This is Mike Plank from Rock Chalk Talk and I’m sitting down with Brandon McAnderson, running back from the University of Kansas Jayhawks and member of the 2007 Orange Bowl champions. Brandon, we’re here to reminisce about that 2007 season, but first, why don’t you just tell us how you’ve been and what you’ve been up to lately.
Well, I have been coaching football for a few years. I have two sons, been taking care of them. Working, doing some TV for Time Warner, doing some radio spots for KLWN. So keeping involved with the sport and also doing some charity work with the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic that comes around usually the second week of June. It basically provides funds for families that suffer from children with cancer, helps them with bills and they get to play in a basketball game. It’s really awesome and it’s really fun to be a part of.
That sounds really cool. Let’s go ahead and jump into the time machine. Let’s start with fall camp. You’re a senior. It’s August, 2007. You had been playing behind guys like Jon Cornish and Clark Green over the previous three years, but they’re gone now. Your teammates have just voted you team captain. What goals and expectations did you have for the 2007 season?
Every year my goal was to contribute more than I did the previous year. I knew that from the onset that I was going to have a lot more opportunities to do that, whether that be running the ball or simply getting more time on passing downs, just being more of a combination back than I had been in the past. So I was really excited about the opportunity and the changes we had made in the offense, so I was looking forward to doing some special stuff.
KU was coming off a 6-6 season that did not end up with a bowl bid. The Jayhawks are picked by the media to finish 4th in the Big 12 North behind Missouri, Nebraska, and K-State. What was the attitude like around the team? What sort of expectations did players and coaches have?
At the time, I think that we had a general sense of anger and lack of respect that didn’t really need to be reinforced because we lived it. We lived it in ’04, we lived it in ’05, we lived it in ’06, so it was normal. It was the way that we felt. I remember going to take the captains pictures with Aqib Talib and Derek Fine and James McClinton, and it was in the Booth Hall of Fame. They asked us, “Do you guys want to smile?” And almost simultaneously me and Aqib said, “No.” And then Aqib said, “We don’t have anything to smile about.” And I think that was the best way to signify our mentality entering that season.
The first game of the year you guys start off Central Michigan, a team that won 10 games the year before. It’s a game where a lot of quote unquote “experts” had picked Kansas to lose. You had 110 yards rushing on just 16 carries. What are some things you recall about that dominating season opening win?
We had played them in the past and they had been a pretty solid team. It felt like – a lot of times when you’re in camp and you’re in winter workouts and everything is going well, it’s going well because you feel like it’s supposed to go well. But you get in a game, and your expectation is that it won’t work as well. But it actually worked better. So we were better in that game than we had been in the offseason, in practice. And I think we could all feel confident. Confident in the way that it was easy for us. It was easy for us on defense, it was easy for us on offense, so I think that kind of just enhanced our sense of confidence in ourselves.
Well, then you go out and you pound SE LA, Toledo, and Florida Intl. Up next is K-State in Manhattan, a place where Kansas hadn’t won since 1989. Talk about that K-State game, what it was like there, and the mindset of the team before and after the game.
So that was my favorite win of my career was winning at K-State. Being a local kid, it meant a lot. And it also meant a lot because no matter how well we played in that first set of games, we did what we were supposed to do. It was the same thing we basically did every year. I mean, we usually won all of those non-conference games, so the expectation was that we were supposed to do that. But we had something to prove that was bigger than that.
We had been in a lot of close games in my career that we just could not figure out how to win. And that was the game that we figured out how to finish. So that was very special. I even remember giving a hug to one of our strength coaches and feeling like this was… just elated. And feeling different. And going into the locker room and having Kathleen Sebelius hand us the trophy in their stadium, in that locker room, it just meant a lot to everyone. It meant a whole lot to me, it was actually, like I said, one of my favorite games of my career.
That’s really awesome! So then you guys come home, you dispatch Baylor, and then you have a couple of tough road trips coming up, you’ve got to go to Boulder and College Station. Both of which turned out to be low scoring affairs. The Colorado game, you only had 7 carries for 44 yards. I can’t remember, was that a result of the gameplan or did you get injured during the game, or what happened at Colorado?
So Colorado was, even up to that point, I didn’t play in the second half of any of the first four games. I didn’t play in the second half against Baylor, SE Louisiana, Toledo, I played some in the second half against Florida International. But most of the games I didn’t play at all in the second half. My expectation wasn’t to be a guy who got 20 carries a game or got 15 carries a game. Matchup-wise there may have been some things they liked that Jake was doing. I don’t remember what he did in that game but I’m sure he had more carries than me. But it was kind of a committee thing, and if I got less or he got more I don’t ever remember even noticing.
We were just trying to win. And on the road, I feel like early in games our passing game wasn’t traveling as well at that point in the season, so we had to do some good things in the running game. I know Todd had a real big run in that game as well. But it was just your typical grind it out game. It was a tough road game against a team that was tough to beat there, and it was just another step in our maturation.
Probably your biggest statistical game of the year was the next week at Texas A&M. And dude, you rumbled, 183 yards and 2 scores on just 21 carries. The Aggies just had no answer for you. Talk about that game.
What I liked about that game was that the gameplan was similar to Colorado for Texas A&M’s defense. What teams started to do to us was try to make us a team that had to run as opposed to a team that wanted to pass to run. I think they were trying to dictate, and, it didn’t work out too well for them!
And I can remember that the way they were playing defense, they played almost exclusively a 6-man box, which is a run box. So as a team, conceptually, the less people in the box the more you run the ball, the more people in the box the less you run the ball. So it really wasn’t a complicated gameplan for us. We didn’t put anything special in for them. Our offensive line was amazing, and I found holes and scored. I actually had a third touchdown that game got called back.
But that was really special because that’s a special place to play. They had a lot of good players, a lot of good NFL players on that team, and we were up to the challenge. At that point, we were rolling, and we felt different and everything was different. That was an exciting win for us.
Speaking of rolling, let’s talk about Nebraska. Poor, poor Nebraska. You guys just open up a can on them, with Todd’s six touchdown passes and you had four rushing touchdowns, at least a couple of which you weren’t even touched on. I’ve got to ask – and you’ve got to be honest with me here – did Coach take his foot off the gas pedal? Could you guys have hung 100 on them?
I would say probably not.
You know, the interesting thing is that they had played Texas the week before that. And they blitzed every play. Blitzed EVERY play against Texas. And this was before Texas started to make some offensive changes. At that time, Texas was one of those teams that, offensively, they just said, “We’re Texas and we have better athletes,” so they didn’t really make adjustments. And they (Texas) ended up winning the game, it was a close game though, may have been 25-21 or something like that. It was a close game. And we sat down and watched film and said, “My God, if they blitz like that we’re gonna score 100 points.”
And they did. They blitzed every play.
And Coach Warriner and Coach Beck, they just sat up in the box and looked down at all these ill-conceived blitzes, and we just ran plays opposite of blitzes, we ran plays into blitzes. I think that game was maybe our most vanilla in terms of actually putting new stuff in because they simply just blitzed the whole game. It ended up being a game that we were able to put away after some early struggles. I know they came pretty hot on offense, and at that time, our defense wasn’t giving up anything, so I was surprised to see them score early.
But once we got going, it was just matter of time. They blitzed every time. We had really, really good wide receivers and a really, really good O-line, so it was pitch and catch, and like you said, I wasn’t getting touched.
It was a beautiful thing for me to be from Lawrence, just because watching Calvin Jones and Lawrence Phillips and all these Nebraska I-backs just run up and down the field at Memorial Stadium, and watching that team just infiltrate our entire town, and seeing Nebraska flags starting off Friday afternoons before Saturday games. That was a good thing for us to pound them like that just because of all the grief they served to the locals over the years.
We were definitely glad to see you guys do what you did to them, that’s a warm, fuzzy memory for every Kansas football fan out there.
Next up we had Oklahoma State in Stillwater, and once again you put the Jayhawks on your back and carry the team. It’s your third consecutive 100-yard rushing game. You’re still feeling strong at this point in the season, I assume. The offense is rolling, and people around the country are now taking notice of the Kansas Jayhawks football program. What’s going through your mind after the Oklahoma State game?
What I remember about those games from an outward perspective – like I said earlier, inwardly, we were still the team that couldn’t smile. We were still the team was not getting respect. We were still the team that was not ready to be celebrated. We still had a chip on our shoulder. And outwardly, you watch a lot of media coverage, and the media coverage was, “This team is gonna slip up on the road.”
This game got flexed to a night game, so it was an ESPN 7 or 8 o’clock game. Oklahoma State had some talented players but they were young, so they weren’t really ready for the show yet. What I remember about that game was the perception that this was gonna fall apart for us. And that wasn’t gonna happen. Once we got going and Todd started to... Todd made a lot of plays in that game that were pretty amazing. The lanes were opened up. We got backed up a couple of times, and we got outta there with some runs that I had. It just felt good.
At that point, there was no stopping us. About midway through the season, Texas A&M and beyond, even the second half at Colorado, we weren’t gonna be stopped. So it was kinda one of those things where we felt it.
Speaking of not being stopped, tell us some about senior day. Iowa State is in town. What did it mean for you as a senior to not only win every home game that year, but to be 10-0 at that point?
That was our celebratory moment, in a sense. We knew that was gonna be our last home game in Memorial Stadium. The way that they cheered for us when we came out, Kerry Meier being on the cover of Sports Illustrated that week, with that touchdown catch that he had. That was a game that I actually got hurt in. I hurt my ankle late in that game and I didn’t play much in the second half. But we were just clearly on another level than that team, and we just rolled them. We rolled them and it was celebratory and it was preparing us for the big showdown. So I remember feeling very good about where we were and feeling very good about the challenges that lay ahead.
It’s the first year of the Border War being relocated to Arrowhead Stadium. I just want you to talk about Missouri week, the preparation, the coaches, Don Fambrough, the hype, College Gameday, I believe both teams had trouble just getting into the stadium, just talk about all of the pre-game stuff and what sticks out in your memory.
It was Thanksgiving week, so I remember me feeling on edge basically everywhere I went, feeling like we had an opportunity to do something that we had dreamed about but dreamed about distantly, and now it was here. So we really wanted to take advantage. All of the hoopla surrounding the game was special, and it was something that the Kansas-Missouri rivalry had not ever seen, and that the country had not ever seen. We had been seen as hated foes of one another, but not necessarily as competent hated foes. So it was kind of nice for us to substantiate how good we were against each other on a massive stage in a metro area that I’m sure appreciated it.
The one thing I remember about Arrowhead Stadium was that it was really cold, but they had those NFL benches that you run open flames through, and I wasn’t cold the whole game. That thing was amazing! I’m thinking, “Why doesn’t everybody have these?” But anyway, I didn’t get very cold that game.
We came out and we struggled early in the game, and when we really needed a couple of things to go right it just didn’t happen. Missing field goals, and guys having chances to make plays on defense and not making them, things that we just had not done in the past. And then once we finally got going, it was too late, and that’s how I remember the game. We struggled in the beginning, and they did some things to us – I felt like they were the first team to really try to address our running game. I feel a lot of people just thought, “If we can play coverage and tackle the backs, then we should be fine.” I think they were the first team who were actually run blitzing early on.
On early downs, I would see their safeties creeping in the box. We were a lookback team, we were a sideline looking team, so they did a lot of movement after our last looks, and they caught us in some positions that were to their favor as opposed to being in our favor. So they were the first team that got us from a strategic standpoint, and they came out on top.
Just going a little bit more in depth, I know you’ve already talked a little bit about this, but let’s skip to halftime. The ball just isn’t bouncing your way. There’s been a couple of missed field goals. There was an interception in the end zone as you were driving for a touchdown. You guys are down 14-0 at the half when it very easily could have been a 14-13 game. What’s the locker room like?
I would say normal. We hadn’t really been down in any other games, but we didn’t feel like they were doing anything special. I feel like we were looking strategically to see what we needed to do differently, but we didn’t feel like we were being stopped. It just wasn’t working. And then the field goals, the missed field goals, I mean, kicker is a hard job. It wasn’t like we were thinking about that as a crutch. That’s something that you think about afterward. It wasn’t something that we were thinking about then. In the game, we’re thinking about getting going. What can we do to change what’s happening now? So I think it was a positive locker room, and I think we were looking for ways to change the tide of the game.
Ok, so now we’re going into the fourth quarter, there’s 15 minutes left and it’s 28-7 bad guys. How are you feeling on the sideline?
I would say the same. Not because we were overly confident or not because we thought that we could do anything. But we just looked at each other and it felt the same. 28-7 or 14-0, it felt the same. We felt like if we could do things right, at some point we could start winning the game, and we just need someone to make a play. I think there were a couple people that made some plays, I think Dexton Fields made a nice play, Briscoe made an amazing catch. So some things started to happen that usually happen, and we started to get back into it, it’s just that we were out of it for so long is what kind of put us away.
Yeah. If you guys could have got the ball back with 2 minutes left instead of 12 seconds, is there any doubt in your mind that you can go down and score and win the game?
No doubt in my mind at all. They were starting to play a lot more defense than we were playing. I remember our defense started getting more stops. This was a team that scored a lot of points early, they already had 28, and I believe they only got two field goals in the fourth. So that was a team that was playing a lot more defense than we were, and I felt we were starting to get back to normal. We were playing with some pace, running some simple pass plays, not worrying about trying to dictate tempo or dictate styles, and just playing. And we were starting to roll a little bit, and, that was it.
Does Kansas win that game if it’s played in Lawrence as originally scheduled?
Without a doubt.
It’s kinda hard to say that because the reason that it was moved there was about promoting the program. That kind of attitude and that kind of approach is partially what helped us get into the Orange Bowl, so it’s hard to be too critical of it, but certainly we would’ve won the game in Lawrence.
Well let’s move on to more fun things! Let’s talk about the Orange Bowl! You had a pretty decent game down in Miami, with 75 yards on 15 carries. After jumping out to a 17-0 lead, Virginia Tech has now closed to within 3 points midway through the third quarter. It’s fourth-and-10 near midfield. Do you know where I’m going here, Brandon?
Ah, yes sir!
Talk to us about the fake punt and what I believe was the first and only pass attempt of your college career.
I had been the personal protector, at that position on the front in between the punter and the center, I had been in that position two years in a row. And it’s the position that dictates, and tells people where to go and what to do. So I was comfortable there.
And it was a play that we always – so, it wasn’t an actual fake punt play. But when people brought creepers – we used to call them creepers – when they used to bring their people that blocked the gunners, when they used to bring them down, we would always have a “Fire” check. And “Fire” meant that, if I said “Fire,” the snapper would snap to me and I would throw the ball.
However, we would only practice that with one person. That had been Justin Thornton. So we would only run Fire if it was near midfield and it would only be to Justin Thornton. So what happened is, they creeped off of Micah Brown, and I wish I could say that I had thought about this in some advanced way that was special, or I wish I could say that Coach Mangino told me to throw it to him. I don’t. And I don’t even have any anecdotes about why I did it. I never practiced it. That’s why, when you see the play, Micah starts sprinting downfield and then he just stops when he sees the ball coming because he had no expectation that the ball was coming. I just threw it to him! And I don’t really have a reason!
Like, I don’t think it was special in any way. It just was what I thought I should do. In a weird way, it’s one of the only times I’ve ever really done that, veered from what we were trying to do. But when I look back at it now, thankfully he stopped and caught it, because it was a duck. I don’t know if there was part of me that I always wanted to do that, or if it was, I dunno, if it was just the moment and I was too into it, I don’t know why I did it. And that’s the honest truth.
Just kind of take a minute and talk about the rest of the Orange Bowl, just go wherever you want with this.
Just talk about the weeks leading up to it, or the actual game, or the post-game. Just your fondest memories of that period of time right there.
I loved the trip, it was awesome, it was sort of like a graduation, in a way, for our program, just because we had been to the Tangerine Bowl when I was a freshman, and we were so happy to be there. We got smashed, and we played a really good team, but we were just so, so happy to be there.
And then getting to the Fort Worth Bowl a couple of years later, we were different. We wanted to win, we didn’t want to have fun. We wanted to win, and we ended up pounding Houston.
Getting back there to the Orange Bowl, we felt like we could have fun and we could work, and we were mature enough to handle it. So we went out and we enjoyed ourselves and got a chance to enjoy the city and the ocean and everything that’s around that, and then we got a chance to do what we love to do on a huge stage.
That was a perfect game for us. Aqib got us started in a great way. It was a situation where what we normally do was working. You have a long time to prepare for these games, so it was nice to get into your regular stuff and your regular stuff starts working. And that’s what happened. They made some plays on special teams in the middle of the game, but I was confident our defense would figure it out, and they did.
Offensively, we did just enough to win the game, and it just validated everything we had done that season. I felt like if we had lost, it would have been this sense that, to an extent, the season was a failure to the people outside of the program. I remember getting up in our team meeting before we left for Miami and saying that, “We need to win this game, because if we don’t, then this doesn’t matter. What we did doesn’t matter, where we were ranked doesn’t matter.” And I felt strongly about that, and I think the guys did too.
So we went out there and we did some awesome stuff, and we really stayed in the moment after, in the locker room, and on the stage, and hearing Aqib say he was feeling like Deion, it was awesome. Being able to shake Coach Mangino’s hand, and I remember him saying, “I told you that this could happen if you came here.” It was heartfelt in a way, but it was unemotional. You know, it was very matter-of-fact. Like, I told you if you came here this could happen. And that’s what happened!
So it was really awesome to be a part of, and it was really awesome to win. Being a Lawrence person, it’s something that you always heard about, the 1968 Orange Bowl team. One of my principals was on that team, so I was always familiar with what they did and always familiar with those players. And to have it come full circle and us have an opportunity to do that, and it was specific to the Orange Bowl as well because it was a Big 8/Big 12 thing. But to get an opportunity to win an Orange Bowl and to bring that recognition to a university that I grew up in the center of was pretty incredible.
Just to kind of wrap things up, I know we’ve talked about all kinds of stuff here. When people are talking about 2007 or they’re talking about the Orange Bowl, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? What’s one play or memory that is just always right there at the forefront for you?
I don’t know, I guess I look at the Orange Bowl as the way that you look at your life when you look back at it. You don’t ever look at the specific moments, but you look at all of the moments, all of the things that you do as a player, as an athlete, and they all culminate into one thing. And we were able to make that high point something really special.
The things I think about are the Big Red losing streak we had in 2005 and 2006, and how they made a song that was KU, and it was just awful. But it spoke to how the program was literally trying to do everything we could to win on the road and win Big 12 games.
The other thing I think about is 2004 when we beat Kansas State for the first time in 12 or 13 years. Coach Mangino played “We’re Not Gonna Take It” the entire time on the loudspeakers that week in practice. I learned all the words to that song! It was a good way for us to – all these things led to something bigger. And every time that we would blow a game, I remember in ’06 we blew so many games. That was a season that we probably should have won 8 games but we won 6 just because we couldn’t close out a few games. All of that pain turned into joy, and it turned into joy for all of the right reasons. It turned into joy because we matured, and it turned into joy because we learned about accountability.
Those things far outweigh some of the more celebratory points. We became men together. That was the result of our hard work, that we figured out how to finish games and how to make the season really special. I don’t even know if I have a moment, I love the “I felt like Deion” moment for Aqib. I love the fourth-and-one stop that we got against Texas A&M, that big back that they had, I can’t remember that cat’s name.
Jorvorskie, Jorvorskie Lane.
Yeah, Jorvorskie Lane! I remember that fourth-and-one that they stopped him, that was awesome at Texas A&M. I remember Todd’s long run against Colorado, and how we just really needed that, and that was such an important play for us. Just all of those things.
And watching Dezmon Briscoe score all those touchdowns against Nebraska as a youngster, that was awesome to see. So lots of things here and there that I really enjoyed seeing, some of the plays that Justin Thornton and Chris Harris made that year as emerging young guys, seeing them pave the way for what they would become. All of those things, they were just awesome.
Everything about K-State I remember. Aqib getting that interception to seal the game. Kendrick Harper coming up with that big hit on that receiver screen against A&M. So just these different things that were small moments, but it was really special to see people do what they really love doing to the best of their ability over and over again. Seeing Jake get some touchdowns, he caught a long touchdown against Nebraska on a play. Just seeing guys perform well, and be happy, and be confident, and to still reach their goals.
Brandon, you’ve been awesome! Thanks for your time my man, I really appreciate it!
I know it took longer than we expected it to, but I hope you had a good time and hopefully we can have you back on sometime, we’d love to talk some more KU football with you in the future!
Absolutely, don’t hesitate!
Alright, hey man, again I appreciate it, thanks a lot!
Alright, no problem! Have a good one!