“First of all, I just want to recap a little bit about this week and this game. It’s unbelievable the way our guys came out and prepared to play this week.
Go back to Monday when we found out we were going be missing a few guys. Unavailable this week - Cole Bentley who’s really started center for our whole time we’ve been here; and Robbie Bell had surgery on Monday so he’s out and that was our second center. We moved Cam DeGeorge to center, he hasn’t played center for us since it’s been here but he’s played every other position, but Cam has not played center so we moved Cam to center on Wednesday, and then we find out he’s going to be on available.
So Thursday we moved to Austin Collins, I guess you’d call him our fourth center. You usually don’t have four centers, usually have maybe two in an emergency, but we had to go to the fourth center Austin Collins, which was a defensive lineman at CAL [Christian Academy of Louisville] last year, I was watching him play with my sons, and so we move him to center. And he’s a little bit nervous, but had a great two days of practice, Thursday and Friday, and then he goes out today and snaps 70 balls to Malik [Cunningham] and really played a really good game, so proud of him.
Josh Black is another freshman that we had to put up front at right guard, who’s never really played for us as well. We find out Friday that Ean Pfeiffer is unavailable, another senior, so Francis Sherman has to slide into that spot, he’s a walk on freshman that’s worked his tail off since he’s been here. He’s a guy who’s put on about 35 pounds since he’s been here - incredible story. He catches three balls and a touchdown today, and made it look easy out there. [Jordan] Watkins was another freshman that was out there, scored a touchdown today, incredible to see that. We started the Fitzpatrick brothers [Dez and Christian], the first play of game today so there’s another freshman that started there and it’s just incredible.
I’m kind of talking about these young guys right now but I think I really want to talk about the seniors as well. What they’ve meant to me, what they’ve meant to this program over the years. For us, for two years being here in this program and all they’ve done is work, they just work their tails off, I’m so proud of them. We told them in the locker room how proud we are of them and we love them. Big things for those guys. I’m sure there’ll be a few of those guys that will come back but I think some are going to go on and try to pursue an opportunity at the next level in this game, so really proud of those guys.
We talked about this week, how they would remember this game for the rest of their life, as a senior you always remember your last game, and to come out today and to play the way we played and it was a total team effort today, incredible team effort, the best team game we played this year. That’s awesome to see. Early on offensively we struggled a little bit. We had some troublesome protections early on and getting the ball out in time, we maybe got sacked a couple of times and we’re not getting first downs, but the defense hung in there and kept us in the game. They played outstanding today. We fumbled up a punt and then we end up getting tackled there, a loss for that, and they end up scoring, but outstanding job by our defense.
Our staff did a great job. This is an offense that averaged close to 40 points a game coming into this game, right at 39.5, and they did an outstanding job today of containing them. The stats from their quarterback weren’t very good, I think our guys did a great job of making him throw it and were able to knockdown balls. We flipped the script on them today as far as turnover margin. They are the number one team in the country in turnover margin, we’re toward the bottom, but today we were at plus two. That was a huge difference in the game because that’s big momentum. I thought the drive of the day was in the third quarter. We come out in the third quarter, we had the ball and we drive down the field and I think take off maybe seven minutes of the clock. I thought we gained momentum right there to finish this game out and they made a little bit of a run, but our guys battled back.
I say it was a complete game because of our special teams. We created another turnover on special teams today, and JT (James Turner) knocking down field goals. We haven’t said a whole lot about JT this year, but one of the better field goal kickers in the country this year. Extremely solid, I think he’s missed two 52 yarders. That’s it. He’s been great. A lot of things that were awesome to see today. To score 45 points, that’s incredible with what we had out there. The guys played so awesome. Credit to all of them.
I also want to say, to our whole staff, to think about Matt Summers and athletic trainers what they’ve been able to do this year is remarkable. Our equipment staff having to, keep everything clean, as far as all of our gear and all that, Chuck and Ed and all those guys and all our workers in that room. Incredible. Our recruiting department and what they’ve had to put up with all this year, not even having recruits here and having to do everything through zoom and all that. Unbelievable. I hope I’m not leave anybody out.
Everybody - our nutritionist, Vicky, Denise and Robin, all our ladies upstairs. It’s been obviously the most trying year that we’ve all had collectively as all of us, but we’re trying to run a football program with 120, 18-to-22-year-olds, and it takes everybody, and our administration also. So much planning went into all of this, and to execute the plan our guys did an outstanding job with that. Again, it takes everybody so I can’t say enough about everybody that’s been involved for this year. We played 11 games.
There’s a lot of programs out there just trying to play 2, 3, 4 games and we played 11. Again, just proud of everybody and to end the season on a high note will propel us as we head into the offseason. Our signing class next week; roster management things because that’s going to come up as well as you think about next semester with these seniors, like who’s coming back who’s not, so roster management’s always something that we have to talk about and then also coming up with a plan, what are we doing next semester, how are we getting our team better.
Our guys are already fired up and ready to come back here. They’ll get a little bit of break, we all need a break over Christmas, but they’ll be ready to come back in January and they’re fired up for it and we’re excited to get him back here.”
(With everybody that was going to be out, did you consider canceling the game? And how important was this to you personally after what you’ve been through the last two weeks?)
“Well when we started the season we wanted to play. We want to play the games and there’s protocols in place. I’m really out of it. All we can do is practicing and work and if someone is not available then who’s next. And that’s what we did. Our medical team does all that and they’re awesome at what they do, so we trust them to do that side of it. What we have been able to accomplish this year is incredible as I mentioned earlier. And a lot of people deserve credit, a lot of people, and for us to get 11 games in is incredible. Do I wish I had some of these guys? Absolutely. I really feel for Cole (Bentley) and these seniors, Ean (Pfeifer), and Cam (DeGeorge) and these guys that are mainstays for our offense on that side of the ball, but even the other guys that couldn’t play. I think we want to obviously play the football game because of the other seniors that are available to play. Your Rodjay Burns, (Jared) Goldwire, CJ (Avery), Dez Fitzpatrick, they wanted to play, and they went out and showed that, they proved that.”
(What about what this meant to you personally with everything you’ve been through the last two weeks?)
“I love to see the joy in our kid’s faces. There’s nothing better than that. I was telling Rocco a while ago, when Sherm (Francis Sherman) caught the touchdown pass and, the joy on the sideline when he came off the sideline to catch that touchdown, that’s what it’s all about. Our whole team was right there, picking him up, pumping him up. Same thing with [Jared] Watkins when he scored. That’s what’s awesome. It was awesome to come out and to play the way we did, there was a lot of distractions. Meetings with our players, and our staff in here, they’ve been focused and really wanted to come out and play well and that’s what they did. I’m proud for them.”
(You had six false starts today. Given how much change there was on the offensive line, that’s probably understandable. How do you account for being able to put up 45 points, and 453 yards with a formed together front five?)
“If you were to tell me we were going to score 45, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. It’s incredible. Some of the false starts were attributed to new guys in the lineup there. We don’t like those. But we didn’t get frustrated. Let me just say that. Because we knew there may be some mix-ups with that as we got in there, but again our guys didn’t worry about it. I think we had two in a row at one point and we still go down to score. It was first and 20 and we ended up overcoming it and going down and scoring. We knew there was going to be some things like that. Even early on, we gave up a couple of sacks and ‘listen, we got to just play through it, we’ll play through it and then we’ll move forward’. We got the running game going. I thought that helped tremendously. One thing I haven’t mentioned, it was extremely windy out here today. So, you’re a little bit nervous about throwing the ball down the field. I think both teams actually got, I won’t call it lucky, but balls were underthrown a few times and Dez came back and caught the pass. But I think the running game was a difference for us, because we were able to get some of those long runs and pop those runs. Mitchell’s had a couple of long runs. It’s hard to explain how we had this many yards and 45 points. As I said, I really do think it’s a team effort, because the defense plays so good, they help our offense out to get going.”
(These seniors are guys who came here when Louisville was kind of at its peak, went through a lot with the 2-10 season, coaching changes, many of them position changes. What does it say about this group that they’re able to stay on board? This seems like a group full of perseverance. What does it say about this group?)
“Well, they’re great young men. That’s what it says about them. It could have been real easy to fold up the tent and say ‘Man, this is not for me, I’m not dealing with this.’ The thing about football that teaches us all is that we’re all going to go through adversity, but how we come out on the other side. And these guys have gone through a lot of adversity. But they keep fighting. And I know they’re going to be successful in life because of it. CJ and Dez are two guys that are in here right now. These suckers have been through a lot. They continue to fight and they lead and they show how it’s done with a positive attitude every single day. It’s going to be hard to get these guys down. As they go through life, they’re going to get some things that are going to happen to them, but they’re going to reflect back to what they’ve always had to do, which is continue to fight. And I’m so proud of them and I can’t wait to see what some of these guys do. As I mentioned, some will be back, and some are moving forward. But I’m not worried about all of them because I know the type of men they are, and how they will react to adversity. They’re going to be great at whatever they do.”
(You mentioned the running game was big for you guys today. Jalen Mitchell over 160 yards. Just your thoughts on his performance. It wasn’t just the big runs. He had some grind it out runs as well.)
“He really did. He’s a bruiser. I think I’ve probably mentioned this before. He’s one of the stronger guys on our team. He’s just put together that way and he’s hard to bring down. He’s not a burner, I think we saw that a couple runs, we’re going to work on that speed in the offseason, but he’s a bruiser and he’ll go get you some hard tough runs and a lot of these runs tonight, we’re running inside the tackles up the middle where there’s linebacker, safeties. And he’s bouncing off of guys and he’s trying to move that pile forward. Those are huge because it keeps the chains moving. It just so happened he had a couple where he popped out and got some long runs that went 70 yards. He’s another guy, he doesn’t say anything, he just works. As you think about the running back position, what Hawkins did early on and then Burkley and now Mitchell. Guys just keep plugging in there. And here’s another guy, 168 yards rushing today, just another guy we’ve plugged in that’s getting it done. That’s awesome to see. And he’s another freshman. He’s got a bright future.”
(Dez Fitzpatrick had a big game today and then took some time to stay on the field after and kind of soak it all in. In the time you’ve gotten to know him, describe the impact he’s had on this program as a leader and the legacy he leaves.)
“Yeah, just a huge impact on his program. I wasn’t here, but I heard about his freshman year. He had a great, great freshman year. I think he redshirted his first year. Then when he did his freshman year when he was playing, he had a great freshman year. Kind of went through some disappointments… In the last two years for us, he’s been outstanding. From the time we got here to where he’s at now, tremendous growth as a human being. That’s what I would say. You guys probably look at the football side of it, but we look at the human being side of it. And this past year for us, his leadership and being around our guys and just keeping everybody positive. He has a great spirit about him. He’s one of these guys that’s always upbeat with an outstanding smile. And that’s going to carry him a long way, whatever he’s going to do in his life. But he’s a great football player too. And I know there’s times this year he’s probably frustrated that he didn’t get as many balls. I get frustrated too, because he doesn’t get as many balls. There’s some games this year when we call his number and the ball goes somewhere else for whatever reason. What I’m happy about is the last three or four games he’s finished on some high notes, and he’s got a bright future.”
(You mentioned in your comments that this is the last game, but with the bowl situation and bowls waiving the win requirement, if there was an opportunity, would Louisville look to take a bid, or is that off the table?)
“We’ve not talked about it in any form or fashion. I keep seeing the news coming out. I think it was Boston College and Pitt decided not to play and I’ve seen I don’t know how many bowls have already decided not to have a bowl so I think it’s so much up in the air, I couldn’t answer that question.”
(You talked a lot about Dez, but in the game when you factor in the patchwork offensive line, you mentioned the wind, Malik didn’t have much time. How huge was that catch on third down? It was the first scoring drive you had because the offense had been struggling so much and that seemed to kind of ignite it.)
“Yeah, it did. That was huge. And that actual play was going into the wind. And Dez beats his guy. Malik throws it out there, so it’s a little bit underthrown, he does a great job of coming back and catching the ball and gets us down to the one-inch line. We’ll talk about how you need to get in the endzone Dez, but he’s right down to the one-yard line. That was a great play, a huge play, and that’s just Malik trusting Dez to go get the football. And we had another one later in the game, as we were going the other way and Dez has his guy beat and Malik throws and the wind took it back. I think that would have been another touchdown on that one as well. Dez can talk about that. But coming into the game, we knew we wanted to be able to take some shots. We felt Dez could run by them on the outside and we were able to, but with the wind today we wanted to be calculated whenever we call some of those. But that one play right there kind of felt like it got us going, really for the rest of the day.”