Head coach Ruffin McNeill discussed Saturday's regular-season finale at Marshall with members of the media Monday.
Nov. 21, 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 at Marshall. The following are selected comments:
"It was a great win and team victory for us on Saturday. It was great for our seniors. We had talked about the seniors' last game with them and the team. It was so good to see those guys go out and win. You saw the emotion.
"We talked about that emotion after the game. You could see the emotion from Dominique Davis and some of the guys. In the locker room it was the same way. They were so excited to get the win. When the seniors spoke to the team, they talked about not just winning for themselves, but also making sure they won for the program.
"I was very proud of our staff, coaches and players. I thought we had great resolve on Saturday and were resilient. I was really proud of that.
"UCF came in here and we knew we would face a team that had won the league last year and beat Georgia in the bowl game. UCF had some tough losses this year, but they were in the same position we were, fighting for a bowl game. We faced a team that really scrapped toward the end.
"I was proud of our group and how we worked. One of the proudest times for me was in the locker room with all our people and Pirate family in there with us. It was a great atmosphere."
On The Offense Against UCF
"I thought our offense did a great job. We had a good game plan going into the contest. Adhem Elsawi moved to right tackle and did a great job. We were able to put together an offensive line that was steady all night long. The group really did a nice job in protection.
"It's a unit that, if we can keep healthy this week, we can take up to Huntington and feel good about. Doug Polochak is coming along to give us steadiness at center and guard. Grant Harner practiced some last night, but is still limping a little bit. Saturday, though, that offensive line did a great job.
"The game plan really utilized the tools and personnel we had. We thought we would have Lance Lewis and Danny Webster, big parts of that plan, for the entire game. We lost them early. Lance went out after the first series and Danny later on a special teams' play.
"The staff just kept finding ways to use personnel. I was proud of [offensive coordinator] Lincoln Riley, [inside receivers coach] Donnie Kirkpatrick, [outside receivers coach] Dennis Simmons, [running backs coach/special teams coordinator] Clay McGuire and [offensive line coach] Brandon Jones. We had to use people.
"We were able to get Justin Jones back and he was able to catch some balls. You could see what kind of weapon he can be when he's healthy. He was a big part of the offensive plan going into the season. You also saw Reese [Wiggins] step up again and make some long plays. Andrew Bodenheimer is always his steady self.
"In the running back area, the use of Zico Pasut was key. He did a good job for us. The one fumble was a great hit with excellent helmet placement by the UCF player. Zico did a good job of establishing a new line of scrimmage and giving us a new presence in the backfield. He's a body who can run downhill. Zico is such a competitor. He has matured and is able to handle four positions. In any offense that's difficult, but especially in this one. Zico has handled all of them very well.
"Torrance Hunt was fresh and we had specific plays for Michael Dobson. At the end of the game, we were able to use Zico for some yards, too. Torrance was free on the last carry for the game-winning touchdown.
"I've talked about Dominique since day one. You saw some emotion from him Saturday night. I appreciate him as a person first of all. You won't find a better young man. He has handled everything, both positive and negative, that has been thrown at him. That's tough for somebody his age to deal with. We've been his age, but he's never been ours. He has been subjected to a lot of scrutiny, but never flinches. I was very proud of him.
"Lincoln had some designed runs for Dominique, who did a great job of understanding the situation and getting us into the right play. I was proud of Dominique and the rest of our seniors."
On The Defense Against UCF
"I thought we played another game of really good assignment football. We had one stretch where we did not tackle as well as we should have, or had been. That defense has gotten better and better every week. They rely on one another and hold each other accountable.
"They did a good job on some fourth-down situations Saturday. At the end of the game, they came up big and sealed the win for us after we had some bad field position following the kickoff return. The will was there. There was no way we were going to lose the game. You just had to feel it on the sideline.
"Damon Magazu, being a coach's kid, understood the situation. He made a great read and baited [UCF quarterback] Blake Bortles into the throw, much like the play last year [against N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson]. Magazu made a great play and iced the win. He then took the interception return out and away from the goal line so we could get into the victory alignment. That was big.
"On special teams I thought we played solid. We allowed a few kickoff returns that came back past our goal area. Ben Ryan really punted well all night long. One he didn't hang up and it had just about a 2.9-second hang time. He didn't hang it up there long enough. That's the one punt return we allowed."
On Preparing For Marshall
"I think one of the key things for us is to play smart. We have one regular-season game left. We have to continue to play extremely hard. That's one thing this team has done all year. Even right now, we played as fast at the end of Saturday's game as we had all year. I think that's a tribute to our conditioning, [Assistant Athletics Director/Strength and Conditioning] Coach [Jeff] Connors, his staff and what they're doing.
"We also need to make sure we have a good week of preparation, both mentally and physically.
"We know Marshall has the same goals in sight that we do. They're also playing for a bowl game. It'll be a battle. [Head coach] Doc Holliday has done a great job. I've known him for a long time. He's a really good football coach who is building his program the same way we want to build ours here."
On Marshall's Offense
"They'll spread the football. They've used two quarterbacks in A.J. Graham and Rakeem Cato, but Graham had season-ending surgery Saturday.
"They'll use spread formations with two, three and four receivers who can run. They'll also use tight ends, as they and Doc always have. They'll pound you a little bit, too.
"They have three offensive linemen returning from last year's team. At running back they have Tron Martinez and Travon Van. Travon is explosive and has speed. After watching him this morning, we have to make sure we're aware of him and have great gap integrity. Tron leads them with more than 550 yards rushing. We have to make sure we do a great job against them
"The first time I watched Southern Miss on film was its game against Marshall. Marshall really caused [quarterback] Austin Davis and Southern Miss some problems with its defense."
On Marshall's Defense
"Watching them against Memphis, they had to fight and win it in the end. Their defense did a good job of holding on.
"The defense is led by Vinny Curry, who has been an honoree for numerous All-Conference USA awards. He's a great pass rusher who we saw here last year. He has a great motor, size and speed. He has a chance to play at the next level. We have to be concerned with him.
"They'll get into some four and three down linemen looks. They mix a lot of blitzes by bringing three, five or six guys. They do a good job of attacking with zone blitzing and stunts. They'll try to pressure us. We have to do a great job of communicating up front. They were the first team last year to start pressuring us. They're doing the same thing this year and having success with it.
"They have two senior linebackers in George Carpenter and Tyson Gale. They both make a lot of plays. You'll see them around the line of scrimmage a lot. They will blitz and be used in coverage quite a bit.
"Omar Brown is the senior in the secondary. He is a guy who can make plays and gets the defense lined up. They do a lot of coverage things as a result of Doc's defensive background. They disguise coverages really well.
"For the returners, Andre Booker, a receiver, is averaging more than 10 yards per punt return and has good speed. Troy Evans and Booker are the kickoff returners. We have to do a great job on special teams.
"It's right there. There's no hiding it. We have to win the game to become bowl eligible. We're looking forward to the challenge and practice."
On The Defense's Improvement From Last Season
"That's where the patience comes in. That was a maligned group a year ago. I'd never been around a group that had been through as much as those coaches and players.
"They've done a good job of staying the course and believing in each other, which is key. We are being patient and understand it takes personnel. You have to coach them up, but we have to have guys who can make plays, which takes time. We have to get guys in here, and we are.
"Our players have done a good job adapting to the new scheme. They believe in what [defensive coordinator] Brian Mitchell, [associate head coach/inside linebackers coach] John Wiley, [defensive line coach] Marc Yellock and [outside linebackers coach] Duane Price are telling them. They're playing great 11-man and assignment football. They do make a mistake here or there, but they're recovering. They have confidence. They know we believe in them. As a player, when a coach believes in you, that helps a lot.
"They've had some success after having been put in some tough, tough situations this season. I'm proud of those guys and our staff. I think you'll see continued improvement from the group. They have a lot of pride in them.
"Losing Jake Geary Saturday hurts us. He was playing steady for us. He was playing hard and making plays. He understood the system and will be out for the year."
On The Injuries
"Detric Allen is out. Lance Lewis and Danny Webster are out for the season. Brandon Williams is out. Reggie Bullock is doubtful. Grant Harner is questionable after getting in a few reps last night. Lamar Ivey and Kyle Tudor are both questionable.
"We hope to get Kyle back for this week. We've been pretty fortunate to keep guys healthy on the defensive side of the ball.
"This year has been worse for injuries than any other group I've been around. The last two years have been like that, really. We've been plagued by injuries here. A year ago it was the defense losing key guys. This year it's offensive guys who are getting hurt.
"After the first series Saturday we lost Lance and we had eight to 10 specific plays for him in the game. That made us put Reese in, and he did a great job. Danny, we were using him as a running back and receiver. It has been a tough year for injuries.
"One of the things is that we have to continue on the recruiting trail. We don't want to replace, but just reload. Lance is a guy who is hard to find, but you want it so there is not too much of a drop off.
"Defensively, we faced that challenge last year. We lost Marke Powell, Michael Brooks and Justin Dixon to injuries. It was hard to replace that talent. We had guys getting it done, but it was not the same. This year, having the same unit on offense for consecutive games would be a blessing. This Saturday's game will be another where we will not have the same starting lineup.
"That's why I talked about Lincoln and the staff adjusting. It's a lot easier said than done when you don't have the same unit for continuity. It gets tough.
"I'm proud of the guys who are stepping in there because they're stepping up. Josh Clark on the offensive line is a prime example. As are Jordan Davis, who moved from tackle to guard, Adhem Elsawi from guard to tackle in a week, and Steven Baker having to start at left tackle because of injuries. Reese has stepped up. What can you say about Zico with what he's done playing running back for us? Torrance, who was third or fourth on the list, has also played well. You think about those things and the reality of the situation hits you.
"I'm proud of the way the group has responded. Knowing that injuries are a part of the game, I wanted to make sure I instilled in our team the importance of the next guy being ready to go. The kids have done that. It's a lot harder than you think, though."
On Reese Wiggins' Development
"Reese is one of those guys who were not mature enough to play last year. I've told him that. He was on the scout team for us.
"Mentally he was not in a position where he would have been ready to handle a situation like Saturday's game. He had the first long catch but it got called back due to a penalty. He had another chance and made a difference for us.
"He has a great mentality right now. He's believing in himself and working hard. The key is doing the little things. He's putting in the extra work with Coach Connors and doing additional film study to better understand coverages and routes. He's making sure he does all those things. He has to make sure he stays that course. He has a chance to be a good one. I'm proud of him and his progress."
On The Running Plan For The UCF Game
"We wanted to blend Dominique, Torrance, Zico and Dobson. We wanted to use Dobson and Torrance on specific plays. Zico's strength is downhill running and we wanted to mix that in, too.
"We wanted to establish the running game. We still want to throw the football for a living. That's not changing. We wanted to establish that running game with a blend.
"I think it paid off for us. On the last run, Torrance was still fresh. He was able to make one cut and go downhill. Torrance is one of the fastest guys around and was fresh when he touched the ball. Every back was a different mold. Dobson presents a different look because he's able to catch the ball out of the backfield. Dobson is a slasher and Torrance is a speed guy. Dominique is also a dual threat at quarterback.
"That's Lincoln and the staff using what's available to us. Justin Jones being back has helped because he has become a very good blocker. That happened in the spring and fall. He suffered the knee injury and then was unable to use his hand due to the injury. Those injuries developed his blocking abilities. He is now a receiver and blocker.
"Last week we were still down Reggie, Doug and Grant. We were able to get Adhem back and that was a big bonus. It was just a great job using our guys and what they could do to win the football game."
On The Changed Schedule Due To Thanksgiving
"We did change the schedule a little bit. We're able to have a team dinner with the players' families on Wednesday. We'll practice Thursday morning and leave Friday morning for Marshall.
"I think the players are looking forward to practice. It might not be a bad thing at all to change up the routine a little bit. Wednesday will be a normal day for us as coaches. On Thursday, we'll start at 10 in the morning and end around 1:15. I'll run the coaches out of here on Thursday so they can see their families."
On Not Breaking The Streak Of Five Consecutive Bowl Games
"It means more to keep the streak going. I'm not looking at it as not going to a bowl game. I'm looking at it as going to face a tough Marshall team and then preparing for a bowl game. We know we have a tough test in Marshall. They'll be ready to go, as will we."
On Lance Lewis' Injury
"My reaction was sadness when he got hurt. To have him back would have been great. We had about eight specific calls for Lance in the game we felt would be explosive plays for us. He was blocking on the play and got rolled up on. I was sad for him. He was ready to go back. He had a great mindset.
"After that, we had to back him up on the sideline because he was cheering on the team so much. Right now [Assistant Athletics Director/Medical Services (Head Athletic Trainer)] Coach [Mike] Hanley has him out for two weeks. There's a possibility he could be back for the bowl game, but we'll have to see what Mike and the doctors tell him. I hope Lance is able to come back.
"I love Lance and this entire senior group. They really care about East Carolina. I want guys like that here. These guys we have here love East Carolina. If they love where they are, they'll do better academically and athletically.
"When I'm recruiting, I'm looking for that. When I go in a recruit's house, I don't care how good he is. I want him to love East Carolina and to want to be here. If he doesn't, I'm not going to recruit him. I'm not going to try to talk somebody into that. Those guys we have here love it. That's why I was so sad for Lance."
On Setting The Attendance Record For The Second-Straight Season
"It's second to none with our fan support. This is one of the stadiums you know you'll walk into and have a big-time environment and crowd. It doesn't surprise me whatever we do here. Our fans are absolutely the best I've ever been around.
"They understand the game, tradition and what we have here. Me being a Pirate, I understand it, too. You don't have to explain it to me. I'm proud of our fans. Every time I'm in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is special."