not always – sometimes he is a part of those packages. So there's not a situation – certain players have proven that they thrive in those situations.  They want that last-second shot, and he is one of those guys. So he has all of our confidence to be able to put in those situations, and there's a lot of trust.

Q. What can you tell us about Mason's skill?  I assume he is limited a little bit.  Is he full strength?  What can you share?

MIKE YURCICH:  Well, he is a tremendous young man who is doing his best to prepare for this game.

Q. Will he play for sure?

MIKE YURCICH:  He is a great leader that's really doing a great job right now in his preparation.

Q. What has it been like for you being in New Orleans?

MIKE YURCICH:  What an awesome experience.  Just tremendous – the people, the bowl committee have just thrown out the red carpet. We really appreciate them and what they have been able to do for us and for our players from a cultural standpoint. Going to the World War II Museum, that's a great educational experience for not only just the players but the coaches as well and our families. And last night went to the Bon Ton, a tremendous meal at that restaurant. And just the food overall is unbelievable in how they cater to you. And so we're very grateful to be here and representing this historic bowl and thankful for the committee for what they have done for us and providing all of the luxuries.

Q. Have you thought much about how this could have been your hometown if the Tulane job fell into place?

MIKE YURCICH:  No, sir.  Not at all.

Q. How do you handle that at this stage of your career, getting attention from other schools and things like that and still focusing on Oklahoma State and the bowl game?

MIKE YURCICH:  It's all about the team first. So nothing really came to fruition where any time or energy was spent in another capacity at all.  It didn't go that far.  So when you're able to get any opportunity to become a head football coach, I think what you have to be and what I am is very grateful for the position that I do have right now, for what Coach Gundy has done for our program, and to be part of such a winning tradition, going to ten straight bowl games. And to get those opportunities is a tremendous blessing.

Q. What stood out to you the most about the World War II Museum?

MIKE YURCICH:  Man, I hope it's right. The B17?  The big one that is suspended – it's the biggest suspended airplane in any museum.  And correct me if I'm wrong on that, B17.  But it was found – it crash-landed on a glacier in ... I can't remember where.  Was it Alaska?  It crash-landed on a glacier and was found and restored in 1994.  Can you believe that?  Sat on a piece of ice until 1994.  That is cool.

Q. James Washington averaging 20 yards a catch.  Pretty impressive. What makes him so effective down the field?

MIKE YURCICH:  His genetics, man.  He has a great ability to leap and accelerate downs the field.  When the ball is in the air, certain guys can track down a long ball and have an uncanny ability to accelerate in order to make the grab.  So he is a heck of an athlete.  And the difference between him and other guys is now he is getting experience and being very well coached now at the same time. So you're getting a combination of experience, and the knowledge is starting to come into it, and then his natural ability takes over. And he is a tremendous athletic player for us and also a good leader and a guy that is understanding the receiver position from a fundamental standpoint, understanding coverages, understanding the techniques that Coach Dunn teaches them. So he is becoming a well%u2011rounded receiver with tremendous physical ability.

Q. I did want to ask, J.W. [Walsh] was here couple of minutes ago and said, look, not knowing who the starting quarterback is going to be is going to impact how Ole Miss can prepare a defense. How much of an advantage is that?  How much of an advantage does Ole Miss not knowing who the starting quarterback is going to be give you heading into a game?

MIKE YURCICH:  I don't know.  I haven't had to be a defensive coordinator against a two-quarterback system.  However, obviously, you have to be ready for option plays, quarterback-run plays, and then just downfield throws.  So I think it's – it adds up the list of things that they have to prepare for.  At the same time, they're very good coaches, and they have had to scheme against offensive schemes this year, both against the option runs and drawback pass teams.  And so they have had proven that they can stop those types of offenses. So I'm sure that those guys will be ready. And I don't want to say that it's going to be overwhelming for them at all, but I'm sure it's more difficult to prepare for two quarterback than one.  I think that is obvious. But that's how I feel about it.

Q. J.W. is saying it's kind of fun going in, kind of backyard football, the secrecy. They're going to go in there, and they don't know what to expect.  Just from a game aspect and just thinking about just having fun out there and having some surprise, does that factor in for you guys, just the overall excitement of this game?

MIKE YURCICH:  I think there's a lot to be excited about, and, really, I think it's a great opportunity for our team. And it really is not about one player or two players.  So I think our team has done a great job of getting us to this opportunity. And it's just – it would be a great victory for our program and for our fans. And it's never just about one or two guys.

Q. J.W. also said that having Mason back in practice and having him out there with the guys has lifted everyone's morale, just being that one of their own is back and he's healthy and he's leader of the team.  Have you seen that in the players? Maybe everyone gets a little bit of lift when your starting quarterback is back?

MIKE YURCICH:  I think your team gets a lift from guys that are leaders regardless of their position.  And I think there are certain positions that are more important than others. But it's all about having rhythm and that confidence on offense, and we feel both quarterbacks provide that.

Q. Last week Mike Gundy defended J.W.'s  deep ball, saying you can throw it just as far as Mason can down there.  Is that something that you're comfortable with him doing?


Q. If he is taking the majority of snaps, what makes you comfortable with him kind of stretching the field?

MIKE YURCICH:  His experience.  He has proven he can do it before, and there's no lack of arm strength there.  He can get it down the field.  So he has proven it in practice. So I think that's the biggest key is that, as a coach, when you're evaluating practice and you're trying to assimilate game situations when it occurs in practice, you have to believe that it is going to occur in a game. And it has, in both practice and games for J. So we feel very confident in that young man and what he can do from an overall scheme standpoint.

Q. I know it's kind of early in the morning to be thinking about all your past games, but when you look at the season, what do you think was the best rushing performance you guys had?

MIKE YURCICH:  I would say Iowa State.

Q. And was there something about the matchup you liked there, or was that when the execution was on point?

MIKE YURCICH:  When you're effective, I think it's about all of those factors and never just one thing. So it's going to be a typical well-rounded answer.  It's personnel, it's execution, and obviously game plan. And all of those things come into factor. So those are the keys to being effective.

Q. Right.  And I know you guys have gotten creative in trying to solve some of the running game issues and doing some different things.  How many late nights have there been in the office with you and Coach Adkins and Coach Arroyo where you are drawing stuff up and trying to be creative and find new ways?  Was that a big emphasis this season?

MIKE YURCICH:  Well, not necessarily. You actually try to go the opposite direction and minimize so you're not doing too much and that your guys have a chance to be successful.  So a lot of discussions we have is what to cut out and what to – you know, not what to add but what to eliminate.  Those are the key discussions.

Q. What is Coach Arroyo like?  I have asked all of these guys about these assistants, but he seems like one guy I haven't learned a whole lot through some other guys.  He is a young guy. He's been busy in the NFL. He has been a play caller in his past.  What has it been like working with him directly?

MIKE YURCICH:  A great energy and a great thirst for knowledge and a want to get better and makes us all better and very cerebral and understands the game from many different levels and a great communicator.  Took ownership of the running back position, has been critical in blitz protections and game planning and just a leader and a team guy.  But his ability to keep it fun, man. he has a great personality.

Q. He is a younger guy too.

MIKE YURCICH:  Not that old people can't be fun.  I'm getting up there but ...

Q. Speaking of coaches, Mike has a pretty good coaching tree going, like four or five assistants and your interview for Tulane this year.

MIKE YURCICH:  I did not interview.

Q. Your name came up.

MIKE YURCICH:  Name came up.  That's correct.

Q. Did it come up anywhere else?


Q. What do you learn about preparing yourself to be a head coach from Mike?

MIKE YURCICH:  I think the biggest thing is that you learn from observation.  And when you're a coordinator, you have the luxury of being involved with a lot of the head coaching decisions and discussions.  So when you get an opportunity to learn from one of the elite coaches in America, I think it's a very unique experience and gives you certain expertise that I think other guys don't have in their back pocket.  They don't have that experience.  And I'm not trying to seem braggadocios.  I feel fortunate to be part of such a great program and Coach Gundy, his experience, and appreciate just where I am in life right now and very happy at Oklahoma State, and there's no question about it.  I love the community and fan base and all of that.

Q. What makes him a good lead coach?

MIKE YURCICH:  I think his organization skills and his ability to communicate.  Those are the two things that are really major in his repertoire.  And just a great guy, you know?  I think Coach Gundy understands the things that are most important in winning.

Q. Coach, obviously the players are close to their position coach, coordinators, and all like that.  But they feel a connection to him, too, even though he has to be the head coach.

MIKE YURCICH:  Well, like I said, I think his communication and his ability to relate to those guys.  He is involved daily and speaks to them daily.  Before and after practice, he is talking to the whole team.  And I think just his being in tune with the team and understanding the mental side of it and having everybody's attitude focused and positive has been an extremely important for him and us obviously.

Q. And now being here for 11 years, you have got the routine down pretty good, but I take it you don't take anything for granted. 

MIKE YURCICH:  That's for sure.  And I think development is a big part of that.  I think he is a guy that always wants to learn something more and how to do something better, and I think that's what makes him great.

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