Conference USA Coaches Call For 10-9-06

Every Monday the media gets together with the coaches from Conference USA on the teleconference to review the weekend and look forward to the next week. As always, coach Skip Holtz of East Carolina went first, but was also the leader of the league this week with a huge win for the Pirates at Virginia of the ACC. The league has just had a couple of wins this year over BCS teams.

Holtz was asked about how big the win was for his program and C-USA. "How big a win was it? Really big from program standpoint, big from schedule standpoint, when you start looking at getting six. We are still in the growing process, only our second year. You lose those close games to Navy, West Virginia at home, frustration sets in. You're team is still at 1-3. Anytime any team in this conference beats a BCS conference team, it makes a statement. That's the level we as a conference want to be at. You look at what Southern Miss did against N.C. State, what we did at Virginia." ECU will have a big game with Tulsa this week. "Coach Kragthorpe has done a great job with that program. They are extremely competative and hard-nosed. It is easy to see why they are one of the top teams, they are in the top three in many offensive and defensive categories."

Mark Snyder, Marshall: MU will have to rebound from the last second loss to UCF by traveling to Dallas for a second-ever meeting with SMU. "I think kids understand that. You have to play a complete season. We have had a couple of practices and seem to be refocused." Herd will face a SMU team that dropped a close game to UTEP, 24-21, in El Paso without its starting quarterback, Justin Willis. "SMU is very multiple on offense. They have got some quickness outside, some guys make you miss and pick up yards. Defense is very, very good. Returner is very good, dangerous every time he touches the ball." The SMU team suspended the starting quarterback Willis over the weekend, and his status is up in the air. But Snyder said Corey Slater has some playing time, outside of this past weekend. "He has been playing some. He has played and runs his offense effeciently. More of a dropback guy, but can run if he has to." Marshall has had such a great history in football over the past 20 years, since Snyder was a safety for the 1987 Herd that went to the I-AA National Championship game. He was asked how that weighs on the current squad. "Obviously not at the level we've been in past, but we are continuing to get better. I like this team much better now than I did at start of season. I hope kids do not read press (in regards to comparisions to the other MU teams)." Snyder was asked about his teams trouble on the road, but the head coach was quick to respond, "We haven't won a whole bunch at home either. We need one of those games where we get some momentum."

George O'Leary, UCF: O'Leary was very happy to get UCF's first win in Huntington, but explained how hard it is to win on the road. "I think anytime you play away game in front of great crowd on the road, it's a character game and we made the plays to get the win." UCF will play Pitt this week, with its dangerous qauarterback Tyler Palko. "I think they are a good football team. The quarterback is the central point of that, he is a guy you have to be aware of. Pitt has great tradition and Dave (Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt) has been part of that. They are playing very well right now, not beating themselves."

Jeff Bower, Southern Miss: USM fell to Tulsa last Tuesday, and have lost backup quarterback Stephen Reaves for this week. Starter Jeremy Young will return, despite turf toe, and that will leave Todd Wilson, a sophomore walk-on, as the backup for the Golden Eagles. It appears USM will also suspend running back Damion Fletcher and wide receiver Shawn Nelson for at least the first half of the Houston game. "Jeremy had a tough time last week at practice, he was gutting it out. Now Reaves has a high ankle sprain in the game and probably won't play. We hope Jeremy is better after a couple of days off. Todd Wilson will be our No. 2 quarterback. He played a few snaps early on. He's a walk-on and we will try to keep the red-shirt on our freshman quarterback, although he will take snaps this week." Bower is impressed with the Cougars, despite the loss to UL-Lafayette. "They are outstanding on offense. They have lots of talented skill guys. Kevin Kolb is unbelieveable. He makes great decisions." UH started the season 4-0 before losing the last two weeks, but Bower is more concerned about his team coming off a loss. "So often it is how do you respond, but all we can worry about is ourselves."

Art Briles, Houston: UH was stunned with a late loss to Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, after starting the season 4-0, 2-0 in league play. "We didn't execute properly, we didn't finish. It is a hard one to swallow." Houston will finish with six league games, starting with a trip to Southern Miss this week. "They are always well coached, very disiplined. You know what to expect when you go to Hattiesburg, because we have played each other for a while now." Despite having the Southern Miss quarterback Reeves out for this game and possibly seeing a couple of players suspended, Briles is still worried about this game. "They have got good people who can jusp in there and play. We are working on us this week, trying to be the best team we can be. We are right in the middle of trying to refocus right now."

Todd Graham, Rice: The Owls fell to Tulane in the Superdome on Saturday, the Green Waves' first win at home since December of 2004. "We came into the game off a big high after beating Army. But we also came into our third consecutive road game and were flat. We made too many mistakes to win the game." UAB is this week's opponent, the only team without a loss in the East Division. "The are big on defense, very athletic. They force errors, so we have to hang onto the ball. We moved the ball well at Tulane, we just have to finish." Graham, a first-year head coach, was asked what was harder, the changing of the program or the schedule. "Our schedule a lot more difficult than changing coaches and schemes. When we have had our starting quarterback for three games, we have been very productive. We are still working on run defense, but when you play Texas, UCLA and Florida State, three straight games on road and the tragedy, that has been the tough part. The tragedy is ongoing. I've tried to be strong for team, to let them know it is OK to grieve, to be angry, to be up and down emotionally. I've gotten a lot of help from a lot of coaches like Bobby Bowden, guys in the AFCA, league guys like Jeff Bower, Chris Scelfo...Steve Kragthorpe is a good friend. We have to plan for success and definitely do something about that schedule."


SMU coach Phil Bennett thinks MU's Bernard Morris is an even better player than the quarterback who led Marshall to a 16-13 overtime win over the Mustangs in 2005.

Phil Bennett, SMU: The Mustangs lost to UTEP on Saturday, missing quarterback Justin Willis. Willis was sent home from UTEP on Friday due to an alleged altercation with another student. "We played without our starting quarterback and that was a bit of a distraction. We came back out in second half and got the lead back, but just couldn't finish it." Bennett, who fell to Marshall in Huntington last year, thinks the Herd is a much better team than the 1-4 record would lead you to believe. "I don't care who you are, you play at Morgantown, Manhattan and Knoxville, that's a very, very tough schedule. I think Bernard Morris is better than last year, and Ahmad Bradshaw is a big-time player. On defense, I'm impressed with Matt Couch, Curtis Keyes, No. 96 (Albert McClellan) and the big guy in the middle, Juan Underwood. You go to those three places, it's tough to win." Bennett is not sure when the quarterback situation will be resolved. "QB situation is day to day, is up in the air. QB had 12 TD passes and Cory had none. Didn't expect to start, then Saturday he is. Slater played a year of junior college football, so he had more experience than Justin (a freshman). I think he would tell you he could be better. Justin accuracy rate among top five in nation. Not having him was a blow." Bennett is happy with the defense, but still concerned with his backs. "We are OK in the front seven. Got a ways to go to solidify the secondary. One of the things you look at is run stats may be deceiving. Teams we played were behind and didn't run the ball."

Chris Scelfo, Tulane: First win at Superdome in two years for Tulane over Rice this weekend. "Our kids really played well. They went up there real big and got off to a quick start. We made a couple of more plays than they did." This week it will be UTEP on the road. "They are first or second in league in rush defense. We will have to play as well as we can play, we know they will have a great crowd there." Scelfo, in his eighth year, likes his Tulane coaching assignment and told a reporter who was talking about being at a non-BCS school for as long as he has, eight years, why Tulane was a good fit for him. "We compete at the highest level, both athletically and academically. I like our situation."

Watson Brown, UAB: Beat Memphis for the seventh-straight time in the "Battle for the Bones," a new trophy for the two teams from the Bar-B-Que capitals of the South. "We were very fortunate to win. We had six starters out. Joe Henderson played very well, stepping in for Orlandus King. Joe has great nose for ball, good student of game. He is our future at linebacker the next two years." Rice is up next for UAB, 2-0 in the East Division. "They have played one game in their own stadium. Our defense is going to have to play better to control the ball. They had 80 snaps on Saturday, that is unheard of in college football today." Brown at UAB is the guy who started the Blazer football program, and has stayed because of that. "We started the program from scratch, but hard to leave. It's a little more personal here, we've put our imprint on it. The disadvantage is dollars (at non-BCS schools, compared to BCS schools with millions more to spend). We are getting closer on the field with 20-hour work week and timing rules." Brown has no timetable on the return of those six starters. "I think all are questionable. David Miller (hamstring, two to three weeks) is the one that's out. The rest will try to practice tomorrow and see what they can do."

Steve Kragthorpe, Tulsa: Tulsa played last Tuesday, picking up a big win over Southern Miss at Skelly Stadium on ESPN2. "I think we are making progress on the defensive side. We have played some very good offenses and this week will play one in East Carolina. They dominated Virginia." He is also impressed with ECU QB James Pinkney. "Pinkney is playing really good football now. Good underneath and making plays with his feet. They snap the ball over his head, he picks it up and makes a touchdown."

Mike Price, UTEP: Beat SMU by three on Saturday, losing a 17-0 lead to trail 21-17 until a late score for the win. "It was a very unusual game for us. It rained all night in the Sun Bowl. I had brought some old coaches and friends from Northwest and they brought the rain, so I'm mad at them, but it was like old home week for me." Price coached for many years at Pullman, Washington at Washington State University. He did not like the way he team came out in the second half. "We let SMU off the hook and they battled back. They strip our good running back, who is not a fumbler, and take it for a touchdown. That player came back to throw the halfback pass for the win. One thing about the Miners is we are exciting." Tulane is up next, and their quarterback had a big game over the weekend. "Lester Ricard put up big numbers against us last year. Chris Scelfo should be up for coach of the year. They have done an excellent job, with all those freshmen on that roster." SMU did not have starting quarterback and lost their two starting ends in the loss to UTEP, but SMU beat Tulane early in the year. "We are probably equal with Tulane (in regards to the way they played SMU), it is going to be competitive."

Tommy West, Memphis: The Tigers lost to UAB for the seventh consecutive time on Saturday. "It was a heck of a ballgame. Both teams made a lot of big plays. We fumbled a kickoff and missed a fake punt." The Tigers will play Arkansas State this week from the Sun Belt Conference. "They are a good team, won their league and played Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl. We will have to play better to win this week than we have."

Players of the Week: East Carolina's Ryan Dougherty was strong with hus punting and also scored his second career touchdown in the Pirates win over Virginia to earn Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Offensive honors went to Tulane senior QB Lester Ricard, while the Defensive nod went to UAB's Joe Henderson.
OFFENSE
Lester Ricard, QB, Tulane. Ricard posted his second straight 300-yard passing game, completing 21-of-40 passes for 344 yards and four touchdowns in Tulane's win over Rice. He threw passes to eight different receivers and his TDs went to four different players. Ricard has thrown for 738 yards and seven TD's over the past two games.
DEFENSE
Joe Henderson, LB, UAB. Henderson was inserted into the starting lineup in place of the injured Orlandus King and totaled a career-high 12 tackles in UAB's victory over Memphis. He registered four tackles for loss, including one that ended a potential scoring drive, and added a pair of pass breakups.
SPECIAL TEAMS
Ryan Dougherty, P, East Carolina. Fueled by a career-best 72-yarder in the first quarter, Dougherty averaged a season-high 55.7 yards per punt and scored his second career touchdown as the holder on a fake field goal attempt against ACC-member Virginia. His boot ranked as the seventh-longest in ECU history and he also had six kickoffs for 369 yards with two touchbacks.


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