Glad to be 2-0. Had a really good second half against Old Dominion, who has a great quarterback, came as advertised, and defensively we didn't tackle well in the game. That's something we need to do much better if we're going to win going forward. But found some ways to get some key stops there in the second half, and played extremely well offensively.
Fourth quarter we played really good football, and I was proud of our special teams in the game. We threw a lot of measurements on hidden yardage, and we were plus 84 in hidden yardage in the game on special teams, which helped us, and recovered a surprise onside kick, so did some good things there in the kicking game.
Going forward, just our first road trip here coming up, and going down to play in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa against South Florida, who's 1-1 but forced nine turnovers in two games. Defensively they're going to be a really, really good test for our offense. They have a back that's third in the nation in rushing, so we've got to do a much better job tackling going against their tailback. With that I'll open it up.
It looks like your top receivers so far have been your underclassmen, Hines, Cherry, Alston, Valdes-Scantling. Anything about their performances this early that surprises you, or were you kind of expecting that group to kind of be leading the way for you there?
We expected them to catch the ball. You know, I mean, our offense has thrown the ball to 12 people in two games, and there's a lot of people in the game, and you've got to run good routes, and if you're open and the quarterback's job is to find you and throw to you, your job is to catch it.
Those guys have caught the ball well since camp started. Steph and Bo were here for spring ball, so they're mentally further ahead probably than a normal freshman would be, and both very competitive guys.
But we don't have a lot of senior receivers, so when people say we're led by freshmen and sophomores, that's what we have. I mean, we have one senior on our roster at receiver. There's not a lot of other options.
You've already got a couple W's hereafter only winning three games last year. Obviously you've got a different quarterback. What else is different to help explain the good start this year?
We're playing four-quarter football I think is the biggest difference.
Defensively last year we were further ahead than our offense. We really struggled scoring points last year, and we had a lot of turnovers on offense last year, a lot of what I consider foolish penalties, and this year in two games I think we're the second least penalized team in the nation, and we haven't turned the ball over except for one time.
Those two things, if you're a smart football team that doesn't beat yourself, doesn't turn it over, doesn't have a lot of penalties that you can prevent, then you're going to be in a lot of games, and we've been able to do that. We're playing 20 freshmen, so we've just got to keep working hard to get those guys better.
If we keep playing clean, we'll continue to be in games, and our conditioning in my opinion is a lot better than it was a year ago, as well.
Just looking at the numbers from your last game, you had awfully good offensive balance. I guess that's an ideal most coaches strive for.
Can you talk about that and how happy you were with that?
Yeah, I mean, that's what I want. Everybody asks me when I got here are you going to run the quarterback the whole game, and that's not what I do. What we're going to try to do is whoever our best ball carriers are are going to carry it, and we want to be able to be 50/50 in our offense.
If you pack it in, we want to be able to throw the ball on you, and if you spread it out we want to run the ball, and we want to use misdirection to run people out of gaps and play action to get some balls over your head. That's kind of our system, and we have a lot of different tempos.
Last year we couldn't do everything we wanted to. We had what we had and we tried to make the most of it, and unfortunately for everybody it didn't work very well.
And I think Coach Canada and his staff have more weapons, they have a quarterback that's doing what he's coached to do, and so far our offensive line has been healthy and played together. We've got to keep that part of it going.
Can you talk a little bit about Shadrach Thornton and what he gives you? He's averaging 6.6 yards a carry.
Yeah, he's gained some weight. He's a more physical player. He's playing more under control. I think last year he tripped a lot, and he would have some players where he could cut and he'd slip, and just he's got better balance, he's bigger, he's running through people. He's playing with a lot of confidence, too.
I think his personal life, Shad went through a lot of things that were his own doing, and I think he's grown up a lot and matured, and he's handling himself better than he has in the past.
Just talking about Shad, last year he seemed to be one of the few backs in the area that was able to do that 20 carries a game and take that kind of pounding. I mean, is he that kind of back that can do that for a whole season, or are we in an era now where you're not going to see guys carry the ball 20 times a game because of the pace of the offenses?
Yeah, you know, I think the no-huddle has changed that just because you want your backs to be physical, and they've got to block in protection and all that. I just think it's a long year, 12 games, running a lot more plays than people used to run. You know, I think you can play with two for a year, and we're in a situation right now where we have three, which is a great situation to be in.
But it's hard on a kid to play every snap, I think, particularly on 3rd down when he's got to block blitzers and things like that. It gets pretty physical.
I wanted to ask about your defense in the sense that your first game you had to line up and play a team that runs the option or really wants to run the ball. Second game you line up and play a team that's going to throw it all over the field. Can you talk about the challenges that presented?
Yeah. Well, first game I think we tackled really well. We forced four fumbles. We were under 10 for missed tackles for the game. 10 is too many. If you're under 10, you're playing pretty good. We had too many big plays. That was the defense-- what you wanted to see changed was the throws over 20 and runs over 10.
Last week we just didn't tackle anybody. It was bad. Our guys know it. We spent a lot of time on that in practice, and we've got to get better at it. Schematically the challenge is what you mentioned, and that's college football.
This week we play an NFL offense, a Jim Harbaugh offense. Every week those kids are going to have to take the rules of the system and apply them to whatever the offensive game plans are. It's not easy. That's why you've got to score a lot of points these days when you play those kind of teams. But that's life in college football. You've got to have a system that allows it, and as a player it's your job when you're in position to make plays to make them.
As a coach, it's your job to get them in those positions. I felt like there was a lot of times in the game Saturday where we just didn't finish plays in the first half. In the second half we did. Everybody talks about great adjustments that were made. I mean, there was a couple, but to be honest it was more about players just finishing the plays that they're capable of making.