ZHOD Press Conference 12-24-16 | Heart of Dallas

ZHOD Press Conference 12-24-16

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl

Head Coaches News Conference

Cotton Bowl Stadium

Saturday, December 24, 2016

TIM SIMMONS:  We have Brant Ringler. He's the executive director. The beauty of this bowl game this year, first time ever in the history of college football that all three service academies have played in one metroplex in the same season. Obviously, Air Force was here in October playing New Mexico; yesterday, we had Navy playing Louisiana Tech; and, of course, they end it with Army and North Texas playing.

So, Brant, you are one of the architects of this. Did you get this all planned?

BRANT RINGLER:  No, not at all. Obviously, Air Force had a deal already set up to play New Mexico earlier here at the Cotton Bowl. We had the agreement, obviously, with the Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl. And then we have been fortunate to put this matchup together. When Army needed a home and we needed a team, it worked out perfectly to have them here as well.


TIM SIMMONS:  I call this the "Most‑Improved Bowl." Only the Bahamas Bowl had two teams ‑‑ I think it was ten improvement in games. This is plus nine. Can't ask for anything better.

BRANT RINGLER:  Great matchup. Obviously, the two teams have played before this year, but I think they're both interested in getting back on the field and playing again against each other. They have both been away from a bowl game for several years. And to be able to come in here, get more practices for their teams and everything, I think it's exciting for both teams to put this game together.


TIM SIMMONS:  Obviously, we had a Big Ten school ticketed for this against a Conference USA school. How did everything work out on that?

BRANT RINGLER:  Correct. Conference USA versus Big Ten was the plan. I don't think anybody expected the Big Ten to play four up into the College Football Playoff system. So when that occurred, that opened up a slot for us, which made Army available to us when they got their sixth and seventh win to be able to come here.

And then for us to really stay with our partnership with Conference USA, we really targeted North Texas to be in this game. The fact that they were so ‑‑ they are the number one team available from the APR standpoint, we couldn't be more ecstatic about that.

I think it's a story that's not told enough, that both these teams are in the top ten in APR. It's called "student‑athlete" for a reason. And these guys the last five years to have that phenomenal APR is fantastic. These guys have done great job, and we look forward to having both of them here, obviously.


TIM SIMMONS:  Army will be back next year hopefully?

BRANT RINGLER:  Hopefully, this is a precursor for the Armed Forces Bowl to have Army. We have our partnership with them next year. We are focused on this game right now and want both these teams to have great time.


TIM SIMMONS:  Coach, an opening statement about the bowl preparation. Obviously, you had to play a couple of weeks ago and got a big win. So just your thoughts about North Texas and being in this bowl.

COACH MONKEN:  Well, number one, congratulations to Coach Littrell and the North Texas team. We said last night at the dinner they earned an opportunity to be in a bowl game. It says a lot for an entire team effort.

We talked to our team about the same thing. And when we got our sixth win, we were one of the teams along with North Texas that was up there in the APR rankings, and it was going to give us an opportunity to be able to play in a bowl game because we had one of the highest APRs. That goes beyond what you just do on the field. It's what everybody on the team is doing and what our staff and our academy does to support our team to give us that opportunity. So congratulations to them.

We've played these guys before, obviously, this year. They came to West Point and beat us. Just a very athletic and a big, physical team that kind of took it to us. So we're going to have to play a lot better. We're going to have to play our very best football, best we're capable of, to have a chance to beat these guys. I so much admire the job that Coach Littrell has done with that program to turn it around so quickly.


COACH LITTRELL:  I want to congratulate Coach Monken and his squad. They did an incredible job this season. I followed them after we played them and just watched them week in, week out. Felt like they continued to grow as a football team and got better each and every week. What a way to cap it off by beating Navy. Congratulations to you guys.

I think it's two programs that are very similar in the sense that it's going to be a different ball game. Both teams have grown. Both teams have gotten better. This bowl game was key to us, not only to let our seniors go out the right way and be able to compete, but for the simple fact that we get extra practices to get better and builds momentum to go into spring ball.

Yeah, I'm very excited about the matchup. And it will be great competition. I know they are a very physical team. They cause a lot of issues, whether it's with their offense ‑‑ that's what a lot of people want to talk about ‑‑ but a lot of people don't realize they are one of the top defenses in the country, and I have a lot of respect of what they do.

They are well‑rounded in all three phases. So, first, I just want to say thank you to the Heart of Dallas Bowl for having us. They treat us first‑class. Everything has been unbelievable. And we get an opportunity to stay home and our players and their families get an opportunity to come over here and see them play one last time together.


TIM SIMMONS:  Talk about some of your players that are to watch for the people. Who are you singling out on the team?

COACH LITTRELL:  Well, I think the keys to this game is what we talk about a lot. It's up front. It's those offensive linemen. They are the ones that make it go, and we got to do a great job running the football.

So, obviously, Jeffrey Wilson is a very important player to watch. Kenny Buyers, sitting right down there, a senior that moved over from defense. He played cornerback. He was out all then season this past year and has had some really good games this year. Really excited about watching him finish out his career this weekend.  And then Fred Scott, one of our senior captain linebackers, he's key to make our defense go.

And I think another key would be defensively our safeties. Kishawn McClain had a really good game the last time we played against them.

And the guy that didn't deserve a lot of credit but probably played as good or better than anybody in the secondary was James Gray. He was a really important factor for our success when we played Army the first time.


COACH MONKEN:  The three guys we brought with us, our two captains, Jeremy Timpf and Andrew King, are our inside linebackers. They've led our team in tackles ‑‑ one of the two of them has led our team in tackles each of the last three years. And really, our defense kind of rallies around these two guys. They do a great job leading our team and leading our defense.

Then Ahmad Bradshaw, who is our quarterback, he's a great competitor, very poised, and the first quarterback to lead Army to a victory over Navy in the last 15 years. So, obviously, these guys have meant a lot to our success this year and we're really excited about these guys.

We've got a bunch of great guys on our team. That's the thing I really like about our guys. They play together. They are very unselfish and play as a team. We don't have any guys on our team that are all‑star, just knock‑your‑socks‑off, great players; we've just got a bunch of good, tough, hard‑nosed guys that try real hard and play well together. I hope we will be able to do that one more time this year.


TIM SIMMONS:  Seth, talk about Army and some of the players that kind of stood out in watching film. Obviously, you played them once, but you probably studied a lot more film.

COACH LITTRELL:  Again, as an offensive guy, just watching overall their defense. Up front, they cause some issues in your run game, the way they can cut the front up and muddy it up. Their guys play extremely hard. They are all over the field. They give great effort.

Secondary‑wise, you may feel like you have some things that you can attack, but they understand where ‑‑ every offense, every defense has a weakness somewhere. And some guys are going to try to attack that weakness. But I think the key is they understand where their weaknesses lie within their scheme, and they do a good job of coaching that up. This is what you're going to see. And I think they do an unbelievable job overall of playing fast.

Offensively, they cause a lot of issues. Obviously, it's something you don't see a lot of. They are very good at what they do. Obviously, it's unique. If they get their fullback rolling up inside and it starts stretching you out on your perimeter, you can have a lot of issues.


TIM SIMMONS:  Coach Monken, talk about the Mean Green.

COACH MONKEN:  Well, I mentioned earlier, I feel like they are a very athletic team. Frankly, I don't know if we got a bunch of guys that we think match up real good with their guys. They run really fast and are very athletic. Like I said, our guys are trying to play hard and be tough and execute our schemes.

So impressed with their team. I mean, they did a bunch of good things, not just with their offensive skill guys. Their running back ran through us in that game as good as anybody did all year. Very athletic on the perimeter wide receivers. We threw a stop route out in the flat early in the game and it went off the top of our receiver's hands. And their guy made a great play and was able to adjust and return the thing for a touchdown, cut back, and really, really impressive.

And then they're big. We knew they were big, we watched them on film. I swear, at halftime, I wanted to go and feed our guys cheeseburgers. (Laughter.)

They are so much bigger than us. It's tough, it's tough to move guys that big and really good on their feet.

So, as I said, it's not ‑‑ we don't have a bunch of easy matchups at West Point. And this one in particular, these guys are athletic and big and there's a lot of challenges for us for sure.


TIM SIMMONS:  Talk about playing in the historic Cotton Bowl. Obviously you were at Oklahoma, so you've been here.  What does it mean for the team?

COACH LITTRELL:  It's a venue that I grew up watching. And growing up in my house, OU‑Texas every year at the Cotton Bowl. We would actually come to that game a lot. My father played at Oklahoma so he would bring me to some games here. And so I got to watch a lot of those games growing up, and I had the opportunity to play in some of those games.

For our team, we got here in 2013. We had a great experience in 2013 and our fans had a great experience. Everybody got to come out, pack the stadium, and it felt more like a home crowd. And then it's an opportunity, again, like I said earlier, for staying close to home. Now all their families get to all travel here. It's a little easier and, again, get to play together one more time. We're thankful for the opportunity.


TIM SIMMONS:  Coach, playing in the Cotton Bowl, a lot of kids from Texas on your roster.

COACH MONKEN:  We do. We have a lot of young men on our team that call Texas home and a lot of them are from the Dallas area. This is a great city. We have really enjoyed the few days we have been here. There's been a number of great events that the Bowl's put together for us. And I think our guys are really enjoying being here. This is football country. People here like football. They respect good football. And to be able to play in a historic stadium like this is really incredible for our team.

The guys that play at West Point are very fortunate. We get to play in some really neat places. And we played the Army‑Navy game just a couple of weeks ago at the Baltimore Ravens stadium. And we got to play at the Alamo Dome earlier this year, made a trip down here to Texas. And to play in a stadium like this is really incredible.

We're excited about it. We're excited about the opportunity to play here in Dallas and be in front of so many of our guys' families and be in several of our players' hometown. We, too, are getting a lot of families coming in for the game. So I know our guys will be glad to see them here at the holiday time.


TIM SIMMONS:  Last year we had a Monken in the bowl game with Southern Miss. You are coaching this one. Is there another Monken out there coaching a game next year?

COACH MONKEN:  I don't know. I hope they will keep me around at Army for a while and I can keep coaching these guys. I love being the coach at West Point. It's a terrific place.

My cousin Todd is an outstanding football coach. So proud of what he's done, the job he did at Southern Miss and what he's doing with the Buccaneers this year. Terrific football coach. I'm sure he was lot fun to watch as an offense. He does a great job with what he does.


TIM SIMMONS:  We had Washington in the bowl game. So both of you guys ‑‑ you can aspire to aspire to be in the playoff next year?

Seth, let's talk about what you're going to do the next few days leading into the bowl game.  Obviously, we have our press conference a couple days early. What are you going to be doing over the next two days?

COACH LITTRELL:  Well, first thing, I'm excited about, since we finished practice, I got to get my golf skills and make sure ‑‑ they have been calling me out a little bit. So we are going to go to Top Golf and I'm going to whip up on a couple of them. We got a pretty good competition fixing to happen with everybody. That's going to be a lot of fun.

We are just getting back into preparation. We'll have Christmas tomorrow. Wake up, and we'll spend Christmas going out there and working and getting better and having our Thursday practice. Then we'll come back and a lot of their families are in town, so those who are and those who are local, we'll give them a lot of family time in the afternoon. Then we'll have a Christmas dinner together.

Then it's just normal preparation, getting your Thursday‑Friday work and getting prepared for your Saturday morning.


COACH MONKEN:  We're going to Top Golf. I know our guys are looking forward to that, just being able to do some fun things together. We don't get a chance to do that very much, especially during the season, and to be able to take part in activities like this as a team is pretty special.

And since so many of our guys are from all around the country and we're in Dallas and they are away from their families, tonight we're going to kind of take our family, the Army football brotherhood, out for dinner and we're looking forward to that. We're going to take them to a restaurant and enjoy Christmas Eve dinner together. And some of the guys are going to attend services tonight.

And then in the morning, they wake up and see what Santa Claus brought them for Christmas. And then as Coach said, we'll go out and practice and we'll go to SMU, which has been a great facility for us. We are thankful to SMU and the Bowl Committee for setting that up for us. And we'll practice tomorrow.

And they've got another event for us to go to the movies tomorrow afternoon. And we'll try to stay off our feet and try to get rested up for the game. We go out to dinner again tomorrow night. And then we're pretty much into game preparation on the 26th.


Q. Coach Littrell, talk a little bit about your quarterback situation heading into this game with Alec (Morris) and Mason (Fine).

COACH LITTRELL:  Alec has probably had his two best weeks of practice that he has had since he's been here. He's managed it very well. He's been playing at a high level. Right now, feel like he's the guy that we're going to go count on to help us have some success.

So Mason's healthy. He's fine. He's missed a lot of reps, obviously, with some of the injuries. So he couldn't practice as much leading up to this game as we would have liked, but at the end of the day, he'll be ready on game day.


Q. How close is (Jeffrey) Wilson to being 100% in the backfield?

COACH LITTRELL:  As close as he's going to get, I guess. He's been practicing well. I think he's close. I don't know if he's 100%, but he's been running the ball well and he's back at full go. He's working.


Q. You guys are down a couple of maybe the skill position players who made a big impact the last time you guys played Army with Terian (Goree) and Willy (Ivery) not being available. How does that impact your team heading into this game?

COACH LITTRELL:  As a team, guys got to step up. One man goes down, another steps in. And sometimes you have to do it as a group. Sometimes individuals step up and do their part. Again, any success we've had this year whatsoever has been a team effort overall. These men have worked extremely hard to put themselves in position to where they can accomplish their mission.


Q. Coach Monken, what are the main things that you concentrate on particularly in a rematch‑type situation? Is it about bringing out surprises since they've seen one version of you? What is it about for you?

COACH MONKEN:  Just try to execute, doing the best job we can to execute our offense, defense, and special teams. We don't have a bunch of tricks and secrets. Usually, if you try to break those out or do something entirely different, you don't execute them as well as you do the stuff that you practice every day. So we just try to do the best we can being fundamentally sound, being good blockers and tacklers and taking care of the ball. Something we didn't do a very good job the last time we played these guys. They took the ball away from us a bunch, and the result was not good for us. So we just got to try to execute the fundamentals and techniques that we teach these guys and execute our game plan. And that, we hope, will be good enough.