GREENVILLE - Third-year East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against UCF.
The following are selected comments:
"It was a great win for us on Saturday versus a very tough and talented opponent in UTEP. We knew before the game and the lightning delay that we would have to play extremely hard and execute in order to get the win. With the delay and the unorthodox way the game played out, I was very proud of our team for staying focused throughout the game and even during the delay. I also was very proud of our staff for maintaining the team's focus during the delay and also making adjustments during both the delay and the abbreviated halftime. The third group that I was proud of was our fans that were able to stay around and come back after the delay. Our administration and facility people did an outstanding job of keeping people safe by evacuating the stadium. We have to deal with lightning issues quite a bit for practice as is standard here in eastern North Carolina. When I was out in Texas at Texas Tech we didn't see a lot of rain, so that is one advantage that I knew we would have against UTEP. To get our fans, families and the rest of Pirate Nation out of harm's way was extremely important. Also when they were allowed to re-enter Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium our fans returned with gold ponchos which fit the theme of the weekend since it was a "Gold Rush" night. To have our fans and supporters weather the storm like they did made me very proud."
"It was a grinding game. As a coach you would rather have easier games, but you'll take a grinding game if that is the way a contest plays out. I think that it is a direct correlation of what we would like to and are establishing personality wise here to pull one off against a physical team like UTEP that have played a very strong, talented non-conference schedule and were ready to go. To rise to the occasion against the talent and speed of UTEP was very encouraging."
"Defensively we did some things that helped turn the tide in game by forcing four turnovers. We also held an experienced quarterback at UTEP to only two conversions in 13 attempts on third down. UTEP gained some yardage of the ground against us, but we balanced that out with being able to get off the field on third downs. Offensively, I thought we ran the ball extremely well and had excellent balance with 39 rushing attempts and 40 passes. We had 217 yards rushing and 258 yards passing. I was also encouraged to see the guys getting a little better and more confident with each rep. Ideally, you would like to build throughout a game with the continuity getting better with every series. On special teams we have been solid throughout the year, but we did give up the long touchdown return at the end of the game plus a successful onside kick later in the fourth quarter. Our special teams coach, Kirk Doll, began to address all these issues last night and they will be corrected for next week."
"We started to install the game plan last night and have a late night of practice today because of the short week and the player's class labs on Mondays. I thank the academic people for helping us and adjusting schedules to allow us to practice on Monday. Tuesday will be a light day. This week is one where we need to prepare the team and push them in practice but we also have to be smart and make sure that we are allowing the team to get rested and recovered from the last game."
"The areas of emphasis this week are to play with no hesitation while also aggressive and smart. It was a message we began to focus on last week and would like to keep doing this week. We don't want turnovers, but at the same time we still want the team to continue to be aggressive. We were physical and aggressive against UTEP on Saturday. Execution will again be very important this week. We need to play smart with no hesitation."
"We face a UCF team this Thursday on a short week. Coach O'Leary's teams are always well coached, talented and tough. The Knights are sound on defense and spread the ball around on offense. This year they moved former quarterback Jeff Godfrey outside to wide receiver to get more speed and athleticism on the field. Quarterback Blake Bortles, who we faced last year, returns. He is player that has been around the program and understands how to manage their offense. He does a good job of getting rid of the football. They also have some designed runs for him. Quincy McDuffie is a threat at the wide receiver position and we will need to try to contain him on Thursday on pass plays, plus reverses and other situations where they just try to get the ball in his hands. He is also very dangerous in the return game. UCF has a group of big running backs and they like to pound the ball. Storm Johnson, a transfer from Miami, has gotten the majority of the carries with Latavius Murray being hurt for the early part of the season. The two backs complement each other very well. Defensively, UCF is always tough and force turnovers while also being very sound. You need to make sure that you take care of the ball against them while also taking your shots and being balanced. They will blitz, but rely often on their four defensive linemen to get pressure on the opposing quarterback. Along the defensive line Troy Davis and Victor Gray are the two that we need to be concerned with. Kemal Ishmael is their returning all-conference caliber safety. On special teams, UCF's kicking game is always solid."
Reggie Bullock is out this week. Jacobi Jenkins will be out for at least another week. Justin Dixon is out for the remainder of the season."
Adjustment of Playing On Thursday Instead of Saturday
"It has been a bit of a rush for the coaching staff to get the game plan done in a shorter period of time because of the Thursday game this week. We started to do a little bit last week, but I am not a big fan of looking past the current opponent so the coordinators did not do anything related to the UCF game until the UTEP game was over. For the players they need to be smart with elements like strength & conditioning and making sure the team is getting lifts in, but also need to prepare properly for the UCF game with more meeting time being required in the classroom while also spending time on the field. This week is all about proper time management and making sure that we are focused on our goal of the UCF game. It is a long week for the team, but I am confident that our staff and squad will adjust."
Preference on Thursday vs. Saturday games
"I like weekend games and playing on Saturdays. It helps establish a normal routine. If you are asking me which I prefer I would say Saturdays for me. With that said we will adjust and play whatever day and time we are asked to play at. I am a traditional guy and have always preferred Saturday afternoons and nights for games."
Return of Lance Ray This Week
"Lance will be back this week. He had some family issues that we as a coaching staff felt he needed to take care of last week. It was a decision that we all made together. He was back at practice last night."
UCF's Past Opponents
"I thought UCF did a good job running the football in their game against Ohio State a few weeks ago. I also thought they also played well defensively against both Ohio State two weeks ago and Missouri last week. UCF was tested by its non-conference schedule much like the rest of the schools in our conference are annually."
Vintavious Cooper's Performance Against UTEP
"I thought he did a great job of running the football. Our offensive line should be credited too and did a very good job and helped him quite a bit by establishing the line of scrimmage. Vintavious also did a good job in pass protection. That is the one area that has caused the biggest adjustment for him being a former option quarterback. He even mentioned that when he was interviewed after the game. He is young man that thinks team first and is always trying to help the team in any way possible."
Shane Carden's Play Against UTEP
"Shane will continue to get better with each rep. If asked I am sure that a few of the throws he made against UTEP he would like to get back. He is still learning to trust the guys up front, who are doing a good job. Over time he will learn to trust the offensive line and that will allow him to stay in the pocket for an additional period of time."
On the Offensive Line's Play
"Our offensive line had a rough game against North Carolina two weeks ago, but bounced back very well against UTEP and didn't allow any sacks. They will be tested this week as UCF sends a lot of blitzes and mixing up the fronts throughout the game."
"Justin is the sort of player that has the unique ability to adjust to the ball thrown by any of our quarterbacks. He had a great relationship with Dominique Davis last season. I like the way that Shane (Carden) and Justin are connecting and the more they play together the better they will get as a tandem. The same can be said with Shane and the rest of our receivers. The more he plays with them, the more he will begin to distribute the ball to all our receivers."
Improved Red Zone Play Against UTEP
"We have always been pretty efficient in the red zone. It was good to see us get touchdowns instead of field goals against UTEP. In generally getting points in the red zone is always important. I feel good about Warren Harvey getting us field goals if the game dictates that though."
Playoff Atmosphere of Every C-USA Game
"It really is such strong competition in our conference within the two divisions for the chance to play in the championship game. Every game is one where you need to be at your best and are mentally focused."
Process of Keeping the Team Focused during the Lightning Delay
"Once we figured out what our time frame was going to be from our administration and having been exposed to similar situations are practices, we broke the team into offensive and defensive groups in the weight room and fed the team some juice and energy bars to help keep the energy level up. We had a lot of energy before the game and we kept that focus and were ready to play even after the delay."
Strong Rushing Effort by the Offense
"Having the ability to run the ball allows us to be balanced on offense. We always need to be able to pass the ball effective in our offense and having the ability to run the ball like we did against UTEP makes us more difficult to stop. We have to continue that and it all starts upfront with our offensive line."
"Adonis is a first-year Division I player after transferring in from Hinds Community College. We have also faced a very talented core of receivers this season. Adonis plays the field cornerback position on our defense which means that he is always to the wide side of the field and will be constantly tested. He has had to step up even more and get additional playing time when Jacobi (Jenkins) went down with an injury against South Carolina. I am pleased with the play from Adonis. That cornerback position needs to have a short memory and he does. There will be some good plays balanced out by some tougher plays every game. He is very confident and works extremely hard on the field and in the weight room. I think the more reps he gets the better he will be."