Head Coaches Meet Media On Eve Of Chick-Fil-A Bowl

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ATLANTA, Georgia -- Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and Duke head coach David Cutcliffe both took part in a press conference Monday morning as their teams prepare to meet in the 2013 Chick-Fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve. The press conference was held moments after Cutcliffe was named to Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year.

The Aggies and Blue Devils will kick-off at 8:00 eastern time Tuesday night at the Georgia Dome. The game will be televised on ESPN. This will be the first ever meeting between Texas A&M and Duke on the football field.

An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: Coach Cutcliffe, we'll
start with you, an opening statement, and maybe if
you could talk about how your bowl week
experience has been so far and how your players
have enjoyed being here in Atlanta?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Certainly. First of
all, we're honored to play against a program like
Texas A&M. Certainly what they're doing now
under Coach Sumlin and their history, their
tradition. Obviously one of the more exciting
teams in all of college football over the last couple
seasons. It's been fun to watch them until you had
to start watching them to prepare for them. It
changes a great deal then.
Our week has been special. It's been
diverse in the events. I've watched our players
enjoy every part of it from playing games at Dave
& Busters to an incredible FCA breakfast, a great
message that was delivered there by Derrick
Brooks and Steve Fitzhugh, then from cart riding,
to visiting children's hospital, to the Martin Luther
King Jr. Experience yesterday. You said it best
when you say live, laugh, and learn. And we've
been able to do all of that and practice a little
So we're very appreciative of, Gary, your
leadership and the organization and the
communication that you've given us with the
Chick-fil-A Bowl. I'm glad I'm sure like Kevin is, it's
time to play football now, but it's been a great
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach.
Coach Sumlin your comments on your experience
so far?
COACH SUMLIN: You bet. I just want to
echo what Dave just said. I think for us it's been a
unique experience. I have players raise their
hand. How many guys have been to Atlanta? And
I think we have four or five guys on our team that
have ever been here. So everywhere we go has
been exciting.
Just like David said, the competition
outside of football with Dave & Busters, the
children's hospital visit, just the whole bowl
experience here has been great.
Gary, thank you for your hospitality and all
the Chick-fil-A people. It's been very, very special.
Just like David said, we've had the opportunity to
practice, and being at the Georgia Dome as soon
as you walk in there you can feel the energy level
of the team pick up. So many great players, so
many great football games that have been played
in that building. It's a real honor to be here.
For us in the SEC, as a Coach you're
always looking down the road, and it's a pretty
important game here that's played at the end of the
SEC season with the championship game. And
with this bowl game moving and being part of the
championship series that's coming up, hopefully
this will be a great experience for our young
players and it will give us an opportunity to maybe
get back here and play a few more times.
It's been a great experience for us. Just
like everybody else, our fans are rolling in and
we're getting ready to play a great football team in
an unopposed time spot which helps both our
programs and our universities. Just a great
Q. Coach Cutcliffe, beyond the
statistics of Texas A&M's defense, when you
watch film, what jumps off as the biggest
challenge for those guys?
defensive football team has some talented
individuals up front. It always start there's. They
have size, quickness, and they use their hands
really well. The linebacking corps that makes a lot
of plays, safeties that are big and will hit you,
corners that can run. I mean, they've got the right
December 30, 2013
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ingredients. They play in a league to where they're
challenged every week in a huge way. So these
are tested, experienced football players.
So the thing that challenges us the most is
we've got to be consistent. We've got to manage
the down and distance. We can't have a bunch of
bad plays and be successful against their defense.
Q. Coach Cutcliffe, what did you learn
from the team's first experience with their bowl
last year going into the Belk Bowl? How have
you been able to apply that going into this
year's bowl game?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I think the thing that
our players have been able to do is manage the
balance a little better than we could a year ago. It
was a first-time experience. We really had no one
in the program other than the coaches that could
kind of guide them as to what to expect. This year
our leadership, our guys talked to our younger
players at home about what to expect. What they
expected as a team from them. I don't think there
is any leadership like peer leadership, so going
back-to-back, it gave us that opportunity.
Q. How do you keep your offense from
feeling like there is pressure on them to score
every time they touch the ball?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: That's a great
question. Because the obvious is Texas A&M has
created that in a lot of ballgames. They're so
dynamic offensively and dominant offensively.
You just have to practice and practice properly.
Understanding that execution is the key. One play
at a time. You can't think out front as to what
you're having to do as a player. You have to play
that play. So we've worked hard on that mentality.
But not just for this ballgame. That's a mentality
that we work on when we start spring practice of
understanding that we've got to play that play.
Q. Yesterday Johnny and Deshazor
Everett said the offense has had a little more
swagger the last couple days and gotten back
in rhythm. Is that something you've noticed as
well with Spavital calling the plays?
COACH SUMLIN: I think it was a taxing
year physically and mentally. You know, some
really close games. Won a few of them, lost a
couple of them, and we just took some time at the
end of the year to step away physically and
mentally, and I think it's helped us. I like their
energy level right now. I like the bounce that we've
got. It will be interesting to see.
I think it's pretty well documented where
we were physically at the end of the year at a lot of
key positions. I think that we're finally healthy
again in a lot of those key positions. And because
of that, naturally the energy level will go up.
Q. A lot of people write about the long
layoff. Could you draw on anything from last
year the Cotton Bowl looking forward to this
COACH SUMLIN: We do things the same
way. I mean, what did we play last year? The 6th.
So it was a longer layoff than we had right now. In
certain ways I think this team needed it. That
space, that time after our last ballgame. It was
something that this particular team needed. I think
it relates back to the question I just answered. The
layoff kind of helped us this time from an energy
standpoint just to get back and get healthy.
Q. You talked about your experiences
this week. How does this bowl week compare
with others you've experienced in the past?
How well-suited is it to host College Football
Playoffs next year?
experienced people running this bowl game. You
can always tell it's all about organization and
communication. You've got a great venue in
Atlanta as Kevin mentioned. The young people
are going to have a good time here. There are a
lot of things to do. But if you're not organized well
and you don't have a plan, which they have, it can
get difficult. Because we're here to play football
games. You have to have meetings. You have to
have preparation. You have to give a squad and
coaches adequate time to work.
They're able to do that. The events were
precisely on time, they ended on time. You have
an itinerary you like to stay on schedule.
With that said, they are very prepared to
handle any magnitude of football game. As the
stakes go up in a playoff, obviously, it's a bigger
game and preparation is more of the key, and all
you would do is alter a little bit of that, but still stay
organized and communicate well, which is certainly
what the Chick-fil-A Bowl people do.
COACH SUMLIN: I couldn't agree more.
The organization, the time management, practice
venues, we've been at the Georgia Dome. We've
been over to Georgia Tech in their indoor facility,
which is very, very nice. The logistics of moving
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teams and getting to practice, coming back, being
on time, the Chick-fil-A Bowl people have been
extremely organized and you can see why. This
will be part of the playoff series. The great city this
is right here. A lot of things for our players to do.
But as David said, the organization has been the
key with the events that have been competitive
outside. Going to the Hawks game, being in the
children's hospital, doing things in the community,
but also the organization of the practice sites and
the logistics of travel between the hotels. It's been
wonderful and that comes with experience and
You can see why this particular bowl game
will be part of a bigger picture down the road.
Q. How much have the players and
everybody in your program embraced the
opportunity to do something that's never been
done at A&M, and you're now on the eve of the
game and winning three straight bowl games?
COACH SUMLIN: I think every year
you're looking for something different, and I think
for our seniors it's a big deal. The many years that
we've played football at Texas A&M for any player
or any team to do something that's never been
done is something that you can always have and
something you can talk about forever. Like our
seniors last year. Only four teams that won 11 or
more games. So for this group to have that
opportunity it can really keep setting a standard for
this program, and I think it's important.
Q. Last year when you guys got to the
Belk Bowl you said you knew they'd play well
because they prepared so well. Curious what
your assessment is on that front this year?
And you've had distractions with injuries or
suspensions or things like that?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: We have practiced
really, really well. I'm a big believer, obviously, as
you well know in that. We've had things that we've
had to deal with all season and since we've been
at this. And it's been no different in the bowl
preparation. We've just picked up and continued
to go practice. Our peer leadership, our captains,
our seniors, this is important to them, as Kevin just
It's the seniors last football game, so it's
going to be important to them. They've set the
tempo well. We've prepared well in Durham, and
we've certainly done the same thing here.
Q. Coach Sumlin, you mentioned it's
been a physically taxing year, and some
younger players have had to step up
particularly in the front seven. Could you talk
about how that's helped the team and which
players have really stood out?
COACH SUMLIN: Well, this time of year
it's pretty much over with being young. They've
been playing since the first game. You know, 13
games into this thing and you've got some
experience they've been through a little bit more
than what they thought they were probably going
to be involved in earlier in the season. So we
depend on them a lot. This will be a big game for
a lot of our younger players. Jordan
Mastrogiovanni will have to step in there and play
very well for us, because offensively it presents
some real challenges with their running attack play
action. So for our young guys, we'll to have pretty
good eye -- not pretty good, really good eye
discipline and be ready to play a physical game
because that's where all these football games in
particular this one, that's where the real match-up's
going to be.
Our young guys are going to have to step
up and continue to keep playing. I'm trying to get
away from the term young guys now. Shoot, 13
games into it, they better be ready to go.
Q. You've been obviously a key part of
helping Johnny through a wild ride that really
no other college football player has ever been
through before. What are your thoughts of how
he's handled himself and come out on the
other side now?
COACH SUMLIN: You know, it's kind of
interesting. We went through the year and I think
people were shocked that he's kind of quiet.
You've got the off-season part and then we've got
the football season. I think he was extremely
focused this year. I think he moved from an
athlete that was playing quarterback, to a
quarterback that's an athlete. I think he's improved
as a passer, improved in his knowledge of not only
what we're doing, but his knowledge of defenses,
and I think that shows.
That being said, we ran him a lot more last
year and he didn't get hurt. And this year he didn't
run as much and you get a hand on a helmet or
couple little things here and there, so, that's just
kind of how it bounces. As I said, the last couple of
weeks and the layoff in a certain respect helps us,
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not just for him, but a number of players on our
team, as you said because we kind of limped into
the end of the year.
Q. Coach Cutcliffe, we're talking about
Johnny Manziel. What do you think about him
and trying to contain him? I mean, that's going
to be a big part of keeping these guys at bay.
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, I don't think
contained is maybe a word we could use. It might
be slow down. Being a quarterback guy, I agree
with what Kevin just said. You see growth even as
the season went along. He's an outstanding
quarterback. He's not just an athlete. He beats
you in a lot of different ways. Certainly he's got a
great receiving corps. His ability to create plays is
second to none. In my lengthy career I really
haven't seen a player that creates and ad-libs as
well. It's certainly in part to his athleticism. But
there is coaching involved in that.
He stays alive in the pocket, but his
receivers move with him well. It's not an accident
that they're completing a high percentage of
passes when he starts to create. So Kevin
mentioned eye discipline. It's going to take eye
discipline and technique to compete at any level
against what they do offensively. And Johnny
Manziel is a great football player.
Q. Coach Cutcliffe, what would an 11th
win mean for your program?
mentioned, we've reached a milestone of 10.
That's never happened before. 11 just ups the
ante. Certainly it would be meaningful not just to
our seniors, but the reason it's most meaningful is
to our players. It would be an accomplishment
that's never been done, but an accomplishment
they'd remember for a lifetime.
These guys have worked hard to get to
this point, and certainly there is a lot on the line for
this one. But I'm anxious to see how our guys
approach that challenge.
Q. Coach Sumlin, can you talk about
what you've seen on tape as far as the
strengths that Duke will bring to the football
field on offense and defense?
COACH SUMLIN: We have a lot of
respect for Coach Cutcliffe. We've talked about
that a bunch. You look at this football team we're
going to play, and they've been in big games. You
don't beat Miami and Virginia Tech, and
North Carolina, and N.C. State by just kind of going
out there. They're a well-coached, physical
football team, talented players on the perimeter.
Offensively they play extremely hard, I think,
across the board. Don't make very many
I think when you see a team that plays that
way that's given them the opportunity in the fourth
quarter to be in those football games. When you
win close games the way they've done this year,
you gain confidence. That's what I see. I see a
team that's well-coached, well-disciplined, and
very, very confident and poised at the end of the
game, which means it's a really difficult challenge
for us.
You know, you look through the year and
what they've been able to do across the board and
to represent their side and their division to get to
the ACC Championship game, and it's going to be
a real challenge for us New Year's Eve.
Q. Coach Cutcliffe, I know a lot of the
focus on Texas A&M is on Johnny Manziel.
Can you talk about their running game and how
ferocious at times it can be when he hands the
ball off?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, first of all, it
starts, and Kevin mentioned this, up front. They've
got an All-American at tackle and they've got
outstanding people up front. They have the ability
to run zone read, which means certainly the ball is
going to go to the back. They can dictate power.
They can dictate just giving the ball off on zones,
stretch, and their backs all have great ability.
So, again, it goes back to we've got a bigtime
difficult job to match up up front. You can't let
those backs get started. People get too focused
on Johnny Manziel. There are a lot of ways that
Texas A&M is going to beat you outside of Johnny
Manziel throwing or running the football.
Q. How much different do you think it
is for Matthews that he came back? What do
you think? Would he have been a Top 10? I
don't know what his valuation was, but what
was the difference for him returning this year?
COACH SUMLIN: I think you've got a
couple different scenarios. Meeting with those
guys after the Cotton Bowl last year, the evaluation
that we got from the NFL, and some of the people
we had the ability to talk to in the National Football
League gave us the information to help the families
make a decision. Obviously, Luke leaving, that
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was the best thing for him being the number two
overall pick.
Jake was a little bit different. The
information we got was that he was a later first
round maybe 25 to 32 or early second round. I
think there is a real lesson there. I think he's
played his way this year probably into the Top 10.
There is a significant difference financially between
32 and 1 through 10. I think there is a lesson there
for a lot of guys.
That's the kind of information that we try to
share with individual players. Try to share with
families and help them make an educated decision
based on the information that we can obtain. I
think in Jake's situation, him coming back and
playing his way -- playing the way he's played, as
increased his value. I think there is a lesson to be
learned from that for a lot of players.
Q. Kevin, can you talk about this senior
class and how everything that they've gone
through from conference moves to losing
seasons, new coach, things like that, and how
they've handled it and done what they've been
able to do to get to this point?
COACH SUMLIN: It's really amazing. I
was just talking with those guys yesterday. They
came to Texas A&M, and you look up four years,
five years later and you're playing in a new league,
you've got a new coach, all kinds of new facility.
It's a completely different situation than they
entered into. It takes a lot for young people to
handle that.
That's why I'm really proud of these guys.
We don't have very many, but what they've been
through and how they've handled it, I couldn't be
prouder of them, number one, because we have
had a number of them graduate before we even
got here to the bowl site. Ultimately, that's what
we're in this for.
These guys have accepted not only the
move to the league, they've accepted me and a
new coaching staff and have really done things the
right way. They've kind of set the tone, not kind of,
but have set the tone for where this program is
headed, and I've been really appreciative of that.
Q. Kevin, could you talk about Manziel
and the Matthews decision on coming back.
Mike Evans is going to have to make that
decision. Wonder if you could talk about the
evolution you've seen from him since you first
saw him in Houston to the player he is now as
a sophomore?
COACH SUMLIN: Well, he played one
year of high school football. By the way, we
should have just played the basketball game. Our
guys were dunking like crazy in the Atlanta Hawks
game the other day. Bunch of basketball guys.
He's improved. He's really only played three
years. He red-shirted as a freshman and has
played two years of college football, continues to
get better. Big, strong guy, you know, his best
days are ahead of him, I think. Just because of the
fact that he continues to get better because he
hasn't played a lot of football. But he's got
exceptional ability because of his size.
I think as I've said before, the thing that
separates him from a lot of people is the fact that
he will play as hard without the ball as he plays
with the ball, as a blocker, doing things that creates
an attitude on the perimeter that we need. He's
going to continue to get better.
Q. You've both had some pretty prolific
quarterbacks in your time with the Mannings
and Kevin with Johnny Manziel and Case
Keenum before. What is the main ingredient or
key factor in taking that unique talent at
quarterback position and getting them to the
point where they're in a whole other
COACH SUMLIN: For me to be sitting
here and for you to say that with a guy in David
that I have a huge amount of respect for, in
developing quarterbacks and the approach to the
game, a guy that I steal stuff from all the time. I
probably watched more video of him as a younger
coach and as an assistant coach, with what he's
done in training tapes and different things.
We talk about accuracy, poise, and game
management. You have a guy that can get two of
those three, you've got a chance to win, I think.
You have a guy that you get three of those three
and you're going to win a lot of games. That is
something you continue to work on as a coach.
The thing that is different about Johnny is
his ability to make our play call right. Whether it's
a really, really bad call or not, he has the ability to
change that, not only at the line of scrimmage, but
after the ball snap, which is a whole different
mentioned all of them are different, number one.
So I think the most important thing is to recognize
their strengths, what they can do to beat people.
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Really what he just said is when they call a play,
there are two plays that are potentially going to
happen. One the one they have called, and the
one he's getting ready to execute when everything
changes. He does both of those well.
With our guys it's sometimes the same
thing. When you train a quarterback, you want
them to know everything you know, and then they
have to be the functional part. They have to be the
decision maker. So the thing that I've always done
most is when they step on campus, I'm making
them make decisions. I want everything by choice
and not by chance. So it's just a mentality.
Certainly we're not supposed to recruit
them if they don't have the ability to be accurate
with the ball, have command of the football, and be
able to have the poise and athleticism to play the
position. But I really believe that it's always got to
be choice, not chance. You've got to make young
people think that way. That is a big, big deal in
their lives as they move forward, and it certainly is
at quarterback.
Q. How much different -- I know that
your offense is a little different than when you
had both the Mannings. How has that changed
maybe how you evaluate quarterbacks through
the recruiting process than 10, 15 years ago?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: First of all, let me
say this in their defense, Peyton, Eli, and Heath
Shuler and others we've had are much more
athletic than people think. They're just big, big
guys. But we certainly made a decision as we got
involved at Duke trying to find the best way to win
football games as to who we could recruit. So we
really are a little more involved in looking for
dual-threat quarterbacks. We do want the ability to
run the football.
When we finished at Ole Miss, we had a
young man by the name of Robert Lane that we
had evolved into that in 2004 and was playing
really well at the end of that season. So we've had
a lot of that in our system. But it's changed, to be
real honest with you, as to what we're looking for.
It gets the numbers right for you a little bit. It's
another hat they have to defend in the run game.
We're not an overly big, dominant, physical football
team, so it allows us to be a little faster.
Q. Coach Cutcliffe, how have you used
the process of the bowl loss in Charlotte as
motivation for your team this time around?
What would it mean for them to get the first
bowl win for Duke in a really, really long time?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: You know, I really
didn't have to use it. I've said this back home,
back during the spring. Our first team meeting
after the Belk Bowl a year ago, I was really
anxious. That would be the first time we'd have
the 2013 team together. I had a sick feeling in my
stomach for the way we lost the ballgame. I knew
we had prepared well and we played well, but we
made mistakes that get you beat. I was anxious to
see the response of our team in that meeting, and I
think that's where the roots of this team were.
I didn't need to say a lot. I saw and felt the
same things that I was feeling in that team, in the
leadership of that team. The term, finish, is one
that the players coined themselves. We didn't
finish. We didn't finish the fourth quarter. We
didn't finish the season.
It's a big challenge. When you're playing
in a bowl game, particularly one of this magnitude,
you're playing against a great football team, so to
finish is not going to be easy. So we took from that
point on, nothing we were going to do was going to
be easy. And you hope that's enough.
But the bottom line is it's the process.
They've been through the process now. Win or
lose, they've been through the process. We're
better. We're better for having lost that game. As
hard as it is to say that, than maybe if we had
found a win late. So we'll see how we finish.
Q. Little holiday humor for you. I don't
know if you saw the game yesterday, but the
Falcons gave up more sacks than you guys
would probably give up combined tomorrow.
Coach, you've got a young man Matthews on a
lot of the draft boards and the Falcons maybe
looking at him. Talk about his skill set and how
he fits on the next level with possibly coming
here to Atlanta?
COACH SUMLIN: He obviously comes
from a great blood line. It starts there. His dad
has done a -- was a great player. He's a coach
now, and I think Jake approaches this game
almost in a professional manner. How he eats,
how he works out, how he studies video.
Obviously, moving from right to left tackle
was a big deal for him this year. As I said before, I
think it's helped his value. It's really a lesson to a
lot of players that you can actually make money by
staying in school and improving your skills and
improving your value.
But he'll be successful. He's been
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successful not only on the field, but he is my
favorite kind of player. He is a low-maintenance,
great player. There are not a whole lot of those left
out there anymore. But he's a guy you don't even
know he's there until he runs out on the field. He
plays extremely hard, and he will be successful at
the next level.
Q. How different is this Duke team
because of the layoff after the ACC
Championship game that you're going to see
tomorrow night and what they were with the
ACC Championship game? Time-wise, how
much better are they going to be?
COACH SUMLIN: I don't know. This time
of year how your team responds after a layoff, as a
coach, as David said, you prepare. You have a
belief in the way that you prepare your team. Then
you kind of sit on edge and wait for that opening
kickoff to see where they are with their response,
because unless you're doing a lot of different
things because of that layoff, it's kind of like the
first game of the year. I think you watch a lot of
bowl games now and critical things, the tackling,
ball security, things that happen early in the
season become big deals because of the layoff.
We try to worry about what we do and how we
approach the game.
As I said before, I like how we've prepared,
particularly since we've been here in Atlanta. I'm
anxious to see how our guys are going to respond
New Year's Eve.
Q. How much have you talked about
the start of the ACC Championship game? The
intensity that your team came out with and
being able to sustain that going into this bowl
game and how much of an impact that can be if
they have that type of intensity for 60 minutes?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: We played well
early, as everyone knows, in that ballgame. We
couldn't sustain it. Everyone knows to play a team
of this magnitude, you have to sustain that
intensity level and that level of execution really for
60 minutes, and we can't get ourselves behind in a
game like we did. So it goes back to preparation.
It goes back to practice.
You can be emotional. You certainly need
to be. You need to be intense, but you've got to
execute. So our focus has been on execution and
sustaining that level of execution all the way from
the beginning of practice to the end. That is the
best way to learn to play a complete game.
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