Gator Bowl Press Conference Quotes
Q: Once the Chick-Fil-A bowl made its selection, were there a lot of deliberations on your part and were there other teams to consider before Virginia ?
Scott Keith: We’ve been looking at Virginia for a good while now. Obviously this has been a very interesting year in college football when it comes down to the overall bowl selection process. It’s been very fun but Virginia was at the top of the list for quite a while now ever since they really started going on their seven-win run. In the selection process, we started about seven weeks ago our process of discussing teams and starting to travel to various locations and just be prepared, and they were at the top of the list for the majority of the time.
Q: What is it about Virginia that you saw that made them so attractive?
Scott Keith: I would say first and foremost about the 2000 e-mails that we have gotten in the last week and half saying that we are going to get down there. You know Virginia when we take a look at the fact that this University’s been able to continue to rebuild its football stadium, increase its attendance and grow from a fan prospective. In that regard certainly much of it is due to the excitement and success recently from Coach Groh. Those are of some of what we look for in a bowl. Certainly this is for economic development, but we really do want to run a great football game and have a tremendous matchup. Having the ability to have the ACC Coach of the Year is an incredible honor for us and so we are certainly excited about that and some tremendous players on both offense and defense. Watching some of the highlight reels during the ACC Awards last week, a lot of the highlight reels that you saw were from Virginia offensive players making big plays and defensive players putting big hits on, so it was exciting to see.
Q: With this game’s time slot, it this an attractive matchup nationally for viewers?
Scott Keith: We do without a doubt, I think from a TV prospective we’re covering both coasts. Virginia’s following is obviously very tremendous countrywide, but certainly on the East Coast and having Texas Tech in the mix certainly gives us a much broader appeal from a national TV prospective. We think it’s going to be a very big national game. The Gator Bowl game is the very first game televised nationally in the country from a bowl prospective years ago, and we think that tradition keeps holding up so it should be a wonderful game. I know from Coach Groh’s prospective it might be slightly concerning that the Red Raiders throw up about 42 points per game and the ball’s in the air a lot and they score a lot of touchdowns, but they certainly bring a big fan appeal and following into the game and we think they are going to support it just as well as the Virginia Cavalier fans.
Q: How many tickets does each school get?
Scott Keith: 13,500 is the allotment for each school’s tickets and the stadium holds about 77,000 fans. We can certainly squeeze a few more in if we need to and we had a great meeting this morning with Jon from the Athletic Department and the entire staff and I heard on the radio this morning that tickets went on sale this morning at 9 a.m., so call Virginia Cavalier ticket office. They are ready to go.
Q: Could you tell us about how the tickets are compressed on the sides for viewers?
Scott Keith: From a viewing prospective, our Jacksonville Municipal Stadium is a wonderful venue to watch football game. The 77,000 fans can sit in the stadium in our club seat selection between the 25’s, and the Virginia Cavalier fans, will all be on the west side of the stadium compressed in that section for the club seats and the VIP seats right next to it. So we’ve got a great venue. There is not a bad seat in the house, but the ticket office for Virginia has got the first option for some great seats to watch the game. That and the fact that we’ve got a tremendous amount of additional venues starting on the 26th right after the teams arrive in Jacksonville, We’ll have opportunities for the fans and certainly the teams and coaching staff to have a great time in Jacksonville while they are there. I know Coach Groh is probably trying to win a game, too.
Q: Coach, I am assuming you informed the team about the bowl selection. What was their reaction?
Coach Groh: You could tell their spirits were very high and very excited about it. To take on a team of this nature on New Year’s Day and with what Texas Tech has done offensively in recent years, most college football players are aware of Texas Tech. As opposed to maybe to a team that’s won quite a few games but hasn’t been as colorful and as high scoring, so it seems like immediately a lot of our players were aware of it. Actually when I was on the road last week with Chris Long and Tom Santi to go to Jacksonville, we were talking about these circumstances and I said heading down here hopefully we will get a chance to turn around and come back again in a few weeks. In my figuring of the two teams that we might play if we come down here, I mentioned to the players that Texas Tech could be one of them, and they were both said they would be juiced up about playing them. So they see a big name team with a lot of reputation and an exciting game.
Q: Have you had much of a chance to see this team and offense yet?
Coach Groh: I watched from an entertainment standpoint last year and saw Texas Tech come back against Minnesota in their bowl game. They were down 35-7 and won the game in overtime. So I certainly have a recollection of that game. Just on a Saturday night here recently, I was flipping through the channels and saw the Oklahoma-Texas Tech game was on. It was pretty eye catching at one point to see the score was at 35-14 or something of that nature. Not too many teams score 35 points on Oklahoma. I did have a sense it would be a (Big 12) team in the Gator Bowl if we would be fortunate enough to be in the game, so besides from a fan prospective I stayed on that game a little longer, and so I do have a picture of that it’s not the same as studying the tape and seeing what all the patterns and what not look like. We have a little sense without actually getting the coaches copy in.
Q: What will your preparations be like in the next couple of weeks?
Coach Groh: We practiced Saturday and Sunday this past weekend and we will go Friday, Saturday and Sunday the next two weekends. We’ve explained it to the players. There are two phases the first phase is team improvement and really that team improvement encompasses two areas, for the players who are going to play in the game to improve our execution performance in a number of different areas and for younger players to have the opportunity to improve and begin the competition for some job they hope to have. Additionally we would like to put the challenge out there that we would like to see some players who perhaps have not played a prominent role to this point to step up and show that they can do something to add to what the team has been doing during the course of the season. Then the second phase will be the actual game preparation that will begin here and then we’ll complete when we get to Jacksonville.
Q: When will that game preparation begin?
Coach Groh: It won’t start here probably until exams end. On the 17th we have a lot of players taking exams and on the morning of the 18th we have 57 exams, so their concentration in terms of learning something new probably is pretty limited in that time frame, so we will not be doing game preparation until those exams are finished so we feel that we can really get their attention and hold it the way we need to in our first introduction.
Q: Usually in fall camp, as in training camp, the NCAA gives you set limit of practice periods. Is that the same with bowl preparations?
Coach Groh: This is open ended here. Whatever each school chooses to do their time.
Q: This is a luxury you guys didn’t have last year. What does it mean to have an extra month of practice?
Coach Groh: It’s certainly very beneficial for those younger players who are given the opportunity to show what their development has been here during the course of the fall and show us a little bit of what they might be able to do and where they should start on the depth chart in the spring. Some will take advantage of it and some unfortunately won’t.
Q: Besides what you have seen of Texas Tech, what about Harrell has impressed you? He has put up some pretty impressive numbers this season?
Coach Groh: Well, I did get a great view of him in that game against Oklahoma. They are very impressive, obviously Michael Crabtree who is perhaps the top receiver in the country with 125 catches and 21 touchdowns. Those are unbelievable numbers. It was very apparent watching that game, that not only is he a talented receiver, but when he had the ball in his hands, if you turned the screen on at that particular moment and didn’t know how he got the ball, you would think he was a running back. So he’s a very elusive athlete to catch. He’s very difficult to contain before the catch. Those two are obviously are tremendous combinations for them. We will not have faced anything the likes of those of two. Certainly, I would say on a week to week basis anybody who plays Texas Tech probably has that to say. They scored 88 points in a two-week stretch against Oklahoma and Texas. That is unbelieveable given the type of players that Texas and Oklahoma have.
Q: Your previous four bowls I believe all involved being on site for Christmas Day. What does it mean for the players to be home for Christmas?
Coach Groh: We haven’t exactly set a departure date and we are working through some the logistics but certainly there will be an overlap and the players will have the opportunity to be at home. Actually my wife was remarking last night how that worked out perfectly, so I think it’s more just the prestige of playing a New Year’s Day game. It’s a tremendous thing for this team to achieve. How it worked out is perfect for our fans and not just the players. Fans can be home on Christmas Day and they’ve got a week to get there. This team has responded to every challenge that’s been in front of it this year. It certainly is the type of team that every football fan should be able to embrace and if its your team, you should be able to embrace it with both arms. This game is a tremendous challenge for us to face an offense that is the seventh-highest scoring offense in the country and the number one total offense in the country. It’s a great challenge to our team and it’s a challenge to our fans too. It would be disappointing if we would end up with less than 30,000 fans at Jacksonville. The team has stepped up and I would say it’s an opportunity here for the fans to step up.
Q: This team has a chance to earn a 10-win season. Is that one of the team’s goals?
Coach Groh: That ‘s very much one of our objectives. We have the opportunity to from a record standpoint be one of the most successful teams in the history of this program. Football has gone on at Virginia for a very long time. There is only one 10-win team in the history of the school, so it’s a significant thing for us to focus in on it. We already had that intention before we had an opponent or site, and it now it just brings it into much better clarity for us.
Q: What kind of different type of game is this for your team?
Coach Groh: This will be a little bit different type of game. I don’t think this one is going to be 13-9. I’m sure this is the same in every sport, but as you put your overall plans together, the first thing you should always start with is how are you going to keep the score down and how do we keep this team from scoring. And the second thing is how are we going to score and how are we going to score enough. Both of those things clearly are very important to us in this particular game, as well as how the defense is going to play. They are averaging 41 points a game so if you gave up 25 points in a game to them this year you would have to be pleased. If we give up 25 points in this game it will be a heck of a job. That still means we have to get 26. So it creates a very different-type mentality for us in terms of strategizing for us and what the other team has.
Q: What are your thoughts on the challenge of a team like Texas Tech?
Coach Groh: We have never taken on a challenge of this nature before, against this type of offense. A little bit of background that we might have in a general sense in anticipation of someday having to play a team that runs an offense of this particular nature or a similar nature, we did a study a couple of summers ago on a number of one-back teams and wide open, throw multiple times teams. It wasn’t specific to Texas Tech, but there were a number of those teams. We’ll go back and start with that study, which lasted three or four days a couple of years ago in June. We’ll go back and start with that and see what our notes were and our thoughts on that, and then we’ll try to apply that specifically to this offense.
Q: What did Tom Santi and Chris Long have to say about this challenge?
Coach Groh: Chris and Tom didn’t relate that they knew too much specifically about the schemes that Texas Tech runs, but they were very familiar with the success of the team and the notoriety of Texas Tech for the games that they’ve won and how they’ve gone about doing it. It was from a general standpoint that they thought it would be not only a quality opponent, but also a very recognizable opponent to play. I think that is really one of the critical things as far as bowl game performances go. Those teams that feel challenged and teams that are excited about the game are teams that usually play very well. Some teams that aren’t properly excited about the challenge, usually their performance falls below what might have been expected. Our first impression of our team, and it certainly will continue to build, we see it as a sizeable challenge and a great opportunity for our program. We’ll be in the best possible frame of mind for this game.
Q: How well do you know Mike Leach?
Coach Groh: I know that in terms of academic degrees, Mike is well ahead of me. Mike has a Master’s and a Law degree while I am puttering along with my Bachelor’s of Science. So I am a handicap in that particular respect. I did have the opportunity, my wife and I, to be on a trip with some other coaches, and Mike and his wife were a part of it. We actually sat, as I recall, at the Sunday night cookout, at the same table. So we have had some social time together. Unfortunately we didn’t strike up any coaching conversation at that time that I can think back on that would be beneficial to us right now.
Q: How different would the Virginia offense look if all its skill position players were healthy?
Coach Groh: Probably the one player we have in our receiving corps who would fit into the Texas Tech scheme and be that kind of player is Kevin Ogletree. We lost Kevin in spring practice, and he was our high-wire performer if you will, and the most focal point of our offense. That changed our perspective significantly. We have gotten good contributions from those positions, but they certainly haven’t been the clean-up spot for us. It probably caused us to look inward a little bit more to the running game and the tight end position.
Q: What are your thoughts on your past associations with Bill Parcells, and how might your team resemble those of his?
Coach Groh: I have actually coached with Bill in five different places, starting back at West Point in 1968-69. From a personal standpoint, I made two relationships there that have been a big factor in determining the course of my life. The first Monday night I was there, I met my wife Ann. The next Monday when we came off vacation I met Bill. As a freshman coach, I was assigned to him, since he was the varsity coach. So he and I worked closely together for two years there. I then followed him to the Air Force Academy. He was instrumental in recommending me after Bill left Texas Tech for a position there, and then I subsequently rejoined him with the Giants and the Patriots. During that time frame he has become a trusted and loyal friend and a very good mentor. When I went to New York with him, Bill Belichick was the defensive coordinator, so it was between Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells that I got my real introduction to the defense that we run now. While the defense now isn’t the same one we ran in 1990, it still has the same core principles.
Q: Does this Texas Tech team remind you of any you have faced in the past?
Coach Groh: Fortunately, I haven’t had to go up against many that look like this. Probably my career wouldn’t be like it is now if we had to do this on multiple occasions. I would say the first team that comes to mind is the Houston Oilers during the time frame when June Jones was there and Warren Moon was the quarterback and they were in their version of the run and shoot offense, passing the ball with some of the same frequency and a lot of the same proficiency. At the same time, they had a great running back who got a lot of yards because it opened up the field.
Q: What is the impact that your tight ends have had on the program?
Coach Groh: A couple of years ago, Heath Miller, who is now with the Steelers, was recognized as the top tight end in the country. We recently calculated that over the last seven years, our tight ends have caught 423 passes. If that is not the most in the country, it has to be pretty close. Obviously, tight ends are very attractive to us, especially talented tight ends who can run, catch and block. Certainly from that standpoint we have become very attractive to that kind of tight end, and we are built that way now.
Q: Is it particularly important that your scout team does a good job replicating the Texas Tech offense?
Coach Groh: Given the extensive time frame, I think it would be extremely difficult to get ready for this opponent during a normal week. It would probably take two or three days of practice time just to teach the scout players to make it look like a semblance of what you are going to play against. In that respect we have considerably more time to teach a certain element of our team to turn them into Texas Tech as much as we can to provide a decent look for ourselves. I don’t know how it will shake out, but we think that a part of our plan will be to take these players and teach these players exactly as it shows up on the tapes.
Q: Will Kevin Ogletree play as Graham Harrell on the scout team like he did as (Virginia Tech’s) Tyrod Taylor?
Coach Groh: He will not. I am sure he already has his sights set on being Michael Crabtree. He will have a lot of fun for a couple weeks. He will probably be politicking at the conclusion of his task for us to switch the offense.
Q: Is your defense excited to take on the Texas Tech offense?
Coach Groh: This team has been responsive to everything put in front of them, be it the training program or academic achievement or certain opponents or game situations. Certainly we will respond mentally and emotionally in that fashion. The critical thing will be for them to get things down tactically and strategically so that we can compete against this style of offense. If you look at the track record, ever since Mike [Leach] has been associated with this, it has never slowed down. When they were at Valdosta State, they set all sorts of records. At Oklahoma, Oklahoma immediately went from last in the conference to first in the conference in offense. As soon as they got to Texas Tech, they have been in the top five to ten teams in the country in total offense every year. What we are trying to figure out here, and this isn’t the coach saying that every team he plays against is the greatest team he has ever seen, from what we can see in studying the history here initially in the first few hours since we got this team, over a 12 to 15 year time period, nobody has figured out a way to slow this thing down. Some teams have outscored it. Oklahoma State beat them 49-45. That’s a good win when you play these guys. Those are the types of challenges we face in this standpoint. As I said earlier, we have to get their point total down, but we also have to get our point total a lot higher than what it’s been. If we hold them to 25 points, it will be one of the lower point totals they have had all year. But that might not be sufficient to win the game. It challenges us in all respects.
Q: Is there a certain amount you think you will need to score to beat this team?
Coach Groh: I think we just have to be ready to get one more, whatever it takes. Block a kick, throw a long pass, intercept a pass I think we have to be prepared to score in any way possible.
Q: Is this an exciting time for Chris Long, and have you had any advice for him?
Coach Groh: It is an exciting time for him, kind of the Chris Long victory tour. I will join him tonight in Charlotte and meet him later in the week in Houston for the Lombardi [Award Ceremony], and he’s got some other ceremonies to attend. Already he has been a great representative for our program. Really as more people get to know him and he is called to a microphone or to stand in front of a camera, he not only represents our football program well, but he also represents his fellow students at the University of Virginia well. I think any student who hears Chris speak would say, He really represents the type of education that we have gotten at the University of Virginia.’ He has been a great ambassador for Virginia football, but also for his fellow students.
Q: What will you tell your relatively young team, a part of which has little or no bowl experience, over the next few weeks?
Coach Groh: We will rely upon those players who have experience on how we prepare teams to get ready, and that this is supposed to be an enjoyable time. The greatest enjoyment in going to this game is if your team embraces, as this one has, being a team and all things that go with it, not just the teamwork but the camaraderie, brotherhood and feelings that go with it and will stay with you as a member of that team for years and years. This team has had a great deal of fun together in everything they have done. This is the last opportunity for this team to do this. Certainly the seniors and those guys who have been together for a long time, they will begin to go their separate ways, but the close friends aren’t only seniors. They have close friends lining up next to them who are sophomores and juniors. They won’t be in this locker room after January 1st. Whether it is just riding the bus back and forth to practice or if it is to an actual event, in some respects the event isn’t important, it just gives us a chance to gather as a team. So we will have our fun in that particular way, but this team certainly has demonstrated in the past that we understand why we are going to the game, and that is to win the game. It is not a vacation trip. It is a chance to enjoy each other and have a nice time together, but the game is very important to us.