Press Conference: ODU football coach Bobby Wilder
Good afternoon to all our Monarchs out there in Monarch Nation! We are coming off a disappointing loss to Southern Miss in a game where I felt like we were the best team in Conference USA for the first 37 minutes. I say that because we were leading the team that I believe is the best team in the conference 31-21 after the first 37 minutes. Statistics back that up, as they are first in offense and defense and they are outstanding on special teams. Then we got hit with some adversity, and we didn’t handle it well. They are a veteran team with 18 of their 22 starters being upperclassmen who have played together for a while, and they handled the adversity well. That is what led to the final outcome of this game.
Going into it, I felt like we had a great week of practice and had a lot of confidence, and I still feel like we have a lot of confidence. The game actually started slowly for us on offense; we had three straight three-and-outs. Then David got hurt and Shuler came in and played a great game for us. The game-changer in this one was when we were down 7-0 and Terrell Reid had the big strip that Martez Simpson picked up and ran back for a touchdown. That play changed the entire outlook of the game. We were leading the best team in the league 17-14 at the half. Then late into the third quarter we let that adversity hit us.
On special teams I thought Satchel was very good punting; he had a 41.2-yard average. Chris Kirtley is doing a great job for us on kickoffs and is really growing up and learning how to place the ball for us, and he made another field goal in this game. On kickoff return, we still need to keep improving because we didn’t block well.
Defensively, we had two big turnovers. Fellonte Misher had his third pick in his last three quarters, and overall we were playing very confidently on defense. We only allowed two scores in the first half, but then in the second half they had three drives that started with really short fields which didn’t help us.
Simpson and Misher both had 11 tackles in this game and played really well. I was really excited for Simpson, as he was going back home to play and finished with a touchdown and 11 tackles. Sean Carter and Justice Davila played really well at safety. Carter had nine tackles and Davila had eight. At this point, I think Davila is playing like an All-Conference safety, and Carter is just a redshirt freshman, but he is really coming on.
Offensively, we allowed zero sacks, and I think the line did a great job against a defense that was near the top of the league in sacks, tackles for loss and in turnovers. The two turnovers we had were really disappointing; we had the fumble by Pascal on the screen pass and the fluke interception that was deflected. Shuler played a solid game going 22-for-41 for 228 yards and three touchdowns. He had a really nice drive right before the half, hitting Duhart on a third-and-14 to keep the drive alive and running for a first down on a fourth-and-five. Jeremy Cox was outstanding, rushing 21 times for 98 yards. They were all dirty, tough yards, and he had to break a lot of tackles to get them. Duhart also had a big game, making nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He is still in that developmental stage but keeps getting better and better.
This week’s opponent, Florida Atlantic, is coming off an overtime loss to Florida, and I thought they played outstanding. They really looked like they dominated that game against the No. 8 team in the nation who is fighting for a playoff spot. FAU held Florida to 250 yards, turned them over twice and made five sacks. On offense, FAU gained 300 yards in some pretty tough conditions.
They are playing two quarterbacks, with Johnson taking most of the snaps, but Driskel always comes in early in the game. Johnson does a great job of protecting the ball. He has only thrown five interceptions in 11 games, which is an impressive statistic considering their record.
Defensively, they have been outstanding the last two games against Middle Tennessee and Florida, two bowl teams. They have one of the best front-sevens in Conference USA and are improving each week. I thought their defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage against Florida, which was surprisingly disappointing to see from our standpoint. They only allowed 123 rushing yards to Florida, 250 total yards and 20 points. They lead the conference with 28 sacks, and interestingly 17 of those 28 sacks have come in their two wins.
As I said to our team, the games in November are always the most memorable and the most meaningful. This is clearly the most important game in the history of our program. I’m glad it’s at home because we are going to need our fans, and we hope they bring a lot of energy to this game. I am not surprised that we are underdogs, especially after what they did last week at Florida. But as I told our team, you are what your record says you are. There is a reason we are 5-6 and they are 2-9, so we will take advantage of the things we see and hopefully have a great performance.
From an injury standpoint, David had an MRI at 6:30 a.m. this morning, but we don’t know exactly what we are dealing with yet. We will update you on that when we find anything out. Ray Lawry is feeling a lot better, and he is going to practice tomorrow morning, so we will see how he feels then. I know how badly he wants to play, but obviously his health is our first concern, but hopefully he will be good to go on Saturday.
With the possibility of a bowl game, we are the only team remaining that is fighting for the remaining two slots. Our guys understand the magnitude of this game. When you look at Conference USA right now, the two best teams in the West, Marshall and WKU, are going to play this weekend, and the two best teams in the East, LA Tech and Southern Miss are going to play, and then Middle Tennessee is already in. So now it’s just us fighting for that last spot. The common denominator with all five of those teams is that they’re all getting outstanding quarterback play. The quarterback play was much better in the league last year, which is why there were eight teams that were bowl eligible. Our conference went 4-1 in bowls last year which was the best in the country. We have had solid quarterback play from Shuler and David, who have combined for 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions, which is why I believe we are still in the hunt for bowl eligibility.
Q: Shuler looked a little more athletic on Saturday. Has Ron Whitcomb been working with him on that?
A: Yes, he has had a full four weeks from the time David took over to practice footwork, core strength and study film regarding where to step and when in certain situations. We saw that on Saturday, as he took off a few times and tucked it and ran. He is not unlike any of the other freshman who are playing for us right now in that he is still learning and still growing. He has played well and protected the ball well, but we’d like to see his completion percentage go up. He should be up near 60 percent, so we are going to need him to play well Saturday for us to win.
Q: Talk about the importance and meaning of this game for the program.
A: This is the biggest game in the history of our program. We have only been eligible for postseason three years out of our seven. Now it is right in front of us. Everybody in our building is excited about it, and this would be historic for our program. As I said to our players, imagine coming back here in 20 years with your son and pointing to yourself in the picture of the first team to ever make it to a bowl game. So this is a big game for our players down the road, too.
Q: Did FAU’s game against Florida gain your guys’ attention?
A: They had our attention before because of the magnitude of the game. We have been following them all year, and we were aware of how good they are. They have lost five games by 10 points or less in dramatic fashion. Our guys are well aware of how good they are. We played them last year and it came down to one field goal, so we are aware of them.
Q: Talk about your team’s ability to overcome the injuries to Washington and Lawry.
A: When David got hurt, Shuler came in and played really well. We scored 31 points as a team, so the production was there. Jeremy Cox also played extremely well at running back, and all the kids were there and saw it and felt it. So it doesn’t take much to get that kind of excitement out of the youthful guys when they see other players step in and play well.
Q: How do you relieve some of the pressure off these kids for this game?
A: To me, pressure is something people who are unprepared experience. We stress to these guys that they need to have a sense of urgency. We have basically been in elimination games for the last month. With this program, we have always tried to make the games that are in November the most important ones. When you get down to it, those are the ones that matter the most. We are 19-3 in the month of November as a program, so our players have responded well to it.