McNeill Talks About Season Finale At Dowdy-Ficklen
Says Senior Day Is Always Emotional
Third-year East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against Marshall. The following are selected comments:
“It was great to get the win against Tulane. Getting road wins is always difficult. I was very proud of our guys getting a win, when playing an emotional team like Tulane. Tulane was playing their final game at home this season and also were honoring their injured and paralyzed teammate Devon Walker, as well as their seniors in Saturday’s game. We had some mistakes in the game, but we maintained our focus and energy level throughout and that helped us overcome.
“I thought all four sides of the football team contributed in the win. I feel that our sideline was as active and into the game as they could be. We knew the importance of generating our own excitement in a large NFL stadium like the Superdome. That is one of the things we talked about when we arrived in town. Energy, excitement, execution and great effort were going to be the keys to the game.
“The special teams unit was again solid for us. They did a good job of being the glue to the team and holding everything together. I thought our punt and kick coverage was the strongest aspect of our special teams on Saturday. The return game also played well and gave our offense great field position throughout the game. Trent Tignor’s punt to pin Tulane inside their five-yard line was the turning point of the game for us. Our special teams group is really becoming a crucial weapon.
“Our offense had some timely drives when we really needed them. They made some mistakes, but never lost confidence in themselves or strayed away from the game plan. They did a good job of running, controlling the ball, getting first downs and scoring when the opportunity arose.
“Coming into the game, we knew that Tulane threw the ball well and it would be a challenge to face them defensively. Knowing how well they had been throwing the ball over the last five games, we made it our number one priority to stop the run and try to make them one-dimensional. We were successful in limiting them to nine yards rushing and making them attempt 57 passes. I was also proud of the defense forcing field goals instead of giving up touchdowns throughout the game and it helped us get the win.
“I thought the stars of the game for us were our offensive and defensive lines. Both sides of the ball really established themselves and played as cohesive units right from the start of the game.”
“Josh Clark, Charlie Coggins and Chip Thompson all sustained concussions against Tulane and are questionable this week. Justin Dixon is still out this week.”
“This will be the last home game in the career of our seniors on Friday against Marshall. It will certainly be an emotional time for them and it always is for me. Seeing the guys walk off the field at Dowdy-Ficklen and having shared that part of their lives with them, it will be tough time for everyone. Those guys have been with me, and my staff since day one. Our senior group has stayed the course and left their imprint on this program. It isn’t time yet for the eyeball’s to sweat too much, but they may sweat a little bit on Friday. It will be great and special day for those guys.
“Marshall comes in here playing very well. They are one of the top offensive teams in the country and have both a great passing and rushing attack. They move the ball up and down the field very well.
“Rakeem Cato is an excellent quarterback. He has close to 4,000 yards passing this season and over 30 touchdowns. Marshall has great speed at the skill positions of wide out and running back. Their offensive line is also very big.
“Kevin Grooms is the primary running back. He has great speed and also catches the ball well out of the backfield. We have to do a great job containing him. He is one of a stable of running backs that they use.
“Antavious Wilson and Tommy Shuler have done a great job of catching the ball on the edges for them at the wide receiver positions. Both are able to stretch the field and have good speed. Gator Hoskins is their tight end. He is a really good football player that they even play some outside at receiver.
“John Bruhin is the leader of the offensive line. They are big and it’s probably the largest one that we have faced this season. That group does a good job of protecting Cato.
“Dominick LeGrande and Jermaine Holmes are two of the guys that stand out on defense. Right now they are third in the conference in pass defense. Despite the yards that they have given up throughout the year, we know that they will be ready to go on Friday and we will need to match their intensity.
“Marshall has blocked quite a few field goals and two punts on special teams this season and our team will have a difficult task ahead of them this week. It will be a great challenge for our guys and we will need to make sure that we are organized and our protection is strong.”
Key To Game Against Marshall
“We need to make sure that we cancel out any noise against Marshall and make sure that all our attention and efforts are on our opponent this week, instead of against our potential bowl opponent or anything else going on throughout the conference. We need to focus on us and not get distracted by anything that doesn’t relate to this week’s opponent.
“The team needs to have a great week of preparation and practice for this game. We have had to make a few changes to our normal game week schedule because of the Friday game.
“Starting fast is even more important than it normally would be against a team like Marshall that scores early in games. We need to match Marshall’s strong early starts with a strong start of our own. Taking momentum back if we lose it, keep it if we have it and finish strong are always big keys.
“This is a game where you need to play each play - no matter the outcome - forget about it and quickly move on to the next play. They are going to move the ball and make some plays and it is imperative that we move on quickly to the next play.
“Focusing on the task this week and not look ahead is very important. We play better when we key on ourselves and need to make sure that we play our best game this Friday against Marshall because we know that we will be getting theirs.
“Marshall will test us. They stretch you both vertically with the pass and horizontally with the run. They are a team that is averaging 360 yards a game through the air and 165 on the ground. First thing we need to do defensively is try to stop the run and tackle great throughout. We also need to affect the quarterback.
“Rakeem Cato can run and is a dual-threat quarterback. Right now he is playing at level where he will be the best quarterback that we have faced all season long. The way he is operating their offense is impressive. We need to do everything that we can to influence him and keep him in the pocket. Then we need to do everything possible to make it uncomfortable for the receivers.”
“What makes him good are the repetitions that he has now had in his second year running this offense. It is what Shane Carden is starting to go through now, where he is seeing coverages and blitzes multiple times. The offensive line does a great job of protecting him and he also has some outstanding offensive weapons to go to. Rakeem does a great job of not panicking.
“When we do blitz him, we need to stay in our rush lanes. Our secondary needs to be disciplined. If he breaks the pocket, we still can’t leave designated assignments and give up a big play. Often times when Cato escapes the pocket, he is running to extend plays instead of scrambling.”
Use of Last Year’s Marshall Game As Motivation?
“I wouldn’t say that. We just need to play well this week. That is all the motivation that we will need. Sure our team knows how the game ended last year, but I don’t plan on using last year’s outcome as incentive or motivation this week. Our motivation is to just make sure that we are getting better each week and that is what we have told the team all season long.
“We need to make sure that we are focused on all the details of the game. Chuck Pagano (current Indianapolis Colts Head Coach) and I text each other weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays and he recently talked about vision and circumstances. Circumstance is what is happening right now (Pagano is currently on medical leave for leukemia). The vision is there for him to dance at his daughter’s weddings in the future, but he is focused on the here and now and fighting leukemia at the moment.”
“Our reps are running out. I have talked to the team about playing the best that they can in each individual play and then moving on to the next one. The emotion will be there for all our senior players. I am not going to try to deny that. It is impossible to take the emotion out of the game for our seniors that are playing their last game at home.”
Biggest Difference From Last Year’s Team and This Year’s Team
“We learned from the experience that we gained last year and that has really been beneficial this year. It started in the off-season with our players that were committed to getting better in the weight room with Coach (Jeff) Connors. This year when tough times happened, our team didn’t drop their head. Instead they kept picking each other up. Our execution has been better this year on all three sides of the ball. Our special teams unit has been strong contributors and has really been the glue of the football team this year. Our offensive line has stayed healthy and has really played as a unit this year. On defense, we have really developed depth especially upfront. Also, intangible factors have contributed to our success this year. We have a ‘no ego’ and ‘no entitlement’ motto that we have stuck to.”
Success In the Redzone on Offense
“It starts with us playing strong 11-man football. Lincoln Riley (offensive coordinator) is doing a good job of getting everything in and limited some of the offense to help out Shane Carden. Shane is doing a good job and liking the tempo that we are playing at right now. He also should be credited with getting us into the right play and formations in the redzone. Our offensive line has been playing well and working as a cohesive unit. The ability to run the football with both our quarterback and our running backs has really allowed us to have and sustain success in the redzone. Hopefully we can continue all of that going forward.”
How Recruiting is Aided By Having a Friday Afternoon Nationally Televised Game?
“It will be big for us. We are in the middle of our recruiting season right now and have had a lot of young men come out and watch our team play this year at home, even with the tough weather that we have had. Despite all the weather, every game we have had a room full of potential recruits and that is really a tribute to our university and the great atmosphere of our football games.
“I think anytime we can get national exposure for our university and football program through a televised game is a good thing. We get a lot of attention from recruits from all over the country and playing on TV will allow us to reach some people that may not normally be exposed to our program. Those people watching at home will see a great atmosphere here in Greenville from our Pirate Nation and supporters.”
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