Ruffin Looks Ahead To Memphis

GREENVILLE, N.C. - Third-year East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against Memphis. The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement
“It was a tough loss versus Central Florida on Thursday. I thought we prepared the team well for the short week and rested them when we could. Every game comes down to five or six plays. We started fast like we had planned and talked about doing, but then we lost momentum and couldn’t get it back. As we watched the film on Friday and then again yesterday you could see that happening. We always talk about regaining momentum from one side of the ball to the other. When one side loses it the other side needs to get it back and we could never get to that point. From here on out all the games are going to be very tightly contested with plenty of punches and blows. Against Central Florida we hit first, but they hit back and we have to do a better job of responding to the counter punch. We know and expect tough games with plenty of changes in momentum as the game ebbs and flows and what we need to do is seize momentum back when we do lose it. It is at that point where we really need contributions on all three sides of the ball. The area we approached the team about yesterday after practice was explaining that we are only halfway through the year and we plenty of games left in our season. We have goals that we can still accomplish by taking care of our business and worrying about us. This weekend the players were off, but the coaches were not and we had the chance to do some self-evaluations and scouting of our personnel and schemes.”

Injuries This Week
“Reggie Bullock is still out with his concussion. Jacobi Jenkins is getting healthy and Justin Dixon is going to miss the rest of the season.”

Keys Against Memphis
“The key to our game against Memphis this week is making sure each side of the ball is ready to contribute. For us to accomplish what we need to do, our offense, defense and special teams need to play key roles. All three sides of the ball need to work together to either get us momentum or regain it if we have lost it. We need to start fast, sustain the momentum and then finish the game strong. Against UCF we started fast and now we just have to sustain it and then finish the game like we started it. I think that we need to continue our emphasis on fundamentals. At this point of the year some teams neglect them, but we can’t and won’t. We can’t be satisfied with our fundamentals. We need to make sure they we are blocking and tackling well. The no hesitate thought that we have been focusing on all season long is crucial. Hesitation will hurt you in any aspect and especially in the game of football. The successful plays that we had against Central Florida came directly off no hesitation. The ones we missed on were because we hesitated.”

The quarterback for Memphis is Jacob Karam. I know him very well as I recruited him when I was at Texas Tech. He is an athletic and accurate passer and has only thrown one interception plus six touchdowns this season. Memphis also some designed runs for him. Karam is not an overly big guy, but he is mobile and smart and understands how to make plays with the football. Memphis uses a dual quarterback system with Eric Mathews also getting playing time. Mathews is a rangy type of quarterback that is also athletic. They also rotate multiple running backs. Jai Steib and Jaquise Cook are two that are seen often. Left guard Chris Schuetz is their best offensive lineman. He is mobile and they frequently ask him to get down the line and pull. Memphis has an offense that spreads the field and also uses misdirection much like what is seen from Oregon. They can also stretch you on the outside with Marcus Rucker and Keiwone Malone at the receiver positions. Both of them also play a prominent role as returners on special teams. Defensively, Memphis has changed its scheme and gone to a 3-4 look with three down lineman and four linebackers. Just like us they have a lot of speed and athleticism and are very active on defense. The linebackers, especially Anthony Brown and Akeem Davis, really stand out on film.”

General Results From Midseason Evaluations
“Defensively, we need to continue our emphasis on stopping the run. We also need to eliminate giving up long plays and making sure that we can get off the field on third down. Offensively we have had really good gains on first down. I think we have been very balance offensively this season. Our time possession has also been strong. We have also been effective at executing in the redzone. On special teams we need to make sure our coverage teams are giving the defense good field position. We also need to make sure our return teams are giving our offense great field position to start from. Nobody has worked harder than our special teams coach, Kirk Doll, to improve these areas. We need to correct our mistakes so we don’t make the same mistake twice and learn from the errors we have made in the past. As a team we need to stop hesitating. On Thursday against Central Florida we had some hesitation and it costs us some big plays on both offense and defense.”

What Changes Did Central Florida Make After The First Two Touchdown Drives?
“I thought it was some hesitation on our part as we tried to avoid mistakes that slowed down our offense. Central Florida was also ready to battle with us and they fought all the way back to tie the game and then take the lead. Their defense surprised us a little bit and blitzed more often which was out of character of what we had seen from them on film and in the past.”

Is Shane Carden Being Blitz More Often Since He Is A First-Year Starter?
“That is normally the rule. As a former defensive coordinator, you pressure and blitz the young quarterback and defend the veteran ones. As Shane (Carden) gets more comfortable he will make other teams pay for sending a blitz. The way Shane continues to work and study film it is just a matter of time. As just a sophomore he has been voted a captain by the team every game since the South Carolina contest. He will become more vocal as he plays more and gets comfortable.”

On Offensive Line’s Play Against Central Florida
“Offensive line coach Brandon Jones brought up the point that we didn’t play as a collective unit against Central Florida. We have been emphasizing the point of the line working as a nickel instead of five pennies this year. Our communication was good against UCF. With Taylor Hudson being a young first-year starter in the middle of the line at center he needs to continue to get comfortable with directing the offensive line as he is the one that makes the call for blitz pickups. He, just like Shane, will get better and more vocal the more he plays. Taylor graded out highly among the offensive lineman behind only Adhem Elsawi and Jordan Davis against Central Florida. The biggest area that the offensive line needs to improve on is continuing to play as a group. In generally they have done that this year, sure we have breakdowns here or there, but overall the offensive line has worked as a group. I have a lot of confidence that our offensive line will improve and perform well Saturday against Memphis.”

Advantage of Having Four of the Last Six Games At Home
“We have the same weekly routine whether it is a home or away game. It is always good to play at home. The thought process of having to move the whole operation to another city is always challenging for road games. I love playing at home and wish we had all 12 games at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. I love our fans, stadium and environment. Personally our venue and game day atmosphere are second to none. I am anxious for this week’s Homecoming game and running into the stadium on Saturday.”

Does In-Game Coaching Change When Playing At Home Compared To Being On The Road?
“Not intentionally if it does. I do think you feel more comfortable at home with your support system and fans in place. That always gives the team additional confidence. The will and support that our fans give us being at the game and cheering vocally moves the team every time we are at home. It is just a different feeling on the sideline for home games. Our fans travel great, but when you play at home and everyone is there you get a little bit more juice. You always like the challenge of going into an opposing stadium and trying to get a win, but playing at home in front of Pirate Nation and our fans always gives me a lump in my throat.”

Specialness of Homecoming
“I am looking forward to the atmosphere. I have already gotten a lot of phone calls, emails and texts from former players from past generations that are excited about this week and the opportunity they are going to have coming back to campus and dropping by practice. Homecoming is a special time and a special place here in Greenville. We are looking forward to the conference game and the chance to come home. I know we will have a great crowd. We always do.”

Kickoff Return Team
“For the kickoff returns I thought Central Florida did a good job of attacking us. We need to do a better job of doing the same to our opponents and being the hammer and not the nail. Kickoff returns is not a time for juking. It is more of a cut and a slash time so we need to have no hesitation from our returners and our blockers need to attack more. We are still trying to find a guy that will hit it, get up field and give us positive yardage to put offense in a better position.”

Mood of Team
“My job is to try to get the team to realize that we still have a lot of season left. We have six games left and can still accomplish a lot as a team. Our division has not been won yet. Our goals are still out there for us. We need to continue to attack and follow our play of action to reach them.”