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 UCF. The following are selected comments:
On The Marshall Win
“After watching the game film from Marshall, it was what we mentioned Saturday in the post-game press conference. It was a grinding first half. In the second half, I thought we came out and the kids were more methodical.
“I thought we had a great week of practice leading into the Marshall game. The Tuesday and Wednesday practices going into the game were really ahead of schedule. They were enthusiastic and I thought the execution was great. I thought our focus was there. Then Thursday, the mental and sharpening day, Friday and Saturday morning were great, too.
“During the game, I thought the plan was there and the kids were focused. The coaches did a great job of preparation. We knew we would face a Marshall team that had its back against the wall, like a few teams we’ve played this year, and had a week-and-a-half to prepare. I’ve mentioned before the respect I have for Doc Holliday. He is a really fine football coach. I knew he would have his guys ready to play. He’s doing the same thing we’re doing here, trying to install his personality, pillars and values into his team.
“Marshall did a good job. They came out and did some different things on defense that they had not done before. They did what we call a ‘zero blitz,’ meaning they did not have a free guy to help. They did more of that than anybody else had done against our offense. Marshall also went to more of what we call ‘three-man’ or ‘odd-front’ lines, blitzing and using variations of blitzes with man coverage behind. They did that more than anybody else had done. It was a good test for us since they had not shown those looks on film. I thought the offensive line and our coaches did a really good job of adjusting.
“Defensively, we faced a Marshall team that had not gone empty, meaning no running backs, before. During the game, they went empty a lot. Reading some of the comments by their players, they were happy they went to empty sets. The quarterbacks were especially happy. Marshall had not done that much before, though. They had used one or two sprinkles of empty formations, but they did more of that against our defense. Our defense did a great job of adjusting. Our special teams were solid as always.
“I was very pleased with the way our kids stayed the course. I keep mentioning the word grinding. With the development of our team, there are some games you just have to grind out. Some teams are able to do that. Other teams tend to get a little impatient during that grind, so I was glad we didn’t.
“We were able to move the ball, but Marshall did a good job stopping us a few times. We were able to maneuver, however, and got a couple touchdowns and field goals. Especially right before the end of the first half when we were able to score a touchdown, get a turnover on defense and get a field goal. That was big.
“Coming out of the half offensively, we drove down to get another score that made it a 17-point swing. That helped give us momentum, leading us to victory.
“I was very proud of our offensive guys for staying the course and not getting too impatient. I was very proud of the run game. The offensive line did a great job of blocking. Jonathan Williams and Giavanni Ruffin were, of course, selfless. I feel very blessed to have those two guys. Those guys are unselfish and block for one another. The running game got established Saturday.
“Defensively, the improvement is steady. I’m proud of those guys and what they’re doing, as well as the coaches. I have been the entire time. The kids are just growing and listening. They’re really doing a good job of doing their job. It sounds simple, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. They’re being very gap-sound, which is helping with the run defense. They also did a good job creating turnovers Saturday. It always helps if we can get the ball out and give it to our offense.
“To be able to win a game after an emotional game against N.C. State is big for the development of the team. A lot of teams can’t grind out a win like that. There might be an emotional hangover. I’m very proud of our team developing that ability to push through. We have individual tool boxes that we use during games, but also a team tool box. To win a game like we did the other night against Marshall after a big win, in the manner we won, helps build that team tool box. A lot of teams can’t grind it out. They become impatient. I made sure the team knew how proud I was of them for that. I’ll take another grind-out win this week if that’s what it takes.”
On Playing At Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
“It was again great to play at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Saturday. It was another sold-out crowd. In two weeks, we’ve had the two largest crowds in stadium history and had 100,000-plus fans. What a blessing that is to be able to come home to that venue. I really appreciate our fans for that. I know our players do, too.
“That was a team win and it was great to get another win in a Conference USA game over an East Division opponent.”
On UCF’s Team
“The 24-hour rule is in effect and we have moved on to Central Florida. They have a really, really, good football team. Coach O’Leary has been in it a long time, a lot longer than I have. He’s a great guy to be around during meetings and the Conference USA Media Day. He has a great team from top to bottom in each phase -- offensively, defensively and on special teams.”
On UCF’s Offense
“Offensively, they lost quarterback Rob Calabrese for the year. Calabrese rotated with Jeff Godfrey, who is now getting the majority of the reps. Godfrey is a youngster by class only. He plays with maturity. He’s definitely a dual-threat quarterback, like we’ve faced a number of times this year.
“Godfrey runs the football extremely well, with great quickness and vision. He understands the quarterback designed runs and also has a great, sharp arm. He’s very accurate and is able to read coverages. He does a great job orchestrating their offense.
“They are able to spread it like everybody does on offense, but they also go to a two-tight end set. Occasionally, they incorporate an ‘H’ back in there, too. Godfrey will be the quarterback and we’ll have to be very aware of him.
“At running back, they have a committee and play a plethora of guys. Ronnie Weaver is the one who starts off and he’s a really solid running back. He does a lot of good things. He really runs well and catches the ball extremely well. They will also play Jonathan Davis, Brendan Kelly and Latavius Murray. You’ll see possibly four running backs Saturday. They have a committee to be sure. They’re all really good players who do a good job and share the load.
“The wide receivers have what I call that ‘Floridian speed.’ They have a lot of guys who can really run. Brian Watters is the top one. He’s another rangy receiver at 6-foot-2, 197 pounds. He has great speed and hands. Kamar Aiken and A.J. Guyton are active and do a great job. Those guys are all seniors or redshirt juniors who have been around the program and under Coach O’Leary’s watch.
“Another guy who is listed at wide receiver is Quincy McDuffie, who has great speed. McDuffie is a great return guy, but he will also line up at receiver. He’s returned two touchdowns in his career, one already this year. They’ll use him at wide receiver to try and find ways to get him the ball offensively.
“Their tight ends in Adam Nissley and Willie Gaetjens are big and huge. They do a great job and get used a lot. Ricky Kay is an ‘H’ back who they use in a fullback-type spot.
“The offensive line is very strong and physical up front. They have a Conference USA selection from last year and probable All-America pick in Jah Reid, who is 6-foot-7, 326 pounds at right tackle. Their whole line is very physical. They do a great job zone blocking and pass protecting.
“Overall, they have a really fine offensive unit. They do a great job moving the football and really take advantage of Godfrey’s and their wide receivers’ abilities.”
On UCF’s Defense
“Everybody knows about Central Florida’s defense. I really am impressed with those guys. You mention some individuals, but they play really, really good team defense. They’re an experienced group, led up front by Bruce Miller. He’s a great young man who I met at C-USA’s Media Day. He’s a preseason All-America who gets a lot of the headlines and deservedly so. He’s a great pass rusher and technician who really uses his hands well. He has a really active motor and plays as hard as anybody we’ve faced. He has three sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss this season.
“Darius Nall is their leading sack guy. He’s 6-foot-3, 254 pounds and has great speed. They move him around when it’s passing time. Those guys all have great speed and do a good job getting after the quarterback.
“The linebackers are Derrick Hallman and Josh Linam. They’re big kids at 6-foot-0 and 6-foot-3, respectively. They blitz at times. They play base because they can get four-man pressure with the line, but when they blitz, they’re effective. Josh already has four tackles for a loss.
“In the secondary, I like the guys they have back there. Kemal Ishmael is a sophomore and leads the whole team in tackling. He is a great athlete who has great vision and a nose for the football. Reggie Weams is a senior and the team leader in interceptions with two.”
On UCF’s Special Teams
“I mention special teams because I think that’s another area in which they do a good job. That’s why I call them an all-around team from top to bottom. With the returners, McDuffie has great speed. We have to be aware of him in the kicking game and do a great job corralling him. Jamar Newsome has had a 70-yard return already this season. Guyton is another guy they use for punt returns. He is quick and averaging 11 yards per return, which is excellent, getting more than a first down each return. The kickers, Nick Cattoi and Blake Clingan, are very solid. They do a great job. Clingan averages 40.4 yards per punt and Cattoi has a solid leg up front.”
On Preparing To Play UCF
“We know we have our work cut out for us. I’m anxious to get to work and prepare for Central Florida. We started last night. The focus of our team is one game a week. It has been since day one.
“We know we’re going into an environment where they’ll be waiting for us. We’re looking forward to going down there. It’ll be a great challenge for us, but also a great opportunity. We know it’s a conference game and rival. It’s another Eastern Division opponent. We have to be ready to go. I respect Central Florida and know that Coach O’Leary and his staff will have those guys ready to go. I’m looking forward to the game and to continue our team’s development.”
On His Team’s Defensive Improvement
“With offenses today, I had to learn this in the Big 12, you can’t really get caught up in the stats too much with the league we play in. You’d lose a lot of confidence if you did. Everybody is able to move the ball.
“But I’m pleased with their progress, really since the first three quarters of the North Carolina game. They showed a lot of improvement during that game. We gave up a pick six, but it was 21-17 defensively going into the fourth quarter at Carolina. In the fourth quarter we didn’t play well, but I started seeing the improvement during that game.
“Against Southern Miss, North Carolina State and last week against Marshall, I’ve seen continued improvement. Those guys are growing. It takes time. I keep saying it, but the only way they’ll learn how to do it is to go through it and experience it. You learn by repeat experiences. That’s the only way I know how to see improvement. A guy uses that technique and then has to use it again and again in those same situations. That’s when you start seeing him getting better.
“The next thing on defense is trusting one another. Not that they didn’t before, but sometimes, instead of taking care of their own job, they would try and do something extra. That’s where the gaps or seams may happen. I’ve really seen that improvement.
“The fundamental confidence is coming along, too. Brian Mitchell, John Wiley, Duane Price and Marc Yellock have been steadfast and hard working all along. I believe in those guys. Those guys are coaching hard, getting after them and doing a great job. I’m really pleased with them.”
On The East Division Implications Of The UCF Game
“For our guys, and for me, the biggest game of the week last week was Marshall. That’s how we looked at. This is a big game. I won’t hide it from them. But it’s also the next game. Everybody thinks that it’s coaching rhetoric, but it’s not. It’s what I believe in. Every game is a big one because it’s the only one you play this week. You get one shot.
“We have a lot of respect for Central Florida. We know it’s an East Division foe. It’s part of the Conference USA championship race. It’ll be big for that reason alone. The one thing we have to focus on, which our kids have done a really good job of, is the task at hand.
“We tell them it’s not just about the game as a whole, but let’s focus on making sure we play each play one at a time. Central Florida will be one of the best teams we’ll play. I mentioned that about North Carolina State, and Central Florida is in that same realm. Offensively, defensively and on special teams, they’re as strong across the board as anybody we’ll play. We know we’ll have our hands full there. I’m hoping with our own improvements that we’ll provide a handful for them, too.
“Our kids are sometimes a lot smarter than the coaches. They understand what’s coming up and what our goals are. I’ve also made them understand that I’m not worried about the end of the journey. Sometimes we get caught up in the end of it. The journey is right now. The war is the whole season, the battles are within the season. Central Florida will be another battle. We have to have a great week of preparation and improvement in fundamentals.
“We’re really focusing on improving our fundamentals this week. A lot of people neglect them this part of the season. We won’t. My feelings on fundamentals are the same as they were in camp.
“I also talked to the team last night about making routine plays. Some things we could have done better Saturday were make routine catches, tackles, blocks and throws. Our preparation focus for Central Florida will be on ourselves and making sure we improve and focus on the task at hand. Within this game, we’ll break it down into plays and make sure we get ready for that first kickoff, offensive play and defensive play.”
On What Makes UCF’s Defense Special
“They do a great job of being able to get four-man pressure and defend with seven. They also have the ability to blitz. They have an experienced front line. You talk about the All-America in Bruce Miller, but they have a lot of guys around him.
“Their linebackers have the ability and quickness to cover. You can use them in pass coverage. They’re not necessarily a big sub team to get to extra-defensive-back packages. Their front has been able to create pressure or sacks on opposing quarterbacks, letting them defend with seven.
“They’re a zone team. We call it a quarters look. They’re a zone team because they’re able to get the four-man pressure. A lot of times, teams change when they face us. It’s always been that way with this offense.
“UCF has a lot of confidence in what they do. They have experienced defensive players and systems. They believe in their system and it is sound. They do a good job blending coverages and front stunts.
“For our offense, we have to make sure we establish the running game first of all, like we did the other day. But also, we have to do what we do. We throw the football for a living, not for a hobby.”
On Receiving Votes In The National Polls
“I couldn’t tell you. I don’t read that part of the paper. That’s good for our boys and the team. I appreciate that. I think our boys deserve it. They work hard and I’m very proud of them. I’m for anything that gives those guys praise. It also helps our university when we’re mentioned in those polls.”
On Being Able To Play Many Reserves Saturday
“I’ll always take winning by one and backing out of there. They never ask how, they only ask how many. But it was good to be able to get some No. 2 guys in there and get in some work with them. Those guys work hard, too, and they practice hard. They’ve been focused. You could tell they were ready to go in.
“Our kids on the sideline were cheering for them. Dominique Davis was cheering for Brad Wornick. When Torrance Hunt caught his pass, the sideline was happy for him. Jonathan and Giavanni were cheering on Michael Dobson and Norman Whitley. The team was excited for T.J. Terrell catching a pass. We also had a chance to play Jordan Davis and Will Simmons on the offensive line.
“Defensively, Ty Holmes and Cliff Perryman got some work. That was really big. It was good to get a chance for them to play, especially in front of the home crowd. That was special.”
On Will Towery
“He just has some personal issues at home right now. We love Will and he’s welcome back when he gets through dealing with that. I’m looking forward to getting him back. The kids are, too.”
On Dominique Davis Playing Back Home In Florida
“Dominique has been great to be around. I wonder how he was as a true freshman seeing how he is now. What makes him special to me is that his teammates think the world of him. We vote on captains each week and we will never have permanent captains as long as I’m here. I think the team should vote on captains each week. We have voted seven times and Dominique has been selected five. The other two times he was in the top percent of the votes. His teammates love him to death.
“He’s just a great leader who is very humble and would rather give credit to the whole team. He does all the interview requests that are asked of him, but I think he would rather hand them off to an offensive lineman or a receiver that might not get as much credit. That’s a tribute to him and his parents. He has a home with a great mother and father. I’m glad he’s on our team. I keep saying that, but it’s true.
“He’s probably doing some negotiating with his teammates right now for tickets this weekend. He’s saying, ‘I’ll give you my Navy tickets for your UCF tickets.’ I’m sure his teammates will help him out. They have a way of doing that. You can share tickets within the team and I’m sure those guys will help him. He’ll have plenty.”
On Hard Hits To Dwayne Harris This Season
“Dwayne and I talk a lot. It’s not always about football, but about life, too. He comes into my office, sits down and we talk. What a great young man.
“I was worried Saturday. The football part I love, but I wasn’t worried about football with him. I was just hoping he was alright. He’s a good person. He has a good spirit about him. What’s inside of a person comes out of a person.
“He’s a grown man on the field. He’s an NFL and next-level guy. He’s a big-time player in any league at any time. He is as beat up as anybody after the game but finds a way to get ready. He does not miss practice or reps. We have to hold him back.
“He talks to the team every Friday night. He’s the last one I let talk to the team. Without a doubt, when he talks, they all listen. He says to count on him giving all he has. Dwayne is a special guy. It’s a blessing for me to have the opportunity to be around him just this one year. I’m going to cherish each second with him because you don’t get many guys like that to come around. Not the football part, but the total part. He’s a good person.
“He’s our leader. He does it in a different way. He’s not vocal, but he leads by his work ethic and play. He’s one of the most unselfish guys I’ve ever been around. We had a great one at Texas Tech in Michael Crabtree, who is now playing for the San Francisco 49ers. Crabtree was as humble as Dwayne, but Dwayne is the most devastating blocker for his teammates I’ve ever seen.
“Dwayne is one of the best receivers in the country. If you ask me why, I faced some of the best in the country being a coordinator to the Big 12 with Dez Bryant and all those guys. But Dwayne Harris is big time.
“He’s always 100 percent for practice. He’s as tough as leather. I was looking for him last night and he was over with the receivers in the meeting. He’s ready to go. Lincoln, Donnie Kirkpatrick and Dennis Simmons have done a good job monitoring him during the game because he’s on everything. We sub him with Justin Jones and sometimes with Jonathan Williams on a kickoff return to give him some rest. Dwayne will be ready to go Saturday, though.”