Time to get cheesy.
The No. 13 Florida State Seminoles (9-3, 5-3 ACC) and Oklahoma Sooners (6-6, 3-6 Big 12) have arrived in Orlando ahead of this Thursday’s Cheez-It Bowl game, set to be played inside Camping World Stadium.
FSU, after two losing seasons to kick off the Mike Norvell era, is in the midst of its best year since 2016 while the Sooners are stumbling into the postseason after a crash back to earth in year one under Brent Venables.
According to DraftKings, FSU is currently a 9.5-point favorite over the Sooners with the over/under set at 65.5.
Ahead of the matchup, coaches and players from both squads met with the media to talk about the week that awaits and other storylines surrounding the game. Below, you can find full transcripts of those press conferences.
Florida State Seminoles vs. Oklahoma Sooners press conference transcripts
Florida State Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell
MIKE NORVELL: I want to say thank you to the Cheez-It Bowl, our arrival yesterday coming in, incredible hospitality from the entire group. Great group of people. The efficiency and organization of what we are able to do today, I thought our guys came to work and had a really good practice. I liked the mindset.
This team, they have really had a good Bowl prep. We have a lot of work that we still have to do as we lead up to Thursday night, but I like their mentality and the way they have pushed themselves, the way they have been preparing. We are going to enjoy this Bowl experience.
But today was an important practice for us. I thought the energy level and the speed that showed up was impressive. And still some things we are going to clean up just when it comes to our execution and efficiency, but I think the guys have the right mindset. And just grateful to be here, and just all the people associated with the Bowl have just been remarkable.
With that, I’ll take some questions.
You guys have been practicing back in Tallahassee, but this is the first time a lot of players have ever been in a Bowl, a few years since any of them have been in a Bowl. Did you sense excitement when you got here, when you got to the location and practice here?
MIKE NORVELL: Absolutely. They showed me their excitement with how they prepared back at home. There’s plenty of distractions that can be in place. Anytime you have an extended downtime, you know, maintaining that edge – finish the season, playing as good as anybody in the country, I believe, and the objective for this game is to go be better.
I think our guys have embraced it throughout the season. They have really worked hard, and I’ve liked the edge that they have brought.
But we got here last night. This is a reward. It’s a reward for the team. It’s a reward for the work they have done. We talk a lot about the relationships that have been established throughout this football team, and that’s what I enjoy. I’ll enjoy watching them hanging out together, to get away and just enjoy that fellowship.
This morning to get up, everything is different when you get to a Bowl. Sometimes guys want to hold back because they don’t know exactly where to go or exactly what to do. But once we got to the practice field, I thought they had a great edge about them, and I thought they were able to have a really good practice.
You can feel that expectation and excitement.
Obviously not your first Bowl game, but for this team and program to go through, it’s been a while. You talked before about having several plans, what to go through. How much do you have to maybe kind of educate some of these guys who have never been through a Bowl experience what to expect?
MIKE NORVELL: We had a lot of different plans because of the different Bowl options. Obviously Plan A ended up being the result of it. So we went through and really from everything, with our strength and conditioning, sports science, all the things that we knew would be necessary for us to build our guys so that Thursday night we have the opportunity to go play our best, I think that was the plan that we laid out just from the days we were practicing.
Some of the things that we were going to have, mental days rather than as much of the physical push, and I really liked the results that I’ve seen. It’s been really good up until this point. These guys, it’s about building trust. Since the very first day I got here at Florida State, it’s being able to earn that trust throughout the experiences.
And these guys know we put a lot of time and thought into how we are going to do things, and we try to explain the why. When it’s time to show up and go to work, there’s one standard for how we are going to do that.
And that’s what I think this team has really bought into and it’s not – we got some really talented people and professionals that are helping lay out those plans and being able to create the expectation for what we need to do; and the players, it’s their job to give everything they have when we have the opportunity.
I think that trust has been established throughout the year and throughout the last couple years. And so we know what it takes, and now we just have to go be the best we can and executing that plan.
Mycah got the Cheez-It room. Have you had a chance to see it yet, and what’s been the reaction?
MIKE NORVELL: I have not yet to see it other than the video, and I know my daughter got to go, she wanted to see it. So Mycah was kind enough to let her see that. She said it’s plenty of orange. It’s pretty remarkable. I guess dark is still dark at night, but it’s a pretty bright room (laughter).
How important is it to finish strong for this season, in addition to what you’re building heading into next season with so many players coming back?
MIKE NORVELL: Everything builds off itself. For us, our focus is this game. It’s to go be our best. And one of the things that’s a little bit of a challenge and almost a little bit of a distraction with so many players making that decision to come back and really announcing it early and something I’m proud of, but you know, this is not – it’s not about next year. It’s about right now. It’s about this team. It’s about this game. It’s about this opportunity.
And, you know, sometimes the excitement for what’s to come, you cannot allow that to distract you for what we have here in this moment and this practice. It’s this day. Lord willing, we wake up tomorrow, we have to go be better.
Our expectation is to go play our best game this year. That’s been the expectation with each week that we’ve had throughout the course of the season: continue to improve, continue to get better, focusing on those little things that separate us.
You know, what’s ahead? Well, there’s an exciting time for Florida State football. There’s an exciting time for the young men we are building and the young men I get to coach and the work they have put in.
The future is bright, but we have to take care of the moment and ultimately the things that we can control, and that’s this week. You know, it’s an absolute treat to be able to be here and to get a chance to play in this game, and you know, we just want to go show and be better than what we’ve been.
Just wondering, now that you’ve had time to reflect on the end of the regular season, what do you think were the one or two things that were the biggest causes for the turning point for this team to play so well? And do you feel like there has been a feeling in the program that things are really cooking right now and things are going well?
MIKE NORVELL: They never stopped. There was no direct just turning point. Even through some disappointing games there in the middle of the season, they continued to work. They continued to believe. You lay out an expectation, you have a plan. Sometimes things don’t always go exactly the way that you anticipate or expect them to go, but you still are in control of your response.
And this team responded by continuing to draw close together, to push the standard, to push the expectation to go get better throughout the course of the season. You know, it’s their decision. It’s their choice.
You know, as a coaching staff, we push hard, and even though some games didn’t go the way we wanted, that didn’t change the approach of what we brought. Our guys in this team, they responded the way that I expected them to, and you’ve seen them grow.
We have got a great group of young men. I am so blessed to be able to coach them because they care about each other. They care about this program. They care about who they represent and who they get to do it with and for, and so that’s the joy of watching a team grow. You know, as we have gone through, it’s what makes this week special because you get one more opportunity for this group to go play the game together, and as you watch them kind of rise up through the opportunities that they have had, it’s a remarkable group. I’m excited to see them play Thursday night.
Now that the game is this week, just what do you think it says about the team that none of your top players have opted out for the game, and how hard was it in this day and age to convince and talk and just kind of go through that for however many days and figure that out?
MIKE NORVELL: You know, the great thing, there was no convincing that needed to be made. I mean, I remember the first Bowl practice, we had a couple of our top players that were going to meet with the media afterwards. I didn’t even talk to them about anything when it comes to opt-out or decisions or any of that. But we had a practice scheduled and it was an opportunity to go get better. There was nobody that was missing out on that.
And so I talked to the players right after I got done with the meeting and said, Hey, just so you know, you don’t have to go and make any decision. You don’t have to go – they are probably going to get asked about it. 20 minutes later, I’m looking at my phone, and we have a couple players that are already, “I’m playing in this game. This is it.”
That’s what it should be. These guys, they love playing the game. They love playing and getting a chance to represent each other. Each situation is unique to itself. I mean, the fact that I don’t have to try to convince anybody to play, I mean, ultimately, you always look at each decision, whether guys would like to go pro, would like to come back. It’s about each individual, and we try to help them along through the process by providing information, by helping to guide. And if there are any opinions, I want them to be educated opinions of how we guide them through their careers.
But it’s always about them. And that’s what’s been so nice because this team, they are excited to play. They are excited. I’ve talked about it. When you get a chance to do something that’s going to change a wall at Florida State, you’ve done something. That’s where we talk about the opportunity to go try to win your tenth game is big. It would be the 25th time in our program’s history.
That’s a great challenge but also a great opportunity for these guys to go finish the season; the way that they have worked and continuing to push to our expectation and standard of what we want – how we want to operate.
You have Randy on the staff, and you have Tatum on the team, guys who have played with Dillon when he was at UCF. Do you plan on using those guys to get an idea or scouting report of what to expect, even though Dillon played this year with Oklahoma?
MIKE NORVELL: I mean, you know, you always try to gather information of just whether it’s from years past, just any little things that you can gain. We watch film. We have a pretty good sense. There’s been a couple years since that was – teammates and everybody going through it. But we had a chance to see this year and what that looks like. But, yeah, you always try to take whatever information is out there that might be able to help or benefit.
In the same vein, facing Venables who coached at Clemson. Have you seen anything that he’s brought to Oklahoma that you can attack?
MIKE NORVELL: His defense is going to attack, and they are going to bring pressure all over the field. They lead the Big 12 in tackles for loss. They are going to try to create havoc in what they do. There are some similarities.
But similar to the last question we just talked about, this team is unique to itself. And as guys fit into it, they try to play to the skills and talents of the players that they have. So that’s been our focus. We know they are going to attack, we know they are going to bring pressure. They do a good job schematically in their plans of attack. So we have to be ready to adapt and adjust throughout the course of the game.
There’s a lot of discussion nationally about Bowl games that are not in the Playoff. Did you envision a scenario where you went into a Bowl game and didn’t feel like it was of huge importance?
MIKE NORVELL: I can’t. It’s a special experience. Been fortunate to be in quite a few Bowl games in my coaching year, and when you – when you see this week and just all that goes into it – and that’s not even – yes, the game is one thing but also the impact. The impact within the community. The impact that when you have two teams coming from different places to be celebrated for what they have done throughout the course of the season, they get to go compete for one more.
Just what that means to the different communities, obviously it’s great being here in Orlando and being able to represent in our home state. But I think they are special. You know, I know that with the Playoff and all the things that are also out there, this is still a great reward. It’s a great reward for the teams. It’s a great reward for the staffs, the families, all that get to be a part of this week.
It is special. Even within the preparation of what it takes, we had a lot of young players that those extra practices were big for. You’ve seen guys that are growing up and trying to take advantage of all those, it’s really important.
So I’m grateful for them. And, you know, it’s a special venue that we get to be a part of here this week with the Cheez-It Bowl.
Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis
What does it mean for you and your teammates to be in a Bowl and have this experience and also a chance to get to ten wins?
JORDAN TRAVIS: It’s a blessing for sure, having an opportunity to come here, it’s a great Bowl game. We were in a Bowl game a couple years ago. Just seeing how far we came as a football team, the accomplishments that we had this year is amazing.
I’m so, so proud of this team and grateful for this team, and everybody deserves this.
You had your first day of practice. How did it go today and how do you guys feel out there? Second question is Mycah got the Cheez-It room. Talk about that, have you seen it yet?
JORDAN TRAVIS: Practice went great today. Guys were flying around. It’s important. First day back off of two off-days, coming back, flying around, giving 100 percent. Guys flying around, the offensive line was moving around today pretty good.
We got here early at 3:30, and I had to go video Mycah. You know he likes to video everything. I was in his room videoing him and everything, yes, sir.
We talked to Coach Norvell, guys that have not made draft decisions are here this week. He said there was no convincing from him. Was there any convincing from you, or was the message we are going to play in this game no matter what the future is after this?
JORDAN TRAVIS: Yeah, I think we owe it to this university. Florida State gives us everything. We are blessed every single day we get to wake up a Seminole. I think we all know that.
And knowing how far we came as a football team, the off-season, how hard we worked together. Nobody wants to leave anybody behind. What Coach Norvell does for us, too. That’s a coach that loves us really hard. He coaches us really hard. It means a lot to us. So yeah, I think it was an easy decision for a lot of guys to at least be here to support.
You had a chance obviously to look at some film of Oklahoma. What have you seen from their defense, and what stands out that could be challenging?
JORDAN TRAVIS: Yeah they are a great defense with a lot of great athletes all over the field. Obviously we played their coach a couple, what is it, two years ago at Clemson. They do a lot of different things. They are a special team. But, man, it’s always about us. I always say every week, it’s about us. We go out and play our game and let everything fall into place.
Heading into the season, there were not a lot of people who thought Florida State would be in a position to win ten games this year. How important is it to finish strong considering how far this group has come this year?
JORDAN TRAVIS: Yeah, it’s special. Puts a smile on my face every time I think about it. I’ve been here for a while now. I’ve seen a lot of down years. Just seeing the smiles on my teammates’ faces means everything to me. Our fans are happy, which is big. We go to games, and our games are sold out. It’s a blessing from the Man upstairs and I’m just grateful and thankful for this football team.
Coach was in here talking about the fact that one thing he admired about the team is that you guys consistently kept playing, like you guys never stopped despite whatever was going on. Talk about the conversations that you were having with your fellow players and the way you guys built each other up to keep going?
JORDAN TRAVIS: It comes from the off-season, how hard you work in the off-season. Confidence comes from the work, and Coach Norvell emphasizes that all the time. We go out there and play our game. There’s a lot of fight on this football team and every single player. Coach Norvell recruits guys that are fighters, hard workers.
They were talking about it last night how this team, Coach Norvell always recruits the right guys. It’s always the right guys, great people. People first is the most important thing. It’s how you treat people is everything. How you do anything is how you do everything, they always talk about that.
It all comes from Coach Norvell and how hard he pushes us.
You were in a Bowl game in 2019 with Florida State. How much different will this experience be than that experience?
JORDAN TRAVIS: Honestly, that was a while ago. I don’t really remember that. But, I mean, we are blessed to be here, man. Yeah, we’re blessed. We’re thankful. That’s all it is.
We saw you hanging out at the welcome party at the hotel last night. Other than the game itself, what are you looking forward to here in Orlando?
JORDAN TRAVIS: Spending time with my teammates. We deserve this. We earned this. Yeah, that’s all it is, enjoying time, embracing everything. There’s a couple guys on this team, it’s their last football game at Florida State. So we owe it to them to go out there and give them 100 percent and give them a great week.
Being from the state of Florida and playing at Florida State, how big is it to play in this Bowl game and in Orlando? How big is it for the team to get that opportunity?
JORDAN TRAVIS: It means a lot. We have a lot of guys from Florida so a lot of people’s families can come to the game, which is great. I live two hours away so my family will be here. They are always at the game. It’s always a blessing. You have your family around and we have our fans here. It’s going to be a great week for sure.
You start next season up again, as a guy coming back, a leader, what do you tell your teammates about how to enjoy this week but also understand it’s a business trip for you?
JORDAN TRAVIS: Yeah, I think we know that. It all starts at the top. Coach Norvell talks about it a lot. It’s great we are in Orlando, have a good time, but we are here to work. We have a job to do. We came here for a reason. Focus on the game. And when next year comes, we’ll worry about that.
Florida State running back Trey Benson
The point from earlier, you’re here in Orlando, here for a football game and you have a job to do while you’re down here, but what are you looking forward to most about the week and the experience leading up to the game?
TREY BENSON: You know, just some of the seniors’ last game, so basically just hanging out with the guys, hanging out with the team, create memories that will last forever.
What does practice look like this morning, new stadium? How did it look like?
TREY BENSON: Practice was good. Everybody moving at fast speeds. Continue to get the work in. I’m just happy to be out there with the guys.
Have to ask about the Cheez-It Room. Have you been able to see it yet? How was Mycah picked? Is he the cheesiest on the team?
TREY BENSON: (Laughter) I don’t know, he got the room, I don’t know. I haven’t been up there to see it yet. I’ve seen it on Snapchat and Instagram. It looks pretty cool. I’m going to go check it out today.
Talk about what it means to you personally to be here to be able to participate in this particular Bowl game.
TREY BENSON: Means a lot. We get a chance to have ten wins this year and make history. It’s a business trip, but we come down here to have fun with the team and the coaches and the coaching staff. But it’s big because we can get to ten wins.
What on tape Oklahoma-wise has stood out to you defensively just watching tape throughout the week and preparing for them?
TREY BENSON: They move fast off the ball. They have a lot of great guys, but basically they move fast and they know what they are doing.
Playing this Bowl game, Cheez-It Bowl, Florida State, it’s been a while since playing in a Bowl game. How big is it for the program and how big to catapult to next season when you open the season here?
TREY BENSON: It’s big. Some people are home right now. We are just grateful to be here right now. Grateful to have an extra game because last year, we was at home around this time. We just grateful to be here.
What is it about you individually and this team that you are embracing and that you are excited for a Bowl game?
TREY BENSON: Just building the confidence each and out through every game. Because at the beginning of the season, I was lacking a little confidence, but every single game I’ve been getting better, rep by rep. My teammates, my running back room, they have been helping me out, my offensive line, Jordan Travis, they all help me out because at the beginning I was lacking confidence, but now my confidence is through the roof.
Speaking on the help you got from the running back room, Treshaun Ward, he got hurt, lost the job, and you took over the bell cow role. How much has he helped and what does it say about his character that he didn’t start moping when you took over the job after he came back?
TREY BENSON: I love Tre – he a real brother to me. He didn’t lose his job. He just got hurt and he got to build his confidence back, too, so I’m going to help him out like he been helping me out this whole year, and I’m really grateful for him.
I don’t want you to give away any secrets, but how are you able to continue to run the ball so effectively here? Everybody knows you guys are going to run it, but you still run it right down.
TREY BENSON: The offensive line, you know, they’ve been doing great. I’m going to give it to those guys. That’s why we’ve been running the ball, because of the guys up front.
Florida State defensive back Jammie Robinson
We’ve had two players claim they should have had the Cheez-It Room. Do you want to make your argument for it –
JAMMIE ROBINSON: No, no, no, I’m not – because I just found out that they actually gave it to someone. I text the Instagram page, and I was like, Can I get the Cheez-It Room? And they said it’s against the guidelines or something like that. So they lied to me. I found out Mycah got it. It’s cool. I’ll go by and see it.
I’ve seen it on Instagram, though. That’s why I slid up and I was like, Can I get that room? And they told me it was against the guidelines. But come to find out Mycah got it. I’ll go see, see how the room look.
How was practice this morning?
JAMMIE ROBINSON: Practice was great. The atmosphere was good. Everyone flying around, and a different atmosphere, that was the great thing. We was able to make it feel like home, and I feel like that’s going to lead to us getting a victory. We feel like this is already home, and it’s the first practice.
How excited are you guys about playing in a Bowl game again and playing against a team like Oklahoma?
JAMMIE ROBINSON: I mean, I feel like every game is a great game and a great opportunity, you know what I’m saying. Hats off to Oklahoma. We look forward to playing against them. We have definitely been game planning, watching film. They got some great talent over there.
I also seen that they had a lot of guys out – but that don’t phase us. We ready to see what they really talking about over there and really just ready to get to work honestly. We been practicing for about two and a half weeks, so, you know, we just ready to get off from somebody, really.
Your main goal is to shut out the opponent. Talk about the conversations you guys are having as a defense coming into this, especially since you’re pointing out this already feels like home for you and it’s your first practice. What conversations are you guys having to build each other up and head out into that game on Thursday?
JAMMIE ROBINSON: For sure, like I was saying earlier, like we don’t have five – I don’t know if it’s a five- or four-game winning streak, but I feel like we had lost three games in a row and it kind – you know what I’m saying, it hurt a little bit, but that brought us closer as a team, you know what I’m saying, and that brotherhood.
The brotherhood here different. In all my years in college, this my best year in college football, you know what I’m saying. We’re actually fixing to get a tenth win. I’ve never been pretty much over .500 in college, you know what I’m saying. So I feel like I won a Super Bowl already.
Just getting after it with the guys, everyone, it’s like a team – I feel like our team is player led now. Earlier in the season, we were working on it. The coaches were on us about that, just being leaders and stuff. And I feel like now we get to the end, we getting stronger. Like I don’t feel like we off beat at all. It’s just, you know what I’m saying, we ready to go, honestly.
Your decision to stay at Florida State or go to the NFL, is that something that’s coming into focus, or is this something you let the coaches know, hey, I will let you know by this date?
JAMMIE ROBINSON: Honestly, I just been football-minded. I’m here. I’m with my brothers right now. Because I know when it’s over with, it’s going to be over with, and I’m going to miss it.
Right now I ain’t going to try to miss it, you feel me. I’m going to cherish every moment I got with my brothers, you know what I’m saying, and just day-by-day with it. That’s the type of guy I am, day-by-day.
Once the game over with, then I be answering phone calls and saying what it is, you know what I’m saying. But right now, I’m just ready to get this tenth win. It’s only been 24 10-win seasons. We’re trying to make it 25. That’s what we focusing on. We already won a state and now trying to win a Bowl game and see what’s next.
With a Bowl game you get extra practices. What have you seen from Azareye’h Thomas since arriving? What makes him special to be getting that playing time as a true freshman?
JAMMIE ROBINSON: One thing I like about AZ is as a freshman, you don’t see most guys like being students of the game, and I feel like that’s one thing AZ is doing a great job at. He’s in the film room, he’s making the checks, he’s running with the ones, he’s getting two reps, you know what I’m saying. He’s playing his role, and everybody on the team got their own role and everybody got their own plan, you know what I’m saying.
So for sure he got a bright future ahead of him, just like all our young guys. We got so much depth and if one man go down, we know like the next guy that’s coming up, he’s able to be trusted, you know what I’m saying. So that’s why I feel like all our coaches do a great job just getting everybody prepared for it at any moment because anything can happen.
Last time you guys played was that Florida game. That was a back-and-forth game. As a defense, you’re probably not, looking back at that now, happy about giving up 38 points. What do you guys have to do to make sure you don’t do that again this week?
JAMMIE ROBINSON: I feel like we just going to go out there, we going to make them try to throw the ball, because that’s what they tend to do, and then once they know they can’t throw the ball on us, they can’t run because our D-line is just crazy.
It’s going to be a great game for us. We are going to go out there and get after them for real.
You’re statistically one of the best defenses in the nation. How do you explain the Florida State defense?
JAMMIE ROBINSON: I feel like there is no defense that play man coverage like how we play man coverage. I feel like there is no defense that fly around like we fly around. I feel like there’s no defense in the country that practice like how we practice, the intensity, the level we practice.
I just feel like Florida State different, you know what I’m saying. If you not built for Florida State, you can’t come to Florida State honestly.
Speaking of throwing the ball, what are your thoughts on Renardo Green, doesn’t get talked about a ton –
JAMMIE ROBINSON: That’s another corner, you feel me – ain’t even got to finish asking the question. Renardo, he play safety. He play safety, now he playing corner, you know what I’m saying. I play safety, I play nickel. Kevin always play corner, nickel, you know what I’m saying. Jarrian Jones, corner, nickel, you know what I’m saying.
Everybody on our defense on the secondary, everybody is versatile. Everybody don’t just have one job. Everybody playing multiple positions. And like I said, when one guy go down, we can count on the next guy, you feel me. And Renardo has been balling out, lights out, you feel me, being able to play safety, then you go to corner.
Like most safeties can’t play corner, you feel me. And he do that. And then he physical, you know what I’m saying. He got all the attributes, man, and got all the God-gifted talent and he got a bright future, also, you know what I’m saying.
Speaking on our Florida game, it’s so crazy because Akeem had got – he went down, like I said, next man, the next guy, our coaches prepare the next guy every time.
So for instance, Akeem got injured, so Shyheim came in and he had to play free, and I had to move to boundary safety, you know what I’m saying. He came in, he had a great game. That was one of his best games. Like just looking at him, like just me watching him since I been here, you feel me. Like he growing up. Like he got the intangibles, you know what I’m saying. He long. He got good range, you know what I’m saying. He can be able to play in the box and all that.
And just him maturing up, you know what I’m saying and stepping in every time the number called, that’s one thing he do, he a team guy, his number called, you can trust him.
I know you chose to come here, so you believe in what Coach Norvell told you, but the fact that it’s come to reality, can you describe if you are surprised that it went this well or just your feelings about he laid out a vision –
JAMMIE ROBINSON: I felt like it was due time. It was due time. I been in college four years and since I been in college, I haven’t had, you know what I’m saying, an exciting year.
But I told you earlier, I done feel like I won a Super Bowl coming here. Ten games, we going to win ten games. We going to put 25 – we going to put the 25th ten-game winning season and we going to do that. We going to do that for Florida State.
You mentioned watching tape earlier. What is it about Oklahoma’s offense that has stood out on film?
JAMMIE ROBINSON: I feel like for Oklahoma offense, honestly like I said, they are a passing team that are going to look to pass the ball more. For instance, seven-on-seven, I feel like their offense is based kind of on a seven-on-seven offense. You going to get more passing than anything. I feel like we can go out and establish and stop the passing game. Our defensive line is so crazy, they’re not going to be able to run. Once we establish and stop the passing game, it’s going to be over with.
Florida State Seminoles offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons
What did you see out of practice today and what did you see from the team and what kind of energy was it and was it what you wanted to see?
DILLAN GIBBONS: Yes, sir, amazing amount of energy. We are going to be the most conditioned team out there on the field. Our coaches have pushed us really hard over our past couple weeks playing football.
I have been to this bowl game twice, back when it was the Citrus Bowl and the Camping World Bowl, and the most conditioned team going out there is going to have the best advantage.
I’m excited to see that come to fruition the next couple days. Part of the way these guys have worked. I’m a sixth-year senior, my last bowl game, so it’s great to see young guys sacrifice on a day-to-day basis, to get us better, whether that be on the scout team or supporting us one way or the other, but it was a great practice.
I wanted to ask you about winning the Wuerffel Trophy. What does it mean to be recognized for something like that by an organization?
DILLAN GIBBONS: It is tough for an individual to take that kind of recognition, at least for me. Everybody that’s been a part of my process, everybody that we have been able to tell their story. All the individuals that have worked with Big Man Big Heart and helped us out through the process so far.
I really am standing on the shoulders of giants in the literal sense. That experience was wonderful, in New York City at the Heisman event with Danny Wuerffel.
But, it’s been crazy, a crazy couple weeks. What I’m focused on right now is playing football and winning one more game.
Coach Norvell told us earlier that he didn’t have to talk any player into playing in this bowl game; a lot of guys could have opted out. What does that mean as a team overall to you specifically?
DILLAN GIBBONS: Right after the Clemson week, I started realizing how special this group was, specifically on the offensive line, specifically on the offensive side of the ball. I just wanted one more game, one more experience with this group of guys.
We have some amazing athletes, guys like Jordan Travis and Trey Benson, wonderful coaches like Coach [Alex] Atkins and all the other position coaches. We have a special group of guys with a bunch of very special individual pieces. It is great to go out there and play another game, but I am looking forward to fist pumping the guy to my right and left and going out there and sacrificing for each other.
I was asking Jordan this question, what kind of conversations were you having with the younger guys, especially given how encouraged you are, their level of sacrifice, what do you tell them going forwards?
DILLAN GIBBONS: Part of leadership is conversational based, but the other part is going out there and showing it on a day-to-day basis, right. Showing it through our actions, going out there and performing the way that we want to perform on game day.
So having that sense of urgency, coming into meetings this morning, 45 minutes to an hour early, trying to get that competitive advantage in every single facet of our lives. So showing them that, showing them the way to conduct themselves in a meeting, on the practice field, and pushing to the best we possibly can every time, that’s how we lead every time.
You talk about being a dependable 6-man at Notre Dame, but did you envision all this, even in your wildest dreams, the success you would have on the field and changing the culture for this program moving forward and what you’ve done off the field? I know you had big goals coming to Tallahassee, but is this the way you saw it playing out in your head the entire time?
DILLAN GIBBONS: Yes, sir. It’s an amazing experience. I understood the opportunity that presented itself when I did make that change from Notre Dame to come here to Florida State, and I attacked that opportunity everything I possibly can.
If it wasn’t for the coaches that allowed me that opportunity, I wouldn’t be here today. If it wasn’t for the guys in my offensive line room and the wonderful guys we have on offense and everybody that sacrifices on a day-to-day basis to help us win football games and run football, it’s been an amazing process.
None of it would have been possible without people helping me and individuals that were receptive to what I was trying to bring to the table.
You’ve gone up against Coach Brent Venables in your time at Notre Dame and over here. What challenges are you getting ready for?
DILLAN GIBBONS: Multiple front. We are going to see a lot. We are preparing for as much as we possibly can prepare for, but [it] doesn’t matter what team we are playing or defensive coordinator we are going against. What matters is we are playing Florida State football, and I can look to my left and right and trust the guys next to me. We are all seeing the defensive front through one set of eyes.
I am really confident in our group and the plan our coaches have put in place, and they have allowed us the best opportunity to go out there and play our football.
Another year of improvement, both in pass blocking and the run game. What about Coach Atkins and the coaching he’s done? We get to see it a lot of times throughout the week; talk about him and the big year on the O-line?
DILLAN GIBBONS: At Notre Dame, I studied leadership, and I have not met a better leader than Coach Atkins. He gets it done on the field and off the field, encourages every day. Some coaches have a certain style or a certain way they want the offensive line to be conducted. Some coaches lead by example.
Coach Atkins is a blend of those two. He does an incredible job in pushing us every day, but not necessarily being that father figure. He does a great job in balancing that. He has an incredibly high ceiling, and I really can’t put a stop to where he could possibly go. So, he does an incredible job with this offensive line unit, and I can’t thank him enough for allowing me this opportunity at Florida State.
I don’t want you to give us any secrets, but can you give us insight schematically or is it a mentality thing of what you guys have been doing that’s allowed you to be so successful running the football specifically?
DILLAN GIBBONS: You can point to some individuals that we have on the offensive line, but like we were talking about in our meeting today, it’s not like we have a bunch of incredible athletes on the offensive line. Guys that are going to go out there and demolish guys, physically, every single play.
We work on those other little things. Every little facet in our lives that we can control, we control those controllables. Whether it be like this morning, showing up early to meetings, a little bit more emphasis at the end of a block, really digging down and doing as much as we possibly can with the ability each and every one of us has.
But at the same time, I think having that continuity, having that same group of guys that play week-in, week-out, that’s helped this unit grow into what it is today.
Seems like Jordan Travis is a quarterback, who is willing to lay it on the line on every play. I’m just wondering what is it like to block for someone like that, and how much faith do you guys have in him?
DILLAN GIBBONS: So over the past two years, our relationship has grown, blocking for him, trying to protect him the best I possibly can. But, it is pretty amazing to have a guy — I was up there at the Heisman weekend a few weekends ago, and it is tough for me not to see him in that picture here this year or next year.
To have a guy that you can say, Hey, Jordan, go win a football game, and he will go win a football game, that’s crazy. We haven’t had to do that too many times this season yet, but I love protecting him and keeping him off the ground and picking him up when he goes out there and sacrifices for this team.
Florida State defensive coordinator Adam Fuller
Coming to Orlando, what do you see in the first practice and what do you like?
ADAM FULLER: Today we combined Tuesday and Wednesday. Had a bunch of situations and we give the guys about two days off.
So it was important to get them out here and try to make it as physical a practice as we could. I thought our guys showed up with good energy, come back tonight, correct some of the things and move forward tomorrow.
Talk about everybody being intact to play the Bowl game in this different time and age; how happy are you come into a Bowl game with a team that’s dialed in and all your players ready to go?
ADAM FULLER: I’m grateful for these players, grateful for these coaches. It starts with Mycah, how selfless he is. He sets the tone every day and our players follow.
I think the way we have gone to work the last three weeks after the Florida game, it represents who we are. Our guys care about each other, they care about representing this great university. They care about playing well.
They have got high standards and doesn’t guarantee always success but it guarantees what it looks like out there right now and I just feel really grateful to be part of this football game.
How was this morning getting ready for Dillon Gabriel, talented quarterback; what’s it been like preparing for a quarterback like that?
ADAM FULLER: Yeah, I would like to stop the run, the pass and the screens, all of it. But their quarterback is really good. I even, he’s played in this style of offense for a number of years. Shane and Randy and Tatum have played on the same team as this quarterback. I feel we have got information on him.
But he’s been really successful everywhere he’s been. Offense has not been the problem. He’s really efficient. He’s a competitor and has really good pace of play on his touch passes. He’s got really good feet. He had that one run against Nebraska where he ran away from them. He’s a complete quarterback and he’s a winner, two different schools now.
We like playing against competitors because it brings out the best in all of you. So we are just excited. It will be a good multiple on Friday.
We heard from Coach Atkins about the importance of blocking off distractions for the guys that are here. Talk about your side on the defense what conversations are you having with the fellas and how are you encouraging them to dial in and remain focused?
ADAM FULLER: Well, I think you need a certain level of focus in everything you do. It’s a little bit different in Bowl games because certain away games, you get off the plane and you’ve got a Friday night routine and you wake up and either the game is at night in the morning and you have a routine.
You really don’t have as much opportunity to get distracted. Here at the Bowl, part of the allure playing in good Bowl games is you have opportunities for distractions, and it’s important for our guys to be able to venture and enjoy some of those times.
But you don’t prepare for the Bowl game when you get to the Bowl game. You prepare for the Bowl game, last December, last January, last February. You’ve got classes and you have all different things that pop up in these guys’ lives and I think you have to trust what you’ve done throughout the year to get to this point.
Sometimes when you get back, shoot, we’re all distracted last night, Christmas, you have a team meeting. I think when you garner a collective group like we have of good, young men and you put them all in a room, I think that draws the right energy to point in the right direction.
So you never want to take anything for granted, and we won’t. But I do trust the group, and we’ll have them focused, but that’s every day, and that’s definitely a battle that we understand what we need to do each day.
How and why has continuity been such a big key for you guys, your improved play on defense? You mentioned sifting through a lot of options beginning of last season, but that you’ve set on something, it explains itself but how does that make itself a successful unit?
ADAM FULLER: Part of being a coordinator is you have to create structure for your group. That comes with putting certain pieces together in the right positions, and then what are the rotations look like and they can’t always being the same every year because you have different players. Then injuries come up.
So our job is to make sure that the right guys are playing with the right pieces and substitutions happen. So kind of how we coach, all three levels of the defenses, we do have some consistency in putting guys in different spots and moving them around and different pieces, so that when guys have to step up – I heard Jammie saying there’s multiplicity in the training in the back end, and that happens because you are going to need them all and they need to be comfortable playing in different positions; and you have to have comfortable coaching and making sure that all works together.
We have settled in our group, and I think the connectivity of our back seven playing together with our front four is important, and it’s been part of our growth.
Statistically, you guys are one of the best defenses in the country; I know you don’t are about statistics and it’s about how you guys play on the field. But is there a defining way an Adam fuller defense is playing right now? How would you describe the way you guys are playing?
ADAM FULLER: Well, I mean, our job is to get stops every series, right and so probably the proudest I’ve been, what I want to look like is we have games that we played really good for four quarters.
We’ve had games that maybe we gave up a score in the first series of the second half. But usually our responses, I think that’s been the growth that I’ve really enjoyed seeing the most, is just our guys connectivity to each other in all things, and I think we’ve done a really good job of that. I’m excited to see that take place one more time with this team.
But we want to do what we have to do to win the game, and you know, I think our offense and our defense, our special teams, have all played well as a team this year. That’s why we’ve had the success we’ve had, and looking forward to that happening one more time for this team.
Did you ask Santa for Jammie and Jared to come back next year?
ADAM FULLER: No. I didn’t. But I should have. Good question. That was tremendous.
Florida State linebacker Tatum Bethune
How did practice look today? You arrived yesterday. How did practice look this morning for you guys?
TATUM BETHUNE: Coming out in practice, I didn’t think the weather was going to be like this, so I always think about how practice going to go before it happens. I thought we was going to be complaining about the weather, but we actually didn’t.
Everybody came out and did what we had to do. Just felt like we needed to focus and lock down on the details now.
Two-part question, how does it feel to be back in Orlando? You played here for a while. And you played with Dillon Gabriel. What kind of insight can you bring to the team of what he likes to do and what he brings to the table for Oklahoma?
TATUM BETHUNE: Feel great to be back in Orlando, knowing my family is able to come here without any struggle or whether to buy a plane ticket or not. I got some family here in Orlando that I am going to see. That’s just a good feeling to see them. I haven’t seen them all year.
Then Dillon Gabriel on the scouting report, I give my honest opinion, a guy that makes plays and a guy that we need to stop on their offense. That’s just something that we need to get done.
Lebby’s system, he mentioned how confident he sees you guys playing as a defense. Is it an individual thing, or are each of you guys confident what’s going on, or is it a whole team and confident in the coaches and vice versa?
TATUM BETHUNE: For the defense to work, it always has to be the whole defensive unit and the whole team. It’s never in any individual thoughts. I feel like that’s what got us going because I feel like that’s how it was in the beginning, but now we all together and we click as one. That’s what keep us going.
How does it feel, finals, different things going on, knowing you’re playing a game on Thursday? How exciting is that feeling right now?
TATUM BETHUNE: It’s a good feeling, just the fact that I know we’re playing in a Bowl game. And the guys I’ve been around, they only played in one, and that’s something we’ve been talking about before the season even started. We reaching a goal that we are here now, so we just got to get it done. We talked about it, but we here.
What would a tenth win mean?
TATUM BETHUNE: That’s one of our goals when we first found out where we was going to play at, that was the biggest goal. We got that – how many teams that have ten wins in front of our locker room, and we just want to be able to change the wall. That would be huge for us.
With having a Bowl game, you get extra practices, and it helps some of the younger players. What have you seen from Graham when he makes plays? Seems like a pretty smart player.
TATUM BETHUNE: When I see Omar now, I think of me when I first came into college and when I came in early, but I feel like Omar is way better than how I was when I was a freshman. So I just feel like next year, Omar is going to be – I’m pretty sure he’s going to see the field, and Omar is going to be dominant.
Have you seen the Cheez-It Room, and did they make the right choice with Mycah?
TATUM BETHUNE: I have not seen it yet. But, no, they did not make the right choice. They should have gave it to me (laughter).
What makes you the cheesiest candidate for the room?
TATUM BETHUNE: (Laughter.)
Coach mentioned when he brings people in from the transfer portal it’s important that they fit into the locker room. How refreshing was it to come into a new locker room and see like-minded people that were on the same page?
TATUM BETHUNE: When I first hit the portal, Coach Norvell, he promised me everything that you would think a coach wouldn’t promise. He promised me that I was going to be put in hard positions and put through adversity on purpose so I could be able to thrive through that and know how to deal with it and stuff like that.
Sometimes you don’t hear it from coaches. Coaches will try to tell you what you want to hear. So I feel like if you play at Florida State, it’s only a select few that’s able to come here. I feel like this program is not for everybody. I feel like that’s what he do, is just elimination factor.
Florida State defensive end Jared Verse
Did the Cheez-It Bowl make the right choice with Pittman getting the room?
JARED VERSE: I saw the room. Tatum didn’t deserve it. Nobody else deserved it. It should have been me. I would have been acceptable with Coach Norvell. But it should have been me. That’s it. Period. Tatum got the room.
How was practice, being in the new stadium and getting acclimated?
JARED VERSE: It was good. That’s one thing I’m very happy with this team. We translate very well. Anywhere we go, anything we do, it’s going to be full speed. Everybody came out hitting hard, moving fast. Coach will tell you himself it was a good practice.
How do you think coming down here FSU will start off the season next year? Orlando, at the same stadium, how do you think that helps some of the players getting ready for next season, already getting a feel for Orlando and everything?
JARED VERSE: Everybody gets a feel for the stadium, how the stadium works, how the turf feels, how the locker rooms work. I think it’s very good to help translate for the next season.
Do you know kind of when after the Bowl game you’ll want to make your decision, how you’ll communicate to the coach whether you’re coming back?
JARED VERSE: Not at all. I’m still talking to my family and deciding what’s best for me and best for my family moving forward. But I’ve been very communicative with the coaches and the staff working around me. They’ve been very helpful giving me the information I need. But it’s just whenever I feel right about it, probably a week or two afterwards, after the Bowl game.
You had a few weeks without games, finals, different things going on, holidays. How great does it feel to be preparing for a game on Thursday instead of just the game is next week or two weeks?
JARED VERSE: It’s good. Just being the same week, but throughout the whole preparation, nobody’s been sitting back like, oh, we play next week, let’s lay off. It’s been like: We play next week. Let’s get after it today and move forward and have our best foot stepping forward.
Seems a lot of the success that you guys have had as a team has been the closeness that you guys have with each other, and it’s something every football game preaches about, brotherhood and family. Is there anything unique about Florida State that’s allowed you to come close together and be successful?
JARED VERSE: I think it’s the players that the coach brings in. Everybody meshes well and is so different, but everybody meshes well, everybody has a good personality. They could put me in a room with anybody on the roster and I’ll be able to talk to them for hours. That’s how I am. That’s how they are. We’ll be fine. It’s just we really care for each other, too. It’s just one of those things. It’s just natural.
Coach Norvell said that he didn’t have to talk anyone into playing in the Bowl game. What does that mean overall when a coach doesn’t have to talk you into playing and you’re like you’re playing no matter what?
JARED VERSE: Relates to the last question, brotherhood. I want a chance to play with my brothers. Nobody takes anything for granted. This is the last time this group will specifically be together. It’s good to come out here and enjoy time with each other and go out, mess around, complain about who got the Cheez-It Room and who don’t. It’s just good to be with everybody again. I don’t think anybody on the roster would give that up.
What do you guys need to do to make sure — you mentioned the goal is to shut them out every week, but is that the goal this week and how do you guys get there?
JARED VERSE: The goal is always the same: To shut them out. Their goal is to put the most points on the board that they possibly can. We can see who can reach their goals first, but for us, we have to bring our best foot stepping forward. Everybody has to be as fast and as strong as they can be and come out with their best, nothing less.
With that decision of staying or moving on to the next level, are you waiting on more information, or is it a matter of just trying to get away from the sport for a few days when the season is over to have a clear mind and figure out what’s best at that point?
JARED VERSE: It’s a sit-back thing. I have all the information I need to formulate a decision. It’s just putting everything together now.
Florida State offensive coordinator, offensive line coach Alex Atkins
How did you feel about practice?
ALEX ATKINS: I thought the effort was good. I thought guys showed they want to still work together. We have to clean up on some details. This defense does present a lot of challenges with looks, pressures, and he understands how to leverage the football and he knows what you’re going to attack by what calls he makes. So we have to make sure we are on point in the execution of the details.
What’s the difference from going from Tallahassee to going down here to Orlando, what goes into schematics?
ALEX ATKINS: Not a difference of schematics, you just try to control the distractions. There’s a lot to be distracted. Just like you go on the road, different practice environment, different locker room, different schedule, different time, more family in town, things like this. So we have to make sure we are controlling the distractions that when the work starts, it’s about the work.
You have Pittman in the Cheez-It Room. Did they make the right choice?
ALEX ATKINS: I bet you he loving it. You probably going to see a vlog on it not too long. Just be ready. He probably got his own private camera crew in there 24 hours.
What’s allowed you to be successful running the football in the second half of the season?
ALEX ATKINS: It start with the quarterback position. And run game is all about services, looks, safety rotations. And the quarterback has done a good job of handling the run checks, getting us in good plays, getting us in the best possible looks and not just running plays on a bad look. First thing is Jordan.
Next thing is continuity in the line. We had the same guys pretty much out there. So not too much they had not seen. And then Trey Benson, I think he leads the country in broken tackles and elusiveness and yards per carry and things like that.
When you do have a bad look or things are not blocked correctly, you got backs’ second break tackles. So it’s a combination of all those things, whether you’re in the right play, you’re blocking up the looks and nothing confuses you and you can maintain blocks, and also you got guys that can make you right when you ain’t right.
I thought our running backs done a great job of breaking tackles and running through things and making it difficult to tackle. So I think all those things combined gives you a shot to have a pretty good run game.
We have been hearing from the head coach and several players the importance of focusing on the individual, how important that is, keeping the guys together. What kind of experience have you had with that, and what are things that you’re telling the guys to keep going, especially for their goal to win the 10th game?
ALEX ATKINS: When you say focus on the individual –
Personal development –
ALEX ATKINS: Ah, being the best version of yourself. You play a team sport, a lot of times especially in football, some guys’ mistakes are not magnified more than others because you can hide a little bit when you have 11 guys out there, and some positions where you can’t.
I think what it’s saying is just be your best; the results will come. And that’s what Coach preaches from the day he got here to today. Even at practice to today, nothing has changed. It’s all about the growth. Wherever you are, be a little bit better today, and everything else will take care of it.
It also comes from accountability because one of the hardest things to hold yourself accountable to what you know. Like at the end of practice, he said basically it’s not about the result, it’s did you play your best. And only one person knows that, and that’s you. And if you can lie to yourself, then we got a lot more development to go on in all other areas.
Having played Coach Venables, you’ve seen what his defense does, it’s obviously a different team with Oklahoma. But what kind of challenges does his brand usually bring?
ALEX ATKINS: You have two great defensive minds with the defensive coordinator with Coach Roof and Coach Venables putting together a lot of good stuff.
The good thing about Coach Venables is he’s multiple. He’ll present you with multiple looks. But he also knows the vulnerabilities of his defense. So he knows what you’re going to get. He knows what you’re going to try to attack and what you’re going to try to leverage. So those guys play fast and react to it quickly.
So we have to be ready to be detailed. Just because we think we’ve got a good play and we know what’s coming, they know what they vulnerable at. So we have to be even more detailed to execute where we got to look.
Coach Venables has done a good job. He been calling defense for a long time. He’s going to be prepared and well prepared, and he’s going to know what he want to take away. We just got to be on point to make sure we’re disciplined and we’re not going backwards and making sure we’re in the right place.
Are you proud or thankful that so much of this team is enjoying this Bowl process and willing to play the game? In this day and age, there’s so many teams that are playing in these bowl games that aren’t going to be at full capacity. How does that make you feel as a coach and competitor?
ALEX ATKINS: I’m blessed to be around a group of guys that want to be around each other. So many times – she brought up a good question about the individual. The way you create a good team is when the guy want to play for somebody else. I don’t want to let you down.
I think we got a lot of that. When you talk about true brotherhood, every coach talks about brotherhood and teammates and love and family. And all that sounds good until you have to make a decision that is greater for the team than it is for yourself.
I think we see a lot of that now. We are also going to protect them from themselves, too. It’s our job to monitor and make sure they are doing a good job and make sure we are giving them the best possible things for their future. But you want it where you have to protect them from themselves because all they can think about is not letting their teammates down, and that’s a blessing to have.
How nice has it been throughout the whole season going against the defensive line and how much does it help your offensive line, the competition? We get to see it during practice, and it gets violent. How much has that helped?
ALEX ATKINS: It creates that I got to be on point or on the bench mentality. I tell high school players the biggest jump from high school to college is every practice is like a game. It’s graded the same, evaluated the same, and the pressure is the same.
What you learn in college is the games get easier for the player because there’s so much pressure put into every single rep from individual to team, eyes are always on you. It creates that “all right, I got to get this done or there’s a consequence” mindset every play.
Coach tried to use this phrase every day, it’s fourth and one. I think that competition level, I have to be on point just raises yourself more. Now, we don’t have a “dog eat dog” mentality, meaning, hey, I’m going to throw it out there and whoever comes out. No. We want to teach and develop and put you in good situations to have success also, but you have to be on point to be on that field at Florida State.
The brotherhood with this team, every program strives to have that. What have you done that’s allowed it to come to fruition?
ALEX ATKINS: We have been through it. Sometimes you never know why you go through, but you got to go through to get through. We have to make all the past experiences, all the lessons learned, all those guys – we had pretty much the same staff and same group of guys since we have been around.
I think about guys like Maurice Smith, Darius Washington, Jordan Travis. I think about guys that have been here and fought the long fight, Treshaun Ward, guys that have been in it, been in the fight, McLendon, that’s seen. And then now you have the guys in the locker room: Hey, guys, I’ve seen that side, I’ve seen where that leads to; this is what I know works and what’s been pushing us forward.
So you’ve got guys that can warn guys when they’re going down the wrong path, and also praising, be thankful for the things that we’re having now because we learned from the lessons we went through earlier in our time here.
Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel
Dillon, welcome back, when you guys heard you were coming to Orlando, back to Orlando for the Bowl game, what was your reaction?
DILLON GABRIEL: First off, super excited for the opportunity but then also obviously spending time here, just seeing a lot of people that I was here with, which was really fun. And then obviously just another opportunity for us to play in a Bowl game – in a Bowl game like this, it’s going to be really fun.
Could you talk about the season you guys had, some challenges, some physical challenges as well, but how are you guys doing right now going into the postseason?
DILLON GABRIEL: Good. Just a good amount of time to kind of regroup, get some practice in for the young guys and then get the bodies healthy which is really good for us but for the most part just a good break for us to get back and then prepare for FSU.
What are the emotions of being back here, being back in Orlando and what are the feelings it brings back to you?
DILLON GABRIEL: A lot of good memories, for one and then also just some good weather here in Florida, so that’s a good time. But like I said, just excited for the opportunity and to play in the Cheez-It Bowl against a good FSU team, we are all excited to be here.
What do you know about Florida State and their defense and what you’ll be going up against on Thursday?
DILLON GABRIEL: Really talented. A lot of good players and they play very well. Pretty familiar with my guy, Tatum, so good to see him again. Like I said, a lot of talented guys and they played really well this whole season.
Did you pay more attention to them when KZ was there and have you talked to him much about this matchup?
DILLON GABRIEL: Yeah, I have, of course, watched FSU and his time there. Pretty familiar with that. Year-to-year personnel change and likewise, scheme, just watching this year and familiar with his time and the things that he kind of went through.
I know you don’t face him face-to-face, but Jordan Travis, quarterback, what kind of scouting report can you give?
DILLON GABRIEL: Yeah, definitely know of him. He’s very talented and he’s played well this season, as well. That’s why in the stretch they have been really good. I think he’s dealt with his so-called injuries, too, during his time out, I would say, a little time away when they struggled. But when he came back, he played his butt off, so definitely the guy on their team is him and everything runs through him.
I know you have the injury, but I’m wondering if – how this year went for you, if it was what you had hoped for, the whole experience of transferring and being in Oklahoma and how it was for you compared to your expectations.
DILLON GABRIEL: Yeah, I really had no expectations going in other than, you know, just trusting God and the path He has for me. Just super, you know, blessed to be in this position and learned a lot this year just about myself but also just the journey of life and ups and downs. But just grateful for the whole journey because you know, I actually feel I’ve gotten stronger and learned a lot through this process and just to be standing here is a blessing.
Just to piggyback off that, how do you think you’ve grown as a quarterback in your season so far at Oklahoma since you last played for UCF?
DILLON GABRIEL: Grown a bunch. Just learned a lot about myself like I said, a lot about this team and have grown in many ways just on and off the field. Just putting myself, you know, in times that are a little uncomfortable and I think through adversity and challenges, you go stronger and just learning from those, I think as a quarterback, with all these experiences, you make sure to try not to make the same mistake twice and just putting yourself in those positions, you know, will help you in the long run.
What is it about Coach Lebby’s offenses that have been so successful and why do you feel so comfortable in it?
DILLON GABRIEL: I think just knowing the relationship between me and him and the trust and believe in his quarterbacks, in his system. Knowing that it puts us in a good position as well as all the skill positions, just showcasing our talents and letting us play free and fast, which I think, you know, that’s the new day and age of college football.
So that’s a huge reason and like I said, that relationship, that’s the most important thing is a QB and a play-caller’s relationship, just being able to talk freely on the phone in between drives and then also just week-to-week, game-to-game, knowing we can make adjustments and knowing that work relationship, it really helped.
When you transferred in, how big of a part of developing your leadership skills, you had leadership at UCF but to get to know your teammates in the short transfer window? How were you able to handle that?
DILLON GABRIEL: I think it’s different, coming into school, that recruiting class, it’s a little easier on you just because you know the players, you kind of go through similar experiences. But here, transferring, I think it’s a little sped up. You’re kind of expected to come in and be ready to go.
But that, like I said, was another challenge for me and something I learned and I think will only help me in the long run just being able to connect with guys and lead a new group of men who, you know, you don’t necessarily have any rep going into it. You’ve kind of got to prove it on the field. Just being comfortable in that situation and learning from that and taking that experience and being better, just moving forward.
A little bit of a curveball in the formatting, I’m going to ask you a question from Tulsa World. You’ll be missing some key players for the Bowl game, what’s the balance between a single game plan against a team like Florida State and your offensive game plan for the whole season?
DILLON GABRIEL: It’s different. But I think it’s also a big opportunity for new guys and what they are going to be able to showcase in what they do. We truly have next-man-up mentality, so just being ready for that, and letting them seize the opportunity.
Seems like you are totally present in what you are doing at Oklahoma, but do you keep in touch with former UCF teammates and did you follow UCF at all this season?
DILLON GABRIEL: Of course. Got a lot of friends and family that I’ve connected with throughout the season that we stay in touch with. But really close with a lot of them and those are brothers for life, just the experiences we had. Of course, a lot of people are on different paths and it’s crazy how much a year can change a lot of things. But yeah, very connected with a lot of them, not only past players but present.
With the level of opt-outs, like as a competitor, do you guys in the locker room have to talk about just the level of commitment you’re going to have for this game or is it the fact that you guys are playing in this game enough to prove to everybody that you’re dialed in?
DILLON GABRIEL: Yeah, I think opt-outs are going to happen and it’s what it is nowadays. That’s an individual decision which everyone understands. But just, man, it’s another opportunity and it’s a blessing and nobody takes that for granted on our side.
You mentioned Tatum. Were you surprised at all he’s had so much success in his first year at Florida State and what kind of a teammate was he?
DILLON GABRIEL: Great teammate. Never doubted his success. He’s a great player and just very good football player. He’s talented and he can do a lot of things on the football field.
How can this game springboard you into the 2023 season are the Sooners?
DILLON GABRIEL: Yeah, not only a good performance but a win is huge in any situation. Especially against a good FSU team, it can definitely help us and like I said, just excited for the opportunity because it’s another game and we’ll never take that for granted.
Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Marvin Mims Jr.
Can you talk about the season you guys had offensively? Some games you put up some huge numbers and a couple other tough games. How do you feel like you guys adjusted in the first year in the system?
MARVIN MIMS JR.: Yeah, first year in the system, proven system, great offensive coordinator. Quarterback who’s been in. I feel like it’s gone really well. There are some times that we’ve been a little down, but just a burst of offense of what we’ve shown and put on film, how we can play every day at a level that’s pretty high, I feel really good about it.
We had a lot of new offense and older guys on the offense and younger guys on the offense, and we are all on the same learning curve. So I feel like we did really good in the offense this year. Of course places to build, but that’s every team in the country.
What is the mindset going into a Bowl game where you don’t know exactly who you’re going to have and some guys have to make their own decisions? What is the mindset of the guys who are here in terms of coming together for a Bowl game?
MARVIN MIMS JR.: Kind of like the same thing all year. I mean, you kind of just want to play, get out on the field and have fun with your brothers, but at the same point you’re rolling with who you’re rolling with. And if you’re a younger guy who is getting more opportunities, you have to go out there and put it on film. You have to go out there and play because, you know, as a younger guy a couple years ago, I have a Bowl game, I get more reps. In a couple weeks, you’ve got new guys coming to take your spot.
So those reps really do matter and they actually show, and especially in practices and stuff like that. And if you are fortunate to get out in the game, you have to make the most of it. At the end of the day just come out and have fun with your brothers and play football.
What would you describe the first season like under a new coaching staff and where you guys are going?
MARVIN MIMS JR.: It was definitely a drastic change, two years under Coach Riley for me, and then adapt into a new coaching staff third year, a bunch of new players, a lot of old faces leaving, so it definitely a whole new experience.
I feel like as a first team under Coach Venables, I feel like we responded pretty well to all the demands, the way he wanted his program to look, his culture to be.
And just for the future with the younger guys coming up and all that stuff, it’s going to look real good. Just from the off-the-field stuff, on-the-field, guys getting used to it this first year, and now people knowing what it looks like in year two and being able to lead the young guys and help them come up.
Florida State’s defense, they are pretty aggressive at coverage. Is that exciting going up against a team that you feel like is probably going to challenge you a little bit?
MARVIN MIMS JR.: Of course it’s always exciting to go against good competition. 9-3 football team, good defense, athletic DBs, long, fast, tall, the whole bundle. It’s exciting to go against, it’s fun to go against, against tougher competition. You really see what you’re made of yourself. So it’s really fun. I’m looking forward it. Great DBs, great secondary, really good safeties, really good corners, and I’m just looking forward to it.
Does a Bowl game have a feel that it’s going to be more wide open, like a more exciting kind of offensive showcase for both teams, do you feel like?
MARVIN MIMS JR.: When you think of a Bowl game, you think of the glitz and glamour. As an offensive player, I love shootouts when I’m watching football and stuff like that, just being an offensive guy.
It’s going to be a tough game. It’s going to be a nail-biting game for sure. We’re going to have to go out there and play really good football. They are a really good football team on the other side.
But offensive powerhouse game would be amazing. I love those games, high-scoring games. But we have to be ready for anything that comes out there. We are going to have to adjust, there’s going to be adversity, and we’re just going to go out there and play football.
Winning is the ultimate goal, but how much does pride play a motivating factor for this year’s team since there has not been a losing season since 1998?
MARVIN MIMS JR.: Not even thinking about the losing season but how we are going to finish off as a team. This year has not gone the way we wanted it to, but at the end of the day we still have one more game to be able to set the record straight and go out and play against a really good football team. So looking forward to it.
How impressed have you been with Dillon?
MARVIN MIMS JR.: Coach Lebby hit on it, a guy that knew the X’s and O’s whenever he first got here, brought all of us under his wing. It’s great to have him out there. He’s been in this offense and he knows just about everything Coach Levy knows.
It’s great to have him out there, just play-making ability, putting the ball in the right spot, right reads all the time. I mean, it’s great to have him out there, especially whenever we have questions and have to adjust in mid-game. Having him out there is really good and special for our offense.
Through your career Oklahoma has been the higher-ranked team and team with more prestige. And now the roles are reversed right now, Florida State has had a good year and you guys have struggled a little bit. Do you guys embrace the challenge to be a perceived underdog for once?
MARVIN MIMS JR.: Yeah, I kind of look at it the same way as I have my past two years, honestly, especially playing in the Big 12, everybody wants a shot at Oklahoma. No matter how the season is going, when they play Oklahoma, they are going to bring their best. Especially if we are down, they want to get their win and they want to get their shot. If we are up, they want to get that upset and stuff like that.
Last year when we played Oregon after Coach Riley left, we were the underdogs against them, too, and we went out and had fun and played football. There’s a lot of pride in that game for sure without a head football coach.
Same for this game, too. We’re just going to let it loose, have fun. Really good football team other side of the ball, and just go out there and just – it’s the last game no matter what, just play.
Oklahoma Sooners defensive lineman Ethan Downs
Ethan, what’s the team mindset been going into the postseason? I know the regular season wasn’t everything you guys hoped but what’s the mindset going into the postseason?
ETHAN DOWNS: Coach Venables will tell us that a season is like a roller coaster. Like Coach Roof mentioned, the highs and lows. You can’t jump off the roller coaster. You can’t give up.
We are telling a story with this season of, it really feels like life: You get punched, you get knocked down, you get right back up. Sometimes you’re on a high, and a lot of times you’re on a low.
And we’re trying to show our perseverance and what we are made of. We’re trying to show our heart by getting back up and fighting. Even when it doesn’t look like we’ve had such a great past, we are trying to give people home for the future.
So we are playing for more than just 7-6, which looks a lot better than 6-7. We are playing for the future the program and the people that have been through the program and the coaches, Oklahoma’s reputation. There’s a lot on the line.
When you look at Florida State’s offense, Jordan Travis obviously makes a lot of plays, but they also run the ball really well. How much of a challenge does that put on defensive ends when you have a mobile quarterback and a good running game and also a passing game, too?
ETHAN DOWNS: Yeah, we have to have a great scheme against him. Also he’s really talented, but can extend plays, run well, pass really well. They have around 7 yards rushing, and what do they average, 7 yards rushing and they scored nearly 40 points a game, and we have to have a great scheme to drop that quarterback and to eliminate the run game and to be sound in everything that we do, so it takes discipline, it takes great effort and we’re fired up, yeah.
Just on the quarterback, Jordan Travis, is there another quarterback like him that you’ve faced that helps you guys prepare to face another like that?
ETHAN DOWNS: I’m not sure, he’s probably the most talented on his feet that we’ve seen, being able to run sideline-to-sideline and get the ball to where he needs to be. He’s got a great ball, as well, he can throw short, he can throw deep. He has great run reads. He’s super talented, one of the top quarterback in the nation and it’s a great challenge for us and the D-Line to test our skills even more to get better.
It’s an opportunity to get better and to see what we’re made of, even this late in the season. Doesn’t matter, you know what day it is, like there’s an opportunity to get better, an opportunity to finish and face the challenge and attempt to conquer it.
Have you seen that approach from your teammates as you get ready for this Bowl, what you’re talking about, the opportunity to finish, all those things that you’ve been talking about?
ETHAN DOWNS: Absolutely, yeah. We’ve been practicing really hard, just like we practice every week. It’s just a matter of discipline and heart. We’re all in and focused on getting that victory.
I don’t know how much in practice you guys go good-on-good but going up against Dillon, what has he brought to your program and how difficult is he to defend in practice?
ETHAN DOWNS: Dillon is a great quarterback. He’s a great friend, great teammate. He’s always looking out for us and when he’s on the field, it shows. He can control an offense and make thins happen with his feet throws a great ball. When we are going good-on-good and DD is in the game, you’ve got to really crank it up and make few mistakes or else he’s going to expose us, and he usually does. So I’m blessed to have him and what he brings, and I’m excited to see his future.
How big is this week for the defensive linemen from the 2023 recruiting class to be part of practice week?
ETHAN DOWNS: It’s really cool to see that 2023 group come in. Like I said, we are working on our abilities, our skills and just having more chemistry with the new guys, with the young guys that are getting opportunities. Like I said, setting up our foundation for the next year.
I don’t like talking about the next year because we got so much to finish with this year, but everything we do now is going to have an impact on our future. So every opportunity that we get to make it our best and put our best foot forward, to give the best effort we can is an opportunity finished right.
I was going to ask, you talked about finishing right. What would it mean for you guys to finish out a win over a program that’s ranked and has had a pretty solid return year?
ETHAN DOWNS: I don’t think a victory would be finishing right. I think playing our best would be finishing right and if we play our best, I believe we will win. You know, a victory isn’t always a win in our books. It’s about how we played and what we did, and I’m very faith-driven. I believe in God and how I play, so I’m going to play with the max effort I can and I’m going to play like there’s no tomorrow. And when I’ve failed to do that, I’ve failed.
Even when we won the victory, I haven’t done my part. Going into every game, every practice, I’m going to try to give my best and be the best person I can for all my teammates and the coaches around me to represent them and to represent my Lord who I play for. So a victory, even if we lost, a victory is playing hardest and putting my best foot forward.
Oklahoma is used to having tremendous success basically every season. When you have a year like this, was there any cracking in the foundation of the team, or do you feel like it brought some of you guys together?
ETHAN DOWNS: Yeah, it’s always hard. It’s always hard to have losses and lots to persevere through but with that perseverance, we are still a very motivated team, a very driven team and that shows our heart and our commitment to the program and our belief and our fan base and the culture and Coach Venables and the staff that he brought has really highlighted the tradition of the program and the culture and what it means to be a Sooner.
We play for more than just our pride, our personal pride. We play for everybody that looks up to the symbol of OU, and how it can motivate their household for weeks or months or it can tear down their household for weeks or months.
We understand that. We are playing for more than just a victory.
You mentioned their offense is averaging close to 7 yards a carry. If it started in 6, that quarterback can hand it off, or he can keep it or throw to his 6-7 receiver or throw a screen play. Do you think if you guys just all do your jobs you can slow it down, or do you have to play above your heads or with a certain level of aggressiveness to slow that kind of attack down?
ETHAN DOWNS: We have got a lot of resect for them, and we know that we’ve got to play our best ball. That’s our goal, anyway, is to play our very best ball and finish the season off right.
We know that they have got a lot of tools in their arsenal, a lot of great size, speed and talent all across the board, they are a great team and they are a great challenge. So sike I said, we got respect for their tools and their toolbox and how they can extend plays and how they can make plays in the necessary drives.
So we’re prepared for it. We see it. We game plan for it, and we’re focusing on the victory.
Oklahoma Sooners offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby
Wanted to ask your thoughts of coming in here, short staffed in some regards, what do you see of this Florida State team and what they have accomplished this year and what challenge does that present to you guys on the offensive side of the ball?
JEFF LEBBY: I think the big thing is they have played their best ball as of late. They have a bunch of momentum. They have played really well statistically. Defensively, tops in the country in a bunch of different categories, so they are playing with a ton of confidence and playing fast and playing really well.
Going into a Bowl game where you have moving pieces, some guys not being available, how difficult is that to prepare for and what kind of opportunity is it for the younger guys?
JEFF LEBBY: The biggest thing is we have guys that are capable. They haven’t played a bunch, but they are capable. We feel great about where we are at. Have a ton of confidence in the guys that are going to walk out there first on the 29th, guys that are going to go play and play their butt off and do everything they can to go fight for a win.
When you talk about Florida State’s defense, one thing they have done well is they have not given up a ton of big plays. Does that create other opportunities, and what challenges do they present?
JEFF LEBBY: Yeah, I think we have to take what they give us, making sure that we are continuing to fight to run the football the way we need to, take care of the football, be great situationally. But again, they have been really good against the run. They have not given up a bunch of explosives. They have done a lot of things really, really well. So be a great challenge, but our guys will be ready to roll.
What have you seen from Dillon’s growth this season since he last played for UCF?
JEFF LEBBY: I think just from an experience standpoint, being in our league now and going through the things that he’s had to go through, I think Dillon has played really well and he will continue to play better.
But proud of his journey and how he’s continued to grow and how he’s held the locker room together. Obviously things haven’t gone the way we’ve wanted them to, and he’s done a great job being steady in the building every single day, and so that’s what I’ll probably appreciate him for the most is just being the same dude every single day and finding ways to get the most out of his teammates.
When you guys, you and Dillon got together, basically two new guys coming into this program, did you guys have to lean on each other at times when it came to this, or what were you expecting out of Dillon when he got there?
JEFF LEBBY: Obviously there was great familiarity, and that’s such a huge thing as you get going. The first day on the job, having a guy like Dillon to be in the room with you is special, one, because of our relationship, but two, it makes it a lot easier to be able to get everything installed and get everything taught. Of course there was great communication and he was able to streamline things inside the walls every single day, which was great.
A guy you were familiar with, Tatum, on the other side of the ball, now at Florida State, I’m sure they are just numbers on the other side of the field, but what challenges does he present at linebacker?
JEFF LEBBY: Tatum has played really well. He’ll continue to play really well. Was really, really talented. Knew that when we signed him at UCF. So there’s familiarity there, but not surprised at all by his production and the way he’s played. Knew he was a great player then, had a chance to be, and he is.
How has this offense progressed and how have you grown as a coordinator in year one?
JEFF LEBBY: We’ve progressed in a lot of ways. Being 12 games into it, we have to play better and continue to find ways to be plus one at the end of the day. That’s the biggest thing. We’ve got to do a great job taking care of the football, and we have to do a great job situationally. And that’s why we have to continue to grow and be better and give us a chance to go win every single game.
How big of an opportunity is this for Jovantae Barnes? And if Marcus Major is not one hundred percent, what are the strengths of the running backs remaining on the depth chart?
JEFF LEBBY: It’s great opportunity for Jovantae. Again, going back to what we talked about earlier, we have guys that are capable, and we’ve got guys that are going to play really well on the 29th. And look forward to those guys doing what they can to help us win.
What does it say about the kids that decided to get on the bus and come out here and play this game this week and participate in the Bowl?
JEFF LEBBY: Yeah, for us, when we got on that plane, we knew it was a great opportunity to go out and compete one more time, and that was special and unique for us. We wanted to do this together. And the guys that got on the plane, they had a couple great days of practice and had great Bowl prep and guys that are ready to go compete.
Wonder about the progress D.J. Graham has made since moving from running back to wide receiver. Is he someone that could he see time in the Bowl game at his new position?
JEFF LEBBY: Yeah, D.J. has done well. He’s continued to impress on the practice field, create an opportunity. We’ll see how the game plays out, but D.J. has done a really good job and excited about where he’s at and where he’s going.
Are you fully confident Dillon Gabriel is coming back next season, and what are your expectations?
JEFF LEBBY: Fully confident he’s going to play really well on the 29th, and then we’ll go from there.
Florida State brings pressure from different areas. Do they disguise it well or is it similar from week to week? Or how much do they change it up?
JEFF LEBBY: They have done a great job disguising, getting to some different looks situationally again, they have done a great job with that and calculated pressure from a situational standpoint. So again, they have played really well. I think they have played their best ball as of late as a football team, so we’ll have our hands full.
Oklahoma Sooners assistant coach Ted Roof
You obviously were familiar with Florida State from your days at the ACC. Does it look similar, obviously the uniforms are similar but does it look like a Florida State team that you went against before?
TED ROOF: Absolutely it does. You know, they have improved so much this year, so much from last year to this year and also during the course of the year. They are top 20 in rushing offense, leading the free world in third down conversion. Averaging almost 37 points a game, play-makers all over the place and a lot of improvement in the offensive line.
Yeah, they look like and play like when we are used to playing when we play Florida State, like you said, all the years in the ACC with Coach Bowden and Jimbo.
Jordan Travis, how much of a challenge is he?
TED ROOF: Oh, he’s a tremendous challenge. He’s a playmaker. He extends plays with his legs. Makes players miss in space, is an accurate passer and can extend plays, not only scrambling but also extend plays to throw the ball down the field. We have a lot of respect for him and he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
With how much Florida State has grown from last year to this year, is there any benefit that you and Coach Venables have looking at the film from last year?
TED ROOF: They are such a different team this year as far as how they play. It’s a much different team and just a lot of production from a lot of different areas. So we have a lot of respect for them.
The running back, Trey Benson, has emerged and had a good season. They run the ball well in general but how much is it him making plays after he gets past the line of scrimmage?
TED ROOF: It’s a combination, certainly he’s a fantastic back and he’s not the only really good back they have. They have a stable of them. They all make big plays. But their offensive line has really, really improved and so running back is not going to do that without a lot of improvement from his offensive line, good play from his line. But you know, he makes a lot of people miss, as all their backs do, not just him.
But again he makes a lot of yards after contact, a lot of yard after contact and that will be a real challenge for us.
Peyton Bowen, how unique was his flip to OU and what’s the tone of the coaching staff?
TED ROOF: Unique, very unique. Certainly our staff was extremely excited about it and happy to get it and look forward to him coming in and starting the process and becoming a college football player.
Your defense, how have you guys improved through the course of the season and into the postseason?
TED ROOF: It’s been an up and down, there’s been some ups and there’s been some downs but I’m really proud of like how our group has faced it all, handled it all and understand the adversity that we have gone through because we haven’t played like we’ve wanted to and I take the responsibility for that. That’s all on me.
Again, just this group of men, this group of players, it’s fun to go to work and coach them every day because it’s all about what’s next, how can we get better, how can we improve and the attitude and the mindset has really shown up during Bowl practice as well.
Excited about the next opportunity and thank goodness we have another opportunity to play and excited to be here and looking forward to playing.
They have seven or eight consecutive games registering over 200 yards. Is it something schematic or personnel? What is it about the Florida State running attack that seems to be standing out to you?
TED ROOF: Certainly they have a wonderful scheme and they know how to stress a defense and put people in conflict and they have a very physical offensive line that knows who they are targeting and then you have great backs. And a quarterback that can run, too. It’s all encompassing. It’s not like one thing. It’s an all-encompassing deal. Again, it’s a real challenge. That’s top in the league and they are one of the best in the country.