Sept. 30, 2017
Louisiana Tech Head Coach Skip Holtz
Q. I tell you, you look at this and the final score. Here's the thing, it may not be the prettiest, but it's a W.
Skip Holtz: It is a W. The thing that was just, it was frustrating offensively tonight. We really got kind of out of a rhythm. It seemed like we started off so well and we were really, we started fast, we were rolling along, and then we had the fumble in the red zone.
In the second half, especially the third quarter it felt like we were on the edge of a cliff on our own goal line most of the third quarter. And we were, most of those third downs were probably 15 plus. So penalties, dropped balls, it certainly wasn't a very clean game offensively.
Q. You went with an empty backfield a lot. Is that just something you guys just focus on or was it me. It seemed like you did that more often in the first half?
Skip Holtz: No, we came in here and said that that was one of the things that they do a really good job of mixing their zone and man and man and zone. And I thought they really did a nice job of mixing up their coverages as a defense and couldn't get a bead on them. It was first downs, man, first downs three deep, first downs, quarters. They just kept changing up. So it was hard to get a bead. But they've got to show their blitzes more in empty, when you get an empty, they've got to show their hand a little bit more. And that's why we came in here and said we're going to get in a little bit more empty and I thought it even helped us some in the second half, we got a couple quick passes thrown out to the flat with Boston Scott or Jarred Craft and picked up some key first downs for us when we were struggling a little bit there to start the fourth quarter.
Q. How hard is it to find that fourth receiver?
Skip Holtz: Kam McKnight had a couple catches tonight. Adrian Hardy made played a major role for us, he got an awful lot of plays for us, had about four catches, and did a really nice job. Marlon Watts had a couple nice catches for us. And then George Scott got an opportunity, didn't catch the ball quite as well as we like as a freshman, but I think he's a really talent and he got an opportunity to get some of this nervous energy out of him. We'll find out what's going on with Rhashid, he didn't get a chance to finish tonight, but we'll see where he is tomorrow with treatments this week and see whether or not he'll be ready. But I think it's critical that those guys keep stepping up. It's really important that those guys step up and we're constantly looking for depth especially at that wide receiver position.
Q. You talked about the starting field position you looked at the 10, the 11, and the 11. It seemed like when the fourth quarter hit you changed the tempo just a little bit and it caught them off guard. They were pointing at each other. Is that something you expect to see more of?
Skip Holtz: I didn't think we were very physical in the first half in being able to run the ball. You'd run the ball and then it's second and seven, and then throw it and it's incomplete and then you're in third and long again. But you we started going a little bit more tempo in the fourth quarter. They play a lot of defensive linemen, but we felt if we could start speeding things up we would stop some of their substitutions and we would be able to run the ball a little bit more efficiently, which proved accurate. I thought Boston Scott did a great job of hitting it tonight. I know he didn't have a million carries, but I thought, from a running standpoint, I think he only had six yards or six carries, but he averaged about 12 and a half. I thought he hit it really hard. I thought he was explosive, he was electric. He did a really nice job of coming back last week when he was really hampered and only rushed for about three yards a carry and was kind of nursing that shoulder a little, but he came back full speed tonight.
Q. They had some turmoil in their program this week, they changed offensive coordinator. From what you saw on film did they do much different tonight?
Skip Holtz: No, their starting quarterback was back. He had played, they had really played two quarterbacks this year and the one that played tonight was the one that started the season. He got a nick in the Oklahoma State game, sat two games, and then he was back for tonight. So they pretty much ran what they did. There were a couple small wrinkles, but it was pretty much what we had, what we prepared for, what we expected. They do a nice job. I thought the quarterback threw the ball really accurate for them and we've got to do a better job, especially in our man coverage, getting inside and taking away some of these slants because that was their bread and butter, that was something they went to all night and really, outside of probably about eight or 10 drops tonight by them. We really got saved defensively a little bit by some of the balls that hit the ground. But it certainly wasn't because we covered on a handful of those. So we got lucky with it, and I know, I said this before, South Alabama is a good program, they have done a good job. It wasn't the cleanest game that we wanted tonight, but I'm proud of the way our players hung in there, the way they competed. J'Mar got a little frustrated there and he started to show it from a body language standpoint. You can't, as a quarterback, that's when we need leadership more than anything. But he never flinched. For him, he loves it, tie game, we got to go down and put the score in, you look at him and wink and he's like, got it, we're good. So I really love his poise and his composure and what he did tonight and I think tonight was a good, was a good learning situation for him, just as a leader and as a quarterback of an offensive football team.
Louisiana Tech Quarterback J'Mar Smith
Q. You started off really hot. Did they change the coverage up or did you get a rhythm going?
J'Mar Smith: Basically it's the rhythm. We knew they were coming in there and they did exactly what we thought they were going to do. They switched it up just a little, but we reacted in a good way, we threw the ball down the field, and got two touchdowns early. But I just wished we could have continued it throughout the game, just not had a bad quarter. But that's the game of football, you have ups and downs, and you have to find a way to dig through it and fight for the next play.
Q. Talk about ball security. I know that's something that you guys have stressed. What's it like to have to go out there and be able it take care of the ball?
J'Mar Smith: It feels good. Just out there having fun. It kind of hurts you a little bit because you feel like you let the team down. But going out there, having fun, not over thinking everything, and just going out and playing football, it feels great.
Q. You guys had a bunch of close games back-to-back and finally were able to grab ahold of one there in the third quarter or fourth quarter towards the end. Did you learn something last couple games that came down to the wire that maybe helped you in a situation where it was close and you overcame it?
J'Mar Smith: Whenever the moment gets bigger, you got to focus on your key thing. Because if the key is a read, you got to focus on that. And I think coming up last week we lost a close game and that hurt. That's pain. We just know that we're going to try to take all the pain and anger that we have on our opponent. So we're just going to give it all we got.
Q. From a players' perspective, do you guys ever look at these kinds of games as games that you guys have against other teams? Do you think that maybe these games are sort of a sense of pride and you want to carry the banner for Conference USA and make sure that you guys establish that conference?
J'Mar Smith: We just got to make sure that Louisiana Tech is a dominant football team. We can't take anybody lightly, we could have easily went out there and just gave them the game and they could have won. It was a good game for them, they played hard tonight, but we had the better hand and we did what we were supposed to do on offense and defense and we came out with the win.
Louisiana Tech Safety Secdrick Cooper
Q. I know it had to feel amazing to have not only one interception tonight but two. So talk about being back on that horse tonight.
Secdrick Cooper: It felt great. The first interception of my career and it was great to have two of them, but my teammates, we practiced hard this week, we had a different type of focus this week, and it showed at clutch times in this game. And I want to thank Coach Baker for helping us out by having us out fighting each day and competing.
Q. How important was it for you guys to kind of play like that when the offense maybe wasn't going as well as it could have been?
Secdrick Cooper: All season we talked about taking the fire out and today we did just that, take the fire out. We had our chance last week and we didn't execute. And we just preached, just do your job, do your job. When the moment gets bigger, just do your job and everything's going to take care of itself.
Q. Talk about what it takes from you guys on that side of the ball where, like in the season opener, Northwestern State strikes pretty quickly in the first quarter and tonight these guys jumped out ahead of you guys 7-0. So what does it take on the defensive side of the ball to not let those early scores get to you and just sort of stay in the game?
Secdrick Cooper: It takes leadership. We just tell our guys to stay up, we got 60 minutes of football, we've got a whole game left and we just trust in our offense that they're going to go out there and make plays. But most importantly we just are a family together and we pick each other up, no matter who made the wrong play, we pick them up and bring them up and just play together out there as a family.
Q. In the red zone, you guys limited them to a bunch of field goal attempts, a bunch of turnovers. How important is that for you?
Secdrick Cooper: When the field gets small we got to, everybody has to do our job that much more. We bring a different intensity. We lock in much more. And just, as a defense, we preach every week, once they get down there, we got to take the fire out. We got to force them to -- a field goal is a win for us. That's how we handle that situation.
Q. I believe it's 55 points now that the defense has given up in the last 13 quarters. How impressive is that for you, as one of the leaders or one of the seniors on that side of the ball, how impressive is it for these guys to go out there and really limit the opposing offenses as much as you guys have?
Secdrick Cooper: It's very impressive. Actually, I didn't know that. But I think it goes back to how we practice. We practice with a sense of urgency. We don't try to have any off days, we try to go out there fired up every day and just up lift the team and basically our leaders, we try to get the team going every day. We don't want no one slacking. If anybody is slacking we get on them and stuff like that, but it's going to be good if we keep practicing the way we practice.
South Alabama Head Coach Joey Jones
Q. Just your thoughts on the outcome tonight.
JOEY JONES: Just so happy with the way we competed early. We go in at halftime, it was a close ball game, come out third quarter is nip and tuck, back and forth. Defense gave the ball to us a couple times inside the 50 and we just didn't cash in on those opportunities we had to at that time. In the fourth quarter they made some long drives and just kind of iced the game. But that's a very good football team we just played, probably going to win a Conference USA and there's no moral deals in here, no moral victories at all. But our kids, they're playing well. And going back to the offense, I think that once Coach Owens and our quarterbacks get together and they understand exactly what he wants, because there was some things that he went out there tonight that didn't really gell all together because we only had four days with him, so I think they can get those fixed. But I like what we did offensively. I thought we did some good things especially in the first half. So really like where we're going. Got seven conference games in a row coming. Got Troy right here coming up and so we're excited about the opportunity of what we can do in our conference.
Q. Talk about conference play, if you would. What do you think y'all have to do between now and the start, you got a little bit of a cushion extra day because it's a TV game with Troy.
JOEY JONES: Yeah, we're going to take off tomorrow and get back to work Monday. We'll have our week all planned out through the following weekend. And obviously we know it's a big game and we're excited about that. We're excited about our opportunity of playing those guys. They're very well coached, they're a great team. They're -- beating LSU was a big win for them and so we're excited about it. We're excited about getting back in conference play and seeing what we can do.
Q. What do you think is the key to flipping it in the league? To compete against the league, to make that one extra step?
JOEY JONES: Well, I think some of it is just playing in our league. We played Ole Miss, we played Oklahoma State, and we played Louisiana Tech, some -- three pretty good football teams. Really good football teams. So we can't look at that record. We were asked to play that schedule and, listen, we played it. But we have our conference games coming now and this is when it counts and this is when we make our money.
Q. Cole's first action out there tonight. What did you see out of him tonight?
JOEY JONES: I thought Cole played well. Again, I heard Richard over the phone sometimes saying, why is he going here? Why is he going there? A lot of that has to do with the fact that they have only been together for four days. So they need to fix some of those things and they will. But I thought he played well, he's got a good arm, he made some really good throws. I didn't look at the stats yet, but I thought he had the arm. And he's a guy that can really win in this football conference that we're getting ready to play in.