Head coach Ruffin McNeill addressed the media prior to Saturday's Homecoming game against Tulane.
Oct. 24, 2011
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Second-year East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against Tulane. The following are selected comments:
"It was a great team win. I thought all three sides of the ball played well and we received a lift from our fourth side, the sideline. For the second week in a row, our sideline has been electric. Our travel group has really ignited our team. I was very pleased with that.
"It was a big team win for us. Definitely all sides of our team really did some things that were intangible and kept us in the game. When tough things happened, we hung in there. Our guys kept me in the game. I'm very proud of them.
"It was also another great program win. Any success benefits you. It gives you the confidence you need. The win lets the players and coaches know the hard work is paying off.
"We were banged up going into the game and we're still that way. I thought the guys did a great job getting treatment and going through rehab. They fought through some things.
"We found out Thursday that Justin Hardy and Terry Williams would not be able to make it in the game. Justin's was a fluke thing. He was going up to make a catch and just came down wrong. He'll be done for a few weeks but we hope to get him back. Terry, our backup nose guard, was hustling to the ball. His was a late deal because we thought he would get cleared but didn't. I was proud of the group for fighting through everything.
"We knew we were going into a physical game against a disciplined football team. It was going to be a grinding game. We knew we would have to play hard, smart and take care of the football. We did those three things. We played extremely hard. We played smart and only committed two penalties. We also didn't turn the ball over and were able to get a turnover. We knew we would have to do those things to win the football game.
"I thought the guys did a great job maintaining the excitement we talked about two weeks ago. They were enthusiastic and pulling for one another. They're living what they said they would do as a group. I'm proud of that. We're still not through it. We have a lot of improving and progressing to do yet. I keep talking about these things because they're very important for our team and where we want to go.
"All the credit goes to our players and coaches. Those guys upstairs dove right into Tulane film last night and are watching more right now. All the credit goes to those guys.
"We had a great travel party up in Maryland that came with us. It was good to see the Pirate fans in the stands."
On The Offense Against Navy
"The offense played great and did a great job grinding it out. They answered in some tough situations. Dominique Davis I know got a lot of credit after the game for setting some records, but the offensive line was the key.
"All year long, that was a group we had to have develop. It had four new starters and we've had some injuries up there, especially with our oldest guy, Doug Polochak. We had to start Jordan Davis and Josh Clark in spots they had never played before. During the second half of the Memphis game, that group started to jell a little bit. Continuity is key. That group did a very good job against a disciplined defense. [Navy defensive coordinator] Buddy Green is one of the top coaches around.
"The offensive line excelled in the run and pass games. Dominique was protected well and they opened up good lanes for our backs. That last drive was a signature drive by that group. They were very aggressive, used good technique, established a new line of scrimmage and protected Dominique."
On The Defense Against Navy
"Defensively, we knew it would be an assignment football day. I was very proud of that group. When you play an option offense like Navy has, it requires a lot of eyes on the run game. On every play, every player has to do his assignment. That's tough.
"Our guys, even when they had a tough play happen to them, kept their heads up and kept fighting. Navy did more things on offense against us than they had all year. Our defense did a very good job. [Defensive coordinator] Brian Mitchell, [associate head coach - inside linebackers coach] John Wiley, [defensive line coach] Marc Yellock and [outside linebackers coach] Duane Price did a good job of adjusting and having adjustments ready.
"You have to commit so many guys to the run, which is what you have to stop. We went into the game making sure we could control the fullback play. We knew Kriss Proctor was a very good quarterback with speed. We had to do a good job controlling him. We also pursued to the perimeter. I thought our defense did a great job. They did a really good job playing with exactness - dive responsibility, quarterback responsibility and perimeter responsibility. The play-action pass got us late, but when you tie guys to the run that's going to happen. I liked that we kept fighting."
On The Special Teams Against Navy
"Special teams were the glue and spark that held us together. We had some fluke things happen with the kickoff return for a touchdown. That unit had been playing great for us. We thought we had the guy wrapped up, but he came out and scored. Our kickoff coverage team came out and rebounded after that.
"We also had Michael Barbour, who is one of the top kickers I've been around, push a few to the right. The first thing Michael said was, `That's on me.' I told him it was on me and we would get it done. He came back out and drilled the one right before the half. That was an important field goal as we won by three.
"I was very happy with the win. The satisfaction for me came after the game when I was able to watch the faces of the players and coaches in the locker room."
"Now we have to move to Tulane. Last week, Coach [Bob] Toledo, who I've followed for a long time, resigned. That was a surprise to me. I had a chance to meet Coach Toledo at our different head coaching functions within the conference. He was always very nice to us, especially to first-year coaches in the league. He was always there for us. I haven't spoken with him yet, but it was surprising to me.
"Mark Hutson, an Oklahoma graduate, has been around the game for a long time. He is one of those assistants who has moved around a lot. I've been where he is as an interim head coach."
On Tulane's Offense
"The offense will be led by Ryan Griffin. He is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in our league. He's very efficient. Like with Case Keenum, Griffin is not a guy who you will be able to fool with coverage. He has seen just about all of it. He does a really good job throwing the football. When you watch the film, he's their leader.
"Orleans Darkwa, from Nashville, Tenn., is a great athlete at running back. He has speed and size as he is 6-foot-0 and 214 pounds. He can run and catch it. They use him quite a bit in the passing game with screens and perimeter passes.
"They have two freshmen receivers with great athleticism and speed. The offensive line has a lot of experience.
"Their offense is going to be a spread set where they will use three and four wide receivers. They're also able to get in a tight end set with a wing and two running backs. They'll use play action, misdirection and pulls. The offense is one we'll certainly have to prepare for."
On Tulane's Defense
"Defensively their best player, and one of the best in the league, is linebacker Trent Mackey. He's the leading tackler with 100. The next closest guys have 44. Mackey is the team leader. He's a really good football player. He reminds me a lot of Jeremy Grove. They're both physical, understand the game and are very in touch with what's going on with the other team's offense. They don't miss many reads.
"Their top defensive lineman is Dezman Moses, who is the leading sack guy with five. He'll require a lot of attention with either backs chipping on him or offensive linemen giving extra help. Moses has speed.
"They're a four-man front and play more man concepts than any other team we've faced. They rely on a four-man rush and defending with seven. You'll see some zone, but primarily man. They'll try to double the best receiver and do some combination things. Their secondary has a lot of speed and range. They're very sound and have the third-best pass defense in the league. We have to make sure we're ready to go on offense and the line will be key for us again.
"On their special teams, the two young receivers will be returners. Derrick Strozier has great speed and athleticism and is the punt returner. Robert Kelly is the backup tailback and they'll use him a lot on trick plays, reverses and in the passing game. He's also and the top kickoff return guy.
"We have to make sure we have the guys ready to go. The 24-hour rule was in effect yesterday. The guys came back and got treatment. We lifted and I'm looking forward to getting on the field Tuesday to continue what we're doing."
On The Injuries
"Reggie Bullock, Adhem Elsawi, Justin Hardy and Justin Jones are all out. Torrance Hunt and Terry Williams are probable. Derrell Johnson is questionable. We hope to get him back. He's a tough guy and will be in there if he can be. We might also get Doug Polochak back this week. There are a lot of nicks and bruises this time of year."
On Returning Home After Three Road Games
"I'm looking forward to getting back inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and in front of our home fans. I know there will be a lot of festivities with Homecoming. We've been road warriors for three weeks so it'll be good to get back home. I'm looking forward to the game and preparation."
On Being An Interim Head Coach
"I took over about 30 minutes before the first team meeting for the bowl game. I think one thing is making sure your staff is on the same page. That was the first thing I had to do before the Alamo Bowl. The next thing is addressing the players and making sure those guys are still focused on doing their jobs. It's a tough deal.
"I'm sure Mark will handle it well. This is his second stint being an interim head coach. Eastern Illinois was his first opportunity to be the interim. He's been there before so he probably has a pretty good handle on the situation. Keeping the coaches together was first for me with the players immediately after that. Once we had everybody on the same page, we were ready to go."
On Building Confidence Within The Team
"Any success gives you confidence. It validates the hard work you put in. This group and staff is the hardest working staff I've been part of. They're relentless; I have to run them out of here. The players, with [Assistant Athletics Director/Strength and Conditioning] Coach [Jeff] Connors and his staff, get after it.
"This group has put in a lot of work and extra work. To see it payoff is very important. Success is vital for the program. We've had some tough times and faced adversity, but we said we could handle it. Now we've had the opportunity to handle it. We're not there yet, but we're progressing. The success helps us know the work is paying off for us.
"In the last two games, we have fallen behind early and fought back to win. Against Navy we had some good things happen and some tough things happen in the game. We hung in there, the offense had to answer, the defense had a key hold and special teams had a big play. Anytime you have success, it adds confidence to the team."
On The Respect For Service Academies
"I had a chance to play at Air Force before, but this was a great experience. I have so much respect for the military as a whole and especially the service academies. Eight of my family members have served in the military.
"What those young men at the service academics have to do, with the time they put in plus the obligation after they graduate, is enormous. I respect everything about them.
"I'm glad our players were able to be a part of it. We knew about the post-game tradition of following them over to their band and then them coming over to ours. Navy's young men were disappointed after the game, just as we were last year. But they were great young men, especially Alexander Teich. He's going to be a great military officer for us. I have an immense amount of respect for all the academies."
"I have so much pride in East Carolina University. I never get tired of saying this, but it's an honor for me to be here and a small part of things. For 29 years I was not able to attend Homecoming because I was coaching somewhere else. Last year was the first one I was able to be at. To be a part of it now is an honor.
"I'm looking forward to making sure we have great preparation so we can play at a very high level Saturday. To have a part leading the team is fantastic."
On Former Coach Pat Dye
"I think a lot of Coach Dye. There were two men who influenced my life - my dad and Coach Dye. Coach Dye was similar to my dad where discipline was big, but you had to take pride in who you are and what you are. This was Coach Dye's first head coaching job after leaving Coach Bear Bryant at Alabama. Coach Bryant came here my sophomore and junior springs to speak at Coach Dye's clinics. Coach Dye was a big influence on me. I respect him so much as a man.
"Coach Dye taught me about handling adversity, too. He went through a lot of adversity here and taught me that tough times don't last but tough people do. He fought through the hard times here. He was a big influence on what I do.
"He called me when I first got the job and I've seen him on television a few times since."
On The Last Two Wins
"What we've done the last two weeks is practice well, work hard, be accountable to one another and push each other. It works both ways - from coaches to players and players to coaches. We have to watch our time on the field with practice because we are a little banged up now. We have to practice well, prepare well and go into the game with a lot of enthusiasm. We'll take it one game at a time and play the best we can against Tulane."
On Potential Overconfidence
"Our team is growing. They've found out that if we stay the course it'll pay off. I will hold the leaders within the team accountable, starting with myself. That's why I'm anxious to get on the field Tuesday. I feel very confident our guys will be ready to go Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
"We know we're going to face a Tulane team that's going to be emotional. We have to take care of our business and stay the course. If good things happen that's great. If tough things happen, we'll hang in there. They were encouraging each other, both players and coaches, the last few games. We have to continue that."
On Matt Aiken's Near Game-Winning Touchdown For Navy
"I knew he didn't bring it into his body so it was a no catch. That's one of the rules. It was a tough call, but they reviewed it and I thought made the correct call. It was a great effort by that young man. I thought Emanuel Davis had good position, but it was a good throw and near catch."
On The Strategy For Overtime If It Was Necessary
"I thought ahead a little bit if they did make the field goal. I felt the atmosphere, attitude and mentality on the sideline was that we were not going to lose that game. I thought we went into the game with a purpose as a group. Defensively, I thought we were more than up to the task. That offense stresses you.
"The kids were not going to lose that game. I'm sure the other coaches felt that, too. If it went into overtime, so be it. We were ready.
"If we committed a penalty or didn't score, the mentality was coach don't worry about it. In overtime, we wanted to go on defense first and see what we had to do on offense. We had a plan in place."
On Not Committing A Turnover At Navy
"We have continued working on it. We've emphasized it since I've been here. At the end of every practice ever since I've been here, we do turnover drills. The offense goes through a ball security drill and defensively they have whole circuit with stripping balls, scooping up loose balls and making interceptions. We've always had that from day one.
"It was good to see the guys take care of the football. We talked about playing smart and we did that. We talked about playing hard and we did that. We talked about turnover ratio since the spring. Against Navy's offense, you cannot turn the ball over. Last year we turned it over four times in the second half against them. We gave their offense plus field position. You can't give any offense that field position, especially this type of offense that can just grind you down. I was pleased with the turnover-free day. I thought that was a key to the win."
On The Running Game Heading Into Tulane
"It goes back to the five-man unit up front. Those guys established themselves. All game long it was a pounding. The last drive, [offensive coordinator] Lincoln [Riley] ran it right up the middle. Reggie was hurt, Torrance was out and [Michael] Dobson got hurt on the last play of the Memphis game. We had one running back with Zico Pasut as the only other option.
"It was great to be able to control the football. It starts with the offensive line. They did a great job establishing a new line of scrimmage and communicating. There was continuity. They have to operate like a basketball team, all moving in the same direction.
"We just have to see how we rehab and progress this week. We'll get it done. Somebody will step up just like the other day. Those guys are doing a great job of being professional and getting treatment with [Assistant Athletics Director/Medical Services (Head Athletic Trainer)] Mike Hanley. We arrived in Annapolis and went straight to treatment. I'm proud of that behavior. We have to do the same thing this week."
On Differences In Tulane With Hutson Serving As The Interim Head Coach
"I watched the Memphis game and I saw a sound defense. They blend their coverages well. They will blitz and play more man than anything, which hasn't changed. Offensively, they'll still spread it, but I saw some up-tempo play. They're still mixing in personnel groups - four wide receivers, three wide receivers with a tight end, three wide receivers with one back and even getting in a two-back, two-tight end set. That hasn't changed much.
"Mark is an offensive line coach so they do a great job up front. He'll get them going. This is his second time as an interim head coach, so he has a pretty good idea of what he has to do. If any situations arise, he probably has a good idea how to handle them."