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 Rice. The following are selected comments:
On The UAB Game
“It was a big win for us Thursday after going through two tough losses. I thought it was a great character win. That’s how I presented it to the team. It was a time when a lot of things could have gone wrong with the team. We could have taken a left turn, gone south and gone down. Or we could have taken the right turn and kept fighting. I thought the team chose the second option.
“I was very proud of how they fought and kept fighting. I thought there might be some hangover from the Navy game and the short week. But from Sunday night’s practice through Tuesday, I thought the coaches and players did a good job of getting down to business and focusing on UAB.
“I knew UAB had, like I mentioned in last Monday’s press conference, receivers who would attack the football. They have some junior college transfers who have played the game and have that experience under their belts. I knew they would do a good job, and they did offensively.
“Defensively, they did some things early to mix it up and catch us off guard. But, I like the way our kids and the coaches stayed the course.
“Again, the sideline was fantastic down there; we really counted on one another. Our official party and the fans in the stands were amazing. It was amazing for the kids, who met everybody at the fence line right after the game. That was special.
“I thought it was a big win. I really liked the way we played together. Even though our defense gave up some things early, they fought back, got better as the game went on and ended up making some big plays. They got the ball back to our offense in the fourth quarter when we needed it most.
“I thought our special teams played as solid of a game as they had all year. That’s one part of our team that has to be steady each week. I thought they were very steady Thursday. They did a good job.
“[Special teams coordinator] Clay McGuire and the coaches who work with Clay have done a great job. Those guys generally go unnoticed until something tough happens, but Clay has done good job taking over in a very adverse situation. I knew he would. He’s the most versatile coach on the staff. He has those guys playing well. We also got our special teams’ spirit back in Rahkeem Morgan. I thought that helped a lot.
“I was really pleased with the win and the way we fought. I thought it showed character and great competitive spirit, which is one of the intangibles I want to be a part of this team. The determination and never-say-die attitude that we’ve talked about as a football team were present Thursday. It was a big win that made the weekend go by a lot of faster.
“It was a short week, which was the first I’ve had in 30 years. That was an adjustment for me. The kids kept fighting. They kept me and the staff up. They were not going to leave Birmingham with a loss. I was happy about that and was very pleased with our team.
“We became bowl-eligible with the win, which was one of our team goals for this season.”
On Rice’s David Bailiff
“Now we get into Rice, which we have to dive into very quickly. I know their head coach, David Bailiff, has been in it for a while. I’ve faced David a few times. He has done a good job. He’s a lifer who has been around the game.
“His staff has been together for a while, too. He has some guys on staff who I’ve known for a long time in the coaching business recruiting throughout Texas versus one another. We’ve gotten to know one another during the last 10 years especially.”
On Rice’s Offense
“Offensively, David is playing two quarterbacks – Nick Fanuzzi and Taylor Cook. Fanuzzi is an Alabama transfer who we know about. He’s a San Antonio kid who does a good job. He had a tough night against Tulane Saturday, when David replaced him with Taylor. Fanuzzi is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. When they put Taylor in, he is 6-foot-7, 240 pounds. He doesn’t move around badly. He’s not your typical passer, but he throws the ball well. They have some guys to throw it to.
“At running back, Sam McGuffie is a kid we know about who is from Texas. He signed with Michigan out of high school, but wanted to transfer. He had contacted us when I was out at Texas Tech, but ended up going to Rice. We had our limit on running backs at that time. He does a good job for them; he’s quick with breakaway speed. Sam can also catch the football. He’s not just the top rusher on the team, but also the top receiver. He’ll be a guy we have to be very, very aware of defensively.
“Also Jeremy Eddington is a freshman running back who is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. He’s the guy they use in the ‘Wildcat’ formation or ‘Wild Hog’ formation, as some people call it. He’ll be used along with Roddy Maginot, their other ‘Wildcat’ guy. They are the first team I’ve seen use two different guys in the ‘Wildcat’ since Ole Miss in the [Jan. 2, 2009] Cotton Bowl. Those two guys do a good job with it.
“This team and David always have love for tight ends. If you remember a couple years ago, they had James Casey, who is now playing for the Houston Texans. David has two guys now starting with Vance McDonald, who is 6-foot-5, 260 pounds. The other is Luke Wilson, who is 6-foot-5, 240 pounds. They are the tight ends who David splits out, flexes out and uses in routes as well as in blocking. They do a good job. They catch and block well. Those guys will be two we have to be aware of, along with McGuffie.
“Patrick Randolph is the other top receiver they have. He’s 5-fot-11, 170 pounds.
“The offensive line will be well coached by Ronnie Vinklarek. He does a good job with those kids. He coached in the NFL previously. He was with John Jenkins at Houston when they had the run-and-shoot going. He’ll have them ready to go up front. They’ll be fundamentally sound and have good technique."
On Rice's Defense
“Defensively, Cheta Ozougwu, who I met at the Conference USA Media Day, is their top lineman. He’s a great young man who is very active. He is their most experienced guy with 40 career starts. This season, he has 6.0 tackles for a loss and 3.0 sacks. Kramer Lucio is their other standout defensive lineman. He is very active and strong and has great hands. We have to be aware of those two guys up front on our offensive line.
“Justin Hill is 5-foot-11, 225 pounds. He’s a linebacker who is very athletic and great with changing direction. He’ll stay in the game on passing downs. They’re based out of a 4-2-5 set. They use four down linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs. They have what we call our ‘Nickel’ package in the game the entire time as their base.
“On the back end, Corey Frazier and Travis Bradshaw are very active. They have what they call a KAT position in a 4-2-5, where the other safety is involved in the run and pass up front. That’s Corey’s job. Travis is the back-half safety who walks down, gets in the box and is also involved in coverage. Those two guys are the top two tacklers on the team.
“Special-teams wise, Chris Boswell is 11-for-17 and has made a 50-yard field goal. He also attempted a 58-yarder during the SMU game. David has a lot of confidence in his leg strength to attempt one from 58 yards. Kyle Martens is the punter and a semi-finalist for the Ray Guy Award. He really can punt and is averaging 46.9 yards a kick. They have really good specialists. Denzel Wells is the return man. We’ll have to have our A-game on again with special teams. It’ll be a big challenge for us.
“It’ll be a game where we have to have great focus, practice and preparation this week. It is a normal week for us again, which is a good thing. We have a chance to take time to prepare. I’m looking forward to getting back into practice and watching film, like I was doing earlier today.
“I’m really looking forward to going to Houston. I have a lot of old friends who will be at the game. We’ll have a good support group there for the Pirates.”
On Dominique Davis’ Shoulder Injury
“I think he’ll be OK. He’s a tough nut. It hurt him, but I’m anxious to see how he does after today’s treatment. We held him out last night a little bit just to rest it. But he’s a tough kid. I hope he’s ready to go.
“[Assistant Athletics Director/Medical Services] Mike Hanley and [Assistant Athletics Director/Strength & Conditioning] Mike Golden will work together with the rehab. Dominique has been very professional all year long so he’ll do a good job fighting his way back. It’s his left shoulder, which is not his throwing shoulder. We’ll just have to see how it goes after treatment.”
On Brad Wornick’s Performance Thursday
“I knew Brad would do as well as he did. [Offensive coordinator] Lincoln Riley does a good job getting guys ready. We rep two units in practice. Brad doesn’t get as many reps as Dominique, but Brad has been ready to go.
“Brad and Dominique competed for the job coming into the fall so Brad was ready for it. He’s anxious for action. I thought he had a touchdown taken away from him with the dropped ball. It was a good throw and read by Brad.
“Lincoln, Clay and [outside receivers coach] Dennis Simmons do a good job getting guys ready to go in case somebody goes down. Brad’s ready to go and we have a lot of confidence in Brad. But I’m hoping Dominique is ready to go, too.”
On The Possibility Of Going 8-4 This Season
“I just want to be 7-4 right now. If the other one happens, that would be great. All our focus is really going to be on Rice. We’re going to take it one game a week like we have all year. We have to have total focus on Rice.
“I have watched them against Texas, Baylor, Houston and Tulane. I jumped around a little bit because I have so many games to watch but I’ve watched three and a half so far. Defensively, they fly around and make things happen. They do a good job with schemes defensively. Offensively, they spread you all over the field.
“Our focus has to be on Rice, which is where it will be. We just have to take one game a week. I just want to work to being 7-4 right now.”
On The Impact Of UCF Losing Saturday
“I don’t watch much football unless it’s East Carolina playing. But somebody texted me with the result, which was good. This conference has great parity.
“Watching the Tulane film this morning, they’re flying around, too. They did a good job versus Rice. Bob has done a good job getting those guys ready to play. That was also a good win for Southern Miss.
“Like I’ve mentioned before, anything can happen here in this league. East Carolina lost one last year and won it and two the year before. We just have to make sure we always stay focused here on what we can control, which is our preparation during the week. We focus on one game a week because that’s all we can play. We have to make sure we stay the course.
“The kids did a good job last night. It was a very spirited Sunday practice. We dove right into Rice like we did last Sunday with UAB. We just have to stay focused on what we can control.”
On Having Extra Days Following The Short Week
“It worked out. Everybody is banged up this time of year. I was talking to Randy Shannon who called me and he’s banged up at Miami, as is Jeff Horton at Minnesota who I talked to. Everybody has bangs right now.
“It helped us. It was a short week, which after playing Navy in a very physical game was tough. The two days off after the UAB game helped with recovery a little bit. Mike Hanley had treatment for the guys who were banged up Friday and Saturday. Some of the guys took off and went home, which they were allowed to do.
“I think we needed those two days. The coaches did, too. It was a jam-packed week. The two days helped us get our feet back underneath us a little bit.”