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Opening statement

We're sitting here at midseason 3-3, and tied for first place in the Coastal. We probably would have taken this six weeks ago. It hasn't worked out like we thought it would. It's been different, but it is what it is. I do feel like Georgia Tech was a really good response after all the energy that our guys spent at Clemson. They didn't do the same at Wake Forest and Appalachian after the first two games. We didn't play as well as we needed to at Georgia Tech, but they played with a lot of emotion and played hard. So, that's progress. Last week's practice was really, really good, and yesterday's practice was good. I think they are starting to learn how to compete every day. We also have to give them a lot of credit, too, for going to Georgia Tech and winning for only the second time in 22 years in Atlanta. People kind of overlooked that. Georgia Tech went to a bowl last year, or at least two years ago I think. We haven't been to a bowl in at least three years, so the guys really deserve credit for going down there and playing as hard as they did.

Our fans also deserve credit. We're only one of nine schools in the country that have had 100 percent capacity for our home games. That's really cool for the criticism we've taken in the past. I applaud our fans and thank our fans and our students for coming, and coming early, and making a difference in our games because that's something that we really, really need. There's been a lot of talk this week after byes that some of the teams in the ACC have not played well and they've lost. We went back and looked at our history after byes, and we're 30-7-1 since I've been coaching. We were 8-2-1 here, and obviously some of that's when we didn't beat anybody with the 8-2-1. The other, at Texas, we were 22-5. I think what we're doing works. There's a lot more injuries when you go back and survey what's happened after your open date. I'm really not sure if that's not kids taking care of themselves on the weekend, if it's not coaches hitting the guys too hard. Our philosophy is that you rest the older ones that have played a whole lot. We didn't hit our backs last week. We hit the young ones, but we didn't hit the guys that have been playing all of the time. We really worked hard with all the younger ones to teach, and at the same time we worked on Virginia Tech.

That's been our philosophy, then we give them off Friday and Saturday, and come back Sunday, and they did a great job, as I said, at practice yesterday. I think a part of them in talking to them is they're really excited to be in the mix. People say, "Well, do they have a legitimate chance?" Well, obviously we do. I mean it's there for us. We control our own destiny and every team is as good as we are moving forward, so we understand what's out there for us, and we've got to improve in a lot of areas, but it is what it is.

The injuries are real, too. We've lost four starters in the secondary. It's not just losing starters. You lose Nick Polino and you lose some others... Charlie Heck for a game or two, but when you lose them all at one position, it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Jay Bateman and Dre Bly. They've just got to do a great job of coaching other guys. I told them, "That's what it is." Everybody says, "Next man up," well it is. You've got to coach some guys that haven't played very much, and you've got to coach them really, really well. So, that's important to us.

Going to Lane Stadium, which is a very difficult place to play, but a fun place to play, we haven't done very well since they joined the ACC. We're 2-5 up there, so it'll be a great challenge for us to go on the road. They're 4-2, they've come off of a great win over in Miami and then beat Rhode Island this weekend, so they'll be all excited.

Justin Fuente’s a good friend of mine. I did a number of his games when he was at Memphis, and then did some games at Virginia Tech as well. He's a guy I've known for a long time that I like, I admire, I respect. It'll be fun to see him, and I'm proud of the job that he's doing. Since they've changed quarterbacks to Hendon Hooker, whose from Dudley, they've really done well. He's a big, tall guy that's a powerful runner, but he's throwing the ball well. Their receivers are as good as anybody in the country, so it's not a good match for us with the defensive backs that we've lost.

When you look at Virginia Tech for 100 years, you talk about Bud Foster and his defense, because he does as good a job as anybody of changing it up and moving people, and mixing it up, and giving you different looks. Our offensive line, we'll have to block guys that are moving a lot this weekend. We'll have to pick up a lot of blitzes. Sam will have to do a good job controlling all that. Because of Frank Beamer and Beamer Ball forever, you also know the kicking game's important when you go to Blacksburg. The guys are excited about it. We'll have a good week's practice, and get ready to go and see where we are.

How much stock do you put into how other teams play that you have already played?

Yeah, if you look at South Carolina beating Georgia, that has to give our guys confidence. You look at Clemson just dominating Florida State. Once again, it has to give our guys confidence. One thing we asked them to do, their assignments on Thursday night, Friday and Saturday, were to watch N.C. State against Syracuse, and go through a game plan in your mind, and try to pit us against them. Watch Virginia against Miami. Watch Georgia Tech against Duke, because you've played Georgia Tech. Watch Clemson against Florida State. See where that is. Watch South Carolina. So, there was a little buzz in the room yesterday about those upsets. It's interesting to me after I go back and have my five years in TV, and I'll try to say this where it makes some sense, I've always thought golf was so different because there's a different winner every Sunday. Sometimes, we've never heard of the guy. It's just out of nowhere. College football, other than golf to me, has the biggest change in a team's personality from week to week on a Saturday.

You can see a team one week and they look absolutely great. You can see them the next week, and they're awful. It's the same people. It's really hard to understand, but I think other than maybe golf, there's the biggest differential in teams in college football week to week. I've learned that one game doesn't lead to another. About the time you think, "somebody's there," they stink. They absolutely stink. I know you all have to pick them every time. When I used to pick them I'd say, "This is going to happen, man," and they were awful. I was talking to the coach the night before, and he said, "Man, we've had a great week's practice. We're ready to go. This game plan's great." I even texted Stacy Searels... No, I picked Notre Dame to beat Miami when Miami won 10 and they killed Notre Dame. The reason I picked Notre Dame to win was because the Notre Dame running game was so much better than the Miami running game, that it was going to be a blowout. Well, at two in the morning, I get a text from Stacy Searels, "I guess you really know what you're talking about, because they dominated the running game at Miami and Notre Dame didn't make any yards." So, you just can't tell. I think it's the reason people love college football so much, because when you show up, you've got no clue what's going to happen. These are kids, and it's just crazy. You sit there and watch it all weekend, it's just crazy, and you can't figure out why.

What do you think about what players were saying after you lost to Clemson by one point, that there was something off with Clemson?

I didn't, but normally if you're a team that's won two games last year, and you're a team that won the National Championship and it's down to one play, you're going to figure something's off. I think it was just a natural reaction. I'm hoping that we're getting better. Either way, we got Clemson's attention because they played really well Saturday.

Who do you turn to in the secondary now?

Well, you've got Greg Ross who has played a lot, and then you've got Obi (Egbuna), who's got to play some now. He's growing up. You've got Javon Terry, who can play and needs to play more. We're going to look at DeAndre Hollins some at corner as well. We're really just putting the guys out there and coaching the heck out of them. That's what we said, "You guys, it's time to play." A lot of the guys that don't play whine about not playing. Here's your chance.

Is Storm Duck in that mix?

Yeah, Storm will start. Yes, I'm sorry. I'm counting him as the old experienced one, so I didn't even put him in the group. He's playing really well. We're really pleased with Storm, who three weeks ago we were afraid to put in a game, and then we have to start him against Clemson. Dre's making his money. He's having to coach the heck out of them, and to me, no better person than Jay Bateman, who's dealt with this kind of stuff before. Army had a lot of numbers, but sometimes they didn't have the great players. So, they had to do a tremendous job of scheming to cover some guys. I have full confidence in Jay that he can do that, even though, watching in Virginia Tech, those receivers are really good.

During the offseason you said that quarterback was your biggest question mark. Has it been surprising to see what Sam Howell has done through the first six weeks of the season?

It has been surprising to see what Sam's done. I'm really proud of him. He's tough. We didn't protect very well early. We're doing better now. Whether he was holding the ball too long, or probably a combination of both when you start looking at it. Then you lose Jace (Ruder) and then Cade (Fortin) transferred. So, we went from strength at quarterback, unknown strength because we at least had numbers to Vincent Amendola now as the backup quarterback. He's doing really well. We've had three weeks now for him to prepare, so he's in a much better place to go in a game now than he was before. One of the disappointing things at Georgia Tech is when we didn't score when we had opportunities early. I wanted to play a lot of guys, and we didn't get an opportunity to do that on offense. We did on defense, then when we put the white defense in, they scored in five plays or something. That was a disappointment because we wanted Vincent to get some plays, and he didn't get to do it.

I really think in the future with the way college football is and the portal, quarterbacks are transferring so quickly, and we ran out of quarterbacks at Texas when I was there before. We had a transfer, a concussion issue, and all of sudden we're down to one quarterback there. I think you're going to have to start looking at really concentrating on great walk-ons at quarterback. You're going to have to concentrate on if there's a quarterback that's also a safety, and you sign him as a safety, he's going to have to be a third-team quarterback.

We're all going to have to look for numbers at quarterback, because the only way they normally stay is if you've got an older one and a younger one, and the younger one can see that he's going to be able to play in time. If you're like us, and you had three at the same age, it makes it more difficult.

With in-state recruiting and your emphasis there, is one way to stem that transfer process by recruiting that position in-state?

Absolutely. Just like Vincent, we took Vincent late but a lot of guys want to come to the school and with that priority walk-on spot, you can get in school, so we probably need to look at that as a position of importance at quarterback.

What has Beau Corrales done to put himself in position to be more in the mix?

Beau has been tall. He's got great length, and he can jump, he can dunk a basketball. I told Beau the other day... Beau is a guy, when we got here, that was really inconsistent. He's got some diabetes issues that he fights, and blood sugar goes up and down. He has done an amazing job of fighting through the stuff that he has to fight with with his sugar blood level and all that stuff, and playing, and being consistent. In fact, we told him his standard is up so high, now we're mad at him because he didn't catch the high ball in the end zone at Georgia Tech, because we're used to seeing him catch those balls now. I think Beau has been one of the most pleasant surprises since we've been here. He has really stepped up. We've got guys like Emory Simmons, who's so close to playing. We've got to trust him to put him out there, because he's done well when he's in.

You take Antoine Green, he’s getting healthy again. We're about to get healthier here at receiver. We just got to catch balls. We can't drop balls. We dropped a few yesterday in practice, and now Lonnie Galloway has spent about 45 minutes after practice throwing them tennis balls. One of my friends was out there, and he said, "What's that about? Man, they ain't going to be catching tennis balls." I said, "You know when you go to the golf course and they have these little bitty holes, and you're trying to putt in. Then when you see the real hole, it's real big? I haven't seen that big hole yet on my golf, but same thing with football." Football is huge. If you can catch a tennis ball, and have to focus on that, you ought to be able to catch a football.

Is it just purely focus on drops that you've seen?

I think so. They can catch. They're talented. I tried to help them the other day in Atlanta and said, "It's the sun. Man, the sun's in their eyes." Well, there wasn't any sun. It was shady.

What’s your philosophy on redshirting freshmen?

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It’s new. The rule was put in place, in my opinion, because we talked a lot about it at the AFCA. The rule was put in place, by and large, at the end of the year when you have injuries to allow freshmen to play and not cost their redshirt year on kick teams or if you have a blowout. It also was put into place so, like offensive linemen at the end of the year, you’re blowing somebody out. Instead of them not even getting in a game, put them in the game for 10 plays and let them experience that. I think that was a great rule.

Now, after Kelly Bryant transferred after four games last year, it’s opened up a brand new can of worms because guys across the country, I’m reading, are going to their fifth game but the night before they’re deciding they don’t want to play on the road, taking their shoulder pads off in the locker room, saying, ‘I’m not going to play.’ That was not the purpose of the rule, so I think it’s something that the NCAA needs to look at and we in college football need to look at to make sure that the rule does what it was put in place to do.

My philosophy is you play to win, so you put the guys in. Nobody redshirts that can help you win, and they want to play. If not, if a guy gets hard. Obviously, Tristan Miller got hurt so that doesn’t affect him. If a guy is playing four games and you know he’s not going to help you win a game and he’s at his fourth, then you hold him until an injury becomes an issue. If you still don’t have enough guys to play, then you play them because we don’t have much depth. I told our coaches and our players, ‘Nobody is redshirting. You play, if you’re going to help us win a game, and we’ll look at that next year.’ If a guy’s a great player, he usually leaves after three years anyway. I redshirted some at Texas and got three years out of them. Vince Young was a redshirt, so I say play ‘em.

On what he was trying to impress upon his team during the open week

The biggest thing I’ve been trying to do is teach them that how you practice is how you play. What we see in practice shows up in games. So, if a guy drops the ball in practice, what I see is him dropping it against Virginia Tech and we’re less likely to call your number. You miss tackles in practice, I see you missing tackles in a game, so we’re less likely to play you if we can help it.

What we’ve tried to do, I’ve really challenged our coaches with energy. Midseason, it’s kind of like midterms for kids; sometimes there’s more upsets this time of the year because they’re exhausted. They’re fighting their midterms, they’re staying up too late and it’s just something you don’t realize. You say, ‘Gosh, why are they playing so bad?’ Well, they’re whipped.

There’s this real balance at midseason of practicing them hard enough but keeping them fresh and keeping them focused. It’s one of the real challenges but one of the real thrills of coaching – how do you get your team to play hard every week? How do you get them to be tough enough because you’re hitting and being physical and stay healthy?

I think one of the real tricks in coaching, moving forward, is practicing game-speed and keeping your guys healthy. It’s really hard to do, but if you can do that, it gives you a chance to be successful. The challenge that I’ve given our staff, our managers, our trainers, our coaches and our players is, ‘Let’s bring full energy to every meeting and let’s bring full energy to every practice and that will give us a better chance to have energy every Saturday.’ I mean, you saw it this week. Every Saturday, we turn on the TV and there’s a team that just doesn’t show up.

Me, in this business, for 40-something year says, ‘How can that happen? Man, you’ve got 12 game, how can you not show up?’ And it happens. I mean, you can sit there and watching it and sometimes you can feel it. Sometimes, you know it’s coming and it’s awful and you’re trying to flip it, but it is hard to flip on a Thursday when they’re out there dropping balls and looking around and you’re saying, ‘Just grab and hold on, boys, but this ain’t good, brother.’ It’s real and it’s there and it’s what you’ve got.

To their credit, and a lot of times a quote, off week — we don’t use that word anymore because they think it’s off — bye week or open date, I call it open date, it’s hard to get the guys to practice … we’re challenging the guys on the gray team, ‘Every time you’re the Virginia Tech look against our offense or our defense, we’re grading you. So, you want to play this year? When you’re on the scout, gray team, you make plays and that’s the way you move up. If not, then you’re going to stay down there because you’ve got to earn the right to play.’

Then, the open date week, we really worked those guys and hit a lot. It was like a spring training for them because we said, ‘Here’s your chance; you’ve got three days to prove to your coach you can get some playing time.’ So, there might be some guys that come out of that with a better chance to play.’

On staying focused during the open week

Every time there’s someone who makes a poor choice, usually in sports, we send it to them. Every time somebody gets arrested, every time somebody’s drinking too much, every time somebody’s using drugs, we send it to them and say, ‘Make good choices, because with bad choices, there’s consequences.’ Every time in the meeting we talk to them about that.

What we talked to them about this week is, ‘A lot of teams are losing the week after their open date. Maybe they’re not taking care of themselves. It’s up to you; I can’t follow you around at night. I’m going to let you go home, I’m going to let you see your high school games on Friday night, I’m going to let you be with your parents. I can’t call you at 2 in the morning to see where you are, so if you want to win and you want to play well, then take care of yourselves; that’s a responsibility you’ve got.’ I’ve told them, I used to worry so much about young guys getting in trouble because it changes their lives. I had to make a decision after they’ve made a decision of what to do with them. I’ve told them I don’t worry about that anymore; if you make a poor decision, you’ve got consequences, period. That’s your choice, not mine. If they do that — and thank goodness ours have made good decisions and they’ve been great kids — but if you make a poor decision and you have consequences, that’s on you, because you’ve been told.

The only thing bad about it from my standpoint is if I don’t penalize you because then I’ve lied to you and I’ve lied to the team because we set standards and we have rules. You break a rule, it’s my responsibility to make sure you’re punished and you have those consequences. The way that I saw the attention to detail in the meeting yesterday and the way I saw practice yesterday, I would think the message is that our guys really took care of themselves over the weekend.

Are there less issues when there’s more accountability among players?

Absolutely. One of the problems you have when you have a transition is, do they trust you or not, No. 1? You’ve got to get to know them and they’ve got to trust you and we were lucky we sold them on a lot of stuff and they won the first two games, so that helped us with credibility.

Secondly, we don’t have many seniors then you get a Patrice Rene, who was a great leader for us, hurt and you get (Nick) Polino who was a great leader for us and Charlie Heck who was a great leader for us, hurt. You can call on the younger ones to lead; they’re usually overloaded so it’s hard for them to lead, so that’s something we’re looking at in every area.

We had a young man late to a meeting the other day, which we’ve had very little of. We have 22 members of the leadership committee that the team voted for. I took the young guy in front of the leadership committee and they were hard on him, now. That’s part of this process, this growing up; ‘Why were you late? Did you not care? Explain it to us.’ I did let them recommend to me whether he should play or not, so we’re trying to get ownership with our leadership committee and they were hard on him. They did want him punished, but they wanted him to play.

On what concerns him about playing Virginia Tech

Always when you’re playing Virginia Tech, it’s preparing for the Bud Foster defense. They come from everywhere and we’re still inexperienced in the offensive line. Offensive line is getting a lot better; I think they’ve improved the most on our team, them and linebackers, because those were big question marks coming into the year. Bud brings them from everywhere, he puts eight or nine in the box, so he makes it very, very difficult to run the ball, then he blitzes you. You have to hits some throws if you’re going to win there.

Now, since you’ve got Hooker at quarterback, he can run and throw. He really changes their dynamic of what they’re doing offensively and it’s more what Justin likes, so I think that’s been a huge difference for them since Miami.

On whether Virginia Tech is a rival and if this game is important in recruiting.

Everybody has that theory, ABC, 'Anybody But Carolina.' When we’re good and we’re doing well in recruiting right now, everybody hates us, so everybody’s a rival. The Georgia Tech win was huge for us because we’re recruiting really well in Atlanta and that was important. We’re going to recruit the state of Virginia, we’re going to recruit Virginia Beach. Always, Virginia and Virginia Tech are factors there.

I always wondered when people ask, ‘Is this game going to affect recruiting?’ I don’t think it does, especially immediately because most of the guys have already decided what they’re going to do and the ones that haven’t said they’ve decided, have decided; they’re just not telling any of us yet. Maybe it affects recruiting two years down the road, but I’ve never felt like a game affected current recruiting because the kids have already made their decisions.

On improving as coaches and a staff throughout this season

I think we’ve improved because we know the team better now. I wish we had some games back where we could have flipped some of that emotion earlier in the week that I didn’t think we did a very good job of, and that’s me at the beginning of this.

The second thing is the coaches get to know each other better, because these coaches have never coached together, and that’s scary because they’ve got opinions and you’re trying to put a philosophy together and, ‘Oh, I don’t like that.’ ‘Well it doesn’t matter, we’ve got to choose something, so let’s go with it.’ Then, you have to know your philosophy as compared to your kids and we couldn’t see that, especially on defense in the spring because so many of them were out. So, we didn’t even know who we had until we got here and started in August and the coaches are getting to know what I want more. I can go in and tell them and they hear it, but they don’t know exactly what it means. Now, they know what’s expected of them. I think we’re at a much better spot now at midseason than we were even three weeks ago.

On how he’s different in his approach than his last few years at Texas

I think I’m a lot different. I’m having a lot more fun, I’m a lot more relaxed, I’m a lot more direct. Maybe when you get old you can say what you want. People used to say I had coachspeak; I don’t have any coachspeak anymore, I didn’t think I did before. You were always careful. When I got to ESPN, they said, ‘You’re always so careful with what you say,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, you’re talking to legal counsel, you’re talking to your AD, you’re talking to your regents, you’re talking to your trustees, you’re talking to mama, you’re talking to dad, you’re talking to grandma, you’re talking to the high school coach and the preacher.’ Everything you said is toward recruiting and I’ve gotten now, I just tell you what I think. I don’t care anymore.

Do you get a different response because of that?

I do. It’s been a lot better. I’ve told our coaches, I’m really hard on the coaches and then I move on. I don’t stay mad and if a coach is messing something up, I want it fixed and I want it fixed immediately. I’m not going to say it publicly, I’m not going to embarrass him, but I’m going to be really direct and hard on him. I get all their opinions, but sometime at Texas, I was swayed too much and I didn’t really believe something and a bunch of them did, I’ve been doing this longer than they have; I know more than they do so I’m going to do what I think is right after I get their opinions and they know that.

What he might have taken from watching games this weekend

I just love watching the games and seeing them. I just flip, flip back and forth, so I miss some stuff. I go back to my old ESPN hat, how would I rank them now and who’s the surprise? I think the biggest surprise is LSU with what they’ve done offensively, the young guy they hired from the Saints. They’re moving the ball so they’re in the mix, they’re a factor for sure. That’s probably the biggest surprise that I see and you’ve still got Clemson.

It’s amazing in looking at Dabo. At Texas, we were winning a lot like he was and when you get there, fans and media aren’t fair. The expectation for Clemson is that they blow everybody out. You go back a couple years ago and they barely beat Syracuse, they barely beat Pittsburgh and they win a national championship and we think, ‘They hung in there and it’s a comeback.’ Now we’re saying they stink. They don’t stink. They’ve got the best players in the country and still probably the best team in the country. The fact that we played them good, everybody is mad at them instead of being excited for us. It’s weird how people look at it, but the key is to win. You’re not going to blow everybody out every week.

The expectations on Trevor Lawrence, all the people criticizing him would darn sure take him; I can tell you that. If he went out right now, he’d be the No. 1 draft pick. We can say what we want, but old boy is really good; I stood out there and watched him in pregame at 6-6, 230 or whatever he is and runs 4.4 or 4.5 and has never lost a game in his life and we’re criticizing him? Oh my gosh.