Coach, I know you're a coach, but also you're a big fan of football. Were you able to take in some of it?
Yeah. We got up early and caught the game over in Dublin, Ireland. Saw that one to start the day with Georgia Tech and Boston College, and then the Oklahoma/Houston game, and then Wisconsin/LSU. Some of the Clemson] game.
I didn't watch the other blue team very much, but spent a lot of time watching the Clemson game.
The funny thing is you'll turn on ESPN and they're doing their college football highlight show, and you'll hear guys talking about, "Boy, this is a shocking outcome. Boy, I'm really surprised by this," but you as a coach, you're not terribly surprised by anything you see anymore, are you?
I know every Saturday, if you don't show up, you can't win a game, you know? I mean, there's too many good players and too many good coaches, and the way the rules are anymore.
Offensively, there's a lot of things in your favor, you know, so you've got to do a lot. There's some things you don't control, whether it's weather or officiating. A lot of things can happen in a game. You've got to really show up and control the things you can.
Because you played on Thursday and had a little extra time before you get into game week here, getting ready to play East Carolina, how did you choose to use that extra time to your team's advantage?
We brought them in Friday and reviewed the film, and put that game to bed. Then gave them Friday and Saturday to recover. Our coaches went out and recruited Friday night, as well as we could anyway with the weather. It was kind of crazy trying to find games, but we were able to get to some games, and we took Saturday off as a staff to try and regroup, and then we were in early Sunday.
We brought our players back Sunday night and had a really good practice Sunday night. Normally on a Sunday, we would just be watching film from Saturday's game with our guys and lifting and recovering, so we got an extra day of practice in. A full practice, like a Tuesday practice on Sunday.
Monday they were off, and then we've been able to have really an extra day of recovery too.
You were able to miss the storm and stay relatively healthy. As far as the overall health of your team, how would you gauge the first game?
Physically we came out of the game as healthy as you could I think. We've had the flu on our team. For the last five days we've been dealing with that, so that kind of goes through your locker room throughout the season. I think last year it was fifty some guys that dealt with it, and we're trying to cut it off at the pass. We've got four of them right now, but it's not much fun dealing with that. We came out of the game from an injury standpoint about as good as you could hope for.
You assess the play of your team, and of course we just got talking to the running backs, Matt Dayes. The ability to run the football for two hundred and sixty yards. Whenever you're able to do that, are you starting to establish the type of game, type of offense you want?
Yeah, I can't remember a game where we've rushed for two hundred yards and didn't play well, you know? There are maybe one or two in my career. That usually says that you're winning a lot of scrimmage, and if you win a lot of scrimmage there's a lot of things you can do in your option, on your arsenal offensively.
The thing I liked is how many different guys were involved. There was a lot of receivers touching the football, running after the catch with it. We had over eight plays that we consider explosive, whether it's a run or a pass, and that's our goal. To have eight or more.
In the game, you're able to essentially assess what you want to do with your quarterbacks. Ryan Finley got the lion's share. First of all, how do you think he performed?
I thought he looked really comfortable, and it looked like he knew the game plan inside and out. He directed traffic. He got the ball to his playmakers. He made a couple plays on his feet, which I was anxious to see how he would handle pressure because obviously in camp we don't hit our quarterbacks. There was maybe one or two plays that he scrambled out of the pocket and found his running backs.
There was one where he should have thrown it away and took a sack, and I know the linemen were mad at him for that, but that's a good, teachable moment for him.
You mentioned all the players that touched the ball. I counted it up today. Other than the quarterbacks, thirteen different players touched the ball in that game.
That's a phenomenal number in a football game.
It is, and the thing I like about it is, especially early in the game, the key guys were touching it the most. That's the thing, you know? You want to make sure that Matt and Jay Sam, Nyheim are getting the ball early, because if those guys are in the game plan, if they're in the rhythm, those are guys that can score touchdowns for us and create big plays.
There's a couple of receivers that we had big plays in for that we didn't get to those plays, so we've been able to bank a few things.
New offense, new coordinator, new quarterback. You never know what to expect under those circumstances, I'm sure.
No, you don't.
In the first game. Overall though, were you pleased with that operation?
Yeah. I thought the offensive line playing together for the first time did some really good things. I think they all came out of the game realizing how important their conditioning level needs to be.
They ran a lot. Our O line actually covered more yardage than our receivers did in that game. They played over eighty snaps, and those five guys probably played sixty five of them, so the conditioning factor, the humidity, the heat, and all those things that go into it. You've got to play yourself into that kind of shape.
I think one thing that was also impressive in that football game was the blocking on the perimeter.
Yeah, that was tremendous.
It can be key in an offense like this, right?
Have your guys bought into that concept?
I think a few things have happened. Coach McDonald, Coach Faulkner, Coach Kitchings are all a part of that. All their guys are out there on the perimeter at one time or another, and they play for each other.
The second thing is all those guys have gotten stronger in the weight room, and they're not getting pushed around. That's got to continue because we're going to be playing against some bigger, stronger DBs as we move forward, so they definitely did what they should have done, and it's got to be a norm for us if we're going to have success like we want to on the perimeter.
The offensive line, you mentioned their play early, and I brought this up to Joe Sulfa. Going back to look at the film, looking at the offensive line play. The blocking down field, I think about Braylan Cherry's touchdown.
Yeah, that was a really well executed play.
When your offensive line have that extra gear, that extra desire to want to block down field the way these guys were, what does that do for your offense?
That's Coach Ledford. Every play at practice he's yelling at the top of his lungs. You'll hear him say, "Cover," and that means run down the field and try to find another block. That's just his mentality, and I love it. The guys have bought into it, and then you get to put it on film and show them here's why he's making you do it.
I think that's where it really gets real for these guys is they start to see the product of explosive plays because they're picking up, he calls it a touchdown block. You get that last block on the deal. That screen was really well executed.
Whenever you see linebackers and D linemen on the top of your tackle list, that means you're able to own and dominate the line of scrimmage.
Fernandez, Moore, Chubb... your leading tacklers, how important is that for the defense?
I hope it continues, you know? You never like your safeties to be your top tacklers, you know?
Unless you've got one of them that's just in the box for most of the game, but yeah, that's what you want. Our two leading tacklers the last two seasons are both playing at the same time, so Airius and Jerod are both guys that we expect to be productive in there.
You mentioned the safeties. William and Mary's two safeties combined for twenty five tackles.
That's good for the Wolfpack right there.
Ten players saw action in their first college game. How would you assess the efforts of some of your younger players, coach?
I didn't think they looked like younger players in there. That was what I liked. Kelvin Harmon made two really good catches. Thad Moss didn't just catch the ball well. He caught the ball well, and blocked well when he was in the game, and kind of expected that really from both of them because that's how they practiced.
I was happy that Trey Meadows and Nick McCloud were able to get some playing time because they've worked really hard. There's a lot of guys in those younger classes that are going to continue to get playing time and develop and be really good players down the road.
Coach, what are you doing this week to get the team to have a sense of urgency and prepare for a dog fight in Greenville?
We talked, first of all, about the history of the game. We talked about it the last six times that State's played, and we also talked about how ECU has done against the ACC in the last three or four years because they've played well. We talked about our last game with them because some of the guys weren't here when that happened, and I think that was enough. You watch the film.
Obviously the way they played in their opener, they played really well on both sides of the football, so our guys know what they're up against. They understand the importance of an in state game.
I'm not sure you can make them understand how much the game actually means to the other team, you know what I mean? You can talk about it, but I've been in that. Not at ECU, but in a place like that. Being in northern Illinois, and whenever you play a team that's a power five team, it means a lot in that locker room. We've discussed it. We've talked about it. Coach Ledford has gotten up and talked about it since he played there, and I think we've done what we can do. It's time to go out on the field and play the game.
One, how old can a kid be to start recruiting him? Okay, and the second one is it's going to be 12:00 kickoff, and it's going to be hot. He does not like hot football games that he has to play in. Are you doing anything to help the team get ready to play on Saturday?
I would tell you we start recruiting officially when they're ninth graders. That's the rule. Obviously we hear word of mouth about the middle schoolers and things like that, but we don't do anything with them until they're in high school.
As far as the heat goes, we do have a very detailed hydration plan from the different things we'll drink. We're a Powerade team, so there's different things Powerade has that we'll give our guys. We actually use Pedialyte as well, which hydrates the guys pretty well. The nutrition aspect of it is very important, and the amount of rest that the guys are getting, but they'll come off the field. They're going to a meeting everywhere they go.
Starting tomorrow they'll have some kind of hydration going back into their body.
Are there concerns about stretching the field this year on the offensive side of the ball?
I don't have any. I mean, I'm anxious to get out there and do what we need to do. We took, I don't know, two or three shots in the game last week, and we completed them. Kelvin Harmon had both of them, but we had a lot in the plan we didn't use. In practice we've done pretty well throwing the ball down the field, so we'll see when we start playing these teams. This will be one of them that plays man to man, and how we do against it.
Playing a school like East Carolina, when you go over there, crowd noise, the fans, the emotions of it. Have you talked to some of the guys about playing a game like this?
Yeah, we've talked about it. I think we have to focus on what we control. We don't control their fans. I think the better we play, the quieter they'll be, and that's on us. When we go out there, to focus on the game plan and execute. Try to give them as little to cheer about as possible.
Do you plan on using all four backs on Saturday, and how will you use them?
It just depends on how the game goes.
I mean, Coach Kitchings was up here earlier. He has a rotation that he talked about, and we'll see how we're doing. The flow of the game. Matt Dayes is our guy, and we're going to run him and run him. The other guys will spell him. If Matt is not feeling good or something like that, it would be a different story, but if he's healthy, he's a senior and he deserves the lion's share of the carries.
It just seems like we may have gone after one, but typically we don't see a lot of punts blocked anymore. Is that from scheme, or is that just from the way it's blocked nowadays?
There's so many different punt protections now. There used to be one punt protection that every team in the country ran, and every week you could carry over and really build on different things. Every team you play now is in different formations. Sometimes they're rugby. Sometimes they have three guys but they're protecting the punter, which we call the shield. Sometimes there's two.
Some teams, like us, we have almost fifteen different formations we can line up in, so not a lot of teams even attempt to rush us because of how many different things we do, but it's challenging to get there. We do have a block in on every game.
We run a block every game. If you don't block it, sometimes the pressure. This guy shanked the punt three times in our game last week because of the pressure we were giving him, so a shanked punt is a pretty good thing too. If you can get that guy to not kick the ball on time, then you're winning.
Earlier we mentioned Kelvin Harmon, the freshman receiver, and he had a great catch near the goal line in the second half the other night. Coach, do you see him becoming one of those guys who's going to make those types of plays in his career?
Yeah, I think he's a guy, if you throw it up there, he's got a really good chance of coming down with it. He's got good timing. He's really strong. He's confident, and he's a guy that catches the ball in his hands, not his body.
ECU pummeled Western Carolina last weekend. The Pirates piled up six hundred eighty eight total yards, two seventy five on the ground, four thirteen passing. What kind of jumped off at you as you watched that tape, coach?
I think the quarterback... his completion rate was crazy in that game. He's got great receivers. We knew that. Maybe one of the best that we'll play this year. Zay Jones, he's really good, but the run game was better than I expected it to be. Not because their tailback is not good, but just they've talked a lot about their concerns with their front, and I thought they played really well up front last week.
A lot of different formations, a lot of moving parts. Communication is going to be key, but how do you get a good study for what you think you're going to see on Saturday?
I think playing against our offense has helped our defense because our offense goes fast. They do a lot of motion. They do a lot of formations, and they test your rules. They do it in an uptempo matter, and I think that's very similar to what ECU does, so I think all those reps we took against each other in fall camp are going to pay off in this game.
We can't prepare them for everything that's going to happen. I mean, it's the second game with a new staff down there. There's a lot of things they haven't shown yet, so we're just going to have to adjust as the game goes on, and use our rules.
Yeah, Phillip Nelson, you talked about him. Their quarterback making his first start. He's kind of a well traveled guy. He started at Minnesota, went to Rutgers, and now he's landed at East Carolina, but you were familiar with him in high school, right? He was a pretty big time player.
He was, and just being at Wisconsin and at Northern Illinois, I remember him from high school. Going to Minnesota, which was our rival when I was at Wisconsin, you kind of knew who was on their roster.
He played for Coach Kill there, and he had a heck of a first game for a guy that hadn't played college football for a while because he's been out. He left there and was ineligible when he transferred from Rutgers to ECU. He played really well.
Last week in short yardage goal line situations they brought an athlete in, James Summers. Ten carries, ninety five yards, so he's more liable to tuck it. In what ways does he kind of change the equation for your defense?
He threw a hundred passes last year. He was a quarterback for them, and he won the Virginia Tech game for them last year. He ran the ball all over them last year, so we know that he's going to run the ball with all the quarterback design runs, and all the different ways they used Duke's quarterback last year.
We have to prepare for all that, and the play actions that come off of them. Even though they didn't throw it with him, we know he can. You've just got to know who's there. They'll also have them both in the back field at the same time, so they're doing a good job using their personnel.