Press Conference: ODU football coach Bobby Wilder
Good Afternoon everybody. Good Afternoon to all our 12th Monarchs out there in Monarch Nation. Coming off a thrilling 30 – 27 overtime win versus Louisiana Tech. I thought hard about the words to describe it and only one comes to mind, wow! Wow! What a game! Probably the biggest win in the history of our short program.
We’ve had a few big ones around here, but this one was certainly the biggest win. This is two games in a row now, that we’ve showed tremendous poise in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter and overtime of this game. Going back a couple weeks ago against FIU, we won that game in the fourth quarter and then to do what we did later and in overtime of this game. The story of the game was our second half defense. In the second half and overtime, LA Tech ran 21 plays for a total of 43 yards, and just a field goal (in overtime). This is against the number three offense statistically in Conference USA. We were down 24-14 at the half. The message was clear that we were going to have to come out and play as close to perfect football as possible to have and opportunity to win this game. I felt like the kids battled really hard in the second half and overtime.
We outscored them 16-3, and this is the number one team in the west. They were 6-0 coming into this game and if they had won the game, they would have sealed the west division and the spot in the championship game against Marshall. LA Tech is a very good football team.. They play Rice for the western division title this weekend, and we’ve beaten both of those teams, which is very encouraging for our program to beat two quality programs like Rice and LA Tech. I think Skip Holtz has done a tremendous job at LA Tech. This is a team that was 4-8 last year. So to have the turn around they’ve had is just a tremendous job by Skip and his staff. That’s a quality football team.
Starting with our special teams. Other than the two botched specialty kicks we tried early in the game, I thought we were very good. Satchel Ziffer made all three of his extra points. He made a 46-yard field goal, after that nine-minute drive to score, which really changed the momentum of the game. That was huge at that time; it made it a one score game, cutting it to 24-17. He narrowly missed on a 42 yarder later in the game. A kick that would have been good from 60 he just pulled it a little bit to the left. Our kick of coverage was outstanding when we kicked the ball deep. This was the number three kickoff return team in Conference USA. They have a very explosive returner and our guys covered it extremely well in the game. Probably the best we’ve covered kicks all year. Then we had the one kick out of an offensive formation where Taylor had a 48 yard punt. Overall, a solid performance.
Defensively it was night and day from the first half to the second half in this game. In the first half they ran 44 plays for 283 yards, and the 24 points. As I mentioned, in the second half, 21 plays, 43 yards, and three points. This reminded me of the last 13 minutes of the FIU game where they ran eight plays for nine yards. We had the big interception by Fellonte Misher. We’ve just played lights out at the end of the last two football games; as good as we’ve ever played defensively. That’s encouraging because we’re making a lot of progress on that side of the ball. We had 13 missed tackles in the first half and we only had two missed tackles in the second half and overtime. I felt like this was the best team defense we’ve ever played. We had 10 guys on defense with at least three tackles in this game. We had a huge caused fumble early in the game, then the big interception by Reggie Owens in the fourth quarter that got us some momentum back. So, overall an outstanding performance in the second half and overtime by our defense
Offensively, this was a grind. It was a chess match the entire game against their blitz packages and what they were doing defensively. On the sideline, in between every series, there were adjustments being made by our offensive coaches trying to help Taylor recognize the blitzes, how we were going to attack them in the run game and protection wise. This is the second ranked defense in Conference USA; they’re outstanding. They lead the league by a wide margin in interceptions; they have 21 interceptions on the year. They are one of the best teams in the country at taking the ball away. I thought our guys competed very well. We had 395 yards and 30 points. Without the four interceptions and those two critical penalties at the end, this could have been a 550 yard 45 point performance by our offense.
But I’ve got to give a lot of credit to LA Tech for the plays they made. Our offensive line was outstanding in this game. This was the most challenging game for them from a strategy standpoint, and from a competition standpoint. LA Tech is very good defensively; they are just a notch behind Marshall. I think that shows how far we’ve come as a team because we weren’t competitive against Marshall and we played much better in this game. Schematically on offense Josh Mann, Connor Mewbourne, and Melvin Vaughn played all 77 plays in this game. Melvin played a lot of his snaps at tight end, which was the first time we played him that many snaps at tight end. That really helped us with the edge and protection. There were times when we kept him in to protect and he had to do a good job blocking on the edge, which he did.
Taylor was 29 for 40 for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Of the four interceptions, two of them were bad decisions and two were just outstanding plays by their defensive backs. David Washington stepped up and had his best game of the year; 8 catches for 106 yards, two touchdowns. He is just coming on. He’s gotten better and better each week as he learns the receiver position. He’s playing at an all-conference level right now. Antonio Vaughan had nine catches, 92 yards. Then we got a huge lift off the bench with Cam Boyd with his 11 carries for 50 yards and a touchdown. We had a couple injuries in the game. Ray Lawry got dinged up. He took a shot in the head and we kept him out. He probably could have come back in but we decided to hold him out. Gerard Johnson sprained his ankle, and that made Cam Boyd the feature back and he stepped up for us on senior day.
Speaking to this week’s opponent Florida Atlantic. They are 3-8 overall, 2-5 in the league. This is a team that is night and day how they play at home and on the road. They are 3-1 at home and 0-7on the road. They’ve had some impressive home wins. There only loss is a 31-28 loss to a very good UAB team that almost beat Marshall his weekend. They’ve had some quality wins. They beat Western Kentucky at home in a game they trailed 31-14 halftime. They came back and won 45-38, and that’s the same Western Kentucky team that beat us, so they certainly have our attention. They are coming off a heartbreaking loss at Middle Tennessee, a team that we loss to early in the year 41-28. They lost 35-34, in game the led by 13 points with five minutes to go. Offensively, they are averaging 26 points, 410 yards; good balance between the run and the pass. Very impressive to me is they’ve only turned the ball over 13 times in 11 games. Their leading receiver, Lucky Whitehead, is one of the best players in the league, one of the most dynamic. They’ll throw it to him, they ran a jet sweep to him in the first play of the Middle Tennessee game and he went 80 yards with it. He accounts for about one third of their total yardage. Defensively, in the league games, they are giving up 35 points 420 yards and it’s a balance between run and pass. Teams that have been able to protect the quarterback have had success moving the ball. This will be a major challenge for our team as I mentioned, they are 3-1 home and it will be there senior day. So it will be and emotional day for them like this Saturday was for our team. As I said to our players, this game is a playoff game for us. We need to win this game to have any possibility of post-season. With a win it would get us to 6-6 and 4-4 in the league, and then we wait and see what happens with other teams that are fighting for bowl eligibility. So it’s a major challenge, we will have to play well in all three phases, but it’s a game that our team is already excited for.
Q: Coach did you get a chance to soak in any of the atmosphere in that second half at home?
A: I did. It was remarkable. The performance, I wrote a letter this morning, a thank you letter to the fans, because that was just incredible. The energy that we got from the crowd, particularly when it got later in the game in the fourth quarter. I know they used at least two timeouts because of the crowd noise and we got a couple delay of games on them. The quarterback was having a really hard time checking protections. That late pressure we got, where TJ Ricks in overtime on the third and three came through clean that was clearly a miscommunication up front. The left guard didn’t hear the check of the protection and he fanned to the left and that forced the quarterback to throw it out of bounds, so that is one example of many in the game where the crowd was just phenomenal and to have our 41stconsecutive sell-out to win a game like that I can’t say thank you enough to all those very special people.
Q: Coach, after the FIU game you said that maybe the players couldn’t enjoy it as much as they could, opposed to relief. Did they enjoy this one?
A: Oh boy did they ever. I wish I could have gotten in the pile down in the end zone, I almost forgot I needed to go over and shake Skip Holtz’ hand, I wanted to head down there. Just the spontaneous reaction and we’ve got it on video, our outstanding video staff kept it rolling and to see the entire team, the players, the coaches, everybody get in that corner and then the celebration in the locker room after they definitely enjoyed this one.
Q: You mentioned the win over Rice and this is obviously pretty big, could you talk about that a little bit more, just how big that is?
A: Yeah what that does it number one, it gives our players tremendous confidence. When we went to Rice and won they were pre-season number one in the league, the defending league champions and they had one of the longest home winning streaks in the nation so we gained some the confidence from that. I talked to the players a lot about leading up to LA Tech about that game, that we were clearly capable of beating the best teams in the league. We had confidence going into this game coming off of the FIU game, the way we won and particularly defensively. I sensed our defense this week, they had a really good week at practice, and there was more confidence there. You know we are still an up and down team defensively, but we have found a way to finish games and getting this win now, beating the number one team in the west, a team that was undefeated, that shows everybody in our program, that shows all the kids that we are recruiting what we are capable of doing and doing it in our first year in Conference USA. The fact that we could end up 6-6, 4-4 in the league would be a remarkable accomplishment for this team.
Q: Time is running out on Taylor and his career here, can you talk about what he has just meant to the program?
A: Yeah, he is a program changer. From what he has done stepping in behind Thomas DeMarco really. Thomas set the stage for the program with how we were able to win and how he played for us, and then Taylor came in and just took us to a whole other level. When you think about the fact that he was a true freshman and in 2011 throws 25 touchdowns and only one interception and leads us to the second round of the playoffs. Then you look back on his sophomore year and we are eleven and two, he wins the Walter Payton Award, you know that put us on a national stage. We were a good story regionally and people were learning we had football, but those back-to-back playoffs in ’11 and ’12, I think that was the biggest reason that Conference USA accepted us. We were winning, we were exciting and he was the main reason behind it. And then both Taylor and the other seniors how unselfish they have been the last two years. You know they’re thinking going into ’13 they are going to have a shot to compete for a national championship and then I have to explain to them that there won’t be any post season in 2013; we are a transition team, there won’t be a playoff, there won’t be a bowl game. And then this year it is only a conditional opportunity, shows a level of unselfishness by all the players and Taylor has certainly made a major difference.
Q: Bobby, what did you guys do well and do better on in the second half the other day that you hadn’t done in the first half?
A: Well the number one improvement from the first half to the second half was tackling. We had 13 missed tackles in the first half and only two in the second half. We were very aggressive getting to the football and there was a confidence level there, they gained confidence. It certainly helped us that the first drive offensively in the second half, we go for nine minutes. Their kids had been sitting, basically for an hour between intermission and the start of the third quarter and then to come out and get that stop. They only ran four plays in the entire third quarter; we had the ball for thirteen and a half minutes. So I don’t want to overstate it, you know, they only had 21 plays total in the second half, but every time we needed a play on defense they made it.
Q: You have kind of down played the whole time of possession, given the pace of your offense. Can you speak to what you decided to do and why coming out of halftime and into the third quarter?
A: Yeah, we felt like offensively the first half because of the turnovers and the drives they had we were starting to get worn down on defense. They ran 44 plays in the first half. That’s a lot of plays, they were on pace to go up around 90 plays and when Coach Scott and I were talking at halftime, we talked about coming out and taking the clock down, pulling it all the way down and we needed it in this game anyway because trying to identify the fronts and blitzes was a challenge. Taylor and Josh Mann were working overtime. We have never played a defense that did as much schematically as they did. So we were going to take the clock down anyway, but what we would do was Brian just held the signals a little bit longer. So for example we would let the 40-second clock run down to about 20 before we’d give them the play and then we knew Taylor needed about 20-seconds against this team to identify it and we were just really fortunate that we kept converting on that first drive. We got back-to-back sacks on that first drive in the third quarter and that’s what made that a 46-yard field goal, but the fact that we were able to, not only take the nine minutes off but get points, that would have been incredibly demoralizing to take that much time off the clock and not get anything. That is why that field goal by Satchel Ziffer was so big. It cut it to 24-17. It gave us some momentum and then I think the key stop of the game is when our defense came out their first drive of the third quarter and they ran four plays and had to punt. Then we got the ball back and we held it for another six minutes, I think they had about four plays up until about 13 minutes left in the game, because we had the two long drives and they just had the one series. That changed the whole momentum that changed the energy, it was a one score game and really turned it around for us.
Q: How much did the bye week have to do with this win?
A: I don’t think it had much to do with it cause we were fairly healthy going into it, if anything it gave us a little more time just to prepare for all the blitz that we were going to see. We were able to spend a little more time meeting with all the players, but we were fairly healthy going into it.
Q: Was the way you approached this defense and the way you said Louisiana Tech with their blitz packages and fronts and things like that, was this an outlier or unusual to do that, or will you think about doing that more often from now on?
A: It was different from the standpoint that it was like playing a different team. It was an entirely different strategy, which is why we played so many tight-end sets. With Melvin Vaughn we felt like we needed an extra blocker for some of their blitzes. You know this week will be an entirely different approach, Florida Atlantic’s different defensively, you know. We felt like we had to make these adjustments Dave to give Taylor a little bit more time with what he was doing. We felt like we had to make that adjustment from game management standpoint in the second half with the fact that they ran 44 plays and our guys were getting tired. The best thing that could have happened was that nine-minute drive, I can’t overstate that. We needed that nine-minute drive to keep us on the field and them off, because I think if they score first in the second half before we do and make it a three score game we probably wouldn’t have had a shot to win.
Q: Bobby you played Vaughn a lot at tight end, you’ve got a good tight end redshirting, you’ve got another one, at least one that you’re recruiting, but is that something that we are going to see more of next year?
A: Yeah, most likely. A lot of it next year will depend on the quarterback. When Thomas DeMarco was the quarterback we were a tightend offense, we were 11 personnel. We played with a tight end with Kai Blanco and Matt Carrillo, because that was more of Thomas DeMarco’s style. We were more of a running team; we would run it more with the quarterback. We were more of a run oriented team and then when Taylor and the dynamic wide receivers we’ve had that is why we spread it out. Taylor is better when the field is wide open and he can see it all and he can calculate what he wants to do. As I have said many times he has the authority to change the play whenever he wants. He can call what he wants at the line of scrimmage if he sees something and next year our initial thoughts will be to go back to more of a tight end oriented scheme, but again that will depend on the quarterback.
Q: And this is not a coronation for quarterback, this a competition, so there is no you know who your starter is for next year?
A: No, it is going to be a wide open situation, we’ve got to determine between Shuler and then what we want to do with David Washington, what David wants to do, he’ll have input in that, he has earned the right to have input into that. And then what we do coming in, what comes in at that position, but I have always felt philosophically and the offensive staff is in agreement with me that your system is based on who’s at quarterback. I think if you force a system on a quarterback it is a recipe for disaster and if you can design it around the strengths of who you have under center then you have more of an opportunity for success so that will be our approach going into the off season.
Q: Why do you think that this past weekends win was more significant than the Rice win?
A: For a couple of reasons, number one we are fighting for bowl eligibility. And the goal at the start of the year was to get to this last game and be in the conversation. Obviously, I would have liked to already been there, but to be in the conversation for a bowl game, to make this game as meaningful as it is now for us going to Florida Atlantic that has major significance and then the fact that I think, this is the best team that we have ever beaten. The fact that they were undefeated in the league, they beat Western Kentucky 59-10, we lost to Western Kentucky 66-51. They beat UTEP 55-3, we lost to UTEP 42-35, so when you look at the common opponents, when you look at their record, the fact they were undefeated in the league and everything that was at stake for us to pull out this win and then the way we did it, that says a lot to me about our kids, their character. You know we’ve got it two weeks, two games in a row now having to win late, trailing in the fourth quarter. You know this is back-to-back games, where we had to make a fourth quarter comeback to win it. So that is why this is the biggest win we have ever had.