Nov. 25, 2013
RUSTON, La. - Louisiana Tech head football coach Skip Holtz and a select student-athlete spoke with members of the media Monday in advance of the Bulldogs’ game at UTSA.
“Looking back at Tulsa last week, it is a frustrating loss. It is frustrating for a lot of reasons. You wanted to send your seniors out the right way and the fan base that has been so loyal to be here not just in this game, but for the course of the season. It is frustrating because this game took us out of bowl contention. That was a goal coming in with all the inexperience we had and with some of the young players that we talked a lot about. We felt like if we could take this team to a bowl game it would be a great first step in this first year of conference USA. It is frustrating from that standpoint. I know how important it was to the seniors to send them off with a win in their last game at home. To be able to play in a bowl game would have been a great feather in their cap for the great job they have done leading this football team with their commitment, hard work and effort. It is frustrating because there were a lot of good things in this game although it is hard to find the silver lining in a loss.”
“There were so many great individual performances in this game. Look at the defensive side of the ball and how well we played on defense. The effort IK Enemkpali, Justin Ellis, Kendrick James gave up front was outstanding. Tony Johnson stepped in at linebacker, a guy who had maybe played 10 plays all season, and because of the injuries to Cobb and Schrang was forced to step in and play 65 or 70 plays and I thought he played very well. Kentrell Brice went in and played a solid game when Thomas McDonald went out. Terrell Pinson was playing a good game until he got injured. Xavier Woods played well. It was great to have Le’Vander Liggins back and to see him out there. It was great to see Adairius Barnes and Bryson Abraham and the way they played on defense. I just think we had a lot of guys play really well on the defensive side of the ball that deserves a better result than what we achieved on Saturday.”
“We also have those dirty dozen guys. We finally got a punt return to go a little ways with Trent Taylor. He found some green grass and had one of our longer returns of the season. Beau Fitte and Lyle Fitte are playing really well. Blake Martin, Jabari Prewitt and Josh Ross played well. Andrew Wiggins is a guy that it was nice to see him step up. It is frustrating because you had so many individuals step up and play good enough to win, but it is a team game. It takes 11 on both sides of the ball in order to get a victory. You win and lose as a football team and that is why it is frustrating. It is frustrating because of the production that we have on offense. That is the elephant in the room and that is our biggest problem as a football team right now, being able to put up points. We have had some games where we moved the ball and gotten some yards but we just have not been able to put up enough points in order to win football games. We have turned the ball over consistently. I think there are only two teams, out of the 14 in this league that have turned the ball over more than we have. We are turning the ball over, not scoring a lot of points and just not as consistent as we need to be as an offensive football team right now.”
“It is frustrating because of some of the injuries we are going through. Kenneth Dixon is probably one of the most vocal guys on that sideline. He is passionate and I know it is important to him. I know it is hard for him to be out. DeAngelo Brooks, one of our defensive tackles who has come a long and has been playing well, was out. Connor Nichols, we found out right before the game that he could not play with his hamstring that he re-injured on Thursday, he has been a big dirty dozen guy for us. With Pinson going out of the game, as well as Pinson and Andrew Guillot it is frustrating because we have not been able to develop a lot of consistency. You have to talk about some of the guys that are playing through an incredible amount of pain. Guys like Dora and IK that are fighting through shoulder injuries but will not come off the field. Kendrick James, Matt Shepperd, Mitch Villemez, Cano, and Tevin King, there are a lot of guys still fighting through injuries to get on that field. They want to win and they are incredible competitors and that is why not being able to win is so frustrating. It is frustrating to lose, but it is even more frustrating when you have a group of young men who are playing as hard as those guys I just mentioned.”
“Moving ahead to UTSA, it will be a great challenge for us. With one game remaining on the schedule, now that the bowl possibility is gone, we realize this will be the last game for a lot of seniors, 23 to be exact. This will be there last opportunity to put on a Louisiana Tech uniform and represent this great university. From that standpoint there is still a lot to play for. There is a lot motivation in this football team. Their attitude and the way they continue to compete even late in that football game Saturday when the end result was inevitable, I think there is still a lot to play for.”
“Coach Larry Coker has done a great job there, is a great football coach. He has been successful every he has gone. He has built this program pretty much from the ground up. It is a young program but when you look at them right now, they are having an awful lot of success. They are playing this game with the opportunity to represent the west division in the Conference USA Championship.”
“On the offensive side of the ball, their quarterback Eric Soza is a very talented player who is a three year starter. In seven conference game he has thrown four interceptions. We managed to do that in one half last week. He is an experienced guy. He throws the ball very well. They make a lot of first downs and eat up clock. They have some very good weapons around them. They have four out of five starting offensive linemen that return. They have a lot of experience up front. They have guys that can run and make some plays for them on the perimeter. They are a very talented offensive group and it will be a challenge. The last couple weeks we have faced teams that are much more run oriented, where UTSA is much more of a pass oriented football team.”
“On the defensive side of the ball they have 12 players back that have significant playing time coming into the season. Their defensive line is their strength. They have three difference makers on their defensive line. They are very stout against the run. Two of their three linebackers have a lot of experience. When you look at this team, most the two deep are juniors and seniors that they started this program with that have been playing for a number of years and it is showing on the field right now. I think their secondary which is more of a quarter shell, they do a very good job. One of their leading tacklers is a free safety who is very aggressive and with quarter coverage, they are downhill.”
“On special teams they have a good punter and a good kicker. Their punt returner was ranked second in the country a year ago in punt returns. He has not returned punts the last couple weeks, I do not know the reason for that, but he is very explosive as a punt returner. They are very solid on their special teams. The reason they are in the hunt right now is because they are a very talented football team. It will be a great challenge for us, but one that our players looking forward too.”
How important is getting a win to build momentum for the offseason?
“Like I said, we still have a lot to play for, not only to say thank you to this class for what they have done and to make sure they have the opportunity to go out as winners. Not just for our fan base to create that excitement and energy. But also for recruiting, so recruits have the opportunity to see where we are trying to go and so they can see how close we were but just were not able to get it done. We want to them to be able to see where we are trying to take this program. This is not a week where you say ‘well were out of bowl contention, it does not matter,’ because it does matter. You only get twelve of these opportunities and we only have one left until next September. We have a long wait after this game. So this is a big game not just for the seniors, but for the underclassman as well as this is the last game for a while.”
Will you use this last game to work towards the offseason?
“It is going to be hard this week because you want to make sure you put your best foot forward. There are some guys that are sitting out this year that are going to be really talented players that will help to contribute. Michael Jacob is going to be a good young corner who is red shirting this year. Paul Turner is another guy who is sitting out at wide receiver. Carlos Henderson is being redshirted this year. Cam Manning and Chris Aye are redshirting on the offensive line. Hakim Gray is going to be a good player for us. It is just hard for us right now when you are trying to put your best foot forward and you know those guys cannot play, to get that spring ball work, which is what a bowl game gives you. The bowl game gives you another 15 practice opportunities. I do not think there will be as much moving guys around for the future, I think that is what spring ball will be about. I think right now what is important is that we do our best job to get this team ready to go try and get a win in the dome against UTSA.”
How close will you be to hitting the 85 scholarship limit?
“This year coming in, because of the 32 seniors that went out, you can only replace 25. When we came in this year we were only at 79, which is way below what they allow us. So we are six scholarships behind that 85. Some people get in trouble with recruiting violations and they only lose three. We did not do anything wrong here, and we are down six. I think it is going to take us some time with 23 seniors walking out the door this year and the fact we can only sign 25 so it is going to be hard to make all those numbers up. There are some walk-ons on this team that have played this year that deserve scholarships. There are some walk-ons that we are going to have the opportunity to put on. If they have been here two years they do not count as an initial. We will be able to get closer to the 85, but I still do not think we will reach it this year.
How detrimental is it, to not have those 85 scholarships?
“The hard part is, that is six more players that should be redshirting this year. Even though they may not be playing, that is six more guys that could be redshirting or potentially have the opportunity to play this year. From that standpoint it is hard, but you cannot make it up. The NCAA has the rules in place to make sure people do not bring in to many players and try to replace a lot of guys on the roster. When you have a big class like we do, I think will at least take us this year, maybe to the following year to get to the strength where we have a full 85 scholarship roster. It makes it harder, but that is what we have and we are not going to complain about it. We are going to find a solution to it and do the best job we can to make it work.”
Thoughts on the targeting call?
“I think when you look at what they are trying to do with it; I thought it was a good call. He led with the crown of his helmet. He put his head down. I do not think it was intentional, or malice. I do not think it was an upward movement where he was targeting his head. The receiver caught the ball and came down to him but the mistake that he made and what we need to do a better job of is coaching the helmet up. It will help avoid not just the concussion injuries, but some of the spinal injuries as well. I think he led with the top of his helmet and when you do that you are subject to being called for it. I can definitely see where it was called and upheld. I think if he would have led with his shoulder with his head off to the side and his head up and contact was made to the head, I do not think it is a penalty because the receiver did some down to him. I think where you get yourself in trouble and open up to it is when you lower your head and using the crown of your helmet.”
Did you submit the tape of the push off against Sterling Griffin on the interception?
How important is to have a guy like Kenneth Dixon on the sideline?
“One of the most passionate guys on our sidelines was Kenneth Dixon and he was not even in uniform. I think that just goes to show he runs the game, with the way he cheered on Saturday. He was into it and passion. I wear a double headset that takes away a lot of the noise and I still could constantly hear him. He was talking and encouraging the defense, encouraging the offense and grabbing the running backs when they came off the field. He was just an energizer bunny over there. I think for a guy of his stature with his success, it would have been really easy for him to stand on the sidelines and pout because he could not play. I thought it was a great example for the younger players to say ‘Well if Kenneth Dixon, one of the best players on the offensive side of the ball, can do it and he is not even playing, then surely I can be that guy too.’ It was a teaching lesson for a lot guys on this team. It just shows the respect everyone has for Kenneth on how important this game is to him. It is not about Kenneth, it is still about this team.”
“For both of them, it is about production, being able to move the offense. Whether that is being able to pull the ball down, scramble and make the first down or be able to sit back there and throw a strike to a receiver in man coverage. I think it is about production and who does the best job of moving this team and getting them into the end zone. I think for Ryan, as a young guy, he has to have a better understanding where everyone is at on the field. There were a lot of times in that game that our decision making is not what it needs to be. It is something that we talked about and visited with Ryan about. We need to get in the film room and get a better understanding of where everyone is at on the field. He has to be able to do more work before the ball is snapped. I do not question Ryan Higgins’ heart, toughness, desire, passion or any of that. I think he is an unbelievable competitor. It is a lot like I talk about with IK, Shepperd and some of those guys. I think you could cut off their arm and they would still play. They are great competitors. I would put Ryan in that boat. What Ryan has to do is play smarter. Ryan has to play as a quarterback. You have that ball in your hands and if you are going to throw 40 times, you need to know where it is going when it comes out of your hands. I think he needs to improve as a young player with his understanding and his knowledge of the offense and defenses.
“For Scotty it is being able to stand in there, make the throws and be able to complete some deep balls where defenses cannot load the box on us. I think there are some things that they can both work on but we have not been as productive as we need to be at the quarterback position, to play at the level we want to play at this year.”
Toughness of the team this year:
“I have not seen the toughness level to the level I have seen here. Blake Martin separated his shoulder in the first quarter at UTEP and rushes for 90 yards in that game and will not come out. I tried to take him off the kickoff team and he got so mad at me that he started bartering. He said if you let me play more tailback, then I will come off kickoff. I just said ‘You have a separated shoulder son, sit down for a minute.’ He just will not come out of the game. People do not understand what IK is doing right now with the significance of his injury. I told him that we needed to talk because he has a bright future ahead of him and has the ability to be playing this game down the road. He told me ‘There is nothing to talk about, these are my teammates, this is my school and I am playing. Are you going to bench me or take me out?’ I just have no seen the resolve, determination or the toughness before. The number of injuries we have that are going to require surgery after the season that are out there on the field playing every week is a large number. Those guys just want to play. They are football players and this is what they do, they play football. There is a small window of opportunity you have to play this game and they are competitors. I love them for it and that is why my heart breaks for those guys who were pushing through and we were not able to get it done. That is what drives you. I do think the seniors will leave a legacy here that will last for a long time and will be a big part of the future as we continue to build this program.
A lot of these guys will miss spring practice because of the surgeries they will have in December. We will get with Keith at the end of the year and I know he is setting a lot of those up now. Last year at South Florida we had a lot of season ending injuries. We have not had as many season ending injuries but a lot of nagging injuries where guys are out for three games and then they come back. High ankle sprain seems to be the injury of choice this year. We have had quite a few high ankle sprains this year. Those can take a long time even when they come back. Tevin King is back form it but still limited by it.
How do you determine the role of the zone read in the offense?
“We have changed some of the technique things we have been doing to try and be able to block the back side defensive end rather than read him. One of the reasons we felt like we need a little more in our running game when we went to Ryan initially in that Kansas game, that is why we originally went with Ryan. As Ryan has gotten banged up and had the injuries he has had, he is not the same runner. So in the last couple weeks we have started taking more and more of it out the game and taking the read away from the quarterback so we can handle the back side end without that.”
Has it affected the offense?
“It does because you have to utilize one more hat on the offensive to block that backside defensive end. A lot of the runs you see Saturday that went for eight or 10 yards had the linebacker come in and make the play, can be eliminated if you do not have to block the backside end. It has affected our running game a little bit, but you have to be better in the passing game. That is where we have really struggled.
When exactly did you injure your shoulder?
“The injury happened at FIU. I was just trying to make a play and someone just fell on top of me.”
How difficult has it been playing through that?
“It has its days, some are better than others but ultimately I just get in rehab. I rehab hard and Keith does a great job with me, and I go out there and practice. I do everything I can on game day and leave it all out there and pray for the best.”
Talk about mentally overcoming the injury and blocking it out.
“This is my last year playing, and if god blesses me I might be able to play at the next level but this is my last year in Ruston. After five years being here, going out and playing on that field is all I know and it is a great feeling. When I look at my teammates that I have been with since 2009, I know that I just cannot let them down.”
Talk about how the injury affected you the second half of the season.
“I do not feel that way, sometimes it gets in the way, but when I am out there I do what coach tells me and block it out and I feel like I am 100 percent. I have been hurt a couple of times in my career here and I play through it.”
Talk about what Coach Eggen means to you and the linemen.
“He teaches us to play for one another, we all love this game and coach tells us to get fired up and have that look in our eye. I love playing for Coach Eggen and he was the only coach that believed in me coming out of high school.”
What do you remember on the UTSA game from last year? Turning into a rivalry game?
“Coming from Texas, I know about UTSA and they have not always had a good reputation. I remember the guys never backed down. They fought hard, they played through the whistle, and it felt like an old school rivalry game last year and I am sure it is going to be a good one this year.”
Did you know that your career was going to look like it did when they moved you from linebacker to defensive end?
“The first thing I thought was I have to get my weight up because I was a little bit thin for defensive end. Coach Eggen really helped me develop my technique and watching the older guys like Matt Broha really helped me out. I knew that if I kept my mind on the right path that it would all work out for the best.”
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