GREENVILLE, N.C. – 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:
On The Tulsa Game
“The biggest thing is we won the football game. We’re very excited about that as a team. Our kids pulled out a victory against a team we knew had a great nucleus.
“I thought Todd Graham had an experienced group coming back with a veteran quarterback in G.J. Kinne. Damaris Johnson, as I mentioned last week, was the top all-purpose runner returning in the country. He’s a great football player. Damaris would do well in any league, anywhere. Then you add in Trae Johnson and Charles Clay.
“I felt like we faced a really good football team. To come out and win that thing in the end was special. I’ve been told by quite a few people not to end it that way but to do it a little bit earlier. To win it the way we did, it was special in a lot of ways.
“The first is that we can teach from it. The kids did not quit. They kept fighting on the sidelines. You could see the offense tell the defensive guys to keep their heads up, it was OK and that we were going to pull it out. The defensive guys were supporting the offense.
“That’s something some people don’t see, but I’m very tuned in to the sideline atmosphere and attitude. It was big to see that in this type of game. We had a conference game to open the season at home, on national TV, with a new stadium, a packed house and a new coaching staff. We had a lot of new players who had not played a number of significant reps. We had a chance to go 1-0 in conference and that speaks well for itself. We’re very happy with that.
“The 24-hour rule was in effect last night. That game is done. We were able to teach a lot off the film from that game.”
On What Needs To Be Improved
“We addressed the special teams. There were some things evident on film that we can fix. Nothing that happened in the game can’t be fixed as a team and staff. We started that last night.
“For the first game, our specialists did a pretty good job. Michael Barbour was perfect on all his kicks. That was his first collegiate game in front of a live audience.
“I like our kickers a lot. I really harass those guys a lot in a fun way. They are fun guys to be around.
“Ben Ryan did a good job punting. I thought he had a standout day. He averaged 43.0 yards per punt. I thought he could have pinned one inside the 10 a little bit, but we didn’t. I was pleased with those guys. William Smith also did a good job snapping the ball.
“Defensively, we talked. With only two guys returning in Emanuel Davis and Travis Simmons, a lot of guys played Sunday. Some had not played significant reps at all. They did some things and created some turnovers.
“There are some things we can work on and we will, tackling especially. Being the first game, the speed was hard to adjust to. We tackle everyday and go live as much as we can with the thought of injuries in mind. The mental errors, being a first game with new guys, I knew they were going to happen.
“On film, the effort was there. As a coach, you want that. Effort was one of the personalities and brands we wanted to establish. We want to be an attacking team that plays with great effort, fundamentals and tempo.
“The fundaments can be improved. The effort was there on offense, defense and special teams. The things we have to fix are the physical things like a guy filling the right lane.
“Offensively, we talked about consistency. [Offensive coordinator] Lincoln Riley and I agree we could capitalize more on turnovers. Our third-down percentage on third down on offense and defense needs to improve. Tulsa was 11-of-15. That’s a big deal. We have to correct and fix that, which we started doing last night in practice. Offensively, we were six-of-16 on third down and we want to be better than that, too.”
“We’re getting into Memphis now. [First-year head coach] Larry Porter is taking over a program that has had some tough times. Larry is a good football coach. We faced each other on three different occasions before now. We know each other and met at minority fellowship coaching seminars when the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference got together. We met each other this year during the Conference USA Media Day and coaching meetings.
“I think a lot of Larry. He’s a good football coach with a good staff that understands the game. I know he’ll have his team well prepared.
“At the quarterback position, he rotated two guys last week. I think Cannon Smith will end up starting. He’s a transfer from Miami. Jermaine McKenzie is a wide receiver who is really good athlete. He’s 6-foot-2, 185 pounds. He’s a guy we have to make sure we have our eyes on defensively.
“Their offensive line returns from last year. I know the quarterback is special, but the offensive line returning is a big plus for Larry.
“Defensively, Marcus Ball, a senior, is strong. They are really experienced up the center with Ball leading the secondary. I like Jamon Hughes, too. He’s a senior linebacker. He’s a really good football player. Inside, Dontari Poe and Frank Trotter are huge and do a great job. We’ll have to be concerned with them inside, especially with the run game.
“They have some guys coming back, too. I know they had a tough game against Mississippi State, but Larry will have them ready to go.
“I think Tom Hornsey will be one of the best punters in the league we’ll face. He’s an Australian who averaged over 48 yards per punt against Mississippi State so he has a strong leg. Both of the kick returners are new but have some skill. Billy Forster and Curtis Johnson are from the Miami area, which should tell you a little something about them. We know about them a little bit from our nation-wide searches at Texas Tech. They have great quickness.”
On The Short Week
“Our focus now is off Tulsa and on Memphis. We play them at noon on a short week. It’ll be important as a staff and football team to make sure we’re focused from second one. We can’t waste a rep. We have to be very smart about our legs and getting them ready to play. With the short week and playing at 12 noon, we have to make sure we have the freshest team on the field.”
On Improvement From Week One To Week Two
“I know that’s the case, even coaching in high school, but especially at the college level the past 25 years. The most improvement comes from game one to game two and then from game two to game three. By that point you have it figured out.
“A lot of our guys, I thought, were into the home game. They were excited and pumped. The enthusiasm and adrenaline were running. Now, that’s out of the system. The fundamentals and techniques will be relied on more this week. When you have guys playing in a game who have not gotten the chance to much before, they tend to revert back to things they’ve done earlier. Fundamentals will instantly improve after a game is under their belts. I’m looking for a lot of improvement this week.”
On Keeping Emotions In Check After The Win
“I’m pretty good at bringing guys back down to Earth. I have no problem bringing up points. That’s one of the things we do with everybody. We started that last night. You can watch film and find some things.
“I think this is a team where leadership starts with me and goes down through the staff and players we gear into leadership roles. We know we haven’t accomplished anything yet. We have won one game. It was a great victory for us, the program, university and Pirate Nation. Now we have to put that game to the side. We started that last night. We made corrections on all sides of the ball and dove into Memphis a teeny bit. We’ll throw Memphis totally at the team tomorrow.
“It’s my job to get the team down to Earth and I enjoy that.”
On Returning To East Carolina
“It was one of the most amazing things. I got a lot of calls from people who watched the game on television, even while they were at another game. Never have I had the chance to come back and be part of the entrance. I hadn’t really felt it since 1979 against North Texas as a player or 1992 as a coach.
“It was amazing. What a great job from the facilities, stadium, atmosphere and fans. I got goose bumps and you can’t fake that.
“The kids were so excited. The coaches we brought in were surprised a little bit. People had prepped us for that, but to go through it was amazing.”
On The Injuries And Personnel Changes
“I think the biggest thing is that we’ll have additions on defense. We had four guys who are projected starters who were not in the game. Michael Brooks got hurt in the spring and Antonio Allison had a high ankle sprain in camp. We’re hopefully expecting Allison back while Brooks and Derrell Johnson are possibilities to have back. Those are three guys and we may get Jimmy Booth back, but that’s still a day-to-day deal.
“We could get three guys back up front that could really help because we want to be able to rotate more. On the other hand, Josh Smith, Robert Jones and Maurice Mercer did a really good job inside. Jones hadn’t played football since 2008 and he was great. Marke Powell, who was a specialty player, stepped in and did a good job for us. He made some mistakes, but made some plays.
“Matt Milner is now finding his way and did well. A.J. Johnson has been a journey guy who worked so hard. Wes Pittman is a former receiver who is now at linebacker. Matt Thompson also worked his way back into the mix. You’ll see those guys rotating there.
“Steve Spence is still a little nicked up, but will play more on defense this week. Rahkeem Morgan will also be put in more of the defensive packages.
“Offensively, there might be some more rotations at receiver. Jeremy Davis could have gotten some more plays with Michael Bowman at the inside spot. Justin Jones, we had figured about 20-25 reps with him. He’s backing up Dwayne Harris, who will not come off the field until his eligibility runs out. Lance Lewis did a good job for his first outing. Dayon Arrington and Michael Price might play a little more there this week.
“At the ‘Z’ position, Andrew Bodenheimer and Joe Womack shared time well there. At the running back position, we had 50 and 30 reps. We’ll try to keep them fresh and sub.
“Any adjustment we make as a team will be because of adding after coming back from injury.”
On His Staff’s In-Game Adjustments
“I was very happy with the guys. I thought they were trying to stay a step ahead and we did that. We made some adjustments. Tulsa had a good football team. When you come back and watch the film, you see their formations they were bringing to our defense. That was a challenge. You would like to see a traditional, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense to start with, not the motion, unbalanced and trick plays they had. That’s a really tough offense to defend, especially with nine to 14 guys playing for the first time. They also had an experienced quarterback with reps under his belt.
“I was pleased with the adjustments, especially near the end to win the football game. I thought the staff stayed calm on the sidelines. Everybody on the headset was calm. There wasn’t a panic. We talked about having poise and confidence. We talked there being adversity in every game. There are going to be good plays and tough plays. It’s how you handle adversity. It’s like a fight – you’ll get punched, but it’s how you handle the punch. I thought we handled the adversity very well. We came out with the victory and I’m very happy with that.”
On Justin Jones’ Playing Time
“When Harris is rolling, we don’t want to take him out of the game. We have to be smart about it. Justin was in for 22 plays. He caught four passes in his first game. For a freshman in his debut, it was not too bad. We’ll find ways to develop him.
“There are some more packages we can have where Justin and Dwayne are on the field at the same time. Justin did a good job Sunday. He’s really improved from spring to right now. He’s maturing each day. I’m proud of him. Lincoln and Donnie Kirkpatrick, his position coach, will find ways to get him the football.”
On The Offensive Line
“I was proud of those guys. It’s a new offense and you will get blitzed a lot. They blitzed on that last play, bringing five. They were a 3-3-5 front heading into that game. The offensive line did a really good job communicating. I was really pleased with their technique. We only had five penalties for a first game, which I think is really good.
“We have Willie Smith, D.J. Scott and Cory Dowless who have played a lot. Grant Harner and Dalton Faulds had not played much. I was pleased with all those guys. The biggest thing was communication.”
On The Offensive Playbook
“The offense is in. Lincoln can, and will, tweak it at any time, but the plays are there. We won’t add a play unless we take one out. We have a set number of plays we work with. We can change them, but that’s about it. That’s how we operate.
“We have some formations we can add to it. We can also always ‘tag’ a play. A tag is where we add a route or special play to what we already have. Lincoln can send in a play and put a tag on it to whatever receiver he wants. Overall, though, anything left now will be tweaking.”
On Jonathan Williams
“I was pleased with Jonathan. He missed the corner blitz one time. The corner came late, but he picked it up the next time.
“I was pleased with the way he ran the football. I thought he blocked well for most of the day, especially in two-back sets. He was doing the blocking while Giavanni Ruffin was running. I thought he ran tough and hard. He spoke to the team the night before and you knew he was ready, as well as the team.”
On Choosing Dominique Davis To Start At Quarterback
“It was probably Davis’ experience and how quickly he picked up the offense. I thought Brad Wornick pushed him quite a bit from day to day. I thought that helped. Dominique getting in the first session of summer school and getting in with the team was good, too.
“One of the biggest indicators of how much respect Dominique has earned was in the captain voting. We vote on them weekly and don’t have season-long captains. I want to spread the leadership around. When the vote was announced, he was a unanimous pick by his teammates. We don’t have anything to do with that voting. I thought that showed what he had earned within the team.
“From us, he stayed calm and poised. Brad did too, but Dominique had been in big games. That was probably the deciding factor.”
On What The Victory Meant To The Team
“You learn they can face adversity. That’s a huge thing. There are going to be games that are won in different ways. I just want to win by at least one. The team found out that if it stays together, tight and as one football player, not as 72 individuals, good things can happen. They believe in one another and think that if there is any time on the clock, we can win the game. I believe it, our coaches believe it and it trickles down to the players who believe it.
“Those kids believe in themselves. They’ve paid the price and deposited a lot of time and energy. We’ve pushed them hard in practice and they’ve worked on their own. The expectations among the group are very high. They expect to do well. They’re young and haven’t played much, but I was pleased with the way they faced and handled adversity and came out on top.”
On Being Close To His Own Family
“The house was full. It was good. My dad critiqued me after the game. Normally it’s on the phone, but not this time. He sat right beside me. It was a note-taking time for me. It was cool and rewarding.
“Usually, I was the guy other coaches came to in order to get tickets because we never used them. This time, we used all our tickets. That was very cool.”
On The Possibility Of Starting Conference USA Play At 2-0
“I try to approach it as every game is a big game. Each game will be one at a time. I tend to approach it as we need to improve this week. I worry about East Carolina improving. Anything a player didn’t do well or struggled with is something he has as a personal challenge to get better on this week.
“The opponent is next and this week is Memphis, which we respect very much. The only things can we can control are how well we’re prepared, how well we study film, how hard we work and how focused we are on improving. Improving is so big from game one to game two. My focus will really be on that.
“It was a big win in a conference game. The second conference game comes this week. We can’t overlook that, but it’s more about us improving each week. I tend to head that way.”