“Good afternoon. I’ll just follow up a little bit about the game from Saturday (vs Wake Forest). Obviously, a great game for us, particularly in that second half. I just go back and watch it and a couple of things stood out to me. In the first quarter, we did a great job of occupying the ball, keeping their offense off the field and the negative to that is we were not getting touchdowns. We get down there twice and had to settle for field goals, and one of them was an errant pass that we had. We just didn’t execute is basically what it boiled down to, and we knew going into game, we needed to score touchdowns against Wake Forest and not settle for field goals with the way they can score, so that was certainly a negative. I felt good about the way we were playing at halftime, but we missed that field goal right before the half which was certainly a negative as well. We had two penalties that backed us up, and we made the first two and then missed the last one, and you felt like you played well, but you go into halftime and you’re losing. But one thing I did feel good about coming out for the second half, we were really close to creating turnovers and then just exploded in the third quarter to create six (turnovers).
Credit to our defense. One thing that really stood out, we had eight sacks on the day from eight different people. That just speaks to team defense, and we created eight turnovers, and six different people got the turnovers. So, the wealth was spread out and it wasn’t just one guy, and I think that’s tremendous team defense, and that’s what you want to play. I thought our defensive staff did a phenomenal job last week, putting together a game plan to slow down Wake Forest. We knew how good their offense was. Sam Hartman has had an incredible career so far but in order to beat Wake, and I mentioned this last Tuesday, you have to turn them over. And that was the difference in the game, we frustrated him and got to him, and that guy’s made some great plays and so credit to our defensive staff and our players for really buying into that and playing great. Offensively, I thought we did enough good things. It was good to have Tiyon (Evans) back this week, getting over 100 yards on 11 carries, did a great job with that. We had some fun in the passing game, hit a couple of deceptive plays: one to Marshon (Ford) down to the one-yard line and then Braden Smith, that play was beautiful as well.
So overall, it was just great. Great for our guys. I’ll tell you what, we didn’t have a full house in the stadium by any means, but the people that were there were awesome. It was loud, particularly in the third quarter and we just kind of fed off of that and that momentum just kept going. And that was tremendous to be able to let the guys storm the field there at the end of the game, that was awesome and it’s what college football is all about. Games like that, I know those students will remember that for the rest of their lives. I know our players will remember games like that, when you beat the number-ten team in the country. A lot of great memories out here on Saturday.
We’ve got to put that one to bed. We got a great football team coming in here with James Madison, a really good team. Looking at the schedule in the preseason, I’m thinking what a bad game to have. You’re going to play a team who is supposedly an FCS team but now they’re in the Sun Belt. They made the move up and they got 85 scholarships and so it’s not playing an FSC team, and not only that, it’s a team that thinks they can win. A team that’s won national championship, a team that competes for national championships. To move into that Sunbelt was a little bit like when I was at App State, we did that same thing, we transitioned into the Sun Belt. Back then we had to wait to get to 85 (scholarships), and now we’re able to jump right into it. That’s a huge difference when you think about that with the transfers they’ve brought in, some really good players and I think it starts with their quarterback (Todd Centeio) who came in from Colorado State. Outstanding player: great size, close to 220 pounds, can run, can throw very accurately. When things break down, he’s able to go get first downs. He’s a tremendous player. They didn’t play as well offensively against Marshall, and he was not playing. That’s a big difference right there when he’s in the football game. I think defensively, they’re one of the top defenses in the country. As we were going through early in the season, I was kind of looking and they were number-one in the country in defense and you go back and look now in just about half the categories, they’re top-ten in defensive stats. It’s a tremendous job what they do defensively. They can run, they’re not really that big, but they really can run and their guys are where they’re supposed to be. So, you know, so we got it our work cut out for us. We got to have a great week of practice this week to get ready for this team, because this team is certainly capable of coming here and winning this game if we don’t play well. There’s no question about it.”
(Can you speak to the challenge of having a game like this against James Madison sandwiched between an emotional win and then playing Clemson next week?)
“This speaks to what we’ve been saying all year: it’s one game, right now, this week. This is all we can focus on. Doesn’t matter where we were at in the past. Doesn’t matter what we have coming up. We know we have some challenges coming up. We have to focus everything on this game just like we did last week, just like we did the Pitt week, and so on and so forth. I mentioned this at the end of the game, it’s coach speak, but it is 100% true that you have to focus everything you have on this opponent. Today’s practice specifically, when we put in the game plan in, these guys have to be really focused on what we have to do. You can’t do anything else other than that. If you start thinking about other things and this and that, then you’re not focused and then you’re not getting better today at what we have to do, so it’s all about this game.”
(Do you feel like the team is approaching this game like they have the last three games?)
“Well, I hope so. I would like to think that because hopefully, you’ve learned that you can’t just show up in college football. If you try to go out there and show up, you’re going to get beat. There are too many good coaches, too many good players on every team out there and this particular team has proven that. They were ranked No. 25 in the country two weeks ago. If you just try to show up, you’re going to get beat, period. I hope for our guys, we have enough older guys on this team that know that. They know they can’t just show up. We have to go out here today, we’ll be in full pads, and we’ll be going hard at practice. We’re going to approach it as if this is our Super Bowl. We have to approach it that way. If you don’t and you just kind of glide into it, you going to get beat. You’re going to get embarrassed, and it will not be good.”
(James Madison is ranked number one in run defense, what do they do against the run that makes them so successful?)
“I think their defensive line is really active. They’ve got some guys there that are decent size up front, their (defensive) tackles are 270 to 280 (pounds), right in that range. Their defensive ends have some length, but they’re really active with their hands. They have really good twitch inside, so you watch them on film, and they’re running around guards, running around centers, and penetrating the backfield. Their linebackers are not big. 205 to 210 (pounds) but they’re downhill, they can really run and then they’re going to play man in the back end. They’re not scared to man you up and bring those safeties down as well. So, there’s going to be times you’re going to have nine guys in the box and so when you try to run, there’s a lot of people there and you’re going to have to break some tackles if you want to get some yards. That’s why they’re so good in the run game. They’re coached well, they’re where they’re supposed to be, you watch the film, there’s not anything that is just given to you. That’s just the sign of a well-coached team and these guys have really bought into it and are playing at a high level.”
(What are some next steps for this team? What do you really want to see kind of turn up over these last few weeks?)
“I just want to keep doing what we’re doing. We want to continue to create turnovers like we’ve been doing, that’s huge. If you look at our games we’ve won, we’ve been awesome in the turnover margin, and the games we haven’t, not good. I think that’s been the big difference. Continue to play defensive football, not give up the big play, that was our Achilles heel early in the year. We’ve played really good defense the last few weeks because we haven’t done that. We’re number one in the country in sacks, we have to continue to bring the pressure. We have to continue to build off of that and keep the pressure on the offenses that we’re playing. Then offensively, we’ve got to find ways to get in the endzone. I’ve mentioned it a bunch this year, we haven’t been a big-play offense. We have some here and there and those types of things, but we have to do a better job of trying to find ways to get in the endzone. I think that’s going to be big in these next four games, and we have to find ways to score touchdowns. We’re going to be playing some really good defenses. We’ve already been playing them, you think about Pitt, and Virginia was a lot better defensively, (James Madison) and so on and so forth, Clemson, Kentucky, (NC) State, they’re all really, really good on defense. We’ve got to find ways to get in the endzone.”
(What makes Tiyon (Evans) different from the other backs?)
“He’s got really good size, a lot of power. He’s a little bit more under control when he’s running. He also has the speed to get it and break it to the second level, we saw that on the long run that he had. We saw it at Syracuse when he had a nice long run. His whole deal has just been that he’s been dinged up, and he hasn’t been healthy. For him to be able to get out there and play, it was different to get him out there and I thought that was awesome. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go again this week. He’ll practice today and continue to get more and more healthy, and I think that will certainly help him and up our offense.”
(Is there a key to resolving the problems in the red zone?)
“I’m always thinking about ways to try and find our playmakers and get them the ball. We have not been great at passing in the red zone, so we’ve relied a lot on the run down there, a lot with Malik (Cunningham) when he’s in the game. He had two more touchdowns this weekend running the football. If we can find some ways to throw the ball better in the red zone, I think that’ll help us down there and it’ll make teams have to be a little bit more honest in their coverage, as opposed to stacking the box. If we can do a little bit better with that, I think that’ll really help us a lot in the throw game in the red zone.”
(It wasn’t that long ago that the defense was under fire around here and they’ve completely turned that around. What have you seen from the coaches and the players to get that done?)
“Bryan Brown and all of those guys: (Wes McGriff), (Derek Nicholson), (Mark) Ivey, (Greg Gasparato), they’ve done a tremendous job of continuing to find ways to get the right people in the right places on defense. I think that’s been big. You think about the secondary in particular, you think about what some of those guys have done and how we’ve rotated some guys around the secondary. Moving (Kei’Trel) Clark to the inside a little bit covering a number-two receiver, that puts Quincy Riley on the outside. You got (Jarvis) Brownlee in there and (M.J.) Griffin at the safety. There are a lot of things we’ve tweaked a little bit on defense that have really helped us. I think our staff has done a great job with that and then our players have really found their roles of what they do and what they do well. That’s really helped us out on defense. So, we hopefully can continue to do what we’ve been doing on that side of the ball and continue to pressure these offenses because it’s creating turnovers and therefore winning football games.”
(Is the team pretty healthy besides Luke Kandra?)
“Yeah, Luke is actually progressing really well. He will be out again this week but he’s doing great. We came out of that game (vs Wake Forest) with some dings and bruises but everybody’s healthy and everybody’s good to go. There wasn’t anyone that didn’t go to Sunday’s practice, some were a little limited but we’re all good to go.”
(How important has Michael Gonzalez been and how good has he been this year?)
“Tremendous. He’s, number one, a great human being. He’s extremely intelligent and for him to be able to come in and play right tackle, right guard, left guard, and left tackle, he has played everything but center. That’s hard to do, particularly at a high level and against the people we’re playing against. But he’s very intelligent, smart, knows what’s going on, knows what to do. He has really good fundamentals. He came in as a really good fundamental offensive lineman, which enabled him to play early. And now he’s the most versatile lineman that we have. Whenever somebody goes down and gets dinged, we’re going to slide him right into that spot. I think he could be really, really good if we could just leave him somewhere. He could be really good. So that may be a little disservice to him, but he’s a team guy and I’m glad he’s on our team.”
(How has this momentum transitioned over into recruiting?)
“It’s been huge. Obviously, the last two games for sure, we’ve hosted a tremendous amount of recruits that were committed and/or are thinking about coming here. We’re in their top three or four schools. We’re just continuing to try to recruit these guys, to get them here. We know it’s never over, even the ones that are committed to us. We got to continue to show how much they mean to us and our program. I think anytime you go out and you play well, they see that, and they say to themselves, ‘Oh man, I want to be a part of that. I want to come in and be able to do that same thing.’ I think the better we can play and the more we can show what we have as a program, then we’re going to get more and more recruits that can really help us.”