McNeill's Weekly Press Conference

UABSPORTS.COM Head coach Ruffin McNeill addressed the media prior to Saturday's game at UTEP.
Head coach Ruffin McNeill addressed the media prior to Saturday's game at UTEP.
Coach McNeill's Press Conference

Nov. 7, 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 UTEP. The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement
"We were very confident going into the Southern Miss game. We felt confident in our preparation. During the game, we felt we had momentum. We had a very good feel for them offensively and defensively.

"We knew we were facing a very good football team. They're very talented. Their offensive and defensive units have their personnel in place, but we still felt very confident going into the game after our week of preparation.

"The four non-offensive touchdowns killed us. On the first one, the ball bounced off Joe Womack's hands, ricocheted off a defender's shoulder pads and was returned for a score. The punt return was a directional kick. We knew Tracey Lampley and what he could do. We tried a directional punt away from him. Phil McNaughton hung it up and it didn't hit the ground. We wanted it to hit and roll away from Lampley.

"On the punt block, William Smith, our normal deep snapper, went down and we had to insert Charlie Coggins, our backup. Our guys were so focused on the coverage following the return for a score that Southern Miss blocked it on us. Phil got the punt off well and Coggins' snap was not a problem. They just blocked it on us.

"The last interception was a tough throw by Dominique [Davis]. Southern Miss doubled down on Justin Hardy. We felt good about that route and connected on it a few times within that coverage.

"The four non-offensive touchdowns hurt us. We felt very good about our momentum and preparation. We knew going in that both teams probably had to play error free. We felt good about where we were in progressing as a team and still feel good about where we are. We had a setback.

"We feel very confident, especially after last night's meeting and practice. I felt very good after practice last night. Our guys were running around well."

On Bouncing Back From The Loss
"The next step is UTEP. We're going to bounce back and finish strong. That's one of the things we've talked about all year. We want to finish strong as a team, finish strong within our division and become bowl eligible. We don't have control of our destiny, but we know we can finish strong. All of our attention is on UTEP. That's the bottom line. We're not focused on anybody or anything else.

"When you do have a setback, you have to make sure you keep your team tight. We did that after the Houston loss and did it again starting last night. We'll bounce back. I have no doubt about that.

"I like the leaders within the group. The coaches are diving into the film now and started yesterday. The 24-hour rule was definitely in place. We regrouped and had great staff and team meetings. Now, all of our attention is on UTEP."

On The Injuries
"We've been plagued all year with injuries. I'm sure every football team is. Lance Lewis will be out this week. They'll reexamine him on Friday according to [Assistant Athletics Director/Medical Services (Head Athletic Trainer)] Mike Hanley. Grant Harner is very questionable right now. He was tough Saturday during the game. He hurt his ankle Tuesday, rehabbed, recovered and graded out at near 75 percent for the game, which is very high for a lineman. We think he may be back.

"Reggie Bullock will still be out. Adhem Elsawi is out, but he's walking better on his knee. Marke Powell is questionable. Mike Price, with a concussion, is probable. Chris Baker is also still on the mend.

"Mike Hanley and the medical staff is doing a great job of getting those guys back and ready to play. [Assistant Athletics Director/Strength and Conditioning] Coach [Jeff] Connors and his staff are also helping with recovery."

On UTEP's Offense
"They're going to spread out the football. That's what a Coach [Mike] Price team does. They'll use some two-back sets near the goal line, but they spread out three or four wide receivers with a tight end. Their quarterback, Nick Lamaison is mobile and throws the football well. They don't have designed runs for him like Southern Miss did with Austin Davis, but Lamaison can move the ball.

"As a team, they have great speed. A lot of their players are from Texas. The receivers and running backs are exceptionally quick. At running back, senior Joe Banyard has over 500 yards rushing on just 75 carries. Mike Edwards is a wide receiver with a lot of speed.

"We have to make sure our defense adjusts to their spread looks. We'll have to have a great plan.

"They only return two starters from last year's offensive group. They've had some tough games, but they're in the same position we are. They want to make sure they finish strong, too."

On UTEP's Defense
"They have a lot of athletes. They play a lot of man looks. I've known their defensive coordinator Andre Patterson for a long time. He has been a head coach and an assistant coach for a long time. He has also spent time in the NFL as a coach with the Dallas Cowboys. They do a lot of movement and double-man concepts.

"Up front, Horace Miller is a guy they move around, much like Jamie Collins for Southern Miss. Miller is very active. He has four sacks and more than six tackles for loss this season. We have to be aware of him.

"Linebackers Jeremy Springer and Josh Fely are also active. Each has more than 50 tackles. They get a lot of penetration and are involved in the blitz packages. In the secondary, DeShawn Grayson and Travaun Nixon are good football players.

"They have some very good athletes. They move around a lot and go into different fronts with three and four-man looks.

"We know we have to be very sound upfront and get some guys healthy. We feel good about Steven Baker, Josh Clark, Jordan Davis and Will Simmons. We have to get Grant healthy for Saturday if we can. They do so many things with movement that if we can give Dominique time and protect him, I'll feel good about what we'll be able to do. I like where we're heading along the offensive line."

On UTEP's Special Teams
"They have the top punter in the country in Ian Campbell. He's averaging over 47 yards per punt. He's a big-time guy who will be in the league. He's a great directional punter. Hopefully he'll outkick his coverage and we'll be able to get some returns from Danny Webster.

"Vernon Frazier, a receiver, has a lot of speed as a returner. We will have to rise up against their special teams.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge. I can't wait to get back onto the field. The team had a great practice last night."

On The Long Trip To UTEP
"There's no problem in my mind with the distance. We'll work out at the hotel about 45-50 minutes after we arrive and do a walkthrough. We will not go to the stadium. Our routine will not change."

On Keeping The Team Up After The Momentum Shift Following The First Interception
"It's tough. We felt very confident going into the game. We knew Southern Miss was a very talented football team. We felt good about our ability to move the football. I felt good about our defensive game plan. We were driving and if Joe catches that ball, we're either in the endzone or at the one-yard line.

"The ball went through his hands, bounced off the defender's shoulder pad and went the other way. Momentum changed. In this game, that's a swing. We talked about it and reminded them to play the next play.

"There was a lot of attention on this football game by us and the kids. They wanted to play well. The momentum changed and that swung the game."

On East Carolina's Special Teams
"We have to make some adjustments. We started with that last night. We simplified some things which had already been simplified. Execution is the biggest thing up front. We started that process last night."

On Gaining Bowl Eligibility
"That's a big factor. We brought it up yesterday during the team meeting. We want to finish strong. We felt last year we did not finish strong. I think what Coach Connors has done also contributes to that. The injuries are going to happen, but as a team we want to finish strong. Bowl eligibility is one of the big things we mentioned yesterday."

On Rio Johnson, Alex Owah And Taylor Hudson Playing Saturday
"Rio did very well, as did Alex Owah. Alex has earned his way back. When he got his opportunities on Saturday, he did a good job of carrying the football for us.

"Taylor Hudson also got some work up front. If Grant could not go, we knew we had to have another plan in place. We thought about moving Will Simmons to tackle and using Hudson at right guard. We don't want to move Steven Baker, Jordan Davis or Josh Clark from where they are now. Will has played well at right guard this season. You never move a strength to fix a weakness. Will is a strength at right guard, so we will not move him unless it's absolutely necessary. Taylor got reps just in case we need to move him in at guard and shift Will out to tackle.

"Rio did a good job making some moves and completing passes."

On The Identity Of This Season's Team
"I like our effort. I think we're a team that plays very hard. We've made some mistakes and shot ourselves in the foot. All five of our losses are to teams that, at one point of the season, have been ranked in a top 25 poll. Against those teams you can't have mishaps, and we have.

"I like the resiliency of our team, though. Our players had great meetings and practice yesterday. Coach Holland stopped by yesterday as he always does. He has been there as a coach. Our players are as resilient as any I've been around.

"I think we're a team that's excited about what it can do. I like the confidence level. We had a setback, but I like our guys because they did not hang their heads. They watched the film and saw it was more what we didn't do than what Southern Miss did do. That's not disrespecting Coach [Larry] Fedora or his team at all. There are some things we could have done to win the football game.

"We know we have three games left. There is a lot of season remaining. There are a lot of things we have on the line. We want to make sure we're bowl eligible and finish strong. There are three battles left and we're looking forward to them."

On His Team Playing Hard
"One of the things when you watch the film is that when we make mistakes, they're full-speed mishaps. If you don't have full speed or you have a bunch of guys loafing, then you have problems. Our guys are playing hard, even though the game might have been out of reach. They played hard through to the last play.

"Coach Connors and I watch film together on Sundays. I want him to be a part of what we're doing. That helps what he does in the weight room with our players. He's able to watch film and we watch our strength and conditioning. He checks what I'm saying and we make sure we're playing hard.

"We need to polish up our mistakes. We need to understand the situations and not turn the ball over.

"The defense is really playing well. They're playing fast and assignment football. I really like our defensive line and how it's progressing. We're playing six productive guys there now. Our linebackers are active; they're a little beat up, but active. Jake Geary has been in there at linebacker. Justin Dixon has also come on. We have packages for him.

"We have to stay the course. That's the biggest thing I told them yesterday. We have to keep our chins up."

On The Game Plans For Southern Miss
"We felt good about our game plans going in. Offensively, we felt we could run the football. We wanted to establish that. We're trying to run and throw the ball. We felt good about our ability to run Saturday.

"Defensively, I felt good about our plan. That's why I felt good going for it on fourth down in the third quarter. We convert fourth downs at a pretty high rate and the defense was playing really well. They're doing a great job with gap integrity and understanding the schemes. They're getting better each week, especially with the packages they're adding on. We felt good about it.

"To have four non-offensive touchdowns scored against us was disappointing because I really felt our defense would do a great job against them."

On Lance Lewis' Injury
"Lance has been banged up all year. He's out of the game a little bit each week. We thought he would be able to play Saturday. I only go by what Mike Hanley and our doctors tell us. If they tell me a young man is able to play then he will. If not, there are no questions asked. We thought Lance could go, but he couldn't.

"Reese Wiggins had to step up. Lance gives you the guy like Dwayne Harris, one the defense has to focus on. Lance saw double teams every game and sometimes a triple with a linebacker coming out to cover. Lance being out takes that element away.

"I think the distribution is there among our receivers. We have nine guys with double-digit catches this season, but you don't replace a guy who is one of the best receivers in the league.

"I was proud of Reese and Dayon Arrington for stepping up. Hopefully we'll have Mike Price back this week so he can give us the speed element. Not having Lance, you miss a guy who can make a difference in the game. Reese did the same thing on the second play of the game, though.

"One of the things we've tried to sell is the next guy stepping up. When the opportunity comes, you have to step up. Torrance Hunt did that when Reggie Bullock went down. When Doug Polochak went down, Josh Clark stepped in. Reese had the opportunity when we learned Lance would be out. Reese found out he was the guy and his confidence level picked up. You want those guys who are ready to go. Reese will be there again Saturday with Lance still out."

On The Impact Injuries Have Had On His Team
"The biggest position is at the offensive line. We've had to patchwork that group together. I like the fact that the guys are stepping up. That's one unit that is like a basketball team; those guys have to play together the whole time. Jordan Davis and Josh Clark are still playing out of position due to other injuries. That's the group you want the most continuity in and you see the lack of it the quickest.

"We've had some strange injuries. Justin Hardy, the week he got hurt, went up and landed crazy on his leg, knocking him out.

"You know it's going to happen in this game, so we try to instill the next-guy-up philosophy. The guy who is injured has to rehab and recover, but the next guy has to take advantage of the opportunities. The more we keep developing the depth and talent levels, the drop offs will become less and less. Lance is one of the top players in the league, so there will be somewhat of a drop off.

"I'm proud of the guys for stepping up and continuing the fight.

"Another group we've had injuries within is special teams. We like to play our starters on special teams. Starters usually play on at least two special teams' units. If a guy gets injured, that interferes with the special teams, too."

On Reggie Bullock's Return
"I hope he can return this season. I watched him yesterday and he's walking on his own now. Hopefully next week he can get some movement. If not, hopefully that last game. He wants to be back out there. Reggie, like all our guys, is doing everything Mike Hanley asks him to do.

"We miss him. He is the guy in the run game who can make things happen with his cuts. I'd like to get all those guys back out there."

On Justin Jones
"We thought he was OK to play Saturday with the soft cast [covering his right wrist], but right before the game officials came in and told us we had to re-pad it. He had to go to a buffed pad that did not allow much movement. We tried to get him in on some plays as a blocker, but he can't move his hand as well as he would like to. After he's reexamined this week, he'll hopefully be able to get a new and game-approved soft cast on there.

"It was good to see Justin Hardy out there Saturday, but it would be good to get Jones out there again. A lot of our offense is based on having Jones in the game. Zico Pasut has been solid filling in, but we'd love to have Jones back.

"Jones has two years of eligibility left right now. We have had guys receive sixth years like Doug Polochak and Patrick Pinkney. It would be good to have Justin around for a while. He is maturing in front of our eyes. I like him in our program.

"He has made growth from day one. You worried about him, but then you saw him growing and having success. He experienced success on the field last year. You just want to make sure he's OK. The time off has helped his knee heel, but they have to make sure his wrist heals properly."

On His Team's Mental State
"I was a little concerned with the team's attitude. I decided to approach the team by just being myself. I talked to some of the older guys and leaders yesterday. They were fine and ready to go. When I came in the meeting room with the entire team last night, all the players were there waiting and sitting in their seats. The group was ready to go.

"You keep them focused on some goals - finishing strong, gaining bowl eligibility and playing one game at a time. There was certainly disappointment because they put a lot into it. It's very important that we get right back on track. We talk about the 24-hour rule, but it was probably more like a 12-hour rule Saturday night. We looked at the film and jumped right to UTEP last night at practice."

On Having Success On The Road
"I think the travel and getting used to the trips has helped us. It'll be a long flight to UTEP, but they've adjusted to those trips. I'm looking forward to playing another game. I wish all of them were here, of course.

"I'm looking forward to going to El Paso again. I was able to go there while I was at Texas Tech. They'll have a great crowd."

On Playing In Greenville
"I love our fans. I love playing here in Greenville and inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. I cannot say anything negative about our fans."