Head Coach Bill Callahan

By NU Athletic Communications
Bill Callahan will be making his first Big 12 Championship Game appearance as Nebraska's head coach on Saturday.
Bill Callahan will be making his first Big 12 Championship Game appearance as Nebraska's head coach on Saturday.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Nebraska Weekly Press Conference
Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2006
Memorial Stadium - Lincoln, Neb.
Pre-Big 12 Championship Game

Opening Statement
“We’re well underway in our preparations for the championship game.  We’re excited to be in this arena playing Oklahoma, a team that we respect greatly.  It’s a game with great tradition and it should be a lot of fun for our players on Saturday night.”

On whether this game will be won by the best defense
“It looks that way on paper.  I’m looking at Oklahoma’s defense and by gosh they are solid across the board.  You look at every statistical area that has to do with defensive football and they’ve excelled.  The thing that you find about the study of their defense is that they are efficient. They’re athletic. They’re disciplined. They have great gap control and they know how to apply pressure within their package. It’s an interesting challenge for our team and our staff, they are very well-versed in what they are trying to get accomplished on the field.  They’ve had tremendous success with a lot of good athletes.”

On what the defense is focusing on this week
“The big thing is their ability to run the football with the physical nature of their attack.  They are a downhill running team, very similar to an old Big Ten football team. Dotting the “I”, coming downhill, trying to run the power counter, some misdirection off of it, but by and large they are coming downhill.  You have to give them a lot credit.  Their ability to play at a high tempo, play with good speed, and play hard, that’s the thing that you notice on film.  That’s really their trait, that they are a very physical running football team. So that will be a challenge to our front, a challenge to our players.”

On the concern with missed tackles in the past couple games
“We’ve looked at that pretty hard and that is a concern.  We have to be able to wrap up, tackle, and take people to the ground.  By and large, if we can lessen the amount of explosive plays out of their running game then we’d be a better defense statistically.  But seemingly there are one, two or three plays that most games come down to. You could play great for 65, 70 snaps, but it’s those three snaps within that range that just kill you. So preventing the big play is always huge and that’s something Oklahoma has done very well. By not giving up the big play on defense they make you bleed, and bleed slow, in terms of moving the football. They’ve been efficient down in the red zone area as well, so that’s going to be a challenge on defense and offense.”

On the improvements made this year in the red zone
“I think it all comes down to execution. I think we all have a better knowledge and understanding of our red zone package.  We practice it more than any other special category area.  We take a look at short yardage. We look at goal line. We look at four minute offense, but we practice red zone offense probably more than any other team in football.  Even in the off season we look at it pretty hard.  We’re pretty adamant about scoring once you get down there. So I think it’s just a concentrated effort on the part of the staff and the players to get better in that area and of course the emphasis on repetition every day.  When we go out on the practice field we’re always talking about that particular area of the field.”

On the correlation between the running game and red zone production
“I don’t know.  I don’t know if the run game is a function of red zone offense being better.  The field gets constricted down there so you’re playing in tight quarters.  There’s not a lot of window of opportunity, so how you go about structuring your attack is pretty important, and our kids have a great understanding of the areas on the field and the passing game.  They have a good understanding of what type of run structure they’re going to get when they’re faced with running the football down there.  I’m talking about as close as the 25 to the 5-yard line, goal line run offense is different than of course running the ball in the area that I just mentioned, but I don’t know if it’s a function of that or not.”

On what traits make up a good red zone team
“I think everything.  I think you have to have the ability to do both, run or pass.  A lot of formation mix, a lot of different schematics, you’re ability to match up, I think that also plays into it.  I think all those elements are key factors in red zone offense, but most importantly it’s the concentration down in that particular area.  I would say that a red zone penalty could kill you.  It could take you out of the seven point range and into the three point range.  The execution and elimination of mental errors in that particular phase of football.  The concentration, the concerted effort that it takes on everybody’s part to punch the ball in, that’s huge.  I think it’s just a product of experience, and I think every time you get on the field and you practice that area of play you get better.  I think the players recognize the fact that you only get so many shots down in that particular area and first downs are hard to come by.  It’s hard to throw the ball down there so your check downs become more important, you’re ability to throw to your backs, all those things become key points in order for a red zone offense to be successful.”

On the uncertainty of Adrian Peterson (OU Junior Running Back)
“It doesn’t change anything.  (Kevin) Cosgrove (NU Defensive Coordinator) is prepared for everyone that we’re going to face.  We have great respect for Adrian.  He’s the best back in the country, or one of the best backs.  He is a factor, make no question about it.  It just allows them to blend their backs in terms of their groupings and their substitutions.  But he’s a key back, just allows one more guy to come in there and pound at you and chip away at you.  We’re preparing for him to play whether or not he does or not, we’ll have to wait until Saturday for that to all play out.”

On the status of Matt Slauson (NU Sophomore Offensive Lineman) and Greg Austin (NU Senior Offensive Lineman)
“They’re going to practice today and we’ll give you a little more information about where they’re at after practice today.  We’ll see how they go, what they do.”

On the status of Marlon Lucky (NU Sophomore I Back)
“He’s a little sore.  He’s going to try to go today, but if he doesn’t go today then he’ll be with the trainers rehabilitating.  We’re pretty optimistic that he’ll play, but we’ll just take it day by day.”

On the philosophy that the offensive linemen have to re-earn their job every week
“No, that’s not my philosophy, that’s not our philosophy.  We’re just going to play the best players that give us a chance to win, and we do that on a weekly basis.  We have good competition and those players have competed throughout the week, throughout the year, and they understand that those roles are important to our team and we’re gong to play the best players.”

On Nebraska's lack of recent experience in the Big 12 Championship Game
“I think our kids are pretty focused.  I mean they’re pretty excited, but they have great respect.  They’ve played big teams and in the last nine months they’ve played some pretty outstanding teams.  They’ve played the University of Michigan. They played USC.  They’ve been in big arenas.  They played Texas.  They’ve played top-ranked football teams, not to disrespect anybody else, but they’ve been in that arena.  We’re just going to have to do our best.  We’re going to have to play championship-caliber football. No mental errors, take care of the ball, make sure we don’t turn it over and maximize on opportunities when we get them and play hard. There’s no magic formula when you get into a game like this, not at this juncture, not at your 13th game in the year.”

On improving to a championship caliber of football
“I think we can get better. I think we’re getting better.  Every game we have the opportunity to get better and I think our kids have done that.  With the bye last week, of course that helped us from that aspect to get a little bit better. We’re doing a lot of things better. We could do a lot more better.  In other words, we mentioned defensively and offensively we could block a little bit better.  We weren’t real pleased with some of the blocking up front coming out of Friday’s game. We could get better there.  Our pass protection could be a little more solid.  We’re going to get challenged from that aspect.  Then our kicking game, we’re always looking for ways to improve there.  I think this is a team that understands that in order to be better you have to improve week in and week out and you have to show some type of measurable performance in your practice in order to take it into the game.”

On informing the referees of the “trick” fourth-down play prior to the game
“We talked about it in the pre-game.  We just visited with the officials on it just to make them aware to the fact that that was a fourth-down play and that there was no intent to deceive, and we just wanted to make sure that everything that we were doing was within the framework of the rules.  We just wanted to communicate that to the head official on Friday.  They broke it down a little bit and had some questions, but overall we were pleased with the way they officiated it.  When you get in those situations the quarterback could walk away and they could blow the whistle and we didn’t want that to happen. We just wanted to give them a heads up, in all respects.  And they’re great about it. They have great integrity, so when you communicate those types of things to them, or circumstances or situations, they’ve been great about it.  All you have to do is tell them what you’re doing, but they don’t get caught off guard.  Very similar to what happened down at Kansas State this year with Zac Taylor on the QB keep.”

On whether he will talk to officials before the game on Saturday
“Yeah, and we always do.  It’s a pretty common procedure, kind of a standard operating procedure before a game.  The referee’s pre-game conference with the coaches.  We go over a number of things whether it be potential fakes, potential calls, what we want them to look at. It’s pretty common and they do a great job in that regard.”

On whether playing in Kansas City creates a home-field advantage to either team
“We’ll see. You still have to take advantage of it and go down and play hard and try to get your crowd into it.  But I think both Oklahoma and Nebraska have been in bigger arenas and the players have been in great venues and they’ve been around energetic crowds, but I would say that both teams won’t let the crowd affect them one way or another.”

On the efficiency of the offensive line at keeping Zac Taylor (NU Senior Quarterback) from being hit
“Well the quarterback is going to get hit.  I mean they get hit in every game.  Their backs will get hit, and our backs will get hit, it’s just part of the game.  But last year was last year, and I think our players are a year better.  They’re a little bit more mature and focused about our game plan and our opportunity, so we’re not going to go there.”

On the challenges of the OU run defense
“It’s pretty interesting.  They’re really disciplined in their fundamental techniques up front.  I think it begins up front.  I look at the play of their tackles and ends - they’re really athletic outside on the edge.  They’ve done a great job rushing the passer.  They do a great job with their gap integrity.  You always see these guys in their gap. They’re never out of their gap.  You see them separate, and once they do separate I think the biggest difference is once they get off the block they can run, chase and make plays.  I think that’s the biggest difference that I see.  Their athleticism really shows up when they separate.  They can really fly to the ball.  They do a great job up front of separating and making plays along the line of scrimmage or sideline to sideline, or chasing the ball downfield.  You’ll see them downfield on a screen pass, and they’ll retrace and get back into the screen, or they’ll get downfield and help with a ball that’s thrown in the short area.  It’s a pretty impressive group of players in that respect.”

On the importance blocking will play in the game
“You’ve got to sustain (blocks). That’s always the key to blocking. What’s a good block? A good block is staying on your man until the runner gets by in the running game. That’s a plus play in our regard. It’s going to be challenging because they are so athletic. Then, of course, they don’t always stay right where you want them to stay—they move around, they stem, they pinch, they come at you with a number of blitzes. They’re pretty intriguing from that regard. They have a lot of dimension to their attack. They create that with their play and with the athleticism of their group, especially the front seven.”

On new Iowa State Head Coach Gene Chizik
“That’s a great hire for them, a great hire. I don’t know the man very well, but everything he’s done at Texas certainly indicates that he’s a fine coach. They’ve had tremendous success on the defensive side of the ball. I don’t have much else to say, except that he’s a real quality person. I know he was the assistant coach of the year in the American Football Coaches Association, so he’s really well-respected and highly regarded. I really don’t know a lot about him personally, but I wish him good luck.”

On if the program needs to win on Saturday to ‘get back to where it belongs’
“We’re just focused on doing our best. I think that’s all you can ask these kids to do. They’re excited. I think both of these programs are excited about this opportunity. It would be great if we win. That’s what we came here for – we came here to win and to be in championship games. This is what this game is all about. It’s been some time since both teams have lined up for the conference championship. I’m a traditionalist, I respect tradition, I respect the Oklahoma program, and I really look forward to this game.”

On Oklahoma being able to overcome adversity and advance to the Big 12 Championship Game
“It doesn’t surprise me. (Oklahoma Head Coach) Bob (Stoops) and his staff are outstanding. They’re great coaches. Deservingly, I’ve seen his name pop up on the Coach-of-the-Year ballot. They’re very deserving of that. They’ve done a tremendous job getting their kids to play hard and getting them up for some tough games during the course of the season. They’ve done very, very well to change gears when their quarterback went down and (OU starting quarterback Paul) Thompson has just been incredible. He’s done a great job just managing their offense, making plays. He’s very efficient as a thrower. Of course, they’ve had the ability to just get their team better each week. Week-in and week-out you see their team improving, and I think that’s the mark of an outstanding coach – getting your team ready to play and showing a weekly improvement. I think they’ve done that.”

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