GREENVILLE, N.C. – Sixth-year East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media on Monday prior to this Saturday’s home finale against Cincinnati. The following are selected comments:
“Before the game last week, as a staff, we met with the team and I thought it was very important to bring attention to the team concept that we began six years ago. When it’s tested during tough times, that’s what will get you through – understanding what we’ve all put into the team and we’re all one team. That was a general thing. It sounds simple, but it was big for us to realize that. We’ll do the same thing this week.
“This is a two-time week here. We’ll have a football gathering, but also a Thanksgiving gathering. I’ll look forward to seeing those happy faces on Thursday, and we’ll have Thanksgiving dinner for them. There will be kids and family, and there will be some full bellies after we practice Thursday morning.
“Getting ready for the game against Cincinnati, this is a great opportunity for us. Cincinnati is a very talented football team. One NFL scout said they have as much NFL talent on their team as anyone in the country. I thought, last week, on offense, we did a great job of playing fast and getting the ball to our talent and skill set. We still need to cut down on our penalties. It’s important that we stay ahead on the sticks and we did that.
“Defensively, on third down – 17 percent – getting off the field on third down, we had eight three-and-outs, so that was big. We had big plays, so I was proud of those guys. We’d like to get more turnovers. (On) special teams, I was very proud of our field goals. Davis (Plowman) did a great job of knocking them down. Those points were important. We worked on our protection and field goal operation time and it was good to see that. I’m very proud of the guys and what they were able to do. I’m happiest when I see the kids and the staff happy in the locker room. That’s my joy. They’ve been working hard so it’s good to see those faces.”
On Similarities And Differences Between Cincinnati’s Team This Year And Last:
“I like (Gunner) Kiel. He’s an outstanding quarterback, but they’re playing Hayden (Moore) a little but now, too. What stands out on offense is the receiving core. You notice the difference in size between South Florida and this team, especially up front offensively. On defense, with a new coordinator, they’re going with more 4-2-5, so that’s different for them. They play a lot of base and blitz a little bit, but they want to just get four-man pressure and defend you with seven. Special teams-wise, they have an outstanding field goal guy. He’s got 30 touchbacks this year and a long (kick) of 51 (yards). You see them playing some young kids on defense.”
On Breaking The Losing Skid at UCF:
“It was good to see the kids execute and see them play fast. I thought we didn’t hesitate. I thought the sideline was magnificent during the game and all three sides played well. Even after the onside kick, I was very proud of our defense coming out and getting a stop. On the first drive by our offense, we came back and answered.”
On Pat Green’s Special Teams Performance at UCF:
“Pat’s been coming on for us. He’s matured. Last year, boy, it was every day I was getting on him about something – just about caring. He’s got a lot of ability. He played with a passion that we know he had when we signed him. He was one of the guys we thought could play wide receiver as well – very athletic. He told me before the game, ‘Coach, I’m going to get some turnovers for us today,’ and then he caused the first one. He almost had three because he had his head around a fourth one, but then that next one, he laid the wood. Pat had what we talk about with the team concept. He took pride in doing his job on special teams.”
On Getting The Ball Into The Hands Of Playmakers:
“This offense is built upon distribution and we came in the same way six years ago. It’s good to see that happen. Playing fast – that’s our whole deal. It was good to see the guys make runs after the catch and block for one another. I thought Chris (Hairston) did an outstanding job of being a good runner and also being his own blocker. He protected well, too. Our offensive line, as beat up as they are, they did a great job of giving Blake (Kemp) time and opening lanes for our runners.”
On What Happened To Cincinnati At USF When Looking At The Film:
“I think that tells you how good South Florida is. They got some breaks early and got momentum. They’re playing well. I talked to Willie (Taggart). He called me after the game. He’s (been) able to stay healthy. They are playing well, and they beat Temple, too.”
On The Thought Of Being One Win Away From A Bowl Game:
“We see it as a great opportunity to get our sixth win and become bowl eligible. We’re looking forward to a great crowd and great fans to support our seniors and team. I’m looking forward to the preparation. That will be big for us. During that team meeting, we talked about not forgetting where you came from. Different questions I asked them that I won’t share, I had them stand up with answers, and once they realized these guys standing up – seniors, walk-ons who earned scholarships – they realized everyone is under one roof and designed to be there.”
On The Emotions Of Senior Day:
“It’s really emotional. Each day in the huddle when I talk to them, I have to make sure my eyeballs don’t sweat. Those guys sacrifice so much. They’ve done everything I’ve asked. You see some kids that have matured. It’s tough, it’s emotional, but I am their dad. Some people use it as lip service, but I don’t. They are my sons. I believe that and they know it, too. Some of those guys standing up don’t have a dad or never had one. I’ve done it for six years, but it’s harder as a head coach than it was as a coordinator, especially this class. On the field, they’ve done some special things for our university. Off the field as well.”
On Blake Kemp’s Emergence at UCF After Not Playing Two Weeks:
“That’s Blake and that’s how he’s been in-tune. It was good to see after not getting in games, but he still shared reps. He did a great job with execution. You saw the sideline and I think you saw how James (Summers) was proud of him, too. That’s unique. A lot of people can’t say that.”