Head Coach Skip Holtz
Nov. 4, 2008
GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina University Head Football Coach Skip Holtz addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against Marshall. The following are selected comments:
On The UCF Game:
"Looking back on the Central Florida game from Sunday night, I'm really proud of this football team. They continued to compete in a football game that it didn't appear there was a lot of hope with the way the offense was executing, especially in the passing game. But yet this team continued to believe and hang in there. It was a great attitude and environment from a team standpoint because it was a real cohesive group. There wasn't a lot of complaining, moaning or groaning. Guys were picking each other up and it was a great team victory.
"When you look at the challenges that we put on the table for our defense with what they had to do keeping the ball in front of them, they did give up the one big pass play, but outside of that I thought our front seven, especially the front four, played an exceptional football game.
"When you look at the special teams, the big challenge was to try and contain Joe Burnett, and I thought Matt Dodge did a great job of punting the football and doing what we asked him to do, outside of the one that went off the side of his foot. On the other seven, I thought he did a great job of trying to put the ball in the corner and not giving them much room. We went into it and said that we just have to make sure on kickoffs and punt returns, that we don't get hurt because Burnett has taken a couple to the house. We didn't want him to turn and change the game. I thought our special teams did a really nice job in that phase.
"The return teams, I was a little disappointed in. We had three penalties in the kicking game. Obviously, one took back a big return by T.J. Lee, which would have started us inside the seven-yard-line. We have to eliminate some of those penalties and shore some of those things up.
On The Passing Game:
"The concerning part, and the other area that we need to address as a football staff, is the passing game. When you look at the inconsistencies in the passing game, you can't attribute it to any one area on the football field. You can't just say it was the quarterback and that we didn't throw the ball accurately. You can't say that it was the receivers, who dropped every pass we threw. You can't say it was the protection. You throw the ball 20 times, give up six sacks, drop five balls and every receiver says, `Well, I only dropped one.' Then your quarterback misses four or five open receivers. All of a sudden, you're 4-20 throwing the ball and we've got to get more consistent than that.
On Not Converting On Third Down:
"That was the big frustration in the first half. We had seven drives in the first half, five of them ended on third down and three yards or less. That's the frustration thing. It wasn't like we were in 3rd-and-10 or 3rd-and-12. You have to have a higher batting average on 3rd-and-3 than we did in the first half.
"That was frustrating and we really challenged the players at halftime. I thought they came out and did a much better job in the second half of controlling the ball, making some first downs and I thought the defense continued to thrive, not giving up a point. They did a great job."
On The Play Of The Younger Players:
"The other story of Sunday was about some of the younger guys who really had to step up. We talked about some of the younger guys who were going to be on the depth chart and they had to step up. When you look at the offense, the job that Norman Whitley did was pretty obvious, but even Joe Womack had a couple of catches and gave us some key minutes at the split end position. Travis Melvin came in with the injuries to Stanley Bryant and D.J. Scott and did a good job at the tackle position. Some of those young guys on offense really did a nice job of stepping in there. Hopefully, we're starting to build that depth back up from some of those injuries that we suffered earlier in the year.
"It's the same thing on the defensive side of the ball. With Melvin Patterson being out right now, Cliff Perryman is a redshirt freshman who started, did a great job, made some tackles, and ran around. We're trying to be really simple when he's out on the field so he knows what to do because he has some talent and I think he's going to be an excellent linebacker. Robert Jones, who played about 20 snaps in the middle of the defensive line, did a great job of giving Jay Ross and Linval Joseph a little time to breathe on a couple of those drives. I thought Robert Jones did a really nice job along with Emanuel Davis. Davis went in at the corner position, as a redshirt freshman, caused the fumble at the end of the game and then came back in and had the interception during the overtime period. When you look at the final three or four defensive plays, Davis created turnovers to help seal the win.
"I think, as we've talked about before, there's some talent there, we just have to get them some experience. It was nice to see those guys get in there and make the most of their opportunities."
"From an injury standpoint, I already talked about Stanley Bryant and we don't know what the prognosis is. At this point he is very doubtful for this weekend. They're doing an MRI to find out exactly what damage was done to his knee. It was a noncontact injury. He was pass protecting a defensive end and his knee just buckled underneath him. It's one of those freak things that happen. It's not related to the injury he suffered earlier this season.
"D.J. Scott had a concussion and had to leave the game. You just don't know how long it's going to take him to clear with everything. We're hopeful that he can come back because when you take him out, that leaves you with two tackles and you're down to your fourth tackle in Travis Melvin. But I thought Travis went in on Sunday and did a nice job.
"J.J. Milbrook is still nursing a little of an ankle injury. He played in the game and the ankle swelled up on him, so we're going to have to limit what he does. Josh Smith should be fine. He had a little of a neck injury.
"The positive news is that Scotty Robinson should be ready to return this Saturday. He came back out there last week and we were torn on whether or not to play him against UCF. After watching him in practice on Thursday and Friday we made the decision that he wasn't ready and it wasn't worth the risk. But we'll put him back out there this week and see what he can do running around on his foot. We're hoping to get him back because losing both him and Marcus Hands as your back-up end have made C.J. Wilson and Zack Slate play the entire football game. So hopefully that will be positive news.
"Out of the 21 guys who are out on our depth chart right now, 15 of them are scholarship players and it's creating some opportunities for some of these younger guys to step up. As we keep saying, a lot of these guys with injuries will not be coming back this season with Jerek Hewett, Dominique Lindsay and Quentin Cotton. So we just have to continue to bring these young guys along and develop the depth on this football team as we get ready to run down this conference stretch."
On The Marshall Game:
"I think this is going to be a big game for us this weekend. We're excited to come back home. We only have two at home out of our final four football games. This is a really big game when you talk about conference implications and the division lead, as both of us are 3-1 at this point. The winner of this game is going to come out the clear-cut favorite so there are many conference implications within this game."
"I think Marshall is a very good football team. They've had a difficult schedule as they have played Wisconsin and West Virginia on the road and Cincinnati at home. You look at their win-loss record and say they've lost some football games, but they've lost to some very talented BCS football teams.
"When you look at them, this is a very talented group. It's the same football team that absolutely dismantled Houston, and we saw what Houston did to us at home a couple weeks ago. So you know just what this team is capable of doing right now.
"I think Mark Snyder has done a great job with this football team. I've known Mark for a long time. He's a very good football coach. He's fundamental, disciplined and sound. They're going to play great defense and they've got more weapons on offense than they've had in years past. They're playing really well with an awful lot of confidence right now as a football team. That win from the Houston game gives them an 11 day break coming in to play us and it's almost like an open date. I'm sure they'll be well-rested and excited to come in here and play."
On Marshall's Defense:
"Rick Minter, their defensive coordinator, and I have coached together on two different occasions, at Notre Dame and South Carolina. I know what Rick does and how he thinks. He's got a great football mind and I know he's very aggressive as a defensive coordinator. He's going to give you a lot of different looks that you have to line-up and play with.
"I think this is a very talented defense. I said last week with Central Florida that I thought their two defensive tackles would be two of the best we would play all year, out of anybody on our schedule. Coming out of that game, I feel stronger about that statement now than I did going into it when I look at just how good those guys were.
"I feel the same way about Marshall's linebacking corps. When you look at their two linebackers inside, Mario Harvey and Maurice Kitchens, I think they're two of the best linebackers we're going to play. They're both about 240 pounds and they're fast and extremely physical. Harvey had a field day against us last year with 13 tackles. He's all over the field, has great speed and can run like a skill-player, but weighs 244. I think he's one of the mainstays. Then, Kitchens was the Conference USA Defensive Player-of-the-Week last week. He's 6-foot-3, 246 pounds and a great athlete. Those two guys in the middle kind of set the tempo and the tone.
"Inside, they're very big. When you look at them, they have a lot of big players who they keep rolling out. They're playing a lot of guys inside. But when you talk about their defensive front, it starts with Albert McClellan at the defensive end. He was the Conference USA Defensive Player-of-the-Year two years ago before he had a knee injury. He came back this year. Two years ago when we played them here in Greenville, he had 4.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. He had just a great game. McClellan and Ian Hoskins, who is playing defensive end, are getting some good pressure. Hoskins is expected back this week after being injured and not playing the last couple weeks.
"When you look at their secondary, their strength is in their two safeties. They are upperclassmen, along with Harvey and Kitchens at linebacker. We always talk about that experience, and they have an awful lot of names of guys who have played in C.J. Spillman, Aaron Johnson, Kitchens, Harvey and McClellan. They have a lot of names who have played a lot of football on defense. They're a very good football team on defense."
On Marshall's Offense:
"On the offensive side of the ball, they've got a very good offensive line. I think they're probably more athletic than they were a year ago. They've got some new faces up there. I think they've improved their offensive line from a year ago even though they lost a few to graduation. Their two tackles, Ryan Tillman and C.J. Wood, are very athletic. They're both freshmen and they've made some mistakes early in the year that probably cost them an as offensive football team. But when you watch how they've gotten better each week, I think those guys are really maturing and starting to get better. I think they're going to be excellent players down the road. They are two staples at the tackle position.
"Right now, though, the story on offense is their skill players, who are making a lot of things happen for them. Darius Passmore is probably one of the best players in this league. He's a 6-foot-3, 188 pound senior who was a junior college player in Florida. He has also been clocked at 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He's averaging 17.3 yards per catch, which is pretty impressive when he has 46 catches this season. They use him as a homerun guy, go up over the top with him and he has great speed.
"Cody Slate is the only other player on the team with over 20 catches. He had six catches against us a year ago, so we know what he can do at the tight end position. So they have Slate at tight end, Passmore at the `X' position and then they have Emmanuel Spann, who is also their punt returner, at the `Z' position.
"They also have two very good backs in Darius Marshall and Chubb Small. They're two peas in a pod. They're smaller, powerful, physical and averaging 4.5-5.0 yards a carry.
"This is a very good football team. Offensively, they can line up, control the ball and hit you with big plays up over the top. Defensively, they're very sound in what they do but they can give you a lot of different looks. They try and put a lot of pressure on you, while trying not to put too much pressure on their corners. They try to play a lot of man-to-man coverage because their corners are freshmen as well.
"This is going to be a great challenge for us. We're excited for the conference game. We know it's a short week but you couldn't ask for a bigger carrot to put in front of you or your football team knowing who is coming in here after last year's football game up at Marshall. To have the opportunity to come back and play them here with both of us in first-place in the conference, is going to be a great challenge for us and one that I think we're excited about. We're going to have to have a great week of practice today and tomorrow with our shortened week. We're going to come back and put pads on them today, which is only 48 hours after you played the football game, but it's what we have to do in order to get ready to play this Marshall game."
On The Quarterback Rotation:
"We'll look at it this week. We talked about it going into the UCF game and said with the way Rob Kass finished the Memphis game, scoring 23 points in the second half and with the efficiency of the passing game, and knowing UCF's front seven, we felt this was a game where we would have to throw the ball. That's why we made the decision to go with Rob. At halftime we weren't being very efficient and, like I said, it's not always the quarterback. It comes down to what you can do with the ball. Are you catching the ball? Are you protecting him? So we made the decision to start Rob first and then Patrick Pinkney would go in the second series of the second half. Patrick went in the second series, did a nice job and we put Rob back in there at the end of the game when it was more of a passing game.
"The first two-minute drive we started, Pat took and we went three-and-out and we punted the ball. We then got a turnover and put Rob back in, who then threw the interception. That was kind of why it looked like a yo-yo situation. It wasn't a situation where one made a mistake so we took him right out. We were trying to put both of them in the best situations, kind of like we did a year ago at UTEP, when Patrick played but when we had to throw the ball at the end of the game we put Rob in because that's more of his specialty or where he's a little bit stronger.
"But it didn't work out for us this time, so we'll go back and look at what we need to do to attack Marshall. I don't want to make knee-jerk reactions because of mistakes. When you do that you start to get quarterbacks who are gun-shy, afraid to throw the ball and afraid to make a mistake. The situation that we've had, as much as it may seem like a jockeying of quarterbacks, has really been done to put them into situations where both can play to their strengths.
"We put Patrick in during the second half because of the trouble we were having protecting the quarterback and we wanted to let him use his feet a little more. He made a huge play when he scrambled to his left and found Davon Drew to make the first down. We put him in during those positions to turn and let him utilize his feet a little more.
"I can't really say this is definitely what we're going to do this weekend. Looking back at it right now, there's a possibility they could both play, we're just going to have to see what we're going to do as a game plan and how it fits."
On Remembering Last Year's Marshall Game:
"I want them to remember it. After the opening kickoff and the first plays on offense and defense, I don't think last year's game is going to be much of a factor. Do I want them to remember last year's game so we can go out and put the preparation in? Yes, I do.
"We went up there and had an opportunity to hold first-place in the division and we couldn't do it. Now we're sitting in the same situation this year, only the game is a little bit earlier in the season. But we're sitting in the same situation where we're both coming in with a 3-1 record and the winner is going to walk out of here in first-place in the East Division. I don't want to use that as the sole motivation, for revenge. But at the same time, I want them to understand the importance of what's on the line and the preparation that it's going to take to get ready for this football game."
On The Emergence Of The Running Game:
"I was really excited about that. As disappointed as I was with the way we pass protected, I was that excited about our run blocking. That was the number one rushing defense in our league and to see Norman Whitley go through some of those holes and get to the free safety untouched spoke volumes to the job the offensive line did. I thought they did an excellent job. Again, our problems on Sunday were not running the ball.
"When you look at what Norman Whitley did, he's kind of small and hides behind that line. He split through the line, went north and south, ran hard, ran physical and protected the ball. I was starting to gain more and more confidence in him as the game went on. I was saying, `Oh, put Norman in.' He's making something happen. He made some great cuts and he's doing some really good things.
"When we came into this season, it was Dominique Lindsay, Brandon Simmons, Norman Whitley, Jon Williams and you really don't know who is going to emerge and who that guy is going to be. But as the season goes on, as I've had before, a lot of people are going to see Norman Whitley and say, `Wow.'
"I think, before this season is over, people are also going to say, `Wow, that J.R. Rogers can play.' I talked about that last week during practice and the open date. J.R. got in there, tried to hit it to the second level and then tried to bounce it to the outside. We just have to get him going north and south and learning. But he's going to get his opportunity before the year is over and just like people are saying about Norman Whitley, people are going to say, `Wow, he's pretty good.' That's pretty strong when you can go to your fourth and fifth tailback and get the type of productivity that we're getting out of these guys.
"It speaks volumes to Norman and his persistence and the way he has kept his mind in the game. Even though he wasn't playing a couple of the past Saturday's, he's been working extremely hard in practice and gotten better and better. I think Junior Smith has done a nice job with the running backs.
"Every game is different, but hopefully it gives our offensive line and running backs a little bit more confidence. If we can sure up our passing game, it'll go a long way in helping us be more efficient as an offensive football team.
"I say this all the time, but you're evaluated as an offensive football team by the job you do putting the ball in the end zone. And that's what you're trying to get done."