"Well, obviously anytime you play an in-state football team, it's a big game. Significantly, the question people always ask is, How many of your kids know the other kids? I think that's kind of part of the in-state rivalry aspect of any football game. A lot of these kids played against each other in high school, they know each other. Some of them played on the same teams with each other. Anytime the fans are in such close proximity in the state of North Carolina, there's so many schools, it obviously adds added excitement and hype.
"Just watching their football team, they've been extraordinarily explosive. They've scored 40 points a game. Their coach has done a really good job getting the kids to buy into the new schemes and the philosophy and what they're doing. The way they're scoring points and are playing, it certainly is evident of his impact. It will be a big challenge for us this weekend, different than some of the teams we play out of the conference.
"East Carolina has an awful lot of speed on their football team. Probably none of it is more evident than Dwayne Harris. Dwayne, not knowing him as a young man, but just watching him over his career, he's one of the real gifted athletes that we'll play against in the last couple years. He can score on punt returns, kickoff returns. He's an excellent receiver. He does a lot of stuff for their football team. He's definitely somebody that's playing extremely well. Obviously the quarterback situation with Dominique Davis transferring from Boston College, we got a tiny glimpse into him when he was at Boston College, but not a great deal. But now in the three games he's played, he's very athletic, throws the ball extremely well. You can see why they were so anxious to try to get him to transfer."
Coach, is your biggest concern facing East Carolina Lincoln Riley and how much he likes to throw the football so much, the issues you've had to deal with your secondary?
"Clearly that's got to be one of the concerns. I think as they've installed this offense, what we've been able to see in the games, every week there's added wrinkles. Obviously, having an open date gives them the extra week of preparation to try to continue to grow their installation. I'm sure like any new coaching staff, new coordinators and stuff, they have core things they want to get installed during training camp. As the season goes along, they want to attack the other team. They also want to grow things they have in their package but haven't had a chance to implement them. Clearly all the throws, but they're going to run the football. I think that's where you have to be very, very careful. Williams and Ruffin have been kids that run the ball well. They make you play honest, the mobility of the quarterback certainly adds to that."
Did you have to teach Bruce Carter all of these just incredible football instincts that he has when he first got there or is this something he's always been gifted with?
"He's a great athlete. In high school, you could see it on tape when you looked at the tape prior to him coming here. You could see that he just had real, real good athletic ability, although he had never played linebacker before. There's a certain element of coaching that goes into it. But for any coach, Art Kaufman has done a great job with him, anywhere there's a defensive coordinator, you have to have great raw talent to be able to get to play to that level. He's answer unbelievable worker. He's one of the best workers in Jeff Connors' strength and conditioning program. He maximizes everything he does. He studies film. I think he'll tell you, when he came in as a true freshman, he was surviving on athletic ability. I think every year the experience has really helped him and he's a terrific football player and a great kid."
In the past some of your fans haven't been real happy playing East Carolina because they always felt like they didn't have anything to gain. How do you feel about this series, playing yet another in-state rival?
"Yeah, East Carolina, when I took the job, they were on the schedule for multiple years in the future. It's a heated, big rivalry, like all in-state rivalries are. We've gone there once and they've come here one time since I've been here. I know they're still on the schedule in future years. We're going to continue to play them when it is scheduled. There will be some years that I think there's some voids when we don't play each other just because of scheduling. I'm sure that we'll play them continually in the future."
Butch, we're all familiar with names like Bruce Carter, Quan Sturdivant, standouts to you this season. Can you talk about some of the guys who have surprised you that have been thrown into roles that they weren't probably slated to fill and have really come up big for you?
"Well, almost every in the secondary. I think we're missing seven players in the secondary from what we anticipated would be guys that would be playing this year. So you could just about pick any of those guys. Obviously Tre Boston and Jabari Price have played some. LeCount Fantroy, Matt Merletti, Gene Robinson have played pretty extensively for us at safety.
"But some guys that we really needed to kind of come through, even if we hadn't had some of the suspensions, obviously Quinton Coples has continued to improve each week in the defensive line as has Jordan Nix, Tydreke Powell, Donte Moss is a young man, the more that he plays, the more experience he gets, the more opportunities in games, you can just see a little bit of added confidence in his play and his awareness.
"Certainly Bruce and Quan are playing a great deal. But we've had to rely an awful lot on Dion Guy and Herman Davidson. Kevin Reddick is playing real well at middle linebacker. We added some guys, some we hoped would, some we thought that they would, and some have gotten opportunities because of the some of the things that have happened with some of the other players. Hopefully they'll continue to improve throughout the season."
Do you have any more of an indication about the availability of Quan and Johnny this week?
"No. They're getting treatment. They're much, much improved from what they were Saturday night after the ballgame. "
Are you optimistic or hopeful about their return?
"I'm the eternal optimist. I'm optimistic all the time."