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“Good afternoon. First of all, I’ll talk a little bit about the last game against South Florida. I thought we played our most complete game last week. Had a lot of respect for them coming in, played really well defensively right from the start. Really gave up one running play that they hit for about 37 yards, we didn’t fit that one correctly, but other than that, tackled well, played well, ran to the ball, were where we were supposed to be, and made them one dimensional. Offensively, did some really good things. Rushed over 200 yards again for our third straight game. (Quarterback) Malik (Cunningham) had over 100 yards rushing for three straight games. Very efficient and just in overall flow of the whole game, took control early and really didn’t relinquish any of that. Proud of the way our guys bounced back in that week.
This week, obviously back on the road playing in the conference again. We’ll need to play well obviously, for a conference game and then having to go up to Boston on the road, obviously a challenge when you play on the road in the ACC. But it comes back to us, focus on what we can control which is how we prepare. I thought we did a great job of that last week with being very intentional in how we prepared, so we’ve got to do that again this week. Our guys have to be focused in each and every day with the game plan that we’re putting in and how to execute it, and then obviously go up there and play fast. It’s a 12 o’clock kick again, I thought our guys did a great job with that last week, that was our first 12 o’clock game that we had. It’s a big difference when it’s 7:30 to 12:00, having to wake right up and you’ve got an eight o’clock pregame meal. It’s the same thing we’re going to have to do this week on the road against a Boston College team that that has not done as well as they would have liked so far.
Offensively, obviously they have one of the best players in our conference with (wide receiver Zay) Flowers. They’re going to do everything they can to get the ball to him. He is fast, he can run, he can catch, and he runs great routes. I think he’s one of the best receivers in our league. They struggle a little bit protection wise, and they’ve given up some pressures there, but their quarterback (Phil Jurkovec) is a talented player. He’s a big kid, he’s got a really good arm, he can throw it. The issue of protection, I think, is probably one thing that has hurt them the most this year offensively.
Defensively, when you turn the film on, there’s a lot of guys back from last year. I think they’re a very, very solid defense. They’re where they’re supposed to be. They don’t get out of position. They do a really good job running to the football. They’re a good tackling team. It’s a good defense, it really is. They did lose one of their best defensive players #11 (Shitta Sillah), the defensive end. He’s an outstanding player, I remember him from last year, had a couple of tackles for loss against us last year, and I think he’s out for the season now. But really all the other guys are back, and it’s an old defense, a lot of graduates that are on that defense. Just another challenge for us on the road. We need to get a conference win, so we’re going to have a great week of practice and looking forward to that.
(Defensive lineman) Ashton Gillotte missed last week with an injury, but he’ll be back this week. He’ll be at practice this afternoon, and I know we missed him last week. It was kind of a game time decision with him, but he missed a lot of time in practice last week and really didn’t feel he was ready to play. We’re able to put him in this week so he should be back, so that’ll give us some good boost right there. I think (defensive lineman) Yaya (Diaby) is playing at a high level. I think he’s leading the ACC in sacks right now, and Ashton’s up there as well in sacks per game. I think both of those guys are doing a really good job. We’ve put more pressure on teams this year, which I think is awesome. Trying to kind of knock them off the sticks to create these third and long situations, and the defense does a much better job with that. We got to continue that as well this week.”
(Scott, how do you keep that sharpness that you had from last week? They (the team) were obviously ready to play when they came out last Saturday. You had only five or six penalties, did they run Sunday?)
“Yeah, we did. We had to run for our mistakes that we had in that game, five penalties that we had there. Two of them were late in the game. You can’t lose concentration. And I think the good news is that most of those penalties were during the play. That’s just playing hard. You’re going to have some of those tight penalties. But I think we didn’t have as many pre-snap penalties, that was the key. Going back to the Florida State game, I thought we played extremely hard. We didn’t tackle as good as we needed to tackle. And I think that gave up some of those big plays. I mentioned we had four sacks and ten tackles for loss against those guys, we lost contained twice and it turned into 14 points. Those are things that we got to get better at, and we did get better at that. We’ve got to continue to try to get better at that, it starts in practice throughout the whole week, of guys doing what they’re supposed to do and really focusing in. To me, that’s the biggest thing, just focusing in each and every play. You can’t take a play off. One play and you do the wrong thing, and all of the sudden it’s a big play and we don’t look good. It all fits like a puzzle, and everybody has to be on point with their assignment.”
(One thing that I have noticed and I’m sure everybody else has, your kicking game – your kickoffs, your punts, your punt returns this year, your kickoff return – has been about as good as I’ve seen at Louisville in a long time. Do you have a separate coach for that and do you put an emphasis on that?)
“We really emphasized it big time in fall camp, and even in spring and fall, and then obviously throughout the week. We spend a lot of time every day working on that. I think it starts with the actual kicking. I think Mark Vassett is well ahead of where he was last year as a true freshman, as punter. He’s punting the ball high. He’s giving our guys an opportunity to cover and get down the field. Our guys are really flying down the field and throwing at these returners. They’re doing a great job with that. We’re kicking the ball in kickoffs and we’re trying to kick out of the endzone. We’re doing a great job with that. There late in the game, we gave up a return late in the game, in one of the last plays. We had some guys that are not normally out there. We played a lot of guys and so I think that was one of the reasons they (USF) got that return. I’m really pleased with the way the guys are covering. That’s a huge part, because you’re flipping the field and we’re allowing our guys to flip that field with those with those kicks. We got some different things we’re doing with the punt team. And then Braden Smith, as a returner, he’s fearless. You look at the stats, and they are not great, but he is fielding the ball and not allowing that ball to roll another 10 or 15 yards. Those are some hidden yards right now, sometimes that don’t come up in the stat book. You’re going to look at it and say, he had four carries for zero return yards. Well, he stopped the ball from rolling back and I really appreciate how he’s fielding and how he’s doing. He’s fearless. Sometimes he makes me nervous because guys are all around him. He doesn’t like to fair catch very often either. I like the aggressiveness that he has. We’re pleased with that. JT (James Turner) has kicked the ball well the last couple of games and we’ve got to continue that trend. It’s been really good to see in the kicking game.”
(Do you all have a coach handling special teams?)
“So the way we do it this year, last year we had one coach, this year we’re splitting it up. We have a bunch of guys that are heading that up. Jeff Popovich is a guy who is kind of the leader in the building, but there’s four coaches that are assigned to each special team unit, and we’re all involved, so it’s more of a team effort as a coach now instead of having one guy. We have a bunch of eyes on it, so a bunch of coaches that are looking at different things throughout the building in the kicking game. I think that has really helped this year.”
(What are your thoughts on having three different running backs as your rushing leaders in these first four games?)
“It’s kind of been: some guys are hurt one week, some guys are healthy one week. Tiyon (Evans) missed a game, (Trevion) Cooley missed a game early, (Jalen Mitchell) has been out, (Jawhar Jordan) was a little banged up last week, so it’s kind of been by committee. What I like out of this bunch is when they’re getting their chance, they’re making the most of it. We’ve seen what Cooley has been able to do the last two weeks, he really ran hard again. Looking at the Florida State game, he had four big catches, he had two touchdowns. Tiyon came back and ran hard this past game. Jordan, to me, is an explosive back that’s really gotten some big-time plays. I love the competition and effort that the guys have been able to create, and I think we’ll continue that on. We tell them, and we’ll tell them today, it’s an open competition, and it’s whoever is practicing the best, and that’s why I love it in practice, because they’re getting really great reps at it. They don’t have time to take a play off, then you come into the game, it’s more of a feel thing. We’re kind of seeing who’s feeling it, and then also, we want to keep them fresh, and so we are going to rotate, depending on how the flow of the game is going. I’m very pleased with the way all the guys have played so far in that room. We’ve got to take care of the ball better, we put the ball on the ground last week, and the Florida State week, we’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the football, but other than that, I think that group has done a really nice job.”
(How do you make sure your guys stay disciplined and don’t commit as many penalties?)
“Well, it’s something we have talked about and are focusing on, we are trying to stay disciplined. To me, it’s the pre-snap penalties that drive me crazy where it doesn’t take any talent, it’s just focus and concentration. We did a much better job with that. I was disappointed in the one defensive penalty on fourth down that we got, we gave an extra 5 yards. Again, that’s focus and discipline. That’s what we are really focusing on. The ones that happen after the play, we are playing hard sometimes so we are going to get that, like when Dorian Jones gets called at the end of the game for a late hit out of bounds and it was really close. When the guys right on the sideline, I can’t really fault a guy for that because we’re playing hard. The pre-snap (penalties) though, we are going to continue to focus on it. We have things that we are doing in practice that we talked about. If you have those penalties, you’re going to run after practice just to try to keep them focused and know what we have to do because it is so huge and critical in games. We have seen how much it hurts us when we do those things. We just keep harping on it and hopefully we continue to learn that way because we are going to be a better team if we don’t have those penalties.
(We talked a lot after the game about the number of people that you played. How do you manage the young guys on the field?)
“Either some of those guys we will try to increase their role and let them do more for us, like Maurice Turner. I think he is really good football player and he is on a lot of our special teams, now let’s find other ways the he can help us. There are some guys who we may see down the line but we have been cautious about only playing them just a few snaps since you do get those four games. I think it’s week by week, an individual case basis to see where they can really help us. Chris Bell, for example, came out and was solid, he got one nice catch and took off down the sideline, he’s a monster out there at wide out and can really run. So hopefully a guy like that would increase his roll a little bit more this week. We can give him some more opportunities to catch the football because a guy like him is going to get better and better every week. So, I do think its individually on a case by case basis to see where we are at with those guys. The other thing to think about is, and we told the guys Sunday in our meeting, that when you get to this point in the season we’re getting ready for game five and injuries are starting to creep in, more and more guys are going to have to have roles in special teams. We have seen that every year. Some of those guys will start to increase their roles with that and then also increase their role on offense or defense. I think as we see how the season goes forward, we will see what we need to do.
(You guys are running the ball well, how would you evaluate the passing game?)
“We’ve gotten a lot of production out of our offense as we sit here after four weeks. You always look at it, we’re 450 yards a game right now, we’ve played some good teams, we feel like. We are about as balanced as you can be, 225 to 225, run and pass. I think we’ve also increased our scoring each week. We’ve gotten more and more points as we move forward. We’re kind of settling in as an offense to see where we’re at. We would like to hit a few more throws down the field, we’ll keep working at it, we’ll keep trying to find ways. Obviously, the bottom line is to move the ball and score points. We just started out early in the season just not doing as well scoring points. The last two weeks, we’ve done a much better job with it. We’re more disciplined on offense. We’re allowing our offense to go faster. If you notice the tempo of the last few games, we have been a lot quicker on offense, and we’ve been able to get more plays. Last week in the first half, we had 18 first downs and in the first half against Florida State, we had 17. I mean that’s a lot of first downs in one half and I think we’ll put pressure on the defense that way. But again, we’re going to take what the defense gives us and if we can run it, we’ll run it, if they’re going to give us a throw, we’ll try to take that as well. Last week there were a couple of times, we had some guys there, we’d love to be able to complete those balls. We just got to keep working on it.”
(Malik (Cunningham) has broken out on some runs, how much of the threat of him doing that opens things up for your tailbacks?)
“It has to. As a defense, they’re looking to defend us, they’re having to defend 11 guys, not just 10. It’s 11 guys to where they have to account for Malik (Cunningham). It should open up some holes, it should open up some of the passing game, and it should open up some more of the run game for the running backs. We like that for our offense, so we’re going to continue to do that. Again, the first game was on me, we did not do a very good job with Malik and his run game, but since then we have. We’ve been much better offensively. We’ve moved the ball, we’ve scored more points, and we put more pressure on the defense. So that’s just what we have to continue to do and hopefully, we’ll get these receivers more involved in the throw game and continue to make some big plays.”