Houston v. SMU Postgame Quotes

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    Nov. 29, 2013

    Recap |  Final Stats |  Notes |  USATSI Gallery 

    HOUSTON HEAD COACH Tony Levine

    Opening Statement
    “Hard to believe it’s already after Thanksgiving and the regular season has come to an end for us. Firstly, what I want to do is something I talked about at the beginning of my last press conference after last week’s game and again recognize our fans, our alumni, our students. This has been a challenging year with not having a true home stadium. I can’t thank them enough from our student-athletes, our staff and our coaches for the support they’ve given us this season. They’ve given us another great crowd out here today on a weekday game at 11 a.m. and that makes a difference. I mentioned this a few weeks ago that our student-athletes have enjoyed going on the road in hostile environments and sell-out crowds, but they most look forward to being here in Houston. Just a thank you to the fans and alumni and students that have come to watch us play over the course of this season.

    I’m proud of our student athletes. We had a little bit of a short week obviously with the game being on a Friday and I thought their preparation and focus was outstanding and another great team win. Certainly we played well defensively, I was just told it was the first conference shut out by our program since 1989. That’s a credit to our defensive young men and certainly Coach Gibbs, Coach Logo, Coach Hargreaves and Coach Spavital and our defensive staff. Offensively we made some plays, I don’t know if I’d say we established the run but we were better today running the football and we got some big plays out of our run game, specifically the touchdown by Ryan Jackson after we’d been backed up after a couple of penalties. We made some plays down the field as well. You look at a young man like Greg Ward and a few weeks ago he didn’t play against Central Florida. He’s played quarterback but we started ‘repping’ him at receiver. The young man goes out there today and plays some quarterback, plays some receiver, catches five passes, catches a touchdown and then also goes out and was a punt returner today.

    What I just told the young men in the locker room is I’ve been doing this now 18 years, and this is the best team I’ve ever been a part of. It’s offense, defense, special teams, getting along and seniors and freshman getting along, it’s young men from Houston and young men from out of state, it’s the most family-like team I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve said this before, talking about our leadership from within, but when you’ve got that and the egos are down and everybody’s doing their job for the common cause, you’ve got a chance to have a fun season. I think we’ll look back at some fun games, some we’ve won, some we didn’t, but I’m really proud of our student-athletes. The work, the focus they’ve put in over the course of this regular season, and I thought they did a nice job with the transition from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference.”

    On SMU only getting to the red zone once in the game and what the defense did to take away opportunities
    “What the defense did today in my opinion, and can certainly speak for our coaching staff, is what they’ve done to me in the other 11 opportunities. I just had a couple coaches for SMU come over and say ‘man, your guys play hard.’ You expect that a little bit, fans would expect that but quite often you put on video or watch games that are televised and say this team plays harder than that team for whatever reason. That’s been a common theme for our entire team this season and specifically defensively. Our guys have been flying around, they’ve been taking a lot of pride in playing good defense. The turnovers, that’s a habit and second nature for our young men, and something they’re taking pride in. The tackling this year has been outstanding. It’s a combination of a number of things. We didn’t prepare differently this week than we had the other 11 opportunities defensively. Everything I just mentioned is what I’ve seen the whole season from our defense. You get a result of a shutout today with that kind of effort.” 

    On the wait for the bowl and finishing the season strong
    “Ending the regular season the way we did today is extremely important. A couple of things, just looking at the grand scheme of things, the big picture if you will of these 12 regular season games, certainly we started fast, which is not a favorite phrase of mine, but when you look at how many games we won early, we started off 5-0 and then went to 5-1 with the close loss to BYU, then we came back and won the next two which I believe were Rutgers and South Florida to get us to 7-1, and then we have three very close losses the last three weeks. To end with the win and not end the season with four consecutive losses was important. Our motto each week and the message we send to our student athletes is about being 1-0 at the end of every week. Now that the regular season is over, it’s 8-4, that does sound better than 7-5. This was an important week. Going into December, and I just mentioned this on the radio, December might be the busiest month of the year for the program, it’s exciting. We talked about this as a staff, we’ve got the entire month of practices planned, we’ve got all our recruiting planned, all of our visits, we’re going to have young men coming to campus, our student athletes start finals next week so we’re going to be working the young guys, but we have our practices set, we’re going to be on the road as coaches for the next two weeks. I’m going to be on the road on Sunday. It’s going to be a hectic time but a fun time for our program. It’ll be an opportunity for our program to get better. The win today gives you some momentum going into whatever bowl game we are invited to. Our schedule is set for December pending what invitation we get for a bowl game.”

    On the mentality that Coach Gibbs brought in with him
    “When Coach Gibbs and I met almost a year ago - obviously he’s a defensive guy, I’m a offensive/special teams guy by trade and my background I’ve coached defense when I was at Louisville but my background is more offensive and special teams - our philosophy was almost the exact same. That is to simplify and what’s interesting about Coach Gibbs, I think you know me I’m candid and honest to a fault, his most recent job was with the Houston Texans two years prior. Again, he didn’t sit on his couch and watch television for two straight years. He went out and studied, came over to our place, he’d watch us practice, sit in our coaches meetings occasionally and visited other programs knowing he was going to be getting another opportunity again at some point, and obviously wanting to be ready when the opportunity presented itself. Talking about simplifying what you do defensively and allowing your guys to make sure they know what to do, then they are able to play fast. I’ve used the word aggressive because I wanted to make sure what I at least said publicly when Coach Gibbs and I talked almost a year ago, I want to simplify but I want to be aggressive and we’re both outside the box thinkers. We do some things schematically that you don’t see very much right now in college football. It’s a little bit different, when you go over the course of the week and a team has six days to prepare for our offense, which is a little but unique, especially in the American Athletic Conference, then you put our defense on video and it’s ‘wow they’re doing some things we really haven’t seen a whole lot this year. They’ve got some different personnel groups.’ When you talk about our rush-end Eric Eiland and Tyus Bowser, Trevor Harris that can stand up at end, rush or drop or go play linebacker inside, we’ve got some creativity and some uniqueness that pose people problems. Simplifying our defensive package allows us more time to work on tackling, to work on the fundamentals, to work on creating turnovers, and you’ve seen the great combination this season of everything I just talked about. We’ve simplified, we’ve stressed techniques and fundamentals, and the results to me have been very evident.”

    On defensive line pressuring the QB Neal Burcham
    “We talk about the turnovers we’ve created and the interceptions. Our defensive line getting to SMU’s quarterback was huge. Again, at times we did a nice job stopping the run, especially in early downs. Getting them in second and long and obviously getting them back to throwing the football. I thought our defensive line did a good job getting in the passing lanes to try to limit his vision. Again, it’s fun. We’ve been playing nine defensive linemen. (DE) Cameron Malveaux did not play today, but the other eight guys rotated in. They were giving great effort and they had great energy. As a defensive linemen, when you’re playing a team that throws it as much as SMU does, you certainly look forward to that game as well, but they did a nice job.”

    On (WR) Deontay Greenberry’s injury
    “He got a lower leg injury in the game last week against Cincinnati. I expect him to be back before the bowl game.” 

    On Greg Ward getting in on punt returns
    “Again, I go back to really a year ago at this time, going to East Texas and watching him play in a basketball game, both him and (DE) Tyus Bowser. Certainly, he’s got great ball skills. About three or four weeks ago after practice one day I said, ‘Hey, just come over here. Do you think you can catch a punt?’ If you can catch Richie Leone’s punt, you can catch anybody’s punt. It was kind of like it was at receiver. After about two plays at receiver we were like, ‘OK. He can play receiver.’ After catching two or three punts we said ‘Alright, he’s a natural.’ Again, as a coach, it’s unfair to student-athletes, to say ‘Alright, you’re out there,’ so it’s been something we’ve been working on for the last four weeks or so and we wanted to make sure his confidence was there. Not putting too much on his plate with quarterback, receiver, and then going to all the special teams meetings and sitting in on punt return meetings. I said it the last couple weeks; we have to be creative in how we get the football in his hands. You’re going to see his role continue to expand.” 

    On Greg Ward at the receiver position
    “Greg is such a great young man first and foremost. He’s a tremendous athlete, obviously. A lot of this stuff comes so natural to him. He and I met in my office, we talked about it back in August. Initially, when we recruited him, it was to play corner and I’m sure he could play corner at this level. He’s just so gifted with that athletic ability. He’s a competitor. I haven’t seen fear in him in terms of being out there. There’s older guys, there’s faster guys, there’s bigger guys and he just wants the football and wants to play and do whatever he can to help us be successful. Again, that combination of a young man is what you’re looking for, what you hope you get when you’re talking to young men in high school. He’s got all those qualities, those intangibles of certainly being very, very successful at whatever he decided we end up doing if that makes sense.”

    On 67-yard touchdown pass as first offensive play of the game
    “That was a great play. It gave our offense confidence, the long throw to (WR) Daniel Spencer on the first play of our offensive series today. It was a big, this is going to be a silly statement, a big play for momentum in this game. Not only to give our offense confidence, it gave our sideline confidence. Again, our message each week has been consistent and our student-athletes have responded, but at the end of the day, we also lost our last three games, so to come out, SMU won the toss, they took the ball, our defense makes the stop, we get it back, we run one play, and rub seven to zero. That was huge for everybody on our sideline. It created great energy in the stadium and it was a much bigger play as you asked than just seven points on the scoreboard.”

    On pre-game plan to rattle the quarterback
    “The game plan wasn’t necessarily to rattle the quarterback early. I’ve said this before too, that’s why I don’t like saying 'fast start because it’s a three and a half hour game. We’ve been in games this year where we’ve gotten off to the quote, unquote slow start, we come out and win. We’ve had games where we’ve gotten off to a quote, unquote fast start, and the other team comes back. We keep great poise on the sidelines. We didn’t know for sure who was going to play at quarterback for them, so our game plan going in was preparing really for their scheme offensively. They’re up-tempo, they certainly like to throw the ball around the field and really defending their offense, regardless of quarterback today for SMU, our calls would’ve been the same, our game planning would’ve been the same.” 

    SENIOR DEFENSIVE BACK Zachary McMillian

    On the defensive line applying pressure
    “They’ve been doing an awesome job all year long as far as applying pressure and making the quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket. Today wasn’t any different. Guy’s like Joey Mbu, Eric Eiland and Tomme Mark on the edge do a wonderful job. It makes our job in the secondary a lot easier.”

    On what it means to get a shutout
    “Even when you’re playing peewee football everybody gets excited about that goose egg. We’re all really trying to take pride in that. We sub in a lot of people. Each and every person who stepped on the field took pride in keeping them from scoring the whole game.”

    On playing well on senior day
    “We all discussed making sure that everybody understood that even as a freshman or a junior, two years from now or three years from now you’re going to be in the same place that those seniors are in. From the seniors perspective we just wanted to play hard, and let them know that’s the way you’re supposed to go out.”

    On keeping them from having any chances to score on offense
    “Coach (David) Gibbs does a wonderful job putting us in the proper positions to make those plays. When you have a great kicker like Richie Leone who can pin folks every time he gets on the field, it makes our job a lot easier. It makes it a lot easier when everybody is playing as a team, and we did that today.”

    On being bowl eligible
    “That goes to what we started on at the beginning of the year with ‘Something to Prove’. We wanted to make sure we maintained that chip on our shoulder throughout the whole year. We didn’t want to go back to having the same year we had last year. A lot of the young guys bought into it, and we all took it personally that we didn’t avert back to doing what we did last year.”

    On what scoring early did to the defensive mentality
    “Guy’s like Derrick Matthews and people who head hunt like some of the guys on our team, they take it as an opportunity to make plays no matter how many times we’re out there. It gives them an opportunity to make plays. It’s always good to have the offense score, but it didn’t matter if our offense didn’t score any points, we wanted (SMU) to not score at all. That’s what we had our mindset out to do.”

    On if last year’s game was motivation
    “It was in the back of the majority of people’s minds that played in that game. It’s hard to recover from something like that. When you have guys who appreciate the seniors and buying into what we did, it didn’t matter that we lost. It was a new year, and we were just worried about being 1-0 this week, and that’s what we are."

     

    SOPHOMORE DEFENSIVE END Eric Eiland

    On being brought down at the one yard line
    “(Jokingly) Yeah everybody thinks I’m slow now. That’s all right. I was just glad to make a play on it.” 

    On being able to get pressure on the quarterback
    “I give credit to our defensive line coach, Coach (Ricky) Logo, for getting us prepared to play against everyone we play against. It has brought us success this year.”

    On the mindset of going against a freshman quarterback
    “We wanted to get after him and get him uncomfortable. That’s exactly what we did.”

    On what the shutout means
    “That meant a lot, because we haven’t had one the whole year. We wanted to end on a good note. Coach (David) Gibbs told us everybody remembers the last thing you did, so we just wanted to end on a good note.” 

    On if the shutout shows how far the defense has come
    “We just wanted to finish strong and earn the respect of everybody.” 

     

    JUNIOR WIDE RECEIVER Daniel Spencer

    On the versatility of freshman Greg Ward, Jr.
    “He’s a great athlete so you can put him anywhere. He can throw the ball, catch the ball and punt return. Hats off to him, because he is a great athlete. He’s one of the best that we have." 

    On if the first play jump-started the offense
    “That helps us so much whenever we have an explosive play like that. It fire started us. It’s good to have those.”

    On if the way the defense was playing gave the offense an easier mindset
    “Definitely. You don’t stress as much to where you think you have to score every drive. They had the goose egg, so all we had to do was put up three points to win the game. We were really laid back and not worrying about the score. They've been playing great all year for us.”

    On the play of the defense this year
    “They have come a long way. We used to have to say defense get us the ball, and we’ll score. We used to have to outscore everybody, but now they’re playing great team defense all the way around. They’re a huge improvement. They’re great out there." 

    On what this season means
    “Last year we knew we weren’t going to a bowl game. We came out hot this year and won eight games. That’s a great season. We’re happy about a bowl game.”

     

    SMU FRESHMAN QUARTERBACK NEAL BURCHAM

    On his first outing
    “Not good, a lot of things to work on. I’m always very critical of myself, and I have to do better.”

    On what to work on after his first start
    “Well we’ll take a look at the film, and analyze it. The first thing that jumps out to me is decision making. Just making simple throws, and making a smart throw rather than try to do something you’re not supposed to. Just be smart with the football.”

    On nerves before the game
    “Not really, I was pretty calm before the game; ready to go. I was anxious to get out there, and get it going. Not a lot of nerves, just anxious. It was mental things that kept us from winning the ball game today. Things we can improve on.”

    On the speed of the game being too fast
    “Not really, you know, we do it in practice so it wasn’t too bad.”

    On the help of QB Garret Gilbert on the sidelines
    “He was telling me what they were doing, and what looks they were giving me. We were talking through each play, about where my eyes went and where they should have been. Just walking through each play, and trying to stay positive. He was great having him help me out there.”

    On the play of Kevin Pope running the ball
    “Kevin looked great, he looked great running the football. He is a natural runner, and did a great job of finding the hole. He keeps his feet moving, and runs hard. He’s a natural running back the way he runs the ball. He did a great job for us today.”

     

    SMU LINEBACKER/RUNNING BACK KEVIN POPE

    On playing both sides of the ball today
    “It was a lot of fun. I would’ve like to win, but it didn’t turn out that way for us today. I was a little fatigued but I pushed through it.”

    On if your play on offense affected your play on defense
    “It really didn’t effect it. Coach (Tom) Mason limited my reps on defense, which I told him I was good to play on both. He limited my reps so it didn’t affect me.”

    On losing this game facing a must win next week
    “It’s a real tough situation for us, but as Coach (June) Jones put it we were in the same situation last year. Nobody gave us a chance, and we were playing for a conference championship. We’re looking to have a repeat of last year.”

    On losing 34-0
     “We just didn’t execute on both sides of the ball. We’ll go back to the drawing board, and get it together. We’ll come together as a team, keep our heads up, and we’ll be fine.”


     

     

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