Coaches Corner: Q&A

Inside ECU Sports caught up with ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill and both of the coordinators, Lincoln Riley and Rick Smith to discuss their preparation for Old Dominion.

------- Head coach Ruffin McNeill: -------

Q: What are the team's attitudes towards the Monarchs?

A: "We know we're facing a team, a good team. Right now, our major focus out there is on us: making sure we do things we can control. That's how we practice, that's how we prepare—mentally and physically—in meetings and on the field. We understand what that brings to our offense and our defense, but our main focus is on making sure we do the things we do well and that's where we started [Sunday]. That's where everyone's focus is."

Q: What have you seen on tape that ODU does well?

A: "They do a lot. They're well coached. Coach [Bobby] Wilder won everywhere he's been. Offensively, they'll be a NASCAR speed-type offense with great tails and a great quarterback. Defensively, they'll be an attacking unit on defense. They take a lot of pride in their special teams, just like we do. On all three sides of the ball, we can beat them. I'm looking forward to the contest. We still have three more physical days on the field and four of five days of mental before the game."

------- Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley: -------

Q: How was the first night of game week prep?

A: "It was good. We got on our Sunday night routine. Meetings were good, practice was good. You can tell it's a little bit of a different feeling. The guys have a little bit extra bounce in their step and it was a good start. We've been prepping for a number of opponents throughout camp and we're just trying to get better as a whole. It was good to put somebody up there and have that target, and goal for the week and obviously the end of camp and preseason preparation. They were good and they bounced around and they're excited for the week."

Q: What are some keys you're looking for in the passing game against ODU?

A: I don't know. Complete a lot of balls and score a lot of points. We'll see how the game comes, how it develops. We want to always be efficient. We want to get the ball into play and we want to take care of the ball. And then, if some chances present themselves to get the ball down the field and have the chance to make some explosive (plays), we want to do that. That's not specifically for ODU—that's really more generally for us."

Q: How about the rushing game? How's the running back situation coming together?

A: [Vintavious] Cooper and Cory Hunter and [Chris] Hairston will all play. I'm sure Zico [Pasut] will play. Those guys are playing well. We've got a good four-man rotation there in the backfield. A lot of guys that can do stuff well. We feel like they can be very effective. Certainly, the key will be up front, our offensive line opening those holes up and understanding we've got some good backs back there and if we give them some space, we'll be able to make some things happen."

Q: For your offense, what position are you looking for to step up most vs. ODU on Saturday?

A: "That's a tough one to narrow down. You know, it's the first game. Just the biggest thing to look for is the offense as a whole, trust in what we've been doing. Trust in that what they've done in practice is good enough. Trust in their teammates that when you get in that game situation, especially some of the young guys, that we'll really be able to show how much belief and faith we have in what we're doing. I think if you can do that well in the first game, you have a great chance of playing well."

Q: The Monarchs will debut their third defensive coordinator in three years. What have you been doing to scout their new defense?

A: "Just the same stuff we always do. We look at a coach's history. We look at personal from the previous year. With the first game, there's always some guessing going on. There'll be some things that they do that we haven't seen and I'm sure we'll do some things they haven't seen. That's how a typical first game goes. So I think it all goes back into trusting what you're doing and being able to make those in game adjustments—that's always a key in the first game."

------- Defensive coordinator Rick Smith: -------

Q: How was the first day of game week prep for ODU?

A: "It was good. They had their legs back, they moved really around really well, they seemed excited to be here. So it was a good night."

Q: On defense, what position are you looking to see step up most come Saturday?

A: "Well, they throw the ball so much. Their quarterback completed 70 percent last year. You know, the secondary's had the monkey on their back here for a couple of years. People said they don't play well. They're going to have to play well for us to, you know, do well against Old Dominion. At the same time, it's never just one unit. It's always 11 guys doing their job. It doesn't matter who you got in the secondary or what you call it if you don't have pressure. It doesn't matter what you do up front if you don't have guys doing it right on the backend. It doesn't help to be right on the back-end and have pressure if your linebackers aren't where they're supposed to be underneath. Pass defense is 11 guys doing what they're supposed to do. It's just like run defense. If you take your four DBs off the field and let them run the football, they're going to kill you! So, defensive backs have to play the run. Defensive backs have to play the pass. Linebackers have to play the pass, they have to play the run. Same thing with the front. It all works together—11 guys doing it right."

Q: ODU's quarterback Taylor Heinicke can run the ball, too. How do you plan on locking down that aspect of his dual threat?

A: "When you rush the passer, we talk about containing the run. Well, you got to contain the quarterback. When you let the quarterback on the perimeter, big plays happen for them. When you don't contain the quarterback, you're going to get beat in the passing game. If you don't contain the run, you're going to get beat on the perimeter on the run. It's where big plays come. It's real simple work, you know, it's contain. That means keep the football inside. Everybody on every defense has a job. Somebody on defense is supposed to keep the quarterback inside when they're rushing the passer. If it's a run, somebody's supposed to keep the runner inside. If we do that, our chances are greatly improved if we contain that kid. He ran the ball 120-some times for 500 yards and 11 touchdowns. He threw the ball, he completed almost 400 passes out of the 600. So, he's pretty good quarterback. He didn't win the Payton Award because people like him. He's a hell of a quarterback. He can beat you with his arm or his feet. Very intelligent young man, too. And tough."

Q: The Monarchs added a few big guys to their offense line. How do you plan on overcoming their size?

A: "Well that's the size we practice against every day. You play in our league, you see those guys. They've got four of their five offensive lineman are back. One of their tackles is 6'6", one of their guards is 6'5", their center is 6'5", their other guard is 6'4". They signed a young man out of junior college that got in there early. He was an early graduate of junior college and he's starting for them and he's 6'6". They're big on the offensive line and they've got 10 starters back. They've got three of their best receivers back. Their tail back, I think, is no longer with them, but the backup tail back rushed for five yards a carry last year. He's back. So it'll be a test for us."

Q: With a lot of depth at linebacker, how is that position shaping up as the game approaches?

A: "Good. They've practiced pretty well all fall. You don't worry too much about depth there. At outside linebacker and inside linebacker, we're three deep. So we've got six inside linebackers that can play and six outside linebackers that can play."

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