Oct. 14, 2013
RUSTON, La. - Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz and select student-athletes met with the media Monday in advance of the team’s Homecoming on Saturday, Oct. 19 against North Texas.
Head coach Skip Holtz
“It is good to be back into game week mode, as nice as the open date was and as needed as it was as a football team. First and foremost, what we wanted to get out of the open date was the fundamentals. We talked about that ever since we started the season and we were about two games in and we started talking as a staff about how excited we were to get to the open date to do a lot of the fundamental work we needed to do.”
“With so many new faces that are on the football field for us this year, it was great to get out and see some of the young linebackers like Tony Johnson and Beau Fitte that work; guys that maybe have not had the opportunity to get the game experience, but we are really going to need them for depth as we go into this second half of the season and the final six games.”
“To get guys like Terrell Pinson and Thomas McDonald, two junior college safeties, the amount of scrimmage work we got along with guys like Kentrell Bryce, Lloyd Grogan and Xavier Woods at the safety position. To see DeAngelo Brooks get as much work as he did.”
“It was the same thing on the offensive side of the ball. To see the improvements Jens Danielsen has made and to see Tre Carter getting more and more comfortable in the offense; to see Darrell Brown come in at safety; to see a lot of our young wide receivers. You talk about guys like Trent Taylor and Eddie Johnson and Jaydrick DeClouette, who missed most of camp because of a knee injury; to see them get so much of that work.”
“We came in with some of the injuries at the tailback position and were trying to get Marlon Seets involved. Unfortunately, he got nicked and missed most of last week, but a young guy, Boston Scott really came to the forefront, got a lot of reps and did some really good things. It is nice to know he is there with some of the bumps and bruises we have at the tailback position and if we needed to go to that for the remainder of the year.”
“It was really a productive week for an off week because we got an opportunity to get a lot of these younger guys so much work, but at the same time we got a chance to get healthy. I know that is almost talking out of both sides of my mouth, but we were able to take a guy like Kenneth Dixon and really reduce his work load and a guy like Blake Martin and reduce his work load and getting a lot of those guys healthy as they have been nicked up and beat up as we have gone through the season.”
“I continually talk about this team and the attitude and their work habits. The thing that has impressed me most is I think they continue to improve and get better as we move along. I am really proud of the attitude they have displayed. It is hard with an open date and no opponent. You are going out facing each other and going back to that spring-ball mentality, but I thought we really had a productive week.”
“Looking at the injury front, we had the opportunity to get a guy like Dixon healthy again, and he feels much better than he did when he hurt knee a month ago and has played through it, but he had played limited; to see him get a little bit healthier. Blake Martin should be good to go Saturday. He came out and practiced Thursday. Ryan Higgins has been cleared to go. He practiced Sunday and he is good this week. He was very limited last week as well. There are still a couple question marks. I talked about Marlon Seets and I am not sure what is going to happen with him yet and if he will be available. Andrew Guillot is getting closer. I think it is very probable that he will play, but there are still some medical clearances he has to go through to be cleared at this point. Andre Wiggins is nursing an ankle and we are hopeful he will be back this week as well.”
“Tevin King is still out with that ankle and he will not play this week and also Thaddeus Medford with the knee, but the rest of them, for being in the middle of the season, I think we are relatively healthy coming out of the open date as expensive as the UTEP game was for us from an injury standpoint.”
“This week, you have the opportunity to get into Homecoming. We are excited. I know Trace Adkins is going to have the opportunity to be here to sing the National Anthem, which is a real treat for us. I know he is a guy that played football here. We are excited to have the opportunity to see him and bring him back.”
“Homecoming is always a neat time on campus with so many of the alumni having the opportunity to come back, interact, socialize, look at the way the campus has changed and reminisce about what it was like years ago when they were in school here. Homecoming is always a feel-good weekend when so many people have the opportunity to come back and see so many of the improvements and upgrades on the campus. Those that have not been back for a while are in for a treat when you look at all the new dorms and campus buildings and academic structures that have been built on this campus. I think it has really made some huge strides, so we are excited about Homecoming this weekend and having the opportunity to get in with many of the alumni.”
“Looking at North Texas, I am really impressed with this football team and what they are doing on film right now. I start with their staff and I have great respect for Dan McCarney and the success he has had. He is a first class individual and he has done a good job of building that program at North Texas. You can see as he is getting into multi years that they are getting better and better fundamentally, recruiting wise and upgrading their talent. Right now, they are really playing well together as a football team.”
“When you look at them on offense with Mike Canales as their offensive coordinator, and I was the offensive coordinator the year he was at Arizona. He had a little quarterback at NC State named Phillip Rivers. He has developed some great talent. He is a great football coach with a good mind. I have had the opportunity to be around him a little bit in this business and I have great respect for him and Mike Simmonds, the offensive line coach, and Michael Grant, the wide receivers coach. I have a lot of history with a lot of guys on this staff on offense.”
“I am really impressed with what they are doing now. When you look at them as an offense, I would say balance is the key. They have had games where they have thrown for 300 yards and games where they run for 300 yards. I think they are playing really well right now as an offense and are doing some things to put up some yards and points on the board. They have a quarterback who is completing 68 percent of his passes. He is a third-year starter. He has an awful lot of experience and a great head on his shoulders.”
“Mike Simmonds’ offensive line returns four starters off last year’s team. They are playing really well together and you can see just the way they are communicating, turning back, picking up blitzes and protecting the quarterback.”
“Their running back is by committee. They have about three guys that carry the load with the ball for them. They are always keeping fresh guys in there at running back and then with wide receivers, they have some big-play receivers. I will talk a little bit more about (Brelan) Chancellor when I get to the special teams, but he is a big-play guy that they will put at receiver, in the back field and throw him the ball. They will throw him the ball as many different times as the can in many different situations. They have a very good, sound offensive scheme. I think they are very fundamentally sound and hard-nosed and a very physical group with an experienced quarterback.”
“When you look at them on defense and what (defensive coordinator) John Skladany has done with them defensively, you can see the progress they have made from the beginning of the season to where they are now. They are a very simple team in what they do in that they are a 4-3 based defense with quarter coverage. They have held their last two opponents to seven points. Defensively, they held Middle Tennessee to seven. They also held Tulane to seven, but Tulane had two pick-sixes for 14 points to win that game 24-21.”
“I think defensively they are really playing well. I talked about them being physical and fundamentally sound. As I said, Skladany is really doing an awfully good job with them on the defensive side of the ball. They play an awful lot of people. I do not think it is about one superstar as much as it is the power of the pack when you talk about them as a defensive football team.
“Statistically, they are a little bit gaudy when you look at them, especially in their last two conference games. One of the great things Conference USA does to try and get a good evaluation of the entire conference is they keep statistics of just conference games, not everyone we play because we have played such a wide variety of non-conference opponents. When you look at this defense, they are first in total defense, scoring defense, passing defense and first-down defense. When you look at what they are doing as a defensive football team, they are ranked in the top three in almost every statistical category from a conference play standpoint. I have really been impressed with what they have done defensively.”
“Coach McCarney has done a really good job of building this program up. I know Frank Wintrich, their strength coach, we were together at South Florida and I have great respect for him and the job he does and I have a lot of respect for this program. I think it is up and coming. I think they are in the same boat we are. They are excited about having the opportunity to play in Conference USA with where we are both trying to go with this program.”
“I think it will be a great challenge for us Saturday, but one we are looking forward to after having the opportunity to have an open date and get that fundamental work. Not only for the coaches itching to get back into game week and ready to play a game, but I think these players are pretty excited about getting back into the season. I do not think they want to go through another open date and some of the things we did fundamentally this week. We are really looking forward to the challenge, having the opportunity to be here at homecoming and for me, experience my first homecoming here at Louisiana Tech and we are excited about the week.”
On this week being a turning point in the season for LA Tech:
“I do not know if it is a turning point as much as it is progress. I would certainly like to see us make progress. We have talked about one of our battle cries has been keep getting better as a work in progress with so many of those new guys. I want to see improvement as a football team and what we are doing on game day. A lot of those fundamental things I talk about: staying square, keeping base, making sure we are covering our gaps; some of those things where we have given up a lot of big plays just because we have struggled with fundamental things over the last few weeks.”
“We talked about UTEP and the big play where in both of them we had a middle safety called in our defense. I understand when you give up a post for a touchdown and you do not have a middle field player, but those are not the things you can do when you call a defense that should put somebody in the middle of the field. With things like that, I just want to see progress.”
“This is a good team and this will be a great challenge. I keep saying that for us right now in this first year, as much as anything, this is about a faceless opponent. It is about us playing ourselves and going out there, executing and doing the things we need to do. We have to go play a physical, emotional and passionate football game, but we are going to have to play really fundamentally sound as well. The way we have tried to break the season up is kind of the first six games, hit this open date and make it a two-game season and we will get another evaluation opportunity with the next open date before we finish the final four. Right now, we are in a one-game mentality. We will take this one and FIU and then we will have the opportunity to have another open date and assess where we are at that point.”
On whether it is easier to teach young players who have played more fundamentals:
“I do not that it is so much easier to teach rather than their learning curve is so much greater than somebody who has been coached fundamentally for three-four years. At that point, it is kind of a talent situation. For a lot of these younger players that are very talented, fundamentals become critical. I think it is the learning curve. When you start at zero, you can go a long way. Even a lot of the upperclassmen that are at an 80 can go to an 85.”
“For young players that have not played college football before this first six-game stretch, and even guys like Ryan Higgins, who I was thinking could get a lot of this work and it would have been a great opportunity for him, but with him missing most of practice, Paul Harris got an awful lot of reps in this open date, which you never know. It is not just for this game, but it is getting your football team ready for the final six games, so we did not spend this week just on North Texas, but we spent it on the final six games. I think we made a lot of strides.”
On North Texas as a defense:
“They know what they are doing. They are a 4-3 quarter-based team. They are very aggressive. They roll downhill. Since they do not do a lot of things, what they do, they do really well. They understand the weaknesses to it. They will mix in just enough, so they are not in at every play, so you cannot just attack that. I would say 80-90 percent that they are in a 4-3 quarters mentality. I think their players have bought into that. I think they execute it very well and it is not so much what they do, but rather how well they do it. Football is not about drawing lines over the board, it is about being able to execute the lines you draw, and that is what they do such a good job of.”
“There are two ways to play quarters, you can play passive with your safeties being deep, but also a great run defense. When you look at them, you roll those safeties downhill, and I am really impressed with their physical nature and aggressiveness at safety. I think they do a really good job, but they are not a bend but don’t break. That would be the farthest thing from what they are. They take quarters more to a four across the board flat structure with the safeties rolling downhill being bonus linebackers, rather than four guys deep in a prevent coverage. It is more of an aggressive quarters coverage they play. You look at how Skladany has done everywhere he has been. I know Coach McCarney saw it at Iowa before coming to North Texas. They know it very well and do it extremely well.”
On making offensive plays downfield:
“When given the opportunity, you have to be able to hit those passes down the field. We talked about that in the first four games. When you look at us statistically, our yards do not match our points. We are not being very productive with our point totals, but that is because we are really not hitting a lot of teams with big plays down the field for scores. It seems like we dropped that opportunity. We just overthrow that opportunity. We lead them outside just a little more. We haven’t been able to efficiently hit home run balls down the field. When given the opportunity, you have to be able to take advantage. You cannot just drop back and chunk it down field because they are one of the best in the league in time of possession and controlling the ball, so you cannot just drop back and chunk it downfield, but you are going to have to hit those opportunities when you get them.”
On the team’s offensive identity moving forward:
“I wish we were really consistent and good at doing something. You look at it and at Army we were able to hit some big plays down the field and then Andrew Guillot gets injured and misses theUTEP game. We were then able to hang our hat a little bit on the running game and see improvement with the offensive line and be able to control the ball a little bit more.”
“I am sure as they are coming into this, they are saying we are going to have to make them beat us left handed and stop their strength which is their running game. I am sure their safeties will be that much more flat-footed rolling downhill on us, which is going to go back to us being able to execute the ball down the field. I do not know that while we have made that much progress that we are there. That is what we are going to see is how much progress we have made, but hopefully we are a little bit more balanced.”
On the importance of a fast start:
“I think it is really important to get off to fast start in this game. When you look at how they run the ball and for over 300 yards versus Middle Tennessee. Their time of possession is very strong. It is going to be critical. I meant to talk more about their special teams. You look at not only are they strong on defense, but if you do not get out to fast start, they have broken something on special teams in almost every football game. They returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Georgia. They block a punt for a touchdown against Georgia.”
“Their punt returner in third in the country, averaging 19 yards on returns I think. Chancellor is also their kickoff returner and ranked seventh. They have very explosive special teams players and they are going to find a way to get some points on special teams with some really explosive players. I think it is really important that we get out to a fast start. This is not a game where you stand in the middle of the ring and say it is a punt-punt battle because they are explosive. I think it will be important that we are able to convert on big play opportunities early.”
On whether Tevin King will return from injury before November:
“It will probably be pretty close. That is about when it looks like. Maybe at the second open date we will get a little bit better evaluation. It is a high ankle sprain and it is a bad one. We are just going to have to see how he heals. He was even in a cast even though it was not broken to stabilize it to see if we can get it to settle down. I would imagine it will at least be the open date before we are even talking about where he is at that point. I do not know exact term. I am not a doctor, but it is the high ankle sprain and it is the ligaments and everything that go with a high ankle sprain that causes all the swelling. It is not excessive ligament damage in the ankle. It is a high ankle sprain – whatever that means.”
On dealing with injuries on special teams:
“We had true freshman out there on punt return against UTEP. We put Tevin King back on kick returns to try and get some explosiveness there with Andrew Guillot and now you are down to your third kickoff return guy. It makes it hard to create any stability. It is part of teaching all over again. There is nothing like seeing live plays. It is hard to simulate special teams. That is why you see special teams making such a difference early in season. We are still searching. I do not know who will be our kick and punt returners. I feel very comfortable that Trent Taylor will go back there and catch a football. Right now, we will probably stay with Trent and get him more work back there.”
On Trent Taylor’s performance thus far:
“With Andrew’s injury, it opens the door for a guy like Trent Taylor who has gotten some experience in the first part of the season. I think you will definitely see his role increase as we continue, especially due to the injury with Andrew and the uncertainty revolving around his injury.”
“He has done a good job with the limited role we have given him. I would love to see him in a full time role. I want to give him an opportunity to return kicks and play a bigger role in the offense. We have expanded that tremendously. Guys like him benefitted most from open date, because they were able to get more experience and the offense and get more comfortable. Trent Taylor is a very talented individual, he reminds me of a young Guillot and Hunter Lee. They are tough, physical, smart and they understand the game and where they need to fit in it.”
On self-scouting on the bye week:
“You can self-scout on paper and figure out what tendencies you have. You try and get tendency breakers over the course of the year. When you get to the open date, you have a chance to evaluate where you are breaking down. What are the things we need to work on this week? What do we need to improve on when executing plays on offense or defense this week? That is where the self-evaluation helps when you get on a bye week. Breakdown was not so much schematically where we are trying to invent the wheel. More than anything, we have to do better job of execute what we are trying to do. It is not so much the play that is called but it is being able to execute what we are trying to do.”
On evaluating the team as a whole six games in:
“We are disappointed we are not 4-2. We gave up some big plays and turned the ball over at NC State. Coming back and beating Lamar and having golden opportunities we did not take advantage of with Kansas and Tulane. There were only ten teams in the country that have fumbled in the double digits. We have fumbled 10 times and lost 10 of them.”
“Tech and Idaho are the only two teams that have fumbled 10 times going into this week. Idaho is 1-5 and we are 2-4. It is not magic. You have to hold on to the football if you want to win. We had two red zone turnovers against Kansas and N.C. State. We had the opportunity to put 14 points on the board in those games. We fumbled the ball on our own one yard line against Tulane.”
“I am disappointed we have not done a better job of protecting the football because worst case scenario you are 4-2 and feeling pretty good about where you are at. I want to make sure at the end of this six-game stretch we are not sitting there with the same regret. I am encouraged with the attitude, the work habits and the mindset of these players. This goes back to leadership of senior class and the job they are doing. There are some things I am encouraged with but there are some things I wish we would have done better in the first six.”
On Tech’s identity as an offense:
“Right now with a freshman quarterback, I think it is hard to say that we are known for what we did a year ago. Colby Cameron as a freshman and senior are not the same. What Colby did as a senior is phenomenal. I do not think you can ask Ryan Higgins to come in and match that productivity. I do not think right now that hanging our hat on inexperienced group, is to throw it all over the field.”
“I would say we are run-oriented. When you talk about balance, we are not talking about running and throwing the ball equally. You need to be able to take advantage of what a defense gives you. If you are a run team that cannot throw, you are eventually going to have a lot of hats in the box. I would say with a back like Kenneth Dixon and with what Blake Martin has done stepping in for Tevin King, we are a run-oriented football team first. I would like to see us throw the ball with more consistency thought.”
On Conference USA and the teams in it:
“It is balanced. This league is like NASCAR. Everyone has the same engine, but it is about who can drive it better on any given day. Anybody can be anybody on a given day. It is not always the most talented team and that is what makes this league hard to pick. A number of teams have a chance to be successful. We are certainly not out of it and we are not getting into the wish game. We just have to take care of business. It is a great league. It is a competitive league.”
“It is probably his ability to run after the catch is something we have not had much of with yards after contact. That shiftiness and ability to run with the ball once it is under his arm is something he brings to the table more so than what we have for our outside receivers right now with Sterling (Griffin) and Eddie (Johnson) and Richie Casey. I think that is something he brings to the table. It is a shame he got hurt because he was starting to emerge as one of the guys who could be a star offensively when he went down. It has kind of been a slow, long climb back for him, but it is nice to see him out there running around and being a little bit more full speed.”
On the importance of the next three games:
“It will go a long way if we have any desires of winning the conference or compete in conference. These next three games are critical, but I think the last three are critical if we have any dreams of getting there as well. That is one of the things where every game we have left is a conference game. You play your non-conference schedule to learn a little bit about your football team and gain experience so you can get into the conference race. That is where we are right now. It is unfortunate we dropped the ball a couple times, not physically, but on a couple things. We are not sitting here 2-0. We cannot look backwards. We have to look forward. We have to learn from it and grow from it and I think this football team is excited to get back into the conference race and back onto the field. As we have looked at it, we are going through a two-game season. Once we go through these two games, we have a chance to re-assess and see where everything falls. These next two are really critical in making sure we can make a run at it at the end.”
On the demeanor of the injured running backs:
We are just trying to keep working and keep pressing forward and get treatment as often as we can.
On the running backs leaning on one another:
We are constantly talking in the room, trying to uplift everybody. We are getting treatment. Coaches are doing a great job telling us to get treatment even if we are not hurt. We all have a great bond.
On if preparation has changed considering the injuries:
Not really. I just try to work hard on every single snap I get in practice. I have not gotten too many because of me having to rest the knee, but every time I get it I try to work hard.
On how his knee feels after having a bye week:
My leg feels very good. The week really helped my leg out a lot. We practiced a lot, but I did not get the amount of reps that I usually get.
On how it has felt playing with a knee brace:
It feels like a regular game. I really do not feel it when I run.
On Blake Martin playing at UTEP with a separated shoulder:
Blake is a tough guy. He always works hard. He works hard every chance he gets in practice. A couple of weeks ago we had a speaker come in and tell us that all we need is a crumb so Blake always has the crumb mentality. Every time he gets in he is going to try to work hard and do whatever he has to do.
On if he feels like himself coming off the bye week:
I feel pretty good. I have been resting a lot. I also rested a lot before we went into the UTEP game. The o-line is just doing a fantastic job of blocking.
On the pressure of leading the offense:
I do not feel any pressure when it comes to football. I just try to work hard. Every chance I get the ball I just try to hit the right holes that the o-line provides. Just do whatever we have to do to win.
On his mindset being any different this season compared to last season:
Not really. Every time I get the ball I just try to work hard.
On the difference between playing with a freshman quarterback instead of Colby Cameron:
You have to know a little more because when he first played he really did not know the situations like Colby did. Colby played in a bunch of situations. It is good having him back there though.
On his running style:
I feel like I am a determined runner. If it is 3rd-and-1 I am going to try to get it and if it is 3rd-and-21 I am going to try hard to get it. Every time I touch it I just try to make big plays and keep us on the field.
On the improvement of the offensive line:
The o-line is improving very well. Coach Moore is doing a very good job with them where they can keep their hands inside and drive downfield. They do not stop blocking because you never know what we can do.
On running behind seniors Vince Cano and Matt Shepperd:
We run behind all of them. [Vince] Cano and Shep [Matt Shepperd] get off their blocks and do a very good job of staying on their man.
On playing at home this Saturday:
It feels good to come back home and get to play in the Joe. This will actually be my first time playing in the Joe for maybe a full game.
On playing his final homecoming game:
It is special because even though it is my last homecoming, me wearing [Tyrone Duplessis’] number I always feel like we both are out there playing. It is like we both get to celebrate our last homecoming.
On if the Duplessis family will be in attendance:
I do not know if they will be able to make this trip, but I know that they are going to be here for senior night.
On what it will feel like having the Duplessis family for senior night:
It is going to feel good because they always watch us on TV and still keep up with us. Them being there always gives us that little extra boast knowing that they are still supporting us and they are still thinking about the team.
On where the defense is at halfway through the season:
We worked a lot during the bye week on eliminating the big plays because we seem to get hurt every game on big plays. We have been basing ourselves on the fundamentals and eliminating those big plays.
On how much fun it has been playing on this defensive line:
It is real fun because we have eight or nine guys that on every play go hard. Nobody has any drop-offs really in talent level from the ones to the two’s. It is great seeing everybody out there going hard and playing for the next man. There are no selfish players.
On the challenges of North Texas’ offense:
I think the biggest challenge is going to be eliminating the run. I feel like if we can eliminate the run and make them one dimensional, I feel like that will slow the game down for us.
On how far the defense has come since the first game:
I think everybody is starting to play at the same level. The younger guys that were not experienced are catching up now. I think everybody’s fundamentals and technique have become better than what they were the first game.
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