Head Coach Skip Holtz
Nov. 24, 2008
GREENVILLE, N.C. -East Carolina University Head Football Coach Skip Holtz addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against UTEP. The following are selected comments:
On Winning The East Division:
"Looking at what this football team has accomplished and where we are right now, there's an expression that says the only time you get to start on the top is if you're digging a hole. When you look right now at this football team having the opportunity to win the East Division, this was a huge milestone and one of the things we had been targeting since we've been here. We've been talking about championships and climbing that ladder of where we want to go. We've also talked about bowl championships, not only going to a bowl but winning one, division championship and conference championships. This football team has done an incredible job this year of creating some milestones for this program.
"I'm extremely proud of them with what they've done. Players and coaches, to overcome everything they've had to overcome, and turn and win is great. Some people call it winning ugly; I do consider five turnovers ugly. And the expression it's an ugly baby but it's ours, is true. We're living it up right now with where we're going and I'm really proud of what this football team has accomplished."
On The Current Style Of Play:
"Would I love to turn and take the ball and methodically drive down the field offensively and score a lot of points? Would I love to hand it to a running back, make two people miss and have a big play for a touchdown? Would I love to throw the ball over the top, protect the quarterback and have a 60-yard scoring strike? I would.
"I would love to have a defense where we could blitz, play man coverage, get after it, create a lot of turnovers, make things happen and score points on defense. I would love to create an exciting, up-tempo, wide-open style of football. I would love to have a field goal kicker who could put the ball through the uprights every time we line-up and kicked it. But realistically that's not where we are right now as a football team."
On The Defense Against UAB:
"I think this was a great team win when you look at what this team had to do in order to win.
"Defensively, I couldn't be more proud of Pierre Bell. To see the way he's playing right now with all the emotion, excitement and enthusiasm is great. Nick Johnson also played great as did Chris Mattocks, who made the move from safety down to linebacker and is doing some great things. A young man named Dustin Lineback, who's a walk-on to this program and saw his first significant playing time as a linebacker, started and did just a great job for us.
"When you look at the way our defense is playing right now and the way the linebackers are leading it, they've done an incredible job of not giving up a lot of points over the last five weeks. It's kind of like the pitcher in the eighth inning with the game tied 0-0. The pitcher is just asking for one run and a little bit of a cushion. Our defense is playing with its back against the wall and I think these linebackers are doing a great job of leading the unit.
"We pretty much played four guys in the secondary for the entire day. I thought Van Eskridge and Leon Best did a great job at the safety position. The two corners, Emanuel Davis and Travis Simmons, had to step up with Dekota marshall's groin injury and did a great job.
"On the defensive line we really only played five. The two inside guys in Linval Joseph and Jay Ross played the bulk of the game and did an excellent job up front. It's kind of hard to contain Joe Webb, but I thought they did a really nice job and were pretty dominant and reestablished the line of scrimmage. At defensive end we had C.J. Wilson and Zack Slate, the Energizer Bunny. It was nice to have Slate back and what he brings, making some emotional and motor plays. He was a real spark for our defense."
On The Offense Against UAB:
"It wasn't one of Patrick Pinkney's best all-around performances because you look at the three turnovers and those are glaring. But when you look at how accurately he threw the ball and how dialed in he was, I thought he really had an excellent day throwing the football. Obviously you're only as good as your worst play. He can't look at the one strike he threw for a touchdown to Davon Drew and say, `Wow, I played really well.' You also have to look at the ball he threw that slipped out of his hand right before the half and the deep ball that he threw outside the hash that was intercepted. I think Patrick was kind of feast or famine. He did some great things in that game with managing it, but he made some mistakes that we have to eliminate if we want to have any success in these final two weeks of the season.
"When I look at the offensive line, we played 10 guys and rolled them out pretty consistently. D.J. Scott and Terence Campbell played a lot, but Willie Smith and Steven Baker also played quite a bit and got their first real heavy experience. Sean Allen, Cory Dowless, Doug Palmer, Fred Hicks and T.J. Harper all played really well for us inside. We tried to rotate in a lot of guys so we could keep everybody fresh.
"The running backs played well, I wouldn't say great. I think we've got to raise our standard a little bit more at that position as far as making people miss in the open field. I thought they ran hard, hit the holes and did some good things but it's not like we're making a lot of things happen with the ball under our arm. We debate all the time about whether you would rather have the running back who can make somebody miss every time he carries the ball or have the great offensive line that creates holes every time. I've always wanted the great running back because Walter Payton made some of the best runs in NFL history just to get to the line of scrimmage.
"Right now when you look at where we are, I'd like to say the expectations of our running backs are to make one would-be tackler miss. But right now I think our guys are excited to say they ran for positive yards, hit the hole and hung onto the ball. That's just part of the inexperience and not getting the opportunity to play or carry the ball under their arms a whole lot.
"When you look at the tight end position, Davon Drew continues to be a staple. He played about 70 plays in that game and really did a nice job for us.
"The wide receivers are probably one of the most pleasant surprises right now. I think Darryl Freeney is growing up and doing some good things. Joe Womack is also growing up right in front of us. Both of those two are freshmen and are showing signs of being great players here in the future. Alex Taylor played a solid role for us. He really didn't do anything flashy, but was just solid in blocking and those types of things. Reyn Willis is also giving us some quality reps right now.
"When you look at this game, I was really proud of what this football team accomplished from an offensive and defensive standpoint."
On The Special Teams Against UAB:
"On special teams I thought Matt Dodge punted the ball excellently but we've got to be more consistent in the field goal kicking. I don't know what Ben Hartman's problems are right now. He had a great week of kicking during practice but then went out there and went 1-3 during the game. With the way we're trying to win right now and what we're trying to do, we're going to need those field goal points, which are critical in close games."
On The Injuries:
"C.J. Wilson and Scotty Robinson are questionable. We're going to have to see how many of these guys react to treatment this week. Chris Mattocks, Pierre Bell and J.J. Milbrook are also all questionable.
"It looks like we have a chance to get Josh Smith back this week after his neck injury and that'll be nice to see him return. We also have the possibility of getting Cliff Perryman, Jeremy Chambliss and Dekota marshall back this week."
On The Team Right Now:
"I'm really proud of what this football team has accomplished and what it has overcome to get to where it is. It is a picture of determination, will, desire, passion, and enthusiasm that they have painted. This is a group of young men who are refusing to give in or give up. I've said all along that adversity is either going to pull you closer together or it's going to tear you apart. With all the adversity this football team has gone through, I think the leadership of this team in Patrick Pinkney, Fred Hicks, Davon Drew, Zack Slate, Pierre Bell, J.J. Milbrook and Leon Best have done an incredible job of being the glue that keeps this thing together. Right now I think we're playing and winning with will, determination and togetherness.
"It would be very easy for them to point fingers. We fumble a reverse on offense and UAB gets the ball on the 15-yard-line and the defense is saying, `Keep your head up offense, we'll get it back. They're not scoring.'
"It's just really neat to see these guys coming together and the attitude they play with. It's fun to sit there and coach this group."
"It will be a great challenge. I know Coach Price has these guys playing well and they'll be extremely motivated for a number of reasons. One big motivating factor is that I know they'll talk about last year and the overtime win we had, scoring with 30 seconds to go. They feel like they let something slip away last year. With them coming here and having the opportunity to play us, the first-place team in the East Division and one of the team's on top, they'll be excited. At the same time they're 5-6 and also saying that they have a chance to go 6-6 and fill one of the bowl spots for Conference USA. I know they'll come in here extremely motivated and ready to play."
On UTEP's Offense:
"This is a very talented group. Offensively, their two tackles are 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8; they're huge. You can't run through them, you have to run around them. They're predominantly throwing the ball on offense. I think Trevor Vittatoe is one of the better quarterbacks in this league. I was extremely impressed with him a year ago when I saw him. The two quarterbacks who have impressed me the most in-person were when we played at UTEP a year ago and when we played Houston this year. I just have a world of respect for Vittatoe, what he's doing right now and the way he's growing up. He's only a sophomore, but he's an excellent football player. When you look at Jeff Moturi and Kris Adams, the two receivers on the outside, they're making a lot of plays.
"They've got great speed, athleticism, a tight end who has great size and a number of starters back on offense. They're throwing for nearly 300 yards per game and they're a very talented offensive football team.
"This will be a totally different game than what we've played over the last four weeks where we've been in low-scoring football games. This is a very high-powered and explosive football team which is averaging 34 points per game."
On UTEP's Defense:
"They are just the opposite of us. They are constant change and movement. You never know where they are. They're not very big up front when you look at their size. But they move and are active; you never know where they're going to line up. They create a lot of confusion and come from everywhere. They're totally different from where we are. As an offensive football team we're probably more conservative, and the same is true from our defensive standpoint.
"This UTEP football team is more wide open. They have a great quarterback and throw the ball all over the field. Defensively, it's almost like their mindset is that they're going to come after you, move around, create confusion, make some plays and get some turnovers. They're leading the league in turnover ratio right now with a plus 14. They've created 26 turnovers total. They just try to disrupt you to get the ball back to their offense. This will be kind of a challenge of who can execute the game plan and who can manage the football game effectively.
"They've got a great linebacker in Adam Vincent in the middle, who has 101 tackles on the year. He's very active and involved. In the secondary, every player back there has at least one interception. They've got a great corner in Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith, who I think is a heck of a football player.
"This is going to be a challenge for us. But I think our players are excited to come back and play at home. Out of 11 games so far this season we've only played four here at Dowdy-Ficklen. I know this football team is really excited to have the opportunity to come back home, in front of the home crowd, and finish this season off, hopefully with a win."
On The Schedule This Week:
"The schedule is going to be a little bit different this week because we normally give the team Monday off. We came back last night but didn't practice because we got back at about 3 a.m. We're going to bring them back this afternoon for a light workout in shorts. We're only going to be on the field for about an hour. Then we'll get back into a regular Tuesday and on Wednesday we're going to stay around here.
"In the past I've given them the opportunity to go home for Thanksgiving and brought them back on Friday to practice and then played Saturday. We've made the decision to keep them here through the holiday and we'll have a Thanksgiving dinner here as a football team on Wednesday night. We'll practice on Thursday and then go to the hotel and treat that like a regular Friday night. They're going to have the opportunity to go home after the game on Friday. I wish I could let them go home. I love the family holidays, but unfortunately with where we are, this is what we have to do right now as a football team."
On The Offensive Game Plan This Week:
"We're going to have to be balanced. We're not in a position right now where we can play it wide open and just throw it every down. We can't say that our young receivers can mismatch with some of their juniors and seniors in the secondary. It's going to come down to who can play and manage their game better. We're going to play our game. We're not going to change everything that we do or try to reinvent the wheel. We have to continue to do what we do with our younger players and hopefully get better.
"We'll have some wrinkles and we'll do some things formation-wise that we haven't done in the last few weeks because of the things they do. But we're going to continue to run our offense."
On Winning The East Division:
"I think anytime you have to work for something you can appreciate it more. I think had it happened right out of the gate they would have enjoyed it too. I would have loved for it to happen that way as well. But I think, as hard as it has been to get here and how close they have been the last two years, there is a sense of relief and accomplishment for these seniors.
"We've continually talked about growth of the program. We started out wanting to get to a bowl game, then it was win the bowl game and then it was win the conference championship. We need to keep taking steps of growth. I think these seniors have had an awful lot of pride in taking another step. They don't want to be the ones to take a step backward. Right now it's growing and going forward. I think there was a great sense of accomplishment, and there should have been. Not only from the seniors, but also from the juniors and sophomores who have done some good things on the field.
"It's not only that we've accomplished these things that bring relief and excitement, but this season has been a bigger hill to climb than any have since we've been here when you look at the younger players who have had to step up. We talked about the receivers going into the UAB game, and they had one career touchdown reception amongst them. I don't even know if they were in double-digits in career catches. Reyn Willis, Darryl Freeney, Joe Womack and Alex Taylor were guys at the beginning of the year who were looking at cards to run the offense. Now, here they are playing in a division championship game, and they're the go-to guys. I'm just really proud of the way they stepped up. I think there's a lot of pride in the senior class and in those guys as well, and there should be with what they're accomplished.
"But as I said to the team last night, this could be the beginning of our dream or the end of it. We can say, `We've arrived, accomplished it and took another step. Let's take a deep breath, step back and say we've arrived.' Or we can say, `There are only two teams out of 12 that get the opportunity to play for the conference championship.'
"Once you get into that game, winner takes all. We've put ourselves in that game and we can get excited about that challenge and being able to take two steps this year. Or we can just beat our chest and be satisfied with where we are. We'd like to continue to climb this ladder and have that hungry mindset, which is part of our humble and hungry battle cry."
On The Mental Approach For The UTEP Game:
"Somebody said to me that this is like an NFL game, you can play all your backups. I said, `Heck, I'm playing them all now.' They're the ones who are playing in the game anyway. I can't go ahead and play my backups because they're the ones who are starting for me.
"We're taking the approach that this game is one of 12. We've got an opportunity to raise our record from 7-4 to 8-4. This isn't a throw-away game to us. This is a game where we can gain some experience and go compete. As I told the team, at this point you don't know what bowl you're going to go to, you don't know how things are going to happen and it's going to be determined by how we play from here on out. So this is as important of a game as any of them.
"We've just got to keep getting better and improving. I think a lot of these players are doing just that. It's great to see their growth and development. We're a different football team than we were at the beginning of the season. I'm certainly not complaining or using our injuries as an excuse, but how many times have you heard me say that as coaches we have to identify our strengths and weaknesses? We want to hide our weaknesses and highlight our strengths, but as a football team we've been through three or four transformations because our strengths and weaknesses continue to change as experience goes in and out of the depth chart. That's one of the challenges that I think the coaching staff has done such a good job with.
"Right now with the injured players, I think if they can go we're going to play them. I don't think we're in a position right now where we can hold a bunch of guys out. Obviously if Mike Hanley [trainer] doesn't think they're good to go than we'll hold them. But we'll have to make some evaluations. That's why you have so many questionable and probable players at this point in the week. We're certainly not going to push anything. We're going to treat it like this game is every bit as important as the last one."
On Changing The Field Goal Situation:
"You have to start to consider the different options that you have. When Ben was kicking in the middle of the year, you could say if we made it to about the 35-yard-line that we had three points. When we got in that area, we tried to play it safe, not turn the ball over and not do anything that was high-risk. Managing the game the way we've been trying to, I keep telling people I'm trying to win 2-0. I'm getting closer and closer to that. I'm not afraid to win 17-13. I know winning ugly is turning the ball over and not playing well, but 17-13 to me is a great defensive performance.
"I think you've got to maybe change your philosophy a little bit more down in the red zone where you may go a little bit more high-risk and high-reward so you can create more first downs and touchdowns because of the way you're kicking it. We'll meet and sit down and talk to Ben. We'll figure out where we're going to go this week and how we're going to approaching the kicking. He gave me a really good feeling last week with how he kicked in practice. Unfortunately, it just didn't translate into the game. With how we're trying to manage the game right now, those six points are critical.
"We're going to look at what we can do. I know we're playing against a guy who kicked a 64-yarder already this year. What a great comfort that is to have that accuracy and leg. We just have to continue to motivate and push Ben in order to give him a chance to succeed on Saturday. But as a head coach, you've got to start to look at what you're other options are if you're not being successful."
On The Quarterback Situation:
"Right now it'll be Patrick Pinkney's job. Patrick really did some nice things on Saturday. I thought he threw the ball well. If you could take 20 plays from Patrick's performance, you could make a highlight film. Unfortunately, you could take three or four plays and make a lowlight film as well. When you look at what Patrick did, I thought he did a pretty good job managing the game outside of the turnovers. It's Patrick's job, but that doesn't mean both quarterbacks won't play. We'll evaluate is as the week goes on."