IRVING, Texas - Nebraska opened events leading up to the Jan. 1 Cotton Bowl matchup with Auburn Wednesday by meeting media covering the event prior to its first practice at Texas Stadium. The following is a complete transcript from Head Coach Bill Callahan's press conference, in addition to quotes from select Huskers who spoke with media members on the practice field before their first workout of the week.
HEAD COACH BILL CALLAHAN
Opening remarks: “It’s great to be here back in Dallas, especially Texas Stadium. I’ve got a lot of great memories of coming to this stadium many times in professional football. It’ll be a great atmosphere for our players when they come here this morning to practice. On behalf of the University of Nebraska, Bruce (Gadd, CBAA Chairman), I just want to extend again our appreciation to the Cotton Bowl committee for selecting Nebraska to participate in the Cotton Bowl Classic. We’re here with a lot of challenges in mind. We’re here to capture a 10th victory. We’re here to do not only a great job in the community and with the hospital visits and extend ourselves to the people and the fans of the Cotton Bowl and the Dallas area but also to the high school coaches from Texas. We plan on quite a bit of them being at practice today and at our clinic tomorrow at 2:30. We have a lot on the agenda, but the most important thing is to try to capture that 10th victory, which would really cap off a successful year.”
On the impact of bowl practices last year on this season and whether he expects the same this year: “I do. It is impactful in terms of refining fundamental techniques. And I thought last year as we prepared for the Alamo Bowl it gave us a great opportunity to extend our system another four or five weeks in our preparation, as it did this year in getting ready for the Cotton Bowl. We segmented the practices into fundamentals and technique, which was very physically oriented, contact oriented. And then we concluded last week by backing off and being in half backs. And then coming down here after a four-day break, we’ll be in half pads again for two practices and then we’ll be in basically helmets and spider pads, as they call them, a real soft shoulder pad so we can have our legs and stay fresh for the game. From a physical standpoint that’s where we’re at. From a system standpoint, it just allowed us to coach more football. Let’s face it, this is a great opportunity to coach the game, do something you love and have your players available during the bowl weeks and bowl preparation practices to come in watch film, study themselves on film and get better. I think we’ve showed tremendous consistency in these two years we’ve been in bowl preparation.”
How significant is that 10th victory on this stage? “It’s big to us. It just again validates where we are as a program, measuring ourselves against one of the top teams in the country. Auburn is a program that early in the year we, we’ve had up there – in my own personal poll I had them ranked second in the country a few times as they were on an early run. If you have an opportunity to have watched them during their season, they’re a tremendous football team. So this is a great challenge. To beat a top 10 team would really give some credence in terms of our improvement. But we’re on schedule in terms of our program from where we came in three years ago. And the positives we’ve achieved over the three-year run, capturing a year-end victory against Michigan, who we thought at the time had national championship talent. And up until that Ohio State game, we were the last team to have beaten Michigan. And go through the run of the season, our kids played very competitively, played hard against some of the top-ranked teams in the country. SC in the Coliseum. Against Texas at home we felt that if we had just captured that last third-down play we would have been in a different position. And of course, being in the (Big 12) championship in year three of the program, really for us just gives us more momentum, more confidence. So this game is big for us. It’s another measuring stick, it’s a barometer as to where we’re at. We have not beaten a top ranked team, a top 10 team since I’ve been at Nebraska. So that’s a goal of ours. Our kids are excited about playing Auburn because of their athleticism and what they’ve done in their recent past. So we know it will be challenging. It will be tough. It will be physical. It will be a classic. I think it will be a great game.”
After missing a bowl two years ago, what’s the sense people have of the program now? “I’ve spoken to this topic several times to the local media and some of the national people as well, but anytime you’re in transition and you make a change – and our change was dramatic, going from an option based offense to a pro-style offense – that change is a process and any process, you know, takes time. And it has taken us some time to put the pieces in place to be successful. And it’s happened over the course of three years. We’ve had some ups and downs in that first year, that transitional year, and then it came to fruition at the culmination of last season, and now this season was a plus. So it shows we’ve made significant strides, tremendous gains. You can see our players adapting better. There’s more flexibility in terms of positions. We’re still not where we want to be. But I think we’ve made tremendous progress, and we’re continuing to do that. It’s pretty indicative when you talk about success, and it’s related to recruiting as well. We’re having a good recruiting year. And I think that success and that trend goes hand in hand. If players around the country weren’t interested in Nebraska football and what they’re seeing, I don’t think we’d be where we are at today in terms of recruiting efforts. To us, we feel pleased with that. We haven’t finished it off yet, but for this time of year and where we are in the recruiting process, it’s the best we’ve had since we’ve been at Nebraska.”
What does playing in the Cotton Bowl do for your hopes of recruiting down here? “That’s why I’m so pleased that our team is in Texas and playing in the Cotton Bowl and of course giving us the opportunity for exposure and the opportunity to present our program to the high school coaches where they can visually see exactly what we’re doing. And we welcome their questions, their insights and any questions they may have relative to football in general. And to have an opportunity to share some thoughts and camaraderie, there’s no [more] perfect venue than the Cotton Bowl Classic and Texas Stadium, where you’re practicing football and football is king. Overall in recruiting the impact of Texas recruiting is huge. We have seven commitments from the state of Texas. I believe we have nine current players on our roster. We’re trying to build that number because if you look historically at the Big 12 Conference and how many players from the state of Texas have filtered into the conference, I mean, not only the South Division but the North Division, I think you’ll appreciate the fact that there are some outstanding players here. I believe there are close to 150 players from the state of Texas on Big 12 rosters. That’s just the Big 12 Conference. That’s not including SMU, TCU, Texas-El Paso, LSU, the teams that come in and recruit Texas just as heavily as everybody else. So that sent a tremendous statement to our staff and again, shifted our emphasis and our focus to come down to Texas and put a premium, put a real emphasis on it.
In terms of personnel, how do you feel you’ve matched up against Texas, USC and maybe Auburn this week? “We’re getting closer. And our players are more confident in their matchups. That to me is an indication, again, that our system is in place, our players have responded favorably to the competitive challenges. But again, this week presents a unique set of circumstances. We’ve studied Auburn tremendously hard during this bowl preparation. And what you see is outstanding athleticism, great unit speed, great closure, back-side pursuit in terms of chasing the ball, what we refer to as chase plays, where they have the ability to chase on the backside and you may be in a perfect position to block a defender on the backside and then once you let up or that interval is over or almost over they’ve got the ability to separate and chase down a runner from sideline to sideline. That’s probably the most impressive thing that we see going into the game, their ability to chase the ball down and also their ability to pressure the passer. That’s another challenge for our offense to match up against a team that does pressure very well, that can create a lot of momentum plays.”
On the role of Nebraska’s defensive ends in this game and how they’ve played this season: “We have two outstanding defensive ends in Adam Carriker and also Jay Moore. Both are terrific players. We’re fortunate to have the experience that we do there and also the productivity that they bring to the table. They both have been highly productive at high levels against great teams. So we feel confident about that matchup. There’s no question in my mind that Adam Carriker will be a top-round, first-round draft pick in the National Football League. He has the size, the speed, the power, the strength that you have to have to play in the base end position. And he’s got a lot of flexibility. Here’s a guy that can not only play the edge, but you can kick him down inside over the guard and he can rush the passer from that position. He can play the point of attack and really come unblocked a lot of times because he does have that strength factor. So I think we match up well there. Jay Moore on the other hand is what we call the OE, the openside end. He has tremendous speed, range, of course, moves and counters of that nature that allows an athlete of his ability to come off the openside edge where there is no tight end. So that matchup, against their openside tackle, where it’s on the left side or the right side, that’ll be a good matchup for us. We’ve got a lot of great play from those two particular players through the course of this season. They’ve been a huge, huge factor in our success.”
When you took over, what kind of timeline did you have for where you wanted to be now? “I never put a timeline on it. We always hoped for the best and went into each season trying to capture the North Division. I stated many times, publicly at the Big 12 press conference on an annual basis that our No. 1 goal was to capture the North. It will always be that goal. It will be our starting point for each season. And the way that ties into our thinking is that once you capture the North, you have an excellent opportunity to be in a position to go to the BCS game. And of course the winner of the Big 12 Championship in recent history has had an opportunity to play in the national championship. But it all starts with capturing your division. It’s very similar to the National Football League. You can’t do anything in terms of playoffs until you’re in position to win your own division and then move on through the playoff system. For us, on the college level at Nebraska, everything starts with capturing the North. There’s some fine teams. You look at Colorado and Kansas State and their recent success, it’s become very competitive. And then you look at a Missouri and what they’ve been capable of doing and Kansas as of recent, they’re bringing up their level of competitive heights. It’s been a real challenge for us. I think in terms of our progress, that’s where we’re at. We feel every year we go into it, we make strides. We’ve made good strides this year and are looking forward to making more next year.”
What have you been most impressed with in your team during bowl preparation? “We had a chance to look at a lot of different young players throughout the course of bowl preparation, and what we did was early on, when we talked about that contact phase, we scrimmaged quite a bit and looked at lot of different combinations in the secondary. So I feel good that we’ve been able to look at and evaluate those players. I’m talking about (Major) Culbert, I’m talking about [unintelligible], I’m talking about Corey Young. Those young players in the back end received a lot of playing time early on in the scrimmage phase. And then I looked at our wide receivers and our offensive line. And that’ll be the strength of our team coming back next year. So we tried to build upon that strength, and we also tried to work in a lot of new defensive linemen as well. Tried to take a look at (Clayton) Sievers a little bit more, (Zach) Potter more. (Ndamukong) Suh played quite a bit. So we tried to look at the defensive line, offensive line and build on those strengths and weaknesses. But we really majored in looking at our back end and where we can improve ourselves, where we can get better in these four or five weeks of preparation.
On the status of the I-backs: “Nothing is definitive right now. We haven’t made any statement that would tell you whether one is in or out. We’ll just have to see. It’ll be day by day. But as we go into today’s practice, Cody Glenn, he’ll be doubtful. We’ll most likely back him down today. Kenny Wilson will be down. Brandon Jackson had his cast removed yesterday. He has a splint on, so he’ll be ready to go. Marlon Lucky will be ready to go. We have a couple of young backs – Thomas Lawson, who received quite a bit of playing time during bowl preparation because of the injury status of the other two backs, saw a lot of time. We moved Major Culbert over from defensive back into our offensive backfield, and we’re pleased with his emergence and his ability to carry the ball. And of course we’ve got Dane Todd, whose done quite a bit of work at fullback. And believe it or not we have given him the ball a few times during bowl preparation. So all those guys are ready to go. Whether we define Glenn and Wilson will be a day to day basis.
IB BRANDON JACKSON
On his injured right hand (broken in the Big 12 Championship game; cast came off yesterday; now in a small splint and wrap): “I’m getting more flexibility, more rotation back in my wrist. My hand, the swelling has went down a lot. Everybody, teammates keep asking me if I’m going to play, and I tell them yeah, you know. So I don’t think a little hand injury is going to keep me out of the game.”
Does he expect Auburn to go after his injured hand? “I expect them to do whatever they have to do to get me off the field. That’s any team. If somebody has a person who is hurt, they’re going to attack that spot. But I’m just going to have fun and play my game.”
Will he carry the ball in his left hand instead? “No, the way I see it, by the time the game starts I’ll have this hand back to where it was and I’ll be carrying it in both hands.”
On the importance of this game: “It’s good to be in a position like this, just to get a 10th win and put our program back where it was. It will help catapult things going into the spring and going into two-a-days.”
DE ADAM CARRIKER
On the importance of this game: “It’s very important, playing a top-10 team, playing on New Year’s Day, it’s a big chance to make a statement and get back on the map.”
Did it take a successful year to say this can be the Nebraska of the past? “Definitely we can get there. They’re bringing in a lot of young talent. They’re recruiting because it takes a lot to go from running the option every play to passing the ball a lot. They’re bringing in guys to run their offense. And our defense, we’ve finally been able to run the same system for a couple of years in a row instead of changing every year. So we’re definitely going to get back to the Nebraska of old.”
How do you sense that people are accepting that Nebraska is back? “Just respect, getting picked to play in the Cotton Bowl against a team like Auburn says a lot. The way we played against Texas, Oklahoma and USC, that says a lot too.”
What do you know about Auburn? “They like to run the ball a lot. They got a huge O line and a very good running back.”
On stopping the run: “That’s the No. 1 thing in every game, especially this team because they like to run the ball so much. Make them pass it, that’s going to give us an advantage.”
LB STEWART BRADLEY
Does any team you’ve played so far resemble Auburn? “We haven’t really played a team that we had the same game plan at all like we had for Auburn. In Big 12, there are a lot more spread offenses and a little bit of option. The only team that likes to do the I- (formation) like we do is Oklahoma. OU may be similar in that they like to run the ball. Traditionally they run the option. Oklahoma is a little more spread. I think they’re kind of a new opponent for us, a new challenge, but we’re excited about it.”
On the Nebraska defense’s development this season: “We’ve had our ups and downs. I think people underestimate us some times. We’re a good defense.”
LB COREY McKEON
On practicing at Texas Stadium: “This is definitely cool. You see this place on TV and the opening (in the roof). It’s cool to walk in here. It’s a great atmosphere to practice in. Dallas in general is a great place to practice. It’s awesome. I watch the Cowboys play here all the time. To be on the same field as some great players have played on, it’s pretty cool.”
On RB Brandon Jackson’s emergence: “We have four standout backs. They’re all great players. And to have someone like Brandon be able to step out of a crowd like that, being that we have four excellent running backs, him stepping out of that group is more impressive to me. Being able to step out of a crowd of four guys that have all contributed, have all made big plays, for him to put up the numbers he has without starting every game is pretty impressive.”
QB ZAC TAYLOR
On changing from an option system to a pro-style system: “It’s tough. Any time you go from an option attack to a wide open passing game, it’s going to be tough. There are going to be people who don’t believe it’s going to work, but we’ve proved them to be wrong. Like I said before, we’re headed in the right direction. There’ve been tough times, but we’re definitely seeing the good effects of working out during the summer.”
That should win some people over, shouldn’t it? “There are people who saw the (former) offense for years and didn’t want to see it go. But I think now they see it as a necessary change.”