An interview with Sam Houston State head coach Willie Fritz and North Dakota State head coach Craig Bohl. The Bearkats and Bison will meet Jan. 5, 2013 in the 2013 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas. It is a
rematch of last year's FCS title game won 17-6 by North Dakota State.
COACH FRITZ: We are really excited about the opportunity to go back to a National Championship Game, the NCAA, all of the people associated with the game in Frisco have just done a sensational job running the game and I know our players are pumped.
We just got back yesterday, back into practice mode and took a little time off and it was a tough to get here this season. We played three home games and eight games on the road and then the playoff, we had one home game and two on the road.
So we are blessed to be back in this position and you know, I know Sam Houston is very proud of the back to back appearances in this game and as I said before, I just look forward to the challenge of playing an excellent North Dakota State team on January
Q. Can you talk about how the offense, your offense, has evolved from the way you ran it last year?
COACH FRITZ: Well, we've got almost a new offensive staff. My offensive coordinator and two of my assistants that were here last year did a great job for us. They took new positions.
So when I look to hire a replacement, I wanted to find somebody that had some option background and did things similar to what we did. But also, we wanted to try to improve our passing attack.
Last season, we were a very efficient passing attack, but we got into some third and long situations and second and long and people knew we had to throw the ball and we had some difficulties. I was lucky to hire Doug Ruse, he was at Western Illinois University,
I watched him firsthand in 2010 take it to us.
I liked what he did offensively and he combined elements of what he likes to do with how I like to do things. It was a little bit bumpy at the beginning of the year like it always is when you implement something new but really took off by week four or
five and played extremely well the rest of the season and a lot of that is the addition of Coach Lewis, Bart Tatum, my offensive line coach and Matt Barrett, our receiver coach, and combined with Anthony Johnson who coached our running backs last year and
Kyle Segler who coaches our tight ends, he was here last season as well and really blended together, I think gives us a really potent offensive attack.
Q. How did Brian Bell respond to this? Obviously he's been a winner at your school, but you were looking to improve the passing game. Can you talk about his development?
COACH FRITZ: Well, I think that's also a big part of it, as well. Each year you try to add things to your repertoire and Brian is certainly capable of dealing with whatever we throw at him.
He's a coach's kid and he's raised in a football family. His brother is a very successful high school coach in Texas dad's is a very successful coach. So, you know, like all quarterbacks, I'm sure he welcomes the opportunity to throw the ball a little
bit more than what we have done in the past. But he just makes very good decisions for us, we have got total confidence in him running our attack for us.
Q. How about the way North Dakota State runs its defense? It's been on such a high level the last couple of years, more so than anybody else. What are they doing so well that is hard to solve?
COACH FRITZ: Well, they are very, very well coached. They have got a different coordinator this year, but running essentially most of the same things. You know, very talented. They have got very good players. They are quick and fast. Play with great
leverage and it's tough to out flank them.
I always talk about needing three different types of leverage over the top, inside out, outside in, and they really did a great job of leverage. They tackle well in space. They do a good job of disguising their coverage, and you think you might have
an advantage in run game in an area or spin a guy down from the secondary or bring a corner, or slant that direction. Just the total package, they are an excellent defense.
Q. Just wondering, now that you've done this for the second year in a row what do you see as being the biggest difference for you this year? One thing that maybe you do differently in terms of preparation, now that you've been on this stage twice now.
COACH FRITZ: We are not changing our schedule a whole lot. Played very well last year defensively. You know, offensively, North Dakota State did some things that we had not seen a whole lot and obviously this season, we've seen a lot of those things
a bunch, because people are, you know, it's a copycat profession that we work in; so they saw something that worked well and people have tried to emulate what they do.
I think it's just preparing for the unexpected, offense, defense and kicking game. And I also think tweaking some things that you do. You have a long time to insert some new things on offense, defense and also special teams, you know, with the layoff
that you have from the last game, the semifinal game and the final game.
Q. When you watch the defense on film what do you see that your offense can exploit, because they have been so tough this year.
COACH FRITZ: Well, every yard that you get very much we are going to have to be assignment sound and we can't put ourselves in the hole.
I watched last year's game this morning, and a couple times we had some nice field position and we get a penalty here or we miss a guy and all of a sudden, a possible positive play turns into a negative play.
We are just going to have to be very assignment sound and do a good job of taking care of the football. You're not going to get it all in one play very often against them. They don't give up very many big plays.
So I would say, being assignment sound and not having those silly pre snap penalties are going to be very, very important for us.
Q. What do you think is the biggest benefit for them having always been on this stage in Frisco, Texas before?
COACH FRITZ: Well, I just think that going up there, the venue that we are playing at, how things kind of work, I think more so it helped us with the whole playoff atmosphere and the whole playoff schedule. You know, it's a little bit different. You're
only able to dress 60 guys at playoff games and not as many people really on the sidelines for you. And the fact that it's win or go home.
I just think having the experience of going through that, that was the first time for us as coaches here at Sam Houston and our players to go through the playoff format.
Q. I wanted to ask, how different do you think your team is from last year? Do you think they are better than you were at this time last year?
COACH FRITZ: I think in some areas we are. We had a five game stretch in there that we played well and it is the best that we've played since I've been here, I think we outscored our opponents 264 to 34. I had an opportunity to play a lot of guys during
those games, as well, and we really were clicking on all cylinders during that time.
But the trick is, you've got to do it each and every week, you've got to do it on January 5. We are a more veteran squad. We have played in a lot of big ballgames over the last couple years. So I think our guys are used to that aspect of it. We just
have to prove that we are a better team than we were last year on January 5.
Q. Is there any advantage or disadvantage of playing NDSU again in the championship and having this same match up as you had last year? Do you see anything for January 5?
COACH FRITZ: I really don't. I think when you get out there and kick the ball off, in 2013, even though we have got a lot of kids coming back that played last year and the same thing with North Dakota State, you know, they are two different teams and
each season you kind of evolve with that team.
So I just think they are two veteran groups that have played a lot of big ballgames, a lot of meaningful games and a big stage for either team.
Q. Do you remember how many Bison fans were there last season? Do you get a sense you might have more of a turnout after what your fans saw last season?
COACH FRITZ: Shoot, I don't know if we can get a ticket (laughing). I've had more people I've had five or six people ask me today about tickets. It will be interesting to see. I know North Dakota State travels very well. I think it's really neat
to have a sellout. It's a hard ticket to get. People around here are going crazy trying to get a ticket and I'm sure that's the same way up in North Dakota and in the State of North Dakota.
Q. It's kind of a rigorous playoff run when you have to play three straight in three weeks and going up against some pretty physical teams. Were you guys pretty beat up after that or were you still relatively healthy after that?
COACH FRITZ: You know, I think everybody at that stage of the season is pretty beat up. We've got a philosophy around here, next man up, and next guy's just got to go in there and play. That's why you don't play with 22 guys in football. You have a
lot more on your squad.
I think it was good for us to have some time off. I gave our guys eight solid days off to get healed up and go home and decompress and get ready to get back after it on the 26th.
So, yeah, I think it's going to allow us to get some guys healthy that if we were to play that next weekend that wouldn't have been able to play.
Q. Do you like the fact that they take three weeks to get both teams get back to full strength? Do you think that creates a better game in the championship, having the three week break?
COACH FRITZ: I think possibly. I think the real reason they do it is because of the notoriety you gain for FCS football. There are not that many teams that are playing at this point in time during the year. So that I think is great.
The other reason I'm so excited about the game being a sellout, I've watched a few of these games the last few weeks, there have not been very good crowds at some of the games. I think it will show people the calibre of play in FCS football.
Q. I guess my last question, I know defensively on the last match up, you blitzed a lot, without giving away the whole game plan, I think you pretty comfortable with your corners playing bump and run, man to man; do you anticipate without giving up
the game plan that you'll feel comfortable doing that again?
COACH FRITZ: We're going to play all zone. No, I'm just kidding. (Laughter).
We are going to do what we do. North Dakota State is going to do what they do. We are going to tweak some things naturally and these games, you know, it's big for adjustments during the course of the game and half time. You're going to see some things,
there's some new wrinkles that you haven't prepared for. You try to prepare for those things but it's impossible to do it.
We are a pressure team, we get a lot of people in the box. We are going to try to make it playaction and throw the ball deep and throw some fader routes and get some second and tens and get you out of here, how you really want to call the game. That's
what we do and we have personnel that we are able to do it.
Q. Seems like every game North Dakota State has had that grinding run attack and then maybe some playaction; how do you stop a guy like Brock Jensen?
COACH FRITZ: They are really talented offensively, their whole team is. You know, Jensen does a super job. They have got a couple backs that have rushed for yards they have quick receivers. They play a team football game.
I've said this before and I'll say it again. I think that Coach Bohl and I share similar philosophies on how to run a football program, and sometimes it's not glamorous. I know some people like those teams that throw the ball 50, 60, 70 times a game.
That's not how we do it. They kind of look at the two teams that are playing for the FDS National Championship and seems like they have the same type of formula.
So very strong offensively. Very good in the kicking game. Anybody that's still playing now is pretty darned solid. You know, I really got a lot of respect for our defense obviously. You look at stats and two of the teams we play are in the top three
in FDS football in total offense, in Baylor and Texas A&M. So that also kind of plays into the statistics, as well.
So no, it's not going to be just Sam Houston's offense or North Dakota State's defense. It's going to be their team versus the Sam Houston team.
Q. Can you talk about just with Timothy Flanders? Seems like when he's going and when the offense is going, the run game just flourishes. Can you talk about how important maybe that's going to be? Is that something that you guys want to try to get
more consistent than last year?
COACH FRITZ: That's a big part of our offense and they complement each other and we want to be able to run the ball and they did a good job of stopping us last season and having more people at the point of attack than what we had.
When Tim gets going, that opens up our whole offense, and he's had another great year for us, and you know, that's a huge part of our offense. When you can throw the ball we are going to have to throw it on first down, as well and there are going to
have to be situations in which run down and play the run and packing the box. Have to be able to spread it around and throw it, as well. They both complement each other without question.
Q. Can you just talk about the fact that obviously people are going to make it to be a rematch, that type of thing, but is there really is there anything that you really look at to change or just if the guy is focused just do our thing?
COACH FRITZ: Two new teams that are playing each other this season, the offense, the defense, kicking game principles are the same. But there's a lot of differences that I can tell from watching the tape that I've watched and I'm sure they see the same
thing with us. Coordinate it for them defensively, coordinate it for us offensively, and you adapt to your personnel what is working and what isn't working each season as you go along.
Q. A lot of people are talking about the Bison defense and everything, but what is it I guess that are going to be the biggest challenges for your team despite the defense?
COACH FRITZ: Well, you mean, in spite of the defense what we need to do? Well, kind of like we talked about before, just they really are sound. They don't get out of position very much. We have got to get bodies on bodies and a lot of the reason why
they out populated us at the point of attack was they were getting off blocks. A really talented, fast, quick team and we are going to have to mix up what we are doing. Can't be running on run downs and throw it on throw downs. We have to mix up what we
are doing and keep them off balance as best we can.
Q. How would you say right now that you guys are playing compared to beginning and middle of the season to where you are now at this point?
COACH FRITZ: Well, I think we are playing well. We didn't have a great second half against Eastern Washington, and lay a lot of that blame on me. We were conservative and didn't attack like we needed to, particularly on offense. No one's fault but
But I think we played well. We had a very good game against Montana State and had a four or five game run in there during the season that we played better than we played since I've been here. The trick is doing it on January 5.
Q. Why all the road games this year?
COACH FRITZ: We had two conference teams that changed leagues, the University of Texas, San Antonio and Texas State. We thought we had an opportunity to still play them. Pulled on us during the season last year, and it's tough to get games when you're
14 1 and so we were scrambling trying to find a game. One of the only teams that had an open date, but they wanted us to come over there and play was Texas A&M (chuckles). So we went over and played them. So it was just really because of the change in conference
alignment in the Southland Conference that put us in this predicament.
Q. You talked about how these are really two new teams that are playing each other. Do you get anything out of last year's Championship Game at all? Do you watch it? Are there tendencies, or is that just something that's
COACH FRITZ: Well, you watch it. Strong teams have got strong tendencies. Woody Hayes used to say that all the time and I believe it's true. You have to look and see, here is what they did last year, here is what we did last year, here is what worked,
here is what didn't work. We got a lot of time for this game, so we are watching as much tape as we can through 2011 and 2012.
Q. You're not expecting another fake punt, are you?
COACH FRITZ: Well, you never know. You never know. It's an excellent call by them and they did a very good job of executing. You never know. That was a big play. I was trying to forget that.
Q. The challenges of repeating, we are going to be look at 1985 and 1986; what's the biggest challenge you face this year?
COACH BOHL: Well, last year we had certainly a more veteran football team. I think we had six starters on the team who are seniors, several were fifth year seniors and we had I think four or five on defense.
So you know, we are not near as veteran, so the maturity level working through a playoff and making sure you're able to play at a high level every week, that's more challenging.
Q. Is there one thing you feel like you notice from opponents that maybe you didn't run into last year as defending national champions?
COACH BOHL: Well, I think the obvious one is each week as you go in, you're not going to take anybody by surprise but you're going to get everyone's best shot. That usually comes into play from about the middle of the first quarter and after that it's
playing football. Outside of that, it's been a very rigorous year just like last year.
Q. Going to Frisco, that was a completely new experience for all the players involved. What could be the one thing, not as much a game plan but also in preparation, whether it be practice or film or whatever, what's the one thing you'll do differently
this year from last year?
COACH BOHL: I don't know, I thought our preparations last year were pretty significant. We have had to alter our practice routines a little bit because of weather and facility issues and so that's probably the main difference.
Q. Because it's the same two teams, the same three week build up, is the feeling the same or is it different? Is there a comfort level this time around?
COACH BOHL: Certainly familiarity comes into play and I'm sure Coach Fritz and Sam Houston feel the same way. You go through the first time and you look at your preparation and what the environment is going to be like and all the different settings.
Pretty much all that is the same as what it was last year, other than we are going to wear different color jerseys and so are they. From that standpoint, I don't think there's any built in advantages because we are playing a team that's been through the
same experience that we have. It does feel different but nonetheless, it does not feel any less exciting.
Q. Offensively what do you think gets overlooked about your offense?
COACH BOHL: I think they do a great job of taking care of the football and time of possession. We have been able to maintain long drives and have a good turnover margin, stay on the field. We have been able to control the football particularly when
we get the lead and all those things to leverage our defense and also it has put our offense in good position.
Q. Can you talk about Brock Jensen's development?
COACH BOHL: He's been a two year starter, actually a three year starter. I've been in a lot of big ballgames. He always seems to rise to his best when he plays in the biggest games and a lot of that, I guess that's his competitive nature because he
always prepares very well.
He's been a guy that has got the skill to throw the football short and deep and then also the toughness to run the football.
Q. You had mentioned your practice routine is altered a bit; have you been practicing in odd places?
COACH BOHL: Well, we have been able to stay inside the dome. We have just had to alter our days a little bit here and there and put a little bit different times, but nonetheless, I think we are on task.
Q. You know, last year one of the big plays was that fake punt, and I've covered enough games to see that you have a lot of things up your sleeve and usually they seem to work. What's the key to pulling that off I guess?
COACH BOHL: Having good players is the most important thing. And every ballgame, you all look at things to try to find an edge and certainly last year that proved to be a good play in the game.
And the other thing I think, too, is typically if you do tons of different fakes, that can cause problems and we have got done a lot of those things, so maybe that added some surprise.
Q. How is their offense different this year from last, if at all?
COACH BOHL: It is different. They have a different play caller, and their quarterback is throwing the ball significantly better. And so they have got a lot more threats.
Last year, while they threw the ball some, they were not near as effective as what they are this year and so that's going to really stress our defense.
Q. You guys have a legal more than a week to prepare for the game. How are you feeling about getting down to Frisco and starting practice down there and going through that whole routine?
COACH BOHL: Well, what we have found typically is by the time you get to Frisco, most of your game plan is going to be pretty much entrenched and all you're really trying to do is just get yourself acclimated to surroundings.
There are a lot of festivities that are for the student athlete, and so we want to make sure that we are focused on the game plan at hand before we are able to get down there. Because once you get down there, between different luncheons and pictures and
press conferences and other activities, there's really not near as much time to really get focused on the game.
Q. And how are your players, you started practice yesterday, how did you feel that practice went?
COACH BOHL: Well, I thought it was fairly good coming back after Christmas break. It was a little bit rusty which you would expect. We had a fairly robust practice and then we had another good one today.
Q. Talk about their defense? Only allowed two rushing touchdowns versus FCS opponents. How are you looking to attack them?
COACH BOHL: Well, I appreciate you bringing that up, because much has been talked about their offense and defensively, you've got a lot of skill guys. You've got an All American safety who is at the point of attack. Great tackling group; I don't know
if we placed a better tackling defense all year long; I know we haven't. A lot of speed on defense, a lot of times that's big plays and structurally the guys are in the right spot.
So you have got really good players with a lot of speed and that have good ability that are in the right spot and as a result, that's a difficult defense to move the ball against.
Q. You talked about going down to Frisco and not getting a lot done because of the pageantry; I know that's part of the experience, trying to give the players the experience, do you particularly like that or do you enjoy that or is that just something
that's a distraction? How do you look at all that stuff?
COACH BOHL: Well, certainly, it is not a distraction if you handle it right. I think NCAA and team Frisco has really done a great job to enrich or heighten the championship event for our student athletes. And so there's a lot of, as you said, pageantry
or activities and all those things are great and they are well meaning.
. But we need to be able to do is to enjoy those things and not allow those things to become more important than the task at hand and the task at hand is getting ourselves to go down and play great on Saturday the 5th. That's our approach.
We have talked to our players about that and it's nice that we are here, there's no school, no anything else in football and so we are really grinding away getting our guys prepared so they can enjoy those events.