Nov. 8, 2011
NEW ORLEANS -
Tulane University Interim Head Coach
On Tulane's first-half performance at SMU
"From the opening drive of the first half, we went eight plays and about 35 yards. We took a sack and a fumble, SMU had the momentum and we never did change that in the first half. They reeled off 31 points. We were only 3-of-9 on third down in the first half. Their quarterback was 15-of-17. He was hot. We tried to change up coverages, ran some zones, we tried to blitz and they picked that up. They did a nice job. Give them credit. Their tailback, who we know we had to stop, went over 100 yards in the first half - 105. In looking at the tape, we had to play with more emotion and more enthusiasm. They were playing hard but they weren't playing to the level they had the previous two weeks. We never made a play in the first half to change that momentum."
On Tulane's second-half adjustments in the SMU game
"At halftime, I thought Steve Stanard and the defensive staff did a great job with the players. Greg Davis and the offensive staff didn't alter the gameplan wholesale, but they were calm in working and talking to the players. We just challenged them at halftime. We have more pride and more character than what was displayed today. If you have a heartbeat, go out and respond in the second half. We told them that every down and every series, we were going to have to fight. Not literally, but we were going to have to fight and compete. We took some punches and took some blows. They gave it to us in the first half, but the team came out in the second half and it was good to see. There was some concern there. With the half being the way it was, what would the second half be. A big play to start the second half was when Dezman (Moses) had the strip and Dominique (Robertson) scored. It ignited us on the sidelines. Every coach and every player could feel the enthusiasm. We felt like we were going to be able to come back. We had an advantage. We had the wind in the third quarter. They were going against the wind. The turnover certainly helped. For the second week in a row, it was a solid performance by the special teams. They did a great job with field position. We were able to make some plays. Wilson Van Hooser, Xavier Rush and Justyn Shackleford stepped up for us. They hadn't made plays the previous week or two and we were able to score 24 points in the third quarter. (SMU) did answer with a big drive there in the third quarter. We were able to cut it twice in the second half to a 14-point game."
On the remainder of the SMU game
"Then SMU pinned us at the three. It was still a two-score game and we weren't able to come out of there. We weren't able to convert and make it to where it's a one-score game and anything can happen from there. They were able to punch it in in the fourth, aided by a couple of personal foul penalties, and made it the three-score outcome that it was."
On this week's opponent, the Houston Cougars
"Speed, speed and more speed. How about that for an opening statement? They're exciting. I love to watch them when they're on TV. I do not like to watch them when they are across the sideline from me. They're an exciting offense and have one of the top college players in the country in (Case) Keenum, their quarterback. He has shattered most of the records and has the other ones in sight. They're so explosive. They have three receivers with over 600 yards on the year. They can take the bubble screen, they can take the little toss reverse and go the distance at any time. Their tailbacks, again, outstanding speed. That's what they have there. They're explosive. They snap the ball anywhere from 14-15 seconds after it's down. They lead the conference in least amount of time of possession with 25 minutes a game. It doesn't matter to them if you hold the ball. They just want it back. I think the last time they were held to under 50 points was Sept. 29 against UTEP. They scored 49 in that game. It's a big challenge ahead defensively."
On Houston's special teams
"(Tyron) Carrier is their kick returner and (Patrick) Edwards is their punt returner. Just as explosive as they are on offense, it's the same thing there with even more field to defend."
On what he thinks this game means to the Cougars
"With an offense like that, averaging over 50 points a game and over 600 yards a game - and if you look at the conference statistics, they're almost 60 points a game in conference and almost 650 yards a game - they have dominated conference opponents. It's certainly a big game for them. They won't overlook us. This is an opportunity (for them) for a BCS (bid). This is an opportunity for them to stay undefeated and move up. This will be on national TV and they'll be in the spotlight."
On Houston's defense
"With the offense the way they are, they are able to take chances. They lead the conference in sacks. No. 8 (linebacker Sammy Brown) is second in the conference in sacks and first in the conference in tackles for loss. He has 21.5 tackles for loss, is a very aggressive player and a good athlete. Based on their offense and the way they play, they're able to take more chances on defense. Yes, they'll give up a play or two, and they have over the year. That's why their statistics aren't as good. But they'll also make plays for their offense."
On Houston's offense
"You have the names there, Carrier, Edwards and (Justin) Johnson - the three receivers - they make it go along with the quarterback. Teams have tried to pressure him, and they lead the conference in fewest sacks allowed. They've given up nine on the year. He does a great job of getting rid of the football. They do a good job of protecting him. They understand hots and sights and the ball is out quickly."
On what it would take for Tulane to upset Houston
"We had a great game against UAB as a team and this will take an even better game. It'll take a phenomenal effort in all three phases. It'll take some help from Houston's part. They're going to have to help us. The quarterback, obviously, is going to have an off night which he hasn't had this year. Special teams, not only can they be sound in this game, but for us to pull an upset or for us to even remain close based on their scores in previous games, they're going to have to do something in a productive way to make plays. Offensively, to equate it to basketball, they're shooting 3-pointers to our 2s. They just keep scoring and keep ringing the bell. Field goals and punts aren't going to make that happen. I think the UTEP game, they had the most punts on the year. They had four punts in the UTEP game. I think their punter has 26 opportunities on the year and he may not letter. I don't know what their criteria is, but he doesn't go on the field. It just doesn't happen as much. It's a nice problem to have when your punter doesn't play enough to letter. He's a great punter. He hangs it up and pins it down, but just doesn't get the opportunity. It's a good problem."
On why he feels Keenum has been so successful
"He's an outstanding athlete for a college quarterback. He reads the field so well. He understands the coverages. He identifies whether you're trying to disguise or not. In the system they run, he knows where to go with the ball. He doesn't' hold it long at all. It's out. They throw a large number of dry routes, crossing routes and intermediate routes. If you try to defend them, similar to what we talked about with SMU, they have those two tailbacks. They're outstanding players for them. Whether it's in the zone or the draw game, they throw it to them on the screen game. Keenum is a great college player and he's surrounded by a fine cast that just contribute to it and their style of play. They're just so high pressure. You don't get a chance to catch your breath on defense because they're right there at the line of scrimmage and they snapping it before you can give even the signal sometimes. We're working hard this week in practice to simulate the speed that we're going to see, but it's hard to do with scout team where you're holding up cards. It's not as game-like. The only other team close to them is Oklahoma when you see the style of play. Oregon would be the next."
On Houston's advantage in the turnover ratio
"I touched on it a little bit with their defense being able to take chances, being able to pressure you, being able to blitz you more. And it's not just in the blitz. They can still get pressure with just a four-man rush. They run a 3-4 scheme similar to what we've seen the past two weeks. No. 55 (Marcus) McGraw is their leading tackler. He's an outstanding player. Their corners are able to lock down and play man. Just the explosiveness of the offense allows them to pressure you. Along the line of those turnovers, teams have been close early and breaks in the kicking game and breaks on offense allow them to separate. Then offenses press and try and push the ball. They try to make something happen and that plays into the defense's hands and that allows for more turnovers."
On if a win against Houston would be a statement game
"We played them last year and it was a close game in Houston. They did not have their starting quarterback. They had a young quarterback and he was feeling his way. Whether it was confidence wise or however you want to view that, we caught them at the right time last year. As far as a one-game season, it's not so much a one-game season. This is an opportunity for us. We're on national TV on Thursday night. We're a decided underdog if you will, but it's an opportunity for our young men and our coaches to do the sport that we love and do the sport that we were hired to do as coaches and make it a competitive game. Make it a situation where we keep the TV viewers in and keep it a close game in the fourth quarter, which hasn't happened this year. They've been ahead of most teams in the fourth quarter going away. It's challenging being on Thursday night but every week has been challenging so far."
On playing the final home game of the season
"It's our last home game. For our seniors, they'll go out with their parents and guardians. It's the last home game in the Superdome and they'll remember it for the rest of their careers. They'll remember coming out with their teammates. I know I remember mine against Missouri. I was so glad to have my parents there. Now, as a parent, it probably means more to me having children. It's more for them sometimes than it is for the players. That's an inspiration for our seniors if they're starters or part-time players, to just contribute and do the best they can in their last home opportunity. For us it's the last home game and there's a lot of uncertainty here. Which way is the program headed? What's going to happen? Those are things out of our control. They are out of our young men's control. To an extent, they're out of our coaching staff's control. When you mention next year, who knows what the future holds. I know we're going to be in our last home game on Thursday. We've had a good week of preparation and I look for these young men to come out and compete the way they did the first two game and the way they did in the second half against SMU."
On what he has learned in his games as interim head coach that he perhaps didn't know coming in
"I didn't know how busy Bob Toledo was and the weekly schedule that he had to take care of. This team, whenever there's crisis, I think it was Oct. 18 - that Tuesday - they put it together. They got stronger together and developed a bond. When those things happen, you can separate or fragment. I was concerned as were most people. In the first half against SMU, what direction were we going? To use words like inspired and motivated about how they came out in the second half, I think they showed that they still care. I'd use the word heartbeat. They still have a heartbeat and they want to play like we've talked about. For whatever reason motivates them to put on that gear with all the goals not obtainable, to go compete and be the best student-athlete that they can be."
On if he imagined being in his current situation when the season started
"I've been coaching over 20 years and you go through spring practice and you go through the summer, and that optimism builds. You go, `Wow, we have a chance. We can do it.' I think that's what keeps us all in coaching. You see some burn out and you see some that don't make it. Their candle gets blown out, if you will, from everything that transpires. We were optimistic when the season started. You look at key injuries, and you have to take those into account, and there will be several crisis during the year. But certainly not the head coach resigning with six games to go in the season. Losing Ryan Grant, who we were building offensively as a go-to guy. Over the course of time, having some other injuries at the receiver position and seeing those three youngsters - Wilson not being one of them - step up Saturday shows that we're 10 games into it. They're almost sophomores now and it's time for them to. But to answer your question, no. I didn't see any of this coming. I certainly expected a better outcome this year and a better record and better performance than what we've had at this time."