ODU football coach Bobby Wilder talks to the media on Monday. ODU (2-1) plays Rice (0-2) on Saturday.
Good afternoon everybody! Good afternoon to all our 12 Monarchs out there in Monarch Nation. -Coming off a historical first-ever home FBS win 17-3 over Eastern Michigan. That puts our record at 2 and 1 going into conference play. A big thank you to all of those who hung in there on what I’ll describe as a blustery evening with the wind and the rain. It’s much appreciated, all of our coaches and players were grateful for the tremendous support Saturday night. The Monarchs were loud and proud and we are grateful for that one.
Speaking to the weather, I think it was a challenge to both teams with the wind and the rain throughout. It turned into a field position game based on the fact that the weather did play a factor in this game. I think this win, I can best describe it as it was all about the defense in this game, and the way our defense played. I’m so excited to say that, really excited for our kids. Although we certainly have not arrived on defense, it was great to see that kind of progress on that side of the ball. I felt it the previous week at North Carolina State in the first half that we were making some really good progress and they obviously put together a complete game Saturday night with that performance. Conversely on offense, we did not play well in this game. We struggled in the passing game, it was evident by the first two times Taylor tried throw the ball. He really struggled early on in the game just with the football, and then the receivers struggled catching the ball. We had two turnovers in this game that were attributed to not being able to take care of the football in those wet conditions. Very excited to report that the special teams made a big difference in this game, particularly with the field position. Starting on special teams, the best way to describe it is that we finally made an impact in the game.
Our true freshman punter Jarrett Cervi was outstanding in this game, this was the first time that he punted in a college game. I was congratulating him after his first punt. I said “How’d it feel?” he said “Coach, it just feels good to get it over with.” So he was pretty excited to get out there and play. He had three punts for 40.7 yard average with a long of 47, and he did a really nice job on the one, what we call, sky punt that he had when we pinned them. The goal is to get them inside the 20 and he forced the fair catch at the 15. Then we punted three times out of the offensive formation. Taylor had a 50-yard average with a long of 66, and put two of them inside the 20. So to punt six times and have three of them down inside the 20 that was critical it what was a field position football game. Then Antonio Vaughan with that big 46-yard punt return for a touchdown that put us up 17-3. He had another one earlier in the game that was called back with a holding penalty, but it was good to see us finally get the opportunity to return punts in this game. That unit proved that they can be explosive and help change the course of the football game
Defensively I mentioned I thought it was a difference in the game. The way we played, it was a very inspiring performance, and one that we got a lot of energy from on the sideline. I could feel our fans getting a lot of energy from that performance. The three points allowed is a school record, and we only allowed 215 total yards. This really started upfront with the performance of the defensive line. I felt like we were able to control the line of scrimmage for the majority of this football game, which was a major concern going in. We thought that they would line up with that massive offensive line and that 270 pound tight end and just run it right at us. Malik Gumbs, Chris Smith, Bunmi Rotimi, Rashaad Coward, and Galen Evans, we were rotating those guys through at defensive tackle and they did an excellent job holding the point, and then we got some real good plays from our defensive ends. From Andrew Everett, Poncho Barnwell, Terrell Reid, those guys I felt they played solid football on the edge at linebacker.
When you look and see your linebackers having that number of tackles, which means that you’re doing a nice job controlling the line of scrimmage. D.J. Simon had 11 tackles, TJ Ricks had 10 and Martez Simpson had eight. So when you see that you’re getting that type of production out of your linebackers, you can attribute that to the defensive line eating up those blocks up front.
In the secondary we were in the right spots all night. There were only a couple of situations where we were out of position and it looked like they might be able to hit deep passes. We only allowed 72 yards passing in the game. Obviously, the conditions were hard for Eastern Michigan the same way they were for us, but we didn’t allow any explosive plays. Their long completion was a 31-yarder. That was a questionable catch that I ask to be reviewed on the sidelines, I thought it was out of bounds. So real nice job in all three areas, the d-line, linebackers, and secondary.
Offensively, as I mentioned, we struggled all night with the conditions. We had the interception, which the ball slipped out of Taylor’s hand. Vincent Lowe was five yards behind the safety and it looked like when I was initially watching the play develop on the sideline that it was going to be a 70 yard touchdown pass, and it turned out to be an interception. Antonio Vaughan fumbled on a long run. We gave him two consecutive carries, he was finishing off an eight yard run and he lost the ball. Taylor struggled with the wet ball and the receivers struggled. We had eight drops in this game. Taylor ends up 17 for 30. If we catch all those balls he’s 25 for 30, and he’s up around 300 yards and there’s some touchdown passes in there. Very pleased with the run game. We rushed for 180 yards in this game, even with some of the minus yardage rushes we had and taking a knee from the shotgun three times at the end of the game. We were on pace to be up there over 200 yards in this game. We’re going to need to execute much better offensively this week against Rice.
Speaking to our opponent this week, Rice. They are 0-2 at this point with a loss at #17 Notre Dame, and a loss at #7 Texas A&M, which are two teams, after watching the video of those games, I think will be involved late into the season with the discussion of the national championship. So they’ve obviously played some very good football teams. Our biggest challenge is going got be playing a team like Rice that I think is a complete team. I think they are good in all three phases, their kicking game is very good. Defense and offense they’re solid. They’re the defending Conference USA champions and they’re playing at home. They’ve won nine straight at home. It going to be hot down there, it’s probably going to be 90 to 100 degrees at kickoff based on the preliminary forecast we’ve seen. Offensively versus those two teams, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, their averaging 425 yards a game on offense against two very good defenses.
Their quarterback Driphus Jackson is a dual threat, he averages 190 yards passing and 73 yards rushing a game. They will run the ball with him, they’ll run the option, they’ll run some design quarterback runs, so were going to have to be very gap conscious with this guy run or pass. They’re rushing for 190 yards and have a very good offensive line. They’re massive up front, they’ve got some veteran players in the o-line and they’re throwing the ball for 233 yards a game. They spread the ball around. They’ve got 12 different guys that have caught passes this year, so there’s no one guy that you can focus in on with this team. On defense I think they’re very solid. Their stats are a little misleading when you look at who they’ve played. They’ve gone up against two quarterbacks that are probably going to be Heisman trophy candidates this year if they keep playing the way they have. They returned eight starters on defense. Chris Covington their defensive tackle is 6’3” 300 pound and was a first team All-Conference USA player last year.
They’re fairly basic on defense in what they do. They play four man front, they run a lot of zone pressures, and try to keep a safety deep all the time. They are very disciplined in what they do, they do a nice job with their disguise on the blitz and they are fast and very physical on defense. Their punter averages 43 yards a punt, their kicker puts the ball out of the end zone on kickoff. So as I mentioned they are excellent in special teams. We’re playing the defending league champs. We’re playing them at their house where they are very good, and this will be a major challenge for our football team this week, but one we’re excited to take on. Getting a chance to play our first ever Conference USA football game.
Q: Bobby, given Rice’s first two opponents, the coaches kind of understand what they are looking at, but the kids might not in terms of level of competition and what kind of players Rice has. How do you convey what you are preparing for?
A: That’s a good question. We are also going back to last year Dave. Showing them some games from last year where teams beat them and how they beat them, starting with the bowl game against mississippi state. Obviously mississippi state is a better program then we are, but we are trying to show the kids that the things that people are doing to be successful. They were 10-4 last year, so they lost four games and we’ll show the kids some of the information from that. They are not much different this year in terms of how they play. I know David Bailiff, their head coach, and he’s a good football coach, a real sharp guy. So he tries to keep things consistent for them and playing to the strengths of their quarterback. Like I said he is a dual threat guy and then they play to the strengths of their defense, which is their front. Their defensive front is very good.
Q: Any concerns at all about the efficiency of your passing game at this point?
A: I am not overly concerned about it. It’s still, as I mentioned at the start of the year, we’re breaking in four true freshman in the passing game and we’ve got some different combinations going on up front, so it is making it a bit more challenging with the protection of Taylor. It’s more right now a timing issue, getting the timing down, which was very good down at NC State. Then when you get conditions like we had Saturday night, you have a combination of wind and rain, it’s hard on everybody. It’s hard on Taylor trying to grip the ball and throw it, and it’s hard on the receivers trying to catch it. I feel like we are doing the right things and making good progress there. Those younger guys are really starting to understand the route concepts and we are gaining confidence in those younger players.
Q: Did you envision with having some new guys on the offensive line that you would be as productive running the ball as you have been so far?
A: I had hoped we would. I had hoped that we would be able to run the ball, to take some pressure off of Taylor and the receivers. What we found out through these first three games Dave, is that we’ve got Gerard Johnson who is a very good player. We knew that coming in, and he’s getting better. He is still just a true sophomore, and he didn’t really start playing until midway through last year. His breakout game last year was the Norfolk State game. So he hasn’t played much football, but he is developing and getting better. We know what we have with Cam Boyd, who is a solid football player. What we are finding out is that Ray Lawry is a very explosive player. Ray still needs to grow in learning and understanding the protections and understanding the routes, but he is a good runner with the football. A very physical, punishing runner and we didn’t know that going into this season, but it is what we hoped for. So it helps us having three backs with different styles. That is one of the main reasons as to why we have been as successful as we have the first three games running the ball.
Q: Did you change the way you block and what you guys are doing in the run game or will you adapt as the season goes along?
A: Yeah we have Dave. We’ve added some different schemes to complement that inside zone play. We’ve got a little bit of miss direction now so that teams cannot zero in on, ‘Hey the backs lined in on the left, the ball is definitely going to be run to the right.’ We’ve added schemes now where the back can be lined up on the left and we could be running it to the left. Which we didn’t have in the past, and that is forcing the d-line and the linebackers to play us a little more honestly at this point. So that has definitely helped the scheme that Coach Scott and the offensive staff have added. We are still trying to figure it out. The offensive line is still trying to work at understanding the leverage points and then how to come off and pick up a blitz when it happens. There are more things that the offensive staff wants to add to the run game and we will continue to do that throughout the year as we feel like the kids are getting more comfortable with it. And the other thing Dave that’s been a big help to us, but we couldn’t use it much the other night, were those pass options off the run that Taylor has. Those were so good for us down at NC State. You know, you’ve got a run play called and you see something on either side, that is uncovered he can pull it and get the ball out there quickly. So hopefully the conditions will allow for us to grow that package on Saturday.
Q: Trying to rotate three backs and the new wide receivers and as much as you rotate, has that affected the pace at all in terms of getting guys in but still running as quick a tempo offensively as you would like. Has that slowed you guys down?
A: I don’t think it has and I don’t feel like we have been slowed down. Because generally we only substitute the same we have in past years. If a receiver runs a deep route or if the receiver has been on the field for four or five plays and they are starting to get a little tired, Coach Burden does a great job at that and subbing those guys out. What we try to do with the running backs is to only sub them within a series for the same reason. If a guy takes four or five snaps you know Coach Z can tell, he watches them and when they get a little winded he will pull them out. So we have tried to maintain that same type of pace, which I feel is affective. I feel it bears down particularly on the defense linemen, which helps our offensive line within a drive. We’ve had some drives, some of them are ten or 12 plays and that’s a normal rotation we try to have throughout our past with how we are doing it now.