Coach Charlie Strong and players Brandon Siler and Ryan Smith spoke with the media today at the Tostitos BCS National Championship game in Phoenix. Here’s their quotes:
Q. For Brandon and Ryan, a lot of speculation coming into this game is that you guys are the underdogs. Will you use that as motivation? What do you think of just the thought that some people are saying you are the underdogs coming into this game?
BRANDON SILER: Oh, I think we have been the underdogs all year. I don’t really remember too many games where we were picked to win it so it has kind of drove us all year. We kind of use it as a little motivation to win each game. We are out to prove something every game. We don’t really want the credit. We don’t want to be put up front. We don’t want anyone to think any different. We appreciate being underdogs.
RYAN SMITH: Like he said, we have been underdogs all year. We haven’t won in the right fashion, I guess, or we didn’t have pretty wins or whatever it was. We have been kind of behind the scenes all year. That’s nothing new to us. Like you said, it is more motivation.
Q. Hi, Brandon. The unity, the legend of this defense has grown as the season has come along. You are really respected now. Where earlier on, you guys weren’t. You kind of symbolize that with the chain you guys came up. I assume that’s not the chain. Talk about that, the idea. Ray McDonald says it has united the whole team?
BRANDON SILER: Yeah. The chain represents our togetherness. Some people confuse it as being a defensive chain. No, it is a chain with the whole team. Everybody has a name on each one of those links and we put those links together to express unity and strength.
So you know, that’s what the chain represents and it brings us together. It is kind of a symbol of us coming together and being a strong force together as a team.
Q. Charlie, if you can talk about your—a little bit about your recruiting strategy while you are here. How many messages are you sending to recruits to capitalize on this? And, also, as the holdover from the last staff since Doc Holliday came in. If you can talk about sort of the influence he has had recruitingwise?
COACH STRONG: Our whole staff does a great job of recruiting. When you look at it, what we try to do is each guy has an area. So I have Central Florida. And then you position recruit. So right now with recruiting, we have done a good job because I think we may have maybe four or five scholarships. We probably are still working ten or fifteen guys.
When you have it staffed the way we do, and the head coach does a great job, Coach Meyer, we try to text guys at least once every two days, especially while we are out here.
A lot of guys are somewhere in the U.S. Army All-American game. There are so many games going on. There are two games going on in Florida, All-Star games. You try to text them and you only get one phone call. You get the text in and you try to call back and ask them to hit you back. This is continuous. Doc Holliday is a good recruiter. He has South Florida which has been a tough area for us. The thing he is doing right now, he is doing a good job of working it. Because that’s a hard area to get into. There are many good players down there. Miami has done a good job of keeping those guys down there. The main thing with University of Florida, we try to maintain the central part of the state and then go out and find the best players.
We have done a good job. You look at Percy Harvin and where he came from. Actually we are getting this guy here who was a recruit, Ryan. We didn’t have to recruit him. He recruited us. Just getting guys in and trying to find the right fit for your program. That’s the key, finding the right fit. The guy might be a really good athlete and player but finding the right fit for your practice.
Q. Ryan, the last time you were here you were an underdog and had you to play with a chip on your shoulder. Do you feel like this is deja vous?
RYAN SMITH: Yeah. Everything there, the hotel we are staying in to the flight. I have been through it all and the same situation on the field also. We are underdogs once again. It is not a problem at all. It is nothing I haven’t been through.
Q. Brandon, can you talk about the atmosphere that coach Urban Meyer has brought to this team and what kind of changes you have seen in the last couple years since he has been here?
BRANDON SILER: I think our biggest change is just how we have been together, how he brought our team together, he kind of made it a brotherhood instead of just being teammates.
I think that’s the one thing that stands out. We care about each other now. We play for each other instead of playing for ourselves and trying to do good by ourselves as individuals.
We play for each other and we care about the guy next to us. You can’t let down that guy. You know that’s a different philosophy than what we have went by before.
Q. This is for Ryan and then if either of you two guys want to chime in. Have you guys seen any big, rowdy Florida fans maybe at the team motel or at practice or anything? I have heard some rumors about some fans coming up—pretty rowdy fans?
RYAN SMITH: Yeah. There were a decent number of fans welcoming us to the hotel. Nothing out of the ordinary, though.
Q. Charlie, this is for you. Obviously it has been a rough week, month and year for Reggie Nelson and the Gator family. Can you give us some perspective, and how he is holding up? And, secondly, how imperative it is for the coaching staff and the teammates to make sure that his spirits are lifted?
COACH STRONG: It has been—it really has been a rough week for Reggie. I think that what has helped him the most is getting back around his teammates and just going through it—any time you lose your mama, it doesn’t matter what age you are. You can be 20, 30, 40, still the pain is there.
I told him, Reggie, we can say whatever we want. We can say how much with us losing our parents that, hey, I know how you feel but you really don’t until someone really experiences it.
Just getting back and just getting back around his teammates. At first it was kind of hard because he didn’t want to say much. Now he is getting back to his old self. But I just think that just him totally getting back involved and just being around his teammates, these guys are the ones that are going to uplift him the most because they are around him the most.
I told him, I say, Reggie, it is probably going to be the toughest thing is Saturday making that phone call that you always make before you play the game or that phone call after the game. But once we get through that, the pain is going to be there. Every day you will think about her. If you ever want to talk to somebody, you have your teammates, you have your coaching staff. And Coach Meyer has done a good job. I think even two weeks before she passed or a week before she passed we are in Melbourne and we tried the phone call and we talked to her a lot. She was a special lady. And that’s the reason why the pain and the hurt is there.
Q. So much has been made about your speed, Ryan, and the secondary speed and the receiver. Is that something you guys want the challenge from?
RYAN SMITH: It is a great challenge from us, the way they have executed all year and the big plays they made against the plays that we have made. We feel we have great play yours on our side of the ball and so do they. I think it is going to be a nice little treat when we gut out there on Monday.
It will be a good challenge for us and a good challenge for them.
Q. So, Ryan, just building on the concept of team speed especially in the secondary, you view that as a strength that Florida has?
RYAN SMITH: Oh, yeah, definitely. I think our secondary along with our whole defense has been a strength and worked every challenge and we can’t wait to get out there.
Q. I guess Coach Saban is coming to the NFL. Coach Mattison said in games like this you’d coach for free. Would you coach for free?
COACH STRONG: Would I coach for free? A lot of times you look at salaries and what we make, you do do it for the players because they are the reason that you make that much. This game, you would coach it for free just having a chance to play in a national championship game.
Q. Guys, Troy Smith, are you more afraid of his arm or his legs?
BRANDON SILER: We are not afraid of Troy Smith at all. I don’t believe that’s something—that’s not what this is. He is a great player. He has a great arm and he can run the ball. Those are definitely strengths. Don’t get it confused, we are not afraid at all.
Q. Ryan, you and Reggie have been a one-two punch back there in the secondary, something like 14 interceptions combined between the two of you. What has been the reason for your success and how key will that be in success on Monday?
RYAN SMITH: Just game plan execution. I think our coaches have done a great job of putting us in the right places. And we have went out and made the plays we have had to make. We have done that week in and week out and we just have to do it one more week, and I think that will be the key.
Q. Brandon, many of us are hearing about this unity chain for the very first time. Can you explain more about how it got started and really what it is?
BRANDON SILER: It is kind of a team concept that we built from the beginning, from the start of this year that everybody has to put in a little something and when we are all together, you know, nobody can beat us. You are only as strong as your weakest link.
So, you know, I think one of our trainers got the chain for us. But it kind of was a thing that we had from the beginning. Everybody was given a little link and we put those links together and came up with a big chain. We eventually made it into a bigger chain with bigger links and everybody had to sign their name to it, to each one of the links. It just links us together.
Like I said, strength and unity. That’s what our chain is about. It just shows a concept that we have within our team.
Q. Coach Strong, a few days before the SEC championship, you guys had a rather difficult practice focusing on tackling preparing for Arkansas’s running attack. This week is it necessary? And, Brandon, if you could follow it up with do you feel like tackling in practice? Do you need that this week?
COACH STRONG: We—that’s a part of our practice each day, every two days we tackle. And it is line backers against running backs. It is wide receivers against defensive backs. When you look at just basic fundamentals of football, you don’t ever want to lose the edge of tackling. We know that Pittman is a really good running back. The receivers, Gonzalez, Robiskie, you have to tackle. It comes down to how well you can tackle and not giving them the yards after the catch or the run, we are making the hit and get them on the ground.
Q. Brandon, good isn’t good when greatness is expected. Is that a little foreshadowing for Monday’s game?
BRANDON SILER: Yeah, that’s what my tattoo says. It is a little slogan that I have had and I have always held on to me. Of course, I held on to it if it is on my body.
Yeah, I don’t think greatness is expected out of the country, out of us. That’s definitely what we expect out ourselves, greatness. If we expect it out of ourselves, then just being good isn’t accepted.
I think that’s where you can put this into place about this game.
Q. Ryan, could you tell us about your journey from Utah, when you first became aware of the rule and I think where I read that Coach Meyer said he didn’t even know about the rule. And then Coach Strong, could you follow that up with how important Ryan has been to your team success?
RYAN SMITH: I was in the middle of summer school this past year and I was planning to transfer here but they didn’t know I was a graduate. So we found out I didn’t have enough eligibility to come in. Then I found out about the rule if you are a graduate you can transfer without losing the year. My dad found out about the rule and he called the SEC. Called the coaches here and we went from there. I got my degree after the summer was over, and I was here for camp in August.
COACH STRONG: Ryan has been a great asset to our program. I know we go into—I think in the summer we lost a young man who we thought was going to be our starting corner, Avery Atkins. It was Godsent that we ended up getting Ryan. I remember that first day at practice, he goes up against Dallas Baker and he ended up like either intercepting the ball or just breaking on the football. You knew right then that from that day on, guys respected him.
He had to get that respect, and he gained that respect from that day on. Guys have respected him ever since.
Q. Brandon, I understand you and Jarvis and Bubba have filed paperwork with the NFL to be evaluated for the next level. If you win this game, it would be the perfect ending to maybe a perfect career. Do you think you might turn pro after?
BRANDON SILER: I don’t know, man. That’s a decision I will get together with Coach Strong and Coach Meyer and they helped me out with that process. They are the reasons that the papers was even turned in. They advised me to do that.
They said that I should take a look and just see what they have to say. I would be selfish to be thinking about that right now. We’re planning on the grandest stage of them all. That’s the some planning way in the back of my head. What’s up front and what’s the deal with right now is going over and over inside of my head is winning the national championship. Something that a lot of players don’t get the experience and as some coaches don’t get an experience in their whole lifetime of coaching. That’s what I am concentrating on right now, and that’s where I am at in that regard.
Q. Brandon, I wanted to get your initial reaction to Nick Saban coming back to the SEC and just that 40 million dollars number. If Nick Saban is worth 40 million dollars, what’s Urban worth?
BRANDON SILER: (Laughter). That’s hard to answer. I don’t get into the salaries. I don’t make any money. So I don’t get into that much. I think our coaches are the greatest. They are the greatest coaches that there is. So I guess they are worth all the money in the world to me.
Q. Coach, you guys have been so good against the run all year. How much pride do you as coaches and also the team take in stopping the run and how important is it in a game like this where they have a couple of runners that can do so many things well and also how they use their play action?
COACH STRONG: The pride that we take is when you are the last one to run the ball, you are saying they are outtoughing you. That’s one thing our defensive front doesn’t want to say, someone outtoughed them. We went into that game in Arkansas as the leading rush team in the country. They took it on themselves, there is no way we will let them get started and run the football. When they run the football, they are able to control the football game and that’s what we cannot allow to happen. Our guys have done a great job. It is something—you are talking about tackling. You have to be able to tackle to stop the run and our guys have been able to do a good job of just playing physical.
This is a physical game. We have to be able to play physical, and that’s what we expect when we play Ohio State. They are a very physical football team.
Q. Based on what you have seen on film, would you go ahead and be able to say that they are the best offense you expect to see this year?
COACH STRONG: They probably will be the best offense we have faced this season. It will be the best football team we have faced because you look at Troy Smith, you look at Pittman. They have enough weapons on offense where they can move the ball around. They do a great job of sharing the football. They know where to place the ball and they do a great job on offense. They are going to move the football.
To think about us on defense, they are going to move the ball on us. We can’t jump out and think we will shut them down. We have to be able to bounce back and not let one bad play lead to two. They may get a play but our guys played well on defense the whole year. We have to go out this week and be prepared and continue to be prepared and get ready for that game.
Q. Ryan, two-part question for you. One, how has your preparation changed, if any, from when you were here last time? Obviously this is a championship game. And, two, how much Urban Meyer has change the since he has been at Florida and how he is approaching this game?
RYAN SMITH: I would have to say we both haven’t changed at all. Coming to Florida and seeing him at Utah, it is the same program. He runs everything the same way. Preparation is the same which is why we were successful at Utah. My preparation hasn’t changed at all either. Going into every game, I watch film, do certain things I have done all my life and I haven’t changed at all. Neither has he.
Q. For all three of you, Brandon for starters, with so many time between games, how much have you thought about the game in terms of getting a mental picture. Have you played the game in your mind and what does it look like?
BRANDON SILER: I played the game thousands and thousands of times in my mind and not one time have I lost in my mind (smiling). You play it back and sometimes I go down, I watch film and I just fit up where we would be in each one of our defenses and where the whole defense would fit.
And having this much time, it allows you to do that that much more, you know. I am pretty sure I have seen every single game probably ten times. So, you know, you prepare and you prepare. I don’t think there is such a thing as overpreparing. You can never be too prepared. We still getting after it, and I think that allows to you prepare that much more.
RYAN SMITH: I definitely envisioned the game. Envisioned lining up against Gonzalez, Ted Ginn. What it is going to be like, I have thought about national championships in the past, and just coming to the realizization that we are actual little in the national championship game and it is an exciting deal. We will be prepared, and we are ready to go.
COACH STRONG: It is just total preparation like they are saying. You think about this game and it really didn’t hit you until you got on the plane the other day and you were sitting there yesterday and said, hey, the time is on us now. It is time to get prepared to play this game. You just look at just the whole season. I don’t think we have ever had a lay off this long. It is so strange sitting there January 1st watching games and practicing. Where you say either we are playing today or our season is over. We are practicing to go play another game.
But just the preparation. It is not—you can’t watch too much film, because every time you see something, you see something different. It is just the preparation, making sure these guys are mentally prepared to play this football game.
Q. Coach Strong, could you talk specifically about the unique talents of Troy Smith and Teddy given and what you as a coach, when you see the tape, what jumps out at you?
COACH STRONG: Just talking about Troy, him winning the Heisman, he deserved it. He is a young man that has a great arm, does a great job of putting the football—he is well-coached because he does a great job of putting the ball where it is supposed to be placed.
With Teddy given, he does a great job of throwing a deep ball. Gonzalez is also able to find him, all of those intermediate passes. Then if you do get pressure on him, he can get out of pressure and beat you with his feet or he can run away from you.
I think as someone did tell me, I remember it was a third and 25 against Bowling Green where he takes off and runs across the field and reverses back and goes for about 30 yards. You watch that play and you go, wow, look at that.
But he is a really good football player, and we know this. We are going to stop this football team. We have to stop him.