It’s always tough coming back after a loss. I think we can see this team getting closer, fighting the entire game, and those are improvements we are going to hang our hat on at this point. This team has two games left on the schedule, and both are winnable games (Baylor moreso now with Russell out after his gruesome injury).
Up first is a bevy of injury updates. Some better than others.
Justin Murphy – retiring from football. Kingsbury wouldn’t call it a medical retirement, but pointed to him making this decision after this last injury.
Justin Stockton – likely out this week. Suffered some kind of chest or shoulder injury.
Jordyn Brooks and DaLeon Ward – will come back to practice mid-week and will be evaluated throughout the week.
DeMarcus Felton – was going to be evaluated Monday after he got out and ran some. Looked like an ankle sprain, but Kingsbury wouldn’t comment on the severity.
With Murphy out, Coach Hays has been tinkering with the lineup and subbed in Bailey Smith for Madison Akamnonu at RG for most of the game.
Q. How did you think Bailey Smith did on Saturday?
KLIFF KINGSBURY: I thought he fought, wasn’t perfect by any stretch. Got in there had good energy. Chased the ball down the field. Had a lot more life than some of the guys we’ve been rotating through there.
Q. Seems like whenever you replaced Madison with him that (indiscernible) the rest of the game. You think that?
KLIFF KINGSBURY: I think we just started slow. I don’t think it was anybody’s fault specifically. And when he got in there, like I said, he had good juice. He was running around, flying around. Wasn’t always going to the right spot. But made up for some of that with his hustle. So it’s a credit to him for being ready and not blinking when he was asked to go into the game.
And with all the injuries at running back, Kingsbury was asked about how they would go forward if those injured can’t go. He didn’t really have an answer, but said they’d have to get creative. You’ve got Quinton White, Mason Reed, Caleb Woodward, and Tyler Scalzi left on the roster in the RB/FB positions. You really need some of these guys to heal and make it back. If not, you’re looking at some RBs getting carries that you would never imagined taking the load of the carries.
Q. Was it encouraging on Saturday that OSU switched up a lot of weapons and went to a three-man front and tried to copy what it was the last couple of weeks, and you guys moved the ball the rest of the day. Did you think that was more encouraging, do you think?
KLIFF KINGSBURY: I felt like the week before we had some spurts against Texas, but we’re not getting the mileage you should have out of the run game. When they’re dropping everybody out of there, you can’t get stoned for a yard when you’re handing it off. And that’s consistently happening. So we still have to do a better job.
But I thought nobody got frustrated. We went three and out the first three drives which I don’t think I’ve ever done as a play caller since I’ve been calling plays. And nobody freaked out. Everybody hung in there and got it figured out and kept battling the rest of the day.
Q. How big of a difference was it when you put in Felton —
KLIFF KINGSBURY: Yeah, he did a good job. He found it. He was hitting it. We just moved the ball better. I don’t know if we were blocking better or not. But we were definitely more productive once he got in the game.
Q. How did he handle it when he went from being a starter (indiscernible) carries to before Saturday he had only gotten one carry the last three weeks?
KLIFF KINGSBURY: He’s competitive. He continued to work hard on special teams and knew his role. But he wanted to know what he could do, consistently would ask what can I do to get my job back.
It’s a credit to him. He hung in there, kept working hard and when we asked him to come back in he was ready.
Q. Beyond the end of this season, what does that mean for the running back position once you get to spring?
KLIFF KINGSBURY: We’ll see. We’re going to cross that bridge when we get there. We’re trying to find a guy to hand off to really this next week and go from there.
But we’ll see what bodies we have. If there’s a mid-year player coming in, we’ll kind of evaluate that after the season’s over.
He’s asked about Mahomes getting more involved in running, and Kingsbury said he would call more runs for Mahomes if it came to that, but that’s not the plan as of now. You really don’t want to get Mahomes hurt, especially with the depth issues at RB, and leave Shimonek in there without the hope of being able to run the ball.
He’s asked about the stark drop off in penalties that we’ve all noticed (and enjoyed, really).
Q. There’s been a drastic improvement in penalties. How (indiscernible) you’re able to turn it around?
KLIFF KINGSBURY: Just focus. We try to emphasize it, and rock bottom was that Virginia game. And since then it’s basically been if you’re going to commit any penalties you’re not going to play, and really regardless of who you are, and I guess that’s helped.
I think we’ve all thought maybe implementing some kind of punishment for committing penalties might help, and we’re now seeing that play out.
When we talk about Kingsbury being 1-21 as a head coach when trailing at halftime, that lone win came against Iowa State in 2014 where Mahomes really turned a corner.
Q. Couple of years ago in Ames this was one of Mahomes’ first home games at Tech starting and I heard you talk about that being the turning point game for him where you guys came back after trailing at halftime. You say that was still kind of the turning point game for him?
KLIFF KINGSBURY: No question. That’s still my favorite start he’s had just simply because we were out of bowl contention. Easily — got down, I think, late in the third could have easily packed it in. It was cold. Tough atmosphere and he kept fighting and brought us back and found a way to win that game. That just told me a lot about him and his competitive spirit early on.
I remember that game where Mahomes was consistent, hitting the big plays when he could and taking the underneath stuff when everything else was taken. Also, this was the Kenny Williams roundhouse kick game.
Snow in Ames this weekend? Let’s get weird, people.
Q. Mentioned the cold weather two years ago. It’s supposed to be cold again and possible snow. How do you prepare for that here in West Texas?
KLIFF KINGSBURY: You just deal with it. I mean we haven’t got very cold weather yet. So most of the players understand what it is. And go out there and it’s football weather and go after it.
Of all the talk (admittedly from me) about possible changes to the coaching staff, Stice is asked about the defense turning a corner. I think Gibbs is starting (maybe, hopefully) to see some progress made while still giving up 600,000,000 yards per game.
Q. Luke, has the defense turned a corner?
LUKE STICE: I’ve definitely seen progress from week to week throughout the season. At this point in the season we need to be playing at a high level. So I’m definitely pleased with our performance. And throughout the rest of the stretch we’ve got to find a way to keep competing at that high level.
Towards the end of Kingsbury’s portion, he’s asked about the defensive mindset there at the end of the game against OSU, and he did indeed confirm they were trying to let OSU score (after they failed to keep them from getting the first down) to let their offense get the ball back on last time. Stice is asked about how that reads to the defense.
Q. Kliff told us at the end of the game, he told the defense to let them score. Is that weird hearing that from the defensive side of the ball, letting another team score?
LUKE STICE: Right. I mean, at the end of the day you’ve gotta do what coach asks you to do. So that’s the first time I’ve been put in that situation. But whatever’s best for the team, that’s what he thought was best at that point. And that’s what we tried to do.
That’s an interesting point of view, to ask how a defensive player feels when the head coach is telling them to let the opposing team score. But Stice is right, the best chance for this team to have won the game on Saturday was to get the offense back on the field and when OSU got down near the goal line with the time running out, the most efficient way to accomplish that was to let them score. OSU picked up on that, obviously, and killed the clock.
Mahomes is asked about the adjustment to the 3 man rush, and I think this has to be the plan going forward until the opposing defenses are getting burned enough to stop dropping 8. It’s going to be tough if Tech is without all those RBs, though.
Q. With what the defense has been doing the last few weeks, seems like you guys figured out in the second quarter the other day moving forward, definitely the second half. What do you think was the difference? Is it just seeing it so much, getting used to what to do against that?
PATRICK MAHOMES, II: Yeah, we had a better game plan, I feel like. Going into it Coach Kingsbury told me to take the little ones quick and don’t try to make — scramble around, because they have eight guys back, there not a lot of stuff is going to get open. So just take those unders, take those stops, and it worked out well.
Q. How much pressure do you deal on yourself to kind of be that other running back since you guys are so thin at that position right now?
PATRICK MAHOMES, II: I mean, we had — all season I felt like I’ve ran the ball well when I did run it. A lot of the yards I take — negative plays take away from that. But I mean all year long I’ve been able to run the ball a little bit. But I trust in those running backs. They came in, they’ve been stepping up, they’ve been getting better every week. So I’ll just keep trusting them.
Mahomes is asked about the offensive line and how he’s handling the constant changing.
Q. With all the changes you’ve had in the offensive line, especially with Murphy leaving, how hard is it to get the trust of those guys coming in for what could be the first time this year?
PATRICK MAHOMES, II: This last game we didn’t have Murphy. And, I mean, Murphy’s a great guy, a great leader and I hated for him that he had to be gone. But those young guys have stepped up and they’re playing. And I’m just going to trust in them, try to get the ball out fast, try to help them out a little bit. And at the same time they played their best game probably this last week and so hopefully it just carries on.
An interesting note that I missed while watching the game, is that Mahomes played the majority of the game without his knee brace on Saturday. Apparently he’s been asking the training staff if he could take it off, and they wanted him to keep it on, but it got loose during the game and was getting uncomfortable, so they took it off.
Q. There’s still lingering effects of that knee, that it’s kind of carried on throughout the offseason and into this year?
PATRICK MAHOMES, II: I think I kind of tweaked it one time at the beginning of the spring. But since then nothing’s happened to it. And I worked out all summer without the knee brace, did all the cuts and all the stuff. It was just a confidence thing. And I feel like now I’m pretty confident in it.
Finally, we all know that a loss in either of these two last games seals the season without going to a bowl game, something that Tech has down twice so far over the last 5 seasons (will be 3 over the last 5 with a loss). Mahomes is asked about how that pressure is being felt by the team, if at all.
Q. Is it going to be hard not to press because you know you need to win these two games?
PATRICK MAHOMES, II: Yes, definitely. I mean, you want to get to a bowl game. You don’t want these two weeks to be your last two weeks of the season. I mean, we went through a lot together on this team. Great brotherhood. And, I mean, we all love each other.
So we’re really going to go out there and just try to play our game. But we’re going to leave it all out on the field, try to win two football games against two great teams and get to a bowl game.