Sept. 1, 2008
Tulsa, Oklahoma -
Todd Graham PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES:
We excited to get a road win and our first conference victory. I was real pleased with our guys and how they performed. We had a lot of young, inexperienced guys playing and it took them a while to settle down. I think they got themselves worked up and a little nervous in the first half. There are a lot of things to work on, but I think we really showed great signs, especially in the second half.
I'm really pleased with Dave Johnson. Dave did a tremendous job and played exactly like I thought he would. He did a great job of taking care of the football. That was the thing I was most excited about, how well we guarded the football. If we do that, we're going to score a lot of points.
I don't know if you look at it statistically, we only ran 63 plays on offense. They were trying to eat up the clock and once we got down to the last nine minutes, we were trying to eat up the clock. You take the amount of plays we played last year, upwards of 75-80 plays, we only have 63 plays and averaged almost 10 yards a play. It was a tremendous job offensively. Dave has a really great understanding of the system. I'm really pleased with him.
Tyler Holmes got his first start on the offensive line. I thought he did a great job. The offensive line is better. They're more physical and explosive. They were better than we were last year there. I think we're better everywhere. We have a chance to be a lot better offensive football team this year and that was a great first start for us. I was real impressed with Damaris Johnson. He did a great job and he's a talent on returns and running the reverse and catching some of the bubble passes there. We have a lot of weapons on offense. Charles Clay was extremely impressive. Tarrion Adams was extremely impressive. Jamad Williams was impressive. The running game was what I was most excited about and just have efficiently Dave ran the offense.
We talked a lot Saturday about the defense and being able to shut them out in the second half. I guess we didn't say a whole lot about the offense because we expect them to play extremely well. I'm very pleased offensively with where we're out and defensively, we came out and had a real bad penalty on the facemask call. You can't do stuff like that. I was going to be third and 15 and we give them a first down. Then we blew on assignment, a corner, on the option play and blew coverage to give them a touchdown.
We did a good job stopping the run. The only thing we had a problem with all day was the quarterback scramble. He had over 130 yards doing that. We shut them out in the second half.
A lot of those guys, like Zack Wallace, I was really pleased with. DeAundre Brown was all over the place in the first half and settled down. You forget that those guys are 18 years old. I was very pleased. Curnelius Arnick, I thought we missed a lot of tackles, but again those guys that are inexperienced, that's a part of it. But they got better as the day went on.
We played very well up front. Wilson Garrison was dominating, he and Terrel Nemons were very dominating inside. That's why they really struggled with any type of running game. I thought James Lockett, getting his first start at bandit safety, had an outstanding game. Kenny Sims, a veteran corner, played great in the back end. Josh Burris, I was real excited about Josh. Charles got a little banged up there and he came in and did a great job for us.
I was pleased with how we finished the game defensively. We gave up 17 points on defense. The kicking game, I was very impressed with our returns. Our kickoff returns were very impressive with Damaris Johnson. We did a great job blocking on that. I was very impressed with our punt returns. Trae missed one that he probably could have got a good return off of. He set up the score with another punt return. I was pleased with that. We only punted one time and did a pretty good job getting the ball down the field and reestablishing field position. One of the problems that we got here is we kick off 8-9 times a game. We did really well on all of our kickoffs except for two. I shouldn't coached a true freshman kicker. I asked him to kick the ball a little bit more to the left on this one and he kicks it out of bounds. Coach Blankenship said please coach, he gets real nervous when you say something to him. I was really proud of Jefferis. He did a great job. He did a great job kicking the ball down to the 5-yard line, which is much improved from last year.
We pinned them on the opening kickoff, but they drove 95 yards and scored. I was pleased with our coverage. It was really hot. We winded up have to substituting some guys and we did a poor job of covering on the one they ran back for a touchdown. We can't have that happen, and have to do a better job than that. I was disappointed with our kickoff cover. You can't allow those types of plays to happen to you and be successful down the line. Coach Blankenship and I were talking the other day and all the years that he's been coaching, when you get a punt blocked for a touchdown, he hadn't won a game. When you give up kickoff returns for touchdowns, those plays are devastating to you. We can't have that stuff happen.
The first half was reflective of kind of your first half. It reminded me a little bit of last year except we were a lot better. UAB was a lot better. That quarterback is a handful for people to tackle and a pretty good athlete. The Forrest kid at wide receiver, No. 7 who ran back the kick and caught the touchdown, is a great athlete and made some plays.
I'm pleased with the first outing. We have North Texas this week. It's another road game and we're going back to Dallas. I know they had a tough game against a very good Kansas State team. They'll be motivating. I know Coach Dodge very well and know Coach Leftwich on their staff. They have a good coaching staff that will get those guys ready to play. We have to go on the road. It's all about us competing against us and us getting better every single week. We have to go into this game with the same type of plan as last week. We have to take care of the ball on offense and not have any stupid penalties. If we take care of the ball, we're going to score. Our focus is us, and us getting better.
On defense, I was pleased with the back end. Our structure on the back end was really good. A lot of times, the quarterback was scrambling and running for yards because we had them covered. That is not what we did last year. I was pleased with how we improved on the back end there.
We're going to get tested this week with Coach Dodge's offense. They're going to throw the ball. We're going to have to do a good job of not giving up big plays. We have to be sound about what we're doing. Hopefully now those guys, the newcomers and the freshmen, kind of have settled in and know kind of how division I football is going to go and how fast it's going to be. They're ready to get ready to play.
The key for us is to get better every week. I think we got better last week. I was pleased and now we have to go and get step No. 2 this week.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE CHARACTER AND CONDITIONING OF YOUR TEAM?
You know I walked in at halftime and there's two factors that you forget when you're coaching. Young, inexperienced players get so jarred up that it's a nervous fatigue that happens. I think that's what happened to some of our guys. We were just all over the place in three positions on defense on the first two series. One person was playing zone and another was playing man.
I don't do a big pregame deal. It's staying focused. The games last for four hours. It's real important. There's no substitute for experience. The players were saying they were really nervous. I think those things, it was good to get that behind us and settled down. They understand what's expected. It's very different from high school to college and how the games roll and how they move. I walked into halftime and told (Shawn Griswold) that I was concerned. Maybe I was concerned because I was about to die. I was hot and it was muggy. I'm not in very good shape. Our kids, I felt like we were fatigued a little bit in the first half. I felt like we were sluggish at times. But we went in at halftime and he assured me the guys were in shape. We came out the second half and it seemed like in the second half that they disappeared and our guys kept going and going. I think our conditioning helped us out a bunch. It was extremely hot and humid. I thought our conditioning paid off.
The pace of our offense ... it felt like they just stopped being there. In the third quarter, they kind of went away a little bit. That's key for us. It's going to key for us and we conditioned yesterday. At 9 o'clock at night, we were conditioning. I think our kids embrace that. The character and discipline of this team ... it's not just the physical part, but the mental part of it. I was pleased with how the kids responded.
HOW DID DAVE JOHNSON PLAY COMPARED TO WHAT YOU EXPECTED?
Like I told the kids before the game, Dave Johnson is a veteran quarterback. He's not some rookie. He's been here four years. He played exactly what Gus (Malzahn) told me he would do. I think it was one of the better performances that's been around here. I thought he did a great job. I thought he executed the offense as well as it was executed last year. I thought he did really well, but I expected him to.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SCRAMBLE PLAY THAT David Johnson HAD TO Charles Clay?
I thought he did a great job. I like those plays like that. I told Gus that. We got tremendous football players. We have Tarrion Adams and Charles Clay and Jamad Williams. Jamad Williams is a really good tailback. Courtney Tennial, Trae Johnson, Brennan Marion. You don't notice Slick Shelley. There's Damaris Johnson. We have a lot of weapons. If you can move around back there and buy yourself some time, good things are going to happen. That play excited me. It's a play that I'm excited about and it's a play where he sees ... we've encouraged him when he feels the pocket break or the play starts to break down not to hunker down and take a sack. We want him to be a guy that expects to evade, expects to come clean. He was flawless in that.
Dave can run the football. He has to be a runner and a thrower in this offense. I thought Gus and Herb did a great job of adapting to what his skills are. The thing that I was the most impressed with in our offense and what I challenged them to do, was take care of the football differently than we did last year, and we took care of it differently than we did last year. I was impressed with that. I thought David Johnson played outstanding. If he'll play like that for 13 more games, we'll do some great things.
IS THE TWO-QUARTERBACK SYSTEM OVER?
I don't think so. Jacob Bower will play. He didn't play as much as we thought because he plays in certain plays. A.J. Whitmore played at quarterback. Jacob did play at quarterback. He went in and ran some plays. Jacob is very, very talented and we'll stand by that. Basically, nothing has really changed. We expected Dave Johnson to be the starting quarterback after the GMAC Bowl last year. That's kind of what we said. Until someone beats him out, he's the guy. No one's beat him out and he's responded really well. We've said Dave is going to be the starter and Jacob is going to play. He did play and he'll continue to play more.
We're also not going to put people in there just to put them in there. We're going to put them as the defense is giving us what they're going to give us. We have certain packages just like on defense. Tarrion and Charles play in certain packages on defense. Some games, they'll play more than others based on what the offense is doing to us. Jacob will still play. Jacob is too talented not to use. We will utilize Jacob Bower. He's still a big part of what we're doing. Nothing's changed with how we see things. Dave knows that we believe in him and he's our guy. But on the same hand, he knows we're going to be innovative about what we're doing.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT NORTH TEXAS?
(Casey) Fitzgerald is an extremely talented wide receiver. They are a spread team. They're different from us, but a spread team with 10 or 11 personnel. No tight ends. There's very little one tight-end sets. They're spread like you see Texas Tech do. They have an experienced offensive line back. Four of their five starters are back. They're going to be pretty simple in the run game with the inside zone and speed option type deal. They're going to throw the ball and will do a good job moving the ball around. They averaged over 400 yards a game last year. They faced a pretty good defense at Kansas State. They got behind early and had to change what they were doing. Coach Dodge is a very good football coach and a very good friend of mine. He's done a great job with them. They'll be extremely motivated. It's their home opener.
I'm sure it's a game that's been marked on their calendar. There's a familiarity with us, and Coach (Spencer) Leftwich being there. Our coaches know their coaches extremely well. There's not going to be any secrets there. If we take care of the football, we're going to be successful on offense. On defense, we have to be better and not give up big games. The kicking game is going to be big. They're going to come after every one of our punts. The key to that is not punt. I like not punting.
We have to continue to get better in the kicking game. We have to start fast, play from ahead. That's going to be the key for us. Coach Dodge does a great job. They have a good system going there and he's in the second year of trying to get that system going.
WITH THEM BEING SO SPREAD OUT, ARE THEY ANY MORE CONCERNS GOING INTO A GAME LIKE THIS?
I'm extremely confident with our secondary. I thought we did a great job last week. Charles Davis is a very experienced player back there. Roy Roberts is very good. The thing that's good about our secondary is that where we do have guys with great experience are at the key positions. Both of our cornerbacks are as good as any guys in our league. Kenny Sims played outstanding last week. Charles Davis isn't very big, but he's a great player. He has great experience. James Lockett is a guy that's been here a long time and he's played a lot for us. I thought he played great. DeAundre Brown is a young guy, but he's extremely talented.
I thought our structure was good and it was good to play a spread team to start. It helps a little bit. The thing that was so hard for us last week is that it's hard to practice against what (Joe Webb) was doing. He was pulling the ball down and running. I have a great deal of confidence in our guys. Our guys can cover. I thought our distribution in the secondary was really good. They did not have opportunities to throw the ball down the field a lot because we had great coverage. I'm very confident in our secondary.
DO YOU STAY IN A BASE DEFENSE WITH 5 DBS WHEN PLAYING A SPREAD TEAM OR DO YOU ADD A SIXTH MAN?
What was interesting is we actually ran a four-man front, a 4-3, this past week. We were in a 4-3 defense. We're going to play ... we're a multiple defense. We will play with as little as three defensive backs on the field in certain formations and as many as six. One of the things that is nice is we do have a system that's been in place for quite some time and now we're getting to where we have a defensive line that we have confidence in and we can play more of a four-man front. We played about half the snaps in a four-man front. We'll personnel by grouping and situation probably more than anything else.
We like putting speed on the field. That's why we like having those five defensive backs out there. We'll utilize all of our defensive packages out there.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT Zack Wallace's FIRST GAME?
Coach Patterson told me that he thought it was the best performance of any freshman linebacker that we've had here, which says something. He thought it was an outstanding performance. I thought Mike Bryan had one of the best performances as a linebacker. Mike was unbelievable. He was unbelievable in the kicking game and he was the player of the week as far as our defense. He played outstanding.
One of the things that's so encouraging is, he has some experience too. To see him get up on game time and step up and play well ... It's really helping Zack to have Mike there. Those two played extremely well and I thought Curnelius Arnick showed great signs. Zack Wallace is going to be a great player for us and will be in the same regards as the other linebackers. We've had great linebackers here. One of the most encouraging things in that game was the play of Mike Bryan.
CAN THIS BE A BETTER DEFENSIVE TEAM THAN LAST YEAR?
There's no question our defense is better than it was last year. That's my opinion. I think it is just different. I was pretty ... like the first year I was in West Virginia. When you put in the spread, no-huddle ... we played 107 snaps in one game, 90 snaps in another game. It's hard. I think we got conservative at times last year. We don't want to be rushing three people and stuff like that. We need to put pressure on the quarterback. We only had one sack, I think, this last week, but it isn't because we didn't pressure. We had a lot of people rushing. We had him running, but couldn't get him down.
I think our defense ... I like how they respond. They basically gave up 17 points. That's not a bad outing, especially against the athleticism they had. They made them earn it. What hurt us, and the reason why they scored. If you get a 15-yard penalty in a drive, it really hurts you. We got a 15-yard stupid facemask penalty that you can't do. Then we blow an assignment. All we have to do is take the pitch on the option and it's a negative option play. We have someone, with all the right intentions, trying to do someone else's job.
We're young. We're going to get better every week. That's why I think we're going to get a lot better. We have the best defensive line that we've ever had, period. It's not even close. You don't see them giving the ball to the tailback and him running through and us struggling to stop the run. I think we're going to have the ability to stop the run. If we can just control the pass and not give up big plays there ... It kind of reminded me a little bit of 2005 and how those guys were the same type of group. We're going to do a great job of coaching and challenging them every week.
You're going to be challenged in this league. We have great offensive football teams that we're going to play. Our kids, and Mike (Bryan) will tell you, our kids are in hog-heaven. Camp is miserable going against our offense. It's a hard offense to go against. The system that we run is designed ... everything I've hated to defend for the past 22 years, that's what we run on offense. In camp, we had to say, Gus, look, let's just run stuff straight at them. Let's not do all this. It's really hard for us to be able to get our young defense prepared going against that every day. I think our kids will continue to get better and better.
We can be No. 1 offense in the country, but if you don't play championship defense, you're not going to win Conference USA. I was pleased with the first outing. I think we'll have a chance. We're going to get tested this week with a wide-open offense. We're going to have to play extremely well.
WHAT'S YOUR THOUGHT ON THE CLOCK RULES?
The biggest thing, we went to our four-minute offense with nine minutes left in the game and ran over five minutes off the clock. When you run out of bounds, they wind the clock until you get to the last two minutes, which to me is a huge change in rules. If you run out of bounds and it's not the last two minutes of the game, then they spot the ball and wind the clock. You stand there and let 40 seconds run off. We went into our four-minute offense and ran the ball and ran about five minutes off the clock. If you're ahead in the game, it changes your strategy. If you're three scores up with 8-9 minutes left in the game, you have to start looking at that.
Our offensive guys don't like that, but that's what we're going to do. We're going to do what we have to do to win and make sure we're smart. That was a big difference. We go so fast ... there's 20-something seconds on the clock when we snap the ball most of the time. I think it hurts other teams. When we threw an incomplete pass down the field ... once it's incomplete, they start the 40-second spot. If you're up 2-3 scores from 9 minutes to 2 minutes, you can really be thinking.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT TARRION'S DEBUT ON DEFENSE?
Tarrion just brings it every week. I thought he had a great first day. He ran extremely hard and is an extremely physical runner. He's a leader on our team. He's a guy that, I think, is one of the best football players that we've had here at the University of Tulsa. He's an all-around football player. He runs down on kickoff cover, he's on punt. He's on almost every special team. He plays safety on third down. He'll play a nickel corner on third down and will play hawk safety in our dime coverage. He's an unbelievable warrior in how he approaches things. Our kids really respond to him. He learned a lesson the other night. I told him that he would probably need an IV, playing that many snaps.
He said, "Coach, I've never cramped." He cramped. We're getting our money's worth out of Tarrion Adams. I was pleased with how he played. He really ran the ball extremely hard. He's a great receiver out of the backfield and can do a lot of things.
What we're trying to do is utilize all of our people the best that we can. I like the fact that our best players are selfless. I like the character of this team. They want to play special teams and help us anyway that they can help us. We're going on our second year and I've never heard anyone complain about how many times they get the ball. Charles Clay touched it nine times and had an outstanding game. He had a touchdown pass and sacked the quarterback. That's fun and exciting football.
We have a good bunch. I really feel good about this group of kids. If they challenge themselves to not settle in to how we've done it in the past and set a different standard, we have a chance to be good.