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 SMU. The following are selected comments:
On The Rice Game
“The Rice game was one in which they out-executed us. I thought they did a good job offensively moving the football. They executed well and had a good game plan.
“We had seen the ‘Wildcat’ formation, or ‘Wild Hog’ as some people call it, versus Tulane. They did a good job with it, added some things to it and executed.
“Watching the film, it was just like I said after the game. Defensively, we didn’t get off blocks well and didn’t play a good football game. My hat is off to Rice offensively, they did a really good job.
“I thought our offense moved the ball well. We had a couple of picks where I thought we maybe tried to get a score back too quickly. [Quarterback] Dominique Davis maybe forced it a little bit. But, we did some things and took advantage of some things Rice was doing defensively. I was pleased with them except for the two interceptions. [Offensive coordinator] Lincoln [Riley] feels the same way about the interceptions and like they could have played better. From my point of view, I thought they did a good job. We just need to get the ball back to them a little bit more.
“Special teams were very solid. We got one good kickoff return out to the 35-yard line. I thought they did another solid job for us.
“It was a game where I thought we prepared well last week. I knew we prepared well; we had great practices. I thought the kids practiced well and that we had a good game plan going in. My hat is off to Rice. They did a better job and deserved to win. They beat us down there at their place.”
On SMU’s Offense
“SMU is a team that is still competing for the Conference USA West Division title. They have a really good football team. Kyle Padron is a good quarterback who we have known about for a while. He’s one of the top quarterbacks in the league. He is throwing the ball well and really has a handle on [head coach] June Jones’ offense. He really understands where to deliver the ball and how to get rid of it. He does a good job leading them.
“What June has added to it, which he had a little bit at Hawai’i when I faced him out there, is a running back. Zach Line is one of the top backs in the league. He has almost 1,200 yards rushing and has eight touchdowns. He’s a really good running back. He is 6-foot-1, 235 pounds and has good speed and vision. They do a good job blocking for him on the run and getting him touches. They use him a lot on screen passes, too. He only has 13 receptions, but they are all highly effective.
“The wide receivers, which June has always had wherever he has been, are led by Aldrick Robinson. He’s 5-foot-10, 178 pounds and will be an outside guy. He really catches the football and leads them in receiving yards. He has over 1,000 yards this season. The top reception guy is Cole Beasley. He’s an inside guy, like our ‘H’ or ‘Y’ here, and probably most like Michael Bowman. Beasley catches the ball well, has 70 receptions this season and does a good job getting open. He’s a release valve for Padron. Darius Johnson is another receiver who we have to be aware of. They’re all in the 5-foot-10, 170 pound range and do a good job catching the ball.
“Their offensive line is experienced. They are all juniors who do a good job in this offense. I remember when June first took over, that was a spot he was worried about, but felt good with the guys he had. I can see why on film. They do a good job. They have given up some sacks, but overall they do a good job.
“They throw the football like we do. June has also added a tight end a little bit more than he had in the past with Patrick Fleming. He has helped them advance the offense a little bit. He’s 6-foot-4, 242 pounds. They use him a lot in formations, which is different from the Run & Shoot June used to run. Offensively, they pose a big threat for us.”
On SMU’s Defense
“They do a lot of things on defense. They blitz, change looks and blend really well up front and on the back end in coverage. Marquis Frazier is the top defensive lineman. Taylor Thompson is their other top lineman. They’re both very active and do a good job getting after the passer. They are moved around a lot with stunts and do a good job. We have to be very aware of those two guys up front on our offensive line.
“Linebackers are really the strength of the defense with Taylor Reed and Ja’Gared Davis. They’re both young kids who are solid players. Taylor is 5-foot-11, 215 pounds while Ja’Gared is 6-foot-1, 216 pounds. They’re both among the top four on the team in tackles. Taylor leads the team with 111 and is very active.
“In the secondary, Chris Banjo is really athletic at safety. He was a linebacker in high school who I remember recruiting. He’s very fast and physical. Sterling Moore is a cornerback who is 5-foot-10, 204 pounds. He’s the best corner on the team and has two interceptions. He has good speed and strength and does a good job for them.”
On SMU’s Special Teams
“Matt Szymanski is the punter and is averaging 41 yards per punt, close to what Ben Ryan is doing for us. Matt is very solid. The kickoff return guys are Darryl Fields and Kenneth Acker. The punt returners are Darius Johnson, who is also a receiver, and Richard Crawford. They do a good job on special teams.”
On Preparing For SMU
“We have to have a great week of practice. A character week is how I’ve termed it. We’re playing a very, very good football team. They have a lot of season left in their minds. They are bowl eligible, had a really solid game against Marshall and moved the ball well.
“It’s a short week and we know we have to have great preparation. We have to be smart and make sure we get quality work in and not as much time on the field with preparing for a really tough game against SMU Friday.”
On The Defensive Alignment And Injuries
“We’re lining up in the right spots, we just have to be physical and talented enough to get off blocks and make plays. There is no magical defense. You can have some plays where you have a guy come free, but a lot of times it boils down to beating the guy in front of you and getting off the block.
“Losing Justin Dixon, Michael Brooks and Marke Powell is tough. I’m not going to lie, those are our three best defensive linemen. Josh Smith, who is one of the best, is playing his tail off right now. I can’t hide it; we lost three of our best defensive players. We can’t replace them. Those injuries hurt.
“Overall, it’s not anything about our guys lining up in the wrong places. We’re playing a base defense, something they can handle. The biggest thing I’ve asked of them is to have clear minds and fast legs. They’re not mixed up. They know exactly what to do. We haven’t overloaded them. It comes to a point where you have to beat the guy in front of you and make a play.
“You certainly miss those guys with injuries, they were three of our best linemen. Hopefully we’ll get them back by the spring, but that may be cutting it close. I might not get those guys back until fall camp.”
On How To Improve The Defense
“We have to get their confidence back first of all. It starts with that. I only know one way and that’s to keep working. There’s no substitute for that. We’re not going to be able to invent anything between now and Friday. We have to make sure we get their confidence back first.
“I want them to stay simple. I don’t want them to try and add anything on defense. I want them to know exactly where to line up, which they do. It wasn’t anything to do with missed alignments. We just have to keep working on fundamentals.
“We’re not going to go out there and be too physical with them as Friday will be here before you know it. It’s a short week so we have to be smart with that. We’ll keep working. The kids did a great job last night. We had a great week last week. I was very pleased with it.
“Last night the kids came out and were flying around. The coaches were getting after them and working. We’ll stay the course. We’ll get them their confidence back and keep fighting.”
On Potential Offense-Defense Issues
“It starts up top. In our staff room, there is no finger pointing going on. The first thing [defensive coordinator] Brian [Mitchell] did was say something to Lincoln. The first thing Lincoln did was say something to Brian. It starts with me. I’m not that way, I’m not going to allow it to happen and it hasn’t been a problem.
“Within the staff, we have great chemistry. As I mentioned last week, that’s one of the reasons why we’re effective. It’s about the staff chemistry and making sure you have the right guys up there. If everybody is undefeated every year you wouldn’t have those problems, but there is going to be some adversity. The staff chemistry is very important.
“The kids have a lot of pride, too. Going into fall camp, an issue that was big for me was making sure we designated the right leaders. Those leaders, offensively and defensively, are together. Josh and Dwayne Harris came by. They’re ready to go. Jonathan Williams and Willie Smith also stopped in. Dominique always comes by for a minute. Those guys are our leaders and they’re not doing anything like that.
“It starts with me and the type of environment I've created and will create as long as I’m here. Everybody antes up and puts in. There is no one play or player that will ever win or lose a game. I’ve been in it a long time and there is a series or group of plays the game turns on. Sometimes there are four, five or six plays in a game that determine the outcome.
“Chemistry is something I’ve always started with when selecting a staff. As a football team, we all put in the same amount, ante up and work. We all win and we all lose. There is no one play. Sometimes people say it was a field goal that lost the game. It wasn’t the field goal that lost the game. If other plays were made in the game, it wouldn’t have come down to the field goal. That’s what I believe.”
On Senior Day
“I think we were picked to maybe win two games by some people. I didn’t think that way. These seniors have done everything I’ve asked. They work hard and really care about being successful. I want to send them out on the right note. I know leaving here on the right note was very important to me. That has been mentioned many times. I’m looking forward to preparing for it this week.
“We’ll be losing some guys who have had great careers and some who have had adversity. Some have had some tough things happen to them. They’re bouncing back, hanging in there and progressing as men. You have some guys who have been around the program for a while and have played a lot of games and snaps. Others have not played a lot.
“Either way, their reps are running short. I want them to enjoy this journey and enjoy today, tomorrow and Friday.”
On Ty Holmes’ Playing Time
“Melvin Patterson got a stinger and we’re trying to get Ty Holmes there. Ty had practiced well. He is still a young player who has to keep learning.”
On The Goal For This Week
“We need to make sure we prepare well and keep the team focused and fresh. We’ll have shorter practices, starting tonight. We have to get our work, meetings and practices done quickly. We have to get them on and off the field.
“Tuesday will be a normal day for us. Wednesday morning we’ll get some work done so the guys who are not dressing for Friday’s game can take off and go home. Thursday will be a normal day before a game. We have to get them prepared and make sure we keep our eyes on the prize. We have some things to play for, too.
“Watching the game film from SMU last year, it’s amazing how quickly you can forget. I saw Linval Joseph, Scotty Robinson and C.J. Wilson lined up on defense. They’re not there anymore and they’re pretty good football players. If you have those guys up front, that makes it a lot easier. Watching that game last year was a little bit different. I’d like to have those guys back, but I can’t.
“We have to get the guys we have ready for SMU and the bowl game.”
On The Character Of His Team
“They have been in tough times and hung in there. We have guys who fight, keep fighting and don’t give up. Leaving last night after that tough loss, you saw a lot of enthusiasm out of them. I like our team. We’ll bounce back and get up fighting.
“There are life lessons that happen in coaching. Getting knocked down and getting up is one of them. Staying the course and believing in one another is a second. I feel good about the character of this team.
“Everything starts with me. I relish the challenge to prepare for this week against SMU. I’m not afraid of that; I’m looking forward to it.”
On The Possibility Of Winning The Conference USA East Division
“What’s being discussed is making sure we have a good practice tonight and tomorrow. They’ll read it and hear it, but what I’m focused on is having a really good practice tonight. Let’s get through the next two days with good sessions.
“I’ve also discussed making sure we have a great day for the seniors. I’ve talked about this being a character week. We got knocked down and have to get up again. That’s what my approach is. How we’re going to do that is to have a very short and crisp practice tonight. I’m not looking to Tuesday until we finish with a great Monday.
“I talked about doing your best today and preparing well so the seniors can go out on the right note.”
On Learning From The Short Week Before The UAB Game
“I learned the best ways to approach tonight and the Monday practice. This is a little bit of a longer week and tonight we’ll go in helmets in jerseys. I have to take the pads off them a little bit. We’ll get pad work tomorrow.
“I thought we had a good plan the UAB week. We backed off time wise and thought quality as a coaching staff. That’s how I’m approaching it.”
On What He’s Thankful For This Thanksgiving
“I’m thankful for being here first of all. I’m thankful for this football team, being back in Greenville and having the chance to come back. I’m thankful for the group of coaches I work with. They are great people and coaches who work hard. They don’t ask for anything, they just work. I like that about them.
“I like our kids. They’ve been a group that has accepted a new coach and staff very quickly. Those guys have stayed the course, even through some tough times. If you would have seen them come out of the office today and the looks in their eyes, they’re ready to go. I’m thankful for that.
“We’ll have a Thanksgiving meal Wednesday that I’m looking forward to. Erlene has fed the team most of the time. It’s usually about 40-50 kids over.”
On Dominique Davis’ Shoulder
“It’s a little sore after taking a couple good shots on it Saturday, but he took the reps last night and moved around. He’s a tough kid. He’ll be fine and bounce back.”