ODU football coach Bobby Wilder talks with reporters on Monday. The Monarchs (3-5) play at Vanderbilt (2-6) on Saturday.
Good Afternoon everybody! Good Afternoon to all our 12th Monarchs out there in Monarch Nation, coming off a heartbreaking loss at Western Kentucky. A game that we fell behind early, we were down by 18 in the first quarter. I loved the way our team battled back, we got it to within five with five minutes to go, and then had a very unfortunate situation when the ball slipped out of Taylor’s hand on what would have been a touchdown pass to Zach Pascal. This has been an unfortunate theme for us the past four weeks. We’ve been falling behind early in ball games, and then having to battle our way back. It’s something we have got to put an end to this week down at Vanderbilt. The story of the game was really three parts.
Defensively, the missed tackles. We had a total of 49 missed tackles for 202 yards, and it led to three scores. Special teams had a poor performance, especially on our kickoff team. A couple of missed tackles led to a 94-yard touchdown. Then our kickoff return team not giving our returner an opportunity to get the ball back up the field. We also had two interceptions on offense. The ball that slipped out of Taylor’s hand that was returned for a touchdown, and then one early in the game that also led to a touchdown. Special teams is an area we are going to really focus on this week with some personnel changes. Some areas we need to improve on, particularly, as I mentioned, kickoff and kickoff return. Defensively we were playing against one of the best teams in the country.
They’ve been going for 550 yards a game and it was the missed tackles that really hurt us. I felt like they dominated the line of scrimmage, they were able to run the ball consistently. With that being said, we had guys in good position, our players were competing hard. I love the fact that at the end of the game when we got beat on a route, Richie Staton forced a fumble, Fellonte Misher returned it, and we still had an opportunity at that point to take the lead, but we’ve got to improve on our tackling. There will be extra emphasis on that this week. We will go in full pads on both Tuesday and Wednesday so we can work with not only the tackling form and technique, but getting guys to the ground. We’ve got to do a better job technique wise with tackling lower.
We had a lot of missed tackles that were up high, we were up around the shoulders, and we need to be lower. We need to work on taking guys to the ground, and I feel like at this point we’re healthy enough that we can do this. We came out of this game healthy and having the bye two weeks ago helped us get the majority of our team back and healthy. So that will be an emphasis this week in practice. Offensively, very good performance; 643 yards, 51 points. We had a stretch in the third quarter where on seven consecutive drives we scored touchdowns. Our guys took the ball down the field and put it in the end zone. I felt like our quarterback played his best game of the year other than his two interceptions. In terms of his reads, his accuracy, his movement in the pocket. He was as accurate as he’s ever been on the deep throws, which had a lot to do with Antonio Vaughan having six catches for 220 yards. Taylor was very accurate down the field and we were able to hurt them in some of the things they were doing in man coverage. Ray Lawry had his third consecutive great football game; 25 carries, 149 yards, 4 touchdowns. He’s running through tackles right now, very physical. He had a huge catch on fourth and nine, a 31-yard catch that he almost turned into a touchdown and protected well. He only had a couple situations in the game that we need to clean up on protection. He’s making a strong case right now with the way he’s playing right now for some type of award at the end of the season; rookie of the year or newcomer, whatever that award might be.
This week’s opponent is Vanderbilt. They are currently 2-6 right now during the season. This will be a major challenge for us because, obviously, it’s our third straight road game. We’re going into the SEC, which is the best conference in the country. I feel like their last two games they finally settled in on a quarterback, Johnny McCrary, who’s a redshirt freshman. He’s played very well these last two games against Charleston Southern and against Missouri. He’s been accurate with the football. He’s got one turnover, one interception both games, so they’re getting much better protection of the football from the quarterback position. Their running back Ralph Webb is outstanding. He’s a typical SEC back, he’s physical with good speed. Big and athletic in the offensive line. This will be the biggest offensive line we’ve played against. They’re playing four tight ends at a time, and they are all 6-4, 6-5 250 pounds. They’ve got good skill at the wide receiver position. Defensively, they are led by Nigel Bowden, who is probably going to be the best defensive player we will see this year, at linebacker. He’s got 65 tackles so far and the next closest guy on the roster has 44 tackles. They’re very good at the linebacker position. This will be the biggest defensive line we’ve seen, they are all 300 pounds and athletic. They are fast, aggressive, and very well coached. Their head coach Derrick Mason is a defensive guy. He came over from Stanford and you can see it schematically with what they are trying to do. They are just very young right now. They lead the nation in first-time starters with 26. We’re fourth in that category with 18. So they are playing a lot of first-year players right now and you can see the improvement. You can see the way they’re playing. This will be a major challenge for us Saturday night, but it’s a game I feel very confident if we go down and play the way we are capable of, we can get the win down at Vanderbilt.
How are you mentally getting your guys through a four-game losing streak with the last three having been on the road?
Right. The biggest thing I talked to our team about yesterday and met with the captains this morning and keep reiterating is that any time in life whether its football, whatever it is, when you are faced with some adversity, the best way to turn those setback into comebacks is with your attitude and having a positive mental attitude and that is what I’ve seen from this football team. Our guys show up everyday with a great attitude. They are confident that they can win. They know that we’ve got to improve in certain areas because we are playing good competition right now and when you make the mistakes they expose you as a team and keeping that great attitude is what we are doing. I like this team a lot, I like their approach, the way they go about their business. What really needs to happen to turn this around is to get off on a better start. So we are not chasing points like we have been these last four weeks. That has been a consistent theme going back to Middle Tennessee, Marshall, out at UTEP and again this week at Western Kentucky. So getting off to a better start is going to be critical.
You’ve got to be proud of them that mentally they have just never given up. How do you get them to transfer that over to playing Vanderbilt this week?
Yeah they are all excited. There won’t be a lot I’ll have to say going into the game. They know who Vanderbilt is, they know about the SEC. But they are already excited about this game. Then the fact that it is on national television, it’s a night game, all those things add in to the excitement level for this game. I am very confident that our guys will go in there with a great attitude and ready to compete.
You said in the past I guess that normally on defense you guys do not practice tackling to the ground during the season in practice. Has the way you guys have played defensively caused you to alter what you will do in practice on defense?
Yeah. It is very clear that through this game, this Western Kentucky game, how much we struggled tackling and a lot of that has got to do with Western Kentucky having one of the top offenses in the country, but when it gets to the point where it was in this game, where we had 49 missed tackles and when I see it from our players, when I see the frustration levels in our players on defense and some situations on special teams, my job as the head coach is to evaluate that situation, evaluate the health of our team and I feel like at this point, Dave, we are the healthiest we’ve been all year. You know coming out of that stretch of 11-straight weeks, with preseason, those seven-straight games we played and then having the bye, I feel like we are healthy enough to do this. Now it won’t be for the entire practice, we are not going to be out there for two hours tackling, but we will take certain segments where normally we would work on tackling drills and now take the ball carrier to the ground. Certain segments when we are going against the scout team, and make that a little more physical, where we are tackling and we are getting multiple guys to the football. Cause there were situations in this game where there were some one-on-ones, but then there were a lot of situations where the second and third guy wasn’t getting to the ball quick enough. So we can emphasis those things in practice, we can go full speed tackle to the ground and then I really truly feel that if we can do that, that will give our players more confidence. And that is really what this is all about. Yes we will continue the technique we’ve been teaching them all year, but getting them more confidence in tackling and I feel that if we do that, then that will add to their confidence levels going into this game.
You’re kick-off return team is 13th in Conference USA. You’re kick-off coverage is 13th in Conference USA. What is not happening and what is wrong with the special teams, and you mentioned you may do some personnel changes?
Yeah the number one thing that is happening to us on kickoff return is we are not staying on blocks. You know we had two really good returns in this games where we would get the ball out to the 30-yard line and then you know we’d run a similar scheme and the guys would miss their block or come off their blocks. We are trying to improve the personnel, but we are also trying to be conscious of how many reps guys are taking on offense and defense. It is more a matter of trying to improve our technique. And then on kick-off coverage, other than giving up the 94-yarder, for the most part we were pretty solid in this game. And also a lot of it has to do with the kick. Where is the kick going? Where is the ball being kicked? The depth, the height, and all those things that allow us to get coverage. We started out with Jarrett Cervi kicking, because Ricky Segers is out for the year, and we weren’t getting enough depth and height. Then we went to Satchel Ziffer, another freshman, who hadn’t kicked before, and we got some improvement with that. So those guys are going to have to do a better job too with the placement of the ball. Especially this week, they’ve got an explosive returner who took two back against South Carolina. So the placement of the ball and height of the kick are critical this week. And those are things we will work on this week.
You talked about, when you talked to your players, about just trying to get through this rough patch in the season. You are trying to make sure they are okay. How are you holding up during this period of time as the coach, how do you get through it yourself?
It’s frustrating, it’s frustrating for all of us as coaches, because everybody around here is used to winning. And the biggest thing I have to emphasis with our coaching staff is that we’ve got to maintain our level of enthusiasm with the players, because they need that right now. We have got to stay consistent in what we are coaching and teaching, because it is obvious that we are close. We are close in all these games that we are losing other than the Marshall game going all the way back to NC State. The formula works and we’ve got to stick with the plan this process of winning that we’ve got and keep everything positive. And we get a lot of energy back from the players and their approach and seeing what they are doing. I told them yesterday, ‘Nothing cures what ails you like getting a win.’ And I still think there are a lot of good things in front of this football team. If we get this win this week, we are 4-5, then we are coming back home and we’ve got another bye, so there are still a lot of good things that are out in front of us but everything would be much better getting a win this week at Vanderbilt.