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 Navy. The following are selected comments:
On The UCF Game
“It was a tough game and loss. We faced a very good Central Florida team. I thought they were well coached and ready to go. I thought they played connected on offense, defense and special teams better than we did. That was the first time I've been able to say on all three sides of the ball that someone was more connected during the game than we were.
"I thought our offense did a great job. I thought they were patient, made some things happen and took advantage of their possessions. I thought Dominique Davis did a great job of leading us.
"Our running backs did a great job of complementing one another and catching and running the football.
"Dwayne Harris was Dwayne Harris. I thought he went to another level. He rose to the top just like cream does. You also saw Lance Lewis do some special things.
"I thought all our receivers did a really good job. Justin Jones did a fantastic job of stepping up. Dwayne was a little winded so we had to play Justin more. I am very proud of Justin's development.
"Our offensive line did a nice job against one of the toughest defensive lines we've faced, and may face all season. Like I mentioned last week, Central Florida blitzed more than they had in any other game. That's nothing new for us.
"Central Florida did something a little different than usual. They dropped more defensive linemen into coverage than they had. That's something [offensive coordinator] Lincoln Riley, our staff and our offensive personnel had to adjust to. They did a good job. We moved the ball all day long. We needed to get them more possessions on defense.
"Their offense did a great job. They out-blocked and out-techniqued us. Their offensive line really took advantage of our defensive line. I've told them that. We didn't play well defensively. That's on me and I'll get that fixed. We'll get that fixed as a team and staff.
"Their quarterback, Jeff Godfrey, will be a standout player in this league for years to come. He is special. He is not a fluke and it is not luck. He is good.
"Ronnie Weaver is a top running back. To be a walk-on, as I said after the game, is unbelievable. I wish I would have been here quick enough to find him as a walk-on. He would not have been a walk-on for very long. He's really a fine running back. He runs well behind his pads. He reads blocks extremely well and has a nifty quickness about him. He always has forward pads and is behind a blocker. The offensive line does a great job up front.
"I thought their offense did a good job all day. They didn't do anything to surprise us. We knew they had the ability to pound-and-ground and they did.
"Their special teams outdid our special teams. I mentioned that to our team. Central Florida out-blocked us. The same adjectives I used to describe the defensive side of the football apply to our special teams. I have to get that straight as well. That falls back on me. I take full responsibility for it. We'll get that handled and fixed.
"It was a tough loss. The 24-hour rule was there, but it probably went to 36 or maybe even 48."
On Preparing For Navy
"I thought the kids came out last night and had a pretty good practice. We dove right into Navy. You have to, especially defensively.
"It'll be a physical day for our defense this week versus Navy. It'll be a discipline and assignment-focused day for our defense playing this type of offense. Ken Niumatalolo has done a great job installing his system. They do a great, great job. It'll be a physical contest for our football team. It'll be about the sixth game in a row of pretty physical football. We have a lot of guys banged up.
"We know we have a tough task ahead of us. We're glad to be back in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. It's a nonconference game, but it's very important for our team. It's very important for us to make sure we have a great week of preparation and work."
On Navy's Offense
"Defensively, we have to be ready to face a team that is not going to try to fool us. They are going to ground-and-pound, even though they did a good job last week against Duke throwing the football. They run for a living, not for a hobby.
"Ricky Dobbs, their quarterback, runs it. He is a senior who has been in the system. He understands how to read and react. He has all the reads and adjustments down.
"They compare this triple-option offense to our offense because everybody touches the football. I see it that way, too.
"Dobbs is their leader up front. He is the leading rusher with 552 yards. That's normally the case in great offenses like this. The quarterback is usually the main guy. He has scored nine touchdowns, but has also thrown the ball extremely well, too. He'll be a guy we have to make sure we keep an eye on. We have to make sure whoever we assign to him does his job.
"It's a big week defensively of just doing your job, and doing it 100 times in a row. We don't need to be fancy. We cannot outthink ourselves. But, at the same time, we have to make sure we're very aggressive.
"Another important cog for the offense is the line, which does a great job up front. They're very disciplined and have good technique. We faced them in the Houston Bowl when Paul Johnson was the head coach and I was at Texas Tech. It's the same type of offensive line they had then. They have great pad level and technique. They get after you up front. That's the main key.
"The next guy is the fullback, Alexander Teich. He's the typical wishbone/slot-bone/flex-bone fullback. He understands his role, position and job. He does a great job. He'll be one that we really have to contain with our tackles and linebackers. I'm really concerned with him. We have to make sure we have him. They do a great job incorporating him into the offense. The backup, Vince Murray, has played. He's a very capable backup.
"The slot backs, who you'll see block and run the football, are Gee Gee Greene and Andre Byrd. They both have quickness and are typical slot backs.
"I keep using the word typical because when you're around these offenses after so many years, you identify prototype players for each position. In our offense, you'll see a typical X, Y and Z receiver. Navy's slot backs are typical slot-back/wishbone guys. They understand how to block and carry the football. They are used in play-action passes, too. Those guys do a great job. Gee Gee and Andre understand it and are very unselfish. You'll also see Aaron Santiago. He'll play quite a bit as a slot back and rotate in with Gee Gee and Andre.
"The wide receivers are Greg Jones and Brandon Turner. They are great blockers. Turner is 6-foot-4, 208 pounds. He's a good-looking young man on film. Jones is the leading receiver on the team. Both of those guys do a great job blocking. If you're not prepared for them in the secondary, they can get you on a play-action fake. They do a great job of that."
On Navy's Defense
"Defensively, they probably have the most returning guys of any we've faced. They're made up of all seniors and juniors. They run a 3-4 or `50' look. The Joker position guy who they move around a lot is Jerry Hauburger. He's very active.
"They do a good job defensively. They're very sound. They are third in the nation in fewest penalties per game at 3.6; that's amazing. They are also in the top 50 in redzone defense. They remind me of Central Florida as far as being disciplined and those kinds of things. They don't beat themselves. You have to go out and beat them.
"Jabaree Tuani is a very active up front guy for them on the defensive line. He's the leading sack producer and has 11.5 tackles for a loss. Billy Yarborough, at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, is a big, good-looking kid who runs around very well. He plays hard.
"At linebacker, Aaron McCauley and Tyler Simmons are very active on film. They do a good job of understanding their roles. They are very physical. We hope to be able to spread them out a little bit and get them into coverage, but they do a good job of that, too.
"The team captain is Wyatt Middleton, a safety and really good player. He has started 43-straight games for them. He's an experienced guy who is the quarterback of the defense. He gets them into all the coverages. When you watch them on film, he's the one who gets the defense lined up. He's a really smart and good football player. I really like watching him on film. He's an expert. You can tell he has 43-straight starts by the way he calls the game."
On Navy's Special Teams
"The special teams are solid, just like Central Florida was last week. They have two kickers, Jon Teague and Joe Buckley. One is the long guy and one is the short guy. Some teams do that and we have in the past. We have that here right now if we need it.
"Their punter, Kyle Delahooke, averages 38.3 yards per boot. Their return guys are very solid. Teich is a kickoff returner who is averaging 26.3 yards per return, which is very good. The punt returner is Gary Myers, who is averaging 6.1 yards per return."
On Navy's Ability To Score In The Second Half
"One of the things about this team that you notice right off the bat is that they may get outscored in the first two quarters, but in the third and fourth quarters, they have outscored their opponents. It has not even been close. In the third quarter, Navy is outscoring its opponents 66-21 and in the fourth its 52-30. Those are very high numbers this late in the season."
On The Injuries
"We have some guys banged up. We're trying to make sure those guys are OK. Michael Brooks, Justin Dixon, Anthony Garrett, Kemory Mann and Dekota Marshall are all out. The questionable guys are Ty Holmes, who we hope gets back, Rahkeem Morgan and Travis Simmons. Marke Powell, you saw him go down Saturday, is also questionable.
"Our philosophy is the next guy picks up the flag and it's time to go. The next guy steps up and here we go. That's how it'll go here. We hope those guys get back; we're pulling for them. [Assistant Athletics Director Medical Services/Head Athletic Trainer] Mike Hanley does a great job.
"Michael Bowman is banged up, but he'll be alright. We have to play Justin Jones more to rest him. They're working hard. It was a physical game. Jonathan Williams was banged up in that game. That was a beat-up locker room. They'll bounce back, though.
"Josh Smith will be fine. He'll get iced and strapped up and he'll be ready to go. He's a tough kid. We have a tough group. If those guys are out, they're hurt. They're a great group of guys who work hard. It means a lot to them. East Carolina means a lot to them. Playing for eastern North Carolina means a lot to them.
"We have to get new guys ready to go, though, as we have some bumps and bangs."
On Handling The Adversity After A Tough Loss
"That's a good point. It's all about learning and developing. East Carolina lost one game last year and won the East Division and two games a couple years ago and won it here. I look at it that way. The glass is more than half full for me and us. I'm disappointed we didn't win that one Saturday. I'm learning the 24-hour rule is hard to apply sometimes. My old self gets caught up in it a few times.
"It's a part of developing a team, tough. We had some tough times versus Virginia Tech and North Carolina and battled back. We won a couple games and went into a tough, tough environment Saturday and played a very, very good football team. We knew that all week. I knew they would be tough from top to bottom. We had beaten them eight of nine times, but they did a great job. My hat is off to Central Florida.
"This game against Navy is important to me, us and our staff. I'm looking forward to it. It's another part of development, to see how we bounce back after a tough loss.
"With the conference race, it's not in our hands anymore. That makes it tough. But I know they lost one game last year and two the year before and won it."
On Watching Film To Prepare For Navy
"I watch every game. Lincoln and [defensive coordinator] Brian Mitchell will also watch every one. Lincoln and Brian will pick out four games eventually because after that the computer will get cluttered.
"Brian can maybe do more because he'll see defenses that use similar packages to what we do. Lincoln will also try to watch film of offenses that are close to ours with a spread.
"But we watch every game. I have about four more to go to get through the season. Then, I'll go back Tuesday and Wednesday to redo what I already watched. I watch all three sides of the ball where Lincoln and Brian watch their appropriate sides."
On Navy Losing To Duke
"David Cutcliffe is a ball coach. He's a lifer. He was at Ole Miss and did a good job. I wasn't surprised by Navy losing to Duke. The Atlantic Coast Conference gets a lot of good personnel. David is a great football coach with some good guys on that staff.
"Some people asked me last week if I was surprised about the No. 1-ranked teams losing. I'm not surprised at all because of parity. I saw some coaches Saturday at Orlando who I know from recruiting Florida. About three of those coaches came on the field to say hello. They have some football players who they want us to look at. My point is there are football players everywhere. The parity across the country is evident. In this day and age, anybody can beat anyone. I really believe that."
On ECU's Fourth-Quarter Offense At UCF
"I thought we did a good job offensively. We had the surprise on-side kick, which was my call. I felt good about our scheme and getting the ball back. I was talking with Coach Holland yesterday, and told him their guy did a good job knifing through the block to recover that kick. Otherwise, we would have had the ball. It was a good roll and a good kick. He just made a good play.
"I liked the play calling that we did. I liked the hurry-up offense. We had a chance. We had the penalty late in the game or the ball would have been on the 11-yard line. If we stick that in, we have a chance at another score. With our never-say-die attitude here, we have a chance at another onsides kick to get the ball back.
"I felt very comfortable about our offense moving the ball Saturday. We got pushed back a little bit because of the penalty and didn't get it in. I thought we had a chance at it. I always say we have a chance to win a game. I thought we had a chance to win that thing. That's how I look at it." On Facing A Triple-Option Offense
"It's tough. We introduced a little bit of it during the spring and fall camp. You don't face it that much. [Associate head coach] John Wiley, myself, Brian and Marc Yellock have faced it a lot in the Southern Conference and Mountain West Conference. Brian faced it with Air Force. John faced it for many years against Georgia Southern and Wofford. You see the offense with those schools. Defensively, it's a physical day, but, at the same time, it's an assignment-focus day. It has to be very sound. They've seen every look.
"I compare our offense to a wishbone because we spread the ball around. It's quarterback-oriented scheme where everybody touches the football. It's the same thing with Navy's offense. You have to be assignment sound. Our defense will have to do a great job. We started with that last night. A clear mind is of the utmost importance this week so we can have fast legs.
"A key to the option is having more guys on two legs than they do at the end of the play because they do a great job of cutting. We need a lot of two-legged guys at the end of the play. You have to be able to play off blocks the entire day.
"The secondary also has to be disciplined, read the keys and know when you're involved in pass only. We don't need them in the run all the time. But there will be plays in Navy's offense when we do need the secondary involved in the run. It's imperative to have a clear mind and fast legs. It's not what we do, but how we do what we do.
"It'll be a big change. It's the ninth game of the year so it's sprinkled right in the middle. It'll be tough. We have a big task and challenge ahead of us. I'm looking forward to it, though."
On If Playing UAB Next Thursday Impacts This Week's Practice
"It's the ninth game of the year, so you start backing off a little bit. You have to. We have a tough schedule. We know that. No matter what the schedule is, the ninth game of the year we have to start backing off. The body can only take so much.
"We'll back off a little bit practice wise and time wise, but we have to get our work in. I have to make sure, along with Lincoln, Brian and [special teams coordinator] Clay McGuire, that we take care of our kids.
"This week in practice, our main task is Navy. I'm not worried about next week. We'll back off a little bit of the normal time just because we're at that point of the season."
On Young Defensive Players Hitting A Wall
"I thought Derrell Johnson ran into a wall, to be honest with you. He's a true freshman who played 92 snaps against N.C. State. He has probably played over 200 snaps in the last four games. That's a lot for a young kid. He'll bounce back.
"I think those guys have a lot of pride about them. I could sense that last night when we met. On the field, it was a very focused and well-taught practice. The coaches did a great job of implementing the initial thought processes for Navy. I saw those guys doing a great job of playing the next play.
"Those kids are resilient. They have helped me become more resilient. Those guys, along with Derrell, did a good job last night. You can tell the youth in them.
"Michael got beat up a little bit. He's done a good job. I'll be honest with you, I didn't expect to have Michael back at all this year. That's a tribute to Mike Hanley, [Assistant Athletics Director/Strength & Conditioning] Mike Golden and Michael and how good of shape he was in when he got hurt. He had to have major surgery and did a great job of rehabbing. I'm very proud of Michael and to have him this long.
"I'm not sure how long he'll be gone. I knew it was tough on him. He has been giving us his all. He has gotten 45-55 snaps since he came back. That's pretty tough on him. He'll bounce back. He's a tough kid. He really is."
On Giving Navy An Appropriate Reception
"It's a big day with Military Appreciation Day. My dad was in the 82nd Airborne Division. I have the utmost respect for what our troops are doing.
"We have a great event planned for them here. I saw the helicopters flying around the other day. The kids were looking at them flying around. What a special day it will be Saturday. Those families that have their husbands, sons and daughters fighting for us right now, my prayers, hopes and wishes go out to them. It's a great honor to play Navy.
"Kenny has been there for a while and done a great job. Before we played N.C. State, I mentioned Coach O'Brien calling me after I got the job at East Carolina. Kenny was right after Coach O'Brien. We have known each other through recruiting. I have a lot of respect for their program, what they mean and what the military means. I'm glad we'll be able to honor them here in Greenville and Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium."
On Playing A Nonconference Game After A Tough Conference Loss
"I just play the schedule as it goes. Whatever comes up, you play it. You like to continue conference play so you can see the race, but whoever is next, let's get ready for them. That's my thought process. Whenever it falls, we'll play them.
"We know we have to have our focus and bounce-back hats on this week, which we will. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's practice and I think our players are, too. I'm also looking forward to getting back and finishing watching the rest of the film on Navy."
On Knowing Other C-USA Games Impact East Carolina
"I'm really big on controlling things I can control. We can control how we practice and prepare. If we take care of our business then we can control our destiny. Now we have to wait for somebody else.
"But at the same time, we can't get caught up in that. We have to be totally focused on what we can control. We have to have total focus on Navy this week. That's my job. We have to look at each game from here on out as being the only one. I've said that from the very beginning.
"The overall conference race, we have to make sure we take care of what we have to take care of. You saw what happened in Hattiesburg and South Bend this weekend. Tulsa went up to Notre Dame and won. That tells a lot about our league. I was very proud of Todd Graham. I'm going to send him a note from us congratulating him on the win.
"You also saw what happened with UAB and Southern Miss. That's how this league is from top to bottom. Now, Central Florida goes to Houston Friday. Kevin Sumlin has a good football team, too. That's the competition in this league. There are also great football coaches in this league."