Head Coach Skip Holtz
Oct. 27, 2008
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 The Open Date:
"Last week we really went back to a fall camp mentality. We did a lot of inside drills in full pads and really went at it hard Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Again on Sunday night we came out in pads, which is a little bit outside the norm for us.
"We just feel that we have a lot of younger players who we really need to develop right now with the injuries. Looking at the depth chart, some of the young guys are really going to have to step up. We're really trying to get an evaluation of where we are right now and where some of these younger players are in terms of how far away they are from being ready to play and contribute. Quite of few of them are going to have to turn and step up, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
"We did a lot of good versus good against each other and rolled in a lot of teamwork, probably about an hour every day trying to put many of these young players in a game-like atmosphere. We wanted them to have to look over at the chains, check the down-and-distance and have to make changes in the defense, from zone to blitz and so on.
"I thought it was a very productive week for us as we get into these final five conference games. Right now we're a little bit of a different team than we were earlier with so many of the changes that have been made. We came into fall camp with one freshman on our two deep on defense. Now, all of a sudden, when you look at where we are after seven games, we have eight of them. A lot of those guys are going to have to step up and play for us."
"On the offensive side of the ball, the only injury that is new is the D.J. McFadden situation, as he is out with a hamstring injury. On the defensive side of the ball we've had a number of injuries. When you look at Marcus Hands, he's a new one who is going to be out with his back. Khalif Mitchell, on the defensive front, is going to be out. Melvin Patterson is out with a leg injury. J.J. Milbrook is very doubtful right now with an ankle injury. Jerek Hewett is out with a shoulder injury, as he underwent shoulder surgery last week. All of a sudden you take those five out of a group that had already lost Brandon Setzer, Quentin Cotton and some of those players and there are a lot of young players who are now going to have to turn and play."
"They've had the opportunity to play some special teams, and that's why this week was so important for us. It was a camp like mentality with where we are.
"It's going to be a challenge as a program. I'm not certainly here complaining about it, moaning and groaning or trying to make an excuse. That's just the challenge of where we are right now and what we're facing as a program as we get ready to get into this five game conference race, and the final five games of the year."
"Stepping in this week is a Central Florida team, which I think is a very talented football team. I think they've played a very difficult schedule. It's hard to look at their win-loss record and say, `Wow, they haven't won a lot of games.' But when you look at them, they've lost to Boston College, Miami and South Florida. They've had the opportunity to play Tulsa, who I think is very impressive every opportunity I've had to see them, and UTEP. They've played some very stiff competition and some very difficult games.
"When you look at them, I kind of look at this game a little bit like I looked at the Virginia game. This is a team whose record might not be impressive, but I think they're a little bit different team at home. They're 2-1 at home and their only loss is to South Florida in an overtime game. They built their new stadium a year ago and I think there's a lot of excitement and support in that program right now. I also think they're playing extremely well at home right now."
On UCF's Defense:
"When you look at them, it's a team that, defensively, you kind of say, `Wow.' In their secondary they're starting four seniors, and going into this weekend, they were leading the country in interceptions. Both of their safeties and corners are seniors who are very talented players. They break on the ball and play a lot of zone defense. I think that's probably the strength of this defensive football team and how they're playing on the back side.
"The second thing that makes this defense so special is the defensive front. I think they have two of the better defensive tackles we may play all year. That's pretty impressive when you talk about the ACC and Big East teams we've had the opportunity to play. I think they're very talented up front. In conference games, they're leading the conference and only giving up 70 yards a game rushing. Their defensive front creates a lot of penetration. They're a big reason the team has as many interceptions as it does. They're putting a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks, making them turn and throw the ball early.
"I think at linebacker they're very solid in the middle, just a little bit young at outside linebacker. But they're very athletic and they can turn and run at the linebacker level. I think defensively, this is a very good football team and it's going to be a heck of a challenge for our offense as we line up and get ready to play this game.
On UCF's Offense:
"When you look at them from an offensive standpoint, I know they've been through some question marks right now, as they're trying to find a little bit of their identity and who they are. When you look at the experience they have on defense, they're just the opposite on offense.
"They have a young quarterback who had to come in and has played five games for them so far this year. They're going back and forth between the two quarterbacks and they have four freshmen tailbacks. They do not have a receiver who is a junior or senior, they're all sophomores or younger. On the offensive line, they only have one offensive lineman who had started more than six football games up front.
"They don't have a lot of experience as an offensive football team, but they do have some talent. Right now I think they're continuing to work just to find that rhythm, what their identity is, what they're going to be and where they're going to put their saddle as an offensive football team. But they do have some talent there."
On UCF's Special Teams:
"When you look at their special teams you say, `Wow. Joe Burnett.' You don't need to say anymore. He's leading the league in kick and punt returns and he's one of the top guys in the country. As a team, they're leading the conference in kickoff coverage. I think their special teams and their defense, right now, is really carrying that football team. They are explosive and they are special on their special teams. They're really good at what they do.
"And I think Joe Burnett is a talent. When you look at him and what he's doing, where seven, eight and nine guys are having the opportunity to make a tackle on him. When you get him in open space and let him run, he is running with an attitude. He is their all-purpose yardage leader right now and he doesn't have a carry or catch. That's pretty impressive when you look at what he's doing right now as just as a return man. He is truly a guy who can take over a game and make a difference as a special teams' player."
On The Current State Of East Carolina's Team:
"We do have, fortunately with our depth, guys like Jay Ross, Linval Joseph, Zack Slate and C.J. Wilson. It's just the young guys, who have played very little football for us, who are going to walk in behind them and who are going to have to give us 15-20 plays a game.
"We look forward to the challenge we have. It's an exciting time right now to get into the conference race. We kind of draw that line and put the non-conference games behind us and we know what we're battling for at this point. The non-conference games are done and we're lining up, in a challenge, in a race for the conference and we're excited about the opportunities that we have."
On Preparing The Younger Players To Play:
"We went back to that camp approach last week mainly to find out where they are, how far away they are, how many plays they can give us, what we can do with them and what they can handle not only from a mental standpoint, but also a physical standpoint. I say all the time on a football team, offensively and defensively, you try and identify your strengths and weaknesses. You go into the season and say, `How can we hide our weaknesses and highlight our strengths?' One of the strengths we've had as a defensive football team has been our depth. We've played an awful lot of people and kept a lot of fresh people on the field. We just have to find out how far away these eight guys are from being able to give us some quality moments. I think they've done a nice job. Not necessarily with doing anything special, but we've identified where we are with them right now, which was the main thing we tried to get out of last week."
On ECU's Quarterback Situation:
"They'll both play. We are in a very fortunate situation, to have two quarterbacks who have a lot of experience under their belts. They've both played and been in game-like situations. I said it after the game; I thought Rob Kass did a really nice job of going in and managing the game last week. I thought he took what the defense gave him, made some nice reads and made some nice throws. I thought he did a nice job and we were able to put some points up on the board.
"Rob needs to play, but their strengths are different. Right now I don't think there is a lot of difference between the two as far as productivity. I think they're both doing some good things. Until one really emerges as the difference maker, I think both of them have some strengths that we're going to have to utilize, especially against the defense we're playing this week."
On The Importance Of Leadership on Defense:
"It's huge, even more so now because they're [C.J. Wilson and Pierre Bell] not leading Marcus Hands, Khalif Mitchell and guys who have had a lot of experience, but they're leading a lot of guys who have never played. Again, you go over that list and you talk about Julian Carter, Derek Blacknall, Antonio Allison, Robert Jones and Maurice Mercer aren't names we've been talking about a whole lot as we have gone though the season. All of a sudden, those guys are going to have to play a key role for us. The experience of the older guys is going to be huge. We're very fortunate that we came into this season with the depth that we have, so these guys aren't forced into a major starting role for us. Instead they're being placed into a back-up role where they'll have to give us some quality reps.
"I think they're excited about the challenge right now and having the opportunity to play. That's why they came here, to play. You look at it and say it's very difficult to win when you're playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores. When you look at some of the better teams in the country, you look at them and they're playing with an awful lot of experience. That's why we've taken the approach here of redshirting a lot of the freshmen when they come in. We let them mature and develop. That way, when they get on the field, they're not learning their way out there on the game field, but are learning their way on the practice field for a couple of years. But these guys came here because they wanted to opportunity to play and they have it. Now it's just a matter of what they're going to do with the opportunities given to them.
On Playing Sunday:
"It buys you an extra day. It won't affect us as much in this game as it will the week after. If it were a Friday night game it would shorten this week, which really wouldn't bother us coming out of an open date. It kind of gives us an extra day this week to prepare, but it's going to take away a day away from us next week as we prepare for Marshall. I think it's going to be a bigger factor next week than it will be this week. Probably my biggest concern is what I'm going to do with them Friday night because that's Halloween. Normally we're traveling on Friday and they're in a hotel room, so that's probably my biggest concern. I think the extra day is going to buy us more time this week and it won't be a negative or a distraction. I've never played on Sunday night, so it's going to be a new experience for me."