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Tuesday, December 28th, 2004

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS OFFENSIVE NEWS CONFERENCE

Offensive Coordinator / Quarterbacks Coach Randy Sanders

On being at the SBC Cotton Bowl: “This is the third Cotton Bowl I’ve been a part of as a coach. I came here in 1989 when we played Arkansas and then again in 2001 against Kansas State. We are excited about the weather as compared to the game against Kansas State. We are certainly excited to be here.”

On the Texas A&M Defense: “The thing that jumps out at you when you look at the stats is the pass attempts that they have had (against them). Really the only team that said we are going to run the football and not throw it that much was Texas. I think some of that was dictated by the score. Once they got ahead, they were going to run the football. They ran it 61 times. Any time you run the ball 61 times, you are going to make some yards. I think some of those things skew the stats a little bit.”

On the temptation to try too be aggressive in play calling and the pressure score on every possession in a high-scoring game): “It is a big temptation. A lot of that is determined by Coach (Phillip) Fulmer. Sometimes he comes to me and says we have to score every time. I don’t know if we can’t stop them. Coach Fulmer might ask me what I think similar to the SEC Championship Game. I told him I thought we needed to stay with what we had planned and prepared. I thought that was the mistake we made in the first game is that we felt like we had to try and match their scores. I think that was a mistake that a lot of teams made against them in trying to match their (Auburn’s) scores. I think when we came out in the second half and hadn’t panicked and didn’t try to throw the ball all over the field, I think it surprised and shocked them. It kind of got us going.”

TB Gerald Riggs Jr.

On importance of running game this season): “It has been very important. Obviously we had some young guys. You don’t want to put too much on their plate being freshmen. You don’t want them to be overwhelmed. You just want them to learn the system and ins and outs. At the beginning of the season we made the point that we were going to try and make that (the running game) the best part of the offense until the quarterbacks were able to get to the level where they knew the ins and outs and run the show. We stepped up and played to the level that we set out at the beginning of the year. We got one guy over 1,000 (yards rushing) and now we are just going to try and work on that second one.”

On trying to get two backs over 1,000 yards rushing: “The last couple of weeks after we realized how close we were, it was something we said ‘Hey, why not? Let’s go out there and get it.’ Let’s go out and set our mark on this program. There have been a lot of great backs that have played here over the years. You go way back to Charlie (Garner), (Aaron) Hayden, Jamal (Lewis), of course, and Travis (Henry). I don’t even think with some of the great tandems they had were able to put up 1,000 yards for the both of them. This would be the first time. We said hey let’s go out and put our names in the record book.”

On Texas A&M Defense: “They are a good defense. They play hard. They play with a lot of passion. They have a lot of pride in that program and their defense shows what kind of pride they have. They fly to the ball from sideline to sideline. They are a fast defense. We have our work cut out for us.”

On handling situation of sharing the backfield with Cedric Houston: “During the week we practice hard. We make it a point the first few days of the week to really work hard and push each other. It has really just been a carryover from two-a-days. We just pushed each other hard to be the best that we could be. I feel on Saturdays, it really isn’t competition. It is that we both want each other to succeed and play at a high level. It’s been a good year for us. We are proud of what we have been able to do.”

TB Cedric Houston

On combining with Gerald Riggs Jr. for 2,000 rushing yards: “That is a lot of yards. We said at the beginning of the year that one of us was going to try and get 1,300 yards and the other was going to try to get 1,100 yards. We are pretty close right now, so we will see if we can get it. I was supposed to be the 1,300 and he was supposed to be the 1,100 but I’m proud of Gerald. He has come a long way. He has his stuff together.”

On Texas A&M Defense: “They have a lot of young guys. They all play hard and they run to the ball. The defensive line is probably their strength. Those guys make a lot of plays. The offensive line will have their hands full this week blocking those young guys with all that energy. Hopefully we will block the right guys at the right time and get some things done. Their defensive line is as good as any defensive line we have played against this year so we are going to have our hands full.”

On competing with Gerald Riggs Jr. in practice: “Gerald pushes me a little bit harder out there. We practice hard all week. We end up being tired by the time Friday hits. We just feel confident out there running. We know there is going to be a hole there for us. If not, we are going to make a hole. We just get out there with confidence and run hard.”

On opportunity of offense to prove itself against Texas A&M Defense: “Coach (Randy) Sanders always loves going against great defenses. I don’t know why. We know we just want to get out there. We know it is going to be a great game. They have played a lot of great teams to the wire. We know we are going to have to go out there and execute.”

QB Rick Clausen

On key to offensive success even with changing personnel: “I think the biggest key to our success has been the offensive line. I think those guys really came together and they are the glue of this offense. Those guys have been shuffled so many times due to injury. They have really held our offense together. The quarterback position has had its share of different quarterbacks and the running backs and receivers have all stepped up, but that offensive line and the bond it has together has really kept this offense together.”

On offensive philosophy and what has been successful this season: “I think the thing that we have been able to do effectively is to take what the defense gives us. I think if they play zone and they try and drop a few guys we can run the ball. If they try to load the box against the run then we can pass the ball. The one thing that Coach (Sanders) has always said is that we have to be in balance. As long as we are able to run the football, throw the football and get the ball in the hands of the playmakers on the offensive side of the ball we will be all right.”

On key to success and winning the SEC Eastern Division: “I think the biggest thing that we saw early on was the leadership. The senior leadership on this football team and the way we went about our business. There was not a whole lot of nonsense around this team. We were strictly business. That is an approach that we tried to take all year. A lot of people counted us out at the beginning of the season saying that we were going to be third in the SEC East and that we shouldn’t be in the SEC Championship Game that is when we really like to shine just because we don’t care what other people think. We know that these 100 guys, the coaching staff and the people around our football organization know what we are capable of. When our back is against the wall, we really like to fight. The guys have come out all year long and put their best foot forward.”

On motivation in playing Texas A&M: “Texas A&M is a great team. If we don’t bring our A game, then they are really going to beat us bad. We know the task before us in order to be successful. We just have to go out there and play within ourselves. In bowl games, everyone tries to press because you haven’t played for a while. To play relaxed is something that we really need to do.”

WR Tony Brown

On quarterback Rick Clausen: “Rick has been a team player. He has been on the sideline in a lot of games and been in the background. But you see the way he works in practice, doing all the checks and answering all the questions that the freshmen had. He just helped them in the transition. In the Notre Dame game and in the SEC Championship Game, he came in and gave us a different aspect to our offense. It will be pretty interesting in spring to see what they do with all these guys (quarterbacks). It will be interesting, but it is a good thing to have. We probably have three or four starters on the same team.”

On what the passing attack has brought to the offense: “Coach Fulmer always says that we have to make some plays in the running game and open up the pass. We try to reverse that and get in a situation where the passing game can open up the run. If we can get out throwing the ball a lot and make them cover us, I think Gerald (Riggs) and Ced (Houston) can run the ball up the middle.”

On surprising people with the team success: “We have. We had so many setbacks during our season. I never thought we would be down to our third-string quarterback. Our starting offensive line lost one of the best offensive linemen in the country for a couple of games this season. Our freshmen guys just rotated into some different positions. It has been a blessing in disguise because this team learned a lot. Just coming out here to the Cotton Bowl is great. This is the first bowl game I’ve played in. We just want to leave a stamp on this program. We want to be a team that wins the championship game, goes to a BCS bowl, be in the top 10 in the country and hopefully play for the national championship.”

On motivation for game: “We are very much focused. This is probably the best bowl you can get to outside of the BCS. We are excited to be here playing Texas A&M, a team that we would never play anywhere else other than in the Cotton Bowl. It is a great challenge. They have a coach (Dennis Franchione) that we actually played against when he was at Alabama. We are grateful to be here and are looking forward to the game on Saturday.”

C Jason Respert

On leaving legacy of being the group that put Tennessee back on track in bowl games: “It would mean a lot to be the team that kind of got Tennessee back on the right track as far as bowls go in the postseason. It would mean a whole lot. And me being a senior, this is my last Tennessee game. I can’t look forward to the talented team that we are going to have next year. So this is it for me and a lot of other seniors. So we are going out and trying to win our last Tennessee game.”

On opportunity to win first bowl game as a player: “It is definitely something that I would like to experience. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I want to lose another bowl game. So it is definitely something that I want to experience.”

On mindset and excitement for this game: “We are excited about this game. Texas A&M is pretty tough. We are going to play a team that should have beaten a team (Oklahoma) that is playing for the national title. Watching the film and seeing how they competed with Oklahoma, this is definitely a challenge. We can’t worry about anything else other than going out and giving our best effort to beat Texas A&M.”

On describing Texas A&M’s defensive line: “They are very athletic. They are big and athletic. They are just huge athletes. We haven’t seen many of those collectively across the front. It will be tough for us to handle the things that they do scheme wise and to handle their players especially Mike Montgomery.”
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