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October 26, 2008

Sunday Conversation: Bobby Bowden

Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden met with the FSU media Sunday morning after the Seminoles 30-20 win over Virginia Tech. The following is a transcript of that conversation:

Q: The more I see of Taiwan Easterling, the more I see Lawrence Dawsey.

A:
We've had receivers through the years that could catch the ball in a crowd. He's one of those guys and Dawsey was definitely that way.

Q: That's three games in a row where he's had critical catches. At what point do guys like that start becoming "money" players?

A:
Right now, for him. There are some that don't develop that quick. They have the potential, but they become juniors before they ever start showing it. When I knew that Bert Reed couldn't play, my hope was that Easterling could pick up that slack, and he did.

Q: What end of the field were you on when those big plays were made?

A:
Around the 50. Jimbo's got a good knack for calling plays. I think you do that on second down. You're down on the 5 and most people expect you to knock it in from there, and he got a jump ahead on that (pass) call. The kids executed good. It was a good catch and a good throw. He threw it up high. He had to throw it high to get it above the hands of the linebackers.

Q: What was the game plan offensively coming in?

A:
We wanted to run effectively. It's not like we wanted to establish the running game. We're not that stubborn. But we wanted to run and run effectively and then go from there. We weren't able to run effectively from the start of that ball game. They were smearing us. ... (Offensive line coach Rick) Trickett felt like, for the first time, our offensive line's eyes were this big. They are a tough, physical defensive football team.

Q: Have you seen that carry over negatively to the following week, where you get tested physically and beat up by a team and the next week it takes a toll on you?

A:
That's where a coach has to be wise about practicing next week. You've got to consider the health of your football team as you practice. You don't want to go out there and pound them if they just took a pounding. Our coaches will have to use some good judgment there.

Q: Is there a chance Preston Parker goes to tailback?

A:
That could happen. If other guys were hurt, that would be your next move. We get him some (snaps at tailback) anyway. Not much, but some.

Q: In four days, how difficult is it to prepare for the triple option?

A:
It takes four days of repetitions and really changing your defensive plan. You've got to tackle the fullback, you've got to tackle the quarterback, you've got to tackle the pitch. That's the starting place. If they do that, we do this. If they do this, we do that, but buddy, don't forget those three principles. What happens is you play a wishbone team, and all of a sudden, a guy forgets to tackle a dive guy and he runs 80 yards for a touchdown untouched. If you forget to take the quarterback, he goes out there. That's the starting place of your defense. Then you have adjustments. They'll get in third down and 10 and you're thinking about a pass and they run the fullback right up the gut for 15 yards. There's sometimes we practice that, and there's sometimes we might do it this week, where we work against the scout team and not use a football. We just let the offense run the option without a ball. You don't know where the ball is, so you tackle him and you tackle him. You just get your kids in the dadgum habit of that.

Q: Why don't we see more of the wishbone? It is successful.

A:
It is successful, but it's just not in style. It's kind of like the old single-wing. It's kind of going out of style and no one has the nerve to stick with it. But (Georgia Tech coach Paul) Johnson's run it all his life and he's been successful with it. Florida and a lot of these other teams are running the wishbone from the gun dive, quarterback keep, pitch. I remember when Coach Meyer first came to Florida, a good friend of mine, Pat Hill who coaches at Fresno State, played him a lot. He said, "Bobby, all they do is get in the shotgun and run the triple option."

Q: Have you ever run the triple option?

A:
One time, I got by with it. When I was at West Virginia, we ran the Houston option. That was the offense back in those days that everyone ran. We got a bowl bid to play South Carolina in the (1969) Peach Bowl. I called Darrell Royal down at Texas and he got me on the phone with his offensive coordinator and I asked them how they run the wishbone. So all I had to do was get another back and put him in there as the upback. So we had four weeks to practice it. We played South Carolina and they weren't ready for it. Our fullback got 206 yards and we won that game. That's the only time I ever fooled with the wishbone.

Q: How much have you seen Georgia Tech in preparing to play other people?

A:
I've watched them a lot, because I knew I had to play them.

Q: All the talk is on the unique offense, but they're winning football games because that defensive front seven is awfully good.

A:
You're doggone right. We hadn't played them in a while, but they are playing doggone good defense. I was hoping they'd win. I hate catching people after they lose. Usually the coaches really get the player's attention after a loss. Those players'll really listen. I was not expecting them to lose, but Virginia's an amazing team.

Q: You know Saturday was the first time Virginia Tech had lost consecutive games since 2003.

A:
They had four returning starters on offensive line. And we spent all week trying to contain (Tyrod Taylor). You can't rush him fast. You have to rush him slow and keep him in the pocket. You've got to squeeze here and this and that. And after one play, that game plan's dead. Now you've got a guy (Sean Glennon) you'd better go get, so you have to change your thinking right off the bat.

Q: (Offensive coordinator) Jimbo (Fisher) said he felt Christian Ponder's been improving from week to week.

A:
I think he is doing that. That's the key to him of how good he can get, if he does improve. Jimbo thought he saw that after the first day of practice when he came here in the spring. I know there were times he said, "I think this guy can play in the big league. He's probably the second-best quarterback I've ever coached beside (Jamarcus Russell). Again, if he can continue to improve, he can make (Fisher) a prophet.

Q: Has the offense progressed to a point where you can pinpoint what its strength is?

A:
You know, I feel real good, except for last night, the offensive linemen faded a little early in the game. I think they were a little awestruck. They hadn't been awestruck. I expected them to be awestruck against Wake and Colorado and Miami, but they weren't. But in the first part of the game (against Virginia Tech) they were like, "Boy, y'all are good. I don't know if we can block y'all." I'm getting a lot of that talk with Trickett, but I guess they finally settled down.

Q: How does that dynamic with you and Trickett work on the sideline? His vocabulary is a little different than yours.

A:
Yeah, but I can interpret it. (Laughs) It's no problem. I just go, "Hey Mickey, what'd he say?" (Laughs)

Q: All three of your touchdowns were set up by Greg Carr catches. He seems to have been lost in the shuffle, but when you're in a bind, he makes big catches.

A:
I think his reputation going into the season caused people to put a little bit more coverage on him and allowed some of the other guys a little bit more freedom. I know when Jimbo was preparing his game plan, he was trying to get a formation where he could get Greg one-on-one out there, but he was with their No. 1 defensive back, too. That probably slowed us down going out to him, but we finally were able to and that made the difference. Their safeties are big-time and their corner (Victor Harris).

You know, another one we haven't mentioned is (Graham) Gano. Golly, I can't believe what he's doing. There's a double factor. Number one, he kicks a 50-yard field goal. Not only is the three points vital, but if he doesn't hit it, it's there ball right out yonder. That served two purposes.

Q: The punting wasn't bad either.

A:
The punting was fantastic.

Q: Was there any hesitance in having him punt, since he hadn't all season?

A:
He punted all week, and our idea was that he was going to be the punter. But he came up to us before the game and said his groin was killing him. So Jody (Allen) didn't let him punt and I wasn't sure if he would kick field goals. He must have felt better. I don't know if he asked to go in there or Jody asked him to go in. But those punts from up near the goal line were unbelievable.

Q: He ripped that first one.

A:
And he punted that way in practice last week. I told him I've never seen him punt that good.

Q: Did you plan to use both punters or was the plan to go with Gano all the way?

A:
Our plan was to go with Gano all the way. But boy, he was vital.

Q: How does it change your game planning when a kid's kicking 52- and 53-yard field goals almost like they're extra points?

A:
It does change it to the extent of, when you get down across that 50 and down to the 30, it's a 47-yard field goal. And if you're on the 32, you still have a shot at it. The playcalling when you get down there is you try not to turn it over because you can at least get three. You can be a little more cautious. You aren't throwing a low-percentage pass.

Q: Are you feeling as confident with him as you have with any kicker other than Janikowski?

A:
I'm feeling confident, but you know how they say, they're like pitchers in baseball. Sometimes they throw a no-hitter and sometimes they can't put it over the plate. I don't want to put any bad luck on him or anything, but, yeah, I feel pretty good about him. It's something we didn't realize we had.

Q: He's hit 13 in a row.

A:
That shocked me.

Q: And a lot of long ones.

A:
That's right.

Q: Obviously, you want to get out of the habit of falling behind early, but all the same, you have to be pleased with the team's composure.

A:
Yeah, because you don't find out about a team until they're behind. You go out there and keep winning, you still don't know how well they'll play if they get behind. Are they going to panic or throw in the towel? That tells you something about them.

Q: Do you go to them now and say, "OK guys, I found out enough about how you handle playing from behind?"

A:
(Laughs) Yeah. "Now, y'all quit."

Q: There's some danger in scoring too easy, too early in college football?

A:
I don't know if you remember 1998 when we scored first against N.C. State when Chris Weinke was a sophomore. They beat the heck out of us. It was the only game we lost until we got into the bowl.

Q: Are you surprised by the way Marcus Sims has played?

A:
There's another one that's come on all of a sudden. He began to do it in the spring and when he came back in the fall, he's been running hard and good. And it's been a big help.

Q: Have there been any other big surprises?

A:
I've been saying the biggest surprise so far is the play of the offensive line. Of course, Gano's performance has been good, and Marcus Sims'. The receivers are what we expected and Ponder's continued to improve.

Q: You control your own destiny now. It's been a while since you've been able to do that.

A:
The thing about it, we're a team not like Oklahoma or Georgia or Southern Cal. We're a team that could win or lose. If we were a team beating people 35-7, you'd say we're OK. But it's a 60-minute dogfight. It's been a 60-minute fight every game.

Q: Is that a good environment to be in?

A:
Oh, yeah. You don't have to worry about complacency. When we were having all those great years, the biggest thing we preached was complacency. We were beating everybody, sometimes bad, and you'd get those kids getting overconfident.

Q: What's it like having Georgia Tech back on the schedule? It seems like a natural rivalry.

A:
Back when we first got into the conference, I made the statement that I could see two natural rivalries come out of this -- Georgia Tech and Clemson -- because they were so close. I said it would never happen until they started beating us. But now Clemson's beaten us the last three in a row. N.C. State's beaten us here and there and Virginia's beaten us. Maryland has beaten us. Now people begin to get interested. Georgia Tech, we've been able to beat, but we haven't played them lately. You can imagine what they're thinking. They want to break that streak.

Q: Where did you see the improvement with Ponder on Saturday? You say you keep seeing it, but where do you see it?

A:
A lot of decisions he made, but the big thing is no turnovers.

Virginia Tech's always had a great kicking game, but we've beaten them in our kicking game. The other thing you don't want to lose to them in is turnovers. They were the best team in the country on turnovers and turnover margin. You'd have that statistic more than any other statistic.

Q: Does he remind you of any other quarterback that you've had here?

A:
The closest would be Casey Weldon, but still, their personalities are different. Both had enough running ability to keep your eye on them. Not many of our quarterbacks have had that. Charlie (Ward) did, but Charlie's in a different world. Casey was good at rolling out and running out of trouble and stuff like that. And he was very brave, one of the most courageous quarterbacks we've ever had. Ponder's courageous

Q: What's his makeup on the field and on the sideline?

A:
The big thing is, he listens, instead of going over to tell the coach how he told him wrong. He listens to the coach. And he comes over and tells you what he did wrong. It's bad when they think they did the right thing and they didn't, but when they know what they did wrong, that's a good sign. I think the fact that he comes over there, and before Jimbo can tell him, he can tell what he did wrong (is good).

Q: How does he lead?

A:
He leads by example and he leads by taking shots, by getting killed. And the kids see that and know that he still gets up and goes. He's taken some pretty doggone good shots.

Q: How banged up was he going into this game?

A:
He didn't practice Monday or Tuesday. He threw pretty good Wednesday and Thursday he threw better.

Q: The running game seemed not to be as big a part of the offense last game, but it seemed like, when you needed a big run, you got it.

A:
That's the biggest difference right now with this team. We're running the ball so much better.

Q: Can you get that without Antone Smith?

A:
Possibly. We're better with Antone, though, because this is his senior year and he's determined to move that football. He's got a little burst of speed that you can't coach.

Q: Watching him perform this year, is it a little more evident how much he wasn't 100 percent last year?

A:
I think a lot of that is, plus we probably didn't block as good.

Q: You were able to get D'Vontrey Richardson back in for a few plays.

A:
We'd like to get him back in. We went through a two-week period where he was kind of sick and couldn't practice and got behind. But the last week-and-a-half, he's practiced really good.

Transcribed by Derek Redd


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