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Back To Boise: Pre-Bowl Press Conference

Back To Boise: Pre-Bowl Press Conference
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BOISE, Idaho -- Fifteenth-year head coach Frank Solich, senior quarterback Nathan Rourke (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) and redshirt senior safety Javon Hagan (Jacksonville, Fla.) represented the Ohio football team this afternoon at the pre-bowl press conference for the 23rd Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Ohio (6-6, 5-3 MAC) will take on Nevada (7-5, 4-4 MW) in the bowl game on Friday (Jan. 3) at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m. MT, and the contest will be nationally televised on ESPN. The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl can also be heard on the Ohio Sports Network from Learfield IMG College.
The press conference transcript, courtesy of ASAP Sports Transcripts, can be found below.

FRANK SOLICH: It's great to be here. This bowl has been a bowl that last time we were here was tremendous for our fans and for our players and coaches, their families. Got a great community here, great city. So we were glad obviously to be able to come back. Should be a great ballgame. I know Nevada is similar to us in terms of how things went for them somewhat this year. They lost some very close games, they won three out of the last four, and are playing really very, very well at this point in time.

The team that we've got is one that I've been especially pleased with. We had some high goals at the beginning of the year. Those goals -- some of those goals fell off a little bit, but you would have never known it in terms of what these guys are all about and their practice habits and how they showed up on a daily basis ready to go and wanting to make things work. So I'm very proud of this football team, and certainly these two individuals here have contributed immensely from the moment they stepped on our campus until now. So it's going to be tough to see them play their last ballgame, but I know that they'll move on and will have tremendous lives and be successful in everything that they undertake.

Q. Coach, can we just get a few words on your contract extension this week and how it feels to be back for a couple more years?
FRANK SOLICH: Yeah. It ended up being something that seemed to work very smoothly between the parties. We have a new AD, Julie Cromer, and she's been great in terms of visiting with and realizing that her direction and how she wanted to take the program basically matches my direction, and so was glad to sign an extension, and I feel really very good about it.

As long as my health is good, as long as I still love the game, as long as we're able to play at a tempo where I'm not holding guys back, then we'll just kind of take it a step at a time.

Q. You've had about a month to see everything Nevada has got to offer. What sticks out about them and what do you notice initially from the Pack?
FRANK SOLICH: Yeah, they're a physical football team, and that's what always jumps out at me when I look at opponents as to how physical are they and what type of game are we going to be in for. They're an extremely physical football team. They've got talent. They've got good speed on really both sides of the ball. You look at their receivers, they've got height. Their quarterback can throw the deep ball as well as all the intermediate to short routes, can run, can make plays in the running game or scrambling as a thrower. So they've got all the right combinations on the offensive side of it, big linemen, backs that get yards after contact.

Defensively same kind of style. We were not sure and we still aren't sure how that's going to play out with what transpired with their coaching staff on the defensive side of it, losing, I guess, three out of four guys there, and not real sure whether they'll keep the same system, new system, something in between. Everybody has got ideas, and so how that will all work will be something that we'll have to deal with as the game goes on.

And I should, I guess, probably say something about the kicking game, too, because they do have breakaway kind of threats in the kicking game as far as the return game is concerned, and when you have speed on your team, that means you have good coverage teams, if you're aggressive, which they are. It's going to be a real challenge.

Q. Nathan, given some of those question marks Nevada has defensively, what kinds of things has Ohio or yourself focused on during this bowl prep period knowing it's less than a firm scout on what you may expect?
NATHAN ROURKE: Yeah, we've been given a whole bunch of looks in practice and we're doing our best to execute against whatever they throw out at us coming into game time, and we know just like Coach said, they could be giving us a completely different defense or they could be rolling with what they did in the season.

But I think this game is going to be really important for us to be able to execute and adjust on the fly to whatever they give us.

Q. The first ever meeting for Nevada and Ohio; I wonder how the styles contrast and how you feel -- what kind of game this could end up being, Mountain West against the MAC.
FRANK SOLICH: Okay, got a lot of respect for the Mountain West in general, a lot of really good football teams in the Mountain West, and so we know we'll be faced with a ballclub that has a lot of athleticism to it. That seems to be the case. It runs through the Mountain West Conference.

We're excited about the challenge and that it should be a great football game. We pride ourselves on being somewhat of a physical football team ourselves, and I feel we are athletic, and so it'll be, I think, a really good match-up that will run its course as we play the game, obviously. But we'll see how it all turns out.

NATHAN ROURKE: Yeah, just to kind of echo what Coach said, we played a very competitive and very successful team last year in San Diego State, and the teams that we watch on film that Nevada plays are extremely competitive. They've had really good -- there's some of them that were in the top 25 or that win bowl games, and we know and we respect this conference. What Boise State in itself has accomplished speaks volumes.

We're really fortunate to be able to play such a team and a program like Nevada, but we're looking forward to representing the MAC to the best of our abilities.

Q. Coach, you kind of talked a little bit coming back here, I think it was 2011 when you were last year, you guys won that bowl game. What do you remember about that 2011 game? What was your experience like and what's it like to be coming back?
FRANK SOLICH: I remember sitting in this same spot after the game and feeling pretty good about things. A little bit wet from the drenching that the players gave me, but a lot of good feelings about how everything transpired. I think a bowl game is a mixture of what takes place in the three or four days that you're able to be at the site of a place, and all that was great for us back in those days, and so you want the same kind of feeling for the team that you bring now. You want that team to experience those same kind of feelings, and that has been the case.

I think it's all worked out extremely well for us in terms of getting another chance to come here, and we have a chance to play an excellent football team at the end of the year, and we're looking to try to get things done at a high level, as I know they are, too. But again, it should be good.

Q. Coach, last time you were here the program won their first bowl game. This year you can kind of create another milestone by winning a third straight bowl game for the first time in program history. What would that mean for you guys?
FRANK SOLICH: That would mean, I think, a lot for the program. I think it'll mean a lot for the MAC. I think you've got to go back, I don't know, maybe to the '60s or something to have another MAC school win three in a row. I could be wrong there. The '70s? Okay, so yeah, late '60s, early '70s. Yeah, so that would be a milestone for our program. It would be a milestone for our conference in that regard in showcasing it at that high of a level. So that means a great deal to us.

Q. Talk about the direction the program has gone since that first bowl win.
FRANK SOLICH: Yeah, well, you know, we were able to get some goals established early on and get them met. Been there now 15 seasons at Ohio, and they've all been great seasons to me in terms of enjoyment and being around a bunch of guys and administration that wanted the program to grow and get better. So we were able to continue to work at that at a high level.

You know, I found it not impossible to recruit really good players and good students to Ohio University, which when I first showed up there, I wasn't quite sure because our airport is -- the closest airport is in Columbus. You're talking nine or ten minutes away to get recruits to fly into there and then drive them down and all those kind of little things that in some cases seem to add up.

But in saying that, recruiting to Ohio was much easier than I thought it maybe was going to be at the beginning, and so we were able to recruit the quality of athlete we needed to get the program going. I think it was in our second year that we did play for the conference championship. We haven't won it yet, but we've been in it four or five times and have been close. So we still have goals to meet, some things to get done. But I think we have the ability to get that done and get into the top 25 and try to stay in the top 25 with some consistency.

What we're talking about is taking the program another step or two, and that's what we're after.

Q. Javon, what do you have to do defensively to follow up on the way your side of the ball ended the regular season against a Nevada club with a little bit of a different kind of offense?
JAVON HAGAN: Well, yeah, to begin with we have to communicate as a unit, focus on creating turnovers. It's been a struggle for us this year creating turnovers, becoming one of the top ball clubs in turnovers last year, to this year becoming one of the least. And like I said, we're just trying to focus on getting the offense back the ball. Anything it takes to get that ball back and just not have any mental errors or any mental breakdowns.

Q. Javon, you've played four years. This will be like game No. 52. What does it feel like knowing you're staring at the end of the road in terms of your college playing career, and how will that show up or manifest itself on Friday?
JAVON HAGAN: It's been a long road for sure. All the ups and the downs of the program, it definitely made me who I am today, and I'm looking forward to closing out the season with a win. Like Coach said, we've been inconsistent as far as making bowl games, so just looking forward to bringing a win back to the program.

Q. Javon and Nathan, obviously we've talked throughout this week that tomorrow you're going to wake up and you're going to prepare and get on that field for your last game as a Bobcat. What's going through your mind in your final hours as a Bobcat, and for Coach Solich, what about these two seniors makes them so special?
JAVON HAGAN: It's about just finishing strong, closing out. It's been a terrific season, despite the record and the losses that we had, we had a lot of tough losses, a lot of close losses, but we're the type of ballclub that always looks forward and leaves the past in the past. So I'm looking forward to finishing off strong with my brothers for sure, man.

NATHAN ROURKE: Yeah, I think Javon and I have been a part of such a great program for such a long time and a great coaching staff and a great community in Athens, and I would -- nothing would be more awesome to me than to be able to finish it out with a bowl win. Obviously we did not accomplish our goals. We did not accomplish our goals while we were here, but this is, I think, as close as it would get, to be able to have a little bit of a milestone for our class.

FRANK SOLICH: And I guess my end of the question that you had was concerning these two guys and what they've meant to the program and to myself personally. They've meant the world to me. They've been guys that have come in and had great ability from the start but were tremendous leaders. They just weren't guys that kind of drifted through their career. They came out to work every day. You talk about guys that watch film and do the little things that are going to make you a better football player or not, and these guys touch all those bases.

The fact that they're able to communicate with the rest of our team the way they have been as leaders has made all the difference in the world as to the type of football team that we have.

Q. Kind of a fun question for the players, but what's it like for you guys practicing on that blue field? That's been a field that's kind of famous, but has it been a field you've wanted to play in and what's it like?
NATHAN ROURKE: Well, we haven't got the chance to practice on it yet.

Q. But what's the opportunity like to get to play on that field?
NATHAN ROURKE: We're looking forward to it. We're hoping that they don't wear navy blue. But I mean, if they do, it is what it is. But obviously Boise State, we all know about it, and if you follow college football you know the things they've been able to do as representing the Group of Five, and it's a very beautiful stadium, very beautiful state and we've been able to explore it a little bit. It's been cool to be down here and I think it's unique to be able to play on a field like this.

JAVON HAGAN: I play games a lot, so growing up playing NCAA Football, as a little kid I would literally play at this stadium. It's just weird to be actually on the stadium. I'd always set up games where it was like I would play as Florida and I would pick Boise State just because of the colors. And do like franchise and fun stuff like that. It's definitely -- like I said, it's definitely weird to actually be here, but it's also a blessing, as well, because you grow up seeing this field all the time. You see the other teams try to turn their field into the same thing, have the same type of style. It's definitely crazy to see that we're actually here.

Q. For the players, do you guys feel like you have some more momentum heading into this game since you did have to win your last two games to be bowl eligible?
NATHAN ROURKE: Versus last season -- I forget what we were doing last season. I'm so focused on this game and everything.

JAVON HAGAN: I wouldn't necessarily say momentum just because our last win was like a long time ago. We're just focused on -- I really wouldn't say momentum, but we're definitely confident for sure, confident and positive. We have a lot of fans with us that will support us and watch us play and hope to bring a win back to Ohio. So we're definitely confident. I would say confident.

NATHAN ROURKE: Even in the losses we had this year, we walked out of them saying, we were only a couple plays away from winning that game, and that's what's been awesome about this group is that even in the times that we lose and the times that we have setbacks, we were able to take a lot of positives from it, and then the things that we did mess up, we were able to learn from those mistakes very quickly. We have a young group, especially on offense, and I think those guys have taken tremendous steps forward, and unfortunately have had to come through some losses and had to come through some negatives.

I think that we've been able to make it show up a little bit on the scoreboard, but I think that we've been progressively getting better the entire season, as the entire season progresses. So I'm looking forward to hopefully seeing that culminate tomorrow.

FRANK SOLICH: I think that all three units played its best football right at the end of the year. The offense scoring a ton of points, having over 650 yards the last two ball games, and putting a ton of points on the board. The defense shutting people down, especially in the last two games, where I think things started to come together.

If you -- you may know that our defensive coordinator retired and followed his son at LSU, the Burrow family, so we have got a new coordinator, Ron Collins, a very bright coach. I think has done a great, great job. But always when you have that, you have a little bit of adjustment early on, and it takes a little bit of work to get it all tied together right. Our offensive linemen if you look at those guys, they've had a new coach the last three years in a row, and if there's one spot you don't want to have that happen, it's in the offensive line, but Coach Albin and his staff have done such a great job of overcoming that. So there were some things built in early on, and we have a lot of young athletes on our football team that are very talented and getting a lot of playing time from day one, and so you build all that in there together, and at times you're probably not hitting on all cylinders. But at the end of the year, I felt that that was the case that we were.

Hopefully we can, as mentioned, just carry that momentum into this next game.

Q. Coach, I asked the players, but what was your first experience like on the blue turf? Did it take some adjusting to, and are you excited to be coaching back on the blue again?
FRANK SOLICH: Yeah, you know, I'm like everybody else. I knew about it prior to getting here, and so was really kind of anxious to see it firsthand and to get a chance to have our guys play on it. But you know, once you see it, once you line up and the kickoff comes, then you're just playing football, and so it doesn't really come into play in my estimation. There is some talk about blue uniforms on the blue turf, and maybe there's something to that. I really don't know. I didn't see it in our game here the last time. I hope I don't see it in our game here this time. But I do know I don't care what color of uniforms your team lines up, if you line up with the right guys, you're going to have yourself a great chance.


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