Sept. 17, 2013
NEW ORLEANS - Fresh on the heels of a 24-15 win at Louisiana Tech in the Conference USA opener, Tulane University head football coach Curtis Johnson addressed the media on Tuesday afternoon as part of his weekly press conference in the James W. Wilson, Jr., Center.
Johnson reviewed the team's league-opening win on Thursday evening in Ruston, La., and addressed the upcoming game at Syracuse - a team the Green Wave fell to 37-34 two years ago on a field goal as time expired. And while Johnson was happy to see his team bounce back from a week-two loss, he was quick to point out how physical and tough he expects the upcoming game against the Orange to be. A complete transcript of Tuesday's presser is below.
Kickoff for the Tulane/Syracuse contest is slated for Saturday, Sept. 21, at 11:30 a.m. (CDT) at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. In addition to the game being broadcast on the flagship radio station for Green Wave football - WMTI 106.1 FM "The Ticket" - the contest will also be televised live on the Atlantic Coast Conference's Regional Sports Network (RSN) and will air locally on Fox Sports New Orleans.
The game at Syracuse is the second of three straight road games for the Green Wave, who will play at ULM on Sept. 28 before returning to the Superdome on Oct. 5 when the Wave play host to North Texas for Homecoming 2013.
For tickets to the Tulane/North Texas game, as well as future Green Wave events, contact the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office. The Ticket Office is located on the first floor of the Wilson Center on Ben Weiner Drive, and tickets can be purchased in person weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., over the phone at 504-861-WAVE (9283) or via the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com.
TULANE HEAD COACH Curtis Johnson
"We're here and there are young men here from all over the country. There is a young man who won the Groza Award and has done everything we've asked him to do and two days ago he lost his father in a plane crash, Cairo Santos. He's back in Brazil right now. As a matter of fact, the funeral is going on right now. Our thoughts and our prayers are with him. We just want him to heal. If he's at the game, he's at the game. If he's not, we do understand. He lost his father, who was a great man. I had a chance to spend some time with him at the ESPN Awards, and he's a very likeable guy. His father was a stunt pilot, and Cairo said there was some engine failure, the engine went dead and it crashed. I don't know where it was. I talked to Cairo this morning and they were flying the body back getting ready for the funeral."
On his team's improvement from one game to the next
"The offense hasn't been consistent, but they've been playing better and better. Throughout the season, I think Nick Montana has improved from game one to game two to game three. Each game, he's getting better and better. The runners are improving, as is the offensive line. Offensively, we're kind of steady. I'd like to see more running of the football, but those guys did well the other night. I thought the offense was pretty consistent. We've got to get better and we know it. Defensively, the first half of that game, it was mental mistake after mental mistake against South Alabama. You get sick if you go back and watch it with our critical eyes. Then all of a sudden, our defense settled in and gave up just 10 points - and seven of those came on a special teams play - so you have the feeling that they could play well. Now, will they continue to play well? I just hope so, but I've always felt that this defense is a pretty good defense."
On if he's reopened competition along the offensive line
"I think we've got three tackles who play very well - (Arturo) Uzdavinis, (Sean) Donnelly and (Todd) Jacquet. We just have to figure out between the three guys, how we're going to rotate them in. I don't know if any of them are great players right now, but I think all of them are playing well so they should be playing. It's no different than Chris Taylor playing - and he's a little bit banged up right now - because I feel we have three good guards. The thing about the center is you can't have snaps too high or snaps on the ground. You just have to keep the pressure up and see who the best guy is to get the ball - first and foremost - back to the quarterback."
On if the possible moves along the o-line is based on Louisiana Tech's sacks on Thursday
"I don't think so. I think that if we get the communications with the line and the quarterback/center (exchange) - they were a little bit of an issue - and if we can get that taken care of we can knock a bunch of sacks out."
On the run defense's improvement since the first half of the South Alabama game
"We moved Julius (Warmsley) inside. (Chris) Davenport, we've got him playing in some personnel groups. The addition of Jeremy Peeples helps us as the defensive end spot. He's one of the guys who I feel can give us four-man pressure. Just moving Julius in full time and rotating the inside guys a little bit more really helps us out a lot."
On being able to force turnovers
"It's one of the things that Lionel (Washington), John (Sumrall) and those guys on defense have talked about all year. What we have to do is we have to create turnovers. Our defense is doing a fantastic job. They're hitting hard and forcing fumbles. There have been a lot of interceptions. We've got ball-hawk guys like Lorenzo Doss catching a bunch of interceptions. (Sam) Scofield is doing the same thing. They're recovering fumbles. (Darion) Monroe, (Jordan) Batiste and (Jordan) Sullen are doing the same thing. Because of the secondary and how aggressive they are, the linebackers are playing well - (Nico) Marley and Zach (Davis). Zach Davis had a good game also. Dominique Robertson played well. Because they're very active, I think we will get turnovers. That's very important. That's the way we'll win. We'll win by winning the turnover ratio."
On the play of freshman linebacker Nico Marley
"You never know with freshmen. You get them in, you play them, you don't want to start them but sometimes you have to start them. His learning curve has been tremendous. He's good. He's good on every situation. He's in on every personnel group right now. I think we may be giving him a little bit too much, but because of these linebackers who are nicked up and guys who are out, we've got to keep playing him. He is a pleasant, pleasant surprise."
On Kyle Davis and Dominique Robertson not being listed on the depth chart
"Kyle Davis still hasn't been cleared yet. Dominique Robertson, I'm going to suspend him this game for some team policies. He did some stuff that he shouldn't have done, so he won't be on the trip with us this week."
On how that affects Tulane's front-seven defense
"We just have to rely on some younger guys. Edward Williams is going to have to come to play. Zach Davis, as I said, had a good game. Marley has to play a little more. Eric Thomas has to play more. When you build a program, you've got to everything right and can't have things going awry."
On the health of Edward Williams
"I expect Edward to play a lot. He'll be a large part of the game plan. Last week, I thought he limped a little bit. He's limping a lot less this week. He'll be a large part of our game plan this week."
On if he and Saints head coach Sean Payton talk about each team's success
"We talk about that. He talks more about my weight than anything. But we communicate a lot on what they're doing. They're doing a lot of good things. I loved his game plan. I like what he did on the goal line, taking the points off and going for it. The reason why is because it was a wet game. I thought the defense was playing outstanding. If you get that one in, and I'm going to say this - that's on Ingram to get that one in. If you get that in, then the game is over in the first half."
On if he compares Nick Montana to Drew Brees and if it is hard for his players to live up to
"It's just a habit if you have a great quarterback. And I almost told him that his dad would have thrown that ball that he took the sack on. It's only hard if you don't want to be great. I think they do want to be great. They take it, they kind of laugh at it and they tease me about it all the time. They understand that my expectation for them is very high and I think Nick is going to be a tremendous player for us. It's good to have guys that you can compare to."
On if that sacks allowed total is a concern at this point
"Absolutely. When you're in a game like the South Alabama game, it's throw, throw, throw, throw. You have to throw it to catch up. Being a young quarterback, you don't want to put him in that position. I like the game last week against Louisiana Tech. Obviously, we won. If you take away the turnovers that we had, but it was a balanced attack. It was run. It was pass. It was quick passing game. It was a lot of three-step and a lot of stuff that he's very capable of doing. Screens were a big deal, but if you're down by 20 points, you can't throw a screen because everyone knows everything about what you're doing and you're throwing it. I want it to be a 50-50 run-pass balance. I think that's what he's good at."
On Montana's hand injury and if that affected his ability to take the snap
"Because of the injury, we're doing some things a little bit different. He's getting accustomed to the injury. He's doing well. Today was a lot better than it's been for the last week and a half. I expect that by this game, he'll be ready ready with that finger."
On the center completion
"We feel comfortable with Zach (Morgan). To me, it's more of a concentration thing with Zach. Mike (Henry) has done a good job for us in the past, but as a staff, we feel very comfortable with Zach being the center. He just needs to concentrate throughout."
On Syracuse potentially being a more physical team than the one they say on Thursday at Louisiana Tech
"They see it. The guys know when they watch tape, they know exactly what's going on. They know that this opponent is going to be tough. They know they're going to be big. They're going to be physical on the offensive line and defensive line. Syracuse has been in the weight room a lot. It's going to be a big challenge for us. I think our guys will be ready to play. The way they've practiced the last couple of days, they practiced with a lot of emotion and a lot of energy, they're be ready. If we can do enough to win this game, we'll see. We know they're big. We know they're physical. We know this is going to be a tough opponent for us."
On his game plan for the Orange
"It's to win. That's the biggest part of the plan. You've got to possess the ball. I think time of possession is going to be important. That and turnover ratio will be the two most important things to going on the road and winning. The third thing is you've got to be able to run the football. If we can run the football and stop the run, don't let them get in a frenzy of doing all these blitzes and stuff, I think we have a good chance of winning."
On the change at deep snapper
"We have some freshmen that the game isn't too big for. Maybe our freshman snapper, it's too big for him. He gave up one against South Alabama and turned around again and made the same mistake. If it was a regular position player, you'd do the same thing - sit him down and let him watch a little bit. Julius Warmsley will handle the short snaps and (Matt) Marfisi will probably handle the long snaps."
On if he will do any functions with alumni groups during the trip to Syracuse
"I'll do that in the summer and do it in the offseason. So no. It's all about winning this game. It would be a tragedy for our young men to not have their head coach when he's needed the most. So I'll be with the guys in meetings and doing all of those things."
On the team's injury situation
"The biggest injury - and I thought we had two - was Devin Boutte got a little bit of a quad strain. We're trying to work on him. He's day to day. The other is Chris Taylor. He's got a little bit of a knee sprain, I guess you call it. I don't know these terms. All of these terms we have, I can't pronounce half of them which equals to when I played a sprain. So he's got a sprain. He may be active or he may not be ready today."
On if the team learned a lesson from the South Alabama loss
"I hope so. This team we're playing this week is big and physical and you can see it on tape. If we're not ready, they'll hit us in the mouth and we're going to be stuck. We have to come out, we've got to have our A game, and we've got to be ready to play. This is a good football team."
On Syracuse making a change at quarterback
"He's played before. They ran both of them in and out of the game little bit. I think both of those guys are good. The one kid just threw six interceptions. A couple of them were tipped balls and this, that and the other. Yes, they're making a change, but both of those guys are good players. Both of them are big. Both of them are physical. Both of them can run. This guy they've got now, he can run maybe a little bit better. We're going to see both of them and I think both of them are good players."
On if he is worried about Santos to be focused on the game if he is back in time for the Syracuse game
"Absolutely. Anytime you have a tragedy like that, you've going to be worried a little bit. I've learned over the years in my time with Cairo to trust him. If he's comfortable with doing whatever, I'm going with Cairo. It's no different than him telling me all the time that he can make the kick and he hasn't missed one since I've been here. Whenever there is a tragedy, you just wonder how everybody is going to respond. Whoever can focus, whoever can do their jobs through these adversities, that'll be the team that'll win the game."
On if it's easier to play at home or the road
"I like both places. I like what we do at home because it's comfortable. They're pretty much doing what we ask to do. On the road, I can always give them my `Up against the world' speech like the Raiders - it's us against everybody else. I like to put that in every once in a while. Either or, you've got play them. It doesn't matter. I just think whoever is focused are the guys who are going to win the game."
On playing arguable the best game of his tenure last week on the road
"I hope this one is even better than that one. Wherever we can get a win, I'll play anywhere."