Boilermaker Coach and Players Talk About Bowl Game

Press Conference

Q. Now you know where you’re going. Just, I guess, how you guys feel about it, and the opponent and the game and all that.
KIRK BARRON: I think we’re all pretty happy. Arizona is a quality opponent. They are playing in the Pac 12. Good offense. It’s going to be a fun game. I think for us, we’re really just trying to get over that hump of 6-6 and still have a winning season.

DANNY EZECHUKWU: I’m excited. I’ve never been to California before. Going out there will be real cool. I’m looking forward to playing a quality opponent. They have a top-tier offense, and I know coach is probably biting at the bit to get out there and show what we can do. We’re excited.

GELEN ROBINSON: Yeah, I would agree that it’s been a while since Purdue has gone to a Bowl, and since we’ve been here as seniors, we haven’t gone to a Bowl. It’s more than excitement on the team, and we’re just looking to make this a season — and build off of it.

GREGORY PHILLIPS: It’s like all my teammates said. It’s another opportunity to play football again and we just want to finish strong and do everything that we can to change the program for next year.

Q. Danny, since you’re a senior, you came up with the bucket win. That was an emotional win. What would it mean now to win your careers with a winning record and a Bowl victory in addition to everything you’ve accomplished this year in?
DANNY EZECHUKWU: That would be pretty cool. You know, you always want to win the last one, and you know, we was saying before the bucket game was going to be the last one, so you always want to go out there and end with a bang and play hard for the guy next to you and for the name on the front of the jersey. So it would mean everything to us to go out there and win bring a Bowl Championship back here to Purdue University.

Q. For Gelen, when the new coaching staff got here, was it minutes, hours, days, that the defense bought into what Nick Holt was selling and telling you?
GELEN ROBINSON: Well, it’s hard to say when we exactly started to buy into the whole process. But ever since Coach Holt has been here, I think that not only have we given him a great response, but he’s done a great job of making sure that he gave us his very all, from the beginning.

He told us — he met with our seniors, I guess me and Danny on the defense, the defensive seniors, and told us that his goal this year is to give us a winning season because that’s what in his mind, that’s what we deserved as seniors. You know, coming from a program, in his eyes that hadn’t seen a winning season in however many years.

So that, you know, strengthened the bond between not only the seniors, the whole defense. He got us to play as hard as any coach could ever have gotten us to play for him.

Q. For Danny, kind of a similar question. But when you heard or knew that he was going to be your defensive coordinator, did you Google him and try to find out his history and where he had worked his defensive magic before?
DANNY EZECHUKWU: I did not. When I first heard about or from Coach Holt, I was at home and I got a call from a Washington number. I answered it and it was him. I had no idea who he was, and we met the following day.

As I’ve gotten coached by him, because I’ve been fortunate enough to be actually in his room, I’ve learned about the calibre of players that he’s coached and the guys he’s seen come you through the ranks.

The more I’ve been around him, the more I’ve learned, and the more I guess I’ve absorbed the greatness that he’s been around.

Q. Hey Kirk, one thing that Coach Brohm talked about was harder, tougher, smarter, those kind of things. They sound like things. When did they become more than that to you guys, where you actually saw that they mattered on a week-to-week basis?
KIRK BARRON: I think it definitely kind of started during camp, and we would, you know, might have been able to practice in the indoor and he wanted us to practice outside because it was hot maybe a little bit more often than usual.

We just kind of started, you know, preaching those core values over and over again and just kind of started clicking. Yeah, that’s about it. Just kind of came to us I guess.

Q. Greg, I know when we talked in the summer, you had said you saw something then, just about the way you guys were approaching everything and then I know, I think earlier in the year, you said even in practice, you just prepare the way that you expect to go out there to win. Can you maybe just elaborate on those changes and what are the differences that you saw day-to-day and in practice that helped you guys do this?
GREGORY PHILLIPS: I mean, the greatest thing that I saw was guys that wanted to win and more effort and more preparedness. When I say prepared, I’m saying like more people are trying to watch film. More people are doing the extra things that are going to get them ready for the game.

The preparation was just amazing. And when we do things, it’s more of a purpose. And not saying when we did things before it wasn’t more of a purpose, but it was more detailed now than it was before.

Q. Kirk, the last stretch of the season, you guys, Jeff Brohm kept saying your backs are against the wall and you had to fight your way to get to this point. How do you maintain that level, that same attitude now, that you’ve kind of accomplished something as you prepare for this next game?
KIRK BARRON: Like I said earlier, our backs are still against the wall, like a Game 7 mentality. We’re sitting at 6-6 right now and we want to actually have a winning season. I think that’s kind of everyone’s mentality; that we really want to get this last one for the seniors and be able to come out with a winning record.

Q. For the two defensive guys, maybe Danny first and then Gelen. Just with the way you guys have played defensively this year, are you excited about the idea of playing against a high-powered offense? Do you think that’s a good challenge for this group in its last game with what all you guys have done to improve this year?
DANNY EZECHUKWU: Absolutely. You know, it’s a challenge and that’s what we’ve been taking on game-in and game-out each week. You know, the bar is set high and it’s not something that we’re going to run from. We know what they are capable of.

We’ve seen a couple of games — I know speaking for myself, I’ve seen a couple of games here and there on TV of what they can do. We’re excited. We’re going to study and we’re going to come prepared like we’ve always been and beer going to go out there and execute.

GELEN ROBINSON: I agree. I know we’ve all seen what they can do on offense and obviously they have great players on offense and great coaching behind them.

But it’s another opportunity and it’s one that we’re willing to take on as a defense as something that we normally wouldn’t have — a team that we normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to play. It’s going to be an incredible experience for us as a defense and as a team.

Q. I asked Coach Brohm this, as well. Where did you find the resiliency or the attitude, or whatever you want to call it to finish this year, when you had not been a team that’s been able to finish. What changed in that whole thing? And somebody else can answer this if they want to, but Danny, if you could take that first.
DANNY EZECHUKWU: I really think it came from the coaching staff, honestly.

It may be like we’re playing tense (ph) I don’t know what Coach Brohm said, if it was about us or not. But I think we really fed off the coaching staff and guys who are leaders in our room. Greg said up there — I think it was Kirk or Greg said, it started in camp. I go all the way back to spring.

You know, when they got here, we were going through spring practices in the weight room and with Coach Lovett, Coach Reno and Coach Love and all those guys. Things were different. Everything had a purpose and we knew why we were doing a lot of stuff.

You know, I feel like we just dug from back there, when we was training in the spring and then the summer workouts and then the fall camp. I think that’s where the resiliency came from because the staff came in and implemented that.

Q. Greg, Jeff mentioned the positivity, he tried to stay positive. Even as you lost three games in a row or whatever, that really tough stretch, what does that look like for you guys? Did he come in Sunday with a different attitude or what was positive? What does had a mean?
GREGORY PHILLIPS: When you say positive and from his standpoint positive, he means keep our heads up and go back to work and have some grit about everything that you do.

So with us losing those three games back-to-back, it just told us, look, we need to go ahead and prepare even more. We need to go ahead and work even harder. We need to go ahead and be more detailed on everything we do.

As far as with the offense, we — for the receivers, the standpoint, be detailed in every route that we run. Get the minor route, the depth; if it’s a 12-yard route, then run the 12-yard route. So I mean, it’s just we had to have some more grit about ourselves and go get what we wanted.

Q. This may seem an obvious question, but why does this Bowl matter? You’re getting extra practices, going to California. Is that it, that you have extra now, or why does this matter?
GELEN ROBINSON: Besides the fact that we get an opportunity to practice more and you know, we talk a lot and we say a lot, it’s for the seniors and for the team.

You know, it is a little bit more than that because we haven’t been in this situation in so many years. It’s more for, you know, the Purdue family in general. Not only for just the team, our team, our family, but we’ve got our fans.

I have never seen — I’ve never, you know, in my four years — over the years I’ve been here, seen just our fans, our students, as excited for this program as they are now.

I’ve never had so many people, you know, come up to me and congratulate us, and it’s just an amazing feeling. We do it for ourselves, but we mostly do it for the Purdue family in general because they are the reason that we’re out there and have such great support.

After the game, seeing them rush the field, that’s when you really get to see who is really there for you and see how much they really do love watching us play at a high level like we’ve played this year.

Press Conference

JEFF BROHM: Well, we’re definitely excited to be accepted to the Foster Farms Bowl. I know it’s something our players and our staff have worked extremely hard for.

I’m looking forward for the opportunity to go out west and play a great opponent in Arizona, and I know our players will have a great month of practice. We’ll get a lot out of these practices. It will be very useful for us and hopefully go out there and play a very competitive and entertaining game and try to find a way to win.

But I’m very happy for our seniors, especially, because of all the hard work they have put in. I know they will be excited to go out there and try to finish the season the right way.

Q. You’ve coached a number of Bowl games. Do you feel that experience will help you in this one, and what’s different about coaching a Bowl game than just a regular-season game?
JEFF BROHM: Well, I think Bowl games are a lot of fun to play in, and without question, you know, it’s a testament to the hard work that your team has put in. Our guys will be excited about this opportunity. It’s been a long time coming, and you know, our goal is to go out there and win the football game.

I think we’ll have good practices. We’ll enjoy the time in San Francisco. Our guys will enjoy finding a way to go out there and compete at a high level on a big stage, and hopefully we can find a way to win.

Q. You mentioned San Francisco. You played a couple years in San Francisco. What’s it going to be like for you to return to that same place?
JEFF BROHM: Well, I’m looking forward to it without question. A lot of good memories. You know, those were some fun days and to have an opportunity to go back to that same area and get out on the new San Francisco 49er field I think will be a lot of fun for me, and it will be a lot of fun for our players. It’s a great stadium. Our players hopefully will respond and go out there and show what Purdue is all about.

Q. What memories stand out from your time with the San Francisco 49ers?
JEFF BROHM: Well, for me, it was probably three of most fun years I had playing in the National Football League. I was with a tremendous team, a team with a lot of history and tradition. They won a lot of Super Bowls. We had some of the best players of all time: Steve Young, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Brent Jones, Ken Norton, Merton Hanks, all those guys.

Really to get an opportunity to play around them and a lot of great coaches, that’s kind of where I really learned so much about the game at the highest level and how they went about their business, how they found a way to win; the hard work they put in.

But also the confidence they had when they took the field. It’s one thing that definitely stood out to me when I was with the 49ers: When they took the game field, there wasn’t a question they were going out there to win and they were going to find a way to do it.

You know, a lot of fun times, a lot of good memories and a lot of great Hall of Fame players and coaches that I was around.

Q. How about when you look at the opponent, Arizona, what stands out?
JEFF BROHM: Well, I haven’t looked at a whole lot of them yet. I know they have a tremendously talented athletic quarterback that’s been able to run for a lot of yards and is very dynamic and probably is a similar version to Lamar Jackson but maybe younger. The little bit I’ve seen, he’s maybe a little bit of a stronger runner, so that’s going to create a lot of problems for us.

We’re going to have to find a way to contain him and not allow him to single-handedly beat us. To have a chance to coach against Coach Rodriguez, he’s an outstanding coach and he’s played in a lot of Bowl games himself. I think it will be a great matchup and we’ll have to, for us, find a way to keep it close and get in the second half with an opportunity to win.

Q. I believe this will be the first time this year you’re playing a Pac 12 team. Is there anything about the style of play of the Pac 12 that stands out to you or that will present a certain challenge?
JEFF BROHM: Well, not in particular. I think when you think of the league, in my opinion, you think of, you know, high-scoring offenses, a lot of opponents, and I’m sure, you know, just me looking at the scores that they have had, that’s how they won a lot of football games. They have had some big wins. They beat some good football teams.

I know they have had a great turnaround from the year before and they kind of found their guy at quarterback. He’s going to be there for a long time, and normally when you do that, you have a chance to do some special things. Just a very improved football team that knows how to win.

Q. Just can you bring us up-to-date on some of the injury situations, at least from what you know, with guys having a week here to maybe recover a little bit, perhaps namely like Bentley, Knox, Sparks, maybe Hopkins?
JEFF BROHM: Well, I’m hopeful that we can get most of these guys back. I know Ja’Whaun Bentley, I think is feeling a lot better. We’re going to take a good break to give those guys time to get refreshed and to heal up. I think he’s already feeling very good right now. I anticipate him probably practicing once we start back up, if not very shortly after that.

You know, Jared Sparks in a very similar situation. I think if he’s not practicing at the end of this week, probably by the end of the following week, I think he’ll be ready to go.

D.J. Knox had surgery on his thumb and we’re going to try to get him back for the game. He may have to wear a cast on his hand for the game. We’ll see how he does with what that may cause him maybe have to carry the ball under the opposite arm, but we’ll see how that progresses.

And then with Hopkins, he had a back injury. I’m hopeful we’ll get him back for the game, but I don’t know that for sure yet. We’ll have to kind of take that slow in the next couple weeks and see where he’s at.

Q. What is your schedule, practice schedule, approximately? Do you have any idea of that yet?
JEFF BROHM: Well, this is the start of the second week of a three-week period of active contact, a period of recruiting, which is very crucial for us. All of our coaches are out and about trying to make sure we do all the things necessary to add the best class we can.

We’re probably going to come back and practice this upcoming Thursday and Friday — excuse me, I take that back. This upcoming Friday and Saturday when a lot of our coaches are getting back, and we have a few recruits in on visits. And then we’ll allow them some more time off for their finals on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and then we’ll probably report back and start practice on that next Thursday.

Q. What’s your general philosophy on practicing young guys versus, you know, getting veterans ready for the game?
JEFF BROHM: Well, the No. 1 goal is to win the football game, so we’ll definitely have that in mind. But to practice, it’s a very valuable opportunity for your young guys to develop and get a lot of reps, and we’re going to make sure that we utilize that to the full capacity and I think our guys will enjoy the fact that we can get that done.

I know that, you know, it’s important that we spend that extra time doing that, and you know, I do want our guys to enjoy the extra practices and the Bowl practices that we have. So we are going to make it fun for those guys.

But we want to compete. We want to get better. And without question, we want to make sure all of our guys are getting meaningful reps. Doesn’t matter how long we need to stay out there; we want to make sure we get that done because these practices can really affect and help shape your team for the future.

Q. What were the 24 hours like, at least according to some on Twitter, in the Twitterverse, you were very close to being at Tennessee?
JEFF BROHM: Well, you guys saw it. I normally try not to comment on all that rumor and speculation because a lot of times, that’s what it is.

Q. Did you talk to Tennessee?
JEFF BROHM: Well, like I said, I’d rather not comment on any of the rumors and speculation, because that’s what it was.

Q. On another topic, do you expect that everybody academically will be good to go for the Bowl game? I know there’s some questionable guys back in the fall.
JEFF BROHM: Well, we are going to have a few guys that we’ll see how it plays out, and I’m not for sure how it’s going to go.

You know, we’ve tried to work as hard as we can with some of those to make sure that they get over the hump. We won’t know possibly until the last minute whether they will be with us.

Q. What’s the best part of this, being Bowl-eligible? You mentioned the practices.
JEFF BROHM: It’s a goal we set at the beginning of the year — I know our guys, it meant a lot to them. It meant a lot to our fan base. It’s something that we worked extremely hard for and we set out to try to achieve, regardless of what other people may have thought and to just barely get there is a great accomplishment.

So I know we were happy and excited and to do it in the bucket game, it was a lot of fun. You know, this is a chance for our guys to have some extra fun, but it’s a Bowl game and you want to win it. I think our guys understand that. It’s one thing we’ll try to do around here, is we will compete to be the best.

When we go out there, we’re going to expect to win the game, and I want to make sure our guys, while we have a good time and enjoy the experience, when it’s time to do football, we’re definitely doing that and we’re definitely preparing to find a way to win. A lot of times, just like during the season, you know, these games, if you can find a way to win against a good opponent on a big stage, it can really elevate your program and give your guys a lot of confidence. Because of that, I think that it’s important that we do well.

Q. Do you feel like there was a turning point, for a lack of a better term, this season, that helped you get to this point?
JEFF BROHM: Well, I think our season was a little bit of a roller coaster ride. We definitely worked hard in spring practice and summer, fall camp. Not really till the first half of the Louisville game did our guys really kind of in my opinion believe that they could achieve more than they thought. And that was a pivotal point for us; that even though we didn’t win the game, I thought it gave us a lot of confidence and it helped us start the season fast and on a good note.

We were very competitive. I think we hit a little lull in the middle there and struggled and didn’t play as well as we would like. But you know, that happens in almost every season and you try to eliminate as much as you can and figure it out as fast as you can.

I do think that we were able to respond and figure it out and go on the road and beat a good Iowa team in a tough environment, which was huge for our confidence, and it helped us coming back home, and playing in the bucket game against IU to figure out a way to win that. So I think that the way we finished was a very positive note.

Q. How do you explain that? Because as we know, this is a team that has not been able to finish the season or games, for that matter, strong, lately. What do you attribute that to; that this team was resilient, when it hasn’t been?
JEFF BROHM: Well, I think we’ve got great senior leadership. We’ve got some great, productive, successful players in our senior class that have done well and they have kind of carried the team.

As the year went on, we tried to elevate the play of the others to help those guys finish strong. It was important to all of our guys to do that, to make sure that we give them something to go out on that they really felt good about. I know our coaches worked extremely hard to figure out a way to put our players in the best position to succeed and win and that was important for them.

I think we all just kind of stuck together, tried to ground the thing out, be as positive as we can when things are tough. Point the finger at ourselves first, always, before we try to fix problems, and I think because of that, you know, we were able to turn the corner.

But I do — I am very appreciative to these seniors. They have stuck with it. They didn’t have to. They could have not believed in what we were telling them and what we were trying to sell and do, and they have had great attitudes, great work ethics, and I’m extremely happy that they get to advance and play in a Bowl game.

Q. What do you mean specifically when you say to stay positive with these guys? Is that a Sunday where you go in and point out all the good things? How do you do that when it gets tough?
JEFF BROHM: Well, I think when you’re losing, it’s never fun. First thing you want to do is maybe say, well, Johnny over here didn’t do his job or this didn’t happen. I think the first thing you always want to do is say, from the top down, let’s figure out what I need to do better and what we all need to do better, and then we’ll address our team and help those guys get better.

But at the same time, you can’t lose confidence. Some of these games, the margin between winning and losing is so small that it could just be a few small things if you get fixed and corrected, will give yourself a chance to win. I think that our guys had a good attitude. We had great practices every week, really, whether we won or lost.

I felt like we really practiced well and our guys were into it. They were trying to get better and competing. And normally if you just kind of stick with it and just gradually try to improve and not get down on themselves individually and as a unit, you can make progress, and I think that we were able to do that.

Q. How many of the 15 Bowl practices will you utilize?
JEFF BROHM: Well, you know, probably right now, I don’t think we’re going to use all of them. I would guess probably around 13. We kind of put a tentative map out based on which Bowl game we were going to go to. I think that we’ll make sure we use enough but I want to make sure our guys are fresh and reenergized and that when we get to this game, we’re healthy and ready to go.

Q. You’ve been out on the road recruiting, I think visiting a lot of your current commitments. Just the reception that you’re getting after the last two wins of the season and the bucket, and how do you anticipate that reception going when you’re visiting guys you’re trying to get?
JEFF BROHM: Well, I think the reception has been great and I think it’s been very positive. Without question, the last game we had against IU and the way we finished was very positive reception, not only in all the areas we went to, but definitely in-state to believe it or not, this past Wednesday, we had positive reception and we had a lot of guys that are very interested in being a part of it.

They understand that, you know, we’ve got a good thing going. We’ve got great resources. We’ve had great support this year. We’ve been able to improve. We’ve been able to kind of showcase the Purdue brand and its out there more now. You know, it’s been a positive response.

I think it’s just got to be something that we gradually try to improve each and every year. We always want to try to continue to get better and get the best student athletes that want to be a part of it. And every year, every little thing’s going to matter, you know, from how you play on the field, your win/loss record, the trust you can build and the relationships you can build throughout the in-state areas and also down in the southeast and even in the Midwest where we hit certain areas where people and coaches, players, feel comfortable with what we’re selling, how we’re doing it.

Really, it’s the trust factor where the guys that know us and know what we’re all about, it’s been a very good reception. It’s just something that we’ve got to consciously improve on.

Q. Is there a plan that you can use that from a momentum-standpoint when you’re out recruiting or is it just, however you try to approach it or sell it? Is there a blueprint to the season that you’ve had and the late season-success that you can actually sell to recruits?
JEFF BROHM: Well, I think what we try to do is you can’t back down from any team you’re competing against. You’ve got to be willing to go in any door to explore every option out there, regardless of where things stand and sell what you’re all about. The more you do that, around the coaches and the players, the more they trust you; the more you deliver on what you’re selling, then these coaches and parents can trust who you are, what you’re about and what your coaches are about, is always positive.

So we want to be aggressive. You know, some battles, you know, we’ve got to be smart and understand, okay, we may not fight this one. But in general, we want to try to fight as many as we can, and I think it’s important our coaches continue to believe that — and you know, attack at full speed, straight ahead and not hold back.

I think if we continue to do that, like I said, I think, you know, it’s all important to get a few difference-makers, and the more difference-makers we can get that want to be a part of Purdue Football and the more we can develop them and utilize their skills, and like I said, opinion to improve every year, every little bit’s going to help.

Q. Do you have any history with Rich Rodriguez?
JEFF BROHM: When I was at Louisville as a coach, we played West Virginia quite a bit and played them in some big games. I don’t know exactly what we were ranked, but there was a couple where we were both ranked in the Top-10 and played. I think that’s when they had Pat White and Slaton at running back, and we had my brother, Brian, and Michael Bush back there. Just had some great battles. Some high-scoring contests. Games that went down to the wire.

Coach Rodriguez has coached a lot of football and he knows what he’s doing. He loves to run his spread attack and try to score points and have some fun with it. You know, I think he’s gotten to know this football team.

Like I said, he found his quarterback, which is always important, and this guy’s very dynamic and he’s definitely put the ball in his hand and let him do his thing.

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