ZHODB Team Annoucement | Heart of Dallas

ZHODB Team Annoucement

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl

Team Announcement, Sunday December 4, 2016

BRANT RINGLER:  I want to congratulate Boo Corrigan and Jeff Monken on Army making it to our bowl game. Same with Wren Baker and Seth Littrell. The Academy and University of North Texas, we couldn't be happier having these two fine schools here in the Dallas metroplex to take part in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas bowl.

TIM SIMMONS:  Obviously, Conference USA was ticketed with the game along with a Big Ten school. How did this matchup come about?

BRANT RINGLER:  In the past couple years, you probably have noticed, the Conference USA championship has occurred, we received usually the champion or the runner‑up. And it was probably going to look to be that way possibly this year as well. But when we had an opening in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces bowl game that we also control, we did work out an agreement with Conference USA to have LA Tech play in the Armed Forces bowl. Therefore, it allowed us to be able to slide in the University of North Texas into the Heart of Dallas bowl, which is a win‑win for all of us all around.

And then, when the Big Ten today played four‑up, basically, three in the New Year's Six games and one in the CFP, it allowed the opportunity for us to have Army play as their opponent. So we're excited about the matchup. We know that Army is going to bring a large contingency because the Texas area is one of their hotbeds. And, obviously, with North Texas here just up the road from us, we saw what they did three years ago and bringing in a contingency of fans.

We think we have a heck of a matchup not only on the field but also in the stadium. So we're very excited.

TIM SIMMONS:  Obviously, you are playing two days after Christmas. How does that fit into everything? Because the last two games have been played the day after Christmas.

BRANT RINGLER:  It's still during the holiday period. We feel like that's still conducive for the fans to take part in it. Sometimes the day after Christmas it's hard to travel on Christmas for some fans. So it gives them an extra window of time to get here. So we feel that's a positive for us.

Q. Were you at all concerned just about the fact that these two teams played each other a couple months ago? I know sometimes bowls like to avoid rematches like that.

BRANT RINGLER:  We had that discussion with the conference office and wanted to make sure everybody was comfortable with that. In the long run, we felt like the matchup was best for everybody in the fact that the travel component for the University of North Texas to come here as well, that's a large part of making sure a bowl experience is good for the fans and for the teams. So it made the most sense in putting that matchup back together.

Q. You mentioned a couple of times how many people in North Texas brought the last time they were in the Heart of Dallas bowl. How big of a factor did that play in your push to get them in here this year?

BRANT RINGLER:  It's a very important part of the business. At the end of the day, this is a business. And so we wanted to make sure that we fill the Cotton Bowl as best as we can. It's a very large stadium. We know we're not going to fill it. It holds over 90,000 seats. We mainly try to fill the lower bowl.

We saw what North Texas brought last time. We felt like they have a great opportunity to do something similar to that again.

Q. You guys have a relationship with these service academies. Was this kind of a natural thing to slide these guys in here when they got to their sixth win?

BRANT RINGLER:  We have a great relationship with both Academies. It's just actually coincidental this year. I don't know.  If we didn't have a relationship with Army already how smooth it would have been.  Working with Boo Corrigan and Bob Beretta and those gentleman at Army has been fantastic.

We had Army here in 2010 in the Armed Forces bowl, and they had a great experience here in the Dallas area. Like I mentioned earlier, the fact that this is a large area for them, not only for recruiting but for military personnel, for alumni and donors and things along that line. We know this is a large marketplace for them, and it was important for them to be in this place.

Q. Was there a waiver process for them because of some of the FCS wins they had?

BRANT RINGLER:  Yeah.  The APR process that is in place, they were able to choose first based on the rules currently stipulated by the NCAA.

TIM SIMMONS:  Question and issue with the Zaxby's. I think this is our sixth or seventh year, third or fourth for ESPN. Any plans this year for the bowl game and promotions around it?

BRANT RINGLER:  For the players that come in during bowl week ‑‑

TIM SIMMONS:  I would like to welcome Boo Corrigan to the teleconference. What's your comments about coming to the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas bowl and coming to North Texas?

BOO CORRIGAN:  We are thrilled as an institution and the United State military academy to have the opportunity to come down to Dallas. Our coaches are excited. Our kids ‑‑ the young men in our program are excited.  Obviously, Dallas is a very patriotic place and a place that means a lot to us as an Academy, both to our graduates, as well as current members of our team and couldn't be more excited and look forward to the opportunity to play North Texas again.

TIM SIMMONS:  What went into the process as you waited for all the stuff to happen? Obviously, they had a Conference USA/Big Ten tie‑in. How was the weeks leading up till today's announcement?

BOO CORRIGAN:  We got off to a really good start this year to be 3‑0.  And, looking at the rest of our schedule, we felt we would have a shot at getting to 6 or getting to 7 since we play the two IAAs.  And we started making some phone calls early and looking at the whole thing.

As it narrowed down, we stayed in contact with Brant and a number of other people in and around the Heart of Dallas bowl just to make sure they knew how interested we were, not only in able but in the opportunity to come down to Dallas and represent this wonderful academy.

Q. Just how big is it for Army to get to a bowl game in this season? It's been a while since you guys have been to a bowl.

BOO CORRIGAN:  It's huge. It really is. You can't underestimate what it is.  By bringing Coach Monken in three years ago, he had a plan and looking at what he has been able to build, it's an interesting opportunity to be able to recruit at an academy. And I think there's a learning scale there. A lot of times that plebe year, which is the freshman year everywhere else ‑‑ we call them plebes ‑‑ can be very taxing on you physically and mentally and emotionally. And Jeff has done such a good job in bringing our team and our program along and getting the buy‑in from the upper classmen and getting everyone on the same page and the opportunity to, again, move this program forward.

We think it holds significance in the game of college football. And we think we owe it to college football and to the country to be competitive.

Q. Without the conference affiliation, obviously, you mentioned sort of starting this process very early in the season. Do you have to sort of ‑‑ I guess, how much of a challenge is it to sort of build those relationships on your own without the tie‑ins? And how important was that when you ended up in the situation you were in with the sort of six wins with two FCS teams having to wait that out as well?

BOO CORRIGAN:  It's part of it. No challenges, only opportunities, right, as you are looking at what it is in front of you. The good thing is who we are and who we represent means something around the country. So there wasn't a single person we talked to associated with any of the bowls that wasn't kind of pulling for us. Whether or not they could do anything to get us into their bowl is a totally different thing, and that's contractual. But the good thing was is we were talking to people around the country. First of all, they were answering our phone call, which is always the first hope you have. But the chance to even talk to them about what it is and who we are and what we represent, I think people are excited that West Point football is on its way back. And they wanted to do anything they could to help us.

And people like Brant and others, it's such a tight‑knit community that we had others saying, "We don't have anything.  But, if we can help you, let me know," which was encouraging.

TIM SIMMONS:  Coach, congratulations on your bid to the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas bowl. Just kind of your thoughts about coming to Dallas. And, obviously, the last time the Black Knights were in a bowl game, it was at SMU sports stadium, and you defeated SMU. They were kind of like the home team. You are playing another school like a home team. So what are your thoughts?

COACH MONKEN:  We're just excited about the opportunity. Our kids are thrilled.  And we've, obviously, unlike most other teams, have another game to play, one that's awfully important to us.  So we are pouring everything we got right now into that game. When that's one done, hopefully with a victory, we will have a chance to turn our attention to the bowl game.

Our kids are just thrilled, the sense of accomplishment. I think anybody who plays football at this level, playing in a bowl game is kind of a measure of success. And it was something that each of the teams I have been a part of here has had as a goal, and I was so glad for our guys to be able to earn this opportunity.

TIM SIMMONS:  Obviously, you got 13 players by my count on the roster from the state of Texas.  Six make a healthy contribution to your team. Just your thoughts about playing in Texas, recruiting Texas, and maybe highlight some of those key players from Texas that will be playing in our bowl game.

COACH MONKEN:  We do have a lot of guys from Texas. I'd hate to leave any of them out. They are all so important to us. And it's a great, great football state. And we've actually got ‑‑ beyond our roster, there are other guys that are in our program including our prep school program that are from the state of Texas. And to be able to come down there and have those guys play in front of their families and friends and hometown fans and to get the exposure in Dallas, in the heart of Texas.

We are recruiting a bunch of guys right now this year from Texas. Have several guys that have already made their pledge of commitment to come and join this program from there. It's exciting and it's a great city. And what a historic venue the Cotton Bowl, just really an exciting time for our program.

TIM SIMMONS:  Could you highlight a player or two on each side of the football and then special teams that you'll be counting on in the bowl game?  

COACH MONKEN:  In the bowl game, probably the vocal leader of our team and a guy that kind of stays out as our leader is Andrew King. He's an inside linebacker. And our guys voted both of our inside linebackers as their team captains this year. Jeremy Timpf as well. Those two guys are kind of the ‑‑ the defense is built around those two. They make a lot of plays for us. They led our teams in tackles.  In the last three years, one or the other has led our team in tackles. I think both of those guys are outstanding players.

On offense, certainly our quarterback is an important piece for us, Ahmad Bradshaw. We have used Chris Carter plenty. He has played a lot of football for us. And we need those guys to play well if our offense is going to go. We got a receiver named Edgar Poe who has made a lot of plays for us. In an option offense where you are one of the leading rushing teams in the country, you don't often talk about your receivers. But he's such an important part of our offense, people have to pay attention to him. He's got great ball skills. He is an aggressive blocker. And I think he's a really good player.

And then on the special teams, we got a lot of guys that are just good, tough players and play really hard. And there's, oh, I don't know, three, four, five of those guys that play on all four special teams. "All four" meaning punt, punt return, kickoff, kickoff return. And they aren't necessarily guys that will play a lot of offensive and defensive snaps, but they take a lot of pride in special teams.

One of those guys is Max Regan. He's a Texas guy. He started on all the special teams last year as a freshman, and he's a backup safety but playing on all the special teams again this year. So he's doing a really good job for our program.

TIM SIMMONS:  This is one of the few bowl games where you have a rematch of the regular season game. Obviously, on October 22nd on your home field North Texas won. What are your thoughts about North Texas? Are you planning anything different that you can tell us?

COACH MONKEN:  They did a heck of a job. They beat us, and they're just loaded with a bunch of guys that are really good athletes. We're really impressed with them, the way they run, their athleticism. I don't mean just the skill guys. Their linemen, their defensive linemen, they move really well.

And they're a challenge. They're a challenge to deal with because of that. They're a big football team. They're certainly size‑wise bigger than us. So I guess part of the reason we do what we do on offense is to try to eliminate some of the difference in size and speed and athleticism.

So, hopefully, we're going to do a better job of executing. We didn't do that when they were here. We turned the ball over far too many times to win a football game. If we're going to have a chance to win, we're going to have to correct some of those things.

TIM SIMMONS:  We had your cousin Todd here last year, and you're in the bowl game this year. Is there another family member we can count on in 2017 to be in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas bowl?

COACH MONKEN:  (Laughter)  Maybe it will be us again. We'll see. We're so pleased to be coming to Dallas. It's, like I said, a great city. And we're really excited to play in the game. I just am thrilled about the opportunity to play in a place where I know football is king. That's certainly the case in Texas. We are looking forward to being down there with you.

Q. Coach, the last time UNT played you guys, Jeffery Wilson, running back, had 350 yards and three touchdowns. How would you just assess him as a player? What are your plans for hopefully trying to slow him down?

COACH MONKEN:  We knew going into the game he was an outstanding player. We knew he was going to be a load for us to handle. We were really impressed with him in the film that we saw leading up to the game. And we talked a lot about him to our team and with our guys on defense about what we were going to need to do to try to slow him down.  And give credit to the offensive line for North Texas, too. They did a great job and opened up some holes for him. So we're, obviously, going to have to come up with a way to keep him in check. Anytime a running back rushes for 150 yards, it's a tough day on your defense. So they did a lot of things well.  And he's a really, really good player.

Q. Can you just talk about how big it is, your program, to get to a bowl game this year?

COACH MONKEN:  I think it's big for every program. It is certainly big for ours. It's not a given.  And they don't let everybody go. You got to earn it. And I'm proud of our team for doing the things that we needed to do, not only winning enough games but doing the things in the classroom that it takes to position ourselves to have an opportunity to go.

As I said earlier, I think going to a bowl game is a measure of success at this level. And just to be able to say we're in a bowl game says that we have got a successful program and that we have won more than we lost.

So I'm really proud of our kids. They've worked really, really, really hard to get our program. And they play with such a tremendous sense of pride and representing this Academy, representing the United States Army. And they believe in each other. There's just such a great sense of brotherhood on this team, and I'm so happy for them that they get to be rewarded with an opportunity to play another game, play in a bowl game, which I think is one of the great rewards in playing college football, is getting a chance to play in a bowl game.

Q. Have you guys gotten better, improved, since that game against UNT? Cleaned up the turnovers? How would you assess what progress that you've made leading up to this point since then?

COACH MONKEN:  We had some ups and downs. The North Texas game wasn't ‑‑ certainly wasn't one that I would want to put out there and say I'm really proud of our performance. It wasn't due to a lack of effort. Just, like I said, we turned the ball over so many times. And a lot of those were at the end of the game. We were down, and we were just fighting as hard as we could to try to get back in it and score.  And we threw three interceptions late in the game just trying to push the ball down the field.  But those added to a pretty big total, and that looks pretty bad on a stat sheet.

We didn't do a great job on defense. When you have a running back and a team in general run the ball as successfully as they did against us, that's not good. I believe you got to run the ball successfully and stop the run to be a good football team and to win. And we didn't do that well enough.

But we had some good victories following that game where I felt like we played better, and just didn't ‑‑ challenged the kids to not let that define who we are as a football team.

We had some tough games. We didn't win them all, but we had some good victories following that. Hopefully we have improved as a team. And that's what we strive for all the time, is just try to get better.

Q. What do you think about playing North Texas again after playing them in the regular season? Would you like to play somebody different? What do you think about having that same matchup again?

COACH MONKEN:  I'm just thrilled with the opportunity to play in a bowl game. Hopefully, our guys will be motivated by the fact that we didn't play very good against North Texas the last time and have a chance to prove that we're better than we were that day.

North Texas has got a good football team, and they're going to present a lot of challenges for us just like they did when they were here. But it's an opportunity for us. You don't get many second chances.

As I will tell our guys, you get the same team on the schedule twice, you better have a different result the second time. It won't look very good to have two losses to the same team in the same year.

I think the guys will be excited to play. Like I said, they're a well‑coached football team. What a great job they've done getting their team to this position. It frankly doesn't much matter to me. To be in a bowl game is a great opportunity, and it doesn't matter who you play. It's fun to be in the conversation.

TIM SIMMONS:  Coach, thank you very much. Good luck this weekend against your rivals, Navy. We look forward to seeing you in about three weeks.

We will turn to North Texas now. Congratulations on getting the Mean Green to a bowl game. Just your thoughts about playing in the Cotton Bowl and playing in your backyard.

WREN BAKER:  Well, first of all, huge credit to all of our players and coaches for really turning around a team that won one game last year and winning five years and certainly having a chance to win a lot more. And credit to all our players who have been here and the players who have already left as well as Coach McCarney and Rick Villarreal for the APR and the academic success. And I'm especially proud that that's a reason that we were selected.  And we're excited to be in a bowl and very excited to be in our backyard in the Heart of Dallas bowl and represent Texas and represent the DFW area against a team that is a great team in Army and a team that we had a great game against earlier this year.

We're just excited to be in a bowl game and to have all of the particulars that are in this one set.

Q. How big is this to have this happen for you in your first year as AD, to immediately go out there and have this kind of success to go to a bowl game?

WREN BAKER:  Well, I think it's much bigger for the program and the momentum that I felt like we've been building all along the way. And all of that credit is due to our coaches and our players.

But it does make our jobs as administrators easier. When you win games, when you build excitement, when you have momentum, when you can see progress, it makes it easier to sell tickets and raise money and to continue to build this program, which we're all dedicated to doing. And the University has put a huge emphasis on we really want to have a successful athletic program and a successful football team. This rewards the investment that we have been making and helps us financially to help to continue make those investments.

Q. This is y'all's second bowl game in ten years. What do you say to the student population who's obviously very excited to get to go back to a bowl game and compete in the post‑season?

WREN BAKER:  Listen, I think one of the things that our current students need to know is a big reason, I think, we were invited to this game is we showed up so well last game. We had by most estimates over 30,000 fans there, and a substantial number of those were students. So we're going to roll out some students and some student pricing in the coming days.

But we need our students to rally behind this team. We have 38,000 students, and we have over a quarter million alums in the metro area. We need to fill up the Cotton Bowl. This is a special time. Every one of these is special. And, you know, so much has been said about this being one of the only rematches, but we have so much respect for Coach Monken. I followed his career when he was at Georgia Southern and always thought he did a great job. Boo Corrigan is one of the best athletic directors in the country. Everybody can have respect for Army, not only their football program, but many of the cadets who sacrifice to protect our freedoms and fight for our country.

So our students have every reason in the world to show up. And I'm encouraging them to do that. We're going to blast them with every communication source available. And I'm confident that they're going to come help us root us on to victory.

TIM SIMMONS:  Seth, congratulations in the first season getting your team to a bowl game. Just give your thoughts about playing in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas bowl and, obviously, playing the opponents you already defeated this season.

COACH LITTRELL:  Well, first of all, I just want to congratulate our coaches, our players, our administration.  They have done an unbelievable job. Wren Baker, Dr. Smatresk, just an incredible job of supporting this program. It couldn't have been done without those men and our players.

The transition is always a challenge when it's a new coaching staff.  And the guys that were here, I'm extremely proud of the way they bought into this program, this coaching staff, trusted us and built relationships. You know, I'm just extremely proud and excited to those guys to be able to stay home and represent Texas in the Heart of Dallas bowl. It's an unbelievable feeling. When we told those players today where we were going, we could see the smiles light up. There was a lot of energy, a lot of excitement. To be able to stay home and their families get a chance to see them play in a bowl game.

You put it together with playing an unbelievable opponent like Army and the tradition they have.  And they're extremely well‑coached in Coach Monken. I'm a big fan of his and what he has done with his program and those cadets. Again, it's an unbelievable experience to play those men any every time you get an opportunity because you respect them so much for the things they do not only on and off the football field but also how they represent our country and the things they have to do.

We are extremely excited to stay at home and be at the Heart of Dallas. I know it will be an unbelievable matchup. And we will be really excited about it.

TIM SIMMONS:  How important is it to be in a bowl game in respect to your recruiting? Obviously, Texas has got a lot of great players and noted for its football. How important is it from that standpoint?

COACH LITTRELL:  Well, it's huge. It brings a lot of energy and excitement around your program. We have gone out recruiting this past week. There's a lot of alums. There's a lot of former alums and former players that coach high school football out there that are extremely excited.  And we get to go to these schools.  And they get proud, proud of North Texas guys coming in their school, recruiting their student‑athletes. That's been a lot of fun.

And then, also, just it's huge for recruiting. I mean, it's another opportunity for them to come out and watch us practice here and at the same time build our future foundation of these guys, and be in a bowl game is what these guys aspire to do in the future.

But not only recruiting.  It's a great time for ‑‑ not only for our seniors and getting them the opportunity to leave on the right note, but also just setting the foundation of our younger players, continue to get a couple of weeks to develop those young men and get them into our system, let them be coached a little bit more. Maybe some of the redshirt guys that didn't get as many reps, keep them involved in our system and continue to get better each and every day.

TIM SIMMONS:  You have been in a bowl game as a player, won a national championship at Oklahoma, been an assistant coach. Now you have a chance to win a game as a head coach. What kind of feeling is that for you personally?

COACH LITTRELL:  Well, again, it's a great opportunity. Again, that's all we can ask for, is the opportunity to go in there and compete. This game is far bigger than anything about me. It's more about our players and our coaches and the job they've done.

Again, I'm extremely proud of those guys. Trust me, everybody's bigger than one man in this program. One individual player, one individual coach. It's all about just the sacrifice and just getting one day better, getting one week better. So that's what we're looking forward to.

When we win and lose, we win and lose as a group. So, again, I'm excited for the chance to compete against Army. I think it will be a great game.

TIM SIMMONS:  How important is it that you get to see Army play Navy this weekend and your team is resting up for three weeks?

COACH LITTRELL:  I'm going to tell you, I'm going to watch that game not so much scouting in a sense because we're so ‑‑ neither one of us are similar. I can promise you this:  We are not going to roll out and start running the triple option. That game, really besides the factor of just watching those two teams compete on tape will be a lot of fun.

There's not a lot of crossover, let's say. The biggest thing I'm excited for is watching Army Navy, because it's a game you watch every single year. It's a game of two historic programs coming together at the end of season and playing each other. There's always a lot of energy and passion and competitive energy going around. That's just a game every single year, no matter where you are at, it's always a fun and exciting game to watch.

Q. How big a jumping‑off point can it be for your program to be in a bowl game at the end of your first season?

COACH LITTRELL:  Well, it brings it to momentum. What brings more momentum is if you can have great preparation and win the bowl game. I told our players today, we're going to have a lot of fun in the next couple weeks preparing for the bowl. Bowl games are supposed to be fun.

I can tell you the most fun thing you can do at a bowl game is win a bowl game. That's what we have to have as our mindset. At the end of the day, going in there and competing, when you win that bowl game, it just gives you so much more momentum going in the off‑season.

Again, I'm extremely proud of the seniors and how they bought into what they're trying to set. I think we got a jump start on our culture and foundation, and we need to continue to improve it and get better. And this will allow us to get one step closer.

Q. I know you would have liked to have gotten a bowl game by winning six, seven, or eight or more games. What message does it send to the guys, hey, part of the reason we got to this game is because we took care of the program as a whole and you did the things off the field we're supposed to do as well?

COACH LITTRELL:  First off, you have to give a lot of credit and thanks to Rick Villarreal and Ben McCarney getting those guys to where APR is at. Yes, obviously, the main goal was ‑‑ our mission, actually, is to win our bowl game. That was our mission, that was our goal from day one.

We're fortunate to have the opportunity. And, at the end of the day, we didn't even feel like we could get in this way.  But we did. We will take it. It gives us another great opportunity to really accomplish the mission.

But, at the end of the day, it's one of those things to where I'm just glad we have another opportunity to ‑‑ all the things we talked about this year as a team, how we've grown each and every week, how we've prepared, how we've taught them how to work during the week ‑‑ you can't cheat the game.

It's just a great opportunity for us to, again, go out and see if we can accomplish the mission that we set day one.

Q. Two of your biggest offensive players were banged up at the end of the season, Jeff and Mason. How is their rehab going? What is their status going to be on the 27th?

COACH LITTRELL:  I think they will be good.  Again, you can never guarantee anything. I feel pretty good about those guys. Those guys are out there running around and practicing. They're still not 100%. Some of that just depends on how they continue to heal up through some of this bowl prep. They'll get a little bit more time off now because it's a little later game. And much needed time.  So, at the end of the day, I think they'll both be fine, 100% health‑wise.

The thing that always concerns me as a coach is how many practices and how much time you have taken off and how much really live reps you can get throughout the week to get prepared for the game. Jeffery came in UTEP.  And was he 100%? No. But he was close. I think what more hurt Jeffery, you know, in the UTEP game was a little bit of rush. He hadn't practiced in over a week, and he had some half‑speed run‑through. You can't dictate the game in practice.

That's the biggest concern.  Not so much if they will be ready to go the 27th. It's more if they will have enough live reps to where we get them going a little bit quicker.

Q. You already faced Army once this season and picked up a win. How do you go about preparing for Army again?

COACH LITTRELL:  Well, first of all, they're going to make some adjustments. It was one of those days we came in. Our defense played really well. We ended up getting seven turnovers, which we needed every single one of them.

Offensively we really sputtered in the first half. We didn't do much at all. We came out and made some adjustments and did really good job running the football in the second half.

They're going to make adjustments. We're going to make adjustments. At the end of the day, we're still going to prepare the same way. We're going to try to figure out exactly how they were trying to attack from the first game and try to hopefully foresee kind of what direction they would go in to attack it from the second game. That's what it comes down to.

The biggest thing is about making sure your players know what the scheme is, making sure ‑‑ you can coach them as hard as possible on all aspects of the game. But at the end of the day, you got to get them ready and make sure they get to the game fully healthy. A lot of this time, man, this time of year it comes down to which team is the most excited to play and which team can execute the best.

Q. You mentioned Jeffery Wilson wasn't 100% at UTEP. I know he had knee surgery. What exactly did he have repaired?

COACH LITTRELL:  I don't even know if I can even say that. That's not a fair question in the sense I wouldn't want to do that to Jeffery. It wasn't significant. It was something we had to go under, and it was a quick fix. It wasn't anything major.

And proud of the way he worked to get himself back. But, again, wasn't quite 100%. Again, the biggest thing I am of the players, if you are ready to play and the doctors clear you, even if the doctors clear you, I'm going to make sure you are comfortable going back out there and want to do it.

The thing with Jeffery, he's extremely tough. He wants to be out there. He wants to be playing.

But just as you see him, coming off a deal like that, it's hard to get the practice reps. That's what's most important, just getting in the flow of the game, the speed of the game. Just didn't feel like he was ‑‑ and he shouldn't have been. He wasn't there yet. He wasn't 100%. We just got to make sure we get him back to that range by the time we hit the Heart of Dallas.

TIM SIMMONS:  Can you single out a player on offense and defense and special teams that will be instrumental in your success in the bowl game?

COACH LITTRELL:  I think getting Jeffery back. He's been the reason offensively, if you look at the entire year, he's been our most explosive weapon. So really the biggest thing we had to do is make sure he's 100% going at the football again.

When we get him touches, he's proven all year long that he's able to make big, explosive plays. We got to continue to make sure that he does this in this bowl game.

TIM SIMMONS:  On defense?

COACH LITTRELL:  On defense, Kishawn McClain. I'll tell you what, two players on defense which really affected this past game, I do believe, Kishawn McClain had an unbelievable game. Just setting up all the runs, seeing all the different things that was having to see.

And probably the MVP that no one talks about that game was James Gray. He didn't make one tackle ‑‑ I don't know how many tackles. He didn't make very many. But he was out on the perimeter all night long forcing the ball back inside to Kishawn. I think James Gray has to have another big day.

TIM SIMMONS:  Thank you very much for your participation. Look forward to seeing you in three weeks. Congratulations to your team and school.

COACH LITTRELL:  We're honored. Thank you so much.