Thursday, December 10, 2009

Coaches talk Pizza Bowl

Connecticut Head Coach Randy Edsall

On playing South Carolina in the Bowl

“I want to thank (Executive Director) Mark (Meadows) and his staff for extending the invitation for us to come here and play in the Bowl against and outstanding opponent in South Carolina and against an outstanding coach in coach (Steve) Spurrier. When you look at what coach Spurrier has done throughout his coaching career but also what he’s done at South Carolina, nobody else has done, so it’s a tremendous honor for us to go against South Carolina and coach and his staff because they have an outstanding staff and an outstanding team. I want to thank Pete Derzis, as well, from ESPN for inviting us.”

On coming to Birmingham

“I know that our fans and our players are excited to be able to come down and spend a few days here in Birmingham and to play the game. I had a chance to get around to where we’re going to stay at the hotel and also Hoover High School, where we’ll be practicing, and those facilities are outstanding. We’re going to come down here and play as hard as we can and enjoy the hospitality that everyone here in Birmingham will show us. I think it’s a great bowl, it’s a great setting, and we’re looking forward to it. We hope it can be a little bit colder than it is today. We kind of like that snow if they want to have some snow."

On overcoming challenges to earn a bowl berth

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for our program and most especially for our players in terms of what they had to overcome this year in terms of having some close losses, but then to lose Jasper (Howard) in the middle of the season, and then to have three straight losses after that which were so close, and then to finish the season to earn the right to come to this bowl, I think it says a lot about the character and the type of young men we have in this program.”

On helping his team cope with the death of cornerback Jasper Howard

“I lost my father in February, so I went through that experience, and then when we lost Jasper, I just tried to look back on how I handled that situation personally because of the closeness of him being my father and the closeness of Jasper being a brother to all of his teammates and a son to the coaches. I just tried to get them to understand that we had to support each other and we had to understand that people were going to grieve in different ways, and that was okay. We had to understand that life is precious and we needed to express our feelings to each other more often than what we did.”

On the three losses following Howard’s death

“Coming right back and playing against West Virginia was very difficult, but the people at West Virginia were outstanding in terms of their support and what they did there. That’s something I’ll never forget. We lost that one in the last two minutes. Then we go the next week against Rutgers, and we lost that one in the last 28 seconds. Then we go to Cincinnati, and I could feel it a little bit that the kids wanted to get that win, they wanted to get over the hump. We had an open week the next week, and I knew I had to get these kids away from this. I had to let them get away from football to clear their minds. We took three days off that week, and then I gave them Friday and Saturday off, too. When they came back from that break and we got ready to prepare for Notre Dame, I could see a difference. I could see them feeling better.”

On closing the season with three straight wins

"I think the win (over Notre Dame) gave us confidence and more momentum for Syracuse and then gave us the momentum going into South Florida. Coming back there at the end (against South Florida) and scoring with 40 seconds to go, that was just the resiliency and resolve of kids never quitting during the year. They knew how to overcome adversity with everything else they’d been in.”

South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier

On playing UConn in the Bowl

“We appreciate Papa John’s and the bowl committee here for selecting South Carolina. We’re looking forward to an outstanding game with UConn, and Papa John’s pizza became our favorite pizza about three days ago. I congratulate (UConn coach) Randy Edsall and his team on an outstanding ending. They lost a bunch of close ones there early, but I think most all of us saw them beat Notre Dame, and then the game with South Florida last week was a big one to, I guess, get them here.”

On both teams coming off a win

“Both of us won our last games, which doesn’t always happen in a lot of bowl games. Hopefully, both of our teams are on a little bit of an upswing right now, and I know our fans are fired up. It’s not a bad drive right across Interstate 20 to get here, so hopefully we’ll have a lot of fans here. It’s a little easier to drive across I-20 probably than to come from Connecticut.”

On his history at Legion Field

“I figured out this is my eighth game at Legion Field. In the USFL with the Tampa Bay Bandits, we played up here during the regular season all three years, and we had a playoff game up here also. The Duke team came here in 1989 and then a couple of SEC Championship games here in 1992 and 1993. We’re fired up to be here. We’re probably a lot like (UConn). We have a bunch of young guys who are looking forward to trying to improve this month and trying to play our very best Jan. 2.”

On the extra practices afforded by playing in a bowl game

“Since we’re Jan. 2, we’ll have about two and a half weeks. We’ll have 12 or 14 practices. That’s almost like a spring practice; you get 15 in the spring. So bowl teams actually have a little shorter spring practice here in the month of December. So it’s very helpful.”

On entering the bowl season coming off a win over Clemson

“It certainly helps with our fans. They’re upbeat now since we beat Clemson and had a good game there. I’m sure UConn probably feels the same way. You’re as good as your last game, as we all know, so we’re coming into the bowl game a little more up.”

On the play of South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia

“Stephen has improved a lot. He’s improved tremendously from where he was last year. He’s played about every snap the whole year, so he’s durable, and he’s improved a lot. He really has come along way. G.A. Mangus, our quarterbacks coach, has spent a lot of time with him that has really been meaningful.”


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