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December 30, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We will ask for the coach to make opening comments.
COACH BREWSTER: Well, I would first like to say what an honor and a privilege it is to be here in Phoenix, the Tempe area, for the Insight Bowl. It has been an amazing week. I think that the Insight Bowl committee, the Tempe Diablos, all the people involved in making this a very special game have done an outstanding job. The only problem we've had is just the weather is so bad.
It is a lot like this in Minneapolis. We've had some of our media people here and they said it was just a little chillier in Minneapolis this morning than it is here.
Again, it is a special honor and a privilege to be here. We've got a good football team. I'm extremely proud of our football team. Last year we won one game in the first season of our journey together as a football program. Change was difficult. We lost six games last year by a total of 23 points. We're very close. We fought extremely hard.
This year we've won those close games. We've turned our season from a one-win season to a seven-win season and that's due in large part to the two guys sitting next to me. Tremendous leadership from Willie VanDeSteeg and Steve Davis and others like them, our captains have done an amazing job.
I think that's the biggest question that I'm asked, how did you do it? How did you turn it? And it is just a commitment from within to make the team more important than individuals. And I don't think anybody on our team gives a rip about an individual goal. The only thing that matters to the Gophers is are you a good teammate? Are you a good teammate? Will you sacrifice any and all for the common cause of the team?
And, guys, that may sound corny or whatnot, but you know what? I truly believe it's what made us a better football team this season. We have a tremendous opponent we are playing on Wednesday night.
I have got so much respect for Mark Mangino and the Kansas Jayhawks. What Mark has done is nothing short of amazing. In seven years, Mark has built a program at Kansas that can play with anybody in the country. Last season, 12-1, won the Orange Bowl. You have to respect a man who's done the job he has done there.
You look at them on offense. Obviously they are one of the most explosive football teams in the country, very solid defensively. I think the common denominator for the Kansas Jayhawks is they are extremely well-coached. They don't make a lot of mistakes. They don't give you ball games. If you are going to beat them, you got to go beat them. They are not going to hand you anything.
And so I think it is going -- it is a tremendous matchup. I think it is going to be a lot of fun for the fans to see and real looking forward to it.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach. Now we will open it for questions.
Q. Coach, speaking of -- as long as you mentioned Kansas there, on the Kansas side, the fans watching the last game against Missouri, such a rivalry game, a lot of passion and so exciting, but I would be interested to hear from your coaching perspective, having watched the film, obviously, what did you see in the fourth quarter? What stands out about what Kansas did against Missouri?
COACH BREWSTER: I think what it says is it says so much about Kansas' football team. Kansas struggled down the stretch, similar to what we did at the University of Minnesota.
They had a big rival football game to end their season, an outstanding Missouri football team. I watched a Missouri game last night some with Northwestern. Missouri is an outstanding team.
And kind of with Kansas -- with them backed up against the wall, they came out and played an outstanding football game. Showed tremendous character. Inclement weather, real good football team, big rivalry, Kansas had lost a few games in a row but they came out and they won that football game.
And again, like I said, it says so much about Coach Mangino their staff, their preparation and his kids' ability to go win the game.
Very impressive victory over Missouri in the last game.
Q. Coach, I was wondering if you could talk about how you balance allowing your players to have fun and enjoying a Bowl game versus being prepared to play?
COACH BREWSTER: We haven't any fun; we are here to play, we're here to win. That has been my mind-set. We will real have some fun after the game because to me going to a Bowl game is not the issue. Being selected to go to a Bowl game is not what it's about.
It's about winning Bowl games. I have been a part of a lot of Bowl games. To me what it's about, again, is going and winning the Bowl game. We've worked extremely hard. We had 15 practices. Today will be our 15th Bowl practice and we've utilized these practices to get better. We're an extremely young football team.
It just has been great for us. We have been extremely physical in our practices. But I think that the guys would tell you they've also real enjoyed this area. They've had a good time. I think our football team is rested at this point and hungry to go play the game.
The past couple of days we've shut it down and we're dead-set focused on Wednesday at 4:00.
Q. Tim, you touched on this before, but can you talk about just the general feeling around the program now with this turnaround and the stadium coming and just where this Bowl game fits in that process?
COACH BREWSTER: I think there is tremendous excitement. I think Gopher Nation is alive and excited about what the future holds.
A dream come true has happened in the state of Minnesota with football coming back on campus to a place where six national championships, 18 Big Ten championships were won on campus, since the decision was made to leave campus, there hasn't been a championship won. We are building one of the finest brand-new stadiums on campus in America. I travel the state of Minnesota. I know that Minnesotans' dreams will be realized on September 12, 2009, when we play Air Force and open up TCF Bank Stadium. It will be very special.
Again, to me, winning is what it is about at the University of Minnesota. The bar, the standard of excellence has been set well before I got there. And what we want to do is just kind of reclaim what we feel like is Minnesota's rightful place amongst the elite teams in college football.
Because you look at the tradition and history of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, it is as good and strong as any football program in America.
It has been a while since we've walked on that grass, but that's our goal, that's our ambition. We want to make the Gophers special again and we think we are headed in the right direction.
Q. Willie, you have been through an awful lot there in your time. I am wondering what you are thinking here as you go into this one.
WILLIE VANDESTEEG: Obviously last year was a struggle. Like Coach said, it is a step back to go forward. Obviously winning one game last year and coming back and winning seven this year my senior season is a great honor to how hard we worked in the off-season.
We really pushed each other in the weight room, spring ball, summer. Then going into training camp obviously worked real tough. It just gives -- shows how hard our players have worked all year to get where we are at today and I just thank all my players and all my teammates for doing what they did.
Q. For both Steve and Willie, I'm just wondering, after the way the season ended for you guys, if you can talk about what the feeling has been like to have the 15 practices and maybe how much anticipation there is to get back on the field.
STEVE DAVIS: Well, we kind of had a hot streak in the beginning of the season and then kind of sloped at the end.
To have a Bowl game gave us another opportunity to go out there and be prepared to get ready to play. Our 15 practices were intense. Like Coach said, we were hitting each other a lot, excitement, enthusiasm. We looked at it as an opportunity for us to get another win. It is another season, kind of like two-a-days started. Like we are ready to play again.
And the last couple days, things have been going a little bit lighter so we can just get prepared in our minds and bodies to play this game.
And the main thing for us is go out here and get a win, a victory, so New Year's Day will be a good day for us.
Q. Can you players talk about the Kansas offense, what you know about it, what you've seen that impresses you.
STEVE DAVIS: Well, from what I have seen, they are an offense that will take what you give them. Basically if you line up and show them what you are about to do, then they can figure out a way to pick you apart. Their quarterback is about as good as any quarterback in the country. He is a little short guy, so you -- he likes to get outside of the pocket and pass the ball.
But our coaches have been kind of complimenting him and saying he is a Brett Favre because he is a guy that's like a gunslinger and takes some shots and throws it in there. It might not be the right decision, but he will throw it in there.
He is the type of guy that will make the right decision for his team. The main thing for us is to keep him contained and do our responsibility in the back end in coverage, and the front end, get to him and make sure he doesn't make plays with his feet.
WILLIE VANDESTEEG: Kansas' offense, they are ranked 8th in the country in passing. If you do that, you are obviously doing something right. You got two good wide receivers that are big play makers for their offense and they try to get them the ball. It will be hard. They have a good offensive line upfront.
That's where it all starts, is the guys up front, protecting for the quarterback. If he doesn't have a lot of time, then his numbers aren't going to be where he wants them to be.
He can run around and make plays on his feet. It will be exciting to see what we can do against them.
Q. Coach, can you talk about your offense. It looks opportunistic early in the year. At the end you faced tough times and made -- tough teams and made a staff change. How much of that tweaking offense could we see in this game?
COACH BREWSTER: I think we've got some real good football players on the offensive side. I was extremely pleased with the development of Adam Weber as a quarterback. I think Eric Decker is as fine a wide receiver as there is in America today. It was unfortunate that he got hurt the last couple of weeks of the season. He was a Biletnikoff finalist. But I think he could have won the award for being the best receiver in the country.
We've got some real good players. We are extremely young on the offensive side of the ball. We are still seeking and searching for exactly who our play makers are because of our youth.
But, again, what we've got to do is we've got to do a better job of running the football. The physicality part of it, the running game part of it. We are a spread football team, as is Kansas. But what we want to be able to do is we want to be able to do a better job of running the football, particularly in short yardage, goal line situations, and so we've had a real added emphasis on that part of the game, on that part of the run game because we know this, guys, it is very simple. If we don't stay on the field more, our chances of beating Kansas are not good.
Kansas is -- they're a big favorite in this game and rightfully so. They have got an outstanding team. So we know what we have to do to give ourselves a chance to be in this game and that's stay on the field offensively for the most part the best that we can.
Q. You have been here for a long time, been through a couple coaches, ups and downs. Has it sunk in that you are on the eve of your final college football game? What are your thoughts heading into that final game?
WILLIE VANDESTEEG: I was here last game maroon and gold. I can only speak for myself. It is going to be an emotional game obviously before you run out. It is a game that's going to be exciting too because obviously you want to go out on a high note. The way we ended the season wasn't the way we wanted to, but we got another chance to redeem ourselves and obviously come back and maybe put a smile on our face for the end of the season.
STEVE DAVIS: Just feedback on that, this is our last game so we are very excited to go out there and get another opportunity to play. And the main thing for us is to get out there and get a win, end on a high note so we can come back and say in Minnesota, hey, we went to the Insight Bowl, and our last game, we won.
Q. Going back to the offense, Tim, the Big 12 has that reputation with the quarterbacks being an airing-out league and the Big Ten still has that reputation of a run-oriented league. I know you are an exception. Do you buy that generalization, and, two, do you see this game as a chance to maybe show that you guys can be more dynamic as well on offense?
COACH BREWSTER: I know the Big 12 extremely well. I coached in that conference for four years at the University of Texas, and so I'm very familiar with the Big 12. And the Big 12, without question, one of the top conferences across the country, outstanding quarterbacks in the Big 12. Todd Reesing doesn't get mentioned in the same breath as some of the other guys at Texas and the Oklahomas, those-type guys, but he should be mentioned in that breath with those guys.
And the misnomer of this is that eight of the eleven teams in the Big Ten are now spread football teams. We see the spread darn near every week. And so the unique thing now today, guys, is not the spread but it is the two back downhill offense. That's the offense people struggle with more today than the spread.
I mean, everybody sees enough of the spread to know we are going to line up with four wide receivers and can you cover, can you get a pass rush, can you outnumber their blockers, that type of thing. But it is that downhill, in your face offense that you kind of remember from years ago that's a little bit different today. So I think that the Big Ten is an outstanding conference. We have got a lot of great players and coaches in the conference.
We've got tremendous athleticism in the conference. So I think we match up well with the Big 12 as far as that type of thing is concerned.
Q. Steve and Willie, I was wondering at this point in time last year what were you guys doing and what made you think a turnaround of this magnitude was possible?
STEVE DAVIS: Last year we were obviously sitting at home after our disappointing season. It was kind of frustrating just sitting there and watching the whole season and seeing all these teams play and wondering why we were not a part of it because it was the first time that I had been here that we did not go to a Bowl game.
I sat there and thought I didn't want to end out not going to a Bowl game ever again. So for the remainder of the break I just got my mind right. And then when we came back for winter, we were there just hitting it, getting guys ready to play, getting the young guys that are coming in that Tim Brewster recruited and get them acclimated into the system. Ted Roof came in in the spring and kind of got the defense together and got us excited to play again.
Basically we rallied the troops. Got them ready to play because we have another opportunity to play another season and we wanted to show the country that we can have a huge turnaround this year. We can go out there and play great defense, play a good game in the offense and get some wins for the university to carry over for the next couple seasons going into Tim Brewster's era.
Q. This is a question for the players. Kind of a followup, did it surprise you guys how quick you were able to turn things around this year after the season you had last year to this year, having the opportunity to win eight games? Was that surprising to you?
WILLIE VANDESTEEG: I would probably say not at all just because of the fact we do have a lot of talent on this team and we have a lot of kids who are ready to lead. Like Coach Brewster said, I think six games last year we lost by 23 points. We were in every one of those games, we just couldn't finish them. That's what we worked on in the off-season, in the fourth quarter program. We tried to figure out how we could win the last quarter, if we had to win in overtime.
Last year we lost two games in overtime. They were hard. That's what we really practice on is how to finish. If we figure out how to do that, you can win some more games next year.
STEVE DAVIS: Basically, yeah, the same thing, we just worked on finishing. About the turnaround this year, we are not very -- too surprised about it because we knew we had confidence in each other to go out there and play great football and we were confident coming into the season with our training days and two-a-days and stuff.
So we just was ready to go out there and play. It could have been better, but we still got one more opportunity to get another win.
Q. Tim, a couple things I wanted to ask you. One is can you sort of quantify how beneficial all these extra Bowl practices are for a younger team? And, two, if you hadn't had that slump at the end, would you have loosened the reins at the Bowl game a little bit or would it be the same approach with the players?
COACH BREWSTER: I really think that I am who I am and I don't -- I'm not different because of a win this week or a loss last week.
I really strive hard to be consistent with who I am. I think that's something that our players genuinely appreciate. I'm the same guy today as I was the day after the Iowa game or the day before the Iowa game. I'm extremely positive.
We want to be an extremely hard-working football team. And so to be honest with you, that's all we've done. We've just continued on with who we are. We've identified who we want to be as a football team. That's a tough, hard-nosed football team that outworks people, that tries to outwork people each and every day.
And so, again, that's what we have done. I struggle a little bit, to be honest with you, at letting the kids have more fun. I am a focused -- I'm this kind of guy right here.
And so -- but I think I have done pretty good, haven't I, guys, letting you have a pretty decent time? Yesterday I let them sleep in a little bit, make sure they got their rest, because to me the most important thing for this football game -- for us to win this football game is we're healthy and fresh on Wednesday at 4:00. Healthy and fresh. I want to take a team into Sun Devil Stadium at 4:00 on Wednesday that's healthy and fresh and ready to play for four quarters like their hair is on fire.
I'm sorry if I missed a piece. There was another?
Q. All these extra Bowl practices that you have, it must mean a lot.
COACH BREWSTER: It really does. We get two spring practices. And this set of 15 practices has been truly invaluable because, to be quite honest with you, all of our young guys are practicing. All of our young guys are playing. We don't have to -- we're not where we need to be numbers-wise or depth-wise yet. So all of the guys red shirting, they are out there practicing against our first unit. We got better as a football team, I think, in preparation for this Bowl game because of those practices.
We will have another set of 15 practices later in the spring and I think we have a chance to be a really good football team going into the 2009 season if we continue working like we've established the work ethic of who we are.
Q. Steve and Willie, any extra motivation in considering what happened two years ago at Sun Devil Stadium?
WILLIE VANDESTEEG: Obviously that was a disappointing game, but we got new coaches, we are a whole new team from that team. Obviously we're a whole new team from last year.
We kind of forget about that stuff. It is another game. This is a game we won't forget. This is our senior year. That was our sophomore year. We had two more years to play, 24 more games to play. This is our last game. This is a game we are going to want to remember.
Q. Coach, can you talk about what makes Decker so explosive and so successful on the field?
COACH BREWSTER: Eric Decker has got all the physical qualities that you look for in a great wide receiver. He has got length. He is 6'2". He has size. He is 210 pounds. He is an extremely strong kid in the weight room. His grip strength is unbelievable. When he shakes your hand, he has got a very, very strong grip.
So all those things help him. He is a competitive guy. It is not the catches that truly gets me excited about Eric Decker, it is the blocks that gets me excited. I could put together a reel and show you guys Eric Decker, the explosive runs that we've gotten as a result of his blocks down the field are just truly amazing.
Again, to me, that's what separates him from some other receivers in the country is the whole body of work, the whole body of what he does as both a route runner, ball catcher, blocker, leader. He is just invaluable to our football team just like these two guys sitting here to my left.
Q. Coach, can you talk a little bit about Brodrick Smith, how he got on your recruiting radar and his development as a freshmen receiver, please.
COACH BREWSTER: Do you want to talk about Brodrick? From your perspective.
STEVE DAVIS: Well, Brodrick, he is a good guy that came in, kind of got thrown into the fire being a freshman playing starting at wide receiver.
To me he has been growing every week. He kind of started off slow, but now he is starting to show a lot more signs of being a play maker. The other day at practice he made a miraculous catch over a couple of our defenders. He looks like he is going to be a guy down the road that will make a lot of plays for Tim Brewster and Minnesota.
So he is a guy that has got a good attitude about things. He is a hard worker. He takes advice pretty well. I think he will be a good guy down the line.
COACH BREWSTER: I think Brod is a perfect example of a young guy that was asked to play as a true freshman. Wasn't quite understanding of what all entailed the speed of practice, blocking. Wait a minute, Coach, I made a great catch, you want me to block on this play? Just learning and growing and understanding all it takes to be a great, complete football player. You know what he's had? He's had the benefit of going to practice every day with Eric Decker, and I'm going to tell you, the best coaches, to be quite honest with you, as we all know are players. Are players.
He's done a great job of stepping up, learning and growing. He was a national recruit, Brod was extremely highly recruited and we are very fortunate to get him.
I think in the next three years he is really going to be one of the top wide receivers not only in the Big Ten but in the country.
End of FastScripts