Coaches Corner: Lincoln Riley

Inside ECU Sports stopped by Sunday night's practice to discuss East Carolina becoming bowl eligible with a win over Florida International as well as the team's return home to take on Tulsa.

Q: That's the third time you've made the call for the trick play with Justin Hardy making the pass. How does it feel to finally connect with it?

A: Those are great. They're fun when they look good. We felt like we had a shot there. We've got some good ball handlers. [Vintavious] Cooper is a good ball handler, being a former quarterback. Hardy—we've got several guys that give you that option.

Those are good. They get the kids excited and they enjoy it. If teams are going to give it to you, we've got to be able to attack them. That was a big play for us at a big time and the guys did guys did a great job executing.

Q: Everyone looks at how the first half or so went, but really it's all about getting a win. If you look at the rest of the conference, some teams were upset on the road and you weren't one of them.

A: A 21-point win on the road, we're not good enough to be complaining about that. Road wins are tough in the conference. It's hard to do it. They all present their own challenges. FIU certainly did. Our kids played hard.

They had a good game plan. In the first three quarters, I don't think they snapped the ball with any more than three seconds left on the play clock. The entire time, they tried to keep us off the field offensively and did a good job of that.

We played well, offensively, the first half. We didn't have a very good second drive, but other than that, we played well. I think we were 10 yards a play. We did not play very well the third quarter. We started slow. I thought we had a little bit of trouble getting that edge back again. Fourth quarter, we settled in and defense and offense got going and we were able to put them away.

It was a great win. It's great to move on from that one and we've got a big one coming up this week.

Q: Of course, you guys are bowl eligible, as well as three other teams in conference and two that are on pace, making six. With all the talk this year about who the conference lost, it looks like there are still a lot of really good teams in the conference.

A: Absolutely. It's funny how the conference has shifted, too. It's really become a stronger defensive conference. A lot of the teams we've been playing, it seems like the strengths of a lot of these teams have been defensively. I think that's why you're seeing a little bit more parity.

There's a lot of people playing well. Even the teams that haven't won as many have been right there with other teams. You see it's even across the board and that's what makes it exciting as you go down there to the last few games of the year. Obviously, they're going to mean a lot to a lot of people. You've got to be playing your best ball and the best teams will at this time.

Q: You look at the goals going into the season. Of course, you want to win a bowl game, but now that you're bowl eligible, it seems like another notch for one of your season goals this year, isn't it?

A: You don't want to take it for granted. It's hard to win. Wins are hard. Everybody has coaches and players and facilities and they're hard. You don't want to take that for granted.

This team certainly has goals beyond going and winning a bowl game. That'll be a big part of it when we get there. This team's been hungry for a championship since day one. We've got ourselves in good position to go do that and we're going to have to continue to improve and make strides. I think we have the right group to do that.

Q: What are your thoughts on how FIU managed the clock and how are you preparing to do it better against Tulsa?

A: It's a little bit more of a question for the other side. That's not something that, offensively, we can control. The biggest thing we would do is we have to have that mentality of controlling what we can control. If you get in a game where there's limited possessions, you got to make the most out of each possession.

You can't go out there and squander possessions. You can't have three-and-outs. We had a couple of them [Saturday]. That's not what we're about. We're not used to having those. It was disappointing there, but you've got to make the possessions count. Control what you can control.

If people have that game plan, you have to be ready to adjust. I said I thought we settled in. We obviously played very well defensively in the second half. We got going offensively in the fourth quarter after playing a pretty good first half. They had a good plan. They did a good job of executing it in the first half. I thought we wore them down in the end.

Q: After playing in front of virtually no one for the second game in a row, how ready are the guys to get back in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium?

A: They played in front of a lot of Pirate fans! They're really ready. Not because of anywhere we've played and not because of good or bad about anybody else. It's just exciting to get back here in front of everyone else after we've been on the road for a while. I thought the group had a lot of energy for the Southern Miss game a few weeks ago. We've been on that long road trip and it's great to be home.

Coach is talking to the seniors, who have got 150 or 200 snaps left in there a piece and that's it. We only have two more times to do it and we only get to do it six times a year. I wish we could play eight games at home, but it's special when we do it. We know it's going to be a rowdy crown and we look forward to playing.

Q: Your thoughts on the amazing chemistry shown by quarterback Shane Carden and true freshman Isaiah Jones?

A: It's getting better. He's played a lot of the different positions throughout the year, but they do it. Shane has gotten where we really trust him. He's a big target, whereas in the past guys at that position have been a little bit smaller for us. He brings some size, which quarterback always like throwing to bigger guys because there are a lot more places to throw it where they can catch the football.

He's just been dependable. He's been steady. He's stayed healthy and has really gained the trust of our quarterbacks. He's getting a lot of opportunities and is continuing to make them. He's stepped up huge for this football team this year and he's just getting better and better each week. It's just getting more fun with him each week!

Q: You might not see it in their record, but Tulsa has a great program. What kinds of things are you looking for in their defense?

A: Defending conference champions! They have a lot of size. I've seen that right off the top on film—big linebackers, big d-line. You see a big, physical football team. Really, since the Oklahoma game, nobody has moved the ball great on them.

I think it's going to be a tough test for us. It's no question. They're hungry. They'll come in there with their backs against the wall. Like I said, defending conference champions. This has always been a great series. We had the one game on the Hail Mary here a few years ago. That was the last time we've played them, but obviously these two teams have met for conference championships and big conference games. It's always been a good football game and I'm sure it will be on Saturday.

We'll have to be ready to play. We know they still have a lot of really good football players. I know some things haven't gone their way this year, but it's a big conference game. It's a rivalry game within the conference, in my opinion, and we're going to have to be ready to go.

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