I know you all had a chance to talk to a few of the players a while ago, and I'll share with you kind of what I told them. A lot of times, life kind of gives you a lot of tests. When you get tested whether it is through adversity of any kind, you find out an awful lot about you as a person, us as a coaching staff, and us as a team and a program. Certainly the last two weeks we didn't play as well as we would have liked to have played, but I think that this football team showed a tremendous amount of heart and courage.
David Cutcliffe and his staff and the team at Duke deserve a great deal of credit. This was a good football team, and we knew we were going to get absolutely their best effort, and we knew it was going to take our best effort. I'm proud of the way that our coaches responded. Every single person on our football team played a role in making this victory happen tonight.
The offense recaptured, kind of, their identity--the ability to run the ball for over 200 yards. T.J. Yates was 11-16, I think, on third-down conversions and made smart, wise decisions. Unfortunately, the two turnovers kind of kept them in the game, certainly early in the first half
And our defense was outstanding, given sometimes the field position because of sudden change situations, sometimes because of going out there when the score was 21-20 and having three consecutive three-and-outs at a critical time when we couldn't give up time of possession, we couldn't give up any points. They just continued to answer the bell, and all three phases did a good job tonight. I'm very, very proud of these kids for they way that they persevered and fought back tonight.
As good as that defense was, they were knocking on the door at your end zone at the end of the game.
No question about it, and like I said, Duke has made--they have scored a lot of points this season, they have won some games, they have made a lot of improvement. Certainly, I think, had we been able to, at any point, score either a field goal--two field goal opportunities that we didn't capitalize on--we are talking about a 14-point deficit and the end of the game is somewhat insignificant.
T.J. [Yates] looked like his old self.
Yeah, and I think probably--I know I certainly did and I think John Shoop would agree, and I think T.J. would agree that the speed of the game last week is just something that you can not replicate. He played extraordinarily well during the season. In coming back last week, I think he recognized how he was rushing some throws, and how some of his mechanics, just because of how maybe the anticipation, the anxiety, the stress of playing and stuff. But he settled down this week; he had a very, very good week of practice. What he did tonight at one time--I think he was 11-12 and the only incompletion was the interception. He looked like himself during the week, and we felt like he was going to play well tonight.
Take us through the start where you had the fumble but had a second opportunity. What was your thought after fumbling but getting some redemption?
I don't know--they believe in me. The coaches believe in me. I believe in myself, most of all. They kept putting the ball in my hand, and I told them, 'I'm playing with emotion.' Gotta come out with a win.
How big is this win for this program after the last couple of weeks?
Very big. We weren't playing just for a bowl. We were playing for integrity, for ourselves, trying to go out with the seniors--especially Mark (Paschal). A lot of us felt Mark's pain. Being that we are family, we are going to feel each other's pain. We went out for Mark too.
You had a chance to run the ball down close to the goal line. What went into that decision, and what did you think?
I was looking to the sideline to see if they were going to put [Ryan Houston] in, but they let me put it in. I said, 'I'm not going down,' so when they put the ball in my hands I was determined to get into the endzone.
Was that to give you a chance once you made the 30-yard run down close to the goal line? Did you know you would be in there?
I didn't know. We have the same game plan every week--different personnel. Ryan comes in in short yardage. I was looking, but I was playing with emotion. I was determined to get in.
How intense was it out there? There was a lot of back and forth on both sides.
It was very intense. Sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me, but that is what you have to play with. Everybody's got to have emotion, but you can't let it get the rest of you. They were trying their best to get under my skin; I just told them, 'I'm good now.' I had to get all that out of me and let the emotion die down. I still played with emotion, but I had to be smart about it.
Tell me what your read was on the third-down play from the 16 [yard line] when you broke up that pass.
We were in a form of cover-three, so I knew I was on the hash. Earlier in the game they had #15 ran right outside of me and right inside of Quan [Sturdivant]. I told Quan, 'Show off the edge, and they might throw it to him. They ran the same route, they didn't throw it to him though, so the other guy came across from the left who was the running back, and I saw him. I saw that #15 on the hash was covered, so I broke up on the running back, and he ended up throwing it and I was in the right place at the right time.
Obviously, you don't want to get playing time because of an injury, but the fact of the matter is that their was an injury. It was your turn to step in and perform--10 tackles--what do you think about your performance today?
I just had a lot of fun, honestly. I did make a lot of mistakes. I've not played 'Mike' linebacker, really, all year. So I just wanted to come in, fill in for Mark the best way that I could. I feel terrible for Mark. He got the opportunity last year when I went down to step in for me, and you saw what he did with his opportunity. He took advantage, and now he is one of the best linebackers to ever play here, so I just wanted to do the same thing--step in and fill in some big shoes.
Were the signals, the defensive play calls going through you, and what was that like?
Yeah, I was the--they were coming into me because I'm the middle linebacker, and I was used to it because last year I was playing 'Sam,' but I was still calling in the signals so I was still used to that because I had done it last year. I've done it all year with the 'twos' in practice and stuff, so that wasn't anything big. It does wear you out though, having to yell all the stuff. My voice is almost gone.
Where you making any--I saw you stepping in close to the line of scrimmage and stepping back. What reads were you making in there, and how many changes did you make after the initial signal?
Well, that was just kind of to hear what their checks were. Lots of times you can pick up on what offense is doing just by what they are saying, so I just wanted to jump in there and listen to the quarterback, listen to Thaddeus, to see what he was saying. I'd just step in and--it wouldn't really give us a check on defense but it would kind of give us an idea of what they were going to throw at us.
Was there any adjustments the coaching staff made in the play calling this week from last week that helped you play a lot better this week?
You know, we really wanted to get back to our power running game. This is one thing we've been doing all season long great, and we kind of got away from that the past two weeks and we really just wanted to come back to it. That's our thing, running the power, running some nakeds, just getting after them and playing good, hard football.
Is it nice to see the seniors get to ride off, like Mark Paschal, ringing that bell?
You know, it's such an unfortunate situation for Mark, but he's been such a great help for this team, not--it's pretty much like it wasn't anything that changed during the week. He was there every practice, he was there at every 6:30 meeting. He really helped this team get ready for this ballgame.
What did you all talk about on the sideline after you all had those two drives, one-play turnovers, to settle down and get back in the groove?
Just kind of settle down and get back to our game, get back to running the football, pounding the football, like we were doing all game. I thought we did a really good job of just forgetting about the pass and moving on.
Describe of the feeling of such a bitter loss last week and then to turn around and have such a positive win this week.
You know, last week we just sucked really, to tell you the truth. It was awful, and everybody had that bad taste in their mouth from last week, and we were ready to come out and just get rid of that feeling, get past it.
What does this do for you to have an extra month of time to work, going to the bowl game, not just for the bowl game itself but how that can mean something next year maybe and even after that it's like a bonus spring practice.
Exactly. We are going to get a lot of guys who are dinged up are going to get a lot of rest, we are going to get some time to focus on our opponent for a longer time, and get a chance to maybe take a little break.
Tell me about the touchdown to [Richard] Quinn, the bootleg--how did that play develop?
You know, it was a fake stretch play to the left, a naked right. Right before we snapped the ball, you've got to take a peek at that backside corner because they were bringing that corner blitz off the hash. I took a quick little peek so when I turned around I knew Rich was going to be there, so I just kind of turned around, kind of expected it, got it to him, and he made an amazing play. Hakeem [Nicks] was blocking great downfield. That was just great receiving and great blocking.
Tell me about the performance Draughn had after that initial fumble and then he comes back and has a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown.
He did a great job. Things like that he just has to get past, and he is great at that. He's ready to go no matter what so he was just ready to come back from that.