GREENVILLE, N.C. – Second-year East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against Memphis. The following are selected comments:
“We got beat by a better team on Saturday in Houston. They played great on all three sides of the ball. Their offense, defense and special teams were magnificent. They played with great confidence and executed as well as any team we’ve played this year, including South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina.
“They executed with precision. Their kids played with a lot of confidence. I told [Houston head coach] Kevin [Sumlin] after the game good luck and I hope we meet again in the championship game.
“We played our worst game of the season, on all three sides of the ball. That falls on me. I take full responsibility for that. I’ll get it straight and we’ll get it straight. We did not play anywhere close to our abilities.
“We had a great week of preparation physically. The meetings on Friday and Saturday were sharp. We didn’t play well.
“We got down and faced a team that was really clicking at a high level on all three sides of the ball. Case Keenum is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. I hope people realize that. Saturday was the second time I’ve faced him and he’s even better now. He’s a big-time leader for them. He executes with precision.
“[Houston defensive coordinator] Brian [Stewart] had the defense playing well. It was their best game of the season. The special teams did a good job, too.
“Right now, we have to make sure we stay tight as a football team. Like I told the team, I have everything handled with the media. I can take care of that and feel great being able to do that.
“The thing we have to do is make sure we stay tight, focused and pulling for one another. I think we have done that. We did that right after the game and on the field at last night’s practice. We had a great team meeting yesterday and film session. I was very pleased with that.
“When things are going well it’s easy to handle. It’s easy for everybody to handle when things are going well. Right now it’s a little tough for us. I look forward to handling adversity. I’ve been around adverse situations most of my life. I look forward to handling this one and fighting back out of it, contending for the division championship and playing in the championship game.
“That is unwavering with me, even after the tough game Saturday. The challenge of getting back is one I relish. That comes from my faith and belief in what we have and what we’re doing.
“We’ll keep evaluating and reevaluating, which we did yesterday. We’ll get it right and get it going.”
On The Injuries
“We were able to get some young guys in the game against Houston with Rio Johnson, Torrance Hunt, Mike Price, Reese Wiggins and Torian Richardson. Those guys really did a good job.
“Taylor Hudson had to take the place of Adhem Elsawi, who will be out for a while, on the offensive line. Adhem suffered a knee injury. Doug Polochak is also still out.
“Derek Blacknall and Reggie Bullock are questionable, Derek with his back and Reggie his leg. Ty Holmes had a wrist injury. He played in the game Saturday and did a very good job for us. Brandon Williams, a freshman linebacker, also did a great job for us Saturday filling in for Holmes. We’ll know more about Holmes’ injury after today. Hopefully he’ll be back this week, but he’s questionable right now.
“James Craig, one of our special teams’ guys who we count on, practiced and ran around well last night. Maurice Falls and Daniel Drake also practiced last night.”
“Right now we’re getting back to the drawing board, which I’m looking forward to. Today is big for our coaches with researching and watching film on Memphis. I watched a little bit before I came down here.
“I know they’re a team that’s having some struggles right now as well. Offensively, Taylor Reed is the quarterback. He has had a tough year so far, but we have to make sure we’re ready to go. He has only thrown one interception so far.
“We have a lot of things to worry about with Memphis, but we also have to continue to focus on fixing East Carolina.
“At running back, Billy Foster was a wide receiver for them last year and they moved him to the backfield, like we did with Torrance. Now Foster is the starting back. He is very explosive and will also return kicks for them. Artaves Gibson is a true freshman right out of Memphis. I can remember Landon Hoefer, one of our graduate assistants, bringing his name up. Hoefer thought Gibson was a really special player out of high school. He’s a backup running back. Keiwone Malone is a guy who transferred from the University of Alabama and will be a wide receiver.
“The one offensive lineman who really stands out on film right now is Ronald Leary. He’s a four-year starter for them. They have a lot of new guys up front.
“Along the defensive line, Dontari Poe is the standout guy up front. There has been talk of him possibly entering the NFL Draft early. He has that kind of talent. He moves around and is active. Offensively, we have to make sure we contain him. Frank Trotter is another defensive lineman. He’s a senior who is steady and does a good job for them up front.
“Akeem Davis and Terrence Thomas are the linebackers. They are active guys who move around and blitz. They got into a lot of blitz looks against us last year. They were really one of the first teams to do that against us. They’ll still do that a little bit with Davis and Thomas. Cannon Smith played last year [as the starting quarterback] and now he’s a tough hitter. He’ll be a safety who we’ll have to make sure we keep our eyes on.”
On The Week Ahead
“We look forward to the week of preparation and getting back on the right track. That’s the challenge of it. I’m relishing the challenge and facing the challenge as the leader of this group. I look forward to it.
“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. I know we do that here. As far as I’ve been talking about facing adversity, we’ll look it square in the eye and deal with it. My hat is off to Houston and I look forward to hopefully seeing them again in the championship game.”
On The Quarterback Situation
“Dominique Davis stepped in again last night and we’ll go from there.
“During the game, Dominique was the first one on the sideline cheering on Rio. I think that tells a lot about Dominique. We felt he was struggling, so we gave Rio a shot. Rio came in and did some good things, but Dominique is our quarterback.
“There is competition every week. We hope Dominique and everybody on the team understands that, but Dominique will start this week.”
On Playing With Confidence
“Confidence comes from success. Houston was 5-0 going into the game and had overcome some tough games during that stretch. Winning derives confidence. They’ve won games and done so in various ways. It didn’t matter what the score was in those games or how they had played. They were still confident.
“We’ve had some tough games and not been successful four times. We’ll just keep building on it step by step and get some success. As soon as we do, you’ll see the same confidence within us.
“That’s something I have to build in them. I tell them how much I believe in them. We tell them how much we believe in them. We just have to keep working.
“I’ve been here before. We’ll handle it and dig ourselves out.”
On Houston’s Execution
“I saw Houston get after us on all three sides of the football. They executed at a high rate on offense. Case Keenum, who has been in the offense since 2008, executed with precision passes and pace. Those three running backs did a great job, too. Their defense played its best game all year. On special teams with Patrick Edwards and Tyron Carrier, they did some great things. My hat is off to Houston.”
On The Injury To Reggie Bullock
“I feel very confident in Torrance. Michael Dobson can also step in. If Reggie can’t go, those two will be the running backs.
“If Reggie can’t go on Wednesday, he won’t play. That’s the rule. If he can’t go three practices, I can’t put him in the game. That’s what I’ve gone by my whole life in coaching. If you can’t go on Wednesday, it’s pretty impossible to play in the game.”
On The Offensive Line
“Houston did a good job up front. They beat us. We have no excuses. I’m not making any. They beat us up front with a pass rush, speed rush and line movement. They did a good job in all phases of covering and pressuring the quarterback. Defensively, it was a complete game for them. I told Stewart after the game it was the best job that had been done against us in a long time.”
On The Opportunity To Be 2-1 In Conference USA
“I never look at it as all is lost. We have a chance to win our division. That’s where I hope everybody stays strong around our football team. I am and I’m leading this thing. We have a game at Memphis this week that we need to win. We have a chance to win our division. That’s still in our hands. That’s why I told Kevin I hope to see him in the championship game.”
On Rebounding From A Loss
“With kids, they’re resilient, but at the same time we haven’t been successful in these games. As hard of work as we’re putting in, the coaches are used to it, but you need some success. We’ve had five games where we’ve played well, but only won once. The teams we’ve lost to are a combined 21-3.
“Success and confidence go hand in hand, though. The kids have to listen to me. There will be outside noise, but they have to listen to me. I care about them unconditionally. I told them I believe in them and what we expect. I take pride in being the leader of this football team. If they will listen to me and drown out the noise, because there will be some, they’ll be fine. But success certainly helps.”
On Players Who Have Stepped Up Following Saturday’s Loss
“It has been a pretty collective effort. Dominique is one. He is our hardest worker on the team. Everybody on the team respects him. He stepped up. Emanuel Davis stepped up, too.
“We had a great team meeting with a lot of guys stepping up. I was proud of those guys. They had a great practice last night. Now it’s time to make sure we carry it onto the field each day.”
On Dominique Davis' Performance This Season
“We just have to make sure we as coaches give him the confidence. It’s the command-influence principle. We have to make sure we show confidence, which we have and will continue to. Dominique just needs to relax and play. We gave Rio a shot the other day and he had a little spark in there, too.
“Dominique just needs to relax and play. He doesn’t need to worry about what anybody else is thinking. He needs to worry about what I tell him. I’m the one who loves him unconditionally, so worry about what I’m saying and just play.
“That’s true for some other guys, too, not just Dominique. Everybody just needs to play.
“We thought we played well in some games, but this one we didn’t. We had great physical and mental prep work, but got in the game against a team that was executing on all cylinders.
“We just have to make sure the kids keep listening to us. We believe in them. They know that.”
On The Running Game
“We’re trying to run the ball. Everything starts up front. We didn’t have our best day up front as a unit Saturday. Will Simmons and Elsawi were having their best days. We tried to flip Steve Baker to the right side, but he is going to be at left tackle. That’s his spot. We struggled at some other positions Saturday. To be able to run the football, that unit up front has to be sound.”
On Playing On The Road Again
“I love playing at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and at home. There will be things told to the players that they really need to drown out right now. I hope the fans are supportive. I think they are. I believe in what we have here. The fans have always been by our team. Our support and attendance numbers back that up. Everybody has their opinion, but I hope they’re behind us in all phases.
“It’s easy when things are going well. It seems like when times get tough, things seem to multiply a little bit. I expect this group, because I’m part of the Pirate family, to stand behind us at all times. I would love to be at home this weekend in front of a sold-out arena, but being on the road is something you have to deal with, too.”
On The Upcoming Schedule
“The competitive side of me says no. The competitive side of me says we should be undefeated right now. Those teams we’ve lost to are 21-3 and I give credit to each of them. But the challenge side of me expects us to win and play well on all three sides of the ball in each game.
“We work as hard as any staff I’ve been around in 30 years. Our coaches and players work as hard as any group I’ve ever been around. When you work that hard, the group needs a little bit of success. We have to get that this week.
“I’m not relieved, though. Every game is going to be a tough one in this league. The teams we’ve played have been very good, but I think we have a chance to be very good, too.”