GREENVILLE, N.C. – Sixth-year East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media on Monday prior to Thursday's road game against UCF. The following are selected comments:
“The open week was needed. I gave the kids off Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (last week). Wednesday and Thursday were what we call ‘Varsity Shorts’ and it went really snappy. We want snappy practices during that time. We worked the old guys, but mainly got those young guys their needed work. Friday began game week for us, just like Sunday’s. Forgive me for not knowing what day it is because Friday was like Sunday to me, Saturday was a Monday and last night was a Tuesday. We had a great practice last night. The kids were bouncing around, excited about getting after it.
“UCF is having a tough time too right now, but it’s a George O’Leary program. George built that program from the bottom, brick-by-brick. During my first year in Conference USA, George taught us about the importance of the front seven and the offensive line. Justin Holman is the quarterback. He’s active, athletic and has a strong arm. Up front, you see Jason Rae at center. This is his second year starting. The other guy who stands out is Tarik Cook. He’s got 18 starts. The size up front has always been there. The receivers are a really young group, but redshirt freshman Tre’Quan Smith is very athletic. They’ll be just like a George O’Leary team we’ve seen with two-back and one-back personnel, along with a tight end in place.
“Defensively, they use 4-3 up front. They’re 2-deep normally, but sometimes they’ll put that safety in the box. Up front, Jamiyus Pittman and Domenic Spencer at the linebacker positions are really active, and Drico Johnson is a tall DB that stands out watching film. They have guys, like always, that are fundamentally sound and have gap discipline up front. On special teams, they have an excellent punting unit.
“I’m looking forward to going down there. The controllable's are us having a good day of practice, which started last night. I thought yesterday was a very active practice.”
On The Value Of The Bye Week And Injury Recoveries:
“That last game was physical. With Dontae (Levingston) still out and Quincy McKinney going down that Tuesday before, we’ll find out later today and we hope we get Quincy back. It helped a lot of guys from Zeek (Bigger) on down with the guys who’ve played a lot of snaps. I love the players, but I love them as kids more.”
On Areas Of Emphasis During The Week Off:
“Execution was big. We went back to the dual quarterbacks with Blake (Kemp) and James (Summers). In fairness, James worked all summer at being Justin (Hardy) for us. When both quarterbacks went down, Cody Keith included, putting James under the fire wasn’t really advantageous for him, but he didn’t flinch. Blake and James work well together. Getting healthy was the biggest thing we did, including being smart with our reps – not coaching scared, but being smart so we can have as strong of a unit as we can.”
On The Players’ Attitudes Right Now:
“Because the program has been built, from the very beginning, and people ask what I mean when I say brick-by-brick, I say it’s from a bible lesson. If your foundation is strong, it can withstand storms and strengths and whatever happens. Because our foundation is strong, the kids’ mentalities are great. Our staff has been great. The attitude has been great – non-flinching. I’ve been proud of that, but I didn’t expect anything but that.”
On The Team Playing For The Seniors And Focusing On Getting To A Bowl Game:
“They understand what the seniors have done. This senior class has done a lot for this program and university from things they’ve done on the field and in the classroom. A lot of times, what’s forgotten are the body of work the older guys have brought to this university and this program. Last year, I told Isaiah (Jones) to get around Deuce (Justin Hardy) and learn all you can from him. I told him (Justin) the same thing when 17 (Dwayne Harris) were around here. That’s what I sensed.”
On If There Is Any Added Pressure Playing Against A Winless Team:
“I feel pressure each week. Thirty-six years, each game I feel pressure. I talked to my dad last night. Pressure is this: Your house payment is $2,000 per month and you only make $1,000. You have to find a way to get that 2,000. The pressure is I want to win for the seniors and I want to win for this team. That pressure is always there. It’s three times for me. I’ve been a student here, a player here and now a coach here. Three times the excitement and three times it’s tough.”
On If He Has Seen The Players Playing More Free Since the USF Game:
“I have. Kids will do what you harp on. Not hesitating was the biggest thing. Just play. Swing your sword. Don’t swing it wildly, just swing it. I’ve seen that from the quarterbacks and really from the entire team. We have a very fast football team and a very athletic team, but we’ve been hurt by some key injuries in key places that are hard to come by. You can say ‘next man up, next man up,’ and Ohio State can go to their third quarterback, but that’s Ohio State. The kids make no excuses and no complaints.”
On Potentially Putting Blake Kemp And James Summers In The Game At The Same Time:
“I don’t think so. I’ve been asked that a few times, but that’s a video game question. We’ve got some skill guys out there. We just have to make sure we get the ball in their hands. I understand that.”