"Thank you everyone for being here. I'll start off talking about the game last Saturday (Oct. 6 vs UTSA). I thought we played well enough to win in two-out-of-three phases. We turned the ball over four times on offense, and there are not many teams in America that can turn the ball over four times and win a game. Offensively, it was definitely the worst performance we've had. I tried a lot of things in the game to jump-start that unit.
The bright spots in the game were the defense and special teams. The defensive performance was dominant. It was very good. They essentially gave up just three points that were not created off (Rice) turnovers deep in our own territory. They limited a Conference USA team to 48 yards passing, which is the least production a C-USA team has had since Rice joined the conference. It was the fewest total yards allowed by a Rice defense in a game since 2013 (vs. Tulane). So again, we made some positive steps in that area.
Special teams-wise it was consistently good play… consistently game-changing plays with the fake punt that had a chance to turn the tide. Converting that play should have been a bigger deal. We should have got seven points out of that drive. Look at what (Sr. kicker) Jack Fox
did. Just looking at the numbers, he had two punts that went 50+. Four of his six punts were downed inside the 20, and three were inside the 10. He now has ten punts down inside the 10-yard line, and on top of that he's 1-for-1 passing! The guy's doing everything. All the national accolades and all the lists he's up for, are earned. Jack has been stellar for us.
Those are the positives coming out of that game. I thought our defense really did take a big step forward, and for us it starts at the corner spots. When they are able to lock those people down, the corners and the safeties like they did, everything kind of works in this defense. That frees up coach (Brian
to call a lot of things, so you saw us run some different patterns, load the box to stop the run, and do all the things you want to do when you can make (the opponent) one-dimensional. Again, that started on the edges for us the other night. I felt like we made progress on defense, that we played a four-quarter game. We did it on defense, we need to do it on offense.
Looking ahead to UAB, they've got a great football team. I think what Bill Clark has done in resurrecting that program three years ago is phenomenal… nothing short of phenomenal. I've known Bill for years. He offered me a job when I was coming out as G.A. in 2001. We've got a long relationship. I think he's an unbelievable football coach. When I look at how his team is playing right now, they are really doing a good job of imposing their will up front offensively – running the ball really, really, well. Defensively, they are playing like their hair is on fire! They are No. 11 in America (in total defense) right between Utah and TCU. They have long, big, athletic, defensive linemen. They play the game angry, and they are having fun playing the game right now. They present a very big challenge for our football team right now, but the biggest thing we are going to have to do is worry about us. We have to get ourselves right before we can worry about anybody else. Those are the steps we're trying to take this week in practice."
What about UAB concerns you the most?
"The combination of their size and experience is very concerning. UAB has 27 seniors in their two-deep roster right now. They are big guys with good experience. They are a great challenge for our guys up front."
What did you take away going back and watching Rice's offensive film vs. UTSA?
"I not only went through the film, what I ended up doing was going back and also re-watching games 1, 2, and 3 - when we moved the ball a lot better - to see what concepts worked better in those games. It turns out we just need to come off the football, explode off the line of scrimmage, and do the techniques like we are able to do through the week. That's what we did in those early games. We have to play this game at the tempo that is demanded. We just have to come off the line, and be able to throw and catch. It's pretty simplistic, but that is what is making us inconsistent on offense right now and we have to get it fixed."
What is your approach to improving the consistency within a week's worth of practices?
"We have been practicing better the past two weeks, I am certain about that. We practiced better, but I did not see it carry over to Saturday and it was the most frustrating thing. What is different? We were our own worst enemy in the UTSA game and we didn't need to be. We have some guys on offense who are doing their job on a consistent basis, (Sr. RB) Austin Walter
for example. It's that simple: do your job on Saturday like you have been doing in practice all week. There's not a magic button to push or magic play, but we're going to take a hard-hat approach and keep working."
You mentioned Austin Walter, can you elaborate on him specifically?
"Not only has Austin been so consistent, he's been helping us by playing so many roles for our football team. Everyone wants to talk about the returns, which have been great, but what he's done as a running back on offense has been exceptional. He's been a receiver, who had an amazing catch Saturday. He's been our 'explosive' guy. He's been the guy creating explosive plays even when our blocks are not executed perfectly. Remember Walter Payton use to say, 'give me 18-inches of daylight,' and I feel like that's all we need for Austin right now. If we get that for him he'll do something special. Running back, receiver and kick return… and he's even on our punt-block unit. He's unselfishly serving a lot of roles, and doing so at a very high level."
How has the team's chemistry and emotion been in the locker room, outside of what people can see?
"What I saw was Zach Abercrumbia
stepping-up, the right way, saying 'hey we have to get this fixed.' Another guy, Brandon Douglas-Dotson
, speaking from the heart about how much his teammates and the season means to him. It was very positive Saturday, and I think it has been positive this whole time. We have some older guys who are saying the right things and leading with their play. We have some younger guys, seven true freshmen who are playing a lot right now. Their voices are going to be heard before too long. You feel for the older players who want to win right now. I want to win right now."