Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden met with the media Sunday morning during their weekly breakfast. The following is a transcript of that conversation:
Opening Statement: The best comment from last night, we were moving the darned ball good, and all of a sudden we stopped. And there was mistake after mistake after mistake. And I said to the coaches that we were executing good until we put the subs in. And then they said, "Coach, half of the starters are the subs." And you think that half of them would be starting if it weren't for those suspensions.
Q: Speaking of that, you have a playmaker coming back (Preston Parker) that's missed the last couple of ball games. The kids that have gotten that opportunity (when he was suspended) seemed to have made the best of it.
A: That's right. The thing about this is that it is building depth. You think that you're playing without your three starting tackles, normally, (Justin) Mincey, (Budd) Thacker and (Paul) Griffin. All those guys have been starters down through the years. You're breaking in freshman. You're starting at defensive end a guy that was a walk-on a year ago and we gave him a scholarship, Ben (Lampkin). We've got the wins. I think we can qualify for that I-AA playoff. Don't know about that I-A playoff.
Q: What have you seen in Parker and Thacker in terms of their readiness for Wake Forest?
A: They'll be ready. You know, one of the amazing things about them practicing up until now is the effort those boys have given in practice. You would have thought they would be starting every week. Their effort has just been unbelievable. They've actually had a good time going on the scout squad and imitating the opponent for the next week. They've worked hard, taken some shots.
Q: How do you do that when a kid comes off a suspension like Parker? Do you start him when he first comes back?
A: He will start if he's the best and he probably is the best. He's looked no different in our practices. He still looks like the best we've got when we put him out there. They've served their penalty.
Q: What did you see in your quarterbacks?
A: I thought it was good. I haven't broken it down yet, but we dropped a lot of passes there for a while. I mean, gimmes in the chest. Right into the chest and we dropped them. That happens in football, but the thing about it, the first game we caught everything and hit everything. And that's good, and no matter who you're playing against, that's good. Sometimes, we go out against air and don't do that. We'll go out there and practice with nobody out there (on defense) and drop passes and miss receivers. You play Western Carolina and hardly ever drop one … I don't know if we had any drops … and last night we dropped several. We'd have a nice gain and get it called back for a penalty. We'll learn from it. If we're going to do it, we have to do it now and not next week.
Q: Have you already started looking at Wake Forest?
A: A little bit.
Q: What do you see?
A: A good solid football team that don't beat themselves. Really, defensively, a veteran football team that don't beat themselves. (Jim Grobe) thrives his program on redshirting, which is very smart. He don't get a lot of these five-star guys that a lot of people talk about. So he gets those who maybe are not, but they're solid football players and hungry football players. He redshirts them and, now that he's got that going, he has a maturity level that goes along with it. They are capable of beating anybody.
Q: Is that one of the better stories, how Wake Forest has been able to do this?
A: I think it's a great story and, you know, you remember those times we played against Wake, with Charlie Ward on up. You'd get beat up. You remember when Charlie got hurt and (Danny) Kanell had to start the next game because Charlie couldn't play against Maryland? Then in one game, we had three tailbacks knocked out and had to move Nick Maddox back to tailback. We won the games back in those days, but boy, they used to beat us up physically. And everybody else, too. And the stigma was, "Gosh, I hope I don't have to play Wake Forest this week." You're going to win, but they're going to beat you up.
And that was before Grobe, really. But since Grobe there, they still hit good, and they're clean as can be, but they're aggressive and they're smart. And the one thing that everyone can recruit is skill. There's a million receivers out there. Everyone's got receivers. And Wake Forest has got their share. They've got guys who can get out there in space and they've got the guy who can make it go, and that's that quarterback (Riley Skinner). He is … it's amazing that he got out of the state of Florida. But it also shows the talent level in the state of Florida. There are so many guys, you can't get them all.
Q: Were you on him at all?
A: I can't remember. I can check with our recruiters.
Q: I can tell you. You weren't on him.
A: And probably Florida wasn't, either. And Miami wasn't either.
Q: And Wake Forest wasn't on him. Bolles begged Wake Forest to take him. He was their last scholarship.
A: Isn't that something?
Q: What attributes do you see in Skinner that now jump out at you?
A: When you look for a quarterback, you look for a certain guy. The first thing you look for is a winner. You don't care how he does it. Maybe he's a runner. Maybe he's a passer. Maybe he can do both. Maybe it's just making decisions. Maybe it's just accuracy. Number one, he seems to be about as accurate as any passer I've seen this year. After watching us play and the other teams play, he seems to be as accurate as any passer I've seen. He puts it right on them. And then, he has a very strong presence in the pocket. He's hard to sack. You nearly have to break clean on him. Somebody has to break through clean on him to get him. He moves around so good. And then, he's as dangerous out of the pocket as in the pocket. I think, last year, we were tied and he dropped back to pass. We had pressure on him and he couldn't throw and he started to run. Whoever was covering deep broke off their receiver and he threw a touchdown pass on us. So his danger out of the pocket, we have to look real hard as we look at him this week, do we want him out of the pocket? Maybe it's better off to let him stay in there and throw and keep the contain out there. If you keep contain, you can't have much pressure, but I'm sure (defensive coordinator) Mickey (Andrews) and them will do some work on that.
Q: Do you think Jim Grobe is in a perfect situation at Wake Forest because of the type of guy he is?
A: He must be. He must feel very at-home there. Because he's had job offers. Last year, Nebraska called me and some others called me. And I said, "Get that Jim Grobe, if you can get him."
Q: You wanted to get him out of your conference?
A: (Laughing) Quick, get him quick.
Q: Last year heading into the Wake Forest game, you had won four straight games. But then you had the unfortunate situation where [former quarterback] Xavier Lee missed some practice because of academics, and then you really struggled in that game.
A: That's about how we lost it. You saw one team with consistent quarterbacking, and you saw another team with inconsistent quarterbacking. In other words, they'd have a guy open and he'd hit him. We'd have a guy open, and he's bounce it to him. Not all the time – we threw good enough to stay and be tied with them. We threw good enough to get ahead of them. But it was more on broken plays and that type of thing. He's always beat us with his consistency. I think we'll have more of that this year.
Q: Did that loss last year kind of deflate the team? You followed it up with a loss to Miami.
A: I'm sure it took a lot of us. It takes a lot out of your confidence level. And we'd been struggling for several years with quarterbacking and what to do. Should it be this one or that one? This one? That one?
Q: Can the importance of this game be overstated? It's your first I-A opponent, and a team that has beaten you two straight years.
A: All it can do is set us up for the next game. There's 12 of them.
Q: Will it mean a little more since it will prove you can beat a quality program?
A: It should. I would think the confidence level would be a little better.
Q: The kids don't seem to have forgotten 30-0, and what that game did to this program?
A: It was an explosion. Thirty to nothing.
Q: You had never experienced anything like that at home before.
A: It was the first shutout at home in how long?
Q: It was your first shutout at home ever.
A: Was it really? First one at home. I'll be danged.
Q: Does that game stick in your craw?
A: No, not any more than any other loss. You know, a loss to Miami would stick a lot more. To have a game won and lose it, hurts a lot more than you can't get nothing going and someone beats the crap out of you like they did us.
Q: Was that more surprising though?
A: Yeah, I would think so. You wouldn't think Wake Forest could beat Florida State like that, but they sure did.
Q: It still seems like people don't believe that Wake Forest is really that good of a program. How do you convince people that that team is for real?
A: I don't have to convince people. I just have to convince our players, and I don't think I'll have trouble with that. It won't be hard to remember (30-0).
Q: How much of a better feeling is it now to look at that field and see the number of playmakers you seem to have on offense?
A: We really do have more than we've had in awhile. Guys that can take it to the house. We've just got to keep working, and keep the blend of running and passing. So they can't gang up on something. When people can play six in the box and stop your running, that ain't a good sign because they've got everybody else back there defending the pass. Make them play seven in the box, so you can throw. That's what we've got to do – we've got to keep enough balance to make them respect running and passing.
Q: You've talked about four-star and five-star recruits. That Jermaine Thomas wasn't highly rated, but he has looked very good for you so far.
A: That's true. So far, he has looked better than we could have expected as a freshman. And probably, if [Tavares] Pressley hadn't gotten hurt and [Ty Jones] hadn't gotten hurt, he might be sitting. He has really shown some nice talent.
Q: Do you think Jones will be back in time to face Wake Forest?
A: He's got a chance to be ready. On Tuesday, we thought he might have a chance this week. But I don't think he would have been able to run full speed, whereas next week he might be able to. We'll see how he comes along.
Q: When Preston Parker comes back, do you think he'll see some time at tailback?
A: If something happens to these other guys, then yeah … he could always do that. Jimbo could do that. He's pretty creative.
Q: Are you going to have a kicking competition after all the misses?
A: Yeah, it sure looks like it. Dad-gumit, that scares you there. I'm always throwing out sayings to the coaches: "All close games are won by a kick." It scares you.
Q: You were asked earlier about Skinner. What about Sam Swank, the kicker? Did your staff recruit him?
A: I don't recall. And every time I think of one leaving [the state], I don't think of just us missing. I'm thinking, 'Where's Florida and Miami too? We must have all got fooled or something. He might be the best kicker in the country. Now what high school did he come out of (Jacksonville Fletcher)? Well, we hit a dry spell over in Jacksonville for about three or four years. But last year, we got back in there. We got three or four boys.
Q: Going back to Budd Thacker. Will he start on Saturday?
A: I would think so. Mickey [Andrews] and them will make the decision on that. I feel sure that he will, but they might have a reason to bring him in later or something. I would think so.
Q: How much has it helped the offense to have the more mobile quarterbacks?
A: I'd say it's helped us about 100 yards the last two games. [D'Vontrey Richardson] got what, 52 and 55 [yards]? That's been to me the greatest surprise yet, because we haven't really touched on what we can do with him. I can see us adding some more stuff for him.
Q: Ponder has shown an ability to avoid the rush and make things happen.
A: Oh yeah, that is exactly right. He handles himself in the pocket pretty good. If you can't run, you better have what they call pocket presence. You better feel that rush coming over there and move over here or you better feel this man and get over here. Some guys have got that, and some just don't have it – they get sacked all the time. Ponder I think has got that plus runs but not as good as the other guy but he runs effectively.
Q: Over the last two weeks, did you get as much as you imagine you could out of your quarterback situation when you made the change?
A: I think so. I think so far it looks like the move to make, so far.
Q: So far you have eight touchdown passes and no interceptions from the two quarterbacks and the guy they replaced had nine touchdowns and one interception all of last year.
A: Yeah, then you have to evaluate the opposition.
Q: But no interceptions.
A: Well you can't beat nothing.
Q: Is that impressive no matter the opponent when two kids are up for the first time ever?
A: I think so. Yup.
Q: It has to be at least better than what you expected?
A: Yup. It is their first starts. In fact, D'Vontrey hasn't started yet but he has played some but not much.
Q: This with freshmen on the offensive line.
A: Yeah. Oh my goodness, we will have our hands full up there this week. This team has got good linebackers and good defensive line. They are just really good defensively.
Q: Did you send Tommy (Bowden) any sympathy card because he was upset he was going to have to play three freshman on the offensive line?
A: This week. It scares you, boy. I think I would write him that ain't it fun. He ain't the only one.
A: He really has. He works them good. How many sacks have we allowed?
Q: Four yesterday.
A: We really had four sacks yesterday? Our protection has been better. I thought a couple times our quarterback got sacked when they tried to roll out and make a play out of something but I think it would have been a sack anyways. The thing about it, I don't think it was a missed assignment. That is what I meant by Trickett – I think he has them blocking the right people. They might have got beat or might have blitzed and beat a back or something.
Q: I think three of them came after a changing of the offensive line teams.
A: Yeah, and then they had to put another center in there. I don't know how much Hudson played at center but it is still strange to him.
Q: You also had a few holding penalties in the game including two from Ryan McMahon.
A: That is strange. I promise we don't teach it.
Q: On defense, you had three potential interceptions dropped.
A: I lectured them last week. We practiced Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and I think three of those days I lectured to them about catching the ball, just to the secondary. I told them to keep their eye on the ball, shut everything else out, go after that ball. We dropped at least three of them last night. Mickey works on it with them, he gets that machine out there and throws ball at them. They do it at practice too, they miss balls there, I get on them there too.
A: Yeah, he didn't get any sacks. I am amazed he hasn't gotten any sacks because as I watch him practice out there he is one of the most relentless linemen we have had here in quite a while. We talk about the motor going all the time, his motor goes all the time. He doesn't idle down. Those are the kind of guys you want going after the passer. He will get some before it is all over if he can stay healthy.
Q: Toddrick Verdell has had a very good start to his season. What is he like in practice?
A: Practice is good. He and Ingram both, both of them were safeties and we had to move them up to linebacker.
Both of them were safeties and we moved them up to linebacker because they are ideal at linebacker because they are tall. Pros like them tall guys. They don't like those 5-foot-11 guys, though sometimes you get a great one. But both of them have that range you are looking for.
Q: In both of their cases, it has kind of given them a career, hasn't it because they were buried on the depth chart?
A: Sure, that is exactly right. A strong safety and an outside linebacker are very much alike in what you are looking for. They have to be big enough to make tackles but fast enough to cover someone coming out of the backfield. So you take a safety that is pretty good and sometimes he makes an outstanding linebacker.
Q: You were concerned going into the season about the lateral speed of your linebackers, weren't you without Dekoda Watson playing?
A: Yup. Oh yeah. That is right. That is like Derrick Brooks, remember when he came here he was a safety in high school. They played him about halfway between the line and the secondary and he could make a million tackles. We signed him as a safety. Well, he liked to come up more than he liked to go back so we moved him to linebacker but he didn't weigh but 195 pounds when we moved him. He grew up to 225 and one of the best we ever had.
Q: With Preston Parker returning, it brings up the issue across college football of kids getting in trouble. Is there more pressure today, for coaches with the salaries they are getting paid, to play kids, regardless of conduct?
A: Well there is pressure to win, I know that. I also think that you have to be realistic about it too. I know that society is that way today. I know that my son might do the same thing. So I think we coaches, we like to save them if we can too because we have had so many kids here and other places too that have done wrong and we disciplined them for it and they turn out pretty good people for it. You hate to think about throwing them back out there on that street.
Q: Is there anybody in your coaching history that you gave that second chance that today you are just so proud of what they have become?
A: Well, I am sure there have been. I am sure there are but I nearly hate to say because I don't want the credit because he turned out good. But I know, there are some. I think of one that I had the opportunity of saving him or not saving him and we saved him and he turned out good. Peter Warrick would be an example, he is a pretty good guy.
Q: What do you recall thinking when you heard about Parker's charges?
A: You know, it's funny, but we lost Randy Moss when he went home. Randy Moss came here and he stayed one year, and when he walked through that door for the first time I said, Randy you got two strikes against you because he had gotten in a little trouble over at the high school. Notre Dame signed him. Then Notre Dame decided they wouldn't take him. I went to our president, and our president said no I don't want him, I don't want to take him. We finally talked him into it, but he said he will have to redshirt. Well, he didn't need a redshirt. He was like Deion. He was good enough when he walked through that door. He didn't want to redshirt. But anyway, he agreed to redshirt, we brought him in and told him, Randy you have two strikes against you. You can't do nothing wrong. You can't do nothing. And sure enough, he sat here a year and behaved himself real good. He went home, got with his buddies, and they do what they used to do. So, Preston (Parker) did very much the same thing, went back home and … a lot of people don't understand is we coaches know the background of these guys. We know the neighborhoods they come from. Some of them live in neighborhoods that when I recruited them, they said don't go down this way. Be sure to go this way and I'll meet you down at the station down there.
Q: Are you talking about LeRoy Butler?
A: Leroy was one, but I know another one. Down there in Ft. Lauderdale, the kids said, when you go by this store there will be a bunch of guys out there, don't stop (laughing). I got the message. Some of the neighborhoods these poor little kids come from, they are raised in that thing you know. We realize that. We know that you get shot at. To me, having a gun in the car is probably prevalent in some neighborhoods. It's not against the law. You have got to have it concealed or something, whatever the law is. So I take all that into consideration.
Q: Have you spoken to Preston about Randy?
A: No, I don't think I did. I don't think I have told him that story. Every now and then I will tell a story like that to the team just to alert them. We sure warn them all the time about it.
Q: Is it tough to have to tell a player he can't hang out with his former friends back home?
A: We continually warn them, and I think most of them listen. If they didn't, it would happen all the time, but it only happens every now and then.
Q: Former players say that it helps to stay in the players' dorm.
A: Yeah, we used to have them all right there in that dorm, and you knew everything that was happening up there, and we would send coaches up there to check. Now they are in apartments. We can't check as easily as we used to.
Q: He has even said that he doesn't want to go back to it because it is a bad influence.
A: He really wants to do good. You can tell when a guy … he is actually worried about it. Can I be good enough? It's not that he got in trouble, he did get in some trouble down there, but gosh if you knew … I don't know if y'all know the whole story, but I will let him tell it, I'm not going to tell it. I mean, for him to get where he is right now, I don't know how he got there. He got his degree from that community college out there, and never even finished high school. He took the G.E.D. He was playing in a flag football conference or whatever they do down there and some preacher, or some F.C.A. guy told him that he could play pro football. He kind of took him over and helped him get headed in the right direction.
Q: You and Coach Fisher obviously saw something in him, he was worth taking a chance.
A: Oh yeah. He seems so sincere when you talk to him. He seems so sincere. You know, if a guy has done wrong, and don't know that he is doing wrong, you have got problems. If a guy has done wrong and he knows he did wrong and admits it, now you got a chance with him. But when they won't admit it, it's kind of like an alcoholic I guess. They will eventually realize it, but until they actually realize it they just keep going down, down, down.
Q: Can you talk about the confidence level of the team?
A: I think the confidence level … I don't think that's going to be a problem. I don't think that's going to be a problem. We played Wake up there last year, get beat, and they seem better, but we think we are too. Now it's time to see, bring them down here, and let's play the best we can play without errors. That's what it will get down to. Kicking could be a factor. That scares you there. Now let's say we beat Western Carolina 32-25, or beat Chattanooga 17-14, then I would be worried. But, we did what we were supposed to do so far. It's kind of one of those so far so good things, you know. But as far as getting them confident for this game, I would imagine that we will be about as confident as they will.
Q: Will you be overconfident?
A: No, I don't think we will. If we had just beaten Oklahoma and Florida then we probably would (laughing). But that is not who we beat.
Q: Have your assistants done a pretty good job of guarding against overconfidence?
A: They did, I tell you what. They had a rough practice Tuesday. I don't have to worry about that. You go on a 10-game winning streak, then you had better watch out.
Q: You knew that second half against Chattanooga was inevitable?
A: Yeah, it is part of it. You knew you would have to look at it as thank goodness this is Chattanooga. Got to hope that it don't happen against Miami or Wake or some of these other teams. Plus, anytime you do wrong, do bad, it gives you a coaching point the next week. You can point out, look what you did and look why you did it. You can't do that anymore. There is a lot of good teaching that comes out of losses. More than dadgum wins. When you win, if you win big, you hate to correct them. You hate to correct them. Now when you lose, or when you make mistakes, now ok, we will correct that mistake right there. That is how you get better, correcting mistakes.
Q: But Jim Grobe will have two weeks to prepare?
A: That means he will have a good, solid, plan and he will execute it good because he will get to practice more than we will practice for him.
Q: How much different do you expect them to be?
A: He is too smart to change too much. He has been too successful. He might have a couple of wrinkles that he thinks he can take advantage of us.
Q: How many wrinkles do you have after two weeks of lesser opponents?
A: There is no doubt that Jimbo has put in a lot of stuff we haven't used yet. Now, he would have used it if he thought there was a need for it, but there hasn't been a need.
Q: Would that include getting Richardson in the game before the third quarter?
A: It could be. I think the way it is now is that you prepare Ponder and Richardson and then you have a certain four or five plays that you would like to do with Richardson. Now, you can take him and put him in there anytime you want to. If everything is going good here, then there is no hurry. Yeah, I think it could happen anytime.
Q: You have a good problem then don't you?
A: Yeah, Yeah. You don't want to lose the rhythm of the other guy. I've always equated it to pitching and you have heard me say it before, if I have a pitcher pitching a no-hitter then I don't want to take him out and then bring him back in when he is cooled off.