Third-year East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against UAB. The following are selected comments:
“It was a great team and conference win over Memphis. I was very proud of our guys. I thought we had a good week of practice. Our staff did a great job of teaching and demanding and the team responded very well on Saturday. We improved on starting fast, which is something that we have done the last two games, and then sustaining the positive momentum from a fast start. It was good to see us sustain momentum and energy throughout the game and then finish the game just as strong.
“Our defense did an exceptional job of playing with great effort, flying around to the ball and making things happen. The defense also played aggressive assignment football and because of how aggressive and active they were the mistakes made weren’t as noticeable on film. Memphis scored late in the game and took away the shutout, which are always nice, but winning the game is the most important thing. I was proud of the overall team effort and the way they played the game. I thought our depth on defense really showed on Saturday. We did a good job of defending on third down (4-of-16 conversions for Memphis) and I thought that was a big key. We also really influenced the quarterback with pressure and coverage.
“On offense, I thought offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and the rest of the staff simplified some formations last week to make us more productive and aided Taylor Hudson at center and Shane Carden at quarterback. The team handled those changes well. Memphis added a few new blitzes on defense for the game and they got us a few times early, but our offensive staff made adjustments and corrections with our line and running backs as the game went along. Throughout the contest we stayed with the game plan and kept great balance with 32 rushes and 33 passes. I am very proud of that group. Shane is starting to see the field well and it seems like the game is slowing down for him. He distributed the ball well to all our receivers. Our offense is about distribution and making sure everyone is getting touches. Vintavious Cooper had a few runs in the second half that were very beneficial for us.
“Our special teams units also played well and we were very sound in the coverage game. We tell punt returner Justin Hardy to try to get us 10 yards every return and he averaged nearly 12 yards (11.8) against Memphis. Punter Trent Tignor and kicker Warren Harvey have been steady for us all year. We went for some field goals early in the season to try to get Warren some confidence. He has a strong leg, works extremely hard and the team and our staff believes in him. He came through against Memphis with some really big kicks to increase our margin to 17 and then to 20. Trent has been doing an outstanding job all season of pinning the opposing offense deep.”
“Montese Overton is out this week with a knee injury. Justin Dixon is out with his season-ending knee injury. Reggie Bullock is doubtful as he still recovers from a concussion. He will get tested again this week by our medical professionals and we will see what his status is.”
Keys To This Week Against UAB
“We need to practice with the same urgency, focus and determination as we had last week. We need to keep improving and getting better with our execution on all three sides of the ball. The plan is still on stressing fundamentals such as the basics like tackling and blocking. That is an area that a lot of teams start to neglect at this point in the season, but we won’t. The last key is understanding the physicality of what it will take to win this game against UAB. UAB is very tough and physical football team that has been tested with games at Ohio State and South Carolina this season.”
“UAB uses a two-quarterback system with both Austin Brown and Jonathan Perry having already started games this season. Perry is an athletic quarterback. He came in late against Houston and led the team on a touchdown drive. Brown is an accurate passer that has thrown five touchdowns. The offense that Coach McGee runs is similar to the multiple look one he was running at Arkansas as the offensive coordinator. UAB also has two big backs to run the ball in Darrin Reaves and Greg Franklin. Both of those guys have good speed and power. The offensive line is led Chris Hubbard. They lost four starting linemen off of last year’s team, but have a few seniors back that have earned previous playing time. The primary returning receiver is Jackie Williams. He has good size, speed and UAB does a good job of getting the ball into his hands.
“Defensively, it starts upfront with the defensive line. UAB uses a lot of movement among their down linemen in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 front. Connor Boyett is the top interior defender and is very active. Marvin Burdette is an all-conference candidate at linebacker. The secondary is young and athletic. The strength of UAB’s special teams is with the returners in Williams and Lamarcus Farmer. It will be a challenge playing them on the road and we will need to make sure that we prepare ourselves properly through practice this week.”
Building Momentum From Memphis Win
“We need to be more consistent as we try to put back-to-back wins together for the first time this season. Our objective is always to win every game. Keeping our urgency, focus and determination strong throughout the week of practice and the game is very important.”
On Playing At UAB
“Our team needs to show maturity and only worry about what it can control. We need to be prepared for a team that will be ready to play and returns home after being at Houston last weekend.”
Pressure Put On by ECU’s 3-4 Defense
“We want to be able to control the run and influence the pass with our defense. That was the philosophy of going to a 3-4 prior to last year. Sacks are hard to come by, so we want to pressure the quarterback and make him throw the ball before he is ready. We also need to stop third-down conversions. If we can stop the run and influence the pass, we think we can be successful. Each man on defense gave such exceptional effort against Memphis that we didn’t really have any noticeable drop-offs in production at any point throughout the game.”
Creating Excitement Among the Team During Away Games
“When we go on road trips it is up to the 67 players that we travel with to generate excitement. At home, we know the crowd will pick us up and help us get or keep momentum, but during road games its up to our players to do that job and help us get or keep momentum when swing plays happen. When we are at home we try to build that up so when we go on the road it is something that is naturally done. It is tough, but after three years I feel like the team believes in the message.”
Growth of Shane Carden
“I think he is growing in leaps and bounds and will continue to show steady improvement the more he plays. He is smart, understands the game and is well respected by the team. He is a player that learns from his mistakes so he doesn’t make the same error twice. I think the simplification of the offense starting last week allowed him to just react instead of having to overthink everything. I am proud of the way he is progressing and I am looking forward to seeing him continue to get better.”
Area That Shane Has Improved in The Most
“The game is starting to slow down for Shane and because of that he is starting to recognize and understand coverages. He is now able to make the correct audible and you’ll see him get even quicker with that as he gets more experience and can start getting to his third and fourth receivers. Right now he is able to progress down to one or two receivers and in time he will be able to get all the way down to three, four or even five depending on the coverage he is seeing from the defense.”
“He had a strong week of practice last week and we have been telling Justin that he needs to practice how he will play. He is a player that was injured last year with both knee and wrist injuries. The thing with Justin is his understanding the focus that it takes on the field. He has the ability and can be a weapon for us and give us an advantage. Shane found him in the end zone on three occasions. He had a similar performance at the end of last season against Marshall. He has that sort of ability with soft hands and the way he attacks the ball. He is becoming a pretty good blocker and is an improving route runner. Just like Shane, Justin and the receivers also have to understand coverages so they can make adjustments. I am looking for Justin to keep improving and getting better.”
“He missed a few, one early in the year that he knows he could have and should have made. Our confidence in Warren has never wavered. He proves what he could do every day in practice with me standing right behind him blowing a whistle and saying difficult things to him. If he can be successful in that environment, then the games should be easy for him. He has a great leg and does the extra things necessary to be successful. During the summer, he would come out to the field with a bag of balls and just kick on his own. He wants to be successful and is willing to do whatever it takes to get there. He is a team-guy and even changed his number this year to accommodate a teammate.”
The Importance of Having A Consistent Second Receiver
“It is very important. It gives the defense another weapon to worry about so they can’t double Justin Hardy or one of our other receivers. It is vital in this offense to distribute our touches among all our receivers.”
Vintavious Cooper is running well right now, but we still want to keep Michael Dobson and Hunter Furr involved and get them touches. And when Reggie Bullock returns from injury we want to make sure that he is also getting the ball. All our running backs can do something different to help us out. Vintavious is running well and is getting better with his protections. He has great vision, catches the ball well and has a knack for making the cut and getting vertical. You always want to have running backs in the stable to keep everyone fresh. It was a key in last week’s game against Memphis and will be just as important this week against UAB.”