Nov. 25, 2013
Coach McNeill Press Conference
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Fourth-year East Carolina Head Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media Monday prior to this week's road game against Marshall. The following are selected comments:
"It was a great team win Saturday against North Carolina State. I was really proud of our kids, players and coaches to play a game of this magnitude in an in-state rivalry against an ACC and non-conference opponent, especially this late in the season with the conference race at hand. It took a lot of focus by our group. I thought the staff did a good job of planning last week, having great preparation, and the kids did a great job of executing the plan and making adjustments. The players really look for adjustments or "fix-its" on the sideline from all three sides of the ball, and that's what you want to have. That's a great trait to have in a ball team.
"I thought we approached the game in a fashion where we wanted to start fast. We played each play one play at a time. I thought we had a really good mental approach going into the game. I'm also extremely proud of the Pirate Nation and the way we showed up over there. That was big time. We had an idea, but not the magnitude that it was. Our fan base travels great and that's why East Carolina is a very good bowl attraction, because we travel. It was strictly a silent count day for our offense and defense. From coach-to-coach, we had to talk in a loud tone, but to feel the energy was unbelievable. I always say that when we're in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, but it was a goose-bump moment.
"The 24-hour rule was not in effect: it was more like eight or 12 hours as we had to dive into Marshall pretty quickly to get the game plan going. After the game Saturday, they (the players) were pretty happy to win, but they also knew that we have another game coming up that has a lot of significance to it. The way they handled that after the game was expected, but great to see as well."
"I've known Doc (Holliday) a long time. We're both very similar in our careers - both being lifers. We've both traveled quite a bit to different institutions. We're defensive guys. I think our teams reflect what we've been around defensively and what we've faced offensively. His team is one that, after last season, made some changes and they've really done a good job all year and been a consistent team.
"Rakeem Cato is their quarterback and was the C-USA Player-of-the-Year last year, deservedly so, and first team All-Conference USA quarterback. He did a great job last year and has done so this year. He's a quarterback we have to be concerned with as far as mobility and ability to scramble.
`They rotate a plethora of running backs. Essray Taliaferro is very fast, quick, has surge and is shifty with 800 yards and nine touchdowns. They also throw the ball to Essray out of the backfield. He shares time with Steward Butler and Kevin Grooms, and both of those guys are really good backs. We have a similar approach where we can rotate backs and keep them fresh. They have a great group of backs and they all contribute.
"I think Gator Hoskins is one of the best tight ends in the league. I thought he was a good player last year, but he is definitely having a great year. He's a favorite target of Rakeem. Tommy Shuler does a great job as an inside receiver, and he's a guy you have to be concerned with as well. He has speed and the ability to go up and attack the ball. He catches the ball really well. Devon Smith is a transfer from Penn State for them and is their return guy averaging about 17 yards per punt return. The last three weeks, we've faced the top three punt returners in the country, and it will be another tall task this week with Devon.
"Up front is where it all starts and they have a really good group. They'll be another large offensive line - one of the largest we've faced. They're very agile, play well together and will be a really big task for our defense.
"Defensively, they're a four down defensive line and they will give some odd three-man looks like we saw versus NC State. They've been more of a man-type coverage on the back end with a blend of zone attacking up front. They've caused 22 turnovers this season. Jermaine Holmes is another really good linebacker we'll face. It seems like since Tulsa, we've faced a big guy in the middle each week. He's the leader of their defense and leads them in tackles. They don't take him out of the game at any time. Ra'Shawde Myers (defensive end) really gets up the field and Monterius Lovett (defensive back) shows up a lot on film. I could go on about the guys they have on defense.
"It's a great challenge and an exciting time. In coaching, you look forward to this opportunity and both teams have worked their way into this position."
On Playing In The First Cold Weather Game:
"We're ready for it and look forward to it. We practice in cold weather and we'll practice tonight when it's 20 or 30 degrees. Ball security is always an issue. The coaches are colder than the players. I love the kids, but I have to make sure I'm wrapped up. I've got to make sure I have my toboggan. One of the things my dad told me way back in high school was that when you're practicing and playing when it's cold, you've had a good season. We're still playing and there's cold weather, so it's an honor to be doing that."
On Similarities Between Marshall's Rakeem Cato And East Carolina Shane Carden:
"They're both the generals of their teams, not just their offense. They have great decision-making skills, distribute the ball extremely well, have the ability to extend plays and they're both two of the top quarterbacks, not just in the conference, but also in the country. They would be good quarterbacks in any league and on any team. I told Rakeem that last year after the game and I have nothing but positive things to say about him. I watch the team and how they react to kids. You can tell how he's perceived in that laboratory over there, so the kids on the team think a lot of him."
On How The Team Didn't Appear To Be As Emotionally High After The Win At NC State And The Maturity Of The Team:
"I think the group has decided to have a vision or a goal, and my job is to make sure we understand our process. We have a goal for the team, and this week it's Marshall. The group understands that. They believe in themselves. We can't control anything that Marshall does, but we can control what we do and how we work, and this group understands that."
On The Return Of Adhem Elsawi And What It Means For Tre Robertson:
"It's a good problem to have. Tre has done not just good, but outstanding in Adhem's absence. Adhem can play left and right tackle. I feel good with both of those guys in there and Adhem can rotate in at left tackle, which we did last week. There are two groups that you can't substitute too much during the game and that's in the secondary and on the offensive line. We have some other guys working too. J.T. Boyd has really come on and he's not a young guy anymore. Taylor Hudson isn't a young guy anymore either. It's great to have Adhem back and it's great to see him run out there."
On The ECU-Marshall Rivalry Overt The Last Three Meetings:
"Doc (Holliday) has been on the same track that we have here. He has a lot of special feelings for Marshall like I have special feelings for East Carolina, and we both want to do it the right way. It has been a game that, every year, it comes down to something on the line. That's why you're in coaching - for the competition. When you've been around as long as we have and been through a lot of these contests before, it's a very intense time, but it's fun. The strategy and preparation part like watching film today is the fun part."
On How Putting NC State Into A Lot Of Third Down Situations Showed How Far The Defense Has Come This Year:
"Our coaches do a good job of little things behind the scenes that you don't see, like breaking down film. They do a good job of adjusting. The first drive was a 14-play drive. After that, there was no panic, they came right to the sideline, got information from up top and made adjustments. NC State had too many third-and-medium drives like third and three and third and four. The most important down is first down and making sure you hold them to three yards or less. We were able to play better first down defense and then on second and long, we were able to get sub-packages in and some movement.
"I took most of the starters out in the fourth quarter because I thought that was necessary. It hurt our defensive stats if you're a stats person, but we're not. I wanted to get some young guys some reps and the performance standard and level does not drop, and they were told that at practice last night that I did not like how we ended the game. We got a lot of people out and that was not by my asking, but my demand that I wanted them out because we knew we had to come out healthy. That first group gave up 14 points and that's a pretty good deal. I don't think the 28 points was deserving of our defense. They worked very hard and were very stingy and opportunistic. I'm proud of the progress of our defense. Our performance level and the bar will be raised each week. They want it to be raised and they're willing for it to be raised. We'll need to play at a very high level this week against Marshall. The defense has done a great job of trying to control the run and then hopefully affect the passer and takeaways. That's been the formula of our defense."
On Junior NT Terry Williams:
"Terry Williams has done everything I've asked him to do off the field. He's done community service and met with Brian Overton numerous times. The only way he would be let back on this team was by a team vote, and that's the way it is here. Last night, the team voted to allow him to come back and be a part of this team. It was all on the team. No coaches voted. If one person said "no," then it would have been no. He's been humbled by the process and he understands that it's not about him or entitlement. It's an honor and not a right to play on this team. It's not a one-man show. Throughout our whole athletic department, that's how we work. That's why it's a joy to work here because it's a team concept."
On How Winning At Marshall Will Give East Carolina Home Field For The C-USA Championship:
"I'm proud of what we've been able to do thus far as a group, program and university. You don't win or contend for championships during the season. You win them in the summer, fall camp, spring and offseason. To get to this point, those first four phases have to be accomplished in a championship-type nature, and this group has done that. We'll approach it the way we've approached each game. We know the vision and we know the goal. It's a great opportunity for our school. I'm blessed to have a great coaching and administrative staff. We have to take one step at a time. It's engrained in me."
On How Defensive Stops Against Marshall's High-Powered Offense Could Shape The Game:
"I think both of us have pretty good defenses. We follow each other in both categories, including special teams. I think it's about playing a total team game. Complimentary football will need to be at its highest Friday. This is a game where routine plays will be vital. We have to make sure we make a lot of routine plays."
On Not Kicking A Field Goal In The Last Two Games:
"Warren (Harvey) would have kicked the other day at NC State. I felt like going for it on fourth down. You get into a rhythm and I can sort of tell. I'm pretty confident in taking some chances when needed. The wind was really swirly over there. It was different for us. We probably could have gone from maybe 25 or 30 yards out, but we had a fourth-and-makeable so I went for it."
On The Biggest Difference And Similarity Between Marshall And East Carolina's Offense And Defense:
"They're both similar. We spread the field. We both try to stretch the defenses vertically. They do a great job of that and I think we do a great job of it now. We both try to stretch the defenses horizontally and then we both have a run game. They're similar in nature. It's a similar deal where it's going to be a play-to-play type of deal."
On Marshall's Points Per Game Improvement Defensively Since Last Year:
"I attribute it to experience. You can see some of the same guys that we played last year. I think they're a defense with movement. They're well coached. They're really a fast defense like we are."
If There Is An Area Where East Carolina Has An Edge Over Marshall:
"I think we're two evenly-matched football teams. You can tell by the competition and stats on all three sides of the ball. We have to do a great job in preparation. I keep going back to that because that's the key."
On If He Will Take Anything From Last Year's Game Into This Weekend:
"There are some similar players, but everyone has grown older from last year. I haven't watched last year's game at all. I'm focused on this year's game. I'm going to watch FIU later and that will complete my film. I may go back and watch last year's game sometime this week, but today, I feel it's necessary to dive into the latest games of this year."