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 UAB. The following are selected comments:
On The Navy Game
“It was a tough game against Navy. They did a great job and executed their offense. It’s a tough offense to prepare for in a week. My hat is off to Navy, [head coach] Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive philosophy. We knew it would be a tough deal for our defense.
“Offensively, I thought we moved the ball well, especially in the first half. The turnovers after the half really put us behind, put Navy in great field position and put our defense in a tough situation. To have four turnovers right after the half was tough.
“I have to do a better job of ball security. We’ll get that done and handled. We started with that last night.
“The kids came back Sunday and had a great practice. We dove right into UAB and game planned all day yesterday. Even yesterday’s meetings were geared toward UAB. Last night was an entire practice about UAB. There was nothing from the previous game. It will be the same thing today.
“The guys are diving into film. I’ve had a chance to watch three games now. There are a lot of games to watch on UAB at this point of the season. We have practice tonight with the short week. Both teams have the short week. We’ll have practice tonight at 9:00 p.m. after labs. We’ll have meetings sprinkled in before then. It’s not quite the meeting times we’re used to, but last night was very beneficial to getting started on UAB.
“I was proud of the kids. They are very resilient and bounced back. I told them in the locker room after the game, ‘This game is on me and you forget about it. I’ll take it.’ I am taking it.
“The kids, as well as the coaches, were told to move on. We’ll get ready for Navy next year when we see them. I’m already looking forward to that game.”
On The Injuries
“We have a lot of kids who are nicked and bruised. Nothing has really changed much. The same guys are going to be out Thursday that were Saturday. It’s the 10th game of the year, so we have some normal nicks and bruises.
“With the short week, I’m hoping to get some guys back a little bit quicker. Dustin Lineback got nicked a little bit during the game. I’m anxious to see if he can go tonight. I’m hoping he can get some work in tonight, but if not we’ll have to try and get him in tomorrow. He’s a tough hombre and if he’s hurt, he’s hurt.
“Dwayne Harris is as tough as they come. He went through practice last night, gingerly, but did a good job. I think he’ll be ready to go Thursday.”
On Keys To The Week
“The mentality among the group, coaches included, last night was fantastic. I’m looking forward to diving into UAB again tonight. The biggest thing this week is to make sure we have great focus. We always have to have good focus, but with the short turnaround, we have to have tremendous focus.
“Also, I’ve asked the kids to come by in their extra time today and tomorrow to put in extra film study. They’ve always studied film, but I’ve asked them to get extra film study and game-plan study in this week. [Offensive coordinator] Lincoln Riley, [defensive coordinator] Brian Mitchell and [special teams coordinator] Clay McGuire are game planning right now. It’s a little tough as the kids have to come by to get those game plans as they’re being put together. I’ve seen them come by, though, so I’m sure they’ll do what I ask of them.”
On Having Two-Straight Losses
“I look at this as a great opportunity for us as a football team. The glass is always half full, and usually more than half full with me. We have the chance to be able to come back after an adverse situation. Saturday was an adverse situation.
“We’ve had two losses in a row, but we’ve been there before. I look at it as a great opportunity. We can show what type of team we are and what we’re made of as a football team.
“There will be some tough things that happen in these kids’ lives. There is always the opportunity to come back from it. I’m really anxious to get started with practice again tonight and to get back into the film. It’s a great opportunity for us as a football team.”
On Continually Improving
“One of the biggest things I talked to the team about for this week is that we have to play 60 minutes and four quarters against UAB. We have to execute properly and make sure we improve as a team. It’s the 10th game of the season, but improvements can still be made. November is left and we still have a chance to finish strong. That’s our goal.”
On UAB’s Offense
“Offensively, UAB has gone through two quarterbacks. Bryan Ellis is the one who led them against Marshall. He has played in eight games and started six. He’ll be the starter Thursday. He can throw the football. He’s not as mobile of a quarterback as a Russell Wilson. He’s more of a thrower, as he attempted 44 passes Saturday.
“They’re a spread offense so you’ll see three and four wide receivers, as well as an empty set. They do some things similar to North Carolina State. For us defensively, it’ll be a little repeat of things we’ve seen before. They do some different route combinations, I’ve noticed, but nothing we can’t handle.
“I know they’ll be well prepared. Neil Callaway was one of my coaches when I was here and he’s the head coach at UAB now. I know he’ll have them ready to go.
“David Isabelle has played a lot and started three games for them this season at quarterback, but he’s the backup guy now. He certainly has playing experience behind him.
“Their running backs are Pat Shed and Daniel Borne. They’re really good football players. They run extremely well and are another pair of backs we’ll face who have great vision. They both do a good job of running down hill and playing behind their pads. We’ll have to do a great job with those guys.
“They have a group of tall receivers. They are all in the 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-2 range. They are athletic and catch the ball well. They really compete for the football when it’s in the air. If you watch them against Tennessee and Mississippi State, they battled.
“UAB really should have won both of those games. They lost to Tennessee by three in double overtime and to Mississippi State by five. Those are the first two games I’ve watched of UAB and their receivers did a great job of competing for the ball. They are going to be really good football players.
“They play with a really good-sized tight end in Jeffery Anderson. I like him on film. He’s a good blocker who is also used in routes. He’s 6-foot-3, 255 pounds.
“On the offensive line, they have some older guys up front. They have good size, good footwork and use good technique. Neil has been an offensive-line guy for life so I know those guys up front will be well coached and technically sound.”
On UAB’s Defense
“They are a multiple defense. You’ll see a lot of different looks. They give you some blitz and odd looks up front, like we saw against Navy. North Carolina State gave us some odd looks, as did Marshall.
“UAB will give us some three-man fronts and blend those with blitzes, man and zone coverage. There will be things we’ve seen before. I know UAB will come up with something new, but it is a short week so they have to bounce back and focus, just like we do.
“Their two top linemen are Bryant Turner, who is 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, and Elliott Henigan, who is 6-foot-4, 275 pounds. Both of those guys are really active up front. Bryant leads the team with five sacks and Elliott has 12 tackles for a loss. Those guys are really quick and get up the field.
“Their top linebacker is sophomore Marvin Burdette, who is 5-foot-11, 230 pounds. He’s had seven tackles for a loss and three sacks so he’s an active guy who plays a lot in all their packages, even the nickel and dime looks.
“At defensive back is T.J. Ballou, a junior college transfer who has three picks, which leads the team. He’s very active and is their best cover guy. They’ll move him around to cover the best receivers. He’ll probably line up against Dwayne or Lance Lewis.
“The other guy on the back end is another junior college transfer, Jamie Bender. He’s really active and athletic. He reminds me a lot of Bradley Jacobs.
“Defensively, they do a great job. They had a tough one against Marshall, but in this league, anything can happen. It did not surprise me that Marshall beat them or that UAB beat Southern Miss in Hattiesburg. After watching UAB against Tennessee and Mississippi State, you can see how they beat Southern Miss.”
On UAB’s Special Teams
“They have solid specialists. Josh Zahn is their kicker. Their punter, Trey Ragland, is averaging 42.1 yards per kick. He kicks the ball very well. I’m not sure if we’ll have Dwayne back there this week or not. We’ll have to see how it goes during the week. If not Dwayne, it will be Travis Simmons and maybe Michael Bowman, but he’s banged up a little bit, too. If Dwayne can do it and feels comfortable, we’ll leave him back there.
“Their returners are Shed and Frantrell Forest. Both of those guys have really good speed, shiftiness and catch the ball well.
“We know we have our hands full. I’m excited about the opportunity and getting ready for UAB. It’s really a blessing that it’s a turnaround game. We don’t have time to think about anything other than UAB.”
On Being Even Keeled And Accomplishing Goals
“You keep a perspective because you have goals you’re reaching for. If you put all your energy into wins and losses, you would have lulls all the time. Within your team you have goals. One of them is to win the football game, but there are other goals you’re shooting for team wise.
“For me, I look at the team from an overall perspective of improvement. I look at individuals and personnel. I watch how our coaches are coaching and teaching. That’s evaluated and they know that. Our coaches are really good teachers. We talk about individual improvement by the players frequently.
“You hear me mention some of our team goals like going to a bowl, finishing Conference USA strong and helping a senior class go out as one of the winningest in school history. We have a lot of things to play for. Brian, Lincoln and Clay also have unit-specific goals each week. Those short-term goals help manage the team a little bit.
“Of course you want to win. I’m probably the worst loser in the world. I’ve had to learn how to deal with that. But at the same time, I know that we’ve reached some goals in there, too. Some may be smaller than others, but they are still goals we’re accomplishing.
“Putting all your energy into wins and losses is when you get caught up in the hype. You have to appreciate the win, but recognize what we need to improve on. Saturday we lost and could have done a lot of things better, but I saw Lee Pegues improve. D.J. Scott, who had a rough two weeks, got better in the game the other day.
“Jonathan Williams had some fumbles, but played hurt the entire game. He hadn’t taken a hit all week. Jonathan came out of the game after his first run, looked me in the eyes and said it hurt. He then went back in the game on the next play. He finished with almost 100 yards rushing.
“There were a lot of things you can hang your hat on. There were a lot of things within the game that helped me. My job is to point them out to the team, which I do on a daily basis. I also tell them I believe in them, which I do. I know they’ve put the work in.
“We have had to make some changes because of injuries here or there, but that’s part of the game. I’ve been in it at the college level for 25 years, which is a long time. I’ve seen about everything. I’ve been down before and seen teams come back. They’re not going to stop the season because we lost a game.
“We have three more regular season games left and potentially a bowl game. You never know what can happen. The glass is always over half full for me. I’m excited about what we can accomplish and finish as a team. My expectations have not been lowered – they are high. They will always be high.
“The staff was here Sunday morning and did just what I told them to do, go right into UAB. They didn’t flinch. Practice last night was as organized with a one-day period to prepare as I’ve ever seen. As a head coach, I’m proud of that.”
On The Running Back Rotation
“Giavanni Ruffin missed practice during the week because he had a death in his family. He didn’t say much about it. He came back Wednesday night and got about five reps Thursday. You hated to put him in the game with everything he had just been through, but we did late.
“We put Michael Dobson in and gave him some reps. You could tell he was a young kid playing. We probably could have worked Norman Whitley in a little bit, but we felt Jonathan was carrying the football well.
“Giavanni is normally the backup guy, but he left Monday night to go to Virginia. We did give Dobson plenty of reps. It was new for him. When I talked to him yesterday, he thought he could have played a lot better. Norman is working hard, but he doesn’t get as many reps in practice. It’s hard to put a guy in the game and hope he can do it without the reps.
“Right now in practice, I don’t go as long, so reps are precious at this point of the year. We don’t have a lot of those reps to divide. Last night we had 36 reps on offense. You have to decide who you’re going to get ready to play. The majority of the reps go to the one and two guys.”
On The Offense’s Ability To Score
“They’re disappointed. They think they should be scoring more. Lincoln does, too. Lincoln felt that way after the UCF and Navy games.
“The one thing in building the staff was that it was constructed on chemistry. Anybody can handle the good times, but when tough times happen, that’s when the integrity of the staff and team is tested. I have been a part of staffs that when things got tough, it divided. Instead of saying ‘us’ and ‘we,’ it became ‘them,’ ‘they,’ ‘you’ and ‘I.’
“When Coach Holland and the board named me, it was important for me, knowing there would be tough times and good times, to get that staff chemistry. There will be a lot of cheering times here, but there will be tough times. During those hard times are when the staff chemistry is very important.
“You’ll see Lincoln and Brian talking all the time. Lincoln apologized to Brian for the four fumbles. Brian wasn’t worried about that, he knows things happen. Brian was as disappointed as anybody in the defense because he works so hard.
“I have veteran guys on my staff who have been in it a long time. The key is that great chemistry. Times are a little tough right now, just like after the Virginia Tech and North Carolina games. We held tough and tight during that time and we will do the same thing now. Those guys are working hard and pulling for one another on all three sides of the ball.
“Offensively, though, to be honest, they felt like they should have scored more points the last two games. They’re not satisfied. I know people think 35 points is a lot, but for us and this offense, that’s not a lot. We expect that.”
On UAB’s Offense Being Similar To ECU’s
“It helps our defense. You can’t get ready for Navy in a week. I was talking to [associate head coach] John Wiley about it yesterday. Last spring, we had to teach the package to them. Even in the fall, we were still teaching a little bit of the package. With a year under our belt, we can spend a day or two in the spring working on unconventional plays we don’t see very often. Not just the option, but the power play and different ways people block in that formation. We face spread teams in Conference USA, but in the ACC, there are teams that run different offenses. With the packages in, we’ll be able to spend more time in the spring and fall focusing on those different offenses.
“For our defense playing spread offenses, we face that every day. They stretch us vertically and horizontally, as well as in the run game with Jonathan and Giavanni. The spread teams we feel very comfortable playing. The defense will have some tweaks they can do versus UAB, but they won’t have too much time to make those changes.
“It’s definitely better than playing Navy on a short week. That would be almost impossible to get ready for them. But the Navy game taught us a lot about ourselves.”
On If Defensive Injuries Will Slow Down The Offensive Pace
“No. We’re going to try and speed it up. It’s not as fast as I want it right now. That’s our deal. We’re a tempo team. We haven’t reached 100 plays a game yet, which is my goal. We won’t slow it down.”
On Coach Callaway And Ruffin McNeill’s Shared Time At East Carolina
“He was in the dorm at that time. For a married coach, that probably wasn’t much fun trying to keep all of us in order.
“Neil was one of the first guys Pat Dye brought up. Neil followed Pat to Auburn. Neil is a really good football coach. He’s as even keeled of a guy as I’ve ever been around. He is a really good recruiter who teaches sound fundamentals. He was raised under the same guy I was raised under in Coach Dye, who got Neil into coaching. You see a lot of Coach Dye’s traits in Neil.
“At this year’s C-USA coaches meeting, I got to spend some time with him. I’m looking forward to seeing him before the game.”