GREENVILLE, N.C. –First-year East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against N.C. State. The following are selected comments:
On The Southern Miss Game
“Recapping the Southern Miss game, we knew we would be going into a hostile environment facing a very, very good football team. It was a well-coached football team with returning starters on offense, defense and special teams. Southern Miss historically has been a very tough place to play for all opponents. The team’s winning percentage is consistently good and has been well documented at ‘The Rock.’ We knew we would have a tough task ahead of us.
“I was very proud of the way our team prepared all week and the way we bounced back after the UNC loss. I thought we had a great and spirited week of practice.
“Going into the game, we knew it would be physical. We got off to a slow start. I think compliments need to go to Southern Miss on that. We fell behind by 20 in the first quarter. The next compliment needs to go to our football team.
“If you could have heard them on the sideline and the positive commentary and compliments between player-coach, coach-player, player-player and coach-coach, you would have been impressed. They were all encouraging each other to keep going. They were saying we’re fine, even when it was 20-0.
“We talked all week about playing for 60 minutes and four quarters. That was an item that had been brought up quite a bit during the last two losses. That was a big point of emphasis by the staff last week. After we got down, we kept fighting back as a football team, which I was very pleased with.
“We had some mishaps in the game with turnovers. But, I think our defense stepped up and swung the bat. Looking back at the game, the defense held Southern Miss to field goals at times with tough field position. I was very pleased with their progress and consistent fighting effort against an offense had been productive against everybody it had faced, except South Carolina in the first game. Our defense did a great job stepping up and holding them to field goals early. Looking at the final score, that was big.
“The offense did a good job of answering and coming back, even after the turnovers. Dominique Davis was as positive as anybody I’ve ever been around. It’s great to be around a young man like that on the sideline. The whole team was encouraging him as well.
“I was pleased with the offense for being committed to the running game. We were not as productive as we like to be, but we’ll keep working on that. The commitment was there and it was able to win the game for us in the end by running the clock down and getting the first down to ice the game.
“Defensively, third-down conversions were big for us. Southern Miss was 3-out-of-17. Facing that team, I thought that was enormous. I thought the defense played with great effort and they really did a great job for us.
“Special teams I think set the tone for us. Our coverage teams did well. We had one return past the 30-yard line that we talked about. I also thought our return teams improved. We averaged 10 yards on punt returns, which is what we want, a minimum of a first down. With Dwayne Harris and Travis Simmons able to return for us, those guys are great and we should be able to accomplish that, which we did Saturday.
“Our kickoff return team, again, set the tone with the big runback by Jonathan Williams. There was great blocking on the return. Everybody noticed Rahkeem Morgan’s block, but when you watch it on film, every guy on that team did a great job of blocking. That was a big play for us. Michael Barbour continues to be consistent for us, making another field goal Saturday.
“It was a great team win. I was very pleased. Playing for 60 minutes and four quarters is something we will continue to do. We talked about playing Pirate-type football, which is being physical, aggressive, making and finishing plays and having a never-say-die attitude. We had that Saturday. I was very pleased with the team.
“It was a tough environment. I was so happy for the kids. They gave me a birthday present, which I’ll take, but I was more happy for the kids and coaches because they worked hard.”
On Playing N.C. State
“The 24-hour rule is in effect. They enjoyed the win. It was a late night coming back and we had to dive right into North Carolina State last night and this morning.
“They have a really good football team. Coach O’Brien has done a great job. It’s a different look for him from Boston College.”
On N.C. State’s Offense
“They have a guy under center who does a great job orchestrating the offense in Russell Wilson. He’s really a fine quarterback.
“He’s a dual-threat quarterback who reminds you of Tyrod Taylor with his running ability. But, when he throws the football, he has zip, accuracy and field vision to distribute the football to all five receivers. None of the receivers are at the top of the ACC rankings because Wilson distributes the ball. When he scrambles, he’s scrambling to throw the football. They also have designed running plays for him. He is really calm in the offense and has great pocket presence, command and the ability to escape. We’ll have to do a great job with him.
“The running backs were young coming into the season. Mustafa Greene is a freshman and a really fine football player. He’s their leading rusher and is also fourth in receiving. Dean Haynes is another good football player. He and Mustafa will rotate quite a bit. Taylor Gentry will be mixed in there a bit, too.
“The wide receivers will be the biggest, most athletic group we’ve faced. They have NFL guys who can go up and catch the football very well. I’m really excited to see them in person. I’ve been watching them on film and they do a great job going up and competing for and fighting for the football. They have a really good group.
“T.J. Graham is the all-purpose guy for them at receiver and returner. He’ll be a guy we have to be concerned with. The tight end is very active in Russell’s thought process and ball distribution. George Bryan is a big guy who has good hands.
“You’ll see them play with three wide receivers and a tight end. They’ll go empty with no running backs. They will also go big with tight ends and fullbacks in goal-line situations.
“The offensive line does a great job. They are well coached and do a great job fundamentally. We’ll be concerned with those guys. They’ve seen blitzes and been attacked in practice by the defense. Dana Bible runs the offense.”
On N.C. State’s Defense
“Mike Archer and Jon Tenuta work with the defense. Both of them are really fine coordinators. Defensively, the two work together with Tenuta’s influence on blitzes and doing more than Coach O’Brien did at Boston College.
“They are attacking. They do a great job of doing mostly zone blitz. We break down the blitz percentage by each team in each game and most teams blitz more against us than they have all year. Going into the game Saturday, Southern Miss was 18-20 percent blitz. North Carolina State, right now before our game, is 40 percent blitz. They bring it against everybody.
“Up front, Michael Lemon has really stood out for them the last three games. He moved into the starting lineup and is a senior who is very active. The linebackers, all three of them, are very active and mobile. Nate Irving, Audie Cole and Terrell Manning are used in the blitz packages quite a bit. Nate is the guy, if you remember, who got hurt in the car accident a while ago, but he’s back and very athletic and explosive. All three are really good blitzers and are used in coverage quite a bit.
“The secondary is a little young, but they have some skill. C.J. Wilson is a sophomore corner who played in all games a year ago as a true freshman so he’s gotten his feet wet. Earl Wolff, the strong safety, is the most productive player. They use him a lot in coverage.”
On N.C. State’s Special Teams
“With the specialists, they went back-and-forth with the punter but Andy Leffler has taken over and he’s averaging around 40 yards per punt. The kicker is Josh Czajkowski, who is 10-of-12 with a long of 44 yards so we’ll have to be concerned with him. And as I mentioned earlier, Graham is the returner.”
On Returning Home
“It’ll be an exciting game. I’m very excited to be back in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. We’ve been road warriors for 30-plus days. I didn’t mind the travel and hotels. It was very nice, but it’s comforting to be back home, in our backyard and around our fans. I appreciate the opposing fans, but I love our fans. We’re coming back to a top facility in the country. Our fans are second to none and we’re ready to get back around them.
“We know we’re facing a tough opponent in North Carolina State. We’re looking forward to it and to preparation this week.”
On Playing N.C. State In Greenville
“Hats go off to Terry Holland, Nick Floyd, Jimmy Bass, Lee Workman and the administration. We should be playing them home and home. I’ve said before, our athletic program here is second to none. They should be going home and home with us. We don’t mind going to their place, but come over to Greenville, too. I think that’s the way it should be.
“The credit goes to the administration for working out the contract proceedings. That’s only fair. It’s supposed to be that way. That’s the only way I want it. We’ll go play you in Raleigh or Chapel Hill, but they need to come visit Greenville, too. We’re very fortunate to have that done by our administration.
“I’m looking forward to getting N.C. State to Dowdy-Ficklen. We had to go over there the whole time when I was playing here. We know it’s going to be an exciting game against a great football team. They’re playing well. They were playing Virginia Tech and had a lead on them before Virginia Tech came back. We knew Virginia Tech would come around after our game.
“N.C. State is playing well. They’re well coached with many good coaches on the staff. We’re looking forward to the challenge and opportunity.”
On Dominique Davis’ Poise
“I wish you could have been on the sideline. I mentioned last week that you can’t magically make it happen. You can only gain and develop what we need team-wise internally, through game experience and by going through the fight. You can talk about the fight and rehearse the fight, but going through a fight is the only way they can learn.
“Dominique came to the sideline and was as positive as can be. I think that credit goes to [offensive coordinator] Lincoln Riley first, but the players are right there with Lincoln encouraging. Finally, credit goes to Dominique. He didn’t flinch. He said I’ll get it next time. I think that speaks to what Dominique has been through.
“He’s a kid who has been through some adversity. He was a top-recruited player who had some things happen to him, but he has fought back. He has been a class leader for us. On the sideline he didn’t flinch. I said, ‘Are you good four?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I’m good coach.’
“That’s a learning experience. It was Dominique’s fifth game in the offense. To be able to keep his composure and lead us down was big.
“They blitzed us more. People have gone into the games against us with totally different packages than they have shown on film. That’s a compliment to our offense and to Dominique for being able to adjust. Southern Miss, which had been at 18-20 percent blitz, probably blitzed in the 35-40 percent range Saturday, which is very high.
“Once the offense got it handled, Dominique made the throw to Michael Bowman on the hot read. It was big. Dominique was really calm. He’s growing right in front of our eyes. He’ll be fine and a great quarterback in this system. I’m happy he’s on our team.”
On ECU’s Defense
“The kids are growing up. You have to be patient. We know as coaches we have to be and I’ve been through it before. When you have nine new starters and 16 guys who are playing significant reps now who had not before, they have to go through it and learn their way. They have to get knocked down and learn to get back up. They have to trust their technique, which they did Saturday, and execute what [defensive coordinator] Brian Mitchell is telling them. Brian, John Wiley, Duane Price and Mark Yellock are football coaches at the top of their profession. How do I know? I’ve been around coaches. They know exactly what they’re doing. They understand how to break down film and how to demand and teach on the field.
“Now the kids see that and believe that. I was really proud of the execution of the defense. They were tossed into some tough situations early in the game at Southern Miss. As we all know, you don’t want to get behind anybody early, especially Southern Miss at their place. It’s tough to come out of that. To be down 20-0 and hold Southern Miss to field goals was big.
“In the third and fourth quarters, when we had some problems, the defense took some hits but fought back and played physical, Pirate football and executed the calls. I was very pleased with them.”
On The Impact Of The Win
“It was a big win because we had worked hard. The players did everything we and I had asked of them. We had come off two tough losses at UNC and Virginia Tech. It was the third road game in a row. We were playing a top conference rival at their place on their homecoming. To be able to win validates the work we’re doing and the progress we know we’re making.
“We’re not overlooking the 3-0 start to Conference USA play, especially in our East Division, either. All those things combined really helped our program.
“The team part of it was big, too. Individuals are good, but the best team will win championships. We’re starting to form a team in Hattiesburg.”
On Being Down 20-0 Early
“In the Insight.com bowl, playing Minnesota. I was part of that. We were down 31 points with seven minutes to go in the third quarter. It’s one of the biggest comebacks in bowl history. So I’ve been there. After 30 years you’ve seen about everything. That was the most recent one in my memory. They came back and won.
“With the youth of this team, for them to be in that situation and fight their way out, it was a learning experience that we couldn’t duplicate in practice. They had to go through it.
“The last-second win here against Tulsa was big because it taught them to fight to the end. Until the last whistle blows, we have a chance. This game taught us that if we fall behind, keep fighting, stay the course, stay true to the cause, execute, make routine plays and rely on fundamentals and technique. We will make some mistakes, which we always will. There’s no perfect game. To overcome adversity is a big learning experience for us.”
On Mike Leach Calling The Game On TV
“We had an interview on satellite radio. He’s talked to Lincoln and those guys a couple times to check up on them. It’ll be neat Friday. I know I have an interview with him then. That’ll be wild. I’ll put him on the fire during that. I’ll ask him about being on the other side.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him. He’s a knowledgeable guy. He’s an offensive genius. He understands the offensive thought processes in general.”
On Defenses Giving ECU A Different Look
“I think you always need to have a little something added in. One of the first things I did when I took over at the Alamo Bowl and here was to tell Lincoln, Brian and [special teams coordinator] Clay McGuire to add their little flavors to whatever they needed to. They let me know what they are putting in.
“We had some things on offense that we wanted to run, but it was never the right situation. We always have those things on offense, defense and special teams that we can sprinkle in and use to adjust. We’ll keep doing that.”
On The Kickoff Return
“We’ve been one play or one player away from breaking a lot more long plays. We may have nine good blocks and one guy, instead of sealing his guy to the right, he lets him slip off to the left. He’s not trying to do that, but it happens. We’re one guy away from breaking Dwayne.
“We feel our return group is a good as anybody with Dwayne, Michael and Jonathan. We’ve also added Michael Dobson and Giavanni Ruffin as a rotator. On punt returns we have Dwayne and Travis. We ask our guys to take pride in protecting the returners.
“When I had Wes Welker at Texas Tech, it became a pride thing for those guys to try and break Welker and hold the blocks and protect him. My input on the special teams is to ask them to protect the returners by blocking for them.
“We knew we had a chance to break one each game, we just needed to bring it all together and play 11-man football.
“Clay made the call. He asked if we could do it and I said yes.”
On ECU’s Running Game
“I think the compliment must go to the opponents first. They’re doing a good job playing the run. We stayed with the commitment to run Saturday by rushing 24 times. We’ll keep doing that and mixing in the run.
“It’s about what defenses are giving you. They did a good job. We’ll do a better job of it this week. We’ll stay committed to it. We have two good running backs in Jonathan, Giavanni and Dominique. We have some designed plays for him and defenses have been blitzing a little bit. It’s a read play so Dominique can give or keep. If the end shuffles down, it’s a give, if the end runs, Dominique can keep it.
“They’ve been shuffling down, which tells Dominique to keep the ball. That’s the option part of the game. We’ll keep working on it. I have a lot of confidence in it. Lincoln does, too. Those guys are threats and we have to use them.”
On the Rivalry With N.C. State
“It’s another in-state rivalry and challenge for us. I have a lot of respect for all of our in-state schools. Coach O’Brien has done a great job over there. I got some calls when I was blessed with the job here. Skip Holtz called me that night. The very next morning I was in the office and the first call came from Tom O’Brien. I appreciated that. I have a lot of respect for him. I think he’s a really fine football coach. His staff is a veteran group.
“I let the fans do the rivalry part. The competitive part and competition part are good. It’s going to be a great opportunity going against a really good football team.”
On Playing Night Or Day Games
“I prefer somewhere in between. We played so many night games at Texas Tech. I like playing in the day. I don’t mind playing at night either, but if I had a choice, I like that 1:30-2:00 p.m. time. I don’t mind playing at 12:00 p.m., though.”
On Similarities Between N.C. State’s And Virginia Tech’s Offenses
“Not really. They both have some designed runs. Tyrod and Russell are similar in athleticism. Tyrod has improved as a passer but Russell is a passing quarterback. He can run the football well, too.
“N.C. State spreads it a little more than Virginia Tech. N.C. State will be in three and four wide sets and even some empty looks. Russell has calmness in the pocket and really good accuracy throwing the ball. He can make all the throws from far hash, to out cut, to seam, to touch throw, to the back hip throw, which is tough. Having gone through pro baseball and not summer football workouts, my hat is off to him. I watched three games of him and he does a good job. He’s different from Tyrod. They have the same leadership, but they are two different quarterbacks.”