Photo: Devin Duvrenay (Valero Alamo Bowl)
The Texas Offense took part in a press conference on Sunday in preparation for this week's Valero Alamo Bowl. Taking part in the press conference were Co-Offensive Coordinator Herb Hand, Devin Duvernay, Collin Johnson, Zach Shackelford, Sam Ehlinger and Keaontay Ingram.
HERB HAND: We’ve been very excited to be here in San Antonio. We really appreciate the opportunity to represent the University of Texas in the great state of Texas in this bowl game, and we’ve had a really good week of practice. The guys have done a great job of managing the events and different things that the bowl people have planned for us. They’ve done a great job of managing those as well as locking in during practice time, getting some good work in. We know we’re facing a tough opponent in Utah. A very successful team not only this year but just the program that Coach Whittingham has put together over his 13-year span there, or 15-year, excuse me, span there. Just a really impressive program overall.
So we’re looking forward to the challenge, and we’re excited about the opportunity again to be here at the Alamo Bowl.
Q. Coach, Utah’s defensive line specifically has been rated as one of the best if not the best in the country. Can you talk about the challenges faced with your O-line?
HERB HAND: Yeah, obviously they’ve got — I think they’re the No. 1 rushing offense in the country led by a couple of All-Americans, Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu, No. 99, the defensive lineman, and No. 6, Bradlee Anae, who is seventh in the country in sacks.
Obviously they present a challenge. I mean, they’re very well-coached. They’re older guys that have been in the program for a while. They play extremely hard. I tell the offensive linemen all the time that when we work, it all works, and that’s our challenge.
We’ve had a good bowl preparation so far, and I know the guys are looking forward to playing on Tuesday night.
Q. Collin, 1 to 10, how’s the hammy, and how motivated are you to not only play your final game in burnt orange on Tuesday but to shine in it?
COLLIN JOHNSON: It’s always hard to put a percentage on a hamstring because it’s one of those lingering injuries, but I feel great. I’ve been practicing for a while now, so I feel great. I’m just excited to get back out there with my team and just play the sport I love, and that’s football. At the end of the day, people can argue it’s a bowl game, things like that, and a lot of people choose to sit out for whatever reason, but for me, it’s just something I just get another opportunity to play, if I’m healthy, which I feel healthy right now, to go out there and play the game I love, so it just comes down to that.
Q. Sam, obviously you’ve had some success in the past two bowl games that you’ve played in. Tell me what you’re seeing as the team prepares for this bowl games? Are you seeing any traits of that success maybe in previous years?
SAM EHLINGER: Yeah, absolutely. Obviously the coaching staff has done an incredible job the past two years in preparing us for bowl games, and I think the guys have a lot of fun. We go out and relax and then lock in and handle our business, and I’ve seen that this week for sure. I think this week we’ve had one of the crisper practice weeks that we’ve had all season, and guys are just flying around having fun and playing the game that they love.
I’m really excited to get back on the field.
Q. Collin, I know obviously this is not the senior season you envisioned. I was just wondering what it’s been like to deal with all the injuries, and I know you touched on it before, but what does it mean to get to play one more game in the state of Texas just about an hour and a half down from campus?
COLLIN JOHNSON: So this year has been beyond frustrating just being honest on a personal level. But at the end of the day, it’s life, and adversity happens. And I think football is a great kind of just vehicle to how life is because things don’t always go the way you want it to, but you have to adjust and stay positive, do it all, and being a team captain and stuff also helped me because I don’t only have to think about myself, I have to think about the team, and I have to think about how they look at me. So I’ve got to be a light every day I show up to work per se and practice and try to lead those guys, even if I’m not physically on the field.
But like I said, I’m just excited to get back to playing the game I love, and that’s football, and it just comes down to that.
Photo: Texas offense (Valero Alamo Bowl)
Q. For Sam and for Herb, as well, what’s the transition been like with Tim no longer being the offensive coordinator but still coaching you as the quarterbacks coach? And then for Herb, what’s it been like stepping into this kind of interim role even though you still have Tom kind of doing what he does? How has your role changed and how has that been?
SAM EHLINGER: For me, nothing has really changed with the way that I approach and the way that Coach Beck and I work together. Obviously we’re still going to do everything that we can to prepare to the best level that we can, and I can’t say enough about how much he means to me and what he’s done for me throughout my college career, from developing me as a freshman all the way until now. All credit is due to him, and so I love him to death.
We’ve been having a lot of fun, and I don’t think really anything has changed. We’re going to put our nose down and do everything that we can to prepare the best way we can.
HERB HAND: Yeah, and then from a preparation standpoint, leading up to the game when we first started breaking down Utah and game planning and those sort of things, really it’s been kind of business as usual. First of all, Tim Beck is an incredible professional and an incredible coach, and I’ve been blessed to work with him for the last two years. But he’s just done a great job of managing the process of putting together the game plan. Coach Herman has been very involved, as he always is, as well as our entire staff, you know, of putting together our thoughts going in to get these guys prepared to play.
But just in terms of any difference, there really hasn’t been any difference, which is a credit to the professionalism of our staff, and also it’s a credit to these players, as well, in that when you have the type of season that we had, nobody is happy about the way things unfolded. We didn’t meet expectations, and the greatest expectations that we have in our program come from our locker room, not from anywhere else. We have great expectations that derive from our locker room, and we didn’t meet those.
It was a tough season in that regard, but the way that these guys have handled it, this bowl prep has been a credit to them, and again, the professionalism of our coaching staff and all the guys that worked together coming to do a job to put these guys in the best position to win.
Q. Keaontay and Sam, what’s been the message from Herman about the changes that have occurred, and what do you think the level of buy-in is with the players who are returning in terms of sticking with it?
SAM EHLINGER: Really nothing has been communicated because we still have a game to play, and ultimately none of those decisions or what happens is up to us. So I think that we’re all very focused on winning the bowl game, so there hasn’t been any communication there.
But then the buy-in level, I think everybody right now is — we’re having fun. It would be very easy for guys to kind of doze off and have a foot out the door, but I don’t sense that at all. I think everybody has done a really good job of being mature about the situation and controlling what we can control and going to work.
KEAONTAY INGRAM: From my standpoint, just feeding off of what Sam was saying, nothing has really changed. There hasn’t been really a different message. The same thing is going. Sometimes things happen. That’s life. That’s part of the game. And we’re just attacking the day just like any other normal day. I feel like we’re doing a pretty good job with that, as well.
Q. Keaontay, obviously Utah comes in with the No. 1 rush defense. What do you feel like you can personally do to attack that and make sure that you get your yards against a team like that?
KEAONTAY INGRAM: Just do my job. You know, nothing more to it. It’s just simple. They’ve got real good defensive linemen up front, front seven, especially with the coverage that they do. I feel like it’s nothing special, nothing that we haven’t seen before, but the only thing that I can do from my standpoint is just do my job, play my role and stay on the same page and the path that we need to in order to win the game.
Q. Devin, you’ve had a pretty interesting career since you got to the University of Texas, but can you touch on your journey from your freshman year when you made the decision to leave to come to Texas to where you are now and how everything finished up for you?
DEVIN DUVERNAY: Yeah, I mean, I just came here, felt like it was the best thing for me, and enjoyed the people I was around. So yeah, that freshman year, then they ended up with a new staff, a kind of down year, and then after that the off-season just started working, started working hard and just put my head down and tried to get better every day, no matter what skill set I needed to get better at, so I could be better for my team, get on the field and just produce, and whenever my number is called I can do what I need to do and just try to help my team win games.
SAM EHLINGER: I want to comment on that real quick. Being able to see the transformation and obviously the position move that Devin went through from when I first got here to where he is now, Devin has been a guy that every coach dreams of. There was no complaining. Obviously he knew what he was capable of when he stepped foot in here, and he got the opportunity to do that this year, and he didn’t say a word about it, he just kept working hard.
And now you see all the hard work that he’s put in. It’s a testament to his character, and he’s done an extremely good job of doing that, and he’s going to be a hell of a player at the next level.
HERB HAND: I would also like to say I think it’s a shame that Devin Duvernay was not up for any type of postseason award. It’s a joke to be honest with you. The guy led the country in receiving. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody.
Q. Sam, does this situation seem similar to last year because Utah had a chance for the playoff until it was in their last game? And do you have any perception of Utah as a program?
SAM EHLINGER: Absolutely. They are an incredible program, obviously very well-run. You turn on the tape and you watch those guys play football, and they play it the right way. They’re flying around, playing physical, stopping the run and doing everything that their coach clearly asks them to do. All my interactions and understanding of what they’ve done in San Antonio, I mean, they’re a great program, great people, so my hat is off to them. Incredible program.
Q. Does it remind you of Georgia getting left out of the playoff and being kind of bummed out, and Utah was on the fringe of being in the playoffs?
SAM EHLINGER: For me, their game plan and what they do as a defense is completely different. Big picture, it’s irrelevant to me right now as I prepare for the defensive scheme that they’re going to present on Tuesday.
Q. This is for the seniors, so Zach, Collin and Devin, can you talk about what it would be like going from your freshman year not being able to make a bowl game to the possibility of maybe closing out your careers and winning three straight bowl games, what that would kind of mean to you guys?
ZACH SHACKELFORD: Yeah, I just think it’s a credit to what Coach Herman brought here in terms of culture, getting guys to buy in and developing, building leadership among players. It just speaks numbers to that, character building of young men. Each year we take it one year at a time, and right now we’re just focused on Utah, and that would be awesome to finish with three consecutive winning seasons and bowl games. We’re working every day to make that happen.
COLLIN JOHNSON: Yeah, so our freshman year we didn’t get the opportunity to play in a bowl game, and the year after that won the Texas bowl, then the Sugar Bowl, now we’re sitting here today, and I think kind of ending on a high note and winning this game would be huge for us as seniors. So we’re just going to leave everything on the line and just do our best to lead one more time for the University of Texas and just go out on a high note. But we’re excited to play a great bowl game, and we’re just ready to get to work.
DEVIN DUVERNAY: Like these guys said, it’s a credit to the work we put in and just kind of being rewarded, being able to have a chance to win three bowl games in a row would mean a ton to me personally, just sending myself off and these seniors out on a right note, so we’re going to do everything in our power to do so.
Q. Zach, you talked last year at the Sugar Bowl about how much you were looking forward to being a senior and being in that leadership role with the offensive line. As it winds down, can you talk about that process, the leadership role you’ve been through this whole year? And then for Coach Hand, what has Zach meant to your room in terms of his leadership?
ZACH SHACKELFORD: Yeah, well, first of all, it’s hard to lead when people don’t want to be led, so a big credit to the offensive line room. Guys really are hungry and thirsty for knowledge and experience. I was happy that I could fill that role for some guys and step in there and help them out in certain areas of their game and certain — whether it be a scheme thing or just a workout thing or just life in general. And that’s one of my passions in life is leadership.
So you know, I really enjoyed doing that, and it’s been a blast. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, and that’s not how life is. But it’s been a blast, and I’ve loved every minute of it.
HERB HAND: Yeah, so having Shack in the room has just been an awesome asset, if you will, for the last two years, for me as his coach. He’s been basically an extension of our coaching staff in a way. What I really like about him is his attention to detail and the way that he approaches preparation, and he’s really set a standard for the rest of our unit in that regard.
Then the other area that I think where Shack has really excelled is just in accountability, not only personal accountability but accountability — holding other guys in the unit accountable to the standards that we want to play with, whether that be from a preparation standpoint or on game day, just the physicality that he plays with and his toughness and those intangibles that you don’t necessarily measure with metrics.
Just been a joy to coach, and I know what his aspirations and goals are. I think he’s got all the ability in the world to achieve those from a football perspective, but more importantly, he’s going to be a great man, and that’s what our goal always is in our program is producing guys like him.
ZACH SHACKELFORD: Also, Coach Hand is the best offensive line coach I’ve ever had, so it makes it easy to show up to work when you have the best in the business coaching you and developing you as a man, not only on the field but off the field, as well.