COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M Head Football Coach Kevin Sumlin and members of the Texas A&M football team & staff met with the media Tuesday at the Bright Complex on campus to talk about this week's match-up against No. 1 Alabama.
The Aggies are excited about the challenge of playing Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa in their final SEC road game of the season. While they have won 5 in a row on the road including three straight in SEC venues, they seem to be most excited about returning to practice today and preparing for the game in anticipation that they will finally put together the complete package (offense, defense, & special teams) for the first time all season.
Saturday's game will kickoff at 2:30pm on KBTX. Verne Lundquist will serve as the play-by-play announcer, with Gary Danielson at his side as the color analyst. The two will be joined by sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson.
HEAD COACH KEVIN SUMLIN
On the importance of the seniors
“The whole group of seniors has done a great job this year. Transition is hard for everybody. It’s hardest on seniors. Those guys didn’t sign up for me, it’s their last year and there are new systems across the boards. The sooner you get a buy-in from seniors and the experienced players, the sooner you can have success. I know a lot of our young guys are getting the credit, like Johnny and Mike Evans and a lot of our juniors who are caliber but without the leadership of Ryan Swope, Pat Lewis, Sean Porter, Jonathan Stewart and Steven Terrell, those kinds of guys, we wouldn’t be where we are right now. We haven’t really accomplished anything yet. What they have done is played good enough football to put us in a position to play meaningful games in November and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”
On progression of the offense
“We are certainly a different team than we were week one. Ten weeks later we better be, especially with a young quarterback. We certainly have more offense at our disposal now than we had against Florida. It’s just growth, number one. Number two, it is the comfort level and Johnny being able to handle it. Just because you put up a play, you better have some answers for it. Defenses in this league are pretty complex. It’s not necessarily what you think you can handle as a coach but what your players can handle. In year one, ten weeks in, I think we’ve progressed pretty well. I think Kliff has done an excellent job of getting a feel for what Johnny can handle comfortably and has been conservative with that early in the year. The growth of the amount of offense has been good, I think, and Johnny now has a better understanding what we do. I think everybody has grown a little bit.”
“I think it’s important the way that we have progressed and the way we have won and had the opportunity to win has been consistency. One of the things you learn early as a coach is that you want to avoid the rollercoaster, the up and down. You try to develop a team that is consistent in effort and consistent in their quality of play. As a coaching staff, that comes from you and what to expect from coaches day-to-day. You get into a routine this time of year. Fortunately, that has been the case. That might be the only plus of not having a bye week. You play the game Saturday, rest Sunday and then Monday, Tuesday and so on you are back to practice. It has been consistent.”
On Florida and LSU compared to Alabama
“Philosophically, everybody is a bit different. I think if there’s anything out of it that we’ve gotten as a team, even though we were disappointed to lose those games, there was a little bit of confidence out of our football team of being able to handle the physical nature of this league. The guys also understood that the Florida and LSU games had a lot to do with our mistakes and we can certainly play better. Our guys understand that. We haven’t played a complete game yet. I’m not talking about playing a perfect game. I’m talking about playing a complete game. Our starters have been out in the third quarter. Other games we have turned the ball over. While we have found a variety of ways to win, we still haven’t played a complete game yet and if we can do that, I think we can be dangerous for anybody.”
On coaching Johnny Manziel for a big game
“You coach him just like everybody else. The first game against Florida was a pretty big event. We’ve had some pretty big games already. If anything, the atmosphere going on the road will be different. These guys have put us in a position, by their play, to make these games meaningful. It’s not a one-game season. It never has been and it never will be.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MARK SNYDER
On playing the No. 1 team
“I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been on No. 1 and I’ve played No. 1 a few times. Everybody is amped and geared toward you when you are No. 1, and when you’re going against No. 1, there’s a certain buzz in the air, a certain excitement. For us coaches, there’s a reason they’re No. 1 – because they’re pretty good.”
On the Alabama offense
“I haven’t looked at their defense very much but they have no weaknesses in their offense. All the way across the board, there are no weaknesses in this offense. Each week when you go into a game, you see a weakness here-or-there that you may be able to attack. They’re good across the board. AJ is playing really well. The offensive line is huge and really good at what they do. They’ve got two really good running backs and they’ve got tons of speed outside. They’re a complete offense.”
On Spencer Nealy
“He’s been great. He’s the Energizer Bunny for us. He’s the ultimate team guy. Every team needs a Spencer Nealy. With Julien (Obioha) coming off and us being able to move Spence inside, that kind of solidified our front. That was an area of concern coming into this year. He’s been gold for us. Spence is the Energizer Bunny. He always brings energy to the field, and when we’re running onto the field, and on the field, and on the bus.”
On how the defense has grown after SEC road games
“I think it’s definitely going to help this week. I think Coach Sumlin has definitely done a good job with our routine. The kids are used to our routine, I like our routine and we’re not going to change it. I think we’re gaining confidence – I don’t think there’s any doubt about that - and the fast starts have really helped us on both sides of the ball. ”
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR KLIFF KINGSBURY
On takeaways from Mississippi State
“We just need to get better. We’ve figured out that we still have a long way to go. The last couple of weeks we’ve played pretty well, I thought. We’ve scored points and that’s what you are trying to do. This week will be a huge test for us to see how far we’ve come. Every time you go out there and get live reps you are going to gain some sort of knowledge. Hopefully we did that. We will see this week.”
On playing against a great defense
“I like it every week. That’s why I am in this business. It doesn’t change. We don’t try to reinvent the wheel. We just do what we do and try to score points and get first downs.”
On Johnny Manziel after the missed field goal
“He didn’t like the play called. I didn’t like it either after we didn’t score the touchdown. He wants the ball in his hands. He wants it on him. I’ve said that from day one. That’s how he is and you like that in your quarterback.”
On what makes Alabama so competitive
“They have great players. What’s remarkable is that they lost basically an entire NFL team last year and they came back this year and are number one and are the number one scoring defense in the nation with nine points a game. It just says volumes about the coaches and what they do with recruiting and schematically. Their schemes are great and they have great athletes.”
SENIOR LINEBACKER JONATHAN STEWART
On the Alabama offense
“They have a very good offense, especially their offensive line. They have a lot of good offensive linemen and their quarterback is a Heisman Trophy candidate and I want to say he hasn’t thrown any interceptions this year. They have two very good running backs and they have a lot of athletes. Offensively they’re very stacked and they’re a very good team.”
On what A&M will have to do to beat Alabama
“Defensively, we can’t beat ourselves. We can’t have stupid penalties, we can’t give them plays. We have to make them drop the ball. Except for that one last drive, LSU did a heck of a job on defense. They tackled well, they didn’t commit stupid plays and they didn’t give up the long ball. If we can do all of that as a defense, we should have a lot of success in this game.”
On whether this game is different than others
“We know that we’re going to have to play up to the part. We’re going against the No. 1 team in the nation. As we saw when we lost to Florida and we lost to LSU, our two losses this year, we can’t beat ourselves. When we’re going against top 10 teams, they don’t beat themselves. Unfortunately, in our two losses, we beat ourselves. We made crucial mistakes and we had crucial penalties and we didn’t beat them. We’re looking at it as just another week. We’ve got to go out there and do what we do and prepare, regardless of whether we’re playing South Carolina State, Sam Houston State, Alabama, LSU or Florida.”
SENIOR WIDE RECEIVER RYAN SWOPE
On key against Alabama
“I think what it comes down to is executing and not beating yourself. Coach emphasizes that every week. We have to play the smart football game. We can’t turn the ball over and we can’t have a lot of penalties. That’s what it is going to come down to this week: just beating ourselves and not knowing our assignments. We have to play smart football.”
On high-speed offense against defenses
“It’s great seeing that. We started all the way this summer with our strength coaches. They got us in great condition. It turned over to fall camp and the coaches really worked on the tempo. Now it’s almost natural for us. We are running around, we are in great shape and it feels good. It’s great to see how defenses react to our speed. We just have to keep working hard in practice. This week is going to be a big week for us. We’ve got to keep up that tempo and keep control the speed of the game. I think it is speed that gets the defenses but also time of possession and how many more plays we can get off. We will just work on it in practice. I think it will be big for us.”
On traveling to Tuscaloosa
“I, for sure, want to enjoy the atmosphere. That’s one of the reasons I came back was to play in all of these venues and be a part of it. Second, obviously we are going to treat it like a business trip. We are going to go up there and we need to take care of business. It’s going to be loud and the fans are going to be rowdy. We know the atmosphere is going to be right at our level so we are excited for it. We can’t wait. The guys are hungry to win and this football team has a lot of character, so it says a lot about us.”
SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN PATRICK LEWIS
On this being his final road trip
“Looking at it on the schedule preseason, we were like ‘Man, we’ve got to go travel those three weeks and then end it with Alabama.’ But so far we’ve played pretty well on the road. We’re excited about the opportunity to get to play in Tuscaloosa and to play the No. 1 team in the country.”
On the game against Alabama
“I think that in playing college football, and playing football in general, this is going to be the Saturday you live to play for. Going up there on the road, I think their stadium holds well-over 100 thousand people. It’s probably going to be packed to capacity. We look forward to the challenge they’re going to present. It will be a tough time for us with a lot of those plays they have there, and things they do defensively and offensively will be challenges. We’re ready to go up there and play a game of football.”
On preparing this week
“I think it’s just us sticking to what we do best, and that’s tempo and doing things right, not turning the ball over, not having penalties, not doing anything to hurt ourselves and to keep ourselves from going forward. I think we treat every game the same, whether we’re playing Alabama, LSU or South Carolina State. It doesn’t really matter. We’re not going to change the way we practice or change the way we do things because we’re playing the No. 1 team. We plan to keep it all the same. We plan to do things we’ve been doing – do a good job of keeping our routine and practicing hard and working hard no matter the challenge. It starts in practice so we want to have a real good week, a solid game. So, when we get to Saturday, we just let it all hang out and play a good game. We want to win football games for Texas A&M. We’re not going to change anything. We want to win games by working hard throughout the week.”
JUNIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMAN DAMONTRE MOORE
On Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron
“He’s really talented. He’s careful with the ball. He’s fundamentally sound. Their offense makes very few mistakes and of the few mistakes they make, they are really minor. He’s so talented that he either makes the play or one of his receivers does. He doesn’t flinch under pressure. He’s one of those types of quarterbacks that has confidence in his offensive line and he has confidence in himself.”
On Johnny Manziel and Christine Michael
“I’ve seen tremendous progression in both of them. Johnny is making smarter throws. I feel like he was making freshman mistakes earlier in the year and now he’s not. He learns from everything he does. He’s the first to watch films and learn where he messed up. If someone tells him he had a good game, he goes in and watches the film to figure out what he did wrong so he can be better the next week. The same goes for Christine Michael. He’s always watching film trying to critique himself and make the most of his playing time. He’s always trying to help the team out. Johnny and Christine’s progression this year has been outstanding. I see him as being closer to the old Christine and getting better. He’s constantly getting better every day. He’s not a person who sits there and relaxes. He’s trying to go hard. He doesn’t want to be satisfied where he is at. He doesn’t want to get complacent. He’s always getting better.”
On his relationship with Sean Porter
“He’s taught me about the game, life in general and just being cool, calm and collected. He’s taught me how to handle myself around people and how to handle myself in the game. He teaches me from his mistakes. If he sees me messing up in something whether it’s in football or life in general, he will be there to correct me. He’s like one of those older brothers that picks on you all the time but also teaches you what you need to know. He talks but he doesn’t talk excessively. He gets straight to the point. He also leads with his actions. He’s a good leader in both his speech and his actions.”
SENIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMAN SPENCER NEALY
On how excited he is for this game
“Let’s just say it’s a Tuesday and we usually hate Tuesday practices, but I’m pretty amped up right now. I don’t like taking on those double-teams as much on Tuesdays, but today we’ve got to get after it. So, I’m jacked.”
On having a successful senior season
“It’s been a lot of fun because you can actually walk around and people actually like you. I dropped my dry cleaning off because I got a stain on my brand new pair of jeans and the guy comes out and was like, ‘Hey let’s get after them. We’re proud of y’all.’ If we were having a bad season, he probably would have kicked me out and sent me somewhere else. That’s been the nice thing about it. It has been a blast. Everyone is a lot closer because one, we love being up here. It’s not like we’re up here all day. We’ll stay here until 9 o’clock eating dinner, just kicking it.”
On being underestimated as a defense
“We’ve had our moments this year, so our offense definitely deserves some credit – even more than they’re getting. As a defense we could care less what they think about us because that’s what drives us. We’re not the defense that you look at in the SEC like, ‘I want those guys’. We’re a bunch of scrappy guys and we’re going to go out there and play our butts off. It doesn’t matter what you look like. We like being underrated. Hopefully Alabama looks at us like that and we can hit them in the mouth and prove them wrong. ”
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