Dec. 26, 2014
Recap | Final Stats | Notes | Photo Gallery
THE MODERATOR: Coach Holtz, congratulations on winning the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl. Opening comments, please.
COACH HOLTZ: Thank you. Well, we have to thank the bowl for making this possible, Zaxby's, everybody involved with this bowl game. It's been a great week and it's been fantastic bowl experience for our players.
But as we talked about, this bowl trip was about this game and these football players have accomplished so much in this year and the year that no one expected much out of them with so many new faces and young guys, and the way that they came in here, the way they competed, and the way we grew as a football team during the course of the year, that this was the opportunity to finish this season the right way. And I couldn't be more proud of this football team, the way they competed.
Houston Bates, one of those new faces that came in, was absolutely awesome. Ended up with four and half sacks, would have had five and half if Michael Shrank would have got off the field a little bit quicker, one of his best friends, so he took that away from him.
But, you know what? This team has really done great things, and they're so close. Houston Bates and his leadership has been -- him and Cody Sokol, coming in. And then this guy on my right, Kenneth Dixon, leading rusher and history, he is a true junior. They're pretty incredible when when you look at Ryan Motes and all the players they've had in the school's history.
But for our fan base, for our alumni, the people that were there today, I thought the crowd was awesome. It was a special treat for me. My father had the opportunity to be here to this game, only about the third time that he's been able to do this because, with him coaching and me coaching, our schedules never really coordinated very well. And now I'm with ESPN and he's up at Bristol, so it was a real treat for me to have an opportunity to do this for our fan base, for our seniors, for our football players. It was great for everybody to accomplish.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, what was the difference? What was the key?
COACH HOLTZ: Well, we said the keys of the game were going to be game would be turnovers, would be a key to the game for sure, and big plays. We thought said there were going to be two huge keys to this game, and they were. We really struggled as an offense, I thought, I give the Illini an awful lot of credit, I thought, on offense and defense, what they did, the way they played. They played an outstanding football game. I thought their quarterback, he took a beating back there, and competed like
crazy. And I thought defensively they really controlled the line of scrimmage up front. But we were able to hit some big plays and put some points on the board, and then the defense was the one that kept us in it by keeping them out of the end zone.
I thought both sides did some really good things, but, for the most part, we said it last night, we're not going to play perfect, but we're going to play for sixty minutes and we are going to continue to compete. And I thought that's what this football team did.
THE MODERATOR: Just off the cuff, are you three and zero with the Papa in the building?
COACH HOLTZ: I would have to look at that, but I know that we're one and zero today with the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl, I know that. I know that right. We're definitely one and zero. And to represent Conference USA in this bowl, it's an opportunity for us to play as a conference, a Big Five team, a Big Five conference. Conference USA is now four and one in bowl games, and with a win against a Big Five team, I believe this was the first win of the year against a Big Five team. So just really proud to be part of the conference with Brent and (inaudible) Alfred and the job that they do, but to have the opportunity to represent the conference today and Louisiana Tech and wear the red, white, and blue, it's truly an honor today.
THE MODERATOR: Your comments on the game and your play today.
Kenneth Dixon: Oh, I feel like we went out and played a great game today. Like Coach was referring, he said we weren't going to play the perfect game, but we were going to play for sixty minutes. And I felt like that's what we did. I felt like our defense kept us in it with some executions they were doing. Houston did a good job and everything. And as far as my play, just did what it takes to win and made a couple little plays and ran behind some of the blocks and, you know, just did it.
THE MODERATOR: Houston, Congratulations on the MVP award. Just playing today and playing with your former teammates.
Houston Bates: Truly outstanding. I can't think of a better ending, not for me, for the senior class, and Coach Holtz. He's the real reason why we were so successful today. And Coach Diaz doing his thing on defense. And the reason why we were able to keep ourselves in the game is because of his play call and our guys doing what their job is to do.
And I can't thank enough people for bringing me here to Louisiana Tech for my last year. Truly guiding my life as a man off the football field, which is the most important thing to me. And Coach Holtz does an outstanding job. He's like a father figure to me.
And I can't thank the senior class and toughness they portrayed. It's truly outstanding.
Q. Kenneth, I believe it was you that caused the fumble after the sack fumble. Talk about you -- one of the biggest plays you make all year is on defense. And, Coach, if could you comment on that as well.
Kenneth Dixon: I'm just not giving up on the play, I mean, he got the ball and he's running, and I got behind him and just tried to do my best to get the ball back in and went for it and we got it, so just thankful.
COACH HOLTZ: I know the energy this young man plays with every single day on the practice field and on the football field, and, as hard as he plays, and when I say him standing even with Cody so when the ball came out, I saw it go lateral, and I was like, Oh, no, no. And I saw who picked it up and I saw Kenneth coming and what went through my head, "Get him, Kenneth, get him!" And he got there. He got there made a great strip on the ball and we got it back. And I believe that was the drive we were able to make a first down or two and then hit Carlos Henderson on wheel route to go up two scores from there to make it a ten-point game.
Q. Coach Holtz, with this win, you improve to a .500 bowl record. Could you elaborate on that just a bit?
COACH HOLTZ: You know, I go back to the bowl games and I think of losing the Arkansas game at the Liberty Bowl, we missed five field goals to lose in overtime, and I look at how close how we were in a lot of those games. But I have had some great teachers, when I look at Lou Holtz and Bobby Bowden and Earl Bruce and their records in bowl games, and the way that they prepare teams for bowl games, and I've just had some great teachers on kind of really how to put the schedule together and what to do with your players. And these guys have just really bought in. I didn't make a tackle today. I didn't throw a block. I didn't run the ball. But I was the biggest fan sitting on the sideline, watching these guys go out and compete the way they did.
I'd really echo what Houston said, just really proud of this team, but, most importantly, these seniors. We had a bunch of guys get up and talk last night on what this team has meant to them. And there were people who had a hard time finishing just because of the emotion that's on this team. And I think it's one of the reasons we were able to have the success we were, because of the closeness and bond that is intertwined with these guys and the way they have given up their own individuality for the good of this team and the good of this program, and look what you can accomplish as a football team rather than an individual. And that's one of the things that makes me -- is most rewarding to me about having the opportunity to win the bowl game.
Q. Two-part question for you and Houston, Coach. The big plays we've seen all year, but the plays did you have today, did that kind of accurately sum up the entire season with what you've been doing? And, then, Houston, for you, I know we talked a couple weeks ago and you said this was going to be a fairy-tale game going into the game, what's your response to the way you played? And can you come up with words to sum it up?
Houston Bates: You want to start?
COACH HOLTZ: Go ahead.
Houston Bates: Like I said, it's not about me. The senior class, this coaching staff, Coach Holtz, they're the real MVPs. You know, the way we went out there and fought through adversity this entire season, it really just sums up our season. It wasn't Houston Bates versus Illinois, it was Louisiana Tech versus Illinois. And the way the guys played, Kenneth and Cody and -- throughout the whole season, it's truly outstanding. It's something I will live for the rest of my life. And if I die tomorrow, my life would be complete.
COACH HOLTZ: That was a humble answer. How did it feel to win this game? [ Laughter ]
Houston Bates: Unbelievable.
COACH HOLTZ: I got caught up in his answer, what was the first part of your question?
Q. The way you've been able to--
COACH HOLTZ: Yeah. The big plays for the season. Yeah. Without a doubt, we talked about the new faces, the addition of Carlos Henderson, Paul Turner, some of the speed in the big plays, Cody Sokol and the way he throws the deep ball, that is really how we have survived as an offense. When you look at our wins, when we have been able to put up points, we have not been very good about methodically moving the ball down the field, but we have been able to create a lot of big plays.
The other side of that is Kenneth is such a powerful runner, and so many people have to load the box to stop a guy like Kenneth Dixon, that it's really created a lot of one-and-one situations. And Cody's able to place the ball down the field, and those guys--excuse me--are able to make plays down the field for us. But definitely this has been a microcosm of our season to be able to like this.
Q. After the game, the fans thanking them, I'm sure a lot of them want to know if you're going to be back for your senior year?
Kenneth Dixon: Yes, sir, I will. Just going through the journey, thankful for having the chance to play the game of college football. And I don't want to give it up right now, with Coach Holtz being a great example for us on and off the field. You know, some of the great guys like X coming back, he's great, you know, and we actually look up to some of those guys. And I really don't believe -- I really believe I will be back to Louisiana Tech.
Q. This question is for Houston. At any point in the game did you find yourself on the sideline with the defense trying to motivate them? Or did you find yourself kind of looking back and going, Hey, I think I'm in the zone right now and I think I'm really on fire?
Houston Bates: Like I said, it's not about me. This whole year and season is we don't have--we have no selfish attitudes amongst the whole year, and that's the reason for our success.
Coach Diaz does a great job of motivating us already. I'll leave the motivating is up to him. And the leadership really showed up in this game. You know, coming in in the second half, not being up by that much and having to come back and keep the ball out of the end zone, I think we did a great job. And that's a testament to our leadership. You know, the guys are tough, like I said. That's the biggest attribute of this team, we're tough and we fight through adversity and we're resilient. And that's a testament to Coach Holtz and the way his staff motivates us and keeps us motivated and ready to play.
Q. You elaborated earlier about the big plays and the capabilities of your offense and not being able necessarily to go methodical throughout the season. Could you talk about some of the scripting in the offense early in the game? Obviously, Kenneth, with the big pass play, he was effective in the passing game as well as in the running game. Was that something that your offensive staff had in the game plan coming in?
COACH HOLTZ: We came into this game and said that Illinois' strength was their defensive line. They're big, they're strong, they're physical. We lost two starters at the end of the season. We had some new guys stepping up. And we felt like our best mismatches were our athletes and space.
And so we said we're not going to be able to hand the ball to Kenneth thirty times from
the eye and just pound the ball up in the tackles. In order for us to get him the ball, we're going to have to get him the ball in the passing game, we're going to have to get him out involved in space. And so, that's what we were able to do. We gave him a little motion early. They were taking the free safety and trying to rob trips to take away the Trent Taylor over on that side, and that loaded Kenneth Dixon one-on-one with the linebacker, and that was the big eighty-yard play down the sideline.
So we were able to hit them with things. And after that, after the fourteen points, they started changing completely, on this two-trail, two-deep, quarter coverage, coming at every snap. We had a hard time getting a bead on just what we were attacking. And that's why I thought Cody Sokol did such a great job. And our defense, while we were struggling during that time, they really kept us in it. And as I said, that -- we talk about X and his touchdown and Houston, the way he played.
But I tell you what, I don't know if enough credit can go to Manny Diaz for the job he has done with this defense. I say that, he came in here in the offseason, sold himself to these players, the buy-in factor has been off the charts. What he does schematically, defensively is I think is phenomenal. People talk about we have been trying to figure it out for a week and can't figure it out. I have been going against it for eight months, and I can't figure it out and I go against it every single day. The way -- his terminology, the way he utilizes players, I think he's a rock star and he's done an unbelievable job with his defense this season.
COACH Manny Diaz: I'm so proud. Quarterback sacked five times, just struck by lightening just to say it and see the way he played. You can hear it. He's a humble individual but this game we knew meant a lot to him and he means a lot to our defense and I thought--I thought our kids rallied behind him. And you want to see as a coach, you want to see your seniors play their best in their last game and that was great to see?
Q. Earlier in the week Coach Holtz talked about the passing attack from Illinois. What was the toughest adjustment that you made in preparation for the game?
COACH Manny Diaz: I tell you the passing attack, O'Toole, his ability was amazing. We were hitting him repeatedly but he could extend the play, he was scrambling to run, scrambling to throw, he was uncovered, and he played his best game of the season. I think there's a lot of credit. I told him after the game, I thought he was a warrior today because--just like Houston, for being a senior, that's a game he should remember for a long time with fondness. So it was a great challenge in the passing game. It made it hard on us to stay in coverage for a couple extra counts because of his mobility.
Q. Coach, was there extra juice coming into the game considering your background and history in the state?
COACH Manny Diaz: I don't know if that would be the case. I think as a coach you're just--it's like being a parent. You're so tied into your players and those guys and even beyond Houston. I have to mention Mitch Villemez as a senior. Mitch can't even tackle during the week in practice. His -- I can't even tell you what body part hurts him the most because it's--it'd be quite a list and the toughness he displays is phenomenal. As a coach, you heard them mention it. You want to be defined by their toughness and that is the--the unselfishness but the toughness of our guys at all levels, our secondary, linebackers and our front--that's what makes a defense tick. There's no scheme, no call, no anything that can overcome a lack of toughness so the players we have and the way that they play is fun for me to watch.
Q. Coach, Illinois came out with east-west action, saw the reverse and a lot of swing passes, sweeps, et cetera. Were you expecting that? What was the difference in the second half holding them to 150 yards?
COACH Manny Diaz: We knew they would get reverse. We knew they were diverse. They have every trick in the book. They caught us on the reverse, a lot of the swing passes you saw, they were throwing slants which is similar to what Marshall had done. We were running zones so the back was a swing. He takes it out to the back so we're denying the slants in the inside part of the field but to me the big thing is always--number one thing to play good defense, you can't allow good plays and the reverse, I don't think they had a run for more than 17and the longest pass being 25 yards and it was a touchdown so again we didn't do everything right. At half time we didn't think we were playing well in defense but we're pretty disappointed on the first half of the display but we kept the ball in front but the opportunity for Houston and the guys in our front to continue to make negative plays. I think third down was a huge factor in the game, 3 of 15 on third down. So we kept getting them off the field. Those to me were the massive moments. And then scoring on defense and X, great job, if you throw it near him he's going to catch it but his ability to turn defense to offense and he will be the first to tell you all the effort and strain of people around him to block. We have the mentality when we get the football, we are trying to score. So he's been phenomenal all year at that but the other ten guys turning into offensive players in a hurry. Probably the two biggest plays of the game was the offense turning into defense and then the guys on defense turning into the offense, without those two plays it would be hard to imagine we won the football game.
COACH BECKMAN: Well, you know, it's -- disappointing, I guess, is the first word. You want the seniors to leave with a W, and that didn't occur today for the Fighting Illini. As we said, I can't thank these seniors enough. They played extremely hard, the seniors did, we just didn't capitalize on the things we needed to capitalize on, you know, scoring points and doing the things we need to do to be successful. But these seventeen seniors that we've had, I can't say enough about them, as I mentioned.
We have got a battle for--battle cry that we use for each senior class, and this year we used OSIGEKEE, and it stood for our success is going to equal the knowledge, effort, and energy of the football team. Well, that's never going to change now. We will keep that because of what this senior class did for this football team in starting a drive to get us better and better each and every week, and I definitely saw it as we progressed throughout the football season.
We are going to take it. We owe it to these seniors to move this program forward. Of course disappointed, but we'll be back at it on January 19th.
THE MODERATOR: A little comment about your season average of 19 yards, good?
COACH BECKMAN: Yeah, I thought offensively, definitely made plays. I thought Reilly was throwing the ball, I thought Josh and DY ran the ball. You know, just to mark what Jeremiah Allison probably had of his best games as a back, so I thought they played well and I thought our defense, other than two plays, played extremely good too for most of the football game. But you know, again, points are all that matters. They had more points than we did, so our football team realizes what we have to do to make sure that next year, when we're in a bowl game, that we're victorious.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, was that your plan, to have Reilly handle the ball, he was three-quarters of your plays today, rushing and passing?
COACH BECKMAN: There's no question about that, I mean, Reilly, since he's taken over as our quarterback here the last half of the football season, you just think about what he's done for this football team. I mean, he really was the starter for three out of the last, you know, six victories and, you know, he did a great job with us getting on track with his running skills and his throwing skills. And so, you know, he had a big--he has a lot to do with our success here lately.
THE MODERATOR: Reilly, can you make a comment about your play today and just playing in the bowl?
REILLY O'TOOLE: It was a lot of fun. The whole week is just a fun time to spend with your
teammates, some of your teammates 24/7. It's a great experience and obviously you want to come out to win but, at the same time, we weren't here last year so we can have our heads held high, knowing that we improved so much from last year. And, obviously, like I said, you want to get the win, but hopefully we can build on this for future seasons and future Illini seasons to get the seven, eight, nine wins and win the bowl game. It's been a great experience, and I wouldn't change it except for the win, but all week has been fun and thanks for having us.
THE MODERATOR: You went up against a former teammate and got the MVP, Houston Bates. Just, Reilly, your comments on Houston's play today?
REILLY O'TOOLE: He hit me hard a couple times, but it was fun going against a friendly foe. But I mean, obviously, we wish we could have made a few more plays. But congrats to him, he is a great kid. We had a lot of fun when he was in Illinois, so I'm sure the guys on his team are loving his presence on their team. So Congratulations to him, he deserves it. Just a little bittersweet.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Beckman on Houston?
COACH BECKMAN: I won't take any of the credit. He did play for us for two years. You know, I was proud of Houston. Houston's always been that type of player. He plays 110% every snap. He's got great football intelligence. And I'm proud of him. I mean, what else can you say? No, I'm sorry he was on the other team, but, you know, he had a great career for us and had the opportunity, graduated in four years, one of our top student athletes, and now decided he wanted to go to medical school and move closer to his mother.
So, how can you ever say no to a young man that wants those types of things? I'm not going to punish a young man for that. He had a heck of a game and we knew he was going to be a factor in this football game.
THE MODERATOR: Okay. Questions from the floor. And if you will identify yourself in the outlet here, right here, Drew?
Q. Demario Davis -- Coach Beckman, could you explain, moving forward in the future, just losing, you know, three seniors on the offense, three starters on defense?
COACH BECKMAN: Yeah. That's what--we're going to have over -- I don't know the exact number, but we're going to have over 350 starts back when we take the field against Western Illinois, "starts" meaning that a lot of guys have played a lot of football as freshmen and sophomores. So we have to take this football program and we will watch this film, realize the things we could have done.
I'm a positive guy, I'm not going to dwell on negatives. We know what the negatives are. We have got to fix those negatives to get better. But we're going to dwell on some of the positives. And, as I said, you know, they'll be back on January nineteenth and we will get started on January twentieth. And it's going to get started for us to get better and keep this program moving forward.
THE MODERATOR: Question over there?
Q. Reilly, it became evident fairly early on that you weren't going to slide on any of those runs. Was that a "this is my last game" -- you know, was that a conscious thing on your part?
REILLY O'TOOLE: Yeah, it was. I mean, you have to be relatively smart, but Nate texted me yesterday and reminded me it's my last game ever. He did the same thing in his last game his senior year, so, I mean, why not leave it all on the field? So, yeah, that was my mind set, my last game ever, so I'm not going to shy away from contact.
Q. You were staggering around out there.
REILLY O'TOOLE: I mean, just the usual bumps and bruises. Had a couple scares there, got rolled up on, but no different than last few games.
THE MODERATOR: Question here.
Q. Coach, talk about the impact and the emotions around the double fumble play and Tech gets that big score right after that?
COACH BECKMAN: Well, again, it was misfortunate. Again, when you rush and pass and create the fumble. J-had picks the ball and had a excellent second half of the season. There's no question, he's still like a freshman to us being a junior college transfer. Hand runs down the field and fumbles that football and, you know, I think--our kids believe there were opportunities and we didn't make that play when we tried to save the clock as much as we could after that, of course, but we had an MA on a -- a missed assignment on the touchdown they had--or not touchdown, but the long catch so really ended up, you know, taking the wind out of the sails.
Moderator: Question here.
Q. Just your thoughts real quick, Coach, on Mike Dudek, and his future thoughts going forward. I mean, he's only a freshman and he had a pretty good game today?
COACH BECKMAN: Well, to be honest with you, I think all three wide receivers, now, if you
think about it Geronimo Allison is a first-year football player, and some of those catches that Malik Turner, were making at the end, he's another freshman -- I think all three of those young men, I'll start with Mikey, have great futures in front of them. And they're really excited. They're work-a-holics, they work extremely hard to make themselves better. Reilly was getting the ball to them to make them successful. And we're excited about those three joining us again, you know, we've got three more years with two of them and another year with G-Mo, so we're excited that they're back.
Q. Coach, the amount of penalties especially in the first half, did it take you by surprise? And what do you think the reason was, given the time for bowl preparation at that moment?
COACH BECKMAN: Wow, it's hard to comment on some of those penalties so I will keep it at that. I'm glad that group's doing the Sugar Bowl with Coach Meyer.
Q. I won't ask you about that -- I was going to ask you about the Mike Dudek possible hold?
COACH BECKMAN: What's that?
Q. It looked like a possible hold on Mike?
COACH BECKMAN: Yeah. I mean, again -- I'm probably the one that gets out of hand more than anybody else, and that's not what I need to be doing as a football coach. So I'm learning also, because I get kind of irate at times, and I don't want it to affect our players. So there's nothing we can do about it if it isn't called or not. I mean, that's college football. You know, you hope everything's called, but sometimes they're not so you have to play the next play.
Q. On that interception what did you see on that play, Reilly? And then also, just emotion-wise, what's going on in your head right now?
REILLY O'TOOLE: I think I know the play that you were referring to, but it was a timing route and they leave the safety way far back, so really just trying to get one-on-one with that guy, and there was a time we were outside, I threw it a little early and lofted it up a little bit to the guy and so it didn't go.
Q. Coach, on a positive note, your guys held them to 114 yards rushing. Talk about the strategy behind that and tell me if you guys gave up a lot of yards on the ground, but now have you a good job against Kenneth and crew?
COACH BECKMAN: I think we have improved in the second half of the season, and it's a credit to our defensive staff. I think the maturity of our players as they continue to grow from DJ Smoot to Jihad Ward to to TJ Neal's first big year of starting. All those guys really
progressed, and I think we had a great team for it. They had a great running back. But I think if you look at our last--didn't quite play as good as we wanted to against Ohio State or Iowa, but, as a whole, I think our defense got better in the second half of the season stopping the run.
Q. Louisiana Tech as, all season, they've kind of relied on big plays and turnovers, we saw that with the 80-yard touchdown and 70-yard pass play interception, the pick six, what type of impact did those have on the outcome of the game?
COACH BECKMAN: That's the game of football to me, you know, and we'll all talk about what a good game until the very end but, bottom line is, the score is the score. I think they've been very, very opportunistic in what they've done this year. I think that's the mark of a pretty darn good football team. I know that I've been, you know, involved in some defenses where we were very, very aggressive and made plays like they did. We need to become that better on our defense. And, you, know they hit us with some long opportunistic plays, getting the ball to the two guys they wanted to get the ball to and, you know, we just got to be able to stop those better. So, no question, those were big huge plays in this football game.
Q. Coach, could you talk about Josh Furgeson and his performance, having twelve touches as a rusher and receiver and on 112 yards.
COACH BECKMAN: He did a great job. Again, he was a little bit dinged coming into the second half, you know. But, again, I thought, you know, I think Josh has all the capabilities to be as good as there is. I really believe that. And, you know, he has really progressed in these last two football games against Northwestern and, of course, this La Tech game. So I look forward to seeing how he progresses in the future. We have got him for another year. And I think his game is in front of him, and that's what so unique about it as a head football coach, you know he's going to be better and better as he progresses throughout college football.