JIM GROBE, WAKE FOREST
THE MODERATOR: We welcome Jim Grobe, the head coach of Wake Forest. Coach, a brief opening statement and then questions.
COACH GROBE: Thank you, Mike. Obviously, was very disappointed in our performance this past week. We got our tail ends worn out by a Stanford football team that, I think is a pretty good football team. I don’t think we handled the trip to the west coast very well.
When they got a lead, I don’t think we responded very well. So we’ve got a lot of things that we need to work on, and we didn’t play very well as a football team offensively or defensively or in the kicking game. But at the outset, I have to say that I think Stanford’s a pretty good football team.
Q. So are you just starting from scratch on defense now? How do you approach things after the last two weeks?
COACH GROBE: Yeah, no, we’re not starting from scratch. We’re just trying to cut some things out. I think we’re trying to find out what our kids are capable of handling mentally more than anything else. At Wake Forest we’ve got smart kids, but I think sometimes we take that to the nth degree as coaches and feel like our kids are smart enough to handle a lot of defense, and the same way offensively. We’ve got the same issues on offense.
I think sometimes we ask our guys to think too much, and they tend to play slower when they’re not thinking fast. So I think our challenge is to be careful from week to week on how much we ask our guys to do.
We’ve got a huge playbook on both offense and defense. A lot of the things that have been good to us in the past are things that we’ve dragged here into the future, and it may have been good for some other teams, but it may not be good for this team.
So I think our challenge as coaches is to not only coach the kids better, but to be careful that what we’re asking them to do are things that they can handle. In some cases we’ve talked about it before, but we’ve got some young players that don’t handle change very well. We didn’t, obviously, handle that trip very well last weekend. But we also don’t handle asking them to think too much.
How thin we need to be probably won’t be determined for a while because you hate to do nothing but one base look on defense. But at the same time, if you do too much, you make so many mental mistakes that you give up easy points.
That is kind of the dilemma we’ve got. It’s not starting over from scratch. It’s just trying to decide who we are and what we’re capable of handling mentally.
Q. Of course you’re heading down to another tough environment at Florida State. I don’t know how many guys you’ve got left on the roster who were part of — you went down there a couple of times and won in Tallahassee. What do you think about the way this group will respond to a trip down there?
COACH GROBE: Well, I don’t feel good about it based on how we responded at Stanford. And told our players if you thought Stanford in any way was a tough place to play, then multiply that by ten going down to Tallahassee. On one hand it’s fun, it’s an exciting environment to be in. It’s one of the great places for college football, but at the same time you’ve got to be pretty focused.
We did not have much focus last week at Stanford. So the challenge is much greater taking the Noles on down there. And I think we’ve got some kids that have been down there when we’ve won, but, you know, our issue is how many kids we’ve got that really have very little game experience. Not just playing on the road or at home, but just playing period.
We’ve got a lot of guys that are first year starters, guys that are just starting to learn what it’s like to have to go out and perform when it counts. That’s our biggest challenge. We know the challenge going to play in Tallahassee’s monumental. But for us right now we’ve just got to try to get our kids — each kid take some personal responsibility to do his job and not worry about the rest.
Q. I just want to know how Joe Tereshinski came to join your staff. I have a feeling, a very good guess through family ties, but can you just explain how you got him and what you think of his future in the business?
COACH GROBE: Well, it starts, Rob, with family ties, no question. His younger brother, John, played tight end for us. And his dad works with the football staff at Georgia, and Brad Lambert and the dad, Joe Tereshinski are really good friends.
So Joe’s a guy that came highly recommended. We’re trying to look for graduate assistants, and his name kept popping up as somebody who was interested.
So with the Tereshinski name, we know they’re tough as pine nuts, and we know they love football. So the whole family’s a football family. We felt like we couldn’t go wrong with Joe, and he’s turned out to be everything we thought he would be and maybe even a little bit more.
We’ve actually turned over the tight ends to Joe, and we just don’t do that with graduate assistants. But he’s so good and does such a nice job that he’s basically got our tight ends by himself and coaches those guys on the field as a graduate assistant.
Q. To follow up on the defense, what are you asking the defensive players to do better against Florida State?
COACH GROBE: Well, the thing that happened to us the other night, Mark, we turned some people loose in coverage. We actually in some zone coverages played them a little bit more man-to-man type stuff. Got too focused on one receiver. I think that’s the problem you get into when you’re mixing a lot of different coverages. Especially with younger guys. They tend to not really focus on the call, they focus more on the guy that’s lined up across from him.
I think at times, you know, we didn’t play good gap control up front. We had some checks. Ask one thing that Stanford does a really nice job they give you a million different sets, a lot of motions and shifts. And I think what happened was we really had a lot of game plan in and we put it in in a very short amount of time. We had a really short week because we had to go out to the west coast on Thursday. And I think our coaches spent a lot of hours. We probably worked as hard as the coaching staff last week to put a game plan together that we thought would help us.
But I think probably what we did is shot ourselves in the foot because we put in a lot of things. And with all their different formations and shifts and trades and motions we just blew a lot of assignments.
So I think the things that we had, we thought were pretty good, but if you don’t handle those things mentally and in some cases honestly, Mark, we handled it mentally. We got lined up. We got lined up and knew what to do, but then we didn’t play real full speed like we normally do because I think we were spending too much time thinking and not enough time getting to the football.
Q. How do you see your quarterback situation? What’s going to happen this week? How much are the two guys going to play? And has Ted’s injury since he got to Wake Forest hindered his progress towards his obvious goal of being the starting quarterback at Wake Forest?
COACH GROBE: I tell you, we’ll start the freshman Saturday, Tanner Price will be the guy.
He’s a young guy, he’s only been here for August practices, and, you know, in the first three games of the season. So he’s really young and he’s going to get better as he goes. I expect Ted to play Saturday, but I will tell you that Ted’s injuries have been an issue. Not his fault.
He got his shoulder knocked down in the state championship game his senior year in high school. And they fixed that. When he got to us, he still had some issues, so they still had to go in and do some more stuff.
I think he’s pretty much healthy from his shoulder injury, but then in spring practice, he missed most of spring practice with a pulled hamstring, then had a great first drive in the Duke game. Really had more than one good drive, but hurt the back of his non-throwing hand. He got a pretty severe bruise there. We were afraid at the time that he had broken his hand.
As it turned out it was just a deep bruise and a lot of swelling and pretty sore. He felt like he was going to have problems handling the football in the second half of the Duke game.
So what happens as a coach, at times the injuries don’t affect the performance very much. I thought he was healthy for the Stanford game. But the thoughts that injuries are a problem. I wouldn’t say Ted is injury prone, but that’s been so far up until now, he’s been banged up quite a bit.
So I think that’s a concern for a coach. Especially with your quarterback that you might spend a whole week getting a guy ready to play, and then when he gets banged up in the game, you’ve wasted a lot of reps trying to get the guy ready to go.
So we’ve got to keep working with him and hopefully he can stay healthy. Some of it is just bad luck. The game against Duke he just happened to be carrying the football in his left-hand and got hit on the back of his hand. His hand swelled up so bad he didn’t feel like he could handle the football in the second half. We didn’t think we can keep him healthy, but I expect him to play Saturday.
Q. Given the ACC performance in non-conference games, is the league behind the other BCS conferences or is this a cyclical pattern that will work itself out in time?
COACH GROBE: We haven’t played well early, I don’t think there is any question. It’s just so hard to tell. You’ll have a better feel once the season’s over where the ACC ranks. Last year we stumped our toe a little bit early, by the end of the year I think everybody felt like it was a pretty strong conference. I feel that way again.
I just feel like so much goes into who you play, where you play, are you at home? Are you on the road? You just have a lot of things that go into early success in the season; so it’s probably going to take a while before we figure out where we are.
Certainly for us we’re really disappointed in the way we played this past weekend at Stanford. So I would say that, you know, we haven’t started out very fast, but the key is whether you finish strong or not.
Q. Seven of these games have been on the road among all the conference schools. Are these games that are going to be returned? Will you get Stanford back at your place sometime?
COACH GROBE: We had Stanford at our place last year. We beat them here at home last year, and then lost to them this past weekend on the road. So we split with them, and it seemed to be the home team had the advantage. And I think that’s a big thing early in the year. Our guys, honestly, Paul, hyperventilated out at Stanford. Our young players just pushed the panic button early and never recovered. And that’s a problem early in the year.
If you’ve got a real veteran football team and you go on the road early in the year, it’s not that big a deal. But if you’ve got a lot of youngsters that you’re playing, and most of us are playing freshman and sophomores that you have to count on. And early in the year, that’s when they tend to spaz out a little bit because they don’t have the focus the older players have. So that is one point that’s a good one. Early in the year, you play a lot of your non-conference games. A big thing is certainly who you play. How strong is the team you’re playing and where are you playing them? At your place or on the road? That makes a big difference early in the year.
FRANK BEAMER VIRGINIA TECH
COACH BEAMER: Yeah, typical Boston College, big, strong, extremely well coached, tough. You know, that’s what I think about Boston College, and that’s exactly what they are this year.
We’ve got a big challenge going up there and playing. But we’re pleased with our effort in the last ballgame, pleased with the second half performance and hope we can build on that. Questions?
Q. How much did Nick Becton play last week in and how close to 100% is he physically?
COACH BEAMER: Yeah, Nick got in on 25 plays last week, and I think he’s ready to come in there even a little bit more. So that is a good addition to our football team.
Q. How much does he add to your offense, especially the running game when he’s in there and healthy?
COACH BEAMER: Well, he’s very, very athletic. Hasn’t got much experience, but other than that, I think that’s what’s going to make him a better football player. The more experience he gets, the better he’s going to get.
Q. This year seems like it’s not going to be too much different than past years in terms of parity in the ACC. Why do you think there’s been so much parity in this league?
COACH BEAMER: Well, I see it as a league with a lot of good coaches. LotS of teams that improved throughout, I think that’s kind of it right now. LotS of good players and I think everybody’s got some good players. So it’s a pretty even league.
Q. In terms of the non-conference levels, any rhyme or reason why the teams have had difficulty establishing themselves non-conference wise?
COACH BEAMER: We are off to a slow start, that’s for sure. I think you have to judge things over a period of time. You can’t base it on a weekend or two weekends or whatever. You judge on the basis over a period of time. And, you know, I think we played a lot of good teams and played a lot of good teams on the road. You know, particularly early in the year I think that’s a factor.
But I mean that’s the way it is. But I think the big thing is you judge over a period of time. I’ve always said with the coaching in the league and recruiting in this league, it’s going to be fine over a period of time.
Q. Coach, in regards to this past weekend’s game, defense seemed to struggle in the first half, but then really showed up strong in the second half. What adjustments were made during halftime to allow the defense to play as well as they did in the second half?
COACH BEAMER: Well, I think we did a couple things that helped us. And good things against them. But I think it takes you awhile to get used to East Carolina, too. They’re very good, it’s a quick game and, you know, some of our young guys were having trouble getting lined up, and then having trouble getting going in the right direction. So I think you kind of got used to them a little bit too. So that helped in the second half.
I credit our players for really hanging in there, because things weren’t really going so well. You know, we did hang in there and got better as they went along.
Q. Wanted to get your thoughts on the performance of your young freshmen, Exum and Fuller against East Carolina?
COACH BEAMER: Yeah, those guys did really well. They stepped in there for the first time and, of course, Kyle’s brother, Danny played for us, and Kyle’s got a lot of football sense, and Exum’s got ability. He’s a fairly big sized kid that can run and brings a punch with him when he hits. So we’re hoping they’ll continue to develop.
Q. How are you — are you guys doing anything different this week during practice to prepare your players for the atmosphere at Chestnut Hill?
COACH BEAMER: Not really. It’s an exciting stadium up there. They’ve got great fans and they get into it. You know, tomorrow we might go inside the field house and turn up the noise there. We haven’t gotten that far yet.
Q. What is Ryan William’s status?
COACH BEAMER: We’re going to put that out Thursday after practice. That’s when we do that in the ACC, so we’ll give that on Thursday.
Q. Well, you’ve got a chance. David Wilson got an opportunity to show his stuff, and obviously didn’t disappoint?
COACH BEAMER: No, he didn’t. He’s a quality back as is Darren Evans, and Tony Gregory got in there and showed some speed too. So we’re fortunate to have some good tailbacks here at Virginia Tech. But Ryan Williams is a special guy, too.
COACH LONDON: Yes, good morning, everybody. Looking forward to actually playing a game after having a week off. Just trying to take care of some things. But, you know, the USC game is over, and now the focus has been on improving and getting better in terms of our execution.
So we have a very storied tradition program coming in here in VMI, and a coach I respect greatly. We’re looking forward to a home game stretch here for the next couple weeks to try to get us back on the right track.
Q. Other than one game in the 2008 season, Anthony Mihota and never really played for Virginia before this year. He obviously stepped into a pretty important position. How would you assess his play through two games?
COACH LONDON: Like I said for our whole team and the whole process, Anthony’s a work in process also. He’s handled things well right now. The center is a guy that’s got to make the line calls, identify the mic linebacker and different things. So he’s thrust into a position where he’s got to be the guy.
Like I say, he’s a work in progress. I think with only two games having been played and we’re going to get in the meat of our conference schedule that if you ask me the question mid season or toward the end of the season, I can give you a better assessment. But right now the willingness and the capability is there.
Q. LaRoy Reynolds is leading the team in tackles after two games. I think he’s got 15 tackles. I would say a guy making a move from safety to linebacker almost looks like a natural at linebacker. Do you think he’s ahead of schedule in making that transition?
COACH LONDON: Well, I tell you what we do see. We see just an ability to get downhill, and weave in and out between blockers and finding a hole and LaRoy’s very physical. He’s very emotional, and he plays that way.
Coach Brown and Coach Reid are doing a nice job teaching him how to be a linebacker. It’s his second game being a linebacker after being a safety.
But I think he’s got a chance to be really special. But like most of our team, guys, young players that are playing, it’s accumulated an amount of reps throughout the season and practice that we’ll really get good at being a linebacker. So far he’s doing a nice job.
Q. I wanted to get an update on Rodney and Ras-I. I know you said you would have a better idea after practice?
COACH LONDON: Both of them practiced and looked pretty good. We’ve got another padded practice, full practice today, and we’ll do some more things with them. We’ll try to extend them a little bit more. You just kind of get a better feel.
Both are moving around pretty good, so we just have guarded optimism with both of them. So we’ll see here pretty soon about full-fledged incorporating them into the game plan. But right now they’re out there running and doing everything everybody else is doing.
Q. I was wondering, you mentioned last week that you were going to focus on the kicking game among other things in practice during the off week. How has that been going?
COACH LONDON: You know, it’s gone — it’s been very productive. You try to deliver situations where nothing can create a situation where a kicker has to kick in a stadium with people screaming and yelling, and things that are on the line there for them.
But we’ll try to do as much as we can with the conditioning part of it, making them go out and kick. Getting the players around them, and jumping up-and-down and kicking for sprints if they miss. You try to self induce some things to get these guys, to get the operation, holder, kicker and everybody to get them all on the same page.
And this practice this past week, the guys responded and responded well. I know Robert’s just itching to get back in there and kick some field goals. He’s 6 for 6 on extra points. You look at the field goals and you can say one thing or the other, but everyone contributed to the lack of success on that.
But I think Robert now in working with the holder and Danny Aiken, a veteran snapper, I think they’ll be back on track.
Q. Wondered if I could get your thoughts on the conference’s performance in non-conference games? What you think is going on and why it’s been so difficult for ACC teams to get a victory in those games?
COACH LONDON: Well you look early on who a lot of the conference teams are playing, Oklahoma, and Boise State, and different schools. It’s difficult schedules with tough teams early on.
Stanford, all those teams have done a nice job. But I just think that on every Saturday, regardless of who the opponent is that you have to play, I think our conference has good teams. And over the long run when you start to look at the season and how it plays out and who is playing who, I think you’ll get a better indication of how the conference is doing.
But, you’re right. You look at the beginning of it and you see it’s not — you look on the ledger of wins and losses, and it wasn’t as impressive. But I think over the long run when you start looking at conference play and as a team starting to get better, that the ACC will be viewed more positive than it’s been viewed presently.
Q. You have a 1AA or championship team coming into your stadium and you look across the country and you see these teams knocking off the Bowl or the 1A teams. You just saw JMU go down and take a bite out of Virginia Tech. You’ve had a lull here and some down time. Are you worried about your guys being focused? Is how do you make sure that they’re taking this one seriously?
COACH LONDON: Well, I’m not worried about this team taking VMI seriously. Because this team hasn’t done anything yet. We’re still trying to find out who we are, and every game to us is a must-win game. Every game to us is a game that you have to improve on. So we’re in the process of trying to build that type of attitude where you expect winning to occur on a weekly basis.
There is no let down in preparation or who we’re playing. We’re playing to try to play to a certain standard we expect. Not having turnovers, converting on third downs and limiting the penalties and things like that. So that is kind of our whole thought process, regardless of who the opponent is.
If we can continue to try to take care of those things that I mentioned, we’ll have a chance to win games. That’s what we want to do is get in the mindset of winning games by taking care of those things.
Q. Do you have a theory as to why more and more 1AA teams are — and you were a former 1AA coach that gave a lot of 1A teams fits. Do you have a theory as to why we’re seeing more and more of what would be considered “an upset”?
COACH LONDON: Well, you can look at it all ways. If I was playing Dr. Phil or somebody like that. Sometimes from the recruiting standpoint there are some 1AA teams that have some good players that could have played and perhaps started on some 1A teams.
If you get those players that those skill position players that are good, the quarterback or receiver or running back or a guy that can rush the passer or a DB that can play, you know, they can run. Your skill guys are players that can run. Everybody has a clock on you.
There are some 1AA player that’s run sub-4.5s. I think the mindset is we’re going in there to play to win. Whatever happens, people don’t think we’re going to win anyway.
But the mindset for these guys going in there is we’ve got nothing to lose. We’re going to play light’s out, and we’ll do whatever it takes, fakes, this, that, we’re going to go for it. And I think sometimes the BCS schools can have a little lapse about that because they look at those schools like that.
So I have had the benefit of being on both sides of it, and knowing that you can’t get to if you’re a BCS school, you can’t look down your nose. Because on any Saturday, it’s been proven year in and year out now, particularly this season, that you’ve got to play every game.
Q. You mentioned earlier that you still haven’t really come to a decision on who your number two quarterback will be. Will the fact that Ross does not have a red-shirt year at his disposal and the other candidates do, would that have any kind of bearing on who would go in the game first?
COACH LONDON: It’s factors into the equation, but it’s not the only determining factor. The thing for us is if Mark went down, the next guy that goes in is the next best quarterback. So that’s one of the factors.
But being able to move the team and operate the offense is as important. So whether it’s Ross or Rocco or, you know, Michael Strauss, whoever it may be, that’s going to be the main criteria is to be able to finish or win the game for us or run the offense and make sure it’s run efficiently.
Like I said, today’s another padded practice, we do a lot of blitz or pick-ups and different things like that. So we’ll see the level of improvement that those other three candidates have made.
Q. If the game’s on the line one way or another, if the game was not on the line, would you be more inclined to use Ross?
COACH LONDON: Again, it depends. When you look at it from, if you use the criteria for the question that you just asked, then you would use it that way because who has a year of eligibility, who doesn’t? But as I said, sometimes you look for long-term things.
People talk about our holders and things, you know, quarterbacks are typically some of the best holders on your squad. So you’d have to take into account some things about who is the best holder of those quarterbacks, who can run the offense efficiently?
So there are a lot of variables that we particularly right now have to take into account. As I said before, the moment to make that decision is drawing very close here.
COACH O’BRIEN: We’re looking forward to our first conference game. Certainly the challenge in front of us going to Atlanta is a big challenge on both sides of the football. But I think our kids are excited to go down and see where we are right now.
Q. When you look for somebody to fill your fullback spot, what attributes are you looking for and how does Taylor Grant fit that mold?
COACH O’BRIEN: Taylor Gentry is our fullback.
COACH O’BRIEN: We look for someone, number one, that can block, and number two has to be able to catch the football. Our fullback is a receiver and a blocker, so I think those two things we look for guys that certainly the more athletic ability, the better off it is.
But they certainly have to have a physical toughness to be able to go block defensive ends or go block linebackers. And they have to be able to be involved in the passing game. We throw our fullback a lot of passes.
Q. He first came to State as a walk on, and then eventually was the starting fullback in his freshman season. What first caught your eye about him and the way he played?
COACH O’BRIEN: Well, he was the guy that kept jumping up in line, trying to get on the field as fast as he could. He has a great determination. He has a great enthusiasm for the game. Every time he got in there and when he got his opportunity, he made plays for us and showed a physical toughness that we didn’t have at that spot when we first got here.
I think those are the things that stood out first. Then also his contributions on special teams. He’s been — because of our multiple formations and multiple personnel groupings, sometimes he plays 25 plays offense, sometimes he plays 12. So the other way he’s been able to get on the field has been special teams for us, and he’s done a great job there.
Q. How big of a role has Jon Tenuta played in the defensive improvement you’ve made to this point?
COACH O’BRIEN: I think he’s contributed. How much I, I’m not sure. But I think certainly as I said last week, one of the things we talked about when I heard him was to help with our third down defense. Our third down defense has been much better through the first three games of the year than it was all last year.
So I think it’s one of the things he’s concentrated on, and it’s certainly helped us get off the field, which we had tremendous problems with a year ago.
Q. Did you have to do any kind of sell job to get him to take a position that wasn’t a coordinators position?
COACH O’BRIEN: Not really. As I said before, I’ve known Jon since 1982 when we went to the University of Virginia and he was a GA for us. Through my years as head coach, there were times he looked to come join our staff and I didn’t have a position available. And there were times when I looked for him to come join the staff and he wasn’t ready to move.
So I think it was a situation that he understands exactly what his role and responsibility is on the staff. He’s embraced it and done a great job for us.
Q. What is the dynamic between he and Mike Archer?
COACH O’BRIEN: It’s very good. Mike’s the coordinator, and does the coordinator job, and Jon’s the linebacker coach, and does the linebacker coaching job.
Q. You just referenced this year your third down defense percentage is like 24%. It’s really strong. Last year you were in the 40’s.
You said Tenuta has really made a difference there. Could you help us understand what exactly are you all trying to do or what are you doing differently than a year ago on third down?
COACH O’BRIEN: Well, I think we settled into a third down defensive package that suits our personnel. Just the organization of it, the set-up of it, and the concepts that we employ. And teaching the kids so they understand what they’re supposed to do, I think all those things come into play to make it a successful package for us.
Q. In layman’s terms, it seems like you’re blitzing more but the blitzes are smart. You have guys in all the gaps. Am I seeing that and understanding that correctly?
COACH O’BRIEN: Well, some of them we ran last year. But I think right now we’re doing a better job. And that is a combination of the kids are older, the kids have run the blitzes before. They’re doing a better job. We’re doing a better job coaching them, and we’re better organized to take advantage of some things.
Q. In your opening statement when you talked about the team going down to Atlanta to find out where it is. Where do you think this team is right now, Tom?
COACH O’BRIEN: I think we’re improving. I think we’re getting better. Certainly we’ve made improvement from the first game to the second, and from the second to the third. That is one thing that we want to continue to do. It’s a little different this week because of what we’re going to face and what we’re facing on defense to what we’ve seen for the first three games.
So that’s all part of growing up as a football team and being able to make changes week in and week out so that you have to make and work hard to get better each week, so that you can progress and have a successful season.
Q. In the past three seasons, the ACC games have been kind of a barrier for you. You haven’t been able to get that first ACC win. Do you see it significant if this team can go on the road and finally get that first ACC win?
COACH O’BRIEN: I think it would be huge for this football team. You know, as I said, it’s going to be a tough assignment especially going down there and playing in Atlanta at noon time. But that’s what we’re faced with, and we’ll make the most of it.
Q. Alabama has made a living with its three-four defense, and Georgia Tech’s using it. Is it going to be difficult for that to spread around college football because there’s only so many kids thats can play the nose tackle, or do you think it could catch on?
COACH O’BRIEN: No, I think things go in cycles and it seems like — there is an article in the past two weeks where there’s more professional teams playing three-four. So those things filter down into college.
We’ve moved — Mike Archer’s background with Coach Cowher with the Steelers was three-four. We have two of our defensive ends that put their hand on the ground. Both can stand up and play linebacker, and we’ve been able to do that and utilize that the past couple of games and might expand that package as we go along to be a four-three and a three-four team. Just as a three-four team ends up having one of their guys put their hand on the ground to become a four-three team. So I think it’s a combination of both. But as you I said it goes in cycles, but we may see more three-four teams as time goes on.
Q. What is so alluring about a three-four defense?
COACH O’BRIEN: Well, one of the things you do in pass protection is you identify pass rushers by their hands on the ground. On a four-three team, you know what four they are. Generally they rush with four unless they’re going to blitz, zone blitz or whatever.
The thing with a three-four, you don’t know where that fourth rusher is coming from.
Q. With you guys being off to a good start, what do you account for that doing better than you would have hoped or as good as you would have hoped so far this season?
COACH O’BRIEN: I think the experience of all those young kids that play a lot last year that didn’t have success, but worked extremely hard and used their experiences last year on the football field and in the out of season and spring practice, and pre-season camp to be a much better football player.
As your players become better players and certainly we try to coach them to be much better players, we’re getting much better execution than we did a year ago.
COACH DAVIS: As I said on Monday at our weekly press conference, it’s kind of good to get into a regular routine. Players stay off on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, prepare for practice, give our kids a chance to get into routine, get some momentum. Obviously there are some things that we’ve got to continue to try to improve on.
Rutgers is off to an excellent start as Mike just alluded to, 2-0. But the part of their game where they’re playing really, really well is they’re playing outstanding on special teams. They’ve already blocked four punts, and their defense is rated in the top 20 in the country.
I mean, they’re really suffocating quarterbacks and putting pressure on the quarterback. And in typical Rutgers fashion, they’ve got a big, strong physical running back that’s pounding the ball.
The one thing they’ve kind of added to their arsenal that they didn’t have two years ago when we played is a little bit of the wildcat package. They’ve got the ability of taking a really prolific wide receiver, put him in the back field and he’s kind of giving people some fits with that.
So having two weeks to prepare, I’m sure there is going to be a lot of unusual things. You’ve got to be prepared for all kinds of fakes and stuff in the kicking game, and new blitzes and probably new formations. So it will put our kids to the test.
Q. Could you talk about your recollections of first meeting Greg Schiano, and some of the qualities you saw in him then and how you’ve seen him mature and develop as a coach over the years?
COACH DAVIS: Well, obviously, in the interview process I felt he was detailed, meticulously organized. Having known Greg now for quite a while and even when I was out of coaching and got a chance to visit his practices and spend some time in their facility. I mean all of those things clearly were true as a defensive coordinator for me and now as a head coach.
He’s done an awesome job. He’s turned that program around. Really built it year in, year out. They’re highly competitive, done a great job recruiting. All those things I saw in the first couple of hours have all come to fruition.
Q. Will you guys talk at all this week or how often do you talk normally?
COACH DAVIS: Well, in the off-season we talk. I saw him this past spring. We spent some time together on the Nike trip and caught up and stuff. During this week we probably won’t talk until before the game and everything. But I consider Greg a very close friend, and somebody that I’ve got a great deal of respect for.
Q. This last week, any particular recollections of that first meeting when you first met him in the interview?
COACH DAVIS: Well, as I said that he was meticulously organized. He was detailed. He was very confident in his philosophical beliefs about football. It was a very positive meeting.
Q. When you look at Rutgers’ wildcat, is it similar to what a lot of other teams do with it or is that the biggest challenge with the running game too?
COACH DAVIS: Well, it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on a defense because of the versatility of the guy that they’re snapping the ball to. He’s an excellent athlete. He’s got the ability. He has thrown a touchdown pass. He’s got the ability to run one in.
He’s, you know — everybody has their own variations of it and they mix it in with a variety of different personnel groupings. Some teams will run it with four wide receivers and an open formation, one running back in the back field. Rutgers is doing it with tight ends in the game, which makes it a little more difficult because of the potentiality of creating different gaps. But it’s something that’s been a good addition to their offense.
Q. When you see them throw the ball like they did last week, is that another wrinkle they have?
COACH DAVIS: Oh, absolutely. But most of the guys around the country that do any kind of lthat, the guy that’s going back there and playing that particular position, always you have to defend against the possibility they can throw because they’re not going to exclusively run the football every single time. You’ve got to be aware of the fact that they can throw the football.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Johnny White. Obviously he had the great game and rightfully so he should have carried the bulk of it against Georgia Tech. Has he earned that spot as the starter going forward with his performance last week?
COACH DAVIS: Well, he’s been the starter for the first two ballgames we played. And we felt like he put himself in contention to challenge Shaun Draughn for that position. Obviously Shaun missed the very first ballgame and was held out of a significant amount of practices as we prepared for the LSU game.
It was good to get Shaun back. I think there is room for both of these guys to play and to help our offense and keep a fresh guy in the game. I think that Johnny has certainly earned everything that he’s being given right now.
Q. Is that a situation where Shaun has a lot of work to do to sort of build his way back up to the carries he was getting a year ago or two years ago?
COACH DAVIS: I don’t know that he’s got a lot of work to do, but he’s got to get back into game-playing conditions. There is a tremendous amount of difference from just practicing, maybe as a scout team player and running the other team’s offense, and getting hit in ballgames and just getting into the flow of the game.
And I thought what we did with Shaun last week was a really positive step forward for him. He’s a very good football player. He was on track to rush for a thousand yards we felt like last year before suffering the season-ending shoulder injury. And each week he gets a little stronger, because now he gets to work. He gets a chance to spend some time with the offense as far as timing and assignments.
You know, the unenviable position that we’ve been in is sometimes it’s great to get Shaun back, and it was great to get Bruce and Carter and Quan Sturdivant back. It doesn’t do you a great deal of good when you find out on Friday the day before the game, and they don’t get a lot of work in.
So even in their case, they were limited in their availability in the first game against LSU. Certainly Shaun will play a little bit bigger role each week as he gets back into the groove of being with the offense.
Q. Do you have any kind of feel at all as to whether you might get anybody else back this week?
COACH DAVIS: I’m sorry, but we kind of made the statement that, if and when we ever find out anything out from the NCAA, we’ll certainly be the first people to probably put up billboards on I-40 and announce it.
We’d love to get them back, but as of right now the team that we played with against LSU in last week is the team that’s prepared this week against Rutgers.
Q. It’s three weeks into the season, and you still have uncertainty as to what the roster’s going to look like. How difficult is that week after week? At a certain point would you just like to know this is who we’ve got, this is who we don’t have?
COACH DAVIS: We’ve kind of made that decision before the week going into the LSU game. Anybody that might be added to the roster at any point in time during the season, we’ve got to be prepared to play with the guys that are currently playing in these games.
We’d love to get any of those other guys back, but if we don’t, we’ve got to prepare every single week and that’s where our focus is. That’s why I just made the statement that sometimes somebody that gets added to the roster on Saturday morning, six hours before the game, there is a lot of limitations to what they can actually help you do. So we practice all week long with the guys we know for certain are going to play.
Q. In this day and time, it’s a little bit odd to see a tight end that is so much a part of an offense as Zack Pianalto is with yours. What does Zack bring to your game plan to allow him to be such a large part of that? Is it a specific talent or does he just fit the offensive scheme?
COACH DAVIS: Well, it’s by design to be honest with you. I’ve been fortunate that all of the places that I’ve coached for the last 20 years have included at least one if not two very talented tight ends on the football team and the roster at that particular time. Certainly Jay Novacek with the Dallas Cowboys was kind of the really marquis guy that complimented Mike Irvin, and Emmitt Smith and all the things that the Cowboys did. Certainly at Miami with Bubba Franks and Jeremy Shockey, and Kellen Winslow Jr., you look for those type of guys.
Really what we’re trying to do is build the complete offense. Zack’s unique talents and his ability complement all the other pieces of the puzzle that you don’t want to just try to win with one particular guy whether it’s a wideout or a tight end.
You know, we’re hopeful that all of our skilled athletes can become guys that, you know, can be significant contributors to the game plan.
Zack’s a terrific worker. He’s really worked on himself physically. When he came in I think he weighed 208 pounds as a freshman in 2007. He’s up to about 254 right now and really understands how to play the game. I think it’s just a really good piece of the offensive puzzle.
COACH SHANNON: Tomorrow’s night game against Pitt will be a great opportunity for us at the University of Miami to go out and play on national television again. It’s an opportunity for us to come back after a loss last week against Ohio State, but also to bounce back and get back going and start back on the road of where we need to be at.
We feel like after the game last week, we feel like we’re a better team because we learned a lot of things in that game about us as a football team. We also know the things that we have to go and correct in that loss, that was very vital to us winning that game last week.
This last week, practice has been a lot of fun. There’s been a lot of enthusiasm. Nobody held their head down. Everybody was upbeat, everybody was positive. Got a lot of work on ones against ones, and physical work, because both the defenses and offenses are similar. So it was good to go against each other.
Every day we had some type of one against one competition to emphasize the red zone, creating turnovers, and protecting the football and also wrapping up and getting the guy on the ground.
Q. What are the biggest things you took out of the Ohio State game? Things that you’ve been able to apply in practices and things to get ready for this game coming up?
COACH SHANNON: Well, probably more consistency. We looked at it and we always found out what can we do to get better? Offensively, consistency. We’re moving the ball up-and-down the field. We punted the ball twice and holding to our game. When you punt the ball twice in the game, you feel like you should win the game.
But inside the red zone we had drop passes; we had illegal procedures; those things cannot happen. So we emphasized those things this week in practice. Not once, not twice, maybe not three times, but it was about five or six times each day that we emphasized some type of form of getting in the red zone, but also capitalizing on the opportunity.
But we worked on it. We worked every day we had the opportunity to do it. And those are the things with our offensive lines that we tried to concentrate on.
Q. How has Jacory looked in practice? Do you think he’s going to regain that sharpness that he needs?
COACH SHANNON: Jacory, and I’ll say this, Jacory was 26 for 39 in this game against Ohio State. He had nine drops by his receivers, running backs and tight ends, nine of them. If you take those nine drops, he would have been 35 for 39, so he was sharp in the game.
But like I said, the consistency, we have to get out the guys catching the football. We drop one in the end zone. We drop, I think, three of them in the five yards going in. And two of his interceptions basically went to the receiver’s hand and went to the other guy. Those are things we’ve got to be consistent in to make our offense run like we want to run.
Q. To follow up on Jacory, interception-wise, what are you going to do to try to cut it down from last game and last year?
COACH SHANNON: Just like I just said. Jacory only had one interception really that was him. He had three drops out of the four interceptions with some type of form of tips and things like that and guys not being consistent on their routes. That wasn’t Jacory. Jacory has one interception that we can account for as for what we’re seeing on film.
Now for everybody else they’re going to say he had four interceptions. But he’s fine right now. He had a great week of practice. He’s enthusiastic. He and the receivers have been doing a lot of route running and trying toto be perfect. Like if we’re going to run a comeback the game, we’re going to run it in practice each day 15 times. Each receiver’s going to have an opportunity to run it 15 times. So we’re going to do those type of things all the time in practice just to get everybody with consistency out of them.
Q. Just wanted to talk to you a little about the history that you’ve had where Coach Wannstedt over at Pitt, and tell us what kind of relationship you have with him currently?
COACH SHANNON: Me and Dave Wannstedt’s relationship goes back to when I was a player at the University of Miami. He was my position coach and also my position coach at the Dallas Cowboys. All those days that he’s been a coach I’ve been a player, and also a coach also. We’ve had continual contact, at least a minimum of maybe 10, to 12, to 15 times a year.
And I’ve coached with him at the Miami Dolphins. He’s taught me a lot. I’ve learned a lot from him. We have an open relationship that we can communicate and talk all the time.
Like I tell everybody, when I first took the job at University of Miami, I went and spent a few days up there with him talking about being a head coach and also talking defensive football.
When you have a person that you really respect and is truly a friend to you that you can look up to all the time, that is something that you can always have close to you and you can always admire those things.
Q. How has he influenced you as a coach?
COACH SHANNON: Oh, the things that he does as far as what he does staffwise. Making sure chemistry of the staff is always important to him, which I think is very big. Because if everybody had the same chemistry, you can be a successful football team.
Also the way he treats players. You’ve got to make sure the players understand the importance of being honest. Even though it may hurt a player being honest, part about it and being tough with them. But making them understand it’s not tough as far as getting on you, but also making you understand that this is important to all of us as a university and a football team.
Q. Do you feel you have an advantage or disadvantage going into Thursday night’s match-up?
COACH SHANNON: No, the thing about it is neither one of us call the plays. I’m not calling defensive plays and he’s not calling defensive plays. But our mentality is both the same. We both take chances on special teams. We both want to play tough, physical football, and we both want to run the football. And I think those are things that we have that are similar for what we’ll both do.
Q. I was just wondering what you thought about your old college Coach Jimmy Johnson taking on the challenge of Survivor?
COACH SHANNON: You know what, I wouldn’t doubt it. He’s always got something creative. I think maybe two years ago he was thinking about going on there. We talked a little bit about it, but he didn’t.
It’s great for him because he likes challenges and he likes the water. If you look on the picture all the time, there’s always water around. Jimmy’s always going to be part of the water. It’s good for him. We’ll see what happens as it goes on.
Q. Given the fact that Pitt relied so heavily on the running of Dion Lewis and Ray Graham, trying to neutralize when they go deep with a pass and Jonathan Baldwin as a receiver, how do you foresee trying to address that fact and neutralizing Baldwin?
COACH SHANNON: Well, you can’t neutralize any part of an offense. You have to make sure your guys do a great job on defense, and execute what we’re trying to get done on defense. If the guys go out and execute the game plan and what the defense staff have presented to them throughout the week, we’ll be fine.
I can’t go in and say we’re going to do this to a defense and try to take Baldwin out or Lewis or do those things. We’ve just got to execute our defense and execute it the way we’ve been practicing it.
Q. How is Ray-Ray Armstrong been doing this season?
COACH SHANNON: He’s been doing great. Started off slow through spring football, and I think that in the 29 days of practice in August, he was coming out, being very competitive and learning. And it’s like anything, you make the biggest strides when you come here as a freshman to the next step of your sophomore year because of what you learn and what you see.
I think he’s understanding each week the importance of being focused, but also going through the process of every week of staying hungry all the time. I think the more that he stays hungry and the more pressure we put on him in practice, the better he’ll be as a football player, and the better we’ll be as a defense and football team.
COACH FRIEDGEN: Well, we’re preparing for a very good football team. They had two very tough losses. Really had the games won, played well in both games. We’re up for a heck of a challenge. After a disappointing loss to West Virginia, we got to rebound and get ready to go.
I’ll open it up for questions.
Q. Torrey Smith is a great player. Is this a result of your schemes as well as his talents that he got the touchdowns even though the other guy knows he’s a threat?
COACH FRIEDGEN: They had a substitute in there. We try to get Torrey matched up on him. Really should have had another touchdown with him. But Torrey and Jamarr Robinson really did a good job of executing the play. Torrey was able to win the one-on-one coverage.
Q. Obviously your opponent threw a scare into Texas A&M last week. What jumps out at you that causes concerns?
COACH FRIEDGEN: I think they’re very good on defense. If you look at them, they’re nationally ranked in quite a few categories. They have very good team speed. I’ve been impressed with No. 45, a very good edge rusher. No. 7, kind of a nickel back, Sam linebacker type. Then No. 25, the free safety, is very athletic and very aggressive.
They pressure a lot. They can run extremely well. They really were leading Rutgers going into the fourth quarter also. They’ve been playing very well on defense. They have some skill people on offense that are very much like West Virginia’s guys.
It’s a team that’s very hungry, playing very hard, probably deserved to win two games that they didn’t win.
Q. How concerned are you with your offensive line situation and your quarterback situation that you’ll be able to protect the quarterbacks this week?
COACH FRIEDGEN: It’s a concern, no doubt about it. Losing your left tackle is a concern to us. Our kids, we had two very good days of practice. Hopefully we’ll go out today and have a good day of practice, and tomorrow, and be ready to play on Saturday.
Q. I understand both quarterbacks are a little banged up. How did they look in practice last night?
COACH FRIEDGEN: Limited but doing well. Both of them should be able to play this weekend.
Q. Ralph, just looking at the difference between the first and second half offensively, you obviously picked it up a little bit there. What was the difference and what do you need to do going forward to make sure you don’t have that kind of a first half again?
COACH FRIEDGEN: Well, you know, we really went in there and I thought we lost our poise a little bit with the crowd noise. I think they had some jitters. I think it’s something that we have to work to get through. I don’t think we played as well as we’re capable of playing. Kind of settled down at halftime.
I thought the first series of the second half was a very big series. We went three-and-out, punted the ball. They got a big punt return. Then our defense held for two downs. They scrambled on the third down and made a play.
That touchdown was huge because we had a lot of opportunities to score that we didn’t take advantage of in the second half. We dropped a pass for a touchdown, ran out of bounds, were wide open, had a chance on a punt return, had a chance of an interception on the 12 yard line.
As poorly as we played, I think we were in position to really make a run at them; just didn’t make the plays we needed to make. I think for this team, hopefully we’ll be better prepared the next time we’re in that situation.
Hopefully we can become successful because I really think that’s what this team needs, is to be able to win a game like that to really start believing in themselves and having the confidence they need to be a good football team.
Q. Coach, I’m fascinated by the numbers. When I look at the ACC tackle list, not only is Alex leading the league in tackles, but you have four linebackers in the top nine tacklers in the league. Is that a testimony to the strength of that position or predicated on the scheme you play that gets linebackers tackles?
COACH FRIEDGEN: Well, I think we have three very good linebackers. I think we have some good backups behind them. I think linebacker is kind of the strength of our team. We’ve moved some of our linebackers to defensive line because we felt pretty solid there.
Alex has been doing this for three years. He just has a nose for the football. Actually I thought Saturday he missed more tackles than he usually does. I think he missed four, five, six tackles, which is not like him.
I think Demetrius Hartsfield, Adrian Moten, are two very good linebackers also. I think we have a good core of linebackers. I think Coach Brown’s schemes accentuates those strengths.
COACH JOHNSON: Good morning. We were excited to get off to a good start in the conference last week. I was proud of our guys. Thought they played with a lot of effort and intensity. Now we’ve got our first home conference game against a team that could quite possibly be the hottest team in our league right now. They’re playing very well, have a lot of weapons. It will be a big challenge for our guys this week.
Q. Coach, when you look at NC State on film, you break down the packages where they use their fullback, what do you see out of Taylor that he seems to bring to help their offense?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think they run a lot of personnel packages that he’s included in. He can do a lot of things. Not only is a good blocker, he’s a receiver coming out. He’s sound in protection. He’s a good football player.
He’s a big part of what they do.
Q. He’s also one of their best special teams players. When you play somebody that has a standout on special teams, do you try to account for him on your coverages? How do you deal with those guys who seem to just fly around on special teams?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think it varies from week to week. Certainly you have to be aware of a guy like that. I think the kids on the other team are aware of him.
I don’t know how much you change the scheme for one person. Sometimes you have to. But you’re certainly aware of him.
Q. Paul, what is the best thing you’ve accomplished in practice the last couple days? Have your points of emphasis been any different this week?
COACH JOHNSON: No, not really. We’ve only had the one practice. Monday is a conditioning day for us, error correction. We had yesterday. Today will be a pads practice.
But it’s been status quo, about like normal. Nothing really different. Our practices are pretty similar every week in that we work on the opponent some but we also spend a great deal of time working on ourself.
It’s been about status quo. No big difference.
Q. What did you feel your defense did better last week than in the previous game against Kansas? What are your biggest worries for your defense?
COACH JOHNSON: I think the quarterback certainly is capable of making a lot of big plays. We had a couple series we played better last week on defense in the second half. I think maybe it will give them some confidence to be out there in that last drive when we had to get a stop to win the game and we were able to do that.
It’s been a struggle. I’d be lying to say it hadn’t been. There’s been a transition. We probably are playing the best offensive team we’ve played to date, no question. It will be interesting to see how much we’ve grown on defense. It’s going to be a big challenge for them.
Q. Jim Grobe said something interesting. He said coaching at a school with high academic standards, sometimes the tendency is to think because you believe as a whole you have a lot of smart kids you can throw a lot of stuff at them offensively and defensively. Even these kids get to a point where he said they’ve thrown too much at them. Do you ever find that to be the case at Georgia Tech? Do you ever make an assumption that these kids can remember everything that you throw at them?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think that’s always been the case that people think, even when I was at the academy. Just because a guy is smart in math and science doesn’t mean he understands football.
Different guys can handle different things. That’s a big part of trying to gauge how much they can handle. You can understand everything as a coach and have a great feel for what’s going on, but it doesn’t do any good if the guys that are playing on the field don’t understand.
I think he’s got a valid point.
Q. Are there kids who are borderline as far as their academics go but there’s a football intelligence?
COACH JOHNSON: No question. That’s exactly right. Everybody has talents. There are some kids who struggle academically but they can understand everything you’re talking about in sports and athletics. It makes sense to them. There’s no question that that’s the case.
Q. This game features the last two first-team all-ACC quarterbacks. Can you contrast the styles, what they bring to the table?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think that each program asks them to do a little something different. I think they’re both really good players. Josh was not going to throw it as many times as Russell Wilson will in the game. Hopefully we can be efficient when we throw it. I hope our quarterback is going to have more rushing yardage than they are. If we don’t, we’re in trouble.
They’re both very important to their team, good players. Both guys make their teams go.
COACH FISHER: Hello, everybody. We’re going to have a very tough opponent this week in Wake Forest. Coach Grobe always brings in a very well-prepared team. They always played Florida State very well. We’re expecting another great ballgame.
We played a solid ballgame last Saturday. By no means are we where we need to be. Both sides of the ball, got a little bit better. We were able to control the second half and came out and felt very fortunate to have won a game against a very good opponent. Looking forward to the game against Wake Forest and see if our kids have continued to grow.
Q. Coach, you’re playing an opponent that’s given up 116 points in the last two games. When you look at them on film, do you see an obvious flaw? What do you see?
COACH FISHER: I think Duke was very efficient in the way they threw the ball that day. They were very precise. Quarterback did a great job. Wake was in position to make plays and very well-coached. I think Stanford, when you travel three time zones, I think it affects you. I think it’s a hard thing to deal with. We went out and played BYU last year. It was a tough scenario.
I think Stanford is a very good football team. You can see on film, they’re an up-and-coming program. I think they’ve played a couple OF good opponents who are very efficient on offense and made plays against them. Schematically they do good things, very sound, well-coached.
Q. Does this situation put the pressure on your guys to perform at that kind of level?
COACH FISHER: No. We’ll do what we do and hopefully our offense will play well, our defense and special teams will play well. That doesn’t have any effect on us. We need to go out there and do what we do, get better at what we do. Hopefully it’s enough to win the football game.
Q. In the recent past Florida State has had a lot of difficulty on defense in terms of defending option-type offenses. What are you looking forward to doing this weekend to try to counter what Wake can do on offense?
COACH FISHER: I think Wake does a great job in the misdirection in their option. Hopefully we’ll keep leverage on the football and be able to support it inside-out, be able to pursue the ball, but not let them outflank us, like we did against BYU.
Wake presents a lot of problems on offense and I hope our kids are ready for that challenge.
Q. You held BYU to its lowest total offense since they played in a snowstorm about six or seven years ago. What was the best thing you saw about your defense? Talk about time zone issues. To what extent, if any, did you sense that BYU got tired?
COACH FISHER: We started out and got the momentum of the game there in the second quarter, first quarter a little bit. They came back and got it at the end of the second quarter. Third quarter, we had a three-and-out, long drive, got up 17 points, which changed the game. Made it three scores going into the fourth quarter.
You know, it was just a game that we played well in the second half. It was a great challenge. Again, it’s going to be another one against Wake. They present a lot of problems, like I say, offensively and defensively, special teams. Very well-coached. We’re definitely going to have our hands full.
Q. Coach, wanted to ask, in regard to the game with BYU, there seemed to be quite a few plays early on in the first half in which the ball was getting knocked down. Was that a result of something Ponder was doing throwing the ball or… ?
COACH FISHER: I’m trying to think. I don’t remember. I don’t remember them knocking the ball down. I’m trying to think. May have tipped one or so.
I don’t remember that being a factor in the game. They got pressure on us a few times, scrambled, did that. But I can’t remember a ball being tipped. Maybe there were and I’m not remembering it right. I can’t remember that.
If it is, it’s something we have to work on and make sure we find throwing lanes. Usually that’s when people push the pocket or get penetration from pass-rush, get in guys’ faces in that situation when this usually occurs.
Q. It would seem like looking at the past defense, what you’re trying to get done with your younger kids, is this the type of game, fourth game of the season, how important is it somebody other than Burton kind of establish themselves as a guy that Christian can develop more rhythm with?
COACH FISHER: I hope so. Actually in the last game, Rodney had a great third down catch and Willie had a go route on the backside. I think they took strides that way. It was a game we didn’t throw the ball much. It was a weird game. Burt’s numbers came up. It wasn’t always designed to go there, it was just the way his number came up, way they played defense.
We have to continue to grow in that. Our young guys, if they can get more catches, more plays, you keep developing them, building their confidence.
In the last week and a half, I’m starting to see them feel good. It will be nice if that happens. But if that’s the case, we have to throw the ball. But that will be — when we throw the ball, however much we do. But it would be good if they did, that’s for sure.
Q. How important is it for a kid like Moses McCray, he’s staying involved, going to meetings, he was on the sideline for the home games, just being around and trying to use this year to get better.
COACH FISHER: Well, I think it is knowledge of what’s going on, what the defense is evolving to, the new little nuances that go in it. I think sometimes as an injured player, it can put a perspective on things because you really get to sit back and see what the coach sees. Sometimes when you’re watching them, the coach is telling you things that’s not happening.
But sometimes those guys, I notice when they get injured, they hang around the coaches, they see the coaches’ perspective of things, when they come back, it can help them become better players because of the perspective they see and the world they got opened up to them from seeing things from a different light.
He’s done a great job of that. He’s been a good team leader. He’s done a good job with our young defensive linemen.
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Yes, the play at Army gives us a chance to celebrate a military appreciation day. That should be the first thing that I mention, being able to honor our troops wherever they are in this world. Certainly we’ll have a lot of military here in attendance. Also these young men from West Point, the commitment they’ve made to their country is pretty special.
They have a good football team. They’re playing well. They have a winning record. They are a balanced team. Played exceptionally well on defense, exceptionally well on offense. I think they do a tremendous job in the kicking game.
If you didn’t have to play them, it’s fun to watch these guys. A big challenge for us coming off a game where we haven’t played well at all. Alabama had something to do with that, but Duke had more to do with it most of the time.
A lot of work to do. We’ve got to go and find a way to get better, not only this week, but on Saturday of this week.
Q. David, Jim Grobe brought up something about coaching at schools where the academic standards are pretty high. He said given that, there’s a little bit of a danger of throwing too much at kids. Sometimes it’s easy as a coach to think that the kids will absorb absolutely everything you tell them and you can have complicated schemes. He said there is a tipping point for these kids. Have you experienced that balancing act at Duke where no matter how smart you think they are, there comes a point where enough is enough or enough is too much?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I don’t think there’s any question that anywhere you are, that’s a danger as a coach. You can only teach and count on what they can functionally do.
I’ll tell you what the difference is to me. We have smart kids. They do handle some things extremely well. But their time commitment academically is far greater here than anyplace I’ve been. I have to respect that. Occasionally I’ve wondered if guys ever went to class because they were always over at the complex watching tape or around all the time.
Our guys are carrying laptops and working and doing. My concern is their sleep because they do so much work academically. Since we’ve been here, I’ve talked to our coaches about being smart about what we expect from them as far as their ability to learn and do or function in offense, defense and in kicking because of that.
Q. Conversely, have you had kids who might have been borderline in the classroom but had an awful lot of football intelligence and could pretty much handle anything you gave them?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Absolutely. That guy exists everywhere. We use the term ‘gym rat.’ It’s just natural. You know, you see a little less of that probably, to be honest with you, because you can’t become a gym rat with a video game. You got to be a player. I don’t think there’s any question that that guy exists a lot of places that you’re talking about. Not as many as there used to be, but you love those kind of players on your squad.
Q. Josh McNary, anything in particular you have to do to approach this guy? Is he different from different teams that you’ll see this year?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Do we get a weapon to play against him? He is tremendous. Watched him now these two years. He plays every down. He has got a tremendous repertoire as far as pass-rush. From a schematic standpoint, the coaching staff does a tremendous job of putting him in positions to be successful.
You know, you better know where he is on the field at all times. No magic formula. They create a lot of one-on-one circumstance in their pass-rush scheme. So no magic formula is going to help you in regards to Josh. So you just better tighten your chin strap and be prepared for a long 60-minute fight because that’s what he’ll bring.
Q. Speaking of their defense, they have an unusual name, double eagle flex. Beyond the name, what they do on defense, is it a different look on that side of the ball just as triple option is on offense?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: No question. I think the good thing they do on both sides of the ball they make you prepare for something you don’t see very often. So your practice preparation for the week never feels like enough.
I think that’s a great idea. But there are not a lot of people that know that defense to me left out there. Coach Ellerson has a history with it. They’ve done a great job with it. You have to know how to manage it, and they do. Everybody would run some semblance of it.
They’re well-taught. They’re disciplined, as we all know. Boy, they play hard. That helps the scheme also.
Q. David, how are Johnny Williams and Brett Huffman doing with their recoveries this week?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, Johnny is a little better, Brett is a little better. We’re still on a day-to-day. If I’m going to put a tag on it, it would probably be questionable at this stage still. You don’t ever count it out. We’re working like crazy to try to get as many people to whatever level of health we can get them to.
It’s just kind of this time of year. You sometimes never know how quickly guys may or may not respond. They’re not ready yet.
Q. Has Johnny returned to contact drills yet?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: No, no, no.
Q. This morning on your radio interview I heard you talk about Kelby Brown getting maybe as 50% of the snaps this week. Can you talk about what he brings, what you saw when you looked at the film of his 19 snaps against Alabama?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: There are a couple things there. One, you use the term with linebackers particularly in the secondary of being able to ‘diagnose’ plays. Then you got off the spot, which means a quick observation and then you got to go, pull the trigger. Kelby does that really well. What that does is give you a chance to be a play-maker. Kelby certainly looks like a play-maker. 19 snaps, recovers a fumble, has a sack and four tackles. We’re looking for that right now, productivity.
I think he diagnoses things extremely well. He’s got a little knack for it. He got beat up in camp. Now he’s healthy. If we’re going to play him, we’re going to play him. You will see him on Saturday.
Q. I wanted to ask you the difference between Army’s offense this year and last year. Seems they’re a bit more dynamic. Does that come through on tape?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, they have increased their system, their capabilities to do different things. We have studied Cal Poly tape going back about three years over these two years preparing for them, so you know there’s more even yet to come. They’ve got a nice system. Their players are all back for the most part. They understand what to do. When you give them this problem, they know right what to go to, and their players are starting to understand that.
They’re a little harder to defend. I think they’re getting a little faster, getting some speed on the field, increasing in that regard as well also.
Q. Can you talk about the growth of Sean Renfree since that time he stepped on the field last year in a substitute role.
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, Sean, being in his third year in the offense, kind of the same thing I just mentioned with Army players in their second year in the offense. Sean has much greater command of our offense. He’s letting us go full tilt with what we do, which we hadn’t done probably since Eli, to be full tilt with everything we’re capable of doing in the passing game and continuing to grow. He’s very bright. He’s a more than willing worker and a more gifted, stronger, quicker athlete than he was a year ago.
He’s improved his arm strength quite a bit.
Q. Is McNary one of the best pass-rushers you’ll see all year, no doubt?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, I don’t think there’s any question. He has got a great knack for it. Great speed and quickness. I told somebody earlier today, I think he must major in hand-to-hand combat and be an A plus student. He’s tremendous. I have great respect for that young man.
Q. With the game you’re coming off, can you talk a little bit about how you draw, what you draw from that game in a positive nature? I’m sure you got the kids’ attention this week.
COACH CUTCLIFFE: The thing I’ve said all along, and this holds true, when you have character, times of pain, suffering and adversity are your greatest opportunity to grow. That’s basically the end of the story. There’s nothing pleasant about what happened. Nobody can sugarcoat it, but we do have great character, absolute great character amongst our young men. They have gone back to work. I expected them to. They understand how to do that. Wouldn’t expect anything less from them.
So when you draw, like I said, from that pain and suffering, no doubt we’ll be stronger people from what we’ve gone through. If we don’t start playing better football in certain areas, then we’re going to have some more pain and suffering. So we also have to be realists and address what the problems are. We’ve worked very hard in that regard.
Q. A team that comes off that type of loss, the opponent is usually never happy to see that in whatever sport it is. Is Army maybe in a worse position than it might have been than if you guys had lost to a much closer game?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I don’t think that Army finds itself in any circumstance of disadvantage. I think the challenge is to get your team back up after getting your rear-end whipped like we did.
Had we some way, somehow beaten Alabama, it would have taken a long time to get our people back to ground level, players, fans, everybody. That could have been its own challenge, and maybe the biggest challenge we could have faced. I would have loved to have tried that. But we went far, far from that. I don’t think it has any bearing on our ability to say we’re mad and go win a football game. We played hard against Alabama. We just didn’t play well.
What we have to do to have a chance against Army is we have to play well. I’m kind of tired of not playing well, I will tell you that. So I expect us to play better, and hopefully we will.
COACH SWINNEY: Good to be back with you guys this week. Hope you’re all doing well. We’re getting back at it with our open day here, trying to take advantage of some extra time. Had our first big test on the road. Did not win the game. But I do think we got a lot to build on coming out of that game. Looking forward to getting into conference play next weekend against Miami, trying to really take advantage of this open date, get some guys healthy and try to fix some of our mistakes that we’ve made. Look forward to being back here at Death Valley October 2nd.
Q. Coach, what kind of shape is Kyle Parker? For his sake, this is a good week to have a bye date. How is he moving around and what his status right now?
COACH SWINNEY: He’s getting a little bit better each day. Just really sore. Took a really big shot in the back there with the helmet at Auburn. Again, he was really, really sore Sunday. He’s gotten a little bit better each day. Had treatment this morning. Started back exercising, all that.
I think it will be one of those things, hopefully by Monday when we get back next week, he’ll be bouncing around pretty good. Just trying to be smart with him, let him heal up.
Q. How close were you to taking him out at any point after that hit?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, in fact, I told Tajh to get ready. If we had gotten the ball back, Tajh was going in. It ended up being a really long time with that series where Kyle got hit and we actually got the ball back. By the time we got the ball back, Kyle said he was okay and could go.
But Tajh was ready to go, we were ready to put him in. At that point the doctors felt good about Kyle. Kyle said, Coach, I can go. We said, Well, let’s go.
Q. A lot of us that aren’t familiar with the program had questions about your running game. Can you talk about Andre Ellington, how he blossomed? Is that what you expected?
COACH SWINNEY: Absolutely. If you look back at my comments since last spring, I’ve been pretty consistent with the comments in that, you know what, we’re going to be okay with rushing the ball with Andre and Jamie Harper. Those two guys combined are very talented guys. Andre was the number one guy in this state, runningback. Jamie was number one back in Florida. These guys are talented.
It just so happens they had two NFL guys in James Davis and CJ they had to tutor under for a little bit. But it’s their time. I think last year if anybody really paid attention to us, Andre Ellington, it’s not like he just showed up. He led our team in yards-per-carry last year, had some big plays for us. Same thing with Jamie, he was second. CJ was actually third. We all know what kind of player he was.
We love those two guys. They’re tough guys that like to play football, like to practice, low maintenance, very, very competitive. They are like best of friends. So it’s a good situation ’cause they’re very different at times and they’re similar at times.
But we think that we’ve got the ability to run the football. Hopefully the two of them combining together, we can make a lot of the plays that CJ, some of those explosive plays, that CJ brought.
Certainly there were going to be a lot of questions looking from the outside when you lose CJ. All of us here, we knew these two guys would do well. I’m glad to see them off to a good start.
Q. Coach, what is the art to coaching talented players who know they could be playing anywhere in the country but who know it’s going to take a while for their time to come because people like CJ are ahead of them? How do you teach them patience?
COACH SWINNEY: That’s all about your program. That’s the heart and soul of the program as far as how you talk to them every day, how you deal with them, your support staff, your relationship, the trust that you have, that they have with you. That’s the whole heart of it.
You know, guys, most of them, understand when they come in here, and they see pretty quickly as freshmen, I don’t care how talented they are, they have a lot to learn. They have a lot of water to get under the bridge, especially when they get around an older, talented player.
It’s just all about the education process and having great communication, engaging with your players, having good relationships. That’s the heart of it.
COACH SPAZIANI: Coming off our off week, early in the year, we got some work accomplished. We hope we’re ready for our ACC opener against a very good, very good Virginia Tech team.
Q. Castonzo, guy comes with a big reputation, potential first-round draft pick. What makes him so unique other than he’s 6′7″, 295, looks athletic? Has he performed up to the expectations you had for him thus far?
COACH SPAZIANI: Well, I think first of all Anthony came to us four years ago, was plugged right in at left tackle, started as a freshman, and has improved every year. He’s improved off the field. He’s improved in the weight room. He’s improved academically. He’s improved athletically. Now he’s a real big-time left tackle.
Q. I know he did the prep school thing back in 2006. I noticed that he wasn’t the most highly recruited guy out there. Now he’s developed into in some people’s minds the best tackle in the country. How do you think he kind of slipped through the cracks recruiting-wise?
COACH SPAZIANI: You know, it’s a product of what’s happening in recruiting here where everybody has commitments early. It’s all moved up. He’s a perfect example of why not to do that.
Don’t hold me to this, but maybe he was 6′5″, 215 pounds. Most people weren’t projecting him or giving him offers. He might have had some lesser schools offering him, non-BCS schools. Someone said to him, You can probably get yourself into a different level if you go to a prep school and grow. That’s what he did. He grew. He developed.
That’s what the prep school was about for him, not academics. It was about maturing physically.
Q. I wanted to ask you a couple questions about another Mark. Mark Herzlich. Since he’s come back during this whole process from sarcoma, what does he add to your team outside of being the 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year? What does he bring to your team that you didn’t have last year?
COACH SPAZIANI: He brings a whole lot of experience, that’s the first thing. We have a very young, inexperienced team in a lot of areas. Just having him out there, a guy that knows how to practice, a guy that knows how to prepare for games, understands what it takes at this level to be successful, and certainly just the fact that he has done what he’s done to get back to where he’s at now, you would have totally blind to not see that motivation. That has to rub off.
I don’t think you could quantify what he brings to the table.
Q. Luke came in last year. How have they come together as a linebacker unit? What challenges are ahead of them in terms of the future or has it been one of those natural things where they’re already working well together?
COACH SPAZIANI: Well, you know, Luke is a very instinctive football player, as is Mark. They have very similar early career patterns. Luke just stepped in with not a lot of coaching, much like Mark did when Mark was a freshman. We’ve moved Luke inside, for better or for worse.
They’ve adapted playing with each other. I think it’s a good combination. We’re going to find out how well pretty soon.
Q. If you could sum up Mark’s recovery, just watching it as the coach over the past year, how would you describe it?
COACH SPAZIANI: Miraculous, miraculous. I said this before. Not many of us have experienced miracles. Mark experienced one. He’s on the verge of trying to do the next one. It’s just a joy, a pleasure to watch. I couldn’t be more happy for him.
Q. Luke, how is he doing in the transition to the middle linebacker role?
COACH SPAZIANI: He’s doing fine. He’s doing fine. It’s a little bit different obviously. The reads are a lot different. He’s just an instinctive player. We try to get out of his way. Help him out, give him his basic reads, then let him go play.
He’s making progress. Once again, we’re going to find out here in the next few weeks how much further he needs to go.
Q. What made you think he was the guy when you were looking for a new middle linebacker?
COACH SPAZIANI: Well, you know, he’s very instinctive and he’s all over the place. So, you know, if you want him all over the place, why not put him in the middle?
Q. You’re allowing 54 rushing yards a game thus far. How do you assess your defense against the run? How well do you think you’ll do against a team that can throw three or four runningbacks at you?
COACH SPAZIANI: There’s only one stat that I ever worry about when I was over there specifically on defense, and that was points allowed. That stat is a two-game stat. We’ll see what it is at the end of the year.
Going on to the second part of your question, you know, this is a big-league running team. They’ve known how to run the ball ever since I’ve been coaching against them. They haven’t skipped a beat. They have three runningbacks and probably a fourth one standing somewhere in the background over there. They know how to run the ball. They’re tough, the backs are good.
We’ll find out what that stat means.
Q. When you look at Virginia Tech on film, they were obviously struggling a little bit through the Madison game and halftime of the Carolina game, then something seemed to click. They obviously had a great second half. When you look at them, can you divine what turned around, what you have to do to get them back in their funk?
COACH SPAZIANI: Well, let me say this. When I look at them from afar, here is what I see. I see a team that’s a national championship-caliber football team. I see them within 70 seconds of winning that opening game which a lot was built up for. Then I see them coming back. But for bad luck or the ball bouncing the other way, the other team executing, it was a helluva football game against two teams.
Then to come back and play a James Madison team that’s obviously not very talented in a lot of ways, a very good football team, they’re five minutes away from pounding that ball right in there and making a play. Once again, they got a bad break with a fumble.
What are we talking about here? Then they come out against East Carolina, they have a new defensive scheme. Carolina is moving the ball around. They do what Virginia Tech does. It’s a 60-minute game. I don’t know what kind of funk they were in. They handled them pretty well.
I don’t break it down into a funk. I look at a real good football team that circumstances have’ led them to be 1-2.