Louisville Head Coach Bobby Petrino, Quarterback Lamar Jackson & Safety Chucky Williams met with the media a day prior to the Cards’ Gator Bowl match-up vs. the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
It’s my distinct pleasure to introduce one of the best coaches in America, Coach Petrino, and his two players, Lamar Jackson and Chucky Williams.
Coach, a few opening remarks, then we’ll take a few questions.
BOBBY PETRINO: It’s a pleasure to be here. Certainly we thank Rick Catlett for inviting us to come to the TaxSlayer Bowl here in Jacksonville. It’s great for me to be back here. I spent three really good years here when I coached for the Jaguars. Our family is very familiar with everything. We’ve had a great time.
Also like to thank John. He’s been our host, done an awesome job. Our players have had a great experience. They’ve been able to experience different things outside of football. We’ve had great facilities to practice at, very good facilities for our meetings.
The week has went well. I like the way we’ve practiced. I think we’ve done a nice job of it. What you try to do at bowl games is balance the focus on your preparation for the game and enjoying the experience. Certainly I think we’ve been able to do that. I’m excited about that.
Look forward to playing a very good Mississippi State team. They’ve got very good players. They’re fast, they’re physical. We feel like it’s a great challenge for us. I do really like the way we finished the season off. We had a great November. Our offense was clicking, executing, scoring points. Our defense was doing a great job of sacking the quarterback, causing turnovers, holding our opponents’ points down.
I felt like as the year went on, we got better. We fought through adversity, which is something that hopefully the lesson helps all these young men when they’re done playing football. I feel like it’s been a great year for us. Certainly we’d like to finish it off with a victory here Saturday.
With that, we’ll open it up for questions.
Q. Bobby, we saw this a little bit last night, but why do you think historically bowl games often are so high scoring? What goes on in that dynamic? Any theories?
BOBBY PETRINO: I don’t really watch any of the other games. As a coach, what we do is get up in the morning, we watch video, go through all our preparation. Usually when I get home at night, everyone gets mad at me because I want to turn the channel, not watch the games.
I really don’t have an answer for you. I know it’s a trend now in college football that there’s a lot more points being scored. I think some of it is the tempo. You get more plays, the ability to hit big plays. It just seems like throughout the game of football, you’re seeing more points.
Q. Coach, what is your take on facing a team that’s in a little bit of a different and sticky situation, having an interim head coach? How do you approach that? What makes it different for your team?
BOBBY PETRINO: We have to prepare on what we see from video. Obviously we try to prepare for the players that they have, their talents, knowing what we’re going to go up against.
Scheme-wise, it’s kind of up in the air a little bit because they’re having two new play callers on offense and defense. You always wonder how that’s actually going to play out.
But our preparation has been basically on what they’ve done throughout the year, how they’ve utilized their players, what we think they’ll do because what they believe they can do.
Obviously we’re going to have to make some adjustments during the game. I think that’s always something in bowl games that you have to do, is get over on the sideline after the first couple of series, really understand what it is that you’re seeing, what you believe you’ll face, be able to make those adjustments on the sideline.
I feel good about that because we do have experience. Our players have been able to do that throughout the year.
Q. Lamar, you talked after the Kentucky game about still making improvements in your game. What have you done since then till now and how have your preparations been? Any different from previous years?
LAMAR JACKSON: Well, I’d say yeah. I’m just trying to better myself as a player. The people who are around me, the teammates, the young guys, even Jawon, he’s learning a lot, not just from me, but from Coach Petrino. He’s done a wonderful job helping us out for this bowl game.
Q. Lamar, a lot of players who are juniors plan on coming out, and seniors have elected not to play in bowl games. Can you revisit about why you made the decision you made? Is it because you want that one more experience with your teammates? You want to prove yourself one more time on a stage like this?
LAMAR JACKSON: Well, I just want to sit down with my family and make my decision. The reason I chose to play in it because my teammates, they sat out throughout the year, they came back in the game trying to help us out, make us come out with victories in big games, and they didn’t have to. I just felt I owed that to them.
Q. For anybody, how has preparation this year compared to last year? Last year you ended on a couple of losses, versus this year with a couple wins. Did that positive momentum help you out in bowl prep?
LAMAR JACKSON: I’d say yeah, it did. It boost our ego. We ready. We ready to play.
CHUCKY WILLIAMS: Yeah, I believe the same thing. We really just ready. Prepared way harder than last year. We should go into this game ready.
Q. Lamar, your impressions of Mississippi State’s defense, what you’ve seen from them so far.
LAMAR JACKSON: Like coach said, they’re flying around to the ball. They big, physical. Nine deep defensive line. Going to be a good game.
Q. Chucky, speak to how much the defense is going to miss Jaire and James in this game.
CHUCKY WILLIAMS: Yeah, we’re going to miss them a lot. Those guys are very valuable to us. But we got a lot of young guys that’s also stepping up, taking over the roles that they’ve been playing all year. We going to need them coming into this game.
Those guys that are out, we will miss them. Like I said, we got a lot of young guys back already to step up and make plays.
Q. Chucky, Mississippi State has a new quarterback, lost theirs. How does that change the defense’s approach?
CHUCKY WILLIAMS: It hasn’t changed our approach at all. We prepare the same for all quarterbacks. The scheme is real similar. Nothing’s changed. Yeah, like I said, we just preparing like it was the regular starting quarterback that was there before, so…
Q. Bobby, your perspective as a team, as a program, what is at stake with a win in this game this weekend?
BOBBY PETRINO: I mean, there’s not a lot at stake except for the fact that we want to win on a very high note. I always felt like this is the last game for the seniors. They’ve given a lot to our program. They’re a group that I always tell them is responsible for our stadium expansion, getting the crowd and the boosters behind us. They certainly have been.
It’s the first group we recruited, and also the first group we inherited, added to, some junior college, transfer guys. It’s a special group to me. We certainly want to go out with a win.
For our guys coming back, I’ve always felt like the bowl games are the start of next season. Certainly how you finish and who you got coming back usually determines the pre-season rankings, where you are there.
Certainly this is a game we want to compete and find a way to win.
Q. The NCAA, there’s maybe a rule proposal to have players be able to play in the first four games or something like that without burning a redshirt year. What are your thoughts on a rule like that? How would that have impacted your team this year?
BOBBY PETRINO: My understanding of it is you can have players play in four games, not just the first four games. That’s kind of what the rule is right now. If you play in the first half, so much percent of the first half of the season, and you get injured, you get a medical redshirt.
But the proposal I believe is to allow players to play in four games. If they don’t play in more than that, you can use that as a redshirt year for them.
I think it will be a great rule. I think the more games that we play, how competitive football is right now, staying healthy and having everybody available for games is hard. As you get later in the year, freshmen are prepared to play. They’ve been through it. They’ve gotten better. It certainly would help on special teams. It would be a perfect time to be able to have guys play, this bowl game right now.
I would be in favor of the rule.
Q. Your reaction to Jaire and James’ decisions not to play in this game? Did you expect that?
BOBBY PETRINO: No, I didn’t expect it. But, you know, it’s what it is right now in college football. You got guys that feel like they need to move on and get ready for the preparation for the combine and the draft. I support them.
They’ve given a lot to our program. James was here for really five years. He was one of the guys we inherited that had redshirted. He graduated, got his degree, which is something we were really wanting to see happen. Jaire gave three really good years to our football program. They prepared well, they played hard.
Q. Lamar, have you ever been to a game here at EverBank Field? Talk about your approach, does it excite you to play in an NFL stadium?
LAMAR JACKSON: Well, you know, no, I haven’t. This is my first time to ever play in this stadium. I think I played in one before. It don’t matter.
I’m looking forward. I’m back home. I can’t wait to go and play for our Louisville fans.
Q. Coach Petrino, is it somewhat easier to prepare for this defense, being it was a Grantham defense, you guys are familiar with each other?
BOBBY PETRINO: You see things show up on video that you know, you understand what they called, what the thoughts are in what they’re trying to do. But he’s no longer there. Now we got a different guy that’s going to call the defense.
Ron is a very good football coach. At one time the defensive coordinator at the University of Louisville, did a great job there. I actually coached against him when he was the head coach at Eastern Michigan. So obviously he’ll probably put some type of flavor of his on the defense, certainly the way he calls the game.
Like I said, I think it’s going to be real important that we’re able to adjust and get to the sideline and understand exactly what they’re trying to do.
Q. Coach Petrino, with Florida being a hotbed for recruits, how does playing in the TaxSlayer Bowl help your program out?
BOBBY PETRINO: It’s always great to come to Florida and play in a bowl game, first and foremost for the players on our team, because we have a lot of Florida guys on our team. Their families get to come up, see them. They get to spend time during the week with them. That’s always a great thing.
We’re always going to recruit the state of Florida. With this early signing day, we had a very good year in-state this year. High school football, Pop Warner football, everything they do here is really amazing, how much emphasis there is in the game of football. It’s Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Some states aren’t like that. Florida is.
We’re always going to try to recruit here as hard as we possibly can.
Q. Chucky and Lamar, with both of your college careers coming to a conclusion, how does it feel playing in your home state of Florida? What have you done to take it all in?
CHUCKY WILLIAMS: Well, it feels great being back in Florida for the most part (smiling). What I’ve been doing to take it all in is just embracing every moment, having fun with my teammates. I see them as brothers to me. Just taking it all in, enjoying myself. Really just physically and mentally getting ready for this game Saturday.
LAMAR JACKSON: Just like Chuck said, I’m sharing the moment with my teammates and coaching staff. I feel it’s good to be back at home. I wasn’t looking forward to it being cold here. I just left the cold. Florida, weather, yeah.
Q. Bobby, could you talk about Lamar, you’ve answered this question a ton of times, what he’s done this year?
BOBBY PETRINO: He’s had a great season. The way he’s played the game, the way he’s prepared for the game. The one thing that Lamar does every week is come to practice with a smile on his face and a great attitude. He really does work as hard as you possibly can on getting better every day.
One of the most coachable young men I’ve had the pleasure to coach. He’s always wanting to work on something. He’s a great listener. He really strives for excellence.
I think that’s the thing that carries over towards the other players on our team, they see here is a young man that won the Heisman Trophy, is the best player in the United States. He comes to practice and works as hard as you possibly can, sprints in the end zone.
I got after him the other day a little bit, I was really just kidding around, saying, C’mon, sprint, you got to go full speed. He had this huge smile on his face because he knew I was kidding around because he was going as fast as you could go.
It’s just been a real pleasure, a real standard for the other players on our team on how hard you can work and the fact that you do go to practice to get better every day.
RICK CATLETT: Coach, thank you for bringing your team down. Good luck to all of you tomorrow. We’ll see you at noon tomorrow. Thank you.