GREENVILLE - Third-year East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against Navy. The following are selected comments:
"I was really proud of the team. I thought it was a great win over UAB. All wins are hard and tough and I am appreciative after every one of them. Legion Field is a tough place to play. I thought the players and group handled the situation well. We knew it was going to be a tough game – it always is against UAB. It was good to see us get through a few difficult situations. I thought the players and coaches did a great job of keeping the energy up along the sidelines. We played a very physical game and gave great effort on every play."
"Our special teams unit was solid and I thought our coverage teams did a very good job limiting UAB. Warren (Harvey) did a great job of getting us points when we got in the red zone and also kicked-off well. Trent (Tignor) did a good job for us in general. We didn't punt much and that is exactly what we like to see. Our return game still needs to get a few more yards to give our offense better field position."
"I thought our offensive line and running backs did an outstanding job of establishing a new line of scrimmage throughout the game. Vintavious Cooper and Michael Dobson did an outstanding job of being their own blockers, running behind their pads and not just depending on the offensive line to open holes. The offensive line did a very effective job of opening up and getting movement of the UAB defensive front. Vintavious has great vision, can make cuts and gets vertical quickly. Michael caught the ball well out of the backfield. I am really proud of the group."
"The wide receiver group was very physical against UAB and blocked extremely well. Andrew Bodenheimer, Danny Webster, Reese Wiggins, Justin Hardy and Justin Jones all gave great effort in their blocking. Justin Jones did a great job of blocking both at the line of scrimmage at tight end and downfield. He took great pride in it too. The game is slowing down more and more for Shane Carden every game. We have to keep in mind that this was just his sixth start and he will just continue to improve and get better the more he plays."
"Converting on nine-of-14 third downs was outstanding, as was going 6-for-6 in the red zone. The fact that we had no turnovers was a big factor in the win."
"On defense, we flew around quite a bit. UAB completed a few explosive plays against us, but we didn't get down or hang our heads. When we needed to come up with a stop we did. UAB did a few different things on offense than they had shown on film. I'm proud of the way our defense made adjustments throughout the game."
"The sideline and our traveling parents and fans really gave us great energy and it was really a big key to the game for us."
This Week's Injuries
Reggie Bullock is questionable. We will see if he can get cleared by our medical team and practice later in the week. Taylor Hudson, Justin Dixon and Montese Overton are all out. We are heading into the ninth week and it has been a physical season, so we have the normal aches and bruises too."
Key's for The Navy Game
"A big key is to make sure that we continue to keep focused on what we need to. It is not what we do, but instead how we do what we do. I think we will need to continue to be physical. Navy has a physical football team and plays with great effort and we need to match if not exceed that. We need to be ready for an intense 60-minute football game on Saturday."
"Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo is in his fifth year and has his system in place. They are fundamentally sound, disciplined and don't make many mistakes. Offensively they are starting Keenan Reynolds at quarterback. He is doing a great job of directing their offense. He is very athletic and throws the football very well. Navy is running a little more slot or flex bone in the offense right now along with the team's traditional option. Trey Miller, Navy's other quarterback, will also be a factor as well. Gee Gee Greene is back at one of the slot back positions with Bo Snelson working as the other. Another player that is vital to an option based offense is the fullback and Noah Copeland is a good one. The offensive line is led by Ryan Paulson, who is a good football player. All five of the offensive linemen are very aggressive and play fundamentally sound and our defensive line will also need to keep great fundamentals and be ready to face the challenge each play. Navy's defense is always ready to play. They are traditionally a 3-4 defense, but will mix in some other formations including a few sets with four defensive linemen. Keegan Wetzel, Wes Henderson and Matt Warrick are the top defensive players."
Containing the Navy Rushing Attack
"Having seen this offense the last two years, I hope that we are more advanced and disciplined on defense than we were the last two time. It is hard to stop this offense. Having played against it as a player and coached against it as an assistant, I know firsthand how hard it can be to stop. The key is to be assignment sound and not hesitate. Stopping the run is big, but it is also important to make sure that Navy doesn't hurt us with the big passing play and in order to do that we need to have great eye control. We need to make sure our defensive backs and linebackers have their eyes in the right place at all times."
Shutting Down Gee Gee Greene
"He understands the nuances of the offense and that makes him difficult to defend. It will be the same way with Justin Hardy and Shane Carden in the future. The older and more experienced a player like Gee gets, the better they begin to understand the offense and its concepts. Gee Gee has been at Navy and understands this offense very well based on all his previous experiences. An option-based offense like Navy runs really is the ultimate concept of team football, where everyone needs to be in-tune and working for someone else in order to successful. As a defense, we will need to key on Gee Gee without losing individual assignments. In this game and in order to be successful we are going to have to defeat a block and make a play for the entire contest. The defense may have a free run every once in a while, but in general in order to come up with a stop, the defense is going to need to beat a block and make a play."
Defensive Philosophy This Week
"I still want the defense to continue to be aggressive and attack, while staying true to their assignments. I don't want the defense to sit back and just react to what the offense is doing. Whenever in doubt, I want the defense to just continue to attack. We play better as team when we are attacking."
"Keenan Reynolds have given the team a boost since taking over at quarterback against Central Michigan. He throws the ball well, is athletic and fast. He reads defenses well and understands when and how to pitch the ball. He is a good football player. We have to make sure that we have him corralled."
How Much Has The Previous Meetings With Navy Influencing Current Players?
"Navy handed it to us and did a better job of executing, tackling and we didn't help ourselves in the game two years ago. We learned a lot from that point about how to prepare to defend an offense like Navy runs. Nothing can carry over from the loss two years ago or from our win over Navy last year. We just have to be ready to play right now. Navy is playing well and beat Indiana last weekend on their last drive. All that matters is right now. I think just like last weekend we need to be prepared, urgent, focused and determined. Our goal now is to sustain and maintain that same focus and energy this week against Navy. Sure we are a little banged up as it has been eight straight weeks of physical football games, but we need to continue to be professional in our approach."
Meaning of Potentially Getting The Sixth Win And Becoming Bowl Eligibility
"I think becoming bowl eligible would be a great accomplishment for us as a team, staff and a program. That is not out of conversation at all at this point."
Vandalism of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
"That is our house. I just heard about it right before the press conference and that is incredible to me. Why would anyone destroy our house? Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is very precious to me having played and bled on the field. It is really disappointing that someone or some group of people would disrespect us and this university in that manner. It is unacceptable and disappointing that someone would do that to our field. We all have a lot of passion and pride in this university and being a Pirate and I know the act doesn't speak of our entire Pirate Nation at all. When I heard about the incident it caught me off-guard. With this incident I would handle it to the full extent of the law."
"Justin Hardy works very hard to be successful. He reminds me of Michael Crabtree when he was at Texas Tech. Michael would often face double coverages like Justin is starting to experience on a weekly basis and he would still tell the quarterback he was open. Justin has Michael's similar mindset that even when it looks like he is covered, he still has the ability to make a play and find that little crease in the defense. The benefit of Justin being doubled though allows other players to take advantage and diversify the offense in general."
"I am so proud of the way he played when he was called upon to play left tackle after Adhem Elsawi was injured against UAB. You have to be in-tune to the game. When Adhem went down, Isaac was already buckled up and running onto the field. Isaac is a young man that has worked hard in practice and is going to be a really special player for us in the future. When Adhem went down Isaac knew he was the next man up and didn't hesitate. He then played with such enthusiasm, intensity and technique. I didn't realize how well he had played until I looked at film when we got back."
"Josh has been working as our backup center with Taylor Hudson getting most of the reps at center throughout the season, but he was able to go in and did a good job especially with his body placement. He did a good job snapping and didn't hesitate when he was called upon to play just like Isaac Harris. Josh did a great job of identifying protections before every snap. With Will Simmons at right guard and Jordan Davis at left guard, Josh really has a few experienced veteran starters to help him out too."
Growth of Run Defense
"It starts with the front seven and those guys keeping gap integrity and protecting the area of the field that they are assigned to. I thought we did a good job against the two primary backs at UAB. We also involve our safety a lot in our run defense, but I am proud of our front seven for taking pride in limiting the run. We will be challenged against Navy. Navy runs the ball for a living and not for a hobby. We know that they are going to get some yardage so what we need to do is try to eliminate and minimize long plays. It will be the war of wills this week. We take a lot of pride in stopping the run and that is what Navy does well with its offense. I am very proud of what Brian Mitchell, John Wiley, Marc Yellock and Duane Price have done with our front seven this year."
"Vintavious Cooper has allowed our offense to keep a balance. It is vital to help Shane (Carden) with our offense and in our play action passing. Vintavious has been working on improving his blocking all season long. He also catches the ball well and the threat of what can be done at the tailback position with him and Michael Dobson is what gets our offense going. It all starts with the play of our offensive line though. They did an outstanding job last game against UAB of establishing a new line of scrimmage and protecting Shane. I think all of that aids in Shane's progression as a quarterback. I anticipate we will continue to see Shane improve and make faster reactions and reads throughout the year. Shane did a great job of calling audibles to get us in the right play against UAB."