Head Coach Skip Holtz
Nov. 10, 2008
GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina University Head Football Coach Skip Holtz addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against Southern Miss. The following are selected comments:
On The Marshall Game Atmosphere:
"I need to thank so many people for this weekend. The student body, the alumni, the fans, what an incredible situation and set-up we had this weekend. The atmosphere and environment for everybody that was there, whether they were there to watch or cheer for the game, was just great. It was a very impressive environment and atmosphere and I know how much players appreciated the "12th-Man" being behind them.
"I think the marketing people do such an incredible job with the atmosphere surrounding the game, from the third-down bell to everything they do to interact with the fans that are in that stadium. It was a big-time college football environment. It was impressive and I'm just very grateful and thank so many people for making this happen the way it did last weekend."
On The Marshall Game:
"From a game standpoint, it's kind of neat to watch so many of these younger players maturing as we're coming along and of age as we evolve and the season goes on; so many young guys have had to step up. We started to become a little different offense and a little different defense, trying to highlight different areas that are strengths of our football team. It's really neat to see some of these younger players start to fit in to what we're trying to do.
"I'm really proud of this team, they competed. They had plenty of opportunities, again, to hang their heads. This game was probably very similar, in a lot of respects, to the N.C. State game in that we had our opportunities on offense, defense and in the kicking game but we really didn't get it done in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. But, I was really proud of the way the football team stepped up in the overtime, the way they played and the things they did to be able to win the football game.
On ECU's Defense:
"Defensively, I think we're playing really well right now as a football team. Outside of two big pass plays, I think our defense played one of its best games of the entire season. I thought they did just a great job of keeping the ball in front of them and keeping contain, outside of the one touchdown pass and the deep ball from when Marshall was backed up deep in their own end where we just had a mistake. But I thought the defense is really playing well together as a group.
"The defense is being led right now by Pierre Bell, who, for the last two weeks, has played emotional, passionate and intense. This is as strong as I've seen Bell play from an intangible standpoint. We all know he has talent and ability. He can run and hit and has been a very productive linebacker and made a lot of plays here, but all the intangible things in his leadership ability have really come out strong in the last couple of weeks.
"I think Nick Johnson is playing better and better as well. We have moved Johnson into the middle and moved Bell to the outside linebacker position. I think Johnson is playing very well for us. It's great to see Cliff Perryman get his plays, but I think Jeremy Chambliss is really coming along strong and starting to make a comeback. I think, right now, Perryman and Chambliss are fighting hard for that strong-side linebacker position. Both are doing a really nice job.
"Probably the best thing about the last couple weeks has been the emergence of a young man named Emmanuel Davis. To see what Davis has done in creating two turnovers at the end of the UCF game, the last play in regulation and the first play in the overtime, and then to see him intercept two of the first four passes on Saturday, is great. He's playing physical. Davis is really doing some great things. I've said this before, I hated to see Jerek Hewett have his injury, surgery and be out for the season. We've also kept saying that these younger players have talent, but they just needed the opportunity and to step up. It's great to see Davis make the most of his opportunity right now.
"That defensive front continues to play as strong as ever. Zack Slate had a great game. Linval Joseph and Jay Ross in the middle played great, as did C.J. Wilson. I've really been pleased with the defensive linemen, who are playing pretty much the whole game now with the injuries to Khalif Mitchell, Scotty Robinson and some others. Those guys are going most of the way and I'm just really proud of the way we're playing as a defensive football team right now."
On The ECU Offense:
"On the offensive side of the ball, I was really pleased with a lot of the improvements we made and a lot of the positive things we did in the passing game. One of the things we really struggled with at UCF was protecting the quarterback. We gave up a lot of sacks, were not able to throw the ball accurately and we not able to make plays. But Saturday, I thought we were really in sync from a passing game standpoint, and it all starts with the protection.
"The offensive line gave Patrick Pinkney time to stand back there and throw the ball, which I thought he did extremely well. He was accurate and the receivers did a nice job of going to get the ball. It was not only Dwayne Harris, who was really into the football game emotionally. Davon Drew made some great plays, and his role continues to pick up for us with some more of the injuries and suspensions. He's really rising to the top and has accepted the challenge that he has to be a bigger receiving threat for us.
"Nine receivers caught a pass for us in this game. A lot of guys are getting involved. Joe Womack caught a couple passes, too. It's nice to see him get involved because those are things that are going to pay dividends for us down the road as we continue to get better.
"Norman Whitley, I thought he played a solid game. We've got to do a little bit better job of protecting the football. It's not just the one fumble that we had, but there were a number of times that I think the ball was coming out as he hit the ground. We talk about, if you don't toss the ball to the official, you're allowing it to be called a fumble. I don't want to hear, `I was down.' There were about three or four times when that ball popped out and he was considered down. I just think we have to do a little bit better job of protecting that football.
"The offensive line did a nice job with the pass protection, but I wasn't very pleased with just our intensity, aggressiveness and the way we strained in our run blocking up-front. I think Marshall gets an awful lot of credit for that and the way that they played. But I thought their defensive line controlled a little bit more of the line of scrimmage with what they were doing.
"They were loading the box and trying to do some things to stop our run because if you would have watched our UCF game, you would have said, `Stop them running and they're not good enough to throw it and beat me.' But that's why it was so nice to see the passing game come along."
On The Kicking Game:
"With the kicking game, I'm proud of Ben Hartman and the job he did. I would have loved to see him make the first kick, but he made it much more dramatic doing it the way we did. I'm really proud of what he did and he's kicking the ball really well for us right now. I have an awful lot of confidence in him.
"Matt Dodge did not have one of his better performances. I thought our kickoff return did a really nice job and I think our kickoff team really needs to keep coming. We've lost all those guys on defense, and what happens is that some guys have to step up on defense so some other guys have to step up in the kicking game. With three games left we've got to take a hard look at maybe taking our special teams and getting our starters more involved. That's something that we're taking a look at this week."
"As far as injuries are concerned, we took a huge blow with T.J. Lee, who had surgery yesterday morning. He broke his leg on that kickoff return. It was a pretty nasty break and he will be done for the season. I hate it because Lee has come along so far. He was a young man who, as a junior college player a year ago, was starting to feel his way. He came on strong at the beginning of the year with the blocked punt against Virginia Tech. He got injured and missed a couple of weeks, competed his tail off to get back, came back in the last two weeks and has been doing some great things. He even came to see me earlier in the week and said, `Coach I'll play defense, offense or special teams, wherever you can use me. I just want to win; this is my senior year.' Then, all of a sudden, to see it all taken away from him like that, is tough. Those are the stories, like Quentin Cotton, that just break your heart.
"Zack Slate got a concussion; at this point he's questionable. Then we've got a whole handful of guys who are probable who missed practice last night with sprains, strains, bumps and bruises. They should be good to play in the game on Saturday.
"It was a very physical football game. I think Marshall is a very good football team. I'm really excited about having the opportunity to get the win here at home."
On Southern Miss' Offense:
"The challenge for this week is going to `The Rock' and Southern Miss, which is a very good football team. Offensively, they are a big-play, fast-strike offensive football team. DeAndre Brown, who is one of the biggest weapons they have, is a 6-foot-6 freshman. He has receptions of 68, 60, 59, 54, 48, 47, 42 and 40-yards this season. They are a big-strike team. Brown can really run and get behind you.
"They are throwing the ball an awful lot, around 240 yards a game. They also rush for just over 200 yards a game and average around 450 yards of total offense each game. They have a freshman quarterback in Austin Davis. I don't know his status right now, but Damion Fletcher has been running up and down the field. They also have two or three other backs behind him who have been carrying the ball and running extremely efficiently. They're averaging 5.0 yards per carry, they've got big rushes with what they're doing and they are a big-play offensive football team. And it's going to be a heck of a challenge for our defense this week.
"Their offensive line is extremely well coached. You've got Shawn Nelson, who I think has been there for forever. He was just such a great player as a freshman and made such an impact on this league, and now he has been around doing it for four years. He's a great player as a tight end. Now they have him on one side and Brown on the other. They pose some threats for us as a defensive football team."
On Southern Miss' Defense:
"From a defensive standpoint, they're very physical up front with their two tackles. I think their defensive ends are athletic. This team, very similar to UCF, is loaded at the linebacker position. That's where they are at their best. Gerald McRath was the preseason Defensive Player-of-the-Year and has been all-conference the last few years. To put it in perspective, he has about 40 more tackles than our top tacklers. Our high-tackle men, Van Eskridge and Bell, are at 66 and McRath is at 110 stops so far this season. McRath is very active; he's all over the field. He's physical and he can run. He's a 6-foot-3 220 pound linebacker who makes a lot of things happen on the defensive side of the ball. We've played against him for the last couple of years and he is a talent.
"When you look at their secondary, that's probably where they have the most experience and players returning. They're playing a lot of zone, breaking on the ball and have created 24 turnovers as a defense. They are an opportunistic defense in that they're creating a lot of turnovers.
"They also have the big-play, fast-scoring, quick-strike offensive football team. I believe 42 percent of their scores are six plays are less. They don't take a long time to get down the field as they strike in a hurry. Defensively they're very aggressive with what they do and they create a lot of turnovers and create opportunities for their offense.
"This is going to be a heck of a challenge for us going down to `The Rock.' I know this has been a great rivalry game over the last number of years. In the history of East Carolina, we've had some great rivalry games with Southern Miss and I don't think this one is going to be any exception. You go back two years and we go down there and play an overtime game and last year, here in Greenville, they scored with around 30 seconds left in the game and beat us. These are always very competitive football games and I don't think this one is going to be any different than the history of the rivalry between these two schools.
"We're excited to have the opportunity to go down there and play. As I continue to say, we've got to keep our hands on the wheel, our eyes on the road and stay focused on what we need to stay focused on this week, which is Southern Miss."
On Jeremy Chambliss' Play:
"Jeremy feels like he got a little bit heavy. He played really well early in the year and he feels like he just got a little bit heavy. He's lost his weight and now he's back down to around 220 pounds. Right now he's extremely motivated to get his job back. There's a great battle, a very healthy competition, going on between Chambliss and Perryman. They're both playing about 35 plays a game. Chambliss wants his job back and he's competing very hard for it. Perryman wants to keep the job, though. As I've said before, competition makes everybody better because you have to raise your game to the top. It's not about pulling somebody else down so you can be good, but it's about raising your game up so you can try to take your job back. I think Chambliss right now would probably tell you it's his weight loss which helped him lately, but I think part of is just that competition side of things and the job Perryman did stepping in."
On The Quarterback Situation: "We just went into that game and said it was going to be Pinkney's job and he was going to play in the first half and we would evaluate the situation at halftime. I thought Patrick was playing really well and I didn't see a need to make a quarterback change in that situation with the way he was playing. I said before that I don't want to make the quarterback situation a `make-a-mistake-and-get-pulled' one. When I met with the quarterbacks last week I told them I didn't want them looking over their shoulder. I don't want them to squeeze the ball because they feel they have to make that throw or they're going to get pulled. I want it to be a situation where we put the quarterback in who is best suited to handle the situation at that time, not one where if you make a mistake, you get pulled. I thought Patrick was very calm, very patient, did a great job of managing the game and moving the football team up and down the field.
"Probably my only real disappointment in the offense was that we had the opportunity to close the game in a four-minute situation with a couple of first downs. Everybody in the stadium wanted to know why we didn't throw the ball because Marshall was putting everybody up in the box. But if we throw we might stop the clock. We were trying to turn and run the ball and that's probably my only disappointment - that we came up just short. Those are the times, when, if you want to be a great football team, you have to be able to run the ball when everybody in the stadium knows you want to run it. That was probably my only disappointment. I thought Patrick did a great job with his reads and throwing the ball and I thought the offensive line did a great job of protecting him."
On The Three-Game Winning Streak:
"We have probably dealt more with on-field issues of moving people around than we did earlier this in season. Every week just seems like shuffleboard where we're moving people around and trying to get the pieces in the right places. I think, right now, if anybody should have learned a lesson about staying focused and taking one game at a time, that should have been us with where we were and what happened to us. But at the same point in time, I think this football team is really focused, has understood and learned a lesson that we have to keep our nose to the grindstone. It's not about where we've been. I think we probably had to go through what we did to not just say, `humble and hungry' anymore, but to truly understand what that means.
"Right now I think this football team is really playing well together and I think they get it about staying focused and not worrying about the last games. I don't think they're as worried about whether we've won one or won three, but it's about getting ready for Southern Miss. That's the feeling I'm getting from them as well. You may go talk to them and they may talk about how great the last three games have been.
"But I know for us, as a football staff and really what I'm getting from this team right now, is that we're keeping our eyes on the road and we know what we have to do next. It hasn't been a big feel-good situation again. If anything, it's more about understanding the challenge we're walking into. It's going to be a big one. It's Southern Miss-East Carolina. Talk to the people who have followed this rivalry for a while and know what that means. It's going to be a battle for us."
On This Week's Game Plan:
"We've got to sit down and look at that. We've got to see what we can do. We're going to have to change our game plan a little bit defensively because you see the weapons that they have and their ability to score points, they average 31.9 points per game. They can score some points. Obviously you can't play it as close to the vest offensively and just run it, punt it away and count on your defense. The last couple weeks we've been going at this kind of the Big Ten way, where you run the ball, punt it away, play great special teams, play field position and get ready to win a football game 13-10.
"With some of the injuries that we've had, I don't feel like some of these younger players have been ready to just be thrown to the wolves. We're going to have to look at it this week with what Southern Miss does as on offense and where we are and what we feel we can handle as a football program."
On The Defense The Last Three Games:
"I say this all the time; I think for the defense to have great stats, the offense has to be playing really well and for the offense to have great stats, the dffense has to be playing really well. When your offense can control the ball, run the ball, make first downs, eat up clock and you punt the ball and make the other team go 80-yards to beat you, you're going to have good defense. When you look at football teams today that are scoring 35 points a game, they're normally scoring on defense, setting up a score on special teams and hitting a couple big plays where they're throwing the ball over the top. It's very rare to put on a game film and see somebody start on their own 20-yard-line and have five 80-yard drives to win. You're not going to see it that way very often. That's why we don't want to give our defense a short field. We want to make sure we have the opportunity to punt the ball away and make the other team drive 80 yards. On defense we want to keep everybody in front of us, not give up that big play and make them earn it.
"That has been our mindset recently, that Big Ten mindset of winning 13-10. We put a little bit of a saddle on our defense and make sure that we don't give up the big play. On offense we want to run the ball and control it. We had 78 plays Saturday, that's the most we've had all season. That helps our defense because they're not on the field as much. I think they go back-and-forth and balance. I think our defense is playing great. We've simplified some things when [Cliff] Perryman became and starter because you're only as good as your youngest player and what he can understand or your weakest link. If we put him out there and run 40 defenses that he doesn't understand than we're not very good. We really simplified what we're doing and we've only been playing a couple defenses. We've been playing a lot of base and zone and we have not been very aggressive in our blitz packages so we don't give up the big play. The result has been two low-scoring games."