Coaches Corner: Rick Smith

Michael Prunka talked to East Carolina defensive coordinator about Saturday's 58-24 win over Tulsa and preparation for this Saturday's game versus UAB.

Q: You struggled on third down in the first quarter, but really pulled it together for the rest of the game. What were some of the keys to that?

A: Well, in the first half, we had three chances to sack him and just didn't make the tackle. Give the quarterback credit. We hit him one time. I mean, two guys hit him right in the gut. He delivered a great throw and we were that close to where we should be in man-to-man coverage. So, some of the third downs they executed and some of the third downs we didn't execute.

We did a much better job the second half. We wound up 50 percent. We did a great job on third-and-medium. We were 75 percent. We were not very well on third-and-long, which is amazing. One time, we had the kid sacked and missed the tackle. Another time we had a guy right where he was in coverage. The quarterback scrambled, we came out of coverage and he dumps it to him. Just dumb crap.

We've got to get better on third down, and they know that. That's just what we did tonight was third down defense.

Q: What's your assessment of the rush defense? Saturday was the first time you've had a player run for 100 or more yards.

A: Well, we were worried about him all week. We had some problems in gap integrity. I have to take blame for part of it. We move our guys a lot. We move them right, we move them left, and they had a great plan. They were washing us out of our gaps. Once we realized that, we quit stunting and pretty much just played base defense and we did a lot better in the second half.

Again, the coaches made great adjustments for us. John Wiley, Marc [Yellock] and Duane [Price] did a great job at halftime with the adjustments.

Q: Of course, Zeek Bigger's done great this season, but how was it having Jeremy Grove back out there?

A: Jeremy actually played the second half and played a lot better than Zeek. They were doing some things we hadn't repped, and Zeek is a young kid. You rep everything he does. Now Zeek played okay, but he didn't play as well as Jeremy.

Q: How about the secondary in general? You had three interceptions and held them to 19 completions on 44 attempts.

A: Like I said, pass defense is pass rush, underneath coverage and deep coverage. We played the coverages better than we played them all year, but it was the linebackers doing a great job underneath. My guys were where they were supposed to be, but my guys have an easier job because they're deep and they have more time to react.

For linebackers to read run or pass and get where they're supposed to be and wall this guy or wall that guy, I just thought that Jeremy and Brandon Smith especially did a great job. When we dropped Terrell [Stanley], he did a nice job. Gabe [Woullard] did a nice job. The linebackers are the key to underneath coverage and I thought the underneath coverage is as good as it's been all year. My kids did a good job, too. None of my guys got beat deep.

Q: What are you looking for in UAB's offense?

A: Well, we haven't had a lot of time to study them. Usually on Sundays, we spend time looking at third down. They're going to be difficult to get a beat on on third down. They do some stuff you don't expect on third down. Third-and-10, sometimes they're in 22 personnel running the ball or play actioning the ball. And sometimes they're in 21.

So we'll break that down and come up with a plan for each personnel package. If they're just going to line up and run it on third down, we're going to be in base defense.

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