Head Coach Skip Holtz
Sept. 21, 2009
GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina University Head Football Coach Skip Holtz addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against UCF. The following are selected comments:
On Last Week's Game Against North Carolina:
"Anytime you play a rivalry game, you hate to lose. I think it was a great opportunity for us to go over and play on the road at North Carolina. I was really proud of our players, the way they competed and the way they stuck together."
On ECU's Special Teams Play Against North Carolina:
"I was really impressed with our special teams. I really thought they were our shining star. With the way Matt Dodge is playing right now, he's really becoming a weapon for us as a punter and kickoff guy. You can really tell his seniority and experience is shining through. He's really doing a nice job.
"Guys like Dustin Lineback and Dekota Marshall are really giving us some great effort. I thought our cover teams were probably as good as they've been since I've gotten here. When you look at what we did on the punt team, we netted 48.8 yards per punt. The kickoff team also did a great job covering kicks. I was really pleased with the special teams. I thought it was one of our better efforts."
On The Defense Against North Carolina:
"When you look at it from an offensive and defensive standpoint, we made too many mistakes. North Carolina is a very talented team. We knew T.J. Yates could throw the ball. I had talked all week about how he was one of three quarterbacks who had impressed me since I've been here. I was really impressed with him. We knew what Yates and Shaun Draughn could do.
"North Carolina kind of took our defensive line out of the game. They threw a lot of screens and quick passes. They got rid of the ball quickly and threw a lot of high-completion passes and did a really nice job moving the chains.
"When they wanted to throw it deep, they got maximum protection and got the ball down the field. They made us play a little bit left handed and exposed what is `right now' our achilles heel, which is giving up the big play in the passing game."
On The Offense Against North Carolina:
"When you look at them on defense, their front seven is as advertised. I was impressed with their front four. I said afterword that I thought Robert Quinn was really special and Quan Sturdivant is an unbelievably active linebacker.
"When you look at the mistakes we made, we have to do a better job of running the football. We have to turn and create some big plays from an offensive standpoint. That's one of the things that is really lacking right now, large chunks of yardage. We had one drive where we had two big plays and went down the field and scored in four plays.
"We did some better things. I thought our red zone scoring was better and we got the ball in the end zone. There were a lot of things that I was pleased with like the way they competed and how important it was to them. But we had too many mistakes on offense."
On East Carolina's Defense Giving Up Big Pass Plays:
"The `elephant in the room' on defense is the big pass. That's the thing we have to be able to eliminate. It's the thing we've given up in the past two weeks. We've had 130 defensive plays the last two weeks and given up 940 yards, 500 yards have come on 16 plays. When you look at it from that standpoint, that's something we have to eliminate.
On The Opponents The Past Two Weeks:
"The past two weeks we have played two really good football teams in West Virginia and North Carolina. I was really excited about the way we played West Virginia when I watched the first half of its game against Auburn and what West Virginia was doing on offense.
"We're going to get peoples' best shot. We've talked about that. We're not going to sneak up on anybody. When you come back from a loss the last time we played like West Virginia and North Carolina were, they're going to come back with vengeance. They're going to be focused and dialed in.
"I give both teams a lot of credit. They did what they had to do to win those football games. With that being said and all the mistakes we made and some of our inexperienced miscues, both games were one score games late in the fourth quarter.
"I was really proud of the way our players competed. You knew how much it meant to them when you walked into the locker room after the game and there were tears in a lot of guys' eyes. As I said to the team last night, if we don't like where we are, we have the option to change it. If we don't like what we've been doing to this point, we can come in, study more film and do what we have to do to improve and get better as a football team."
On UCF's Offense:
"It's going to be a challenge for us right now. UCF is coming in with an awful lot of confidence. They're a 2-1 football team right now.
"Offensively, they're big, physical and very sound. Their tackles are both 6-foot-7, their tight end is 6-foot-6, even their kicker is 6-foot-5 and their punter is 6-foot-3.
"When you look at them, they're very big up front. I'm really impressed with what they're doing right now on offense. They're running the ball and controlling it, similar to what we did a year ago. They're running the ball and trying to maul people on offense.
"They've only thrown one interception in three games. They have a new quarterback in Brett Hodges, a Wake Forest transfer, who they're breaking in right now. He's really doing a nice job throwing and running.
"I think their running backs are big and physical and they have seven returning starters on offense from last year's team."
On UCF's Defense:
"When you look at them on defense, that's the strength of their football team. They're only giving up 2.8 yards per rush and one rushing touchdown this season. Very similar to the football team we played last week, it starts with their front four, which is good and has been playing together for a while.
"They return six starters. When you look at Travis Timmons, Torrell Troup and Bruce Miller, I think those three defensive linemen are really impressive. Our players feel like Miller is one of the best defensive linemen they played against last year. In last year's game, we had to score 10 points in the fourth quarter just to it into overtime.
"I think this front four is very good. At defensive end, they also have Jarvis Geathers, who they're starting to play a little more in passing situations. Last week alone, he had three sacks and two forced fumbles. He's very active, makes a lot of things happen and brings a little more speed off the corner.
"One of the ways they are protecting their young secondary is by pressuring the quarterback. They're going to load the box and dare you to throw it. Their linebackers are big, physical and run pretty well. They're a very good defensive football team.
"In the secondary they have Derrick Hallman who is playing at free safety. He started for them last year at linebacker. He's very similar to our Van Eskridge. This year, they're rolling him down and putting him in a linebacker situation sometimes.
"The other three in the secondary are new this year. They're rolling guys around and trying to find the best combination of defensive backs. They hit on something at Southern Miss, when they put Josh Robinson at cornerback and he recorded 10 tackles. He had been a mainstay for them at corner since that game."
On UCF's Special Teams:
"Their special teams may be a bigger challenge for us than our offense is going to face against their defense. They will be the best we have played to this point. Their kickoff team is averaging 32.5 yards a return and is only giving up 15.9 yards per return.
"The punt team is averaging 13.1 yards per return. In three games, they have had three returns against them and held people to -2 yards. They do a great job of covering with their two gunners coming down the field. That's going to be a challenge for us. I think their kickoff and punt teams are doing a great job flipping the field. That's going to be a heck of a challenge for us this week.
"They've started a new kicker, Nick Cattoi, who is doing a nice job the last two weeks and their punter, Blake Clingan, is returning from a year ago."
On Starting The Conference USA Season:
"We're into conference play now. I think our players are excited about it. I hate where we are right now at 1-2, as do the players. But as I said, there's something we can do about it and something we can do to change it. A lot of that is going to be the preparation for this week.
"I'm excited to get into conference play and to come back and play at home.
"It was great to go play at West Virginia and North Carolina. When we came out of the locker room and had our fan section right in the corner with the band playing at North Carolina, it was a neat environment to be in and great experience for our players. But we're excited to come back at home and play in the friendly confines of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium."
On Defending The Conference USA Title:
"We broke the season down and saw the first three games as a barometer for where we are as a football team. They're non-conference games and rivalry games that we would love to have the opportunity to win, but we're going to learn something about our football team. As I told the staff this morning, what we really have to answer today in breaking down the film is what did we learned in the first three games and what we going to do to improve our football team.
"That's mostly what the non-conference games are for, to get you ready for conference play. If we can learn something from this and have our players get upset enough about losing that they do everything they can to get better and to improve our football team, then it was a positive situation heading into conference play."
"We had a guy back there who had not played a whole lot and got his first two starts against West Virginia and North Carolina. I'm not trying to blame him in any way, shape or form, but he made a couple costly mistakes that gave up 14 points Saturday. If you don't give up those points, you're in a very close game going right down to the wire that anybody can win.
"I'm proud of the way this team has competed. We're where we thought we would be from a competition and leadership standpoint. We've just been exposed a little bit with some of the situations we've been put into. We're not where we thought we would be from a win-loss situation, but I understand why we are 1-2. We have to improve on it, correct it and move on."
"Dominique Lindsay is doubtful. His shoulder is still pretty sore. We'll continue to evaluate it, but it's doubtful he'll be ready to go this Saturday.
"We're very hopeful that we can get Emanuel Davis and Levin Neal back this week after watching them run with the team last night. I'm more encouraged this week than I was last week. Last week they tried, but they weren't at 100 percent. As we said, we weren't going to put somebody out there who wasn't fully ready and risk further injury. I'm more hopeful this week with what I saw out of them yesterday.
"Antonio Allison early in the game did break his foot, which is unfortunate. When we went to West Virginia, we had a three tackle rotation with Michael Brooks, Linval Joseph and Jay Ross. When Brooks came down with flu-like symptoms and was unable to play in that game, Antonio stepped in as a defensive lineman and did a great job. We came into the North Carolina game and felt better about the defensive tackle rotation because we had four guys instead of just three.
"I think he played about five snaps Saturday and on the third play broke his foot. He refused to come out but when he did, it was broken. He'll have surgery on it this week. He's going to be out for a while. It is a weight-baring bone on the foot, so when you weigh 300 pounds, that's a concern.
"Outside of that, we have soreness, bumps and bruises, but everybody else should ready to go Saturday."
On Using Dwayne Harris In The `Wildcat' Formation:
"I think there are some things we have to clean up with that. I think that was a good addition for us, especially down in the red zone and had some scoring situations. We were able to push the ball into the end zone.
"I think we have to continue to get Dwayne more involved in our offense. He is a special player. With me making the comment that one of the `elephants in the room' is our lack of big-play productivity, we have to find a way to get those guys into situations where they can make some plays of us. It's something you'll see hopefully more and more of as the season goes on. Hopefully Dwayne will continue to get more and more comfortable in that role."
On Protecting Patrick Pinkney More:
"I think we'll have to have some more maximum protection calls. It was similar to what we did Saturday and trying to get the ball out of Patrick's hands and not making him hold it for long periods of time.
"What we probably have to do, and this fits with developing the big play, is spread the defense out and get more of a Dwayne Harris mentality where we can create space. Or we have to maximum protect and get the ball over the top.
"There are two ways to make plays, you either throw it out quick and make them tackle your athletes in space, or you maximum protect and get the ball over the top."
On The Second Half Offense And Defense:
"As I said, I was excited about what our offense did in the second half. I thought we played better in the second half than the first half.
"I know when you look at the score sheet it only says three points, but we had a 14-play drive and a 15-play drive. We took the ball down the field, made first downs and converted third downs. We were able to stay on the field a little bit more, which I was encouraged by.
"Not getting the big chunks of yards and not getting into the end zone is something we have to continue to work on.
"I thought we could be much improved Saturday from the West Virginia game and it might not show because of the caliber of defense we were playing. North Carolina had a top 10 defense. They have some athletes. I thought our players went in there and competed and did some positive things.
"To me, the negative of the second half was that we couldn't get a stop, especially on third down. We did not make them punt in the second half. We could not get the ball back.
"On offense, we came out of the locker room at the start of the second half and ran a play-action pass to try and create a big play and gain a little bit of momentum. Quinn made a great play off the edge, hit Patrick and put us with two downs to get 20 yards. We have to eliminate those lost-yardage plays. I thought the offense started to do that in the second half.
"What we did not do was get those stops in the second half that we have to have."
On Hodges' Athleticism And The Problems That Creates:
"He is a guy who can beat you with his feet or his arm. When you pack everything down like they do, they'll run some spread formations, but they're more similar to what we played this week with two-back sets.
"When you look at the mobility of West Virginia, he hurt us. That's a concern going into the game. We have to make sure we keep an edge to the defense. We have to keep him hemmed in and can't let Hodges run east and west, where he can create that big play off a scramble.
"We had 10 coverage sacks against West Virginia where Jarrett Brown didn't have anywhere to throw the ball, so he took off running. When he took off, he either gained yardage running or made a play down the field throwing. We have to make sure we keep Hodges hemmed in a little bit more than we did against West Virginia."
On Putting An Emphasis On Tackling This Week In Practice:
"You look at an athlete like Brown and when I watched Auburn try to tackle him I felt better. They looked a lot like we did. It's something we're going to have to do.
"We practice tackling every day. Every Tuesday and Wednesday we go No. 1's against No. 1's and No. 2's against No. 2's. Tackling is what you have to do on defense and we're going to have to do it well Saturday. We had 12 missed tackles against North Carolina and that's far too many."
On Having A Target On ECU's Back In Conference USA Play:
"It's not so much you feel the pressure of the target as much as you're excited to get into conference play. We love playing at home with the way our fan base and crowd has been. The crowd, enthusiasm, excitement and energy have been great.
"I think it's more than us being the defending champions and starting league games. I think it's more about what do we have to do to get it right. We've lost two games to two good football teams.
"Right now, these players are really dialed and focused in on what we have to do to get some of these things fixed. I make the comment all the time that young players want to play, then want to start and then want to win. Guys were calling us on Saturday night apologizing and saying it was their fault.
"They're locked in, which is what you want to see. I said last week that I was excited about the attitude of this team. They didn't hang their heads or pout. They're looking at it and trying to continue to get better. That's all we can do.
"We've said this before, it may be an ugly baby, but it's ours. We just have to do what we can. We've got to get it to look better than it has the last two weeks."
On Similarities Between UCF And ECU:
"Both of our special teams have played extremely well the first couple weeks of the season. The defense is the strength of both of those teams. Offensively, both teams are not really lighting it up. I think we're both struggling to find our identities and move the ball.
"From a statistical stand point, it's very similar. George O'Leary coached teams are going to be very sound, disciplined, tough and physical. They're not going to take a lot of high risks, but instead punt the ball. They're going to be content winning 10-7. That was kind of where we were, especially the last half of last season."
"Yates didn't really give us many opportunities to sack him Saturday. I thought North Carolina had a nice plan, to do a lot of screens and get rid of the ball in a hurry. When Yates did drop back, he had the outlet in the running back.
"I'm not looking at it and seeing the quarterback standing back there all day. At West Virginia, we got there, we just couldn't get Brown to the ground.
"I don't look at the stats and say we don't have enough sacks. We have to look at what the opponent is doing and what we can do to counter that attack.
"As a football season goes on, people are going to see the film and what has worked against us. They're going to notice what problems we had against West Virginia and North Carolina and then try to work that into their own attack.
"Anything you see on film, you have to counter. If you give up three or four sacks on a certain blitz, you're going to see that same type of blitz this week. Opponents want to put that play in and make you prove that you've changed.
"I don't see it as much as a lack of sacks. There are other areas on defense that we need to improve to take away some of the quick passing game to give our defensive line a chance to be involved in the passing game again."