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December 29, 2016
THE MODERATOR: At this point we'll now hear from our coaches for tomorrow's game. First we'll hear from University of Nebraska coach Mike Riley.
COACH RILEY: We're looking forward to the game. I guess today will be our 16th practice. Obviously we didn't do all of that in a row or anything like that. But it's been good.
We're looking forward to playing a great opponent. This is a good team that is well-coached. It's a great program historically, so it's a great matchup. We're proud to be in it.
THE MODERATOR: Now we'll hear from Coach Jones.
COACH JONES: Again, same thing. It's an honor and a privilege to represent the University of Tennessee right here in Nashville in the Music City Bowl. Everyone has been great. It's going to be a great challenge. We think we've had a very good two weeks of preparation. I believe we've had 14 practices. We'll practice today.
Again, it's being able to take the practice field to the game field now and execute, the small details of what it takes to play winning football.
I've been proud of our players and preparation. It's going to be a great challenge playing a very disciplined, well-coached football team.
The thing about Nebraska is they make you earn everything that you get, whether it's offense, defense, special teams. They force you to execute. They challenge your physicality. Again, it's going to be a great challenge for us tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: At this point we'll take questions.
Q. Coach Riley, can you give us a scouting report on Ryker Fyfe, what he brings to the table versus Tommy Armstrong.
COACH RILEY: Well, what he brings, he's got a nice, quick release. That's one of his attributes, Ryker. Through this time he has built up some good confidence and getting to practice as much as he has. He hasn't gotten to play very much in his career. I think he's also kind of a ballplayer.
My thought about him is he can make some plays. I think that he's always kind of talked about and seen as maybe like more of the opposite of Tommy, Tommy being a versatile runner, run option plays, those kind of things that Ryker is really not that style.
But I think he's a better athlete than people know. Made some good plays when he started against Maryland running the football.
I think that he brings some versatility athletically. He's got a good, quick release. He's got accuracy. He's had now quite a bit of practice time.
Q. Butch, you've had two pretty good performances against Big Ten teams the last two bowls. Was there some commonalities in your preparation, maybe some confidence with your veteran players?
COACH JONES: We do have a formula in place for our bowl preparation. I think it's dependent on that particular year, that particular team, what's needed at that point in time.
We have followed kind of the same format, but we've also deviated a little bit just from what our team needs. Again, I think it's a balancing act of development, but also excitement, making sure your kids are fresh and ready to play, as well.
I always talk about the bowl experience. It's very typical of a first game. First game is a game of mysteries and unknowns. A lot of times playing a bowl game is the same way because of the time of preparation you're able to put in, different schemes, whether it's offense, defense or special teams. That's a challenge in and of itself.
But each team we faced the last couple years in bowl games have been a little bit different. I think when you look at our previous two, now Nebraska, I think Nebraska, not to take anything away from the other two programs we competed against, I think they're a more complete football team in terms of offense, defense, special teams. This is a football team that finished 9-3, but I believe they lost to two top-10 opponents and one overtime loss.
Football is a game of inches. I think their season really exemplifies that just like ours as well.
Q. Coach, you talked about that Tommy could maybe suit up in an emergency, number two, number three role. Have you made the determination if Tommy will dress in tomorrow's game?
COACH RILEY: We're going to talk about that after we work out today. He has had limited workouts. Those have been physical workouts, not quarterbacking.
We'll see what he can possibly do today. I'm talking about in a situation if we have to for some reason play a third guy, that he could go in there, make it look like football, hand the ball off.
COACH JONES: That means he's starting tomorrow (laughter).
COACH RILEY: I was wondering if you were going to say that. I don't think he will. But we're going to talk about it.
Q. Butch, can you talk about the difference in their offense with Tommy and Ryker. Have you seen enough of Ryker to know how different they are? What's your preparation?
COACH JONES: It's a challenge in and of itself. But also they're going to do what they do well. They do a lot of things well. I think the way they play in terms of formations, personnel groupings, play selection, throw game, is very, very versatile.
In their offense, it looks like the quarterback doesn't have to win the game, he has to manage the game. They have the versatility to do what they do well. It may also afford themselves to be able to do some different things as well.
It's a challenge in and of itself for preparation. It gets back to kind of a first-game-type mentality.
Q. Butch, with your defense, have you seen a different energy in your bowl practices versus the last three games of the year?
COACH JONES: Our players have had very, very good energy. When I look back at the season, there was one game in particular - we won't talk about that - where I didn't think we held up the standard and the expectation as a football team in terms of energy and effort and mentality.
That has driven us. It's driven me personally. But our players have had, again, very good energy, very good focus. Now it comes down to the details of getting off blocks, tackling.
If you look at the nuances of the bowl season, it pretty much stays the same every single year. It's all about tackling, it's all about special teams, it's all about turnovers, taking care of the football, and big plays. Again, those are the formulas for winning and losing football games. We've tried to really stress that. But I've liked our energy that we've had.
Q. For both coaches. Nebraska is going to wear the Mountain Tough decal. Butch, you're wearing the SF27 decal. Talk about the importance of doing that, reflecting football as a little bit bigger than life.
COACH RILEY: I think we're two programs that really have a great, I guess, opportunity for representing the whole state. I know we appreciate Tennessee wearing the SF27 sticker on their helmet. It means a lot to everybody in Nebraska that this tragedy that we had right before the season started with Sam passing away rocked everybody in the state. This event has occurred in every game for us this year. So we're thankful for people reaching out and caring. We're thankful for Tennessee doing it.
As we watched and heard and learned about Gatlinburg and the Gatlinburg area, about the Mountain Tough symbol theme, we're proud to be able to wear that as a thought for all these people that have gone through so much here in the state.
COACH JONES: I just think it's a great illustration of the respect of what both programs have for each other, but also for our players and everything that goes along with it. There's so much more to it than just football.
For them to wear the Mountain Tough, obviously Gatlinburg is a big part of who we are, been very, very fortunate for all of our bowl experiences to be able to go spend an afternoon or an evening in Gatlinburg. The whole state means so much to us.
I think that's the least that we can do. We had planned to do this awhile back, but Aaron Medley had first initially come to me and requested to do it. We already made the decision to do that.
Again, it's all about life, the respect that we have. Again, I think it's what college football's all about. I don't know if there's any other two teams in the country that are respecting what's gone on in the respective programs like Tennessee and Nebraska have done.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coaches.
COACH RILEY: Thank you.
COACH JONES: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We're now about to hear from the offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator from Nebraska, Danny Langsdorf and Mark Banker.
We'll just start with questions for the coordinators.
Q. For both you guys. Not having three guys that are pretty well-known, Nate Gerry, Tommy Armstrong, Jordan Westerkamp, curious to get your thoughts.
DANNY LANGSDORF: Without Tommy and Jordan, it's unfortunate. Both of those guys have meant a lot to Nebraska and our team, our program through the years. It's unfortunate that we're not going to have them in that last game in their careers at Nebraska.
It's unfortunate, the injury bug has kind of bit them. But they'll be there in spirit, helping out the guys on the sidelines.
MARK BANKER: On the lighter side of things, I guess because the situation is what it is, last year's season for us with Nate, the game against Iowa, then the game against UCLA, bowl game, we didn't have him for most of the game. Targeting calls, he was out. I guess it's only natural that Nate wouldn't be here for our game. Antonio Reed, the fellow that will play in his spot, will be there.
Same as Danny said, Nate, we weren't a part of his whole career here, but he started off fast as a freshman, did a lot of things early on in his career. Then, as well, the two years that we've been together here.
Anytime you don't have a starter, it's always difficult. At the same time I think our team and our players on defense have adapted well. Those players that are in those roles right now have done a nice job in this particular stint of practice.
Q. Mark, in general, what have you stressed to your defense in preparation for Tennessee?
MARK BANKER: Anytime you look at an opponent, you start with the personnel. Obviously Tennessee has very good personnel. I think the only thing that's held them back has been consistency. Injuries also over the course of the season.
Everything starts with the quarterback, both in the run game, pass game, his leadership. Everything goes through him. So we've made a big awareness of that, right down to the operation of the game, plays coming in from the sideline, the tempo of the offense.
Again, everything starts with his capabilities and what he means to the offense. Then you take a look at their offensive line. You don't go too far there. We understand that between that offensive line and the runningbacks that they have, it will be a long day if we don't handle their run game and try to make them as one-dimensional as possible. Then obviously getting off on third down.
The other part of that also would be in that passing game, we've talked a lot about the matchups of our perimeter people against their perimeter people. Big bodies, tall, 6'3", 6'5". Those have been the three things that we stressed the most. But again, just starting with the quarterback.
Q. Danny, with Ryker, he seemed pretty locked in yesterday at practice. Over the last few weeks, what have you noticed about him evolving, what's stood out to you in his progression since he's had to take over for Tommy?
DANNY LANGSDORF: He's had an excellent month of practice, gotten a ton of reps. He's been preparing to start this game for a while. Wasn't really out there, we weren't quite sure Tommy's status. But he has been preparing to play the game, finish off his career.
I think he's been excited about it. But he's been dialed in. He's really worked hard, the preparation part of it, studying, getting him in a position to play his best football.
Q. Danny, on Ryker, what are some of his strengths? Do you think there's an advantage you've had these weeks to get him ready for this game?
DANNY LANGSDORF: I think the advantage is just the practice time. He needed that. He's had, what, three starts. He needed some more work. It was helpful that we had this much prep time for the game. Kind of got him some work on some things he might not have had a lot during the season.
But he's performed well I thought in the Maryland game when he played. With this amount of time to practice, I think we've hit a lot of different things, got him up to speed on some stuff that he might not have repped as much.
He's ready to go. He's been looking good. I think he's excited to start.
Q. The tempo of game that Coach Riley is coaching, I know you've been a part of most all of them. Where does Tennessee rank amongst the opponents you've faced in bowls?
MARK BANKER: I think the Texas game we faced was a very good team. We played a Missouri team in the Sun Bowl when Chase Daniels was just a youngster. I believe he was a sophomore. If I remember right, half of that offense and half of that defense are all still on NFL rosters right now. Nobody really knew a whole lot about them. That was a heck of a day right there. That was a heck of a team also.
DANNY LANGSDORF: We've played some good ones. BYU was a tough game. We played a real good Pitt team. We played Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl. We've had some tough ones.
But these guys are talented. At least defensively they're as good of speed as we'll see. They've had their share of injuries. But I think they've shown to have talent across the board. They're going to be tough.
Q. Danny, how hard has it been to get a read on this defense, given injuries? In general, what do you expect from them?
DANNY LANGSDORF: The personnel has been a little tricky. They like to be a substitution team. They like to bounce in and out of a base group, then a nickel group. I think with the injuries, they didn't have the ability to do that all year.
We've had to kind of look through each game and make sure that we're getting a good read on whoever's in the game. That's taken some time.
The injury part of it, you always have to look pretty deep into who some of these guys are. You might not have seen them much on film, but they are talented. They've got a lot of good depth at each position.
We've had to just make sure we're ready to go for whatever they're going to give us. They've been a pressure team. I would expect that to be the case from throughout the season. They've given some quarterbacks some issues. With Ryker's lack of starts, I would think they would pressure him a little bit.
Q. When you use Reggie White and Derek Barnett in the same sentence, which has happened a lot this season, what are the challenges that you face to try to contain a guy like Derek Barnett?
MARK BANKER: You know what, I don't know as it's just contain a person, per se, as opposed to just the variations that they present to you from the standpoint of their offensive attack.
The team defense is a big deal, obviously. I think one of the biggest challenges just overall as you head into these bowl games is similar to what you face at the beginning of the year: finishing plays, tackling, open-field tackling, space, things of that nature.
I don't know as it's anything specific that you do as opposed to just make sure that obviously the team concept of what you're doing is sound.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you Coach Langsdorf and Coach Banker.
Next we'll here from Tennessee coordinators Mike DeBord and Bob Shoop.
Q. Coach Shoop, the month, how beneficial has it been to your defense to get back to the things you wanted to get to? How different defensively can you be now compared to where you were maybe in November?
BOB SHOOP: That's a great question. I think we've gotten some people back and healthy. To see Darrin Kirkland practice the way he practiced early in the season has been a lift. Cam Sutton is continuing to get healthier.
Coach used the phrase 'style of play'. That's really what is important tomorrow against a really good Nebraska team, we go out and play our style of play, like we did the first five games. Even though we didn't beat South Carolina, I thought we played well against South Carolina and Tennessee Tech.
We've gotten healthy. The guys are excited. They've practiced really well. We've looking forward to going out and playing tomorrow.
Q. Mike, how much has this sustained period of time benefited your offensive line not only from a health standpoint but a little more continuity as well?
MIKE DeBORD: Well, it's done that. We've had those five guys in there the entire bowl practices. Been able to continue to get healthier, as you just mentioned, and continue to work on techniques and working together.
It's been obviously very beneficial in both ways.
Q. Coach Shoop, have you noticed a difference in the freshness of the legs in your defense during these bowl practices compared to the last few games of the season?
BOB SHOOP: Yeah. We talked about that. When we played against Kentucky, we played nearly 90 snaps, Missouri was over 110 snaps. I thought it really showed itself in the last two and a half quarters against Vanderbilt. We made sure the players weren't wearing ankle weights this week.
The guys have come back with a great mindset. They're very confident, they're very excited. We're looking forward to compete. I saw a word on Twitter today, it said 'redemption'. I don't know if that's a great word.
We finished the season 8-4. We were 3-1 in the month of November. Certainly nobody is pleased with how the thing finished. But our guys are excited to go out and play their best game tomorrow.
Q. Bob, with the defensive tackle situation, you all have gotten healthy at some other places, but the numbers there look like what they were. Have you been able to develop some more depth over the past month?
BOB SHOOP: I think the last time we spoke, you asked about guys that might have stepped up and played well in practice. I think one of the guys that stepped up and played exceptionally well is Jonathan Kongbo. I've said that to you over the course of the season.
I think we put some unrealistic expectations on him, avid from Vancouver, British Columbia, by way of Laramie, Wyoming, by way of Yuma, Arizona, coming to the SEC. He stepped inside, played his best football at the end of the year. He's practiced really well. I'm excited to see him.
Kendal Vickers has been a warrior throughout the course of the season. Kyle Phillips continues to play inside. Quay Picou has practiced well, too. We're going to go with the guys we have got.
It's not like an NFL team where you have a practice squad. These guys have practiced really well and they understand the game plan and we're looking forward to going out and playing our best.
Q. Coach, you mentioned the 'redemption' narrative. We've been talking to the guys the last couple weeks. They say they have a bad taste in their mouth from the Vanderbilt game. What do you think it's going to take to erase that taste?
BOB SHOOP: You don't want to talk about win. Everybody wants to win. We talk about our style of play and our style of preparation. Those are the two things we've talked about since we've gotten back together and started practicing.
You can't just turn it on December 30th 2:30 in the afternoon in Nissan Stadium and expect it to happen. Bowl games are first of all about enjoying it, we want our guys to have fun. But it's about tackling, ball security, special teams. We've talked about those things.
Our guys have prepared really hard. I'm impressed with the way they've practiced. We've practiced probably better these last two and a half, three weeks than we have since late October, early November. It may be a product of being a little bit fresher, or that bad taste in your mouth.
Bowl games mean a lot of different things to different teams and different units. I know our team is going to come out excited and ready to play tomorrow.
Q. What is the challenge of preparing for Nebraska's quarterback situation, not knowing exactly, not having a ton of film on Ryker?
BOB SHOOP: There's enough film on Fyfe. I was in the Big Ten the last two years. We didn't play Nebraska, but I've seen them on film for different reasons. Tremendous amount of respect for their offense, Coach Langsdorf, Coach Riley, their offensive mind.
They run the ball first and foremost. Like any team or organization, they try to operate their offense to their personnel. They're going to run the ball.
You don't lose a guy like Armstrong with his experience, play making ability, 22 touchdowns this year, 2200 yards passing, over 500 yards rushing, and not say you're going to miss him.
Fyfe can operate the offense. He started against Maryland, played the whole game. They won 28-7. He started games in the past. He can throw the ball. I admire guys like him. He's a senior, stuck around the program. Worked his way up, having an opportunity to play in a bowl game for a great program like Nebraska.
We know what he's capable of doing. We also respect the stable full of runningbacks they have. They've got some great receivers.
It all starts, Nebraska when you think about them, you think about that big red offensive line right there. We know we're going to have quite a challenge tomorrow.
Q. Mike, when Butch called you a couple years ago when he was looking for an offensive coordinator, you weren't in coaching at that point, you jumped back in. What has this couple of years been like for you to get back into the groove, find an offense that had a lot of success this year?
MIKE DeBORD: Well, I was excited, obviously. I was in a position really where I was going to be very particular in where I went, who I worked for and everything. So obviously, everybody knows it, Butch and I had a relationship before that. We worked together. I've always had great respect for him. We've got a great friendship.
I wanted to come help him if I could help him. That's the way I kind of told him. I don't want to be your coordinator if you don't feel like I can help you move this offense along.
As I look back these last two years, I'm proud of what our coaches and our players have done offensively. Going back to two years ago when we were the second rushing team in the conference, then this past year what we did as far as being second in the conference in scoring, one of the best in the red zone, things like that. I'm really proud of what we've been able to accomplish.
There's been things we haven't done. You always go back and look at that, say, How do we get better at that? That's for another day.
I've really enjoyed this past season with these guys just continuing to work to get better this season. It's a good year.
Q. Mike, what maybe led up to you playing so well offensively in last year's bowl game?
MIKE DeBORD: I would say the preparation that we had. It goes back to what Bob was talking about this year. Our guys were locked in. We got healthier, which obviously that enabled us to play well in that bowl.
I just think the overall preparation, our guys being locked in. Again, we've had that this year, as well.
Q. Mike, what impresses you most about Nebraska's defense?
MIKE DeBORD: Well, I think when you look at it, it's talented, the entire defense. The front, the linebackers, the secondary, they're very talented. I feel like it's a scheme defense. What I mean by that is they play their defense, and they play it very sound. They're very good in their fundamentals, they're tough. Their players are in the right position all the time.
So I just think, you know, it's one that we've got to make sure we do a good job of our angles and our blocking schemes and also in our routes, our concepts. We got to make sure we do a good job of assignments, being assignment confident and executing.
It's a challenge. Obviously they're the 22nd defense in the country. They've done that for a period of time.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports