Coaches Corner: Rick Smith

Michael Prunka visited practice on Monday and discussed East Carolina's loss to Marshall with defensive coordinator Rick Smith.

Q: Third down defense struggled against Marshall. What was the Thundering Herd doing to prevent us from making those stops?

A: Well, we didn't sack the quarterback sometimes when we should have. He scrambles. If he gets out of the pocket and runs around, it's real hard to cover people. Sometimes we should have sacked him and didn't get the sack and he's scrambling. You can't cover him forever. So, sometimes the defensive line didn't do their job.

Other times, when the d-line had him bottled up, we didn't do our job. We knew some plays would give us problems. They did a great job on their play action stuff. We call it the pop pass. The read zone, the linemen get down field three yards. It looks like a run and the tight end releases down the field. And they ran a lot of crossing routes.

Basically, it was the big plays. One time, we blitzed. We got everything covered and they ran right by the official Michael Dobson gets picked. He's going for the play. That was a touchdown, which wasn't anyone's fault. The official was in the wrong spot.

I have yet to put my finger on it, but I don't know if there were any plays where we had 11 guys doing what they were supposed to be doing. I thought the game plan we came up with was good. At times, we stoned them and at other times it looked like we didn't know what we were doing.

Q: What role did mental preparation play?

I don't think they were mentally ready to play. I think when things happened—sometimes we feed off the offense. Well, the offense wasn't doing anything. We weren't doing anything. Special teams wasn't.

I don't know if we were just mentally tired. It was a very emotional game at N.C. State. It was a physical game. I think we left something on that field that we didn't need to leave there. The weather was really bad two days we practiced. I don't think they were focused.

But you're still playing for a ring. You have to overcome all that. I got frazzled because nothing I called worked on third down. I could have done maybe a… Hell, I know I could have done a better job. It was me and them. We just didn't do a good job.

It's my job to get them ready. In my defense, I've told them it's each player's responsibility to get ready to play between the ears. There is no way I can crawl inside another human being brain and get him ready to play. I've been doing it for 43 years and I have yet to figure out how I can get somebody ready to play. They're on scholarship! It's their job to get ready to play. All I can do is prepare them physically to do what they have to do and to know what to do on every call.

Now, if they're not mentally ready to do that, full speed trying to get after somebody, that's their fault. I think any coach in America will tell you that. They got to get themselves ready to play mentally. We talk to them and we look at film, but if they're not ready to play mentally, that's on them. I know some fan may disagree with me, but that same fan probably has a hard time getting his kid to do right and wrong. Before you criticize a coach for not having a team mentally ready to play, think about when you tell your kids something to do any they don't do it right.

An 18 to 22-year-old man should have enough responsibility to get himself ready to play mentally. Especially when he's got a championship ring that he's playing for. If they're not ready to play mentally, that's their fault. I'm not taking responsibility for that. I'll take responsibility for calling a bad game or putting them in a bad defense, but when a guy isn't ready to play, that's his fault.

Q: One big story going into the game was Terry Williams coming back to the team. How did you assess his return from suspension?

A: He didn't play a lot. He played some the first half. Whenever the game was out of hand, he played more. We played him more just to get him reps and get him ready for the rest of the season. He came back in pretty good shape. During his eight-week suspension, he lifted weights on his own and ran on his own. He was in good shape when he came back.

Q: Heading into the game, Rakeem Cato was one of the biggest concerns. However, the run game took over and accounted for five of Marshall's touchdowns. What did they do to take advantage of our rush defense, which has been stellar all season?

A: They blocked us. And we had a safety that missed five tackles. We lost our gap integrity sometimes. We missed tackles in the secondary. When your secondary doesn't tackle, you're in trouble!

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