An interview with:
KANSAS STATE DEFENSE
THE MODERATOR: It’s my pleasure to introduce Kansas State defensive coordinator Tom Hayes.
COACH HAYES: Thank you. Obviously we’re pleased to be here. We’re excited to be a part of the Alamo Bowl, the great committee hospitality they’ve shown us.
We got here in a hurry and we’ve been busy on the field, as you guys know. We’re excited to play. Our guys are ready to play.
You prepare a long time for a bowl game. Every team in the country does. But we are excited to be a part of this.
I want to introduce the players that we have here today, guys that have put in all the work and helped us get where we are on our defensive side of the ball.
First, Randall Evans. He has a tough job. Out there on an island a lot of times during the game. Started for three years at Kansas State.
Weston Hiebert, a special teams player, tremendous teammate, great leadership skills. All these guys have that going for them. That’s why they’re here sitting at this table.
Next is Ryan Mueller, defensive end, literally the hardest playing player I think I’ve ever been around. I admire him so much for that. There’s times when he plays his own defense once in a while, so I get on his case. Like to mess with him. He is an outstanding player. Been great for Kansas State.
Jonathan Truman, inside linebacker. We asked him to play Will, then Mike. He does a lot of things for us. He’s an outstanding player, as well. Our leader, making calls up front.
Then at the end is Dante Barnett, our free safety. He makes a lot of calls, gets us in the right defense, right checks. Has a lot of responsibility of making every call every game. Really fun to work with him because he does a nice job.
That’s the group. We’re here to help you any way we can.
THE MODERATOR: Joining Coach Hayes is special teams coordinator Coach Snyder. We’ll take questions.
Q. Tom, can you talk about UCLA’s offense, the things you’ve seen in the Big 12 over the course of this year are all seen in that offense and how that’s helped you prepare?
COACH HAYES: Clearly UCLA is an outstanding opponent, a heck of a team. They do a lot of the same things that members of the Big 12 do on offense, averaging 470 total a game, 200 rush, 270 pass. They try to be balanced. They work at being balanced, as all good teams do. That presents problems for us on defense because you can’t just gang up on one thing.
They have an outstanding quarterback who is completing 70% of his passes. That’s a high number in modern day football. They throw it down the field, short, make you run all over the field and tackle in space. They spread you out a good bit.
They have the ability to bring them all in in short yardage or goal line situations and do what everybody traditionally does, power the football as well.
They have a big offensive line that’s talented, young, gaining great experience for them this past season. They’re a really good offensive team, a good machine. It’s going to be a real challenge for us.
Q. Tom, who is going to start opposite Dante at safety tomorrow or in the game?
COACH HAYES: We’re going to start Nate Jackson in there. He’s been a backup nickel, backup corner. Now he’s playing safety. The good thing about Nate is he’s a mature player, a player that learns quickly. He’s had to because we’ve had two injuries at that position during the course of the year, so we’re down a few.
You know as well as I do, that this is the next man up business that we’re in. The next guy that’s ready to play happens to be Nate in this case. He’ll do a good job. He’s a guy that’s detailed in his assignments and will be a good partner alongside Dante.
Q. Tom, you’ve been in this rodeo before with others. How taxing has that become? I know it’s next man up, but just in the gelling part of everything, getting everything going in the back end with a new face?
COACH HAYES: It’s a challenge because there’s a lot to do. You have no margin for error. If Ryan’s group and the defensive line, if they make a mistake, the linebackers cover them. If the linebackers make a mistake, we’ll take care of it. The only guy back there in the secondary watching them is me.
It’s not easy, but it’s something that you have to understand going in. It’s one that I make certainly to the whole defensive teams, and our coaches do a great job of this as well. That is a backup football can’t settle for being a backup. He needs to be trying every day in the meeting room, on the field, in the weight room trying to become a starter. So when your number gets called, you get it done. To me that’s important.
That’s why it can work. Nobody likes injuries, but they happen. Dante is down at the end of the table. Ty Zimmerman went down, long time starter, the first game, he plays against Baylor two, three years ago. He had to go in there, he made 14 unassisted tackles in the game. Now, he had a couple of mess ups, too, as he’ll tell you. Again, inexperience. But he played and he’s played well since then.
Q. Randall, you’ve been in this position playing several different positions. Talk about Nate and what he’ll bring to the secondary.
RANDALL EVANS: Yes. Like coach say, Nate is our utility back. That’s what they call me. When you look at Nate, he is a guy who can play cornerback, nickel back, and now he’s playing safety.
That’s my roommate right now. I talk to him all the time. I told him, It’s an advantage for you. Once you know all the positions, you know where everybody is at in coverages. When he is a safety, he knows where the nickel and safety is supposed to be.
Q. You coached at UCLA. It’s been a little while back. Could you relate your experiences from that time, how much different it was to counter offenses in those days?
COACH HAYES: Well, it was different in many way. One thing is I had a lot more hair and it was dark (laughter).
Back in the ’80s, I spent a decade there with Terry Donahue, a tremendous football coach, tremendous opportunity he gave me to become the secondary coach in 1980. I was 31 years old. I spent a decade with that team. We were very successful.
We kind of were I think the champs of the PAC 10 at that time. We went to three straight Rose Bowls and won them all, won seven bowl games in a row, set a national record until Florida State beat it in the ’90s.
It’s about good coaches, good players, guys working together. Terry got that done and orchestrated. We had a great staff, stayed together the entire time. I have great memories, great family memories, of UCLA.
Q. Coach Snyder, does the competitiveness of this game mean you might try to be more aggressive on special teams?
COACH SNYDER: I think both teams look for that advantage they can find. As Coach Hayes was saying, when you have a lot of time to prepare, there’s a lot of things you can look for, try to take advantage of.
As we will, they will as well. It will be interesting what pops up out there.
Q. Tom, UCLA ranked number two nationally entering this game red zone offense. How daunting is that in the face of knowing what kind of offenses you have faced in the pair of Big 12 defeats? How do you guard against that?
COACH HAYES: The first thing you notice is they’re well coached in every phase, but they’re certainly determined when they hit the red zone. I don’t know an offense that isn’t successful that way. They’re all that way. If they’re making touchdowns instead of field goals, we’re having a long day on defense.
Our mantra is people moving to that area. We’re ranked fairly high in the country and in the conference. I think our players do an excellent job down there.
It’s going to be a good matchup because, again, our guys are working to keep them to field goals when they hit that spot, and they’re working to make touchdowns. Again, the battle is on.
That’s what you have to work on on defense, keep them out of their end. At least you don’t give them the touch, you give them the field goal.
Certainly it will be the same in this game.
Q. Coach Hayes and Ryan Mueller, UCLA has given up a large number of sacks. When you see those stats, does that make you more aggressive or stick with the same approach as you’ve had?
COACH HAYES: It’s interesting, people ask me about my approach. I’ll let Ryan talk about this, too. Each week we look at the opponent by strategies, but we also look at them by personnel. If there’s matchups we can find where you can get an extra advantage in rushing the passer, we try to find it. Every defensive team does that.
But the most important thing is that UCLA is probably not happy with that sack number. But they make a lot of good plays throwing the football, too. Whatever their number is, 36 sacks for the year, like I said, they’re probably not happy with that number, but they still make enough plays down the field to make up for those sacks.
What we have to do is make sure we make him uncomfortable. You can’t always count on sacks, but as we tell our rush guys, we’re trying to get after the quarterback and affect him, get in his face, cause a bad throw, give us a chance to pick a ball or whatever.
Ryan, you got it.
RYAN MUELLER: Coach Hayes pretty much said it all. We have to affect the quarterback. That statistic is certainly eye popping. Again, probably something UCLA is not proud of. It’s something we need to take advantage of and do everything in our power to get to the quarterback, get after him, either knock down his passes, tip balls, get those sacks, tackles for loss.
He’s an athletic quarterback. He can move around in the pocket. That’s something we’ve had trouble with. But next Friday presents an opportunity for us to capitalize and come away with a victory.
Q. Ryan, the zone read, UCLA runs a lot of that, you’ve seen a lot of that this season, starting with Auburn. What are the things you look for both in your individual jobs there on the zone read and how difficult is that to handle?
RYAN MUELLER: It’s not something that’s too difficult to handle. All the practices, we’ve worked on that. It’s trusting your fundamentals and taking your practice reps and applying them to the game reps, keeping an eye on the mesh. What I mean by that is when the quarterback is getting ready to put the ball in the runningback’s lap, whether he pulls it or not, that’s the mesh point. Just keeping on eye on that and don’t blink because you might miss.
JONATHAN TRUMAN: I mean, Ryan covered a lot of it. I piggyback off of what he said.
As a defense, we all work together as one unit. Obviously as a linebacker, I have different responsibilities than Ryan does. If the quarterback wants to pull it, that’s more Ryan’s deal. Who wants to give it to the runningback, that’s my deal. I have to make the right read, get in the gap, make my play if it comes to me.
Q. Jonathan, tell us about your journey from walk on to today.
JONATHAN TRUMAN: I get that question a lot from a lot of media all the time. Walk ons can attest to that.
It’s been a great ride. I’m just extremely honored to be on this team. To have come this far with my teammates, with my brothers, it’s been an amazing time. We just need to finish strong.
Q. You have four guys up here that are former walk ons, which is remarkable. What has that meant for your program, your dad’s program at Kansas State?
COACH SNYDER: In our walk on program, we’re going after guys, recruiting, whether they come in on a scholarship or whether they come in as a walk on. We’re recruiting those guys to be players.
Some schools don’t take that approach. They take the approach of we got some guys out here that can fill a scout squad. Our approach is more recruiting guys that can come in and be players.
Eventually if all goes well, they get rewarded with a scholarship and can continue to be successful.
That’s our approach to it. It’s kind of the heart and soul of the program. It’s what we built off of.
Q. Dante, do you have a memory about you and Tyler growing up?
DANTE BARNETT: I would say the first year we ever played football together, he invited the whole football team to his birthday party and he didn’t invite me (laughter). I was upset about that for about a year and a half.
Q. Randall, talk about what you think is going to be in your mind as you run through the tunnel on Friday night.
RANDALL EVANS: A lot of emotions running through my mind. Last game to be in this purple. It’s been a great journey. Never thought that last game would come to an end. But it’s coming to an end.
It’s going to be remarkable. We just want to finish strong and start fresh for the 2015 program. Talking about it with a couple other players, our first game, we played UCLA. Now we’re finishing our last game playing UCLA. I think that’s something real special just to finish the season out with.
Q. Coach Hayes, how would you define the personality of this defense?
COACH HAYES: The best term I would use is ‘hard working.’ They go a hundred miles an hour every day in practice. Do I have to get after them a little bit every once in a while to remind them to do that? Yeah. But that’s my job. I don’t have to do it very much.
This has been a really good group, led by a bunch of great seniors right down this row. As I’ve told them many times in team meetings, the team is going to go as they go. We coach the players, that’s a given. But every good team I’ve ever been on at anyplace I’ve been has been always driven by the ownership of the players. They take ownership of what they do. When they do that, I think you got a chance to be successful. These guys have done a great job of that.
Q. Dante, being the underclass guy here, what would it mean for you to be able to go out with 10 wins? Before Christmas, you talked about last year’s bowl win catapulted you.
DANTE BARNETT: Last year, that bowl game set the foundation to winning bowl games into the future. Going into this season, we wanted to have another big season, build on our season from last year. Getting a 10 win season has been our goal, or even better.
We want to finish the season with a win this year so next year we can go into the next season prepared to have a better season next year.
Q. Ryan, Coach Hayes alluded to the fact that you sometimes play your own defense. Do you agree with that? If so, whose defense are you playing?
RYAN MUELLER: I think I have to agree with that if I want to be able to play on Friday (laughter).
You know, sometimes when you’re going a hundred miles an hour, you’re not always going to play perfect. You might make some mistakes along the way. I’ve always been told that if you play the game as hard as you possibly can, good things are going to happen.
I can’t say the same thing for golf. If you hit the ball as hard as you can, you don’t know where it’s always going to go. But with football, sometimes it happens.
Q. Weston, talk about the special teams unit that leads the nation.
WESTON HIEBERT: It was a niche I found when I came in as a walk on. The coaches gave me an opportunity to get out there. I take a lot of pride in it because that’s my time when I’m out there. There’s a lot of guys on the team that do the same thing.
Jonathan started out playing on special teams. I think it’s a good way to get guys invested in a team, shows they can make an impact regardless of their time on the field.
Q. Ryan, tomorrow we’ll have the opportunity to talk to Jake Waters your quarterback. How long has it seemed since the days in Dallas? What has the journey been like witnessing what Jake has been able to do?
RYAN MUELLER: Well, I certainly saw the work ethic was there to be a great player from the moment Jake came onto the team and participated in workouts.
I kind of talked about this in our senior speeches, a lot of guys got up and spoke the night before Baylor. That was one of the things I said to the entire team, but directly pointing out to Jake, how much I admired his work ethic from the moment he got here.
When I’d be conditioning and working, I’d look across the field and I would see Jake competing. I always saw him finishing through that line first. That gave me confidence that our quarterback wants the number one spot, wants to be a leader.
For him to have that work ethic while nobody is watching him, Jake wasn’t aware I was looking over there counting on him to push himself. Every guy up here would say the same thing about Jake, he just works extremely hard. To see him thrive in the last two seasons that he’s had, we expected Jake to do that just because he works so hard.
Then this season and last season, he was able to show off his talents, get noticed for it. But certainly it’s something we all saw coming.
Q. For any of the defensive players. Oftentimes you guys are referred to as overachievers. Is there any kind of misconception to that label or something you embrace?
RYAN MUELLER: I think every guy at this table works extremely hard. To look at it that guys up here don’t have any talent would be absurd.
College football presents an opportunity to you to where if you take coaching, you believe in yourself, you apply everything you learned from your coaches and apply them out onto the field, anybody can be a good football player.
Yes, you have to have some athletic ability, which every guy at this table does possess. But at this level, you can be a successful player just by out working people.
That’s what everybody at this table does.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.