Cutcliffe: Injuries a problem

Head coach David Cutcliffe met the media for his weekly conference call. Here's the transcript...

COACH CUTCLIFFE: We're playing an opponent we're very familiar with at FIU that we had to play a year ago in Miami. So we're very aware of the quality of ability and the quality of coaching. They also returned every one, basically, so we're extremely familiar with their personnel.

We think it's one of the more talented teams in many areas that we'll play and very impressed with what they've been able to do in a short period of time. I guess this is Coach Cristobal's sixth season, and they have recruited extremely well and put together quite a program. So a big challenge in an opener for us at home.

Q. Yesterday you told us that you had veteran players and guys that have started or been key players at almost every position. The two exceptions to that have been your two kickers. What have you done in preseason to try to prepare those two guys for what they're going to face in a game?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: We have put them in a number of pressure situations. You can't totally create a game, but we have been in a number of pressure situations where I've stopped practice, made them perform, brought our whole team on the field, standing around, cheering. Just over and overtaking timeouts, iced, everything we could think to do, and they've handled all of that well.

But the bottom line is neither one of them have punted or place kicked in a major college football game, but I suspect they'll get comfortable pretty quickly. The big thing is they can't count on being successful right out of the chute. But those guys are extremely talented and tough mentally, so I'm comfortable with where they are.

Q. How important is that for you? You've got good place kicking two years ago, and last year that was a sore point. For a team that's played so many close games over the last few years, how important is it to succeed in the place kicking situations?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, I think it's even both of them. It's all areas. But it's punting and field position that comes into play, and how well you kick the ball off. Lord knows you're right on to scoring points when we need them in the area of field goals. When the margin of error is not very big, which it isn't for us at this point, you've got to be particularly good in all phases of the kicking game.

But when we can get points, we've got to get points. That's why we recruited so diligently in that area. We really felt like everybody we evaluated, saw in person, that there wasn't anyone close to Ross Martin, and I still feel that way.

It's going to be critical, but it's, like I said, it's a long haul. It's a long season. He's got a four-year career ahead of him. We've got to keep that mentality with him. He's like a relief pitcher.

Occasionally they go out there and get a shock and hit-and-run off the mound. They've got to go back the next night, and it's no different with the placekicker. They've got to recover quickly and go out the next kick. There may be a game winner after missing two earlier in the game.

I think he's got that mentality, and as I said, I'm very comfortable with both of those young men.

Q. You've probably addressed this with your local beat writers, but it seems on the surface, it seems to be a pretty intriguing but somewhat unusual match-up with Florida International. How did it come up?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Sorry, I missed a little bit of that. How did we end up scheduling? Well, we were both looking for non-conference games. We felt good about playing in the South Florida area and doing a home at home with them. You look at all of that carefully. If I'm going to do a home at home with the team, I like it to be in an area that we are really going to recruit hard and make people aware of our presence. And they were in that geography zone and they had an availability, so that's how it came out.

Q. Do you have any connections with anybody down there on the staff?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: No, not really. I have great respect for Mario. I'm aware of him for a long time. I recruited him as an assistant coach in Miami for about 15 years. So I'm really familiar with the area. I knew they'd be tough. I mean, between Broward and Dade counties in population, there are as many people in those two counties as there are in the entire state of North Carolina, and we're not a small state.

So they've done a great job recruiting South Florida and other areas. But they're a very formidable program. I'm not saying just this team. They're going to have a program for quite some time.

Q. You beat these guys last year. What is the key to doing that again this year?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: They're going to pitch in space on defense, and we have got to minimize the damage, can't give up explosives. They're an explosive-type team offensively, and they'll put you in a bunch of bad situations. One-on-one tackling, we'll just have to tackle well in space.

Their defense, the first thing you have to do is control their front. They really have some prospects -- next-level prospects in their front. So we did a good job last year of keeping them off of our quarterback.

One of the things that we can do better that would help us is run the football better against them. That is no easy task. But something that our team needs to do, period, particularly losing some of our play makers that we've lost in the passing game. This team this year will need to run the ball better to be as good as we can be.

Q. Have you ever had a team or been around a team that had so many injuries with key guys before you played a game?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: No, I don't understand it. I tell you. I've never even been close to this. We have minimally now 12 scholarship players that will be out of the first game. At the end of June, it didn't look anything like that. July was a difficult month for us, and certainly August has continued on the same path.

But our guys are resilient. They've been resilient since we've been here. This is a resilient staff. If a group can handle it, it will be this team. This team is a unique make-up of a lot of kids that have played a lot of football and gone through a lot together. So I'm hoping that we're able to rise to that occasion.

Q. I know you can't control any of this, but do you feel like maybe you're getting it out of your system now before you get started? Maybe things will be fine from here on in?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: That's my prayer. We can't take many more hits. I'll be honest with you, it's made me a little cautious at practice, and I don't have any choice. You just have to be. I told our staff I'd like to have a little more contact. I'd like to do this. But like to do doesn't have anything to do with it right now.

Here's our circumstances and this is what we've got to do. So there are some channels involved in that, but we've got a veteran staff, and a fairly veteran football team. I believe they'll handle it well.


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