Nov. 6, 2012
NEW ORLEANS - When first-year Tulane head football coach Curtis Johnson took the podium for the opening statement of his weekly press conference on Tuesday in the Hall of Fame Room at the James W. Wilson, Jr. Center, it was easy to see his disappointment after dropping a 49-47 decision to Conference USA foe Rice last week.
As the questions began rolling in, however, it was even easier to see his enthusiasm as Johnson discussed his team's progress to date. In the last two games, Tulane scored 40-plus games in back-to-back outings for the first time since 2004. Senior quarterback Ryan Griffin broke the school's single-game passing record in each game, surpassing his previous mark of 466 against UAB with a 476-yard performance against the Owls. What particularly had Johnson excited was his team's come-back effort on Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In addition, Johnson talked about the ways the team is trying to get the running game going and the continuing evolvement of his offensive line while previewing the upcoming game at Memphis. A complete transcript of Tuesday's press conference is below.
Tulane (2-7, 2-3 C-USA) will kickoff against the Tigers (1-8, 1-4 C-USA) on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Liberty Bowl. From there, the Green Wave will close out the home portion of the 2012 season on Nov. 17 against East Carolina. Prior to kickoff against the Pirates, Tulane's senior class of Stephen Barnett, Casey Blum, Jacob Davis, John Edwards, Darryl Farley, Ryan Griffin, Chris Hanuscin, Austen Jacks, Billy Johnson, Eric Jones, Alex Lauricella, D.J. Ponder, Stephen Purcell, Ryan Rome, Shakiel Smith, Stephen Suchy, Ryan Travis, Devon Walker, Kendrick and Kendrell Washington will be honored with a special ceremony.
TULANE HEAD COACH Curtis Johnson
"Thank you all for coming out today. I know it's chilly out and we are all wearing sleeves. We got up early this morning, the wind was blowing and the guys came out and practiced well. I thought today was another good practice. We had some more guys back. I think this is the first time Zach Davis took any reps. Austen (Jacks) did a couple and (Julius) Warmsley did some stuff. We're kind of starting to come back a little bit."
On Saturdays 49-47 loss to Rice
"Last week's game was disappointing, very disappointing. That one hurt. We had five turnovers. That's one of the things we try to not to ever do, but we did what we said we wouldn't do. We fought hard to come back. We made some crucial stops, but we just didn't get it done this time. There was some improvement."
On Tulane offensive coordinator Eric Price being a former Memphis assistant gives the team an advantage
"No, I don't think that gives us too much of an advantage. I think they're a good football team. They haven't won very many football games, but they've done some good things. As you know, they beat Rice. That was their win. They can run the football pretty well. Defensively, they're big up front. They're similar to us, but we're beginning to do some things different from them. We're scoring a lot of points. Their quarterback is a pretty good player, and our quarterback is playing exceptionally. We're playing a lot of freshmen - a lot of young guys - that are now starting to play well. The offensive line had its struggles early, but they're starting to play well. We're still climbing and we're still ascending as a team. I'm sure they feel they're doing the same things."
On both teams being bowl ineligible and what it would show for Tulane to play well down the stretch
"All of these games will show the progress and the character of our team. What we'll do is we'll take this lost from last week, we'll learn from it, but we'll remember how it stings. I told the team this morning that we played Indy last year at the Saints, we scored 65 and the next week we go in and St. Louis beat us. I told them about the national championship game when I was at Miami. We won every game for about two years. We get to Ohio State and we should have won that one. These games will come up that you'll remember for the rest of your life. You'll remember some good ones and some bad ones. This one, we'll remember for the rest of our lives. This one stings and I think everybody wants to get this bitter taste out of their mouths. They want to put something on this little bee sting."
On Tulane being able to rally from a large first-half deficit on Saturday against Rice
"I am proud of them and I am impressed for the fight and the hard work, but we don't get Brownie points for that. We get Brownie points for wins. There are a lot of individual accolades. Cairo is doing well...Both of the Ryans (Grant and Griffin) are playing good. We're doing some good things. These freshmen are playing well. The thing is, we have to come together as a football team and win these games. We would hope to win the games like this down the stretch just for our own sake. These are the ones we've got to win."
On if he has a handle on what happened in the first half against Rice
"Just looking at it over and over - and I'm telling you, we looked at this thing a lot - when you're playing in a place and a situation like that, you've got to be mentally prepared. That's why I always say we're not ready to play. We've got to be ready ready to play. I don't think early on we were very alert as to what was going on. It wasn't any one individual or whatever. It was almost like we woke up and we were down 21-7. It was 14-0 for sure when we kind of woke up. It was uncharacteristic. That was disheartening to see. And then finally, we almost had to shake them and once they did it, we started playing the type of ball we should have been playing."
On how critical it is to get off to a good start in the first quarter
"Here's what I think. I think they'll be ready ready to play this week. I don't think we were ready to play in the first quarter last week, but I did learn something about the team. I learned that we do have the ability to come back from big deficits. I learned that no matter what I thought prior to that, I know that we've got fight in us. There was a point in that game when I said to a couple of assistants, `There's no way we're going to lose this game,' just because we fought back so hard and when we took the lead it was like `here we go.' We kind of lapsed in a couple of other places, but I loved the character and the discipline in the second half. It's hard to score drive after drive after drive and just keep scoring seven points. We had some lapses, but I'm proud of how they fought and they came back. They didn't just fight hard and get blown out. They fought hard and had a chance to win it at the end."
On what the team is doing to try and get the running game going
"I thought the running game was doing well (against UAB), but we got into the game this week was we were down 21. We tried to run a couple of draws in there, but it was just hard to run the ball when we had such a big deficit. The bottom line was there were some mismatches that we had that we felt we had all week. We exploited the mismatches and when we got into our 10 personnel - that's our four-receiver formation - it was just one touchdown after another after another. It's almost like I wish we had a fifth quarter."
On senior cornerback Ryan Travis
"I think Ryan Travis is one of the hardest workers and probably one of the leaders. He's not very vocal, but he's a leader. He helps the younger guys get lined up. He plays two or three different positions. He'll play a corner. He'll play a nickel. He can actually perform and he does well at most of the positions that he plays. I'm very proud of him because for a little guy, he does tackle and he does make plays. He's one of the guys that I would say I wish he could come back. If he would, we'd have that much more unity because he keeps everything together."
On if the offensive production of late has surprised even himself, especially after considering the first five games
"They are playing at a high, high level now. I knew we had the ability to do it. I thought the line would gel and come together. I didn't know how soon, but I just knew that they were good enough and they've showed it. The backs are good players, and the one thing that they do is they catch the ball out of the backfield. One of the big things that everybody talked about was that the receivers weren't very good here, but I thought they were a good talent. They were kind of like we had a t the Saints - job-description guys. So when you put it all together and you have a trigger man like Griff who understands it...I thought we had the potential to be very good, but I never would have imagined that it would be school record one week, school record the next week. Five touchdowns. He's throwing five touchdowns like it's nothing. Some people don't throw five touchdowns in a season. It was a rocky start. Somebody told me a stat that at one time we were like last in offense and now we're ranked somewhere nationally. That's a credit to those guys. They're fighting hard. A month ago, I almost quit and went to coach the defense. I'm a defensive coach now. But I'm back on the offense. I really was a special teams coach a month ago. But no, it's been good. Those guys are playing at a high level."
On how far the offense has come in recent weeks
"I never thought it would be like it is. There's a chance that you can get one or two 30-point games or 40-point games against some weaker opponent. I thought we were scoring points, piling up yards and moving the ball against good teams. I thought SMU was a good football. UTEP, too. I thought that those guys were good football teams. Now, all of the sudden, you're scoring, you're scoring touchdowns and you're playing at a high level. A lot has to do with what we were dealing with. But like I said, my hat's off to those guys. The offensive line came through and is still coming. The quarterback is good, and the skill positions are playing well also."
On the development of Dominique Robertson
"I feel like Dominique is one of our guys. What he does is he practices hard, he plays hard, he runs around. He just runs and make plays. He probably saved the game for us against SMU. Then all of a sudden he comes back and he's running around making plays. I just feel that we need to reward guys like that. We're not just canning anyone from the team or from starting or playing. They're still going to play, but I think this kid deserves a shot at starting and I think he's earned it. He's really earned it."
On Ryan Travis' cousin playing for Memphis and if that familiarity helps with the game-planning
"We have a scouting report on Ryan's cousin and we kind of plan situations and put them in. But there is a report that we do on each player and we'll talk about each good and bad habit. We look at that a lot."
On the most and least satisfying thing of the season to date
"The least satisfying thing, I guess it's obvious, is Devon Walker's injury with what a great kid he is, his struggles and what he's going through. He's in our prayers every day. On my watch that happened and it still bothers me a lot. The most satisfying thing by far is just seeing the camaraderie and how these guys are starting to come together and how they're starting to be a football team. I almost want another season, right back-to-back. Let's start this thing over. Let's go right into next year right now. I really think we're moving in the right direction. We're moving forward. I see the energy and the enthusiasm around. There have been a lot of compliments. I almost hate to bring this up, but yesterday I got a year older. It was my birthday. I went to a restaurant and about four of five people said `Golly coach, you guys are playing better from the beginning to the end. These guys never played this good and never played harder.' It's satisfying to know that other people are starting to recognize that we are a team that is getting better and improving."