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Texas A&M Aggies
Duke Blue Devils
Texas A&M Football

Aggies, Blue Devils welcome Chick-fil-A stage

December 28, 2013
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Duke Blue Devils

Moderator: "At this time I'll introduce head coach of Duke University, Coach David Cutcliffe, Coach, good to have you. And we have quarterback Anthony Boone and cornerback Ross Cockrell that will be joining us as well. Coach, I'll start off with you, and if we can get an opening statement, maybe you can talk about how your bowl week experience has been
so far?"

Cutcliffe: "Certainly. First thing I want to say is I love hanging out with my two friends here. I'd go anywhere with them. Ross and Anthony are great representations of the Duke football team and the quality of the player and the quality of the young man. We cannot say enough about the hospitality that the Chick-fil-A Bowl people, Gary, you and your staff have been incredible. Everything is right to a Coach's liking, on time and efficient. Now, I love that, so it's really been a lot of fun. Atlanta is a great, great venue as a city. The Georgia Dome has been incredible for practice. We're actually back in there today. I think our team the second year in a row as a bowl game  has adjusted to bowl life a little. I think they've certainly enjoyed themselves as they should.  But our practices, our work has been exceptional. Our meetings have been meaningful and exceptional to this point, so I'm very pleased with that.

"I think  the thing that I would attribute that to would be the leadership amongst our players. Our peer leadership in my opinion is second to none. When you've got people like Ross and Anthony and the other captains and other seniors that are committed to the process, then you're going to get a great week of bowl preparation. But it's been fun, great events. Certainly the Chick-fil-A people have treated us well. I got to change my exercise routine. I've been fed so well here that I've got to lose a few pounds now, but we've certainly enjoyed it."

Moderator: "Players — Anthony, talk about what your experience has been like so far related to the Battle for Bowl Week, what's been your favorite event so far?"

Boone: "I really enjoyed the team milkshake competition. That was a lot of fun just being able to root a group of guys on instead of like a one-on-one battle. That was a lot of fun for our O-line to battle their O-line.  It was kind of like a battle of the trenches type of thing when I thought about it. But as far as the bowl, I really enjoy the competitive atmosphere that this bowl has brought."

Moderator: "Ross, what about you?"

Cockrell: "My two favorite events have been Dave & Busters visit that the
whole team took. That was a great time. We got to spend a few hours in the arcade and just to hang out.  Also I enjoyed the visit to the children's hospital. I think it's great for us to use our platform to help bring smiles to people who are in need. A lot of those kids were in need, and we were able to distract them, I guess, for a couple of minutes."

Moderator: "Well said, well said."

Obviously, you get the distinct pleasure of facing a Heisman quarterback two weeks in a row. What are the unique challenges you face when trying to prepare for Manziel?
Cutcliffe: "He is a very unique challenge to say the least. He's obviously surrounded by good players. They're extremely efficient offensively and well-coached. Then you throw in his ability to create. I've been doing this a long time. I don't think I've ever seen anybody ad-lib on the field better. So the things that concern you are giving up explosive plays when you seemingly have a play defended. So you're almost having to defend two plays in one snap. The one that may be drawn up, which is difficult enough to defend, and then the one that starts when he starts ad-libbing and moving in and out of the pocket. That is extremely taxing to your defense. It requires a lot of discipline on people at the back end. I know Ross has been coaching his buddies back there to be very disciplined in all of his preparation."

That sounds like a nice intro to you, Ross. Can you talk about this and how it compares to what you've faced in your last game?
Cockrell: "Well, Manziel and Winston are obviously two great quarterbacks. Winston is a much bigger quarterback, not nearly as quick and as fast, I think, but very mobile. The thing about Manziel that makes him tough is like Coach Cut said, when he's back there scrambling around, you can't really tell which routes the receivers are going to run. They could run left, right, down the field, come back up the field. A curl route can turn into — a ten-yard curl route can turn into a 30-yard go route, that's what makes it so tough. You have to cover for so long, and your technique and your eyes are going to have to be perfect."

Coach, could you talk about how you make losing your coordinator not a distraction this week?
Cutcliffe: "Well, we didn't lose him this week, so that is the first start of it. We're in normal preparation, so Kurt Roper is doing his job as he always would and has. We're all kind of a product of the process. Our coaches too, we've been together a long time, so the process is continuing as it would. We addressed any issues with that the very first day, and it really hasn't come back up, and it hasn't popped up into anyone's mind. Anthony can speak to that. I'm sure he'd tell you there is absolutely no difference in what we're doing."

Boone: "Coach Roper has meant a lot to me as far as quarterback and as far
as a mentor when it comes to on the field and off the field. But as Coach Cut said, we really haven't talked about it. We talked about it once first day in the meeting. Since then it's been a normal going in there, having a few laughs and going over the film and worrying about our game plan.  He told us the first day, let's worry about getting this win, and then after that we'll keep in touch.  As far as this week, we need to concentrate on this week and getting this win."

With all the breakthroughs you've had in building this program and getting to the ACC title game and you've been to a bowl, how big is it to actually win a bowl game? How much of that is something you're emphasizing and talking about?
Cutcliffe: "I think it's extremely important to these young men. There is a lot of significance. There are a lot of ways to look at that. You could say good for your program. It's a big issue. Hadn't done it since 1961, I believe, and all of those things are true. But the only thing that's really, really important about it is these guys get to win. And that is is the way we're approaching it. We're preparing them. Their mentality has been outstanding. That is the reason it is truly important to go win this football game.

"It's not just the seniors. It's our entire team, but certainly it starts with Ross and his classmates to leave on a winning note. We all know the taste that was left in our mouth a year ago. I can promise you these guys do. I haven't lost it yet. So it's extremely important that we prepare well and play well, then the chips are going to fall where they are, but we're not going to leave anything out there if we can certainly help it."

Could you talk about your matchup or the defense's matchup with Mike Evans? Does it remind you of anyone you've played thus far this year?
Cockrell: "Our last game we got to go up against somebody like him, Kelvin
Benjamin of Florida State. They both have similar size, similar speed. But other than those two, I think it doesn't get much better than that in terms of size and speed and athleticism, it's the total combination. So for defense, you have to play team defense against a player like that. Someone who can do as many things as he can, you're going to need to gang tackle, you're going to need to get pressure on the quarterback, and we've got to make sure that we stay in our technique. If we can do those things, I think we can do a pretty good job."

You're coming off Duke's best regular season and playing in the best bowl in history. Can you talk about what it means to your program and what Duke football will take away from this experience?
Cutcliffe: "I think to start with it's certainly an important game for our program as well. I mentioned the reason it's most important to win this game. But we have now a class that came in a year ago that had gone to bowl games both of their years in our program. That needs to become a standard. Then once it becomes your standard, it becomes a habit, and that's all certainly capable of occurring. We've built the program around that, around consistent success. So these are certainly huge steps in that regard.
 
"As you move forward, what bowl games do over a four or five year in a row period, you start looking at the practice time. If you take a freshman that entered Duke when we weren't playing in a bowl, and you talk a freshman that entered into a school that's played in a bowl game every year, if you red-shirted after four years, how much more practice time has he had than a player that never got this experience? Also, there is no doubt, I've been around this a long time, when you taste bowl games, when you taste what a championship game feels like, you don't forget it. It's a whole lot easier to get back the second time than it is the first time to a championship game, I can promise you that. I hope we have created that. I don't hope, I know we have created that kind of hunger in our program."

Coach Cutcliffe, you have been in the SEC for a long time with Tennessee and Ole Miss. Can you talk about what you expect the crowd to be like? I know that you drove here, but you're kind of in SEC country.
Cutcliffe: "Yeah, I've been in the Dome in some big SEC games. The intensity of the fans, the intensity of the crowd is going to be special. I certainly think our players will feed off of it. But for you to learn — I've done a lot of years worth of work with silent snap count. Because if we took an Ole Miss team into LSU into Baton Rouge, or we took a Tennessee team into Birmingham back in the day or certainly into Florida field, you weren't hearing. That's why we offensively do a lot of things with hand signals. It requires a lot of discipline which our team is capable of having.

"Certainly, defensively, Ross and them know they've got to communicate.  It's not as bad generally when you're on the road in an SEC game. It's really difficult on offense. Not as bad. But this dome is a loud dome. I think everyone is going to be surprised at how loud the Duke crowd is in this ballgame. So certainly this thing applies both ways."

How would you put Manziel into historical context? I know you're familiar with some of the greatest quarterbacks who have ever played in college.
Cutcliffe: "Well, to start with, to have a redshirt freshman year and to come on the scene as he did and consistently put the numbers up, it's got to be the greatest freshman year up to that point that college football has seen. The excitement meter in the way he plays takes it through the roof.  So to become somewhat legendary in one year puts you right at the top of the ladder in the historical sense of what a player, an individual player, has meant to college football. We are in an era that we all know that is so much more closely covered and followed, so with that, in fact, he may be the most talked about college football player in history. So he certainly has earned all of that on the field.

"It's pretty incredible when you look at his two-year totals and numbers that he's been able to put together. So I think the other thing is he's exciting. He ad-libs. He's consistent. He plays really, really well every time he plays the game. I think that gets lost a little bit when I read descriptions of him."

A&M has changed the person making the plays, calls, and offense. Does that change your preparation any? Have you crossed paths with Jake Spavital at all in your career?
Cutcliffe: "No, not at all and it can't change because you don't have a basis to form an opinion of what's going to happen or what the plan is.  You start overthinking then you're not going to play very well. So we'll prepare our defense to play against whatever. We've watched all their games, all their tape. You're not going to change everything you're doing, so you just go line up and play football. So the thought of who is calling them doesn't worry you nearly as much as who is executing them."

We saw today that USA Today has ranked this bowl matchup as the sixth best of the bowl season. From your perspective, what do you think makes this an exciting matchup that would put it on par with some of the BCS matchups that we've got this year?
Cutcliffe: "I think they may have missed it by three or four. But other than that, I think it's a great matchup. You have two similar offenses that are very capable of getting a lot of people involved. Both teams have the ability to run the football; both teams can throw and make exciting plays. You've got some experience in both secondaries. Both secondaries have made critical plays at critical times. I think certainly you look at two veteran and experienced offensive lines. The defensive line matchup, how well each defensive line plays, is going to be very critical in this game. And I think it's a great matchup in the kicking game. You have a great specialist on each side in the punting game. You have outstanding kickers on both sides. You have outstanding return men.

"I think it really when people are going to enjoy their New Year's Eve watching quality, exciting football with two teams that really do a lot of things well. I don't think anyone will be disappointed in any manner. So it's a game that, when the matchup was announced and when I talked with Gary, I think we have certainly been excited since that time. And we'll challenge all of the things that A&M does well, but we want to put Duke football on display because our young men are capable of doing a lot of things extremely well."

Moderator: "Anthony, what do you think stands out as far as matchups on the
offensive side of the ball for Duke?"

Boone: "I just think our ability to go out there and be efficient and execute is our biggest challenge as far as this Texas A&M defense. Every week we know teams try to find ways to stop our zone read and find ways to shut down our passing game. We just have to go out there and be efficient and play Duke football."

Moderator: "Ross, same question for you. What are your thoughts on the defensive side as far as how these teams will stop each other?"

Cockrell: "Well, I haven't seen much of their defense, but I can tell you for us we look forward to this opportunity. This opportunity to go up against another Heisman Trophy winner. In my career I've played against basically four or five Heisman Trophy winners, so we look forward to this opportunity to go up against the best because we want to be the best."

Coach Cutcliffe, having been in both leagues, do you think a true rivalry between the SEC and ACC exists these days?
Cutcliffe: "I do. We bump heads regionally for the most part. Of course we're up-and-down the Eastern seaboard now. But regionally we're going to run into each other recruiting. Right here where we're sitting is one hot spot where that occurs, and anybody that's in this business, you're a competitor. So it gets your competitive juices flowing whether we're recruiting against each other, whether we're competing on the field. People keep score in that regard. This bowl game, people have kept score as to what has occurred through the years. So I think everybody has a lot of awareness in that area.

"So being a part of the Southeastern Conference for so long and growing up in it, and now being a part of the ACC for six years, I'm very proud of who we are and what we're doing and where we're headed most importantly, that's why these matchups are extremely important to us. We know where we're headed, and we have to make sure other people understand that."

Moderator: "To follow that up, the ACC leads the SEC 11 games to 10 in this game since they've been playing, and the average margin of victory is right around a touchdown. So it's been pretty close and competitive here in our
bowl specifically."

Anthony, you hear all this talk about Johnny Manziel and this A&M offense, is there kind of a chip on your shoulder? How are you guys going in wanting to prove against an A&M defense that's struggled at times this year that you guys can put up points too?
Boone: "It's not our offense or their offense, it's Duke versus Texas A&M.  So we know that throughout the year our offense has struggled here and there and the defense has picked us up, and if the defense struggled our offense picked them up, and if our defense has struggled we picked them up. So it's not a battle of our offense against their offense, it's Duke versus Texas A&M."

Coach, Kevin Sumlin has mentioned that he's known you for a while. Just curious how you guys got to know each other, when, and how close the friendship is or relationship is?
Cutcliffe: "I've talked with Kevin about jobs back when we were both younger. He was a lot younger than me, I guess you could say, but I was younger then too. We talked when I was at Tennessee. I think he got a kick out of the fact that when I picked him up and gave him a ride around Knoxville or whatever, we were in my pick-up truck. I think it was a little different for Kevin at that point in time. I think it probably told him a little bit about who I was. It was the kind of pick-up truck, because I like to fish, that to clean it you can open both doors, turn a hose on it and wash it straight through. That's a real pick-up truck. Not one of these that are fancy. You understand? Everything in there will dry naturally. So I think he got a kick out of that.

"He is a quality person and an outstanding football coach. He's a guy that — this profession is important to me, whether it's through the American Football Coaches Association, I've been a member of the NCAA Football Issues Committee, and we need quality people in this profession that do things the right way — and Kevin certainly has been on that path, and hopefully will carry that path forward as a relatively young head coach."
 
Moderator: "Coach, do you still have the pick-up?"

Cutcliffe: "I am not driving the pick-up right now, because when I took the Duke job, I put my rods and reels in the attic, because I knew I did not need much fishing time at that point in time. We've had a lot of work to do in these past six years. So the bass have had to wait, and I'm letting them grow a little bit."

I was wondering if you could speak to the uniqueness of this matchup?
Cutcliffe: "Well, it is. I think the fact that Texas A&M is new to the
Southeastern Conference, relatively new to the Southeastern Conference, that brings them to SEC country out of Texas. Duke is new to the era of modern bowl football games. So I don't think anybody would have looked back in August — now, Gary, you'd have  to tell the truth — and said that Duke and A&M was going to be the matchup at the Chick-fil-A Bowl. If you could have picked that one, you wouldn't be sitting here. You'd be a rich
person somewhere else.

"But I think it's a great matchup. As we all know, SEC-ACC, but it's a little bit unique in regards that Duke has moved to the scene of representing the ACC in bowl games and certainly A&M has moved to representing the Southeastern Conference in bowl games. So we have a dream matchup, really, if you think about it in that regard.

Moderator: "Not only is it our first opportunity to host both Duke and Texas A&M, but I believe the number is in a combined 220 years of football, this is the first time these two teams have played each other. So a lot of firsts in this game for everybody, I think."


Texas A&M Aggies

Moderator: "Welcome back. We'll try to keep the Chick-fil-A hot for you while we're in here.  We'll get started with our second session here with Texas A&M University. Joining us is Head Coach Kevin Sumlin, running back Ben Malena and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. Coach, we'll start with an opening statement from you. Maybe just talk about how your bowl week experience has been so far."

Sumlin: "Well, we're really excited. We've had a great time here so far. Got here Christmas night and had a team meeting. We worked out twice at the Georgia Dome, which is a fabulous facility. Our guys really enjoy being over there. We'll be at Georgia Tech at their new facility, their indoor facility the next two days and really pleased.

"It's been different for me because when I talk about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I don't even know what day it is. Today is a Wednesday for us, practice-wise. So we're on a different schedule. Yesterday was a Tuesday practice. Really pleased in how our guys approached it with a full padded, really lengthy workout yesterday to get back. Today we're Wednesday and we start to taper off until we get to game time.

"But I couldn't be happier with how we've been treated. The Chick-fil-A Bowl and the people have been fabulous from our hospitality to the events and everything that's gone on. Our hospital visit yesterday, I thought that was very enlightening for our players. Like I said, as we get closer to the game, more and more people start showing up so we try to get as much work done as we can right now before family, friends and everybody gets in here for the event on New Year's Eve."

Moderator: "Ben, talk about what has been your favorite bowl week event so far."

Malena: "I think yesterday with the milkshake challenge along with the Manning competition. It was the first time that us and Duke were actually in the same room. While everything was really friendly with those competitions, you could tell that both teams were still competing. While it's all fun and games, by adding a competition element to it, it kind of made it more fun. It was a really great experience especially we're happy that Cedric actually came out with the win, because if he would have lost, it would have been a bad week for him."

Moderator: "I'm waiting for somebody to break down that Madden game for me. Can you do that for us? I mean, that was all the way down to the wire."
 
Malena: "It was a really good game. Long story short, the last play of the game, Ced kicked a field goal on third down, which is a really good, really good call. Might have mistaken him for an actual head coach, calling the play like that. But, no. The kid from Duke actually blocked it — but he was offsides, but we kicked the field goal."

Moderator: "Yeah, that was the most exciting Madden finish we've had. It was the first one, but still the most exciting. Tony, what about you? What's been your best event so far?"

Hurd: "I feel like for sure last night actually getting to see those guys up close and personal and just competing. All of us on our team are great competitors. Last night that was big for us. We want to win the competition this week and we want to come away with a win in a game. I feel like last night was a great experience to start off the competition."

Moderator: "It's all about the belt. It's all about the belt. This is actually the belt stand in. The players actually retained the belt last night, and they've got it. They're taking it around Atlanta or whatever they're doing.

"All right. Let's get to it, guys. We'll open it up to questions. Just raise your hand and we'll get a microphone to you."

Kevin, handing over your play calling duties to Jake, what do you expect to be seeing?
Sumlin: "I saw something yesterday that said I vowed to do something. I didn't vow to do anything. You have a feel as a head coach about the direction that you're headed. A feel for your players, a feel for what direction you really want your program to go in. So those types of decisions are always difficult. I think it's a little different for me because I've been a part of those types of decisions.  You know, the overall aspect of this program, where we're headed, not just for this game but for the future, that's my responsibility.

"As I said, those decisions are always tough, but I don't know how much things are going to really, really change. I just think incorporating a lot of different players into our offense is important, and I don't think, I know that's the direction we're headed in."

When did you make the decision to replace Coach McKinney with Coach Spavital?
Sumlin: "It's something that I thought about. The way it was released was the day I actually talked about it. I know we do a lot of things that you guys find out about later on, but there's never a good time. I thought the way we do things in bowl preparation, we try to have a game week of preparation at home, and then we gave these guys a couple three days off for Christmas. Then we do another complete game week when we're here. That's why I said today is Wednesday for us.

"So with those two game weeks, I just thought it was important that we had the opportunity to install a game plan with a lot less distractions at home and to give Jake an opportunity to put his twist on it at home and think about it a little bit more, and when we got here kind of polish it up and get ready to go."

Looking at the offseason stuff with Johnny to the investigation of the start of fall camp to some really big games and you getting a new contract and being here today, how has that tested you as a coach and how have you grown as a coach going through a season like this?
Sumlin: "There is no manual for this job. You are always challenged with a lot of different things. This year I was just talking on the way over here and we've got some visiting coaches around that have come back and are here this week that really they're not involved in bowl games, but I've talked to a lot of different people. It seems like so long ago that we were sitting here talking about all those different things.  

"From the beginning, from August 4th when all that news hit to the game of the decade, I mean, there's been a lot of big moments this year, and that is a testament to the reason these two guys are up here, the seniors that have been through a lot.  You have to remember, these guys came to Texas A&M and when they got here they had no idea that they'd have the opportunity to come to Atlanta and play in the Chick-fil-A. Because when they got here, all the things that went through this year in Alabama, and the teams that we lost to are really, really fine football teams. I think everybody knows that.

"We had a chance to win, really, at the end of three of those four games. So the ball bounces different ways.  But I think we've grown as a coaching staff. I think these guys have learned a lot and really, really appreciative of their experiences as I talked to them of being in the SEC. Whether we're at home or going on the road to a lot of different places. So it's all still very new to us.

"But I think two years into this situation for me, you're still learning. We're a part of the best league in the country and probably the best division in the best league in this country, and for us to be where we want to be, we're going to have to continue to grow as a program.  Fortunately we have the administration, the facilities, and the backing that's putting us in that position to compete and win in this league.

"I told these guys, these guys are going to move on. They have an opportunity to do something that no one has ever done at Texas A&M, and that is to win three consecutive bowl games in three consecutive years. You think of how long we've played football, and how many great players have been here and how many great teams have been here, to have that as a goal to walk away like our senior group last year was one of four teams to ever win 11 games. These guys have an opportunity to set another bar regardless of what happened this year, I think that's important to them because that's something no one can ever take away from them."

How much healthier is Johnny now compared to the regular season? And how would you characterize his play in the last couple games where it looked like he might have been banged up?
Sumlin: "It's interesting. We ran him a lot more the year before, and he wasn't beat up. We didn't run him as much this year. We didn't really talk about it too much; but hitting the helmet is something that is hard on your throwing hand. He battled through it. And obviously the time off, we hadn't played in a month, and giving him a chance to heal up, I think he feels really, really good right now.

"I liked practice yesterday. I think he's approaching this game and feeling better. He's got a bit more bounce. I think the time off for this team, because it was a pretty good year.  I mean, for these guys that are playing, this league is rough. But we gave them more time off this year. We didn't practice for a couple weeks after that last game and kind of turned it up a notch when we got back to practice instead of just keeping it going. I think our team needed some rest not only physically but mentally with what was going on. I like our energy level right now. As you said, I think just watching practice yesterday and being around our guys they're anxious to play again."

Ben, it's your second year in the SEC, but do you still feel that sense of responsibility to represent the league in the bowl game and come away with that win for the SEC?
Malena: "Yeah, I mean, not only for the SEC but for Texas A&M. We understand the prestigious league that we represent. We certainly don't want to get into the loss column, especially in a bowl game. Just like Coach Sumlin said, for this senior class and this whole team has an opportunity to do something in this rich history that A&M has that no other group of players have accomplished.

"To to answer your question, we do want to represent the SEC well, but I think it's more for Texas A&M than the conference."

Sumlin: "It was interesting, the stat is, correct me if I'm wrong, Gary, the ACC has won 11 of these, and the SEC has won 10."

Moderator: "That's right."

Sumlin: "We have an opportunity to try to tie this thing up, and that will be good for us."

Coach, this is your first trip to one of the SEC's traditional bowl games. Can you talk about how this bowl experience compares to others you've had and what it means to try to establish your brand knowing that the Chick-fil-A Bowl is going to be joining the playoffs next year?
Sumlin: "Yeah, I've been very fortunate in my career to be able to coach in all four BCS games. The hospitality here has been outstanding. You can see why this bowl game, this venue and this event will be part of the six championship sites for the college playoffs.  We're very, very fortunate to be a part of that.  The seniors, as Ben just talked about talked about their goals and our goals as a team, but for our younger players, this is a great experience because looking down the road as a coach you're always thinking about what is next.

"For us to be here in Atlanta, it's twofold. We've got this experience that we're drawing off of and practicing hopefully for our younger players we can get back here and be a part of the SEC Championship game. Then the bigger goal is you know this is going to be where the playoff situation is going to be handled. So, for us, this is a great experience for our seniors who are leaving, as Ben just talked about, what our goals are presently. But down the road we hope to get back here. We like Atlanta. We'd love to be back here a bunch if we can be here."

I know that Darian's not going to be playing and Duke has a player that's been suspended. But can you talk about the Aggies approach to the ballgame knowing that Darian's not going to be on your defensive unit?
Hurd: "Our defense is the next man up. All year long we've had some injuries and some things that have taken our defense, and we have younger guys that are ready to step up.  I'm sure our younger linebacker Mastro will be ready to play. Donnie Baggs will be ready to play, and we have a bunch of young guys ready to make a name for themselves. They've been working hard to make plays for us. But our defensive coordinator, Coach Snyder, will have our linebackers ready for this game."

Coach, you talked about the opportunity for this group to win three straight bowl games and how important that is. But how important is it to win the bowl game and how important is it to go into spring ball for next year?
Sumlin: "Well, we treat bowl games probably a little bit differently than most people. We have three phases really, couple phases that we go through in preparation. It gives us an opportunity to work our younger players early. The guys who redshirted and are not real starters. The special teams guys get a look at them and then develop our game plan to win. I think from our standpoint, from my standpoint it's obvious that bowl games we like to not just enjoy the atmosphere but we like to win those games. I think it does carry over in the next year.

"We talked as a team yesterday about our performance level and where we want to be and how we're going to approach this game. I think based on practice yesterday I couldn't be happier with our preparation up to this point, how these guys are handling it. I think we're going to be ready to go New Year's Eve."

Coach Cutcliffe earlier was talking about he picked you up in Knoxville, Tennessee in a pick-up truck. We were wondering when that was in your career?
Sumlin: "It's kind of interesting. I had been a graduate assistant for two years and Coach Tiller moved to Wyoming. I was there for two years as a wide receiver coach. My first year at Minnesota, so I had been a full-time coach for three years. He called me and asked me about coming to interview for the wide receiver job at Tennessee. I was young. Shoot, I didn't know a bunch of anything at that point, but I knew that as a kid growing up I wanted to go to school there but I wasn't good enough.

"They had the World's Fair there in Knoxville, and I was down there as a kid. That's a long time ago. They didn't recruit me. They didn't think I was good enough, and they were right. But I had a chance to go there and interview, and he picked me up in the pick-up truck and we talked a little football that day with Coach Fullmer and rode around, looked at houses. I was single at the time. I was driving around in a pick-up truck.

"I've always had a lot of respect for David and how he's done things. He's had a lot of different experiences with both the Mannings, whether he was at Tennessee or at Ole Miss.  Just how he's run his program with class, with character. Somebody asked me, I said, I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised at all they won ten games because of how he does things.  He's a guy that's worked at this profession for a long time. Pays attention to detail, has a great situation at Duke and he's a guy that we're sitting next to each other yesterday at the SCA breakfast just talking about how things have changed in our lives. In this profession, you cross a lot of different paths  and you never know.
 
"By the way, they didn't hire me. They hired somebody else. I wasn't good enough at that point. I couldn't play there and I couldn't coach there. But everything worked out. Hopefully I'm a little bit better now than I was in my third year as a full-time assistant."

He said he had trouble getting you to help him clean out that pick-up. Do you think that might have had something to do with it?
Sumlin: "Well, it was. We were riding around and talking. Part of the interview process was just riding in the truck with him and getting to know him. It was a great experience for me. Like I said, I've always had a lot of respect for how he's done things, a class act. It says a lot about him. Obscure, you get a phone call in the middle of the day from the coordinator at Tennessee, and you're like, really? Come on. Want to bring you down here, talk a little football and see if you'll be interested in this job.  I think that says a little bit about him as a person. Always looking outside, paying attention to what's going on, and that was a real honor for me.

"Like I said, I didn't get the job. I know who got the job. He's a friend of mine too. It's an experience that obviously I didn't forget and I wasn't impressive enough at that point to do anything. But everything works out."

Ben, can you talk about what you've seen from Coach Spavital taking the reins and kind of leading? Talk about the pace that you guys expect having the calls right there on the field and getting back on the ball and moving up-and-down.
Malena: "Yeah, I think that's going to help a lot, actually, him calling the plays but him actually being on the sideline and being able to communicate faster. That will help our tempo out a lot. He just brings the energy to this offense. The first day everybody found out that he got the job, the transition period wasn't hard at all. He's a very easy guy to respond to. But when you're thinking about offensive schemes and stuff like that you know it's going to be on full display New Year's Eve. So you won't have anything to worry about."

For the seniors, have you seen any indication that Johnny has taken a senior approach into this game? Have you seen any indication that he's kind of looking to this as his farewell as well?
Malena: "No, I mean, especially with me being on the offensive side of the ball and being around him all the time, he's the same Johnny Manziel as two years ago competing for the starting quarterback job. He's a work horse. He approaches every day like he wants to be better. I haven't seen anything different from him approaching this bowl game."

The status of Malcome Kennedy? Maybe a little overlooked that he wasn't involved in the last two games.
Sumlin: "Yeah, Malcome was beat up a little bit too through the year. He's been nursing some things. Like I said, this team at the end of the year had been through a lot. Just looking at practice the last couple days, I think the rest that these guys had and how we've approached this part of the year has really helped us physically and mentally. Every now and then as a coach you can do too much. You always worry about what your process is going to be, and different teams are different. We played a lot of guys that were younger guys and put a lot on these guys, the old guys, to play a lot of snaps this year.

"I think just taking a couple weeks of not practicing and then jumping back on it has really helped us mentally and physically. I think Malcome's part of that.  I think there is a lot of running, a lot of hits he's taken, a lot of different things that have happened. But just looking at him now and like these guys we've talked about, I think they're anxious. Being in a new environment has really kind of helped us, I think. You walk into that building and, like I told these guys, there is a lot of really, really great players that have played in this building and, the energy level just kind of rose.

"Our guys have done a really good job, I think, over the course of the last couple years of accepting the challenge in bigger venues, bigger games, and I don't look for that to change this week."

Tony, what are your thoughts on Duke's wide receiver Jamison Crowder and what are ways to deal with him?
Hurd: "From my point of view, we feel like they have pretty solid receivers. They have a good tight end as well. Their offensive scheme has power. They can put up points, and in the fourth quarter is where they play the best. We know we have to play 60 minutes of solid football on defense and contain the receivers.  I'm pretty sure we'll be man-to-man and throw some zone in there. But for the most part our defensive staff will help us prepare."

We talked with the folks from Duke. This bowl game has been ranked the sixth best bowl game of the season this year. Coach, talk about what you think makes this, comparing offense to offense and defense to defense, what are some of the things you think makes this game exciting on that level of caliber with some of the BCS games?
Sumlin: "You know, you're playing in a very potent Duke team. A team that's won double digit games, beat Miami, Virginia Tech, Carolina, North Carolina State, represented their division in the ACC. So they're a very, very well-coached football team. They're disciplined and they're good.

"I talk to these guys all the time. When you get around New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, there are not a bunch of bad teams playing. You've earned the right to play around that time. For us, I think just from a national standpoint, kind of hike last year, but this year too, we're in a time slot where — I probably shouldn't tell this story; I told everybody yesterday — we're in a time slot that's unopposed. And everybody in the world will be watching this game because there is nothing else on. Whether you're at home or you're at a local establishment, that game is going to be on television. So from our viewpoint, from a branding standpoint, it's important how we play. It's a great opportunity for us to put on display who we are as not only a football program, but as a university.

"I think our guys see that as an opportunity to show who we are. For these guys who are seniors for their last football game in college, that's a big deal. To know that you're playing on New Year's Eve and there's nobody else on and kind of like the NFL guys talk about 'Monday Night Football.' We're New Year's Eve and there is nobody else watching. Everybody in the world is going to be watching. It's a great opportunity for these guys and for our university to display who we are."

Ben and Tony, what stands out about this matchup to you guys?
Malena: "Well, for me, like Coach Sumlin said, for me personally, and I'm pretty sure Tony can add to it too, but this is our last college football game ever of actually being on the field and strapping the helmet up for Texas A&M. With everything that we've been through starting our freshmen year until now, changing. We're fortunate enough to get a great head coach in Kevin Sumlin to make us even better, but most importantly finish out our collegiate career in the win column. It's like Coach Sumlin said, playing in a slot where no one else is playing, all eyes are going to be on us and on this university. We're just looking forward to representing the University well."

Hurd: "For me, I feel like defensively this is a great challenge for us. We've had a lot of ups and downs, a lot of injuries and things we've overcome this season. But we want to start this — this game is the start of next year for our team. And we want to start for next year on defense, we want to start well. I know Coach Snyder has been through a lot this season with our fair share of ups and downs. But with our younger guys, we want to show they've matured and overcome the odds. They're prepared to play well.  

"For our defense, this is a great opportunity for us. They have a great offensive scheme, great offensive coordinator. Like I said earlier, they play well in the fourth quarter, so we know we've got to come ready to play, and I'm just ready to get back on the field and have some fun."

I know in a profession that is based on outcome and performance, how difficult is it to do the right thing if a player steps across the line and say, 'Hey, you're not going to play in this big game?'
Sumlin: "You know, that's all part of it.  We're in the business of a lot of people see Saturday. But we're in the business of growing young men. One of the reasons — one of the crazy reasons, probably, I like college football is because of that. When you have 17-, 18-year-olds, it's kind of like clay. We try to mold those guys and take their experiences. Because we've got guys from different backgrounds, different home lives, two parents, one parent, no parent, and try to get them at the end of three, four, five years to be successful.  

"Football ends for everybody at a certain time. Some guys sooner than later. But ultimately what we're trying to do is raise people to be good husbands, people that are going to contribute to society in a positive way. Learning those lessons can be difficult sometimes. How you handle that is part of your job in college football. When you have 85 scholarship guys and 40 walk-on guys, everybody's got different issues. How you approach that as a team, how you approach that personally, I think it's important. To get guys to learn lessons — sometimes they learn lessons the hard way, but I think that's part of our job. That's a huge part of our job not just on Saturday, but every day in trying to get guys to do what's right.

"Have we been perfect at it? Probably not. But I think our guys can tell you that we have a standard. We have some things that we believe in and basically what's right and what's wrong, and there are consequences to everybody's actions, good and bad. Those decisions are made and they're difficult. They're difficult for our football team, but they're difficult for those individuals and those families. We communicate that. That's part of life.

"I've seen it all different ways. In 26 years of coaching, guys grow out of bad situations and become real contributors to society later on in life. My biggest deal is not — Saturday is a big deal, wins and losses, obviously, because if you don't win, you don't have a job in this business — but when I see guys come back from tough backgrounds and then come out to practice with their wife and little boys and they're husbands and fathers and knowing where they came from and having the opportunity to go to Texas A&M or go to different schools, get a degree and be productive from a background that maybe that wasn't possible. We've got a lot of first time-first generation college graduates. We have an opportunity in this profession to really change families' lives. To your point, you know, to me, that is the bigger picture."

Can you talk about the experience of playing in this game as a player versus the experience coming back as a coach?
Sumlin: "Yeah, we played the Virginia Cavaliers. Coach George Welsh was the coach. We didn't know much. I didn't know much about it at Purdue. We started watching tape and it was like, man, this quarterback is pretty good. Who is that guy? And it was a guy named Don Majkowski, the magic man who we contained for about a half. They started running option. I said, man, this guy is fast. Barry Ward, and Jim Dombrowski, that is all I remember. Those three guys were really good players. So we hung on for a while, and in the fourth quarter we got sideways, but we had a great experience at Fulton County Stadium back in the day.

"We actually stayed at the Marriott and had a great, great bowl experience, great time. I told these guys, I said you know you're getting old when you're coaching in a bowl game that you played in. And the bowl game was a different name at that time, so I'm getting up there. But we had a great experience then.

"And for these guys I am asking — somebody asked the other day how many guys
have been to Atlanta before? And I looked around and we probably had five or six hands shoot up. So it's been a great experience for these guys coming here to Atlanta and experiencing something that that's the great thing about college athletics too. These guys have come through, been in some venues they haven't been in before in the SEC, and coming to Atlanta I think you can hear it out of their voices, they're loving this place and excited to be here."

Ben, you kind of mentioned looking back, but can you kind of reflect on being a senior and the fact that you've had these struggles and now where you guys are and that you're leaving this A&M team and I guess a little better than when you got here?
Malena: "Yeah, I'm glad the tables have turned. One issue that doesn't get talked about a lot in the huge success A&M has had over these past two years is Kevin Sumlin. He immediately, the first day that he walked in and in that team meeting in the auditorium, I'll never forget it, he said, 'Look, if it wasn't me, it will be another guy. So you better get ready quick.' From that moment on we realized that it's a new time here at A&M.
 
"Also with the SEC move, you know, we went in and took it as an approach. Everybody knew we were going to have a really bad, tough year our first year in the SEC, and Coach Sumlin let us know we have enough talent on the roster to beat everybody on the schedule. What he has done for this program and where he has taken it, especially when I first got here to where we are now, I mean, you really can't explain it. You really can't describe it. Just from a team aspect, and the competition we had last night, I was talking to Nate (Askew) We came in together, and we were like, 'Man, look how much fun we're having now.' Rather than, I don't want to say not having fun. But getting to enjoy the experience that we're having now.
 
"We're blessed to be in such a great bowl game. It's like he said, those five or six hands that went up when he said how many people have been to Atlanta, this is my first time being to Atlanta. I'm enjoying every minute of it. I just think where we have come now, especially as a senior class, the spotlight of this university that it's on right now, I just think it's
great. I'm honored to be a key component of it being the way that it is now."

Sumlin: "You will not have to run after practice today."

Malena: "I appreciate that."

Sumlin: "You've got your sprints cut off. That's a good deal."
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