Texas A&M head coach Dennis Franchione spoke to the media on Tuesday about the progress of the Aggie team, the effect of the home crowd and Kyle Field, and the upcoming road trip to Iowa State.
On the importance of winning on the road:
"Clear back in our first team meeting in August, I talked about the necessity of being able to go on the road and win if we wanted to reach our goals. And one of the things I mentioned in the locker room Saturday night after the game was that we go on the road for two weeks here, and that it's important that we prepare well and have a good week of practice, because we need to win on the road. We have not done that. It's hard to win on the road in these conferences—the Big 12, the SEC—I mean I've been through this enough times and there's one key ingredient to take with you when you go on the road and that's a good team. But there are a bunch of other key ingredients too: maturity, leadership, and being a strong team or a strong organization as a team. We're much more prepared to go do that than we've ever been. Are we prepared enough to go accomplish it remains to be seen."
Are those the same ingredients you need in a quarterback to win on the road?
"Very much so. I think that helps. When you say, ‘It helps to take a good team,' I think it starts with your quarterback offensively, because he's going to have to handle crowd noise; he's going to have to handle a lot of different situations that are much different than Kyle Field. Him being calm, cool, and collected and in command of what he's doing is going to permeate to the rest of the team."
How good has Reggie McNeal become almost half-way through the season in terms of maturity and leadership?
"He's become pretty good—the last three weeks especially. Not that the Utah game wasn't, but I think the last three in particular. His focus, intensity, his preparation have by far been the best I've ever seen. It's been really good. Of all the quarterbacks I've coached, he's probably been right up there with the best of them. Reggie is a very intelligent young man. His knowledge of an offense and what a defense is trying to do against him is really pretty good. It was really good last year for a first-year guy on offense. But it's really good this year now having gone full cycle. It just shows in his judgments out there; his thinking; his ability to react to different situations—just sometimes escaping the blitz or escaping a guy coming loose on a play-action pass. I can give you a great example: the ball he throws to Terrence Murphy on the sideline Saturday night. The end kind of came loose, and he started to try to juke him and make him miss. The guy did a good job. He stops dead in his tracks—he knows right where Terrence is—he sees him and makes a great throw. That's not a sign of a quarterback with any inexperience or immaturity, that's a sign of a guy that knows where his players are and knows where he can put the ball and not jeopardize his chances of turning it over."
Because of the schedule, are you approaching these next two games as a "package?"
"I certainly talked about ‘We're going on the road for the next two weeks,' but we still go one game at a time. We've got to deal with this one, and then we'll get ready for the next one."
Thinking back to August, truthfully, based on the ranked teams the Aggies were facing, would you have expected to be 3-1?
"In all honesty, no I didn't know if we could be 3-1. I'm not saying I didn't think we could, but if I was going to have to make some thoughts: you prepare for 3-1, 1-3, whatever could happen as a coach. But realistically you're probably sitting there thinking, ‘If we can get through these first four at 2-2 and get into October, you feel pretty good about where you're at, considering who we were going to play in these opening four games—going into the preseason, three out of four ranked in the top 20. I don't want to sound like I'm under-selling our football team. I think I believed that they could accomplish a lot, I just didn't know if we would be ready to accomplish this much this soon."
Have the team's expectations gone up?
"I think our players have high expectations of themselves. I believe they think that they can win every game they have left on their schedule. You want them to feel that way. It's my job to make certain we stay focused on the next one, and really they seem to be doing a very good job at that. All we've done is win three games right now. I told the guys on Sunday, ‘We can win any one of the rest of ‘em, and we can lose any one of the rest of ‘em.' 3-8 is not out of the realm of possibility yet, and 10-1 is not out of the realm of possibility yet. Fact be known, we're probably somewhere in between. You've got to respect what you've accomplished but also respect where you're trying to go."
Regarding Japhus Brown's interception, did you work on that in practice during the week—kind of "baiting" the KSU quarterback? What went into that play?
"It was a really great chess game that went on Saturday night. We corner blitzed and caused them a problem. They corner blitzed and threw the hitch. We corner blitzed, they tried to throw the hitch again. Japhus baited him, intercepted it, ran down there. They come back—I believe we were in corner blitz again, and they run the hitch and go. We break it up. So it was kind of a reflection of the entire game. There were two coaching staffs that one would do something and the other would adjust, and then the other would adjust. Looking back on the game, I saw that happen in the kicking game many times, and that sequence of events that led to Japhus' interception."
When you're recruiting, how much are you influenced by a player's personality?
"I am tremendously. I learned in this profession under a guy named Jimmy Dickey, and I don't know if Coach ever watched any film on a recruit. He let the coaches do their evaluations. I'm sure he did, but with Coach Dickey, it was all how he felt about a young man when he went to visit with him or when he got to be around him, and if there was a chemistry, and if he liked him, and if he felt good about him. I watched him do that, and I think I picked up on that. So personality…you know, I'm going to sound a little boastful when I say this, and I don't mean it to sound that way, but if we sign 25 guys, I usually have a feeling in my stomach about how they're going to do when they come in. I miss some, but I think if you ask our coaches, most of the time I hit it pretty good. And that's just an intuitive feeling that I get from being around the guys. I'm surprised too sometimes. I don't mean I'm perfect at it, but I think as a head coach you develop an extra sense or ability there to try to say, ‘OK this guy's going to go through [this],' or ‘[This] is probably going to happen.' And a lot of times I may not verbalize that to everybody. I just sense it and see how it unravels."
With that in mind…Japhus seems like he has a lot of personality.
[Laughs] "He does."
So what sense did you get from Japhus when you visited him at his house when you were recruiting him?
"It was memorable. Japhus was a fun visit. One of my former players was an assistant coach there, and I got to see him. Japhus was a neat young man to talk to. I liked his personality. I liked his attitude. He wasn't overconfident, but he was confident. He was grateful, he was excited. He had a little bit of the type of persona that I like to have on our team. And he's still a pretty jovial guy, as you've noticed. I haven't figured out his comment from after the game completely yet for sure…[media chatter]…Oh ‘crunk!' I'm into crunk now. I know crunk. They've taught me that one [laughs]. Yeah, the money..." [media: "I'm in it for the scholarship…"] [more laughs].
When you first came to A&M, you heard about the reputation of Kyle Field. It didn't really materialize last year because the games were not that great of games. Now that you've gone through two or three of these here, has it lived up to what you hoped and maybe surprised you?
"It has been great, it really has. And you're right—I don't think last year we did our part to get Kyle Field where it needed to be. About every time they'd start to build and get there we'd deflate ‘em some how. I think we recognize as players and coaches it's our responsibility to get ‘em going first. But the last two home games have been really awesome. For us to be able to force a team to use three time outs and have 13 minutes to go in the second quarter is a pretty tough feat to accomplish. And I really merit the crowd for that. It seemed like they'd be loud, and then as soon as they sensed the quarterback starting to change the play, they got louder. And I didn't really know they could get louder. It was great. In fact, when we handed out our awards on Sunday—I don't know who accepts this one—but we gave an MTXE to the crowd just to point out the importance of what they meant to the victory here at home, how great that is for them to have to use up time outs and make it difficult for them to communicate. And I don't believe there's any doubt that Clemson had some work and problems to deal with our crowd, and we'll have those same kind of issues to deal with on the road."
Are you looking forward to 82,000 in November?
"You bet. I'm always looking to see this place rockin' like that."
Are you at all surprised? There are a lot of places where it's loud all the time. They seem to be sophisticated enough to know that they need to drop the decibel level down when y'all have the ball.
"They need to take a break! They're loud so much of the time! I don't notice this during the game, but when you watch the TBS copy, which I did later that night, you just constantly hear the crowd. And then when they need to, they get louder. It doesn't seem to me like in a lot of games you hear that like you do here. And they are a knowledgeable crowd because when the other team has the ball, that's when they're their loudest. Our defensive players know that puts pressure on them because the offense is calling the signals. We've got to do our communication too. But it's a good problem to have. It's the kind that you want to have. Now the shoe will go on the other foot for the next two weeks. Now the offense will have to bear the brunt of communication for the most part, as far as crowd noise is concerned."
Going back to recruiting, do you hold the same philosophies when you recruit JC guys, as far as personality? They're more of a quick fix.
"The hardest guys for me to recruit are the ones that I can't develop a charisma with or a relationship or chemistry--the guys that are very quiet. Those are harder for everybody to recruit. You like to have some interaction where you can understand how this person thinks and what's important to them. There are times in recruiting that I can say to a young man, ‘You belong here. You fit here. What you want is here.' I can't say that to all of them, but there are times I can say that, and I point that out to them. There are probably some times when I should say, ‘You probably shouldn't come here,' but not very often does that come up either, because we don't have what he wants or it just isn't a fit. Usually by the time you get this deep in recruiting, you can tell that ‘This guy really needs to be an Aggie and he belongs in this situation.'"
A guy like Lee Foliaki, a JC guy, who now, depending on the injury situation, may get a chance to step up even more. These JC guys, do they feel like maybe a special window has been opened? There weren't many JC guys before you got here, and you've said you don't plan on recruiting JC guys in a few years here. So maybe they've hit it big where they get to come here and play.
"I think Lee fits in well. I loved Lee's personality. We knew Lee somewhat. I didn't know him well, but we knew about him when he was coming out of high school because we were at TCU. You just know when you sit with Lee that he's a linebacker. He's just got that personality and that wittiness about him--the way he thinks. He's just got a real fun-loving side to him that you enjoy. And you enjoy talking to him. You can kid with him. And you enjoy recruiting a guy like Lee. And I felt like Lee had a relative play here…help me, is it Semisi? Yeah. So I think that also added to our ability to recruit Lee. He had a comfort level I think with our staff because of having been at TCU and knowing him. And he had a comfort level with Texas A&M because of Semisi. "
Because your last game was at Utah, are you really looking forward to going back on the road now that you've had the three road games, and just seeing how much this team has grown since that last home game?
"Well, I'd rather play all of them at home, but they don't give me that choice. But I think you're right. This will continue to tell us about this team and where we're trying to get to and where we are. It'll certainly be a gauge of all of the team building activities we've done and the maturity we've talked about, and the leadership we've talked about. It'll certainly be a barometer. And we may not win. If we don't win the game, that doesn't necessarily mean that those areas are not in place. We're going to face a much improved ball club from last year and a pretty solid defensive ball club. When you go on the road for homecoming, I'm sure back in the winter when they looked at this game, they wrote it down in the win column probably, and that's why we get to be the homecoming opponent. And I understand that. I've been there before. It'll be a gauge in a lot of ways."
Are you using that homecoming game thing to fire up the team?
"I wouldn't do anything like that." [laughing]
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