Third-year East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against Tulane. The following are selected comments:
“The season is really flying by as we have now reached our 11th game of the season. I was talking to the seniors last night at practice and I mentioned to them that we don’t have a lot of repetitions left. It is amazing how fast the season goes by every year. I feel like we just began the preseason press conference in the Murphy Center.
“Our open date came at a great time for our football team. We needed the time to rest both mentally and physically. We still worked throughout the week and had three days of practice and four days of lifting. The team took the opportunity to catch-up on some treatments and of course their classroom work. We dove into Tulane and exposed the team a little bit to some of the things that they like to do.
“It was a big fundamental week for us, where our first team offensive players got the chance to work against the first team defensive guys. We worked for quite a bit of time on pass rush in our individual groups and also had a lot of good team reps. We used this past Thursday as a fundamental and group day, and then had a live 35-play scrimmage on Friday for players that haven’t seen a lot of game reps this season as well as those players who are redshirting.
“The coaching staff spent time on the road recruiting from Wednesday to Friday and then we came back and started our normal routine on Sunday. I was pleased with last night’s practice and the way we approached our business.
“The team was excited and re-energized last night. Some of the nearby players had the chance to get home and even took some of their teammates with them. That is what the college experience is all about and being exposed to new places and cultures.”
Justin Dixon is still out. Brandon Williams has a hamstring injury and is questionable. Brandon may be able to get some extended work on Tuesday. Cody Lyon has a pulled hamstring and is still trying to get back on the field. Justin Hardy was able to practice and got a little work in on Sunday. We have a lot of nicks and bruises that the off-week helped heal up. Michael Dobson was one of those that healed up and was able to get cleared and practice last night.”
Quaterback Rio Johnson
“Rio Johnson has decided to leave the program and the team. He left on good standing with us. Rio came and met with Lincoln (Riley) and me about his decision. We wish him the best and we will try to help him in any way that we can. He was just disappointed that he wasn’t getting the chance to play. It was decision that he made. There was no arguing or ill feelings by either side. He felt with one more year of eligibility that he wanted to try somewhere else by transferring.”
“Curtis Johnson is the first-year head coach of Tulane. I have known C.J. for a long time since his days at Miami (Fla.), where he won a national championship. He also won a Super Bowl with Coach Sean Peyton with the New Orleans Saints. We have continued to keep in contact over the years and see each other often at conventions and coaching clinics.
“Tulane has really moved the ball well offensively. Ryan Griffin is an experienced quarterback with nearly 40 career starts (37). I think Coach Johnson has really helped Ryan advance this season. I watched the film from last year, and then his games from this year and Ryan is really throwing the ball a lot better right now. He is also doing an excellent job of recognizing receivers and getting rid of the ball quickly. His main target has been Ryan Grant, who is a good receiver. They move him around from inside to outside in similar way that we do with Justin Hardy. Tulane is just trying to find a way to get him the football as much as possible.
“The two running backs for Tulane are Orleans Darkwa and Rob Kelley. Orleans is a good back and has also been targeted in the passing game. Rob Kelley is the bigger back of the two.
“The offensive line is led by Eric Jones, who is another senior with a lot of starts under his belt. The defense reminds a lot of Houston’s, but Tulane blitzes and uses a lot more man. They also have talented athletes in the secondary.
“For the second week in a row we will face a top-notch specialist in their place kicker Cairo Santos. Santos is 17-for-17 in field goals this season and has a long of 57-yards. Their punter, Peter Picerelli, is new this year, but is averaging over 41-yards a kick.”
Keys To Tulane
“We need to start off and focus on us just like we did last time out against Houston. I think the team is really beginning to understand this. We also need to have the best week of practice that we can have in order to play our best game. Executing well is a big key against Tulane. I thought last night was a very good start to the week. We also need to have a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. Our fundamentals need to be good on offense, defense and special teams. We also need to make sure that we are blocking great. We look forward to the challenge and making sure that we go to Tulane and get better as a program. They are going to be ready to play and we need to ready for them.
“In order to beat Tulane we will need to make sure that we are communicating well, picking up their blitzes and are able to win our matchups against both their man and zone coverages.”
On Looking Ahead To The Rest of The Season
“We can’t worry about anything besides our opponent this week in Tulane. We need to just focus on today and make sure that we get better. This is the fourth quarter of the season and we need to do a great job of finishing the season well. How we practice this week will dictate how we focus and then play in the game. We need to drown out anything that is not consistent with what we want or need to be focusing on. Weekly, you want your best game to be the last game that you play and make sure that improvement is seen every contest. We want to see the team play better against Tulane than they did against Houston, and then better against the next opponent, Marshall, than we did against Tulane.”
Justin Hardy’s Status
“I don’t know if I will be able to address Justin’s status in medical terms, but he practiced last night. He was limited in what we had him do at practice with just his helmet, but he got some extended work in. We will be smart with him and limit his reps in practice throughout the week.”
Fundamentals Worked On
“Among the fundamental issues we addressed during our bye week on offense was our footwork. We also addressed the need to continue to work as a unit. We have seen more blitzes the last few games and working as unit and calling those blitzes and communicating properly really allows the offense to work cohesively. At the skill positions on offense, we looked at a lot of little things like making sure that we run our routes better and on the timing between our quarterback and receivers.
“We focused a lot on tackling and making sure we get off blocks better on defense. We worked on improving our third-down packages and tried to install some of the plays that we thought Tulane may run against us in those situations. We also spent a lot more time working with individuals throughout the week. We did a lot of little things that can’t be done during a normally game week, where our time on the field needs to be so structured to prepare for our next opponent.
“Kirk Doll and his staff worked with our special teams units on kick coverage, getting off blocks and getting back in lanes. In our return game we worked on proper angles.”
Game Day Atmosphere of Tulane
“We addressed the need for us to be excited and bring energy when we play against Tulane. It is different to play in such a large venue, like the Superdome, in comparison to the packed house that we have the luxury of playing in front of at home at Dowdy-Ficklen. We need to make sure that we play with clear minds and just play at our level.”
Seniors Last Few Weeks
“We have told the seniors that their reps are running out so they need to make sure that the reps they have left are their best ones yet. Ideally, they shouldn’t have any regrets when they are done playing and the season and their careers are over. We have mentioned that in order to get them to play their best in the game. The seniors and the whole team need to practice their very best daily.”
Evaluating Shane Carden’s Play Against Houston
“Shane continues to improve and gets better each week. He is beginning to understand and recognize what the defense is doing and reacting in his pre-snap look. I thought against Houston that he did a good job of getting rid of the football and getting us to the correct play. I am confident that he will just keep getting better with more time on the field. It is exciting to think about what he can accomplish here.”
Adjustments The Secondary Is Making Against Tulane
“Two of our major needs are to make sure that we stop or control the run and affecting the quarterback. Great pass coverage equals great pass rush, and great pass rush means great pass coverage. We need to make sure that our defensive line is influencing the quarterback. Getting sacks is very difficult, but putting pressure on the quarterback and confusing him with movement is always a key.
“We need to make sure that our guys challenge Tulane each snap. Tulane does a good job of throwing the football, so we need to do a great job of influencing the quarterback with our defensive line. They are going to complete some passes, and in those situations we need tackle well and limit what they can do after the catch. Limiting third-down conversions is also big and making sure that we can get off the field when we need to.”
“Becoming bowl eligible was a goal for us at the beginning of the season. Now that we have accomplished that goal, we need to make sure that we are doing everything possible to play at our best weekly. I am excited about our program having the chance to go to a bowl game, but we can’t control which bowl we will play in. What we can control is how we finish the season against Tulane this week and then Marshall. We expect Tulane’s best game this week. We need to focus on how well we can play as a group and as a team against them.”
The punt return touchdown by former ECU receiver Dwayne Harris on Sunday
“That was cool. I saw the replay of the return by Dwayne for the Cowboys, and I say they should play him all the time. He is the best player on the team. Number 17 can play. The Cowboys need to throw him the football or get the ball in his hands as much as possible. Just get him on the field. He is good and he will win games for them. It doesn’t surprise me. It is sort of fun. I called his brother, Derrick, who also wears 17 for us, over at practice and was giving him a hard time about what “Big 17” had just done for the Cowboys, and teased him about what he was going to do for us. I am very proud of Dwayne and how he carries himself. The Cowboys could look very smart by putting him in the game and giving him the ball as many times as they can.”