GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina University Head Coach Skip Holtz addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against Virginia. The following are selected comments:
On The Bye Week:
"This open date was very needed. It has been a very emotional September, obviously, with all the highs and lows that we've been through as a program. I think it was great to give these players, coaches and everybody an opportunity to get away and get their feet up under them a little bit. From a mental standpoint as well as a physical standpoint, it gave everybody the opportunity to kind of recharge their batteries.
"It has also given us an opportunity, as a staff, to evaluate where we are from a scheme, play-calling and personnel standpoint. We were really able to evaluate ourselves on offense, defense and the kicking game after five games. It was an opportunity to not only catch your breath, but to evaluate yourself with where you are. I think it has been an extremely productive open date and off-week."
On The Offense:
"Offensively there are some things, obviously, we need to improve on with where we are right now. The biggest key right now is third down, which is probably our Achilles heel. We have not been very efficient on third down and if you go back and look at the calls and what we're trying to do. Has it been personnel breakdowns? Has it been what we're doing from a scheme standpoint and what different people are trying to do? But third down is one area where we have to improve if we're going to go forward.
"The other area is from an explosive play standpoint. We don't have the `big-play' player right now that we had last year in Chris Johnson. We're having to take the ball and methodically drive it down the field, and when you're not very good on third down, that doesn't bode very well for being offensively productive. Those are the two main areas that we really need to take a hard look at."
On The Defense:
"On defense we've done some really good things through the first five games of the season. We're not nearly as consistent as we need to be. The old adage of `if you're only as good as your last game,' than right now we're not very good on either side of the ball.
"We've got to turn and look at what we're doing on 1st-and-10. We find that we are much more efficient when we can win on first down and keep them under four yards. We've got to look at our calls and evaluate what we're doing and 1st-and-10. We call it `P and 10,' the possession downs, and we need to be able to put them in a second and long situation. When we have an opponent in second and long, our success rate on defense goes way up.
"The other thing is we have to be able to eliminate the big pass play. The big run plays have not necessarily been our Achilles heel. When you say the big pass play, everybody immediately talks about the secondary, but it's as much our linebackers at that point as it is our secondary. As far as giving up some plays underneath that turn into big plays, those are things we have to sure up as a defense. We might even look to play more nickel coverage and doing some different things so we can get more defensive backs on the field."
On The Kicking Game:
"I've been really pleased with the progress of the punt and punt return. I think those have continually improved as the year has gone on and we've gotten better in those two areas. I think Matt Dodge has really started to come along and come of age as a punter. He's doing a nice job with it.
"Our kickoff and kickoff returns have to improve. If you've noticed, lately we've been trying to do protect our kickoff team with squibs and pooches. We're trying to think outside the box a little bit to protect them so we're not giving up big returns. We've got to turn and sure up both of those as we continue to move on.
"In the kicking game, having Ben Hartman back has been a big asset and plus for us as we're trying to move forward. Ben has done a nice job in the kicking game."
On The Team Overall:
"We've looked at this as a five-week season, a two-week season and another five-week season. You sit down and you look at where we are right now and we're 3-2; we cannot change that. We are where we are. But I think we can certainly grow and learn from it.
"As we've sat down and looked at it, we've looked at personnel. We're not having as much consistency as we need to have in some key areas and positions. Is that because of our fast start? Is that because of going from playing a ranked team to an unranked team? Is it because of the focus? There are a lot of variables that we've tried to look at, but we've got to turn and become more consistent in our play.
"I've said this before, but in order for us to be a great football team, our seniors have to play the best football of their careers. We've just got to get more consistent play out of some upper classmen who are stepping on the field. I think some guys right now are holding down a position on both sides of the ball, whether it is because they have a lot of starts next to their name or they're a senior. If they're not performing at a certain level, then we need to open the position and evaluate guys. There are a lot of positions right now where a lot of competition is going back on. I think it's easy when somebody is playing real well, to tell an underclassman that he's not playing because he's not playing at the same level. But when you're not getting that type of performance out of some of your upperclassmen, it's hard to look your underclassmen in the eyes and explain to them why they're not getting an opportunity.
"I think you're going to start to see some more competition going on. This is a game of productivity; you've got to reward the people who are productive. If not, than we've got to give the underclassmen an opportunity to step on the field and do that. I don't think we can stay status quo when things aren't working. You've got to sit down, look at it, evaluate it, turn and try to fix it. We've got some scheme, play-calling and personnel things we've got to look at as a staff as we get into this week and as we get ready for Virginia.
"This is a new season, a two-week season. This team has had a number of days off. They had last Monday, Friday and Saturday off and they have another academic day today. They've really had four of the last eight days off, so they have had an opportunity to recharge their batteries.
"We went out last night and had a practice in pads. I thought they were very spirited and I was pleased with the way they came back. I think there's a fine line between getting fresh and getting rusty. We've got to make sure that, even though we're giving them some time off, that we go out there and go hard. I was really pleased with the way they responded to it last night.
"Virginia is going to be a phenomenal challenge for us right now as a football team. Virginia is 2-3 and coming off a big win against Maryland, who was 4-1 going into that game. Maryland had just come off a huge win at Clemson and walked into Virginia and got beat 31-0, rather soundly.
"When you look at Virginia at home, I think they are a totally different team than they have been on the road. They are 2-1 at home with their two wins being shutouts. They are playing excellent defense right now. Their only loss at home was to Southern Cal and their two road losses occurred at Connecticut and at Duke. When you look at it, they went through a quarterback change and his first two starts were at Connecticut and at Duke. Since then, he has played extremely well. He was 25-34 for 226 yards last week and has managed the game extremely well for them.
"I think this is a different football team than it was three weeks ago and knowing that we have to go play them at home will present a great challenge for us."
On Virginia's Offense:
"You talk about the solid play of their quarterback and how he's managing the game for them right now. Their offensive line, and football team as a whole, is huge; they're all 6'7," 6'6," and 6'5." Their kicker is 6'5" and their punter is 6'6." I think they've got great height, range and athleticism. Coach Groh, with his NFL experience and background, has utilized that height/weight requirement. They've had some great recruiting classes.
"I think both their right and left tackles are excellent. They're getting very consistent play on the edges and the quarterback is managing the game. They've got two very good running backs. Cedric Peerman has really stepped up the last few weeks and has done a great job. Kevin Ogletree is a big-play threat any time he touches the ball. His compliment on the other side, Maurice Covington, is 6'4" and 225 pounds. They're very big and athletic.
"I think they're a very good football team who had two losses come in the middle of the year, both on the road. I think you could give most of it to what they were going through at the quarterback situation and their turnovers than anything else. Now that they're managing the game and doing a much better job, I think they're a very dangerous football team offensively, which can obviously score a lot of points.
On Virginia's Defense:
"I think the strength of their defense is their linebackers, who all three are seniors. Clint Sintim, the outside linebacker, is leading the country in sacks as a linebacker and doubles as a defensive end in third down situations.
"They give you a very different scheme from most everybody else. They play a three-down line front on most play downs, but then go to a four-down line front with a nickel scheme. They put speed guys in and put linebackers at their defensive end and come rushing hard off the corners.
"But on their every down defense, their two defensive ends are both 6'7" and around 275 pounds. They're big, physical, hold two gaps, do what they do very well and give their linebackers an opportunity to run around and make plays. When you Antonio Appleby, Sintim and Matt Leemhuis, they've all been starters for a number of years and are all very active at the linebacker level.
"In the secondary they're very physical. I think Ras-I Dowling is probably one of their better players, Byron Glaspy is their third-leading tackler and Vic Hall is their punt returner. Hall is only 5'9" in the secondary, but is one of their most active players. They are very physical as a group and they're a very good football team.
"I think this is going to be one heck of a challenge, not only to get things back on track after N.C. State and Houston, but also to go up there and play a very good Virginia football team at Virginia is going to be a heck of a challenge for our program and our players. I think our players understand the challenge we have and understand the level of play that we have to get to if we want to go up there and be competitive."
"The open date brought a couple of players back for us. T. J. Lee is back practicing with us and started last night. Marcus Hands is also back with us after missing last week due to back spasms in his lower back.
"The people still out are Stanley Bryant, Dominique Lindsay, Taylor Mazzone, who separated his shoulder in the jayvee game, Quinton Cotton and Matt Thompson. Leon Best and Kevin Gidrey are questionable at this point.
"That injury report has gone from about 24 guys on it being questionable, doubtful or restricted in some way, shape or form in order to get through practice to everybody having the opportunity to go out there and practice and get the work we need in order to get ready for the game."
On ECU's Young Linebackers:
"We have gone a little bit more to a nickel package to try and help with the inexperience we have there. Pierre Bell and Nick Johnson have really played consistent, solid football for us through the first five games. They are doing a lot of good things. It's just the depth that we're missing there.
"One of the personnel things we've looked at is the possibility of taking Chris Mattocks and making him a nickel linebacker. That gives us an older guy who we can move there, closer to the ball, where he doesn't have to play every play.
"The jayvee game was very good for Cliff Perryman because it gave him the opportunity to play for 50 snaps. The game was very productive and it gave him some confidence and it gave Coach Hudson some confidence to put him in the game and seeing how he's going to respond. He and Melvin Patterson are two of the guys we have talked about that have earned that opportunity and deserve the right to get in there and play, especially when some of the people ahead of them may not be grading out a winner.
"Again, moving Mattocks to linebacker for our nickel front will turn and help us as well. As we talked about, some of the issues in the passing game were not only in the secondary, but also at linebacker and where they fit into coverage. Mattocks has a great understanding of that."
On The Importance Of The Defensive Line This Week:
"It's absolutely critical. Virginia has evolved a little bit as the season has gone on. They've moved from just a two-back set to spreading it around and throwing the ball around in space a little more. It's not to the extent of what we played last week, but they're doing it more than we saw against Virginia Tech.
"Obviously when they get into their two-back sets, we're going to have to be strong up front and it's going to be a very physical football game. It's going to be a real challenge for our linebackers and for our defensive line up front because of Virginia's size and athleticism on the offensive line.
"I think they're finding something and you're seeing a little bit of a changing of the guards right now at running back with Peerman getting the number of carries that he is. I think both running backs are very productive, but Peerman has really been impressive. If they are going to turn and spread us out, we're going to have to play in space. But I think they'll also play some two-back.
"Defensively they try to stop the run and offensively they try to line up and run the ball. They have that mindset and they do a good job with it."
On Getting The Team Refocused:
"I've never lied to them, snowed them or tried to con them. I've been very honest with them and said, `This is where we are, this is where we started and this is where we are right now.'
"I don't think we're playing as well in the fifth game as we did in the first two. I don't think we're playing at that same level. It's very hard to put a finger on exactly why. I don't think we're as together as a football team as we need to be right now. That's something that we've talked about.
"I'm very honest with them. I'm not a bag of tricks guy to try and motivate them. I'm very honest with them and I think we have to go back to holding everybody accountable, from coaches to players to being productive.
"There are some guys who aren't playing as well and there are some underclassmen who deserve the opportunity to step up. If those guys aren't going to play at a winning level for us, than we need to turn and take some of the younger guys, because one of our fears in playing them was that they were not at that level. If the guys ahead of them aren't at that level, though, it's very hard to look them in the eye. Just giving them the opportunity to go back there and compete and refocus everybody on what they have to do to do their job to get to that level is good.
"I think they understand where we are. It hasn't been a motivating factor, necessarily, as much as it's been what we have to do to play at a certain level.
"This off week has been very helpful for us. We were physically tired and, obviously, banged up as we were having to modify our practice. Guys weren't able to go through the week of practice, but start running around on Thursday and Friday. That makes it hard to get in the quality of work we need. That could be part of it.
"I'm certainly not going to say that these players don't want to be good, because I think they do. It's hard to put on the film and find a play where they're not playing hard. We don't always play real smart, but they're playing extremely hard. That's where we as coaches have to come in and do a better job of putting them in an opportunity to allow them to succeed. We then have to hold them accountable and if they don't succeed we have to turn and look at what our other options are."