Dec. 29, 2008
Opening statement ...
"We changed our practice site today, obviously, because the footing on
the field over at Rhodes College was suspect yesterday during practice and
the fields were still wet. They hadn't drained after all of the rain that they
had here prior to yesterday morning. We will come back to the same site for
tomorrow's practice and then we'll judge whether we stay over at Rhodes for
our final real practice before our walk-through at the stadium."
On how the young receiving corps has performed in practice leading up
to the Liberty Bowl ...
"I think they've done a much better job. (Gene) McCaskill and (Eric) Adeyemi
have been very impressive. (Aaron) Boyd has been better some days than others
but all of them are better than they were at the end of the season. We've had
a lot of work with them. Hopefully we'll have some young guys go out and make
some plays. E.J. Adams has been more productive and more impressive than he
has been all year long in these practices leading up to the bowl game."
On if there is a sense of urgency about preparing returning players for
next year ...
"The sense of urgency is to get more production back in our offensive
side of the ball. We're not happy with our third-down conversion rate on offense.
We're not happy with the yards and the points scored by our offense this season.
We hope we can demonstrate that we are headed back in the more explosive direction
rather than the lethargic direction with our offense. This is really going
to be a test for us because East Carolina's defense is really good. So if we
can do some good things against them then it bodes well for us in the spring
and gets us ready for next year."
On if East Carolina got his attention with its early wins or the C-USA
Championship late in the year ...
"Well all of the above really. The two wins that they had to start out
the year and against Virginia Tech and West Virginia, they were just a very
physical, dominant team. Against West Virginia, they shut West Virginia's offense
down to nothing. It was a very impressive performance. Then they had some problems
in the middle of the year but finished on a very high note. I watched game
as it progressed on television for the (Conference USA) Championship when they
defeated Tulsa and that was a very impressive performance defensively by taking
the ball away, persistence on offense and doing everything that they needed
to do to win that game. It was tough environment for them to do that. So I
think all of those things combined - as a conference champion and knocking
off two BCS teams in absolute outstanding fashion. If that doesn't catch your
attention, then there's something wrong with you."
On Mike Hartline's progression since the end of the regular season ...
"I think the transition when Randall (Cobb) became the starter over the
last four games, it took us a little while to get some of that offense ran
efficiently with the option and the spread quarterback run game. It obviously
was at its best against Georgia but once people got it on film along with Randall's
inexperience in not being able always to see things and change the plays hurt
us a little bit at the end as well as some of our other injuries. I don't think
we have taken a step backwards from where we were with what Mike Hartline
doing as an eight-game starter. In the first eight games he was 5-3 and brought
us from behind in the Arkansas game. He's done some good things. It appears
to me in practice that the people around him now are more proficient than they
were at the time he was replaced by Randall Cobb
On keeping players fresh during the weeks leading up to the bowl game ...
"For two years, I think we have been about as good as we could be in that
scenario; coming into a bowl game and coming in playing at a high level with
high energy and execution. But every year is a different deal; every group
is a different group of players. So I am always concerned how we're going to
play in the game after that long of a period of time without an actual game.
We did get the young players a lot of fundamental work, particularly before
we got down here, but this is pretty much just all preparation for East Carolina,
so the young guys and the red-shirts aren't getting as much work now. We're
just getting ready to try to win a football game."
On the punt return game with the potential of Randall Cobb not being available ...
"Nervous, it could be (Gene) McCaskill or it could be Winston Guy. But
when you people handling punts in the games that don't have experience doing
that, it's an area you have to be concerned about until they prove they can
be sure-handed back there. They haven't exactly done it as well as I would
like in practice so nervous would a very good description of what I would be
when we return punts. I just hope we can force them to punt."
On his expectations on defense and offense for the Liberty Bowl game ...
"I don't know what I am expecting, I am just hoping we can go out and
play good football. I'm hoping our defense will play at the optimal level that
they have played at in six or seven games this year when I thought we were
outstanding on defense. Then we had a couple of games where we were average
on defense and one or two where we weren't very good on defense. So I hope
we get back to playing outstanding defense. Offensively, like I have said,
is an area that we need to show that we are headed in an upward direction with
our offensive production and I'm hopeful that we can do that. The bottom line
is I'll be happy if we have one more point than they do."
On East Carolina's defense ...
"Well, they are very physical. Their two tackles inside to me are as good
as anybody that we've seen in the SEC. They're big, physical and quick. Their
front seven in total is very good against the run. Their secondary players
are ball hawks. They cover well; they break on the ball and make plays on the
ball. They're as good as most defense in our league. They just make plays.
Again, going back to the beginning of their season against West Virginia, West
Virginia puts a lot of points up against a lot of people and their style of
play gives a lot of people problems and (East Carolina's) defense flat knocked
their socks off. I think what (East Carolina) did defensively against Tulsa,
the number one offensive team in the nation, in their last game was very impressive
in the way they "ball-hawked" and took the ball away."