PHIL BENNETT: First of all, I want to say hello to Kate. She was my beat writer when I was at SMU. Awful kind to me, too, and I always appreciated that.
Nick Baptiste is our senior nose guard; Elliot Coffey is our Mike linebacker; and Tracy Robertson is our defensive tackle. These are our three seniors.
First of all, one of the things I’ve told them all year, we started the season, we had a very inexperienced team. I think we had lost our top seven tacklers from the year before, and obviously with new ones coming in I was moving people around. Last year Tracy played defensive end. He moved inside. I think Nick was the only guy that really stayed at the same position. Actually he played three technique some. Moved him to nose. Elliot was an outside linebacker, came to Baylor as a safety, moved down ‑‑ had been an outside linebacker, we moved him to Mike backer. I told them, I said, it’s going to be a little bit of a transition.
But the thing that I’m proud of these guys ‑‑ I told them from the get‑go, I wasn’t worried about stats. One of the things I was worried about, and you’ve seen our offense, is just being able to get the ball back to our offense, and I think the last five games, I doubt many people have had as many takeaways as what we’ve gotten the last five games. I think that’s due to understanding the scheme and also that I understand what they’re capable of doing.
Obviously when you have inexperience it takes you a little bit of time to develop who you are and what you are, but I like ‑‑ these kids have been resilient the whole year. They have really ‑‑ you’ll see, we’ll play hard, we’ll play fast, and we’ll play physical. And I think that these three guys in particular have set the foundation of what we can be in the near future.
Q. Can you talk about Washington, what you’ve seen on tape?
PHIL BENNETT: Yeah, the first thing is they’re a multiple grouping offense. They play ‑‑ they have two really good tight ends that are huge. One of them is a freshman All‑American. He’s a guy that they showcase in what they’re doing. Their back is outstanding. Their quarterback I think is a sophomore. As the year went on, when they played in the Apple Cup it was obvious he was the difference in the game. He was able to make plays that led them to victory.
Their offensive line has gotten better and better. I told their line coach last night, I think they’re a very physical offensive line. Multiple formations, they make you line up right, and if you’re not smart enough to line up right, then you’re going to have some problems because they’ll get your angles and get you outnumbered.
I think obviously they’re balanced, and when you have a back ‑‑ I think he’s rushed for 1,200, 1,300 yards, and with us, like a lot of people, they’re going to try to control the clock and try to keep the ball out of our offense’s hands. We’ve got to find ways to get the ball to our offense.
Q. I have a bigger picture question. You’ve been around some years and lots of different places. What have you seen in what Art has done at Baylor in your year here, to see what he’s done to really turn this program around?
PHIL BENNETT: Well, first of all, the first thing is that he’s brought some really good athletes. If you look at us, the guys that he’s brought in the program, they’re good football players. And then the other thing that he has done, and I’ve said this from the get‑go, and I know it’s a cliché word, but he’s changed a culture. And I think these kids will tell you, there’s a difference between hoping to win and expecting to win. The thing that I’ve really enjoyed about Art is the way he’s managed this team.
We had a spell in there where we lost a heartbreaker to Kansas State. We came back and pretty well won the game against Iowa State, and then we had a loss to A & M that was very close to the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter they took it away from us, then we got a disaster at Oklahoma State, and we had an open date between that.
And what I liked, and I thought it made a huge difference, we didn’t panic during that time. We had a big game against Missouri coming up, and we didn’t ‑‑ we stayed consistent in what we believed in, and I think the kids knew that. There was things that we knew we had to correct, and I just think that the culture aspect and being ‑‑ knowing what to expect.
He told the kids today, we’re not going to change how we got here. We’re going to be furious on offense, we’re going to be fast, and we’re going to take chances, calculated chances, and he said we’re going to find ways to get stops on defense. And I think the kids ‑‑ the belief of what he’s doing is really starting to take place along with having better players.
Q. Elliot, like coach said, y’all were 4 and 3 there. You’ve gone through a lot of changes. At that point, any doubts? Or did you think, it’s going to come together? You were close enough where you thought it would all come together, that kind of thing?
ELLIOT COFFEY: You know, it’s hard to say there weren’t doubts, but there was definitely an understanding. We shut up that following Sunday and Coach Kaz got in our face, our strength coach, and was like, when did you stop being Superman. You guys are getting interviewed, we’re talking about you on the national news all over the place, and all of a sudden you drop two games and you’re not the team that you were. So I think when he said that to everybody, it just kind of clicked, and we realized that yes, we had skidded a couple games, but it was about these next five, and we were going to go and we were going to win them.
PHIL BENNETT: One of the things that was interesting about that is we all ‑‑ the players knew it. When we played Missouri and after they had just beaten A & M, we knew that we had to show up. We had to ‑‑ it was our homecoming, and it really was. We sort of got a motto on defense, we became determined to get better, and that’s one of the things defensively that our kids ‑‑ we said, hey, we broke every huddle, everything was just being determined and finding a way to win.
Q. Nick, what’s it mean to you to start your career as a walk‑on and end as All‑Big‑12 and two consecutive Bowl games for yourself?
NICOLAS JEAN‑BAPTISTE: Well, it’s a big deal to me just coming from where I’ve been, and it’s just ‑‑ I couldn’t have gotten here without the coaches, my teammates and all that. They’ve helped me with the support and whatnot. I’ve came a long way, but I’m happy about it right now, and I’m not going to stop with just this. But I’m happy about what’s going on now.
Q. Elliot, can you maybe just expand a little bit on their quarterback? Does he remind you of anybody, and kind of what he brings to the table?
ELLIOT COFFEY: It’s funny you ask that because I’ve heard a lot of comparisons with him and Griff, and that’s just because he does have a strong arm, great decision making, quick on his feet. And similar to Robert, Robert can run, but his first thought is pass, so he definitely sits there in the pocket, and if there is a pass to be made, he’ll do that before he tries to run and scramble, similar to Rob. That’s the comparison I keep hearing thrown in my direction.
Q. This is for Phil. I’m with the Seattle Times, so we’ve seen some of your games but not every one, and it’s easy to look at your yards given up per game stat and kind of draw a conclusion about your defense. Is that accurate in any way at all?
PHIL BENNETT: You know, there’s only one statistic truthfully that matters, and that’s did you contribute to winning nine games, and if you looked at us defensively, from game one, TCU, which we got stops, but we improved probably 70 percent. In our conference, in the Big 12, because everybody is hurry‑up and you’re playing so many snaps and we score so fast, I think that the ability to sit there and say, hey, they give up this many yards ‑‑ you know, I told somebody, I said, I’ve probably had the worst statistical year I’ve had, but I might have had more fun and probably maybe did one of my better coaching jobs along with the staff. And watching these guys develop, I think that we have become a contributor to this football team. In other words, don’t let the numbers fool you.
Q. For those back in Seattle who haven’t been able to really see much of your games, they’re just focused on your offense. Tell us what people back in Seattle can expect to see from your defense. Maybe give us an overall summary of what you run and also what are a couple of things that you worry about going into this game that your defense has to do?
PHIL BENNETT: We’re a multiple four‑man front. We don’t play a ton of man. We’re what I call a match zone, which is sort of a split between man and zone on route distribution. I think we’re physical up front, and I think one of the things that we have evolved to is we get to the football, and we have tackled well, especially the last six games. We pick and choose our blitzes. I’ve said this many years; when you blitz, somebody’s band is going to play, you want to make damned sure it’s yours. And we’ve been successful. We’ve got some pressure.
These guys have done a nice job, but we’re not an all‑out blitz team. If I had to say right now, we’re more of a cover team and more of a disguise team.
We try to make people predictable. 1st down is crucial for us, trying to get them in 3rd and long and then create the match‑ups.
At University of Washington the thing that ‑‑ the first thing I can tell you is the people that have played them, you have to be careful how much you load up for the run because they are an excellent ‑‑ they have a really nice play action pass and boot scheme, and if you sell out to be ‑‑ for the run, you’re going to get hurt. I think that their receivers are big guys. They’re guys that ‑‑ they’re all about 6’0″, 210, they’ll be eating peanuts off our corners’ heads because we’re midgets. I think we’re just going to have to really fight and stay on top of things.
Q. Tracy, obviously a lot of the focus this year has been on offense and Robert Griffin obviously. What’s it been like, offense doesn’t win a ballgame without a defense, so what’s it been as far as Heisman hype on the defensive side of the ball?
TRACY ROBERTSON: It’s always big because they’re getting more attention than us, but the biggest thing we have to do is worry about us. If we worry about us, like Coach Bennett said, we can be contributors on this team. We’re the biggest thing, worrying about what we can do to help us win.
Q. Elliot, Washington likes to run multiple personnel packages and tons of different formations and motions. As the middle linebacker what kind of problems does that present for you and what do you have to do on the field to kind of make sure everybody is in the right spot?
ELLIOT COFFEY: Well, the reason they change personnel and the reason they shift around is to get you off balance, to get you not set up to have these guys not sure if they should over‑pursue, if they should step to the gap or not. So what you have to make sure you do is before the ball is snapped, as soon as they line up, you have the front set up. If there’s any changes that need to be made, you need to make them on point. You need to make them as soon as you possibly can because these guys don’t need to be thinking about what they’re going to do. They need to line up, they need to be ready to run.
Q. For Tracy and Nicolas, how important is it to win that battle up front, and then I know Coach Bennett said you can’t sell out to stop the run, but to at least slow down that running game where they’re not just beating you with the run.
TRACY ROBERTSON: We have a saying when we go out to practice, it all starts up front. I feel like if we can do a good job setting the tone, giving our linebackers and our DBs the confidence when they see us out there playing hard and kind of controlling the line of scrimmage, that makes a lot of things easy. It makes coverages easier and it makes the flow for the backers a lot easier, as well.
NICOLAS JEAN‑BAPTISTE: Basically the same thing Tracy said. If we control the line of scrimmage, it makes it a lot easier for the backs just to not have to worry about getting too close to the line of scrimmage and biting on those play actions and whatnot so they can worry about pass before it takes care of the run.
Q. Can you explain a little bit to those of us that haven’t been around Baylor a lot about how big a deal it is to get a Heisman Trophy winner at Baylor, to elevate the profile of the Big 12 and also to get a home state Bowl game?
PHIL BENNETT: First of all, I’ll tell you a quick story. I came from University of Pittsburgh, and I knew just a little bit about Robert, and I remembered the first spring practice that I watched, and I thought, he’s a runner, movement guy, scrambler. I remember walking off the field, and I walked straight to Art, and I said, wow, he can make every throw there is. I said, his release, his poise, his knowledge, his decision making. Somebody mentioned the word, he looks like another quarterback. I said, “He’s better.”
So one thing I knew immediately is that we had an outstanding quarterback. And this year has been, as Tracy said, it’s been fun because especially from the Missouri game on, we contributed, and we knew that the more times we got Robert and our offense in general the ball that more than likely great things were going to happen. Having him win the Heisman Trophy and us being able to be a contributor in that Texas game with six takeaways and giving him a chance to make some of those plays, it was a lot of fun.
But for Baylor in itself, I think it just ‑‑ grant Teaff, when I came here, he told me something. He said, Phil, I get to tired of people thinking that you can’t win and win big at Baylor. And of course he’s one of the few who has done it. I go back to Art; Art has had a vision for this program, and I think that a lot of people, with what’s going on, you can look at the program in general.
When I came here, I was more associated per se with Art than I was Baylor, but I’ve played against Baylor since 1973. I knew what they were capable of. I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect.
But I think there’s a sense of pride right now in the ‑‑ just what they call the Baylor Nation of saying, this is just the beginning. And I think that our athletic director Ian McCaw, there’s a lot of things on the horizon. One of the things they mentioned, the stadium, that’s not going to be a luxury, that’s going to be a must. If we want to keep this program where it’s at and elevate it to another level, that on‑the‑river, on‑campus stadium is going to have to come to fruition. And I think that we’ve got the momentum to do that right now.
And I think with Robert winning the Heisman, our basketball teams, both the men’s and the women’s both being very prominent in the national scene, the old saying, it’s a good time to be a Bear.
Q. Elliot, having won five games in a row this year, has Bowl preparation felt any different compared to last year when you had lost a few going into the Bowl game?
ELLIOT COFFEY: Absolutely. I think as a team we were questioning ourselves last year, trying to figure out what it was that caused the skid that we had at the end of the season. I know we were injury ridden. We had a lot of guys coming back. We were just trying to figure out really the identity of the team and what we had to take into the game.
This year, like you said, we’ve got a five‑game winning streak going on. We’ve made that identity. We have an offense that is on fire, we have a defense that’s causing turnovers, that’s getting that offense the ball, and it’s just a complete different take on this whole experience, you know, leading up to it.
There’s an expectation every day during practice. You can ask Coach Bennett. He’s on us like this is the first game of the season every chance we have. So it’s just exciting, and it’s definitely a more focused, more developed ‑‑ and I think coming off of 15 years not playing in a Bowl game, football has changed, and I don’t think we necessarily knew what we needed to do, how you need to practice in order to be successful for the Bowl game, and we don’t have that excuse this year, so I think we definitely took advantage of the experience we got last year.
Q. Nick, can you talk about the pressure? You’ve got a lot of pride right now, but that tenth win could really change momentum if you don’t get that tenth win. Can you talk about the mood in the locker room?
NICOLAS JEAN‑BAPTISTE: Really it’s just about finishing strong. You want to get that tenth win because we want to get into the top ten. That’s what Coach Briles has preaching us, two digits is better than one. So getting that tenth one will be a big deal, sending our seniors out the right way and putting the underclassmen on the right path for next year. So basically getting that tenth win is going to be pretty important for the program and the future.
Q. Elliot, can you talk about what Coach Bennett has done overall? We always walk by on the sidelines, he’s always encouraging you guys, he’s one of those vocal leaders every time you guys come off the field. What it’s been like, the change defensively scheme wise but more importantly the type of attitude he’s brought and relayed that to you as a leader on the field?
ELLIOT COFFEY: Right. I think a lot of people who haven’t been coached or spent a lot of time with Coach Bennett can get his personality confused. What he does early on is he establishes the fact that he is the coach and you’re the player early on, and you can see through the way he coaches, through the way he watches film, through the way he breaks down what the game plan is to you, that the guy understands what he’s saying to you. I think the biggest thing early on was just him establishing the fact that I’m the coach, I know what I’m talking about, listen to me and you will be successful. And I think that’s how it started, and then the more we got to it, the more you’d see us laughing and playing now, but there was definitely a time where you had to understand that in order to see that side of Coach, in order to be successful, you’ve got to work for it.
And especially these guys right here; the whole defense really worked to get that, and we listened to him and we bought in, and like you said, five turnovers against Tech, six turnovers against Texas the following week and however many we had before that, but it’s just really, the system works, and if you listen to it, it’s great, and that’s why we have the relationship we do now.
Q. Phil, in preparation for Keith Price, there’s a thought that he might be as close to 100 percent health as he’s been all year. How does that change your preparations and what do you think you might expect from him?
PHIL BENNETT: Well, you know, I go back to the play action and the boots and the waggles. When he had gotten hurt they had to limit that a little bit because they didn’t want him taking licks, and when you’re booting and waggling there’s a chance that you can get hit. I’ll tell you something, as Elliot said earlier, his accuracy early in the season, when he got going, one game in particular was Colorado. He really had a game that they had good coverage on him, and he was very pinpoint. He really throws the ball well on the run.
That’s one of the things in our game against A & M that I’m sure they’re going to look at. We had some struggles with boot coverage that we’ve got to get better at. So that’s sort of what I’m sort of anticipating, them moving him maybe a little bit more than they did the last four games. They missed him. It was obvious they were a different team in the Oregon State game. They tried to ‑‑ not that they didn’t play well, but they missed his play‑making ability.
Q. Nick and Elliot, you guys were here as red shirts winless in conference. Has your vision changed from that year until now, and did this exceed it?
NICOLAS JEAN‑BAPTISTE: Well, I think the vision was just to change this program. I didn’t have a really specific vision, I just knew we needed to turn this around. We had to get it together. So last year we met the expectations that I had. We went to a Bowl game, first game in 16, 15 years. But like the vision like we have ‑‑ like what I have from then to now is a completely different thing because I’m expecting us to do big things this year. So from what I thought from freshman year, it’s way beyond what I was dreaming of.
ELLIOT COFFEY: Personally for me the vision hasn’t changed. It just took a little bit longer to get there than we expected. I don’t think me and Nick would be around if we didn’t trust things were going to change. Kept working through the hard times, of course 3 and 9, two 4 and 8 seasons in a row, just believing that if you keep working, if you keep developing the system, if you let Coach Briles, of course Coach Bennett came in, as well, and really just let their systems develop, we will be successful, and finally it really hit this season, of course.
It’s just been exciting to see it finally ‑‑ we worked hard. The vision was there. We wanted to get a double‑digit season or double‑digit wins was always something I wanted to do, and it’s right at our fingertips right now, and I think that’s a great time for us, great time for everybody involved, and of course Baylor Nation.
Q: From what you’ve seen on film, how would you describe Washington running back Chris Polk?
NICOLAS JEAN-BAPTISTE: He’s a tough runner, a good one-cut running back. Once he’s made his decision, he’s going to hit the hole. He makes a lot of people miss and breaks tackles. Overall, he’s a really good runner.
Q: What’s it going to take to slow Polk down on Thursday?
NICOLAS JEAN-BAPTISTE: We’ll need to get a lot of penetration on the defensive line. Getting the running game going is a focal point for [Washington] and it sets up a lot of stuff for them. Our defensive ends are going to especially have to work on containing him.
Q: What has your experience been like at the Alamo Bowl aside from the game itself?
NICOLAS JEAN-BAPTISTE: It’s been a pretty good experience, especially things like our time at Sea World. I’ve never been to Sea World before. It was pretty cool riding the rides with my teammates, going to see Shamu, the dolphin exhibit and the shark. Spending time with my teammates, who are my friends, outside of practice is a good break from the everyday routine. The Spurs game was cool too.
Q: You were previously asked about being a one-time walk-on and finishing with all-conference honors. What does that mean for your family who raised you and watched you grow?
NICOLAS JEAN-BAPTISTE: They’re really proud of me. They’ve been behind me since day one. My mother calls me all the time just making sure I’m alright and my dad sends me inspirational emails and motivational stuff. I’ve talked to them everyday and they make sure that I’m still in love with football, which I am. They still love me to death and aren’t trying to put any pressure on me about the future and have just been supportive of the decisions I’ve made through these five years.
Q: Has it been tough for you to face the fact that this is the end of the road of college football for you?
NICOLAS JEAN-BAPTISTE: It is kind of tough, especially the way we’ve been playing this year. I want to come back and play again to see if we can do bigger and better things than this, but it’s been fun and I’ve enjoyed my time here.
Q: How big would it be for you to see that 10th win?
NICOLAS JEAN-BAPTISTE: Finishing strong is a big deal for us, the entire team. It’s especially a big deal for us to see how far we’ve come, having come from a 3-9 season to going to 10 wins.
Q: You were a true freshman your first year at Baylor. What’s it like to end your career and seek that 10th win here when many go through a red shirt year?
TRACY ROBERTSON: The biggest thing is that when you’re a true freshman, you have to understand that things are going to go a lot faster. You don’t have a year to sit and get the hang of things. Players who play as true freshman have to have a vision. I think that’s what our team has been playing off of this year, the vision of changing things. Those of us that played as true freshmen knew that we could make that happen immediately.
Q: Did it take awhile for you to buy into Coach Briles’ system?
TRACY ROBERTSON: Coach Briles makes it easy to trust him. He always makes it seem that he’s going there with you. There’s not a disconnect between the coaching staff and the players. With a guy like Coach Briles, if you see how hard he works, it makes you want to work even harder with him. We’ve been with him since day one.
Q: How would you describe the Baylor defense this season from your perspective?
TRACY ROBERTSON: If I had to compare to our defenses from previous years, I would say this year’s defense is a lot faster. Coach Bennett has brought in a lot of different schemes. He didn’t change our formation, but just the way he fit, our defense has a different mentality than the previous years that I’ve been here. There wasn’t a big adjustment between last year and this year because we didn’t have a lot of change in coaching, but the mentality made a lot of changes with time. The little things we had to pick up on – you can see how they have made an impact on the field.