Coach's Corner: Fast start needed

"We need to play well. We need to get off to a good start; that is a high priority for us. We need to show that we are in that game, and that we can do some things and stay with them. The offense needs to get a couple of drives put together because we have been three-and-out too much." So John Mackovic began his weekly press conference, addressing a number of difficult topics.

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Mackovic on getting off to a fast start on Saturday.

John Mackovic: "Against Purdue, our defense was put into a couple of tough spots after the first drive. The defense held its own there through the first quarter and the early part of the second quarter. We need to get our offense in a little better shape as far as being able to move the ball and get some drives going. I expect that TCU will come this week with the same kind of heavy pressure that Purdue showed."

How good is TCU's defense?

Mackovic: "Defensively, they are good, really good. They play like they are in the top 30. They play the run very tough because there are people close to the line of scrimmage all of the time. And, they just feel that if you have to pass that many times in order to beat them, that the odds are in their favor to get some turnovers."

How have injuries affected their offense?

Mackovic: "(Brandon) Hassell has come on at quarterback and has really demonstrated an ability to run their offense, and he can really run. He actually is faster than (Ty) Gunn. He has executed their offense very well, and I would suspect that they might use the option more with him this week. They also have some really good running backs."

You have a young team playing their fourth ranked opponent in as may weeks, how tough has that been?

Mackovic: "We have a tough schedule, but we knew that it was going to be difficult from the beginning. They are all veteran teams, which make it tough when you have a young team. And, they are veteran teams with veteran quarterbacks. That's what is difficult for a defense because the quarterbacks have been around, and they really have an idea about how to do things."

How do you feel about the way the team played this weekend?

Mackovic:"The scores do not reflect how we've improved. Our blocking and tackling was significantly improved in the Purdue game. Our players felt good about it. They felt they could hang with Purdue and play with them until that 81-yard bomb with two minutes to go in the first half. That kind of deflated us a bit.

"Offensively, we didn't do a good enough job of helping our guys get ready for the speed. I thought Purdue played a lot faster, and we weren't ready for that. That falls upon us to do a better job of preparing this week. We've been trying to find a quarterback, and when you're searching for someone to step forward at quarterback during the time that you are playing veteran teams, it is tough. We are a little uncertain about who is going to play quarterback, but what we can do is try to fit it as best as we can and go on from there."

What do you have to do about the running game?

Mackovic: "It wasn't all their (running backs) fault. There were a couple of times where people missed a block here and there, and they were trying to avoid defenders. We had a couple of things set up. Maybe we didn't do a good enough job of focusing on and emphasizing exactly what needed to be done. I thought there were a couple of times early where we could have punched the line of scrimmage and made some positive yards. Runners run, and it is very difficult to legislate runners. You can get them to a certain place, and from there, runners run. There is a time when the runner has to know when to hit the line because you can't outrun the defense all of the time. If we haven't done a good enough job of making them realize on some of these plays that's what you have to do, then this week we will make that point."

What do you plan on doing about the quarterback race?

Mackovic: "At the quarterback position, the things that make you a successful quarterback are: a) the ability to operate the offense; b) the ability to move the ball; and c) the ability to not give the ball to the other team. The last thing a quarterback usually learns is to not give the ball away to the other team. Throw it away, eat it, but don't throw it into coverage. It's like a failure if you can't scramble and make a play, but it's not. That has to be part of your priorities as a quarterback."

Do you have the leaders you need to keep this team afloat during these tough times?

Mackovic: "I think it is fluid. Players recognize performance, and in athletics it has always been that way. It isn't necessarily all of the performances on the field. Players will recognize and respect someone who is playing at his highest ability level even though he may not be a star player, but they know that he is giving his all. If he says something, then, they will respect that. By and large, most of your leaders come from players who have good performances."

"Last week, I made Clay Hardt and Beau Carr our two co-captains for the game, which to some people was a little bit of a surprise. Clay is one of those guys who plays as hard as he can. Like every player, he may or may not make every play, but it's not because he is not playing hard. On the other side, Beau Carr is a sophomore. He didn't get all of his work done in the summer, so for three weeks he basically wasn't on the team. He came back, and he started on the scout squad, and then we moved him up two weeks ago. We told him he might play, and that he better be ready. He came to me and said he wanted to play and do whatever he could to help the team. Last Tuesday during the stretch, I told him that his best chance to play might be at fullback rather than halfback. We put him in there, and he blocked as hard as he could. He did everything that he could possibly do to get ready to play. This week, he is not playing fullback; this week, he will be the starter at tailback because of the way he played in the game. He earned his way. Those are two good examples of leadership from an older guy and a younger guy."

How is the morale/attitude of this team?

Mackovic: "If you talked to any 10 players, they would all say that we can get better, and that we can win. We have focused on what we want them to do and how they are showing improvement in what we have asked them to do. Hopefully, that will lead to better scores on the scoreboard. If it were just a matter of saying that we played better this week than we did last week, that would be great, but they do keep score. Players recognize that, the coaches recognize that, and the fans recognize that; it's a reality."

"When you aren't winning and the scores get a little high, it hurts a little extra. When you're young, you should never get discouraged. You just have to bounce up out of bed every day; youth allows people to do that. I told them that I didn't expect for them to be laughing and joking at practice, but our practice in no way should be somber and sullen."

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