Good Afternoon everyone. Good afternoon to all our 12th Monarchs out there in Monarch Nation. Coming off of a very disappointing 46-34 loss down at NC State this past Saturday, in a game that I felt like we were definitely ready to play. Our theme going into this game was everything to gain and nothing to lose. We knew we were three score underdogs going down there. I felt like our players had a very good approach in this game. That was probably the most emotional locker room pregame that I’ve experienced her at Old Dominion in six years, and we’ve been involved in some big games. Whether it was playing for a conference championship, or going to the postseason. This group was very excited to play before the game, which was great to see from my standpoint. There wasn’t a need for a pregame speech for this one. I felt like we came out with a very aggressive approach and attitude. I talked to them all week about the fact that we would onside kick, we would go for in on fourth down, we would run whatever plays we needed to run in any situation, and that what we did. That’s the attitude we took going into this game, and really for the first 26 minutes I felt like we were in command of this game, and then we were out played in all three phases of the second half. They outscored us 28-13 and it was more a matter of their execution and the good job that they did more so than anything that we did in the second half.
From a special teams performance standpoint, we had a couple critical errors in the special teams. I felt like we were better with our kickoff coverage, much better in that regard, but the onside kick that we didn’t recover up 21-10 I could see from the sideline Ricky had an excellent kick, we had two very good blocks inside by Richie Staton and Fellonte Misher, and Ricky had the ball initially on the bottom of the pile, and then he got it taken away from him. So that is something that we need to improve on because we’re going to continue to do that in games. When the situation is there, Ricky has to come up with that ball. Even still in that situation the defense got the stop, they forced a field goal attempt, which NC State missed. So it wasn’t a critical situation in the game, but I felt like it could have been a huge turning point from our standpoint, if we got that going and score, and go up 28-10, go up three scores at that point. We also missed a field goal, a 27-yard field goal right after the defense stopped them after the onside kick. The offense drove the length of the field, Taylor just missed Zach Pascal for a touchdown pass that would have put us 28-10, and then we missed the field goal. I clearly felt like we lost some energy on our sideline, I feel like we lost some momentum at that point. Then NC State went down and scored, got the two to make it 21-18 at the half. Then the onside kick at the end of the game, Ricky is much better than that. We were down 39-34 with five minutes to go, I felt like we needed to onside kick there and get the ball back because they had scored on five consecutive possessions. I wanted to stay aggressive in that mindset. Ricky had been kicking those very well in practice, and he didn’t get the ball 10 yards and we lost possession.
Defensively, we had 24 guys that played in this game. I felt like in the first 26 minutes we were outstanding on defense. Tremendous growth from the first week in this first half of the game. We only allowed 130 yards up until that drive at the end of the half. They had the one field goal and their touchdown in the first half came off of and interception that we threw on offense, they had a drive that was a short field. So I felt like defensively that first 20 minutes was outstanding, and then in the second half we just didn’t perform well. We had too many breakdowns in our rush lanes, we allowed the quarterback to get out of the pocket. Our coverage, we’re still in need of a lot of work between our linebacker and our secondary coverage, and the communication there, and that’s something we will keep working on in practice to improve.
Offensively a solid performance in this game. We had the ball 10 times and we scored on five drives. One big turnover in this game, the interception that led to points for them. Our big focus right now offensively is just to continue to focus on the details of what we’re doing in practice. I felt like this easily could have been a 50 point 600 yard game with a little bit more attention to details and practice. There weren’t a lot of missed assignments, there weren’t a lot of guys in the wrong place, but just some minor things that we feel like we could improve on to make sure we finish drives. Running game, 37 carries 196 yards. The second consecutive week that’s been very good for us. Lawry, Johnson, Boyd, all three of the running backs played very well. The offensive line was outstanding, receiver blocking was good. Pass game was very efficient. We were 72% passing in this game, 36 for 50 for 308 yards and two touchdowns. Overall I felt like our offensive line was god run and pass in this game. This is as good as we’ve played upfront versus anybody since we’ve been here.
In terms of taylor heinicke and what he did, a couple interesting stats. He threw for 274 yards, and that moves him into 23rd place all time in passing yards. He passed Chase Holbrook, Byron Leftwich, and Tajh Boyd with that performance in passing yards. Then with his two TD’s he tied Tajh Boyd for 15th place all time with 107 TD passes. He’s only two behind last year’s super bowl winning quarterback, Russell Wilson. So he’s in hot pursuit right now. I mention that because he’s getting into some rare air with what he’s doing and it’s very special what he’s accomplishing with the team right now, but those are individual numbers and places that he’s going right now. That’s pretty special to see.
This week’s opponent Eastern Michigan, basically the best way I can describe them is they’re the same as us right now. They are 1-1, they beat a MEAC team, they’ve lost to a power five-conference team. They lost to Florida this past weekend. They turned the ball over five times, and I don’t care who you’re playing or where you’re playing, you turn the ball over five times you’re going to get beat, and get beat badly which they did. Chris Creighton is their head coach. He’s a new coach, he’s trying to get in there and change a culture that they had in the past. You can see it with a lot of the things they are doing. I’ve been following their program since he took over to watch what they’re doing. The guy has tremendous energy, his staff has got great energy. I don’t anticipate that those guys will come here and not be prepared to play. I think based on who they’ve got on their staff, they’ve got really good scheme in all three phase, they’re trying t figure out their quarter back situation which is always a challenge, but they play hard in all three phases. A lot of young guys on the roster, and I’m sure they’ll come ready to play. As I told our players, this week for us our theme this week is to try to make history. This is our first FBS home game that we’re playing and we want to get our first win against the first FBS team to come to S.B. Ballard Stadium. So we’ll be excited, we’ll be ready to play.
You make a nice jump from the Hampton game to this game, huge relief on the one end, but you’re a competitive guy, so to come that close and almost knocking off an ACC team, what are your thoughts on that?
As I told the team yesterday I was really excited about their approach. I was excited about how they competed, but losing is unacceptable around here. That’s not something I ever want the players, the coaches, I don’t want anybody to get comfortable with losing. I tried to emphasize to them that the most competitive people, I don’t care what you’re in, whether it’s football or anything else, competitive people hate to lose more than they like to win. There’s a difference between the two. Competitive people they want to win all the time, so we tried to use that approach and that mindset. When I walked in here yesterday for the team meeting it was silent. Normally, when I come through the door they are talking, but the room was quiet. They were upset, they felt like they let a game get away that we could have won. I feel like this group is a competitive group, they want to win, they want to be successful, so we’ll use that as motivation this week.
So it did hurt for them as players?
Yea it did, it hurt for all of them. It was a quiet locker room, they were all pretty upset about it. It was a quiet bus ride home. I could tell they were very disappointed and frustrated with that loss. The hardest part now with being a head coach is to try to take that and channel that emotion into next weeks practice and performance. To try to build on that preparation and how we did it. We’ve got so any players that are new to this process, this weekly process of winning and trying to play and prepare and execute. It just so many new guys in a room with 81 players that have been here within the last 18 months. So to try to get them all to have that mentality and that excitement level each week when they play. That’ll be the goal this week.
Did you see some defensive improvement from week 1 to week 2?
Yea I definitely saw some improvement for week one to week two on defense. I look at the first 26 minutes of this game, I say that’s a defense were going to go places with. They biggest thing we did in those first 26 minutes was collectively, we were in the right spots. We were aware of where we needed to be. We had guys in the right gaps on run plays, particularly with the defensive line so the linebackers could fit properly. We were doing a nice job against the run. Coverage wise we had linebackers that were carrying the routes. Richie Staton almost had a big interception in the first half because he did something that we didn’t do last week, at linebacker he carried an underneath route, so the quarterback had to try to put a little more air on it. Secondary wise we were getting the right checks versus all their shifts and balance and motions. We were getting in the right coverage. The last drive of the first half and the second half, we stopped doing those basic fundamental things that we were doing. So there’s definitely growth there, but there’s room to grow.
You mentioned Taylor Heinicke’s numbers and the company he’s starting to keep, did you envision that?
To answer your question honestly, you never envision these types of numbers because generally you don’t see many quarterbacks that come in and right away they’re four-year starters, guys that go every single year. You need to start all four years and you need to play 50 plus games to put up these types of numbers. You’re not going to see two, three year starters with these kind of numbers. So he’s done it consistently over four years, he’s stayed healthy. He’s always kept us in a position where we trust him. We’ll put the game in his hands and let him throw the ball, and throw for a lot of yards. So to answer your question honestly I didn’t envision it when he walked on campus, but after that second half of the UMass game his freshman year, I thought to myself this kid could be pretty good, and he’s just improved.
What prompted you guys to use Lawry the other day, and how will you rotate moving forward?
He was in the plan last week to get a lot of work. We had the same rotation last week, where Gerard Johnson starts the game and then Ray Lawry subs in for him if he needs it. Then Cam Boyd is the second drive of the game and Ray Lawry subs in for him if he needs it. The biggest difference form this week to last week is last week against Hampton we had one first quarter drive. We were 12 minutes to go until half before we got the ball again because they had such a long drive. So you just didn’t see Ray in the game. This week we had some long drives, we had some 10, 12, 13 play drives, and we were running the ball so well that when he got in on his drives, he kept getting the ball. We hadn’t predicted that he was going to have more carries than Gerard or Cam. The way we have it set up it should be fairly balanced, but it just worked that he got more touches. Now, what he has done is he has given everybody on the staff a comfort level that he can carry the ball and protect it. The thing I’m always concerned about with the freshman is will they understand the protections, will they pick up the blitz, because if the quarterback gets hurt they’re not going to play no matter how well they run the ball. Then understanding his routes which he did, he was good protection, he was good with his routes, and obviously ran the ball well. In an element you hoped you would get we got it from him down on the goal line. That forth and one where he squared up with the linebacker and ran through him and got in the end zone. He had another third down in the wide zone play that he read well and scored on. So he did some things down on the goal line instinctively that you really need to see in a game before you can assess how good a running back is. Some guys have a knack for it, they’ll find a way to get the ball in the end zone, other guys may come up a yard short or lay the ball on the ground. So he proved to everybody that he can play on a high level.
NC State was in a nickel most of the game, how much of your running success was a result of the defense they were playing?
That’s their base scheme. They’re a 4-2-5 team, so they play that against everybody. That’s their personnel scheme, similar to us. Then it just comes down to the count in the box. How many guys are in the box? Are they taking that nickel, that fifth guy and putting him in the box making it seven in the box, or are they keeping it thinned out where there’s six in the box. Early in the game they were primarily focused on defending the pass. They were basically challenging us saying go ahead and try to run the ball. Let’s see if you can run it against us. We did. We were very successful early on running the ball. Then we got a couple of situations where they were trying to show pass coverage for us to run the ball, and then they creep a guy in and blitz them, and that’s where Taylors got a lot of options. He can pull it out, he can throw it to either side. So you saw for example first play of the game they brought a guy down on the run and he smoked it out to Antonio Vaughan for nine yards. So having those multiple options puts more pressure on Taylor, he’s got to read it right and there were a couple times he missed it. A couple times it should have been a run and he threw it out they tackled us for short gains. They flipped it a little more in the second half. They put more emphasis in second half to stop the run. They played more man coverage, and said we got to commit another guy to stop the run, and we’re going to have to cover these guys up with one on one sits, and it worked for them in some key situations because they held us to two scored. We only scored twice in the second half with five possessions. It’s a matter of Taylor having to read it, people play that 4-2-5 and he’s got to look and tell how many guys are in the box, can he run it or does he have to throw.
You guys tried going deep one or two times and it wasn’t successful, was it a matter of throws, coverage, or a combination of both?
Most of the time when you throw the ball 40 plus yards, your percentages are going to be down 15-25 percent. They’re not high percentage throws over 40 yards, whether it’s NFL, college or whatever. There were two that he missed long. He missed one long to Vaughan and early one long to Lowe. Then later in the game that throw to Vaughan on the post he hit him right in the hands. When Antonio and I talked about it after the game he said he thought the DB was going to tip it so he was trying to get ready, but the DB missed it. He jumped and missed the ball and it ended up going through his hands. Then the one to Pascal before we punted down the sideline, that ball was right on the money. The DB made a beautiful diving play and got his finger on it that one might have been gone. So, two of those throws he was right on and a couple of them he was off and he missed. Those throws we try not to force those in our offense. Occasionally when we feel like the safety’s are getting down in that 12, 10,8 yard area we’re going to purposely go at it to try and loosen them up, try to give the coordinator something to think about. Generally in our system you don’t see the ball going down the field a lot. The biggest reason is they are just not high percentage throws. They’re purposeful throws when you’re trying to send a message to the other team, and you hope you score a touch down while you send the message, but the percentages aren’t in favor if you’re taking a lot of shots.
You described your offensive line a work in progress about a week about, seemed like they got a lot of work done this week.
They did. I was really excited, that was a lot of progress in that game. Those guys played very well. Tyler Burns got in as part of the rotation. Tyler played well, that was his first college game last week against Hampton and he just played on the PAT field goal, that was his first time in the rotation and he was really good. Troy Butler was very good at right tackle between Kyle Bottoms and Ely Anderson. They played well over on the left side. Tyler Fisher is developing into and all-conference type player. Tyler Fisher last year his first starts against Pittsburgh, with Aaron Donald lining up over him, who was 11th pick in the NFL draft by the Rams. Just from that game on he’s played well in every game he’s played in. He was really good Saturday night he was very effective in blocking. Josh Mann who plays center. All those guys are really playing well as a group right now. We’re still trying to figure out the substitution patterns. I felt like Josh Mann was getting tired at the end of the game. Then I look and we’ve run 87 plays and he’s in there for every single play, and he’s on PAT field goal so he’s out there for 95 snaps not including penalties. He probably played 100 snaps of football, and that’s too much. He doesn’t say and word, he doesn’t complain he’ll play every single play, but we’ve still got to figure out the rotation so those guys can get a break at some point. Same thing with Compton, he needs a break at some point so Coach Dee, Coach Scott, and myself, we’ve been talking about what best to get those players rotated throughout the game, but there’s progress being made.