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Huskers Talk About Wolverines
Courtesy: NU Media Relations
12/16/2005
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Nebraska Coach Bill Callahan discussed the upcoming match-up with Michigan.
Courtesy: Scott Bruhn/NU Media Relations

Nebraska continued preparations for the Alamo Bowl with a two-hour practice Friday. Earlier in the day, Head Coach Bill Callahan and players spoke about the upcoming game at the Husker football media luncheon.

 

Head Coach Bill Callahan

Opening Statement

“Today we will practice as a team. Everybody will be here. Finals are concluded. Tomorrow we will have an earlier practice and a lot of our older players—we have 10 seniors who are graduating tomorrow, so they will be excused from practice. I’m really proud of those guys. What a fine group of guys to be going out on a good note, seniors who have done a tremendous job in this transition and battled through a lot of adversity in their own personal careers. They have really helped us overcome a lot and come to where we are at today. Those 10 seniors will be graduation tomorrow, and then Sunday we will come back to practice and practice early in the morning and throughout the early afternoon. Then we will give the players the remainder of Sunday afternoon and Monday off. We will then resume practice next week on Tuesday. We will practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week, and then we will depart for the bowl on Friday.”

 

On the uses of the extra bowl practices:

“It’s been interesting. It’s a good problem to have. First off, when you look at the bowl preparation as a whole, there are a lot of things to juggle. There is a fine line in balancing everything you need to balance as a coach, as a team and as a program. The main objective for us is to win (the bowl game), so the preparation is geared toward winning. Secondly, we have to juggle academics and the finals schedule of the players. That becomes a little tricky, because guys have finals scheduled throughout the day and evenings. So it’s tough to get your entire team there at practice for the early portion of bowl preparation. I’ll say this, our kids did a great job of making it when they could. A lot of guys made some sacrifices to get from preparations of studying for a final then get to practice before resuming to study. That’s difficult to handle as a student-athlete. You are balancing players who are still trying to get better physically, and you trying to balance a fine line of not beating your team up or physically or emotionally draining them before they get on their way. With that being said, it’s very difficult to balance that fine line of how much you do in terms of physical contact, how much you should practice in terms of timing and rhythm. But it’s been a lot of fun, and it’s a good problem to have.”

 

On Michigan being the least penalized team nationally:

“It’s something that I’ve noted and something we’ll address with our team. When I first talked about Michigan to our fans and the media, I made the point that you have to earn everything, meaning you have to earn everything you get offensively, defensively and special teams-wise. They are very well-disciplined, well-coached and are an excellent group of athletes. From what I see on the field on defense, they are one of the tallest defensive lines I’ve seen in my career, college and pro. They have great size, excellent talent and great range. They are very disciplined in their package and what they ask of their players to do, and they are really well-schooled. This is a good football team. They only lost four games by a total of 17 points, and those were tough ball games. They were in every game. A play here and a play there, and they are sitting in a BCS bowl. I wouldn’t get too disappointed with four losses, because this is a good football team. This is always a tough contest when you play Michigan. I hearken back to my days in the Big Ten, and every time you played Michigan you were getting tested. They were a barometer, the standard of excellence when I was in the Big Ten and they still are. They will challenge us, but I know our kids are excited about the challenge. This is what playing in a bowl game is all about.”

 

On what can give Nebraska an edge in matchup:

“You work on all of your fundamentals and the things in your own system that you believe in, and mastering the system has been a real focus right now of our football team. That’s what we’ve concentrated on in the last two weeks. With that being said, we’ve had numerous seven-on-seven (drills). We’ve worked in the red zone, in the fields, in one-on-ones (matchups), we’ve gotten back to fundamentals. I’ve seen a lot of improvement from a lot of players, just the quality of repetition that you are getting day-in and day-out. You don’t want to keep beating your players up against one another. You want to be able to get them matched up, get them the physical repetitions that they need to improve and then move on to the next phase. With us, we believe in what we do. We believe in our system. To master our system in these days of bowl preparation, I believe that gives us an edge. That’s what we’ve focused on—our team.”

 

On the added advantages of a bowl game on the program:

“Either way, it’s a great experience. I’m pleased with the way our season has gone. I know we can get better, and again it can catapult us into another level as we go into next year. We are going to play the top two teams in the country next year in Texas and USC. Having Michigan ranked up there gives you a quality opponent to match yourself against. Good or bad, we are going to learn from this game. I think in the postseason, there is not other way to measure yourself than against a quality opponent like Michigan. I’m sure a win will do a lot for us. It will give us more confidence in what we are doing, more confidence on the road and in recruiting it can springboard your program. If things didn’t work out, I’m still pleased with the progress of our team, with the effort of our players and I’m sure they will give everything they have to give in this particular contest.”

 

On the change of attitude around the state since the win over Colorado:

“I understand athletics. I understand sports in general and the type of society we exist in. It’s what have you done for me lately. Our team is the most important thing to our staff and myself, so as you look at your team, what you are doing internally and see the progress and success being made on a daily basis, you are confident in the direction you are going into. It’s not reflected all of the time in wins and losses. The wins surely support it, but when you do drop a game it truly hurts and is disappointing. What I said here a few weeks ago, I’m optimistic about the direction we are heading into and how recruiting is going. I think it is very positive internally. I know our team feels confident about the direction we are headed. I know they feel confident when they line up on the field and they practice and execute. That’s where it all stands, it’s those kids being confident and I feel that. I see it in their play, it’s reflected on the field, it’s shown on the practice field and the chemistry’s shown in the locker room. I’m really proud of what our staff has shown this year in trying to formulate chemistry”

 

On the change in attitude of the team since the win over Colorado:

“They’ve always been a confident group. It’s not saying that once we hit the Colorado game, now they’re confident. We were a confident team. We were fortunate on that particular day where everything came together. We always talk to our players about playing their best game at the end of the year, and what better way can you finish the season than having your best effort and best performance on the road in Colorado. From that aspect, I really have to credit our players and how they’ve handled a lot of adversity from within and things that have changed, things we’ve asked them to do and they’ve handled it well. Again, our senior leadership was a big part of that happening.”

 

On continuing the team’s play against Colorado into the bowl game:

“I don’t have a crystal ball. I couldn’t tell you, but I do know this. You can always draw confidence from having a road experience like what we had against Colorado. No matter who the opponent is, when you win big on the road, it is going to fuel your confidence. You can take that, draw from it and try to reproduce it. Again that’s the challenge, to reproduce the same type of performance that you had in one game and take it to the next game.”

 

On Michigan

“We have immense respect from their program, coaching staff and players. This is a fine football team. We have our work cut out for us. We have nothing but great respect for that program. It’s measured on excellence. It’s the winningest program in college football history.

 

“They are a couple of games from being right where they wanted to be. I’m sure they’re disappointed, but this is a resilient group of kids. You can see it in the way they play. They played Ohio State as tough as you can play that team. They played Notre Dame tough. They played all of those teams tough. Watch the Penn State game. That’s one of the top teams in the country, and that’s a team Michigan defeated. From top to bottom, they are solid. They play in a tough conference. I just look how they’ve done in the run game. They may not be as highly ranked in run defense, but when you watch them on film they stone people. Then when you look at the Big Ten Conference and the rushing statistics, it’s a running conference. They are strong. They are strong in every phase.”

 

On Michigan quarterback Chad Henne:

“He’s his own unique guy. He’s a productive guy. He’s a young quarterback that’s continuing to learn. I’m sure he will benefit from the bowl preparation. He’ll benefit from the things he’s learned on film. But I think he’s a fine quarterback. He’s going to be outstanding.”

 

On Michigan running back Mike Hart:

“I think he adds a lot to that football team. He’s an elusive runner with great vision and breakaway speed. He has it all. They complement him with a fine package. I think they can switch emphasis easy if they want to. If they want to throw it, then they can mix it up with their running game. They keep moving along. Again, they are a team that has solid depth across the board. That’s a part of football. I know they’ve been hurt by injuries, but we all have. Every team in America has been hurt by them. They stand up to the test. They plug a lot of guys in as subs, especially on defense and in special teams they do an excellent job. I don’t think there’s any difference in the fall-off.”

 

On NU’s emphasis in recruiting junior colleges:

“We try to get the best players in the country, and that’s what we are about. We are trying to find the best football players that can help our program win. We don’t discriminate against anyone, this is America. We can recruit junior college players. The rules allow you to do that. They are fine players who have experience and different attributes that fit our profile. Let’s face it, taking 25 or 30 freshmen, we don’t have that luxury. It’s a win-now situation. To wait four of five years for 25 or 30 freshmen to come along and be developed, that’s a long time. This is a situation where we have to win, and that gives us the best chance to win, by bringing in the best players in the country. We’re going to go out and try to find the best players we can to fit our program and our style of offense and defense.”

 

On the win-now mindset:

“I don’t know if it is everywhere, but it is here. You have to win every week.”

 

On former NU assistant coach Turner Gill being selected for the Buffalo coaching position:

“I’m really happy for Turner becoming the head coach at Buffalo. That’s great opportunity for him, and he’ll certainly do a great job. I’m happy for him and his family, and that’s what he wants to do. It’s a great challenge, and I know he’ll do a great job.”

 

On NU graduate assistant coach Aaron Stamm:

“We have a young graduate assistant Aaron Stamm who is assisting John Blake in the defensive line who is going to be joining (Gill’s) staff here after the bowl game, so that’s a plus for Aaron to get to become a full-time coach and to help Turner turn that program around in Buffalo.”

 

On the importance of applying a pass rush against Michigan:

“It will be important to put pressure on their quarterback, and it’s tough to do. Their offensive line is huge. When you look at a Michigan football team up front, it’s amazing the height they have, especially in the defensive line. I look at all of their guys, they’re 6-7, 6-8, 6-6, 6-5, 6-4 1/2, this may be one of the tallest defensive lines I’ve seen in a long time.”

 

On the challenge for NU’s defensive line:

“You do the best you can in the matchup. You try to study his weaknesses and attack those weaknesses in the game. Most of the challenge is winning the matchups and one-on-ones that you are faced with. I know (Defensive Coordinator Kevin Cosgrove) has a good plan, maybe mixing and matching different alignments of players to try and get our players on what we perceive as their weaknesses. We do that every week, though, and we’ll continue to do that in our preparation for Michigan.”

 

On how NU’s offense will counter the tall Michigan defensive line:

“The advantage is being in the shotgun. I think it gives you the opportunity to create separation instantaneously by alignment. If the quarterback elects to take a three-step or five-step drop, that puts him in an area of eight or 10 yards deep in the pocket. Everything is based on timing and precision, so if you can hold off their rush long enough to get the ball off on time, that will certainly help. But they do a good job, they have really long arms. Their wingspan is phenomenal. I think we’re going to have to put rakes up on defensive linemen this week to have (quarterback) Zac (Taylor) throw over in practice. They create that type of a problem. They can create a huge wall. They can disturb the passing lane if they elect to get their hands up. It will be tough to find lanes and see throws, and the only thing I can tell you is the shotgun does give you that one advantage.”

 

On the NU volleyball team reaching the national championship match:

“I didn’t get a chance to hear or see the game, but I’m really happy for (head coach) John Cook and his team. He is an outstanding person and a great coach. Our team is close to that team, and for them to play in the national championship, their sacrifice and work ethic has paid off. I see those kids down there at 6 a.m. in the weight room working out and running during the offseason. You could see the road they were heading down with the focus, and John and his staff did a terrific job in helping them perform. It’s great to see, and it’s great for Nebraska.”

 

On Colorado’s hiring of Dan Hawkins as head coach:

“I don’t know coach Hawkins personally. All I can speak to is what I’ve seen on film and what I’ve seen his teams do. They function at a very high level. They performed at a high level, certainly, in his tenure at Boise State. I think he brings in a different style of offense completely to what they are accustomed to, and it will be pretty much wide-open. We are going to have to adapt what we do to what they are going to attempt to do. We won’t see them until late in the year (in 2006), so we will have the opportunity to see them throughout the season. From everything I hear about coach Hawkins, he’s a fine coach. I know that he’s motivated to do an excellent job down there, as well as (Head Coach Ron) Prince down there at Kansas State. There is new blood in the Big 12 North. It’s going to be interesting, and it’s going to be challenging for all of us. It’s a competitive division and it’s a competitive conference.”

 

On balancing work with recreation at the bowl site:

“Our meetings are scheduled early in the morning, so we will get a good dose of meeting time with our players and practice in the early afternoon and we’ll finish sometime around two in the afternoon. So our players will have the later portion of the afternoon off, so they can partake in the festivities they want to partake in. But we aren’t there for a very long time. We don’t arrive until the 23rd, and we don’t practice on the 23rd. We pick up on the 24th, 25th and 26th, and the game is going to be upon us before we know it. We are going to try and go down there with a great focus, but still be relaxed enough to enjoy some of the festivities that they have.”

 

On comparing a college bowl week to Super Bowl week:

“None. It’s not even the same. This is completely different. This is a great opportunity for our players to enjoy something that they’ve worked hard for and deserve. But this is really uniquely different. This is a great opportunity for our football team to display what we think is an improvement against a quality football team. It will be a good challenge all the way around.”

 

On the clash of traditions in this year’s Alamo Bowl:
“We are proud to be in this game against Michigan. You have two outstanding programs and two teams that are anxious to win and want to finish in the top 20 or 25 in the country. Again, to carry momentum into the offseason practices and preparations is huge. It’s huge for all of us. I can’t speak to anything but the traditions of the past, and both teams have always done well. I can’t go into anything beyond that because my experiences are limited here. All I can refer back to is playing against Michigan teams when I was in the Big Ten as an assistant coach.”

 

On assessing Taylor’s overall play this season:

“He’s constantly improving. You watch Zac’s confidence, and his level of confidence has grown as he has mastered the system, mastered his reads and also mastered the small things you have to do as a quarterback to be effective. One of the things that impresses me constantly is his ability not only to make plays in the pocket, but also out of the pocket. Making the decision to scramble and pick up a first down off a drop-back, that’s been one of the most impressive things in his play to me. When he first got here last spring to where he is at now is night and day in my opinion. I can remember him coming out in spring practice. I didn’t know exactly how mobile Zac was going to be. I knew he was a pocket quarterback. I knew he had some mobility, but not to the extent to where I see him run with the ball and make the decisions that he makes in the pocket. That’s a part of experience and a part of getting better. He doesn’t throw the ball into crowds. He doesn’t throw the ball into tight areas. He makes good decisions, he ensures that the completion is there or he won’t throw it. He goes through progressions. He knows how to exhaust it. The last game reflected his ability to check the ball down to the backs, which we thought was big. Just his overall management is improving, the way he spits out plays in the huddle, the way that he talks the game and sees the game is much different that what we saw when he first came here in the spring. That’s to his credit. He’s a hard-working kid. He takes great pride in his preparation, he loves football, he can watch film all day and just wants to get better and be the best. You couldn’t have a better guy than that at the helm. Additionally, Harrison Beck continues to show promise and growth in his game. His practices have really afforded him to become a good football player. I like the way that position is progressing, and it will continue to progress as we move along in the offseason. Players will be throwing a couple of times a week on their own in the new facility.”

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