Fran talks McNeal, jerseys, and more

Jason Carter

Despite a stumbling block early in the season, the Texas A&M football team is surprising the college football world with their record and dominant performances against recent opponents. Head Coach Dennis Franchione spoke to the media on Tuesday about his quarterback, goals and expectaions, and the character of his young team

After surpassing most preseason expectations so far in 2004, Texas A&M's Dennis Franchione discusses many of the components that make Texas A&M a force with which to be reckoned.

When you see what Oklahoma State has done and the way Les Miles has done things, do you see a lot of comparisons in the way you'd like to do things?

"A little bit, yeah. His style of offense is probably a little bit different than our style. But the way they've built their program, the nice job that they've done of controlling football games and winning games, you'd have to say there might be a little comparison."

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In facing the number one rusher in the country, is there an advantage going into the Oklahoma State game that the last couple of opponents you've faced have liked to run the ball, specifically K-State?

"I think the advantage is there was probably a little anxiety on our part going into the K State game—just exactly how we'd handle the first 2-back set of the year, and handle Darren Sproles. Now we know we can hold up to that. This is a better rushing attack. And it's a bigger, stronger back that breaks tackles more than Darren. Darren made you miss. This guy can make you miss, but he can run right through you too. It's a little bit better rushing offense obviously, and a little bit better attack. But I don't think there's any doubt that our players on defense draw a little bit of confidence having gone through what they've had over the last two weeks, and had some success."

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The number of offensive plays the last two teams have run might be a concern. If these guys do that, the outcome might not be as successful. They've got a big advantage in time of possession. Do you have to make some third down stops?

"If we don't, we're going to be out on the field a long time. We were out on the field a long time the last two games. One game we only gave up three points. If we aren't going to win the time of possession, we better get points with our offense. If we're able to do that, it could balance out. But we have some guys that have played 170 snaps in the last two games, and that's one reason we did not practice on Sunday this week. We just jogged, worked the soreness out a little bit and watched extra film of Oklahoma State to give them a day to recover a little bit. I think we'll be fine going into the game. But the tough part about playing them is that if you don't get points on your opportunities and they hold on to the ball, you get out of rhythm like we did at K State, and you have a tough time getting back in rhythm. All of a sudden, that's not a very good formula on the road to win a football game."

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You had a very good defense during your last year at Alabama. Part of the reason for that was a good defensive line. Do you see that any similarities developing with this defensive line, or do you still have a ways to go to get to that level?

"They're not to that level yet. We had three guys drafted off that defensive line. We don't have that many seniors let alone draftables. But we have the potential in this defensive line to be like that. From my perspective as a head coach, you want to be good at every position. But I really feel like if you are good in the defensive line, you can pressure the quarterback without blitzing. You can control the line of scrimmage versus the run. And you free yourself up to do so many other things, coverage wise, with the linebackers and secondary. Last year, we could never control the line of scrimmage, on either side of the ball, and so we could never do the other things that it took for us to have a chance to win. This year we've been able to bend, not break, and have more control over the line of scrimmage. That's going to be vital in this game."

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One of the factors in Reggie's increased performance this year has been efficiency.

"Number one, it's his junior year and he's grown up. He's a better leader and he's basically in the same offense for the second year. He's pretty comfortable with what he's doing. He's a very bright young man. But just the repetition of doing it for the second straight year is pretty big. Just the number of snaps that he's been able to be out there, even though they weren't always positive snaps necessarily, has given him experience and helped him be more prepared for what he's gone through this year. "

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Was there some point in the spring or early fall that you looked at and saw that he had progressed?

"I began to see a change in his leadership style in the spring. Just his maturity – that carried through the summer. I think a lot of his intelligence was there last year, but his supporting cast is better this year and it's letting him be able to show it more. But I don't know if there's a magic time that I've been able to say, ‘There's a big difference in him technically as a quarterback.' I have a lot of confidence in him right now. For Coach Koenning and I calling plays, when you have confidence in Reggie, you get out there and you're not afraid to call anything at any time because you know he's going to adjust and handle the situation well. I started to feel that way in the Wyoming game, and certainly felt that way in the Clemson game and Kansas State game. As a coach, that's a really comforting feeling because you can call that risky play and still know that, ‘Hey, Reggie will take care of this.' When you don't have that comfortable feeling calling plays, then it's hard sometimes to do some of those things, and it makes you a little more predictable. "

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On Cody Wallace seeing time at center:

"We moved Cody to center about a week ago when his cast came off his hand. He had a broken hand. We were about to move him to center the day he broke his hand, so we couldn't do it. So when the cast came off, we made the move and we moved him to center. I really think that's a good position for Cody. I think he'll be a good player there."

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Back to improvement on the defensive line with the redshirt freshmen. Is it wrong to overlook Montgomery's improvement from last year to this year?

"It is. Mike didn't have a lot of a junior year. He had a little heart situation early in the year. He got a little better as the season wore on, but you (the media) probably didn't notice Mike as much as we did. We all felt like Mike would have a good senior year for us because he had some games under his belt. He knew the system. It's not unusual for a junior college transfer who comes in August to take time to make an impact. I wish we had had the luxury to redshirt Mike last fall, but we just didn't. If we'd had been able to do that, we would've gotten two good years out of him."

Everyone talks about his [Montgomery] enthusiasm, and being a vocal leader. How important is it to have one guy who lights a fire under people?

"It is very important. Every good team I've ever coached generally has someone who can get you going when it's hard to get people going. And Mike has kind of been that guy. Every day at practice, starting clear back in the offseason, Mike would get the team going. You probably haven't seen Mike's outgoing personality. He doesn't even let me see it all the time—he's pretty reserved. But around the players, he knows how to get them hyped up and get them going, having fun practicing and having fun going into practice. He's really been pivotal for us in that regard, I think, since January—with every player, but especially with the young ones."

One play in particular that y'all stopped and hit the rewind button was from the Iowa State game when Stephen Hodge finished off. Could you take us through that, and what went through your mind when you saw that and when you saw it again on tape?

"I had the same feeling both times. It was ‘Ooh, that hurt!' When I was on the field, I said, ‘Who was that that hit him?' and it was Stephen. I didn't quite catch him coming from the side. I just saw there wasn't a name on the back of the jersey! [laughs] I saw the blow delivered, but I didn't quite catch the number. I was impressed. I was glad to see that. From the sideline--it was right in front of our bench--it was one of those hits that you went, ‘That wasn't good on that quarterback.' He felt that, you could tell."

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Do you intend to put those names back on those jerseys this year at all?

"I don't know. We just colored in the lower level of our pyramid last week. I would say that's going to be up for discussion here in the next few weeks, the next few days. I just think that's something my heart will tell me when it's time to consider it. Or maybe the players will tell me. Nobody has really brought it up. I like the way we're handling ourselves right now—the way we're coming together, and the team aspect of things. It's somewhat unimportant to me at this point in time. If the players bring it up and it becomes important to them, then it'll be more important to me."

When you say ‘coloring in the first level of the pyramid,' is that a goal chart?

"It is. We have our goals in four or five tiers. We've finally colored in the lower level. It's been a long time. I don't know that I've ever gone this far into a season before I was willing to say, ‘It's time to color this in.' I colored it in earlier last season. But in reality, I probably should have never colored it in. I probably tried to boost that team along and nurture them, and that was probably wrong to do."

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Can you tell us what's on the bottom of that pyramid?

"Attitude, chemistry, family, accountability and trust are what's on the bottom." --------------------

Speaking of trust: your wide receivers. How much of your offense--being able to spread—do your receivers allow you to do this and dictate what you do?

"What we're doing on offense is really fun right now. The reason it's fun is because Reggie has such a command of things, our protection from the front has been really good, and our ability to run the ball has been with balance. We have depth and playmakers at receiver. One of the reasons that we started to tilt in that direction was the receiver corps that we felt like was somewhat of strength on our team, and that we needed to be able to utilize those speedy guys in sprint formations as much as we can. That's been the way we've been working since last season was over, and how we were going to put this all together again."

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As the year goes on and you see guys emerge, does that dictate your philosophy?

"It does. I think we actually threw the ball 31 times the other night, and probably called a few more than that. I think a lot of that chance is not necessarily that we don't want Courtney to touch the ball as much, it's just that our ability to move the ball successfully and handle things with our spread set has been very good. Our receivers have been fairly solid in what they're doing there. Of course the key guy has been Reggie and how he's directed it all."

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What does the depth at receiver, eight different guys, do for other teams in how they prepare for you?

"I'm not quite sure how to explain ‘eight different guys,' except we have fresh ones and they don't make as many substitutions in the secondary. But I think the biggest thing it does is that a lot of people think they have to defend Terrence Murphy. The way we move him around in formations and the way we use multiple receivers, and when you throw it to eight or nine different guys, you can't just defend Terrence Murphy. You've got to defend the other players. They're just about as successfully right now as Terrence is. Certainly Terrence is a weapon, but we don't have to be just a ‘Courtney Lewis/Terrence Murphy' team. We can spread it around. If they want to do something to try and double-team this guy, we can go to another guy. As a result, we're not seeing a lot of what I would call a ‘double-team' combination on people. Today we talked about a different alignment with Terrence and Jason (Carter), maybe trying to get Terrence the ball. And the consensus of the staff is that Jason is doing very well and we don't need to worry about it. They can kick it to him (Carter)--he's been real successful, or they can kick it to Terrence and we feel like we will be. The key is we've just got to go block and be prepared to block. Both those guys are very capable."

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What would you say the chances are that Jason will be back next year?

"We should know more this week, but I would say better than fifty percent. I kind of expect him to right now. He may have to go all the way through summer school to finish his degree, but I think there's a good chance he can do that. It would be nice. Jason is just coming into his own. He really needs the next year to have this opportunity to continue to develop because his growth from last year to this year is maybe as big as any player on our football team. It's night and day, really. His focus, his concentration, his attention to detail, his understanding of what he's doing, it's from here to here. It's just totally different."

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Is this the role you envisioned for him last year?

"Yes, someday. We tried to put him in the backfield some last year because we weren't quite sure whether he was going to be a little bit better as a running back or a receiver. Probably we're to blame for overloading him maybe a little bit with all of that, and shouldn't have done as much and let him settle in. I think when we made the decision that, ‘You go play receiver and stay there right now,' that's when he started to get better. At least we corrected our mistakes."

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You said, "Guys like Red Bryant are the reason you coach." What is it about Red that makes you feel that way about him?

"He's a great young man. He's very team-oriented. He loves Texas A&M. He loves being around the guys. This is a family for him. You coach to make a difference in young people's lives. I feel like Red is making a difference in our lives, which is great, and we're making a difference in his. I feel fortunate to get to coach a person like Red. I like coaching guys with his personality. You can count on Red. It doesn't matter when, where, or how or what. You can count on him. If you need him, he'll be there. If you need him to do something, he'll do what he needs to do. I just have a tremendous amount of admiration for him and how he's handled himself since he's been here."

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Number one against number two this week (in turnovers). That's pretty amazing.

"It is. It really is. It's a real credit to their tailback and how many times he's carrying the ball, and their quarterback for being young and inexperienced going into the season how well he's managed things. It's a credit to our skill guys too. They've done such a good job. I don't believe I've ever seen this kind of match up. I know I've never coached a team that's gotten to this point in the season with this few turnovers. They're well coached and they're playing with a lot of confidence and a lot of belief. They're comfortable. They're not arrogant, they're just confident."

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