Head coach Ruffin McNeill addressed the media prior to Saturday's key Conference USA game against Southern Miss.
Oct. 31, 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 Southern Miss. The following are selected comments:
"I thought it was a big win for us. Really, a great win. To be able to come back after an emotional win over Navy was important. After watching the film from Tulane, I was very proud of our coaches and players. All the credit goes to those guys.
"Both the players and coaches are doing a great job of preparing. [Offensive coordinator] Lincoln [Riley] and his staff on offense and [defensive coordinator] Brian [Mitchell] and his staff on defense did a very good job.
"The players did a great job of accepting the game plan and putting it into action. They did a good job of focusing and then refocusing within the game. I thought we had a very good plan going in, but had to make some adjustments, which we've done very well as a group. We adjusted during the second half.
"Going into the Tulane game, I knew it would be a tough one. Watching them on film, they play 11-man football on defense for the entire game. Saturday was no different. Defensively, we did a very good job against Ryan Griffin showing him different looks. That really helped us in getting those sacks, which were huge. Our coverage and pressure were good. I was proud of the guys with that game plan.
"In the second half, I thought it was evident we really refocused. We had struggled a little bit in the first half. Then in the second half, we made adjustments and refocused as a group. We shut them out 17-0 in the second half. I was proud of that.
"I was proud of them for staying the course mentally. It's easy to sway during a time of struggle, but they refocused as a group. The sideline, again, was great. They did a great job of generating enthusiasm. Our guys fed off of our sideline. That's how it has been on the road for the last three weeks. Those guys are really willing each other to do well.
"We have to make sure we keep developing, shaping and progressing as a team. That's very important. We need to make sure we get a little bit better each day and week. That started last night with practice. We watched film, made adjustments and made corrections. Last night we dove into those corrections and a little bit of this week and Southern Miss."
On The Offense Against Tulane
"The offense against Tulane had explosive plays. That was a key for us. Against Navy, it was more like slowly moving the ball down the field. Versus Tulane Saturday, we had a group of 10-15 yard plays. I thought the redzone execution was good. With us inside the redzone, we want to get points. We want touchdowns, but we'll take field goals, too. Going six-of-six in the redzone was big. In the second half, when things were a little bit nip and tuck, we were able to answer and put the game out of reach."
On The Defense Against Tulane
"I was very proud of our defense. In the first half, we had some situations with field position. We turned the ball over and Tulane got it at our five-yard line, but we held them to a field goal. That was big for momentum. I thought our defense did a good job on sudden change, when a turnover or field position flip happens quickly. They really didn't care where the ball was. They just wanted to get on the field and play.
"In the first half, I didn't think we were playing like we had been. The players also said that. Our tackling was not as good as it had been. In the second half we did much better."
On The Special Teams Against Tulane
"Our special teams had some sparks, but it wasn't a normal day for us in my opinion and in [special teams coordinator] Clay McGuire's mind. The effort was there by the players, but the execution and technique we have to get better at and improve this week.
"During the game we made a change at punter. We'll let them compete this week and see how it goes. We have to be able to exchange field position. That's what special teams are about, flipping the field offensively or defensively. Whether we're sending out our defense into great field position, or letting our offense take over in great field position, it's going to be big in all games.
"Again, our sideline we saw and felt was key. That group willed our team to win. I was proud of that group and proud of the sideline.
"We had a good practice last night. Treatment is always important. We have to keep our bodies in recovery mode with [Assistant Athletics Director/Medical Services (Head Athletic Trainer)] Coach [Mike] Hanley and [Assistant Athletic Director/Strength and Conditioning] Coach [Jeff] Connors.
"This week, preparing mentally and physically as well as we have the last few weeks will be very important."
On Tulane's Mark Hutson
"I thought Mark Hutson did a great job in his situation. I've been where he is and it's a tough deal. If you've been there, you know exactly what he's going through. I talked to him before the game and he's doing a really good job keeping that team together. He would be a great guy down there for the job. He's passionate and a very good coach."
On The Injuries
"Reggie Bullock, Adhem Elsawi and Justin Jones are still out. Justin Hardy is questionable and close to returning. Robert Huckabee and Cody Lyon, two of our special teams' guys, are questionable. Marke Powell is questionable. Mike Price is questionable. We still have some nicks and bruises with those guys on the borderline."
On Southern Miss' Offense
"Austin Davis is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the league as this will be his 40th career game Saturday. For consecutive weeks, we'll face an experienced quarterback. Austin has done a great job leading this offense for [Southern Miss head coach] Larry [Fedora]. He has a well-coached football team that plays extremely hard.
"These two programs are similar, and have been ever since I was playing here. There are similar modes, young men from within the state playing for the team. Those guys take a lot of pride in what they do. It's the same way here. It was the same way with these two programs when I was playing as it is now. You can see it on film.
"Austin leads them on offense and is a quarterback who is a dual threat. He can run the football as well as throw it. He can also audible extremely effectively. They have a NASCAR type speed but can also slow it down. They have a mixture between those two tempos as well.
"Jeremy Hester is the running back right now. They've had some injuries at running back, just like we have gone through. He has great speed and balance.
"Tracey Lampley is not only a running back, but also their top return guy and one of the best in the league. He has a lot of speed. He was a top recruit that some people missed on due to his size. We did not. We liked him a lot.
"The offensive line lost guys, but replaced them well with junior college transfers who really make a difference up front. They're well coached and understand the movements. They protect well in the pass and run games.
"The receivers can all run. I'm watching them on film and it's time to go to work. Those guys all do a good job. They have a lot of speed.
"They're a very balanced offense. They average about 215 rushing yards per game and 254 passing yards a game."
On Southern Miss' Defense
"Defensively, it's a typical Southern Miss group. They can all run. Former defensive coordinator Todd Bradford left for Maryland and Dan Disch has taken over. They play a 4-2-5 now with four down linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs. They're already in a nickel look, which puts more speed on the field. They'll play with five defensive backs the majority of the game and insert a sixth at times. They already had speed on the field and now they've gotten more. They can really run.
"Their top player is defensive end Cordarro Law. He's big time. We faced a great end last week and go against another one this week. Their move-around guy on defense is Jamie Collins. He's very athletic and can rush the passer. They'll use him in a blitz or in coverage.
"At linebacker, Ronnie Thornton is there. They've had some injuries at linebacker, too. The secondary really has some good football players. Marquese Wheaton is a guy we have to be aware of. He makes plays. He's good at baiting people. He has returned an interception and two fumbles for touchdowns. He's the field cornerback. Deron Wilson is the boundary corner, where the most physical one plays in their scheme, which is much like ours. That's why Emanuel Davis plays at the boundary slot for us."
On Southern Miss' Special Teams
"They have one of the top specialists in the country in kicker Danny Hrapmann. He was a first-team All-America pick last year and a Lou Groza Watch List selection this season. He's very accurate. In this game, you'll need that. I'm looking to challenge Michael Barbour this week to make sure he's stepping his game up. Hrapmann is a very good placekicker.
"It'll be a high-energy game Saturday. They've really had a great season with some big wins. Larry has done a great job. He has been there long enough now where you can tell he really has guys who fit what he wants on offense. I can remember he did the same at Oklahoma State as the offensive coordinator.
"Austin understands the offense. It's similar to what Case Keenum is doing at Houston. The change on defense going to the 4-2-5 has been a big plus for them. They've always had guys who could run. This year, they've even talked about going back to the `Nasty Boy' days under Coach [Jim] Carmody. I had some knockdown and drag-out games down there in Hattiesburg as a player.
"I'm looking forward to the game and the preparation before the game. I'm looking forward to our team developing and progressing this week."
On Concerns With Southern Miss
"They have a great football team. They do a good job on all three sides of the ball. They play hard and with great effort. I think we are similar programs. They have local guys; we have local guys. They depend on speed; we're getting to where we depend on speed. They play hard; we play hard.
"I've watched three of their games and they move the ball very well on offense and run around on defense. It'll be a game where we face a team with great energy and athletes. They're also well coached."
On Matching Southern Miss' Intensity
"It's going to be big for us. We have to keep doing what we're doing. I've been very proud of our enthusiasm and excitement. Our sideline has been big for us. We're particular about who we dress for games for a reason. When those guys dress, we expect them to participate and encourage. We started that at Memphis and did that at Navy. We forgot about that a little bit in the first half Saturday. During the second half, we remembered. The excitement is very important.
"The execution is also going to be key. We have to do a great job of doing our job. We have done that better the last few games. You can tell we're playing extremely hard when you watch the film. I mentioned our special teams' mishaps, but it's not because kids aren't playing hard.
"We have raised the standards within this team. We're playing extremely hard, but execution has to be paramount. We have to keep dancing together, pushing one another and holding one another accountable."
On The Return Of Doug Polochak
"It meant a lot. Doug was rusty when you watch him on film. It means we have even more depth because Josh Clark can play both center and tackle. Doug has been around it. They call him Coach Doug for a reason.
"He is one of those guys who understands it. When he was hurt, [offensive line coach] Brandon [Jones] had Doug helping our young guys, especially our redshirts. He was teaching them technique despite limping around with his own injury.
"It was good to have him back Saturday. He was solid inside. We also have Josh and Hugh Parker we can roll around more now."
On The Depth Of His Team
"We want to get our guys back. In this game, it's not contact but collision. You're going to have some injuries, nicks and bruises. You don't want to lose anybody, but it's a part of the game. The teams that finish it strong stay healthy or have enough depth to overcome it. Sometimes it takes two people to replace one guy, which is OK.
"I've been proud of our guys for being able to step up. Our philosophy is that if one guy goes down, another will pick up the flag. The guy who is injured is to go to Coach Hanley and Coach Connors and get treatment and rehab to get back as quick as he can. If one guy goes down, the next guy is prepared to step in.
"When all of us first got here, I knew that's one thing we wanted to install. The more people we get here, the more we are able to reload. I'm hoping we're getting there."
On The Rivalry With Southern Miss
"The guys on this team have had some battles against Southern Miss even before I got here. I was watching Southern Miss on film today and I thought about going down there against Reggie Collier and Sammy Winder. You talk about football players. It was a head-knocking game. It was hot and heavy, but fun.
"It has been a tough series year in and year out. Last year was a head-banging game down there. We know we'll have another one of those this season here. It'll be a very physical football game. We know we have a lot of things at stake in this game, just like they do."
On Comparing Southern Miss To Other ECU Opponents
"They're one of the fastest teams, on offense and defense, we'll play. They can flat-out run. Larry has been there for a while and kept most of his coaching staff intact. The defensive scheme has changed, but it remains nearly the same on offense. All Larry has done is add to the offense. I see some Oklahoma State flavor there, but also some things Larry has expanded to.
"They have speed at wide out, a plethora of running backs and an experienced quarterback. Defensively, they lost one of the top players at linebacker, but somebody else stepped in. They have speed and athleticism. It'll be tough going Saturday."
On His Team Growing As The Season Goes On
"I think one thing is that we've had success. That's the key. If you can have success and have it early in the game, that helps build confidence. Last week we had some mistakes in the first half, but were able to go in the locker room at halftime and adjust and recover. I think that's due to the kids' gain in confidence. We're staying focused and are able to refocus if we need to. They were able to do that last week. We have to be able to do that each game.
"I'm looking for us to continue to improve. The progression and improvement, physically and mentally, is important this week. I think we're becoming a mentally tough group. That's big.
"I like our sideline and what they're doing. When they finish making adjustments they're supporting one another. That helps in the recovery and refocus portion."
On The Offensive Line
"I think we built on our success. We had some rough spots last week. Going into the game, I thought Tulane played really good 11-man football on defense. Everybody fits in nicely. Up front, they did a great job of stunting and moving. We didn't play as well as we did against Navy up front. The communication was there, though, and it will continue to get better. It was Doug Polochak's first game back since going out against UAB. Our communication and footwork issues can be corrected. Coach Jones addressed it last night and got after them. We expect them to play better this week."
On Reese Wiggins
"I like Reese's maturation. Last year we could not, and would not, play Reese in a football game. He was not mentally ready. Physically, he can certainly run and do those things. Last year toward the end of the season, he was on the scout team and you could start to see him grow up a little bit. In the spring you saw that even more. In the summer, he was still adjusting to Coach Connors and his staff. He was learning how to go to the next level.
"He waited his turn and got an opportunity that he is taking advantage of. What Reese does well is block. We need it at that position. He's also catching the ball and going vertically. That's a key in this offense. He's doing a very good job of that. He's staying focused, too.
"We're all banged up, but he's doing what's necessary to play. He earned his spot on special teams first. Then Lincoln and [outside receivers coach] Dennis [Simmons] gave him an opportunity in the game. He is making catches and finishing plays. I really can't wait to see how he keeps developing. I really think he has a chance to be a very good player for us."
On Controlling Your Own Destiny
"I think in life as a whole if you're able to control your own situation you're OK. If you're able to drive your own car, that's always a positive. We just have to stay focused and stay within the moment. We have to enjoy the journey and understand that we're making progress. We're not there yet, though. That's my job and our job as coaches is to keep them focused. Our players and coaches are doing a great job of that so far.
"We're not looking ahead or anything like that. We know we have an opponent coming here that will be tough and ready to go. We have to make sure we can match that. We have to take one game at a time. We can't afford to look ahead. We have to stay focused.
"We know what's at stake. I talked to the players about our overall goals, but then get immediately back to what's at hand. Our biggest game is this week's because it's the only one we have. I'm better at making sure we're darn good at one thing than trying to be OK at 10 things. I'd rather focus on what we're doing right now.
"We have to make sure we have a good day today with recovery. We have to come out tomorrow and have a great Tuesday practice, both physically and mentally. We understand what our goals are and to keep focused on those. But I always go right back to the present. We don't have room, time or availability to look beyond that. We have to focus on Southern Miss film right now."
On Ben Ryan
"He's a full-scholarship player. They're football players who happen to punt or kick. They're not specialists who happen to play football. That's how I look at it. I get after them just like I do anybody else. I expect a lot out of Ben. I hold high expectations for Michael Barbour and Ben. They're experienced, have been around and gone through it.
"Clay has met with Ben; Ben understands the deal. I expect Ben to be one of the best punters in the league. If it's anything less than that, he'll get challenged. It's the same way with Dominique Davis, Will Simmons, Jeremy Grove or Derek Blacknall. I challenge those guys as I will anyone else on the team.
"My first day here meeting with Clay and the specialists, I told them they were football players who happen to be specialists. I told them they were not specialists who happen to be football players. They do the same thing in the weight room that everybody else does. They're not going off by themselves. I expect a lot out of our specialists. We spend a lot of time on special teams here, which is by design. Special teams will help you win football games.
"I expect field position changes from our specialists. We want to make sure we cover and return well on special teams. Our effort is outstanding, but the small things right now with four regular season games left are very important. Ben just has to get it done. Technically, he has to make sure his drop and footwork are correct. We can coach them up technically. In terms of intangibles and expectations, they're going to be placed on Ben just like anybody else on the team. I love Ben, and so much so that I'm not afraid to tell him what I expect of him."
On Justin Dixon's Return
"I think he will be a regular again. He's working hard in practice. I tell our kids exactly what I expect of them. I want the same thing from them in return. I love Justin. I love him enough to tell him I love the team more. Justin understood that.
"He went on the defensive scout team and did a great job. He met and went through the proper procedures between myself and Cary Godette, my director of administration. Justin met with Coach Mitchell and our defensive staff and went through the process with them. He now has the opportunity to be back. Right now it comes down to the team. I told Justin he passed our tests, but he has to make sure his teammates understand. He has done a good job. I expect him to grow and learn from the experience. I promised Justin I would not fail him."
On Southern Miss' 4-2-5 Scheme
"It's a case where the fifth defensive back is in the game nearly all the time. We see that look a lot offensively. He's a great cover guy who is more of a defensive back than linebacker. He's able to cover and be involved in all the coverage concepts. Their `Bandit' guy, Jamie Collins, can move around on different fronts. He can drop into coverage or blitz.
"They pose problems because you have to be able to read it. They can play different coverages on different sides. They do some neat things defensively. They can jump from man to zone concepts with the same personnel. They are well schooled. The corners and safeties are very good at disguising."