Second-year head coach Curtis Johnson reviewed last week's homecoming win over North Texas and looked ahead to Saturday's Conference USA showdown against East Carolina during his weekly press conference.
Oct. 8, 2013
NEW ORLEANS - On the heels of back-to-back wins and a big game looming next weekend against Conference USA foe East Carolina, 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 his team's 24-21 homecoming win over North Texas - which improved the Green Wave's record to 4-2 overall and 2-0 in C-USA action - before moving on to the upcoming game against the Pirates. A complete transcript of Tuesday's presser is below.
Kickoff for the Tulane/East Carolina contest is slated for Saturday, Oct. 12, at 2:30 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. 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 televised tape delay locally on WHNO-TV 20 on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
For tickets to this weekend's 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
"I must say, this week is a lot better. My wife is breathing. The doctors really did a great job taking care of her. And I'm supporting breast cancer. My sister is a breast cancer survivor, so I've got to support it. She didn't see enough breast cancer stuff on me, so I'm going to have more pink on this week. It was a good game and a good win for us. I thought we did a good job defensively. Offensively, they played well when they had to, and the special teams were awesome."
On the focus of the offense this week to improve
"I think we just have to execute a little bit better. Again, it starts with running the ball. We've got to do a better job of running it. A couple of our backs are banged up, but we've just got to continue to run it. Against this team, we can't throw, throw, throw. If we become one dimensional, they'll beat us. We've got to be 50-50 if we can. If we come out of this 50-50 with the run and the pass, we'll keep this game pretty close."
On the injuries at running back
"They're just banged up throughout. Running backs get banged up through the season and the wear and tear of being the physical players that they are."
On the progress showed by Lorenzo Doss from last year to this year
"It's funny because his mom almost killed me when I made the move (to cornerback). She came up and the whole family came up and were just on me because they want him to be a receiver like his older brother is. We thought that skillfully, this kid could play defensive back. He's learned the position. Lionel Washington is a great teacher. He and Jason Rollins are teaching him the game and teaching him how to play defensive back. He has been more and more confident every day. He's a kid that practices hard. He has big-time speed and great ball skills to play the receiver. I think the biggest thing he's done is he's tackling a lot better. If I were the other teams, I wouldn't throw at him because he's going to pick you off."
On if Tulane's sacks allowed numbers are due to the quarterback not getting rid of the ball at times
"Nick [Montana] wants every play to be a great play, and it's not like that. You've got to throw stuff away. We've got enough good plays in the play book and I always tell him there's another good play. In this past game, he took some shots. We've got other good plays. He can't continue to play like that because they'll kill him. We're working him on that - getting down, sliding, his internal clock. You just have to throw some of those balls away. I think it'll be better for him and better for our team."
On if the internal clock and field awareness skills will improve with more experience
"Absolutely. It's a learning process every week. With him, the curve has kind of flattened out a little bit because the offensive line play is pretty much stable. It's getting better in increments, but very very slow. We're playing younger and younger kids. We're playing [Todd] Jacquet more, who's a sophomore. Arturo [Uzdavinis] is a young kid, who hasn't play (before this season). Zach Morgan hasn't played in a year, and we've also got Chris Taylor, who's coming in and playing a lot more. We've got this youth movement going on. With Montana, we've got to get the ball in and out of his hands as quickly as we can."
On if he will continue to let Doss gamble and if he has a future in the NFL
"When you look at the scouts, they don't say anything about these guys. These older guys and these young guys, they just give you a wink. I've had several winks on that young secondary. I just hope we don't write this and then all of a sudden all of our kids apply for the draft as sophomores. I'm looking at a lot of guys who in the future are going to be good players. Doss is a player and he'll gamble within the constraints of what we do. I don't know if Lionel would call it a gamble. I think he's playing like his coach wants him to play. Sometimes you have to take some chances. I think all of those guys do. Batiste had a couple of great gambles last week. Doss did the same this week. You'll feast or famine sometimes, but we'll balance that out."
On if his defense ranking 39th nationally is beyond his expectations
"I think our defense is playing outstanding. The one thing I'm most proud of is turnover ratio. We talked about that going into (the season). When we create turnovers we have a chance to win. I think the defense has bought in. They're doing exactly what we said we want to do. We want to turn guys over. I think Jordan Batiste is doing a great job. Doss is getting turnovers playing his role. We are getting to a point where we are doing what we said. Thirty-ninth is good, but being a coach I'm a little greedy, and I want better."
On whether the sack total can be more attributed to the offensive line or the quarterback
"Sometimes I think with Montana, he just needs to get it off. I watched an NFL game last night - well the second half of it - but the quarterback had pressure in the A gap. Nobody touched him, but he got the ball off and completed it. It goes with both of them. The offensive line is on a learning curve and so is the quarterback. They're learning. You just can't take shots. Some of these shots are self-induced and some of the shots are schematic. Sometimes the offensive line doesn't make the right calls, but that's going to happen and it happens at all levels. He'll get better. The biggest deal is just getting the ball off and get it out of his hand. Just throw a couple of these balls away and save yourself for another day."
On if he has worked some game planning for East Carolina into previous weeks of practice
"East Carolina is one of the better teams on our schedule. When you look at them, they're big, they're physical and they run well. Ruffin McNeal is a friend of mine. I know the guys who recruit. They have great player skill across the board. The quarterback is good. The backs are good. The receiver had 16 catches the first game of the year. This is the one team that when you look at the schedule, you say, `Okay, here is a team that we have to measure up to.' I don't know if we are there yet. We've got some wrinkles that are going into this week. We're not there yet. We just have to play up as high as we can, hope they play a little bit down to make this thing close, and maybe we can get field goal at the end again."
On the physical running game the Pirates seem to present
"The first day of the week, I challenged the defensive line. Chris Davenport, Julius Warmsley and those guys, they're ready for the challenge or they will be ready to take on the challenge. Our defensive line is playing well. They can play better. They're playing pretty good, but we just have to continue to get better and better and better."
On the Pirate's passing game and importance of making East Carolina one-dimensional on offense
"The only chance we have is we have to stop the run. We have to make them one dimensional. We've got to put some pressure on him, also. We've got to get some three- and four-man pressure on this guy. I put this game on the defensive line this week. It's up to them to get East Carolina, and on our offensive line in the trenches. We've got to run the ball and we've got to get pressure."
On if he is happy being 4-2 right now, or if he had hoped for more wins to date
"I'm happy with the progress the players are making. The record could be better, but the progress is what you're most happy with. For instance, that last drive. That's one of the things that we practice all the time. Once a week we practice what we're going to do in this situation and it worked to perfection. We talked about interceptions and what we're going to do. We talked about moving Jordan Batiste inside some where he can line up with these little, quick receivers, and he's doing an outstanding job. This defensive front is doing well. That type of progress is pretty good. You just have to continue getting results and we've got to continue to accelerate this learning curve for these young players."
On the importance of the offense finding a rhythm to keep the defense off the field
"I think we have to run the ball. Part of (last week's) second half was, you go up and you punt, they punt, they score, they have a long drive, then we come back. We get a first down and then we punt. They punt, get ready to kick (a field goal), we block it and score it, and they're back on the field. They drive a couple of plays, throw a pick to Doss, he scores, and they're back on the field again. That will throw you a little off rhythm. My hat's off to North Texas. I think they have a whale of a defense. I talked about it last week. When you look at what Georgia did, in the third quarter it was 21-21. It was the same score as we had. This team is a good football team. They play defense with the best of them. I thought we hung in there, won the field position and won the turnover ratio. Inevitably, we got the drive when we needed it and we won the game."
On to what he can attribute the Green Wave's improved run defense from a year ago
"I think it's the defensive tackles. The defensive front is the first thing you start off with. If you ask me the No. 1 position, what you're going go out and draft or what you're going to recruit, I'm going to go out and draft and recruit defensive lineman and we're going to go out and draft and recruit corners. If you look at our list, that's what we do. It's corners and defensive linemen. Everything else - it doesn't take a back burner - but everything else is secondary. As many of them as we can get, we're taking them and we're playing them. Those guys are fresh. They play a lot, but all of them are fresh and they play well and they play hard. I like what this defensive line is becoming. The corners on the back end, all of these guys can run. All of those guys can really, really play well. They're not afraid to tackle. That's the biggest thing I'm impressed with - they're tackling ability. They get guys down. There were several third downs this past week when they got guys on the ground. If you can continue to do that, you can continue to win games. That, and we're turning guys over."
On the depth at the defensive line and how that's changed the way the team plays
"It changed the whole atmosphere of what we do around here. Those offensive linemen - they play five guys and they play those five guys all game long. But if you have 10 guys who can play against five, and some of those guys are pretty good players, you can get guys who can play 20 plays yard, you've got something going. I like what we're doing on the defensive front. John [Sumrall] and Kwahn Drake are doing an excellent job."
On the sophomore defensive backs coming into their own as college players
"I think they looked over on the bench last year and they said, `We've got nobody else. You've just got to have amnesia.' I think those kids came into the program and played at such an early age, that's the only thing they know. They may have gotten burned last year or this year, and when they look on the sideline, we just have to keep pushing guys out there. We're beginning to develop some depth in the secondary also...You just have to have amnesia where you just forget about it and go break up the next one."
On the fact that he's closing practice shows the importance of this game to the program
"All of these games are very, very important to this program. I think (East Carolina) is the one benchmark program that when I look at this team right now this year, they just put 55 or whatever on North Carolina so this is a good team. If we can hang with this team, I just have a feeling that we'll be really, really good down the stretch."
On if the East Carolina game is a good measuring stick in Conference USA
"I think this team and then Tulsa are the two programs that you look at and you say, `Golly, these are the teams that you kind of look on as the benchmark of this conference.' Those are the two teams that you have to look to."
On Batiste making key third down stops last week
"We go back and forth with Jordan. We like to split him in half. We like him out wide against wide receivers, but we also like him in short areas because he has great short-area quickness, great instincts and great ball skills. He'll catch those balls. He had a couple of picks that will be pick-six. I always tease Speedy (Lionel Washington) and those defensive guys that he's our Honey Badger. He's the one guy on the field that reminds me of the Honey Badger, and he is. Finally, they kind of wrestled with me, we moved him inside and he's just playing phenomenal. We've got to find ways to get him on the field and around the ball because the one thing he does is tackle well."
On Nico Marley's tackle total falling off in the last few games
"It's not what he's doing. It's not his deal with what's going on. What teams are doing now is they're not running the ball very much. If you go back and watch the drives against North Texas, it's one step and throw, one step and throw. He's gang tackling. He's doing what he's supposed to do. It's not one-on-one, we're going to run and we're going to do this. They aren't doing that very much."
On his feelings following Cairo Santos' game-winning field goal against North Texas
"The thing about Cairo is, Cairo is such a good person. He's struggled these past couple of weeks and I see it in his face all the time. He missed a couple and for him, it was devastating. I told him, `Look, you're human.' When we got in at halftime, I said, `Look son, get your head up. You're going to win this game for us.' It just happened to be like that. I trusted him. I have full confidence in Cairo. He's tough on the field. He made a big tackle for us. He's a tough young man. He plays to the best of his ability all of the time. I can't say enough about him, but seeing him in that moment when the team carried him off was probably the biggest moment of me being here in this program."