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BELL HELICOPTER ARMED FORCES BOWL MEDIA CONFERENCE
December 18, 2009
Q. Case, can you tell me a little bit about some of your top receivers? I'm looking at James Cleveland here and some of the other guys that had a lot of receptions this year. Just tell me a little bit about what each of them does well and why you've maybe had some good chemistry with these guys.
CASE KEENUM: You're right, we do, we have some good chemistry. We've got a bunch of guys that are good at different things, which is nice to have as a quarterback, guys that can get open, guys that can run by people, and guys that you can throw the ball and make guys miss down the field. We've got guys like James who are good, James and Tyron who are good inside receivers, so I know I'll be able to get the ball out of my hands to those guys, and guys on the outside that can run by people, Patrick and those guys.
And then Brax and Charles out of the backfield have done a good job for us, too. We've got a lot of weapons, and it's pretty exciting just to see what those guys can do each week.
Q. How would you rate how the passing offense is clicking this year as opposed to maybe last year?
CASE KEENUM: You know, it's a lot better. You know, that's one of our goals is to get better, if not each day, each game, each year, so we feel like we've gotten better. The offense evolves as different players contribute and different -- we play different teams, but we've got to get better. We're not getting better because other teams are getting better. Air Force is better than they were last year. We've got to be better. That's one thing we strive for every game is perfection.
It's a long shot you could say, but we feel like if we just make routines, routine plays every day or every down, then that's all we have to do is just make routine plays, and those add up to making 1st downs and putting 1st downs into touchdowns.
Q. Getting back to what you were saying before about kind of having -- it seems like the way you were describing your receivers, it seems like you've got kind of a variety of weapons. You've got possession guys, you've got inside guys, you've got guys that can go deep. Is that how you feel, that you've got pretty much everything you need as a quarterback as far as weapons go with your receivers?
CASE KEENUM: Yeah, I'm not going to object to another recruit or somebody to help us out, come in and adding to the mix. We feel like we could -- there's always guys that could add to the mix. But we feel like we've got a good variety of receivers that can do some pretty incredible things, and it's fun to watch; when one of them gets hot, they kind of feed off each other and use the momentum of the game and the crowd, and you know, they play well together, blocking for each other down the field. And whether it's setting screens up for Charles and Brax out of the backfield or wide receiver screens or whatever it is, I think they do a good job of playing well together, and I think we've got a good chemistry going.
Q. Case, your relationship with your father, how much is he part of your football game now, and does he watch tape? Does he talk to you about specifics? I know he's a former coach and knows the game.
CASE KEENUM: Yeah, he is. He coached for a long time. I wouldn't say he coaches me anymore. I talk to him about the games, and he -- we'll talk about different plays and different things that happen. You know, he does a good job of staying out of the way of what our coaches are trying to do. He knows about parents and coaching and stuff like that.
But I'd say he helped me out as a younger kid, just doing different -- showing me different stuff, how to throw the ball and different drills and just throwing in the backyard. But he doesn't interfere much with what we do now. It's more of a proud father I guess you could say.
Q. How much of a -- you talked about this already a little bit, but how much a part of your development was he?
CASE KEENUM: A huge part. You know, I think being a coach's kid has helped me out tremendously, specifically being my dad's son, just getting to spend time in the locker room when he was with his football team and on the field, in the weight room, just hanging out with those guys and just having a football in my hands about 24 hours a day. Just kind of grew up around football and have it in my blood, and it's just something that I've grown to love and respect and just to really grow fond of the game.
Q. Is it still on your mind that you were basically overlooked by Division I except for Houston? Is that something that drives you, that kind of gives you a spark when you need it?
CASE KEENUM: You know, I wouldn't say it drives me. I'll think about it every now and then, just honestly to give advice to other high school athletes, guys at my high school there at Wylie and Abilene or anywhere really, to say they aren't getting a good look or aren't a five-star recruit on Rivals. I'd give that advice to those guys that it's not always about what Rivals ranks you and it's not always about having this many offers by the time you're a sophomore. That's good for those players that do have that, but that's not the only way to be successful in college and have a good successful career.
Q. Have you got a Bible verse picked out for the Bowl game?
CASE KEENUM: No, I haven't. I've been talking with our SCA chaplain here, and we'll pick one here in the next week or two. We'll see just kind of what's weighing on our hearts and what we feel like -- we've got a bunch of them in the works, but we haven't chosen one yet.
Q. Coach, can you tell me a little bit about just your receiving corps in general this year, and obviously Case has had a good year, but the receivers have also had some pretty good years, too. What have they -- I guess just in general, what have some of those guys been able to bring to the table this year?
COACH SUMLIN: Well, I think whenever you've got three guys at or above 1,000 yards in one year, I think they've been a little bit better than pretty good. We've got a bunch of guys that can run, a bunch of guys that can change direction, and I think with their screen game, they've been extremely underrated as blockers. You know, we've got a lot of speed and quickness on the outside with the addition of James Cleveland obviously, who has helped us not only on 3rd down but in the red zone, and Chaz Rodriguez has shown a tremendous amount of leadership as a senior.
You know, I think those guys have worked well together. Second year into the system obviously should be better than we were a year ago. A bunch of them were freshmen, sophomores, and now they're sophomores and juniors, and James has come in in the summertime and this year and really filled a void where Mark Hafner left.
I think our guys are playing at a high level, and obviously the way our offense is designed, those guys have to play that way, and they've answered that.
Q. How about James in particular? Did you expect that he would give you -- I mean, I'm looking, 101 receptions, almost 1,200 yards. Did you expect that kind of production or anything close to it?
COACH SUMLIN: Well, when we recruited James, we sat down and told him that we've got a bunch of guys here that can run; we don't have a lot of size on the perimeter at wide receiver, but we've got a bunch of guys that are a little bit -- not as big as everybody else but have tremendous speed and quickness. And James was a guy that we really wanted to come here and give us some added size and maturity. He's a guy that started in the Big Ten as a freshman, so he's been in big games. He's traveled, he knows what football is all about.
And I think he did that. He came in here and blended into our team, started to work well with the rest of the players and just got into the offense and became a guy that added some real experience and toughness on our perimeter. He's had a tremendous first year for us being the newcomer of the year in our league. I think he'll be the first one to tell you, kind of like Case did last year in one year, that he can improve and play better, and if he does that, he'll have another tremendous year next year.
Q. I guess you had other things to do in Orlando last week.
COACH SUMLIN: Well, I was in Orlando, I was recruiting. We're a week behind because of the championship game, so between Orlando and the championship week, we had plenty of things to try to get done.
Q. Let me ask you this: Obviously there's a different feeling about this year. I mean, last year going to the Armed Forces Bowl, first time you had a chance to win a Bowl game, you won one, broke that streak. What's the different feeling this week? You have been in the Armed Forces Bowl before, you came close to winning a Conference Championship. Talk about the mentality, how it's different from last year.
COACH SUMLIN: Well, maybe for you it's different. For us it's not. I think our mentality, as I said earlier today, right after we lost the championship game, I thought that -- we're approaching this game much the same as we did last year. I think unless you're playing in the final game, the championship game, we're going to approach this as the first game of next season.
You know, for our seniors I think it's important, as I said earlier today, that last year's senior group, their legacy is to win the first Bowl game in 28 years and really be a springboard for this season's success. And for this senior crew, that's how they can be remembered the first time, and I don't know how long it's been since we won back-to-back Bowl games, but also a chance for us to play to finish the year top 25 and really set up what might be a preseason top-15 type situation.
For these seniors it could be another lasting legacy of really being the first time in a long time to finish a year basically ranked the whole year and win back-to-back games, and not only that, be an 11-win team. There haven't been very many at the University of Houston in the history of football, and there won't be very many across the nation this year.
There's a lot for us to play for.
Q. As far as playing Air Force for the third time in 15, 16 months, whatever it is, talk about how they're different this year than they were last year, and obviously they have the best passing defense in the nation so it adds an interesting twist, best passing offense, best passing defense.
COACH SUMLIN: Yeah, we have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Calhoun and how his staff does things. I think it's a typical team; I think they're young, and what they've done is played tremendously well on defense. They've scored five times defensively this year. You know, they're, I think, third in the country in 1st downs allowed. They're 10th in the country in total defense. You know, there's only been a couple people get over 20 points in a game on them, and one of those teams had to go to overtime to do it. They held TCU to 20, and they're right there with us. TCU averages 40 points a game just like us.
They're doing very well on defense. They only turned the ball over 11 times this whole season, which is another great stat, which tells you that it's a typical Troy Calhoun team. They're not going to lose the game; you've got to win it. They're going to wait for you to make a mistake, capitalize on it, and I think they've been very, very efficient in how they've done that, how they've done that and played in some tight games.
You know, I don't know that it's going to be that much different in the fact that they're very, very good on defense, and they don't turn the ball over on offense, and that's pretty typical of a well-coached football team or a Troy Calhoun team.
Q. You've faced them three times in two years. It's the first time in Air Force history they've ever faced an opponent three times in two seasons. Is this something you're selling to your team as the kind of winner of the three, that this team takes the series? Are you talking about the previous two games much?
COACH SUMLIN: No, not talking about anything about that. Years are mutually exclusive. There's a lot of guys playing in this game that weren't even there last year unless they were in the stands. They're a younger team. They had guys graduate and so do we. This is not a series situation. It's not one of those deals where we're playing them every year for the next 10 or 15 years, so no, to me -- I haven't said anything about that.
Q. Does it add to your challenge that this will be the third time they've seen you?
COACH SUMLIN: I don't know, it might add to theirs.
Q. Well, sure, but I know it definitely adds to theirs, but does it add to yours?
COACH SUMLIN: No.
Q. Talk to us a little bit about the two worst words in the sports vocabulary, that being "system quarterback."
COACH SUMLIN: What do you mean?
Q. Well, I think when you have an exceptional quarterback and you see great stats, you start hearing that word thrown about.
COACH SUMLIN: Well, I don't hear it very much. You know, I don't know what you mean. Any quarterback with any statistics, hopefully they have some sort of system that he's playing in, so I really don't pay much attention.
Q. I had a question about Bowl games in general. I think that there's 34 now. Is that too many Bowls do you think, or is that about the right number?
COACH SUMLIN: I don't think it's too many. I think teams that have winning seasons need to be rewarded the extra practice time, 12 to 15 practices for your younger players and for the players who have won during the year. I think it's a reward for the fans, and mostly for the players. No, I don't think there are too many. I think there's probably -- there probably should be a limit.
I think teams that win the majority of their games and finish in the upper half of their league deserve to go out and play somebody else from another conference as a reward for their season.
Q. What about six-and-six teams or teams with losing conference records?
COACH SUMLIN: Six-and-six teams are probably different in my opinion. I think if you have a winning record, that's where it stands. Your players and coaches and fans ought to have the reward of going out and playing another game.
Q. What do you feel is one of your biggest wins that put you in this Bowl game?
COACH SUMLIN: I don't know, they're all big. If we didn't have any of them, of our conference wins, we wouldn't have got to the Conference Championship game. Those out-of-season wins, we look at our season as opportunities, not teams we're playing, and we have our 14th opportunity of the year. You're only guaranteed 12. So no game is bigger than the other one. It only becomes big when you don't win them. The UTEP loss is as big as the win at Tulsa because of what it did for us in our league. They're all big. The more games you win, the next week, no matter who you play, is bigger.
Q. James, can you tell me what attracted you about Houston and just kind of how you made it to Houston after, I guess, starting out at Iowa?
JAMES CLEVELAND: It was actually ironic. My high school coach and Coach Sumlin have been good friends for many, many years, and when Coach Sumlin was at University of Oklahoma, they were recruiting me coming out of high school, so he was familiar with who I was in that case. And I seen what University of Houston did last year, last season, and I really wanted to be a part of it. It was an opportunity where I could have been come to be a part of it as close to home, like 30 minutes from my mother's house, so she'd be able to catch every game. It was ideal; I didn't have any dreams or wants to go anywhere else after junior college.
Q. You know, he mentioned just a little while ago about how they needed somebody -- they had some guys on the outside and they needed somebody who could be an inside receiver and help make up for the loss of Hafner. Was that something that you thought about coming into this year, that you were going to try and play that role?
JAMES CLEVELAND: Yeah, because that was the shoes they told me they wanted me to fill. That's what -- every person has a role on this team, whether it's in my case catching 100 balls and making plays, or if it's a scout team player, to give the best look. Everyone has their role on the team, and they told me what they wanted my role to be and to fulfill it and everything that comes with it, I'll be able to accept it. I'll just try my best to step up and play in that role and be that person that they were looking for, and this season I was able to get it done, and I'm grateful for that.
Q. How would you describe that role? Is it inside receiver, possession receiver? How would you describe the role that you fulfill?
JAMES CLEVELAND: Actually I wouldn't just give it a title because of course I'm not the outside receiver, I'm on the outside controlling the middle of the field, in between linebackers, taking hits, picking outside linebackers for the blocks. I wouldn't quite put a title on it or a certain description, because it's a variety of things, maybe a formation where I'm the only receiver, so I would have to be on the outside, so it's not just over the middle. I make some plays on the outside. It's just basically whenever Case is dialing up my number, just be there for him to make the play and best I can, and whatever I do after that is on me.
Q. I just wanted to ask you, is there a throw this year from Case to you that sticks in your mind that you were kind of shocked he got the ball through that far or through that many defenders? Is there one throw that sticks in your mind?
JAMES CLEVELAND: There's actually quite a few, and not all of them, but they're very similar. But the last one at East Carolina, the last touchdown at East Carolina, when I reviewed the film, it was actually in between like three defenders, one over the fingertips of his hands, outstretched, jumping, and like the two safeties tried to cut underneath and make a play on the ball, as well, and they just missed the ball, and it landed in my hands for the touchdown. On the field it didn't seem as if it was a big throw fit into a tight window, but as I watched it on film and reviewed the game, it was a pretty big throw.
Q. Were you watching it on film with him?
JAMES CLEVELAND: No, not that game.
Q. What did you say to yourself when you saw it on film?
JAMES CLEVELAND: Man, this dude is special, because initially that wasn't even the play. That was a check at the line, and he saw something in the defense, and from -- evidently it worked because he got the ball in there. It was like, man, from start to finish, from the check at the line of scrimmage to noticing the defense to being able to make that throw and the place of the throw, I mean, if it was two inches to the right, it would have been intercepted. If it was two inches lower, it would have been intercepted by two different people in two different scenarios. So just for him to be able to fit it into that tight of a window was tremendous.
Q. A lot of quarterbacks when they start running out of the pocket they kind of give up the downfield throw. Case always has his eyes downfield. You've noticed that I'm sure?
JAMES CLEVELAND: Sure. When Case scrambles, he scrambles to throw the ball. His last option is always to run it. As quarterback you try to make plays, and he also has the awareness to throw it out of bounds if he can't make a play on it downfield, but when he scrambles, he scrambles to throw it. We work the scramble drill all week in practice every week in practice, so it's kind of second nature when he gets outside the pocket. It happens a little more often than what we practice, but we only needed to rip it a few times, get that repetition, just to know where we're supposed to be on the field so he has a feel for where we're going, and he executes, and the rest is just on him making plays.
Q. Just talk about the challenge of facing an Air Force defense you've faced, this will be the third time in 16 months, and the fact that they are the top passing defense, just the kind of challenge that presents for you guys and how different they are from last year.
CASE KEENUM: You're right, they are different from last year. They were a good football team last year, and I feel like they're a better football team this year. You know, I'm going to say they're the top ranked pass defense. You know, and I think that says something about them playing in a conference like they are. The Mountain West is not an easy conference. It has some tough games there, and they've been pretty successful.
We're excited about playing them and having a chance to play a defense that's the top ranked in the nation, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes.
Q. As you watched film from their team this year, what's different from what you saw last year in the two times you played them? What has made them better?
CASE KEENUM: You know, they're a year or two more experienced. You can say that the rookies from this year, which we've got a few young guys, and they do, too, they're not even really rookies anymore. They've got a year under their belt, they've got 13 or 12 games under their belt, and they're more like experienced veterans. The experience factor is definitely what makes them better.
You know, I think they're a lot similar to how they were as far as being a sound football team, and that's what you're going to get with an Air Force, and well-coached. They're not going to make any mistakes, and you're going to have to win the game; they're not going to give it to you. Just the fact that they've gotten better at doing all those things makes them a better football team.
Q. I asked Kevin this a little bit, but is there a different level of thought process for you guys this year going into a Bowl, coming off a loss in a championship game and getting a chance to play? There is a different feel going to a Bowl game this year, isn't there?
CASE KEENUM: You know, it's different every year. It's a different season every season. I guess it's got a lot of similar qualities in the fact that we're playing in the same Bowl game against the same team as we were last year. But you know, we're going to treat it exactly like Coach said; it's the first game of next year, and it'll be a good setup game for that. It's also a way to send the seniors out in the right way. The seniors have done a lot of things around here, done some great things, and they deserve to have a win as their last game as a Cougar. That's one thing we're going to strive and work very hard to do.
Q. You mentioned treating it like the first game of next year. Obviously you come back in this offense a third straight year; the expectations on you and what people are going to be saying, are you prepared for that, and just tell me, how are you going to approach all that, because your name is going to be jumped up there in the same light as some guys we've heard about this year.
CASE KEENUM: You know, I'm going to treat it the same way as I've been treating it every year as far as the off-season goes. You know, I'm not necessarily thinking about all that stuff quite yet, concentrating on this game right now. But you know, it's just another year of off-season and working hard because now it's my last chance to do something around here and make a difference. The time is shortening, and we've just got to take advantage of the opportunity that I have.
Q. I'm sure you relish and look forward to what's coming. I know you're looking forward to this game, but as far as the expectations, I'm sure that doesn't bother you; you have the same for yourself, don't you?
CASE KEENUM: Yeah, and again, it all begins December 31st. That can springboard us into a lot of neat things and places that we want to be, and it can start us off on the right foot for sure.
Q. Case, James was just talking about a throw that three people almost intercepted but ended up being a touchdown. How do you walk that line between being nervy and believing in yourself and your receivers and being reckless, kind of a fine line?
CASE KEENUM: There is. There is a fine line between being confident and falling in love with your arm. I heard that saying before as a quarterback; you don't need to fall in love with your arm, because when you start doing that, you start making throws that are a little out of your zone. Just knowing the situation and knowing what you need and how -- what chances can you take and what can you not. It's nice having receivers that are not necessarily great receivers but good defenders, too, because if I make a bad decision and throw a ball that is not necessarily up for grabs, but a defender could have a chance at it, too, a lot of our receivers are really incredible at getting the ball out of the air. It's their ball or it's nobody's ball. They do a good job of that every time the ball is in the air. They either catch it, which they do a lot of the times, or they knock it out of the air and not let the defenders catch it.
Q. Isn't it a little bit daunting to know that these guys have seen you twice, that their defensive coaches have seen a lot of tape of you going against their guys? Doesn't that add to the challenge for you?
CASE KEENUM: Yeah, you could say that, but then they could be saying the same thing about us. It's daunting that they have seen us twice. So it goes both ways. Still when it comes down to it, it's going to be a game of 60 minutes and four quarters, and we're going to get the ball and they're going to get the ball. Hopefully we're going to score, and hopefully we stop them. We know it's going to go both ways. They're not sitting home doing nothing right now. They're practicing hard and they're getting ready to play a game, too. They're going to have some stuff that works and we're going to have some stuff that works. It's going to be a good football game and I'm excited about playing it.
Q. There have been some other coaches around the country that have shut down their players' social networking. What about Case Keenum? Are you on Twitter? Who do you follow, and how many followers do you have?
CASE KEENUM: I think I've got some guys up here that Twitter for me, that I Twitter through. It's not necessarily just me on my own Twittering. It's these guys up here controlling all of that. I think Coach Sumlin has done a good job and treats us like men. You know, if we act like grown men, then he's going to treat us and respect us, and if we show respect. That's part of growing up and taking responsibility for your own actions.
But I try not to stick my nose in all that stuff, the Twitter, Facebook. There's not much good that can come out of that.
Q. James, do you feel like this has been kind of a second chance for you being in Houston? How did you kind of take this coming to Houston and transferring there and getting back in Division I football?
JAMES CLEVELAND: It's definitely a second chance. Whenever I was leaving the University of Iowa, I didn't think anybody would ever pick me up because that's just how the process goes sometimes. There were some guys that never played another down of football that was at University of Iowa with me. The dice can just roll like that sometimes. I didn't even have a community college to go to when I initially started the whole process of trying to find a school. Schools were telling me no, and I was just worried that I wouldn't be able to play again.
Thanks to Trinity Valley Community College, they gave me an opportunity to showcase again what I can do and the assets that I have, and Coach Sumlin liked what he saw, and as I alluded to earlier he already knew who I was, just seeing I was trying to change up everything that I've been going through, just take another path down to where I wanted to be. He gave me that second chance, and I'm very grateful, very grateful, won't take it for granted.
Q. Were you surprised? I mean, did he contact you or did you contact him or how did that work, and were you kind of surprised that you got a second chance from him, or how did you kind of react to that?
JAMES CLEVELAND: From him? Yeah, I was a little surprised, you know, because I just didn't know where it would come from or if it would come from anyone. Whenever he told me that, that he was going to give me a scholarship, I mean, it was like an immediate reaction, I'm going. I don't want to be recruited all over again. I already went through that, and it was fun and I enjoyed it in high school, but I don't want to go down that path again. I want to go to the University of Houston. I've seen what they've done last year and wanted to be a part of it and thought that I could help take it to the next level, which I'm trying to do now.
Q. Marcus, how have practices been going getting ready for the Bowl game?
MARCUS McGRAW: They're going great. Been working hard in the weight room and working hard down on the field trying to get better.
Q. Marcus, how is the team holding up after the gut-wrenching loss to ECU?
MARCUS McGRAW: Well, it's one of those things where you've got to be able to bounce back from a loss, and I think the team has taken it well. We're just trying to bounce back and trying to finish the season out with a win.
End of FastScripts