Fourth-Year Head Coach Ruffin McNeill
Sep 2, 2013
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Fourth-year East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media on Monday prior to the Conference USA opener against Florida Atlantic. The following are selected comments:
"It was great to get a win. It was great to win a football game on Saturday. You've heard me say before, wins are hard. After 28 years in the college business, 30 years overall, we appreciate all wins and this one was a big one. We were facing a really good football team in ODU. We knew facing a quarterback like Taylor (Heinicke) who can run and (ODU head coach) Bobby (Wilder) is a good football coach, so we knew they'd be ready to play. I was very excited that we were able to win the football game in the fashion we did. There are always first game items that you can only address after the initial game to get a starting point, and now we're able to do that. Whatever it may be, from sideline jitters to coordination, you can only get that feeling in the actual game. It was great to be able to do that. It was a great starting point for us. The team chemistry was so evident among us and among those guys and coaches. Where one unit is on the field the other two or three units are supporting that group. The team chemistry was really evident in that game and I was really proud to see that.
"I thought our special teams unit was a difference maker. Since coach (Kirk) Doll's taken over at special teams, that unit has really taken off. His staff that is made up of Coach (John) Wiley, Coach (Dave) Nichol, Coach (Duane) Price, and Coach (Donnie) Kirkpatrick, they did a great job of preparing our guys. We talked all week about that being a weapon from the speed of our team, athleticism, and the experience of our specialists. We made sure that phase of our team was at a different level than it had been in the past. They had one return for five yards and I thought our coverage unit did a really good job of just making sure they cover.
"T he offense did a good job of playing fast. A lot of teams from this past weekend were behind on offense a little bit, but our offense did a good job of playing fast - not just fast in tempo, but in execution fast. From Shane (Carden) running the offense to the receivers and offensive line, I really was proud of those guys. We've talked about five pennies and one nickel, those guys played as a nickel up front. (Offensive line coach) Brandon (Jones) rotated C.J. (Struyk) and Taylor (Hudson) at center and those two guys did not fall off. Those guys upfront did a really good job of protection in our running game phase. I thought our receiving core, which I was questioned about a lot during fall camp and those guys did a good job of stepping up. Each position made the routine plays - routine catch, routine block. Both Tay (Vintavious Cooper) and Cory (Hunter) did a good job in the run game. They ran the ball well and became their own blocker. They protected well and kept each other fresh as well. I like that combination, they really blocked well for Shane during the game. Shane did a good job of leading us and distributing the football to all five guys. That's the biggest thing about this offense: the distribution of the football, and Shane did a really good job of that. I really like the way he's grasped this offense. (Offensive coordinator) Lincoln (Riley) has added some things, flavor-wise, to it in the run game. Shane is at that point where he's understanding distribution, the when, where and how. He was able to extend some plays, and that's always been a part of his repertoire. But what he did the other night was staying within the pocket to open up routes, so I was proud to see him get to that level.
"Defensively facing Taylor (Heinicke), we knew we were facing a mobile quarterback. Every offense has that type of dual-threat quarterback and he did a good job. He's a really good football player. I thought there was some things we could have done better and the defense knows that. When he was scrambling around, that meant we had great coverage. Great coverage means great pass rush, great pass rush means great coverage. The thing we have to make sure is that we contain a guy like Taylor and we'll get that handled and fixed. Nothing happened in the game Saturday that we can't fix, we won't fix, or we haven't begun fixing already. There were some big plays also that I thought were turning points. We talk about game situations in starting the game fast, right before the half making some big plays and right after the half. When we get in the fourth quarter I feel very confident in our football team making sure we're able to close things out. That's not to disrespect anybody else, but it's because I respect what (strength and conditioning) Coach (Jeff) Connors and our team in how we react and work. Right after the half, the defense comes out starts fast. On the first drive, Gabe Woullard gets a sack and Ty Holmes scoops up the loose ball and gets to the end zone to give us a little bit of momentum to start the second half. That was a very important part of that game for us. Just before the half, Shane was scrambling and found Davon (Grayson) late in the endzone. Sometimes you've got to take a little chance there and we're known to do that. That was a good play there toward the end of the half. In the fourth quarter, I thought we did a good job of hanging in there as a team. Great win for the Pirates."
On Florida Atlantic:
"We're looking forward to diving right into FAU. We started exposing our team to FAU during the fall camp to break up monotony. If you stay on one team too long, it'll become stale to the team. So I thought we did a good job of spacing ODU and FAU, then coming back to ODU during fall camp. We know we'll face another team that spreads the football. (FAU head coach) Carl (Pelini) and I have battled one another in the Big 12 when he was at Nebraska along with his brother, Bo (Pelini). He's always got good coaches, he's got the Youngstown, Ohio crew, a good group of coaches. Carl and I have known each other a long time and we've had some good challenges versus one another.
"Offensively, they rotated three guys at quarterback the other night against Miami (Fla.). I think they've got it down between two guys right now. Jaquez Johnson (6-2, 210), got a lot of time. He has a lively arm, mobile, can run and has good size. They also rotated freshman Greg Handerson. Both those guys are similar, Handerson is not as big, but has quickness. He can throw the football well and led the team well. They'll be a team that has design runs for the quarterback, similar to what we faced with ODU. We have to make sure we do a good job containing them. They have great speed and athleticism at the wide out and skill positions. This morning I finished watching the Miami game and I thought FAU matched up with their athleticism.
"Jonathan Wallace is their starting tailback and he has good size standing at 6-1 and weighing 210 pounds. He has good speed, is a downhill runner and does a good job of running between the tackles. Up front DeAndre Williams and Mustafa Johnson have the most starts of the offensive linemen. Those guys do a good job up front, so we've got to make sure we do a good job up front defensively. We'll have to maintain and have great gap integrity on run and pass rush lanes. They'll spread the football and work from some compact offensive formations.
"Defensively they are multiple using mostly a four-man front, similar to what they've done before. They've got several returning starters from last year's team. D'Joun Smith, Keith Reaser, who is one of the returners, and Andrae Kirk are really good football players. Offensively, we have to make sure we keep improving on our strengths and weaknesses, and do a good job of executing. They have a lot of speed and a lot of Florida kids are integrated in that team, which means speed and athleticism.
"I'm looking forward to another exciting game. It's a conference game here. We're glad to be at home and at Dowdy. Thursday night, we'll make sure our home field is full of Pirates again. We need you. We expect you. We know you're going to show up in full force, like you always do. It's exciting because it is the next game."
On FAU's Offense and Concerns ECU Might Face:
"The speed of their skill set. The quarterbacks are mobile, so we've got to make sure we do a good job of that. They do the same things with both of the quarterbacks. There's not any different game plan for quarterback "A" or quarterback "B". We just have to make sure we do a good job on the little things. I mentioned gap integrity on pass rush lanes. We have to keep doing a better job and improving in coverage, making sure we keep doing all the things we worked on during fall camp. We can't panic. Things happen during the game, but we just have to relax up front."
On the Possibility of the Majority of Plays Being Pass Plays:
"I think it dictates what the opponent is doing most of the time. Having the ability to do both (throw and run) is important when it's all said and done. If they are giving you things, you have to be able to take advantage them. If it's a run game, we feel comfortable to have that as part of our package with Tay, Cory and our offensive line. We have to make sure we continue to distribute the football whether it's by pass or by handoff, but the game and the schematic thought from the opposing team really dictates a lot of what you're able to do."
On FAU's Run Game:
"Everybody adjusts differently against us. Miami (Fla.) is more of a tight end offense and they'll spread you a little bit, but not like what we do. You really can't get the true adjustment from Lincoln's (Riley) point of view versus Miami's offense. We'll look at it and be prepared to handle whatever looks we see defensively. Carl (Pelini) does a good job of blending looks and coverages. It'll be a great task by our coaching staff, Shane and our entire offense making sure we're able to adjust and react."
On the Pressure ECU's Front Seven Put on ODU QB Taylor Heinicke:
"I thought we defended and covered well. Taylor is and elusive quarterback and we knew that going into the game. We didn't know how mobile he was by just watching on film. I was pleased with our effort. Our kids are disappointed because they have a high expectations and I know (defensive coordinator) Rick (Smith) does too. There's no need to feel bad, that's a good quarterback. You watch that team, they'll have some success. I was proud of our team on the sidelines. They never panicked when I went over there to them. It was, `Ok give me an adjustment.' It was just make your plays, don't lose your poise, and just keep fighting. The biggest thing I want to correct from the first game will be our penalty situation. That's unusual for us. We had nine penalties in the game and I think last year it took us two or three games to get to nine. So I've addressed that with our team. That's the biggest thing. Three of them were administrative, then we had four fundamental penalties, which we can correct that with technique. Two - the late hit on the quarterback (not acceptable) and the push out of bounds - we can correct those. And that's what I expect."
On the Unveiling of the Black Uniforms for Thursday's Game:
"I'm excited about it. What excites me, and I always mention this, is our kids. They were excited about it. The coaches were, we held it from them, and they didn't know anything about it until last night. I'm excited because the kids are excited. I'm excited because of the recruits and everybody else involved. For the kids in recruitment it's awesome. We told the team last night that this is not a one-night wonder. It's going to be a combination. We'll still have white-on-white, purple-on-purple, purple-on-white, that is still part of our mix. But, now we're able to have some different match combinations. There will be combinations that we can blend. I told our kids last night, `the uniforms are fantastic. I love them.' The excitement is great. But it starts from them first, what's inside. The person that puts the uniform on is more important. I love the uniform. But making sure the kids understand how we practice and how we prepare and when our fans are cheering, they're cheering for that Pirate that's inside that uniform. We're excited about it. Our fans will love it. It's a nice, classy look. I'm excited."
On preparing for a Short Week with a Thursday game:
"We started planning for the short week the first of June, right before our camps when we finished spring recruiting. Our project during the summer for our coaches, besides the scouting reports, was to start thinking about the fall schedule. We think about how many days until the first game. When do we want to start exposing the team to ODU, for example? So we knew back in June that we needed to tap on the FAU team a little bit because of the short week. It's a quick turnaround. Coach Connors is the best in the country and he understands that, so he got his work in yesterday. The exposure that we gave our team during fall camp helped last night because we were able to jump in where we left off on all three sides."
On Justin Hardy's Performance Against Old Dominion:
"Justin is an All-American. He does it off and on the field. He is a great student, a really great football player and really intelligent. Justin works at his craft and is as humble a kid as you want to meet, but is confident in his ability. He is forming his own niche into that category of some of the great ones. He's a good one. He'll do whatever is necessary from blocking, to catching and route running. I asked him this fall what he was working on and he said, `making sure my routes are better.' I thought we saw that Saturday night."
On ECU's Receivers and How They Match up Against FAU's Defensive Backs:
"I mentioned about the skill set offense at FAU, they also have athleticism and speed at the back end. Miami's a fast football team and I saw FAU match up with them as well. We have to make sure we do a good job with execution, playing fast, continuing our fast pace - not just the NASCAR hurry up - but playing fast. They do a good job and Carl (Pelini) does a good job defensively. So we have to make sure we do a good job executing and continuing to play fast."
On the Adjustments Made on the Pass Rush from the First Half to the Second Half:
"We kept adding some things to the rush, adding a guy to the rush. I thought Rick (Smith), Marc Yellock, John and Duane did a good job making adjustments to get there. We watched film and there's always stuff you can learn. So we'll make sure we keep applying. What I told our guys is: improve on our strengths, fix your weaknesses, and don't let the same mistake beat you twice."