Houston Football Weekly Press Conference Quotes - USF

Oct. 29, 2013

Houston Head Coach Tony Levine 

Opening Statement
“As we have in the past, I’ll start off with our players of the game. Offensively, from this last game, we had co-players of the game: wide receiver Deontay Greenberry and quarterback John O’Korn. Defensive player of the game, who was also honored as conference player of the week, safety Trevon Stewart. On special teams, our player of the game was linebacker Adrian Bennett. Scout players of the week on offense, wide receiver Kelechi Ejekam, on defense, defensive back Lee Hightower, and on special teams, receiver Derek McLemore.

“Again just to talk briefly about last week, another great team win for our program. I’m proud of our student-athletes and proud of our staff and coaches. Going up into a great atmosphere, homecoming for Rutgers, a sell-out crowd, I’m very pleased with the way our student-athletes executed the game plan. What we’ve talked about all season at length, turnovers, were ultimately the difference in the game, us getting the six and on offense and special teams not turning it over.

“This is an interesting week being that it’s a very short one. One thing we did last week as a staff, and what we’ve done all year with the uniqueness of this quick turnaround, we did not look past Rutgers at all. When we got on the airplane and took off, heard that it was OK to use our electronic devices after we were about 10,000 feet, you would have seen our video coordinator pass out 10 laptop computers and the assistant coaches and myself started watching South Florida. We really began game planning above the clouds headed back to Houston Saturday evening. Thursday night will be here before we know it. 

“I think everyone knows all of the events planned and things to do at our game with Thursday night being Halloween. For families to come and bring their children, certainly a lot of things they’ll be able to do in terms of the game being on that night. I see some of you have dressed up in costumes for this press conference as well so I certainly appreciate that.

“This will be a big challenge. South Florida is extremely well coached. They’re extremely athletic, they’re very talented, they’re going to a freshman quarterback for us Thursday night so we’ll have two freshmen quarterbacks playing, both coming out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from last season. It’ll be a great challenge for us. They’re a team who when you put the video on, they fly around in all three phases. They’re extremely well coached in the kicking game, they’ve got a very talented defensive line. They’ve got dynamic skill players on offense. We’ll continue to focus on us, on Houston, first and foremost as we have all season. We’ve got a short practice this afternoon, tomorrow we go to the hotel and Thursday will be here before we know it.” 

On if the coaching staff installed a simpler game plan because of the short week
“What we talked about as a staff late last week was for this game wanting to get two things done for our student athletes going into this Thursday night game. One is to be as fresh as possible, and I feel like we have been all season. We are a fast team but you can be beat up or tired with as fast as (we) are and that may not be the case anymore. We’re fresh and we can continue to use our speed to our advantage. I want to make sure our young men on Thursday night know what they are doing. On the shortened week and given the fact that we did not start our preparation during this season until Saturday afternoon (for USF), we’re not going to come out in the wishbone and run the triple option offensively Thursday night. We’re going to continue to do what we do make sure our guys know the game plan and are comfortable with it. We did not practice on Sunday, so yesterday we had a two-hour practice, today we have a one-hour practice with just helmets and tomorrow is a walk through. Anything we felt like coming out of yesterday’s practice that was new, what we call installation, that our young men are not comfortable with, particularly our quarterbacks, we will eliminate from the game plan Thursday.” 

On keeping the team focused this week
“It’s a good question. I’ve said this before that’s our job as coaches to make sure there’s never any let down, that we get our young men ready to play and that they play at their highest level each week. Our guys are very competitive and hungry. We haven’t looked backed, win or lose, we have not looked back once the game is over. Regardless of who we’re playing, we haven’t looked beyond our next opponent and that’s been consistent throughout this whole season. Nothing is going to change in that approach this week. Immediately after the Rutgers game, we had a press conference in New Jersey. I was asked a number of questions about different opponents we’re playing later on and what this would mean, what that would mean and speculation on this. Then we had four or five of our student-athletes follow me up to the podium and take questions and they took really very similar questions. To a man, their response was ‘We’re now focused on South Florida.’ It may sound like a cliché, it may sound like that was nice of them to say, but I know they are really looking forward. We had a team meeting in here on Sunday night and that’s the first thing we talked about, our opponent Thursday night with South Florida. I told them ‘Don’t look at the schedule, don’t look beyond it, don’t think about anything else other than South Florida.” 

On a change in college offensive style to start freshman quarterbacks 
“I would say not necessarily. Again I’m just giving you my opinion, but I think it varies by program, maybe stage of a program. It certainly varies on who you have at that position. We came into this season with a young man in David Piland who had started 18 games for us at quarterback and things changed rather quickly early on this season, and we were forced to play the two true freshmen that we are. It’s different by program. There’s just a small handful of schools this year that are starting true freshmen quarterbacks. As you look at the different schools and the situations they are in, one comes to mind where their returning projected started was banged up and injured and a true freshman ended up earning the starting position. It just varies by program. I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s a trend of schools playing true freshmen quarterbacks. I do feel like the few schools that are playing those young men right now, they are having success whether their program is having success or the individual true freshman quarterback is or both. You are seeing that a little bit, but I’m not studying the 125 programs, I don’t have time, but I wouldn’t say there’s more than seven or eight that are starting a true freshman quarterback this season.” 

On quarterback John O’Korn’s development throughout this season
“John is doing a great job. Both he and Greg Ward are doing a great job. I’ve said this a number of times that they’re not getting better on a weekly basis, they’re getting better on a daily basis. When you talk about statistics, he’s thrown for this many touchdowns, certainly we do some things different offensively than other programs, some may huddle, some may run the ball more, but I like their development at this stage. I don’t want to talk out of both sides of my mouth, but as I just talked about freshmen quarterbacks, if you asked every coach in the country what would you like to do with a freshman quarterback, I would think that you would get a 100 percent answer to redshirt him. We had a pretty special one a few years ago in Case Keenum, when he was the same age as John O’Korn and Greg Ward, he was on the scout team as a redshirt. They both have tremendous poise, which I talk about at length, they make great decisions in terms of changing the play, running the play that’s been called, where they are going with the football, who they are handing it off to or if they’re keeping it and running themselves, having excellent ball security, so I like their development. When you talk about this season’s schedule in terms of where the bye weeks fell, looking back now and having those two open weeks, after we unfortunately lost David for the season, helped continue the development of both Greg and John.” 

On Coach Doug Meacham putting together the pieces with the offense
“Certainly Coach Meacham and our offensive staff have done a great job. When you look at starting a true freshman quarterback and playing another true freshman quarterback in significant playing time and you look across the board and see Ryan Jackson who is a sophomore, (Kenneth) Farrow is a sophomore, Deontay (Greenberry) is a sophomore, Daniel Spencer is a true junior, and all of a sudden we look up and we lose Larry McDuffey and you put Aaron Johnson in there. He hasn’t played much, but he’s been in our program playing as much as he ever has this season and doing a nice job. You also have Demarcus Ayers over there. Both Demarcus and Aaron had receiving touchdowns against Rutgers. Xavier Maxwell, it’s his second year in our program, is playing well. They’ve done a great job. Your offensive line now, you’re finally seeing stability in terms of continuity based on injuries. To be able to start those same five guys a few weeks in a row has helped. We saw improvement among our front offensively against Rutgers. Our staff has done a great job. This, going back to asking about Coach Meacham and our offensive staff, when you have a young man, and David Piland who had started 18 games going into the season, he’s been in the program for four years, and you lose him, and you have to put in two 18-year-olds that have been here, at the time, for three months. I said this a while back, those two freshmen quarterbacks don’t know everything that David Piland knows, or certainly a Case Keenum as a sixth-year starter. You have to teach your offense and have them be as comfortable as they can be and coach to their success. Our offensive staff, given the circumstances and how our guys have performed, is doing a great job.”

On WR Larry McDuffey’s status
“Larry will be out for Thursday night’s game.”

On RB Ryan Jackson’s status
“I’ll know more today. He is still day-to-day. We’ll hear a final decision on him by tomorrow.”

On where the UH Football program is and how it is moving forward
“Well, it says a lot about our program when you turn on the television Sunday and watch the National Football League and see a bunch of ex-University of Houston student-athletes starting at that level. When you go out and talk to young men in high schools and junior colleges, certainly they want to get to the division one level, have a scholarship, play and earn their degree. The long-term goal for the vast majority is to have a shot to play in the National Football League. We sell in recruiting, if you will, a number of things about our program, but it brings that type of credibility to our program that anything you want to achieve you can achieve academically, socially, spiritually and then certainly our athletic goals here at the University of Houston. A young man in the class we’re recruiting right now, the graduating class of 2014, he cannot look me in the eye and tell me ‘Well, coach, another program will give me a better opportunity for exposure to the NFL,’ because my response would be ‘Well, we just got the 12th pick of the last NFL draft.’ Young men know that, so we’re not hearing that. We may have when we first got here six years ago a little bit, but the names you bring up Sebastian Vollmer, Donnie Avery, Jackie Battle, Case Keenum, DJ Hayden. They’re all throughout the league.”

On moving Deontay Greenberry to the inside and his touchdowns at Rutgers
“We call that play ‘Throw Deontay the ball.’ We executed the play well. It is kind of a combination of two things. I did talk about, in the offseason, the move from him being an outside receiver as a true freshman to the inside receiver position with the match-ups. The second thing is this; when you look at a true freshman playing, very quickly, not only your fans, but your coaches can forget that the transition from high school to a division one college football, the speed of game, the intensity, everything increases so much in a short amount of time. When you look at these young men, we were actually talking about it yesterday at practice, the true freshman that we’re playing right now and the true freshman that we’re redshirting, how much different they’ll be a year from now, as excited as we are about them, having gone through a winter strength conditioning program, spring practice, a second summer in our program, if you will. A year ago, I had people, not crowds of people, but I had four or five people that I can recall vividly saying ‘I thought this guy was a five-star receiver and he’s only caught three touchdowns on the whole season.’ Yeah, and he went to prom three months ago. He just got here, he’s 18 years old. What you’re seeing now is the development of a student-athlete and the hard work that Deontay has put in those areas. He gained 15 pounds in the offseason since he was a true freshman. He understands our offense better. I came up here a month ago and he had one of his better games statistically and he was not our player of the week. I came up here the next week and said now he is our player of the week because now he’s blocking better when he doesn’t get the football. He’s just made himself a much more complete, dominant player and he’s another young man that I talk about a freshman becoming a sophomore. We’re certainly focused on our game in two days, it’ll be fun to see how much better Deontay is a year from now as a junior.”

On second-half performances this year
“I start off with the adjustments that Coach Gibbs and our defensive staff has been making. Rutgers had extra time in the bye week, in the mid-week game against Louisville, to prepare. They were having success early in the game, specifically with their running game. Even then, we didn’t wait until halftime to make adjustments. We made some adjustments in the first half on the sideline, certainly slowed those plays down and then we were able to regroup and huddle as coaches in the locker room at halftime. Coach Gibbs and his staff huddled, the offensive staff huddled, then it takes about seven=to=eight minutes and made a presentation to our student athletes: Here’s what they are doing, here’s what we’re doing wrong, here’s some calls we’re going to make to this formation, here’s some things we have to tweak and then we come out and we execute that. We’re not doing any magic in the locker room at halftime. We’re making adjustments and the kids are coming out at halftime and executing what the coaches have told them.”

On DB Turon Walker’s game against Rutgers
“Turon Walker is a junior college transfer. He got here mid-semester, got here in January. He went through spring ball and is a young man who has played a little bit more every week. We talked about as a staff, we have to get him more involved, get him more reps. We did this past week. Thomas Bates did not play in this game. He suffered an ankle injury in practice last week so he did not play in this last game and because of that reason Turon played even more. We have played him about 25-30 snaps a game the last two or three games. He played much more this game and had two big-time interceptions for us. Turon will continue to play and Thomas will come back and play as well. We’re doing a good job defensively, specifically along our defensive line and at corner of playing at least two-deep in keeping guys fresh and healthy.”

On the team playing so well against Rutgers
“That’s just a true testament to how hard we work in practice. We’re going to practice how we play. We worked extremely hard in practice that week, and we’re just glad to go out and get that victory.”

On his thoughts on playing a Thursday game
“It’s a quick turnaround. For the older guys it’s kind of hard to bounce back during that short week. Usually you have that time to recover. We’re going to be excited to play. We have the new uniforms, and it’s awesome to be playing on Halloween. Usually you’re out doing something else so we have something to look forward to.”

On the new Halloween uniforms
“I don’t know if he (Coach Levine) told you the full story, but he brought in some practice jerseys and we told him ‘Coach we don’t know about that one. We don’t want it.’ When he actually brought out the real ones we were really excited. They’re real cool, and I’ve never worn black before, and I like the colors. We’re going to look good in them.”

On how to prepare for a midweek game
“We have to get up here and watch more film. Usually your film study is spread out over the period of a week and now it’s a couple of days. We have to get up here and watch a lot more film. Maybe two times a day or three times a day. Also, with your body; I think our strength and conditioning program does a real good job. They do a good job of returning our legs back underneath us. You have to have the mental mindset that this is football, and this is what we came here to do and it’s our job, so we better go out and perform.”

On the mindset of playing a game during a short week
“All year long we’ve just been trying to be 1-0 each week. You try to maintain that each week and it allows you to just focus on the here and now and that moment. After coming off a win we tried to put it behind us and worry about being 1-0 this week.”

On how good it is to see Case Keenum getting to play for the Texans
“You should see us on Sunday. We actually have to be up here for practice on Sundays, so everybody in the locker room is crowded around one couch to watch him go out there and play. It’s an awesome feeling especially since I was able to play with him and know what kind of a good guy he is. It’s a true testament that good things happen to good people.”

On the play of quarterback John O’Korn
“He’s gone out there, and he’s gotten out of sacks and ran around in the backfield and hit open receivers down the field. You can’t ask him to do any more than what he’s doing right now. Things are going good for him and the team.”

On the mindset of the team heading into the USF game
“Just to go out there and have something to prove. We went out to Rutgers, and we did that. It doesn’t change for us who is lining up against us. We know what we have to do. We’re going to go out there every week and try to put up as many points as we can.”

On giving poll voters something to look at on national TV after receiving votes prior to the BYU game
“We’re going to go out there and handle business. Whenever that happens, it’s going to happen, but we’re just worried about USF right now.”

On preparation during a short week
“It’s more mental. We lose two days. We go to the hotel tomorrow, so guys have to get in and watch more film. You have to adjust mentally. You have to know what you’re supposed to do a lot faster than a usual week. Most of the guys are ready. We could go out there and play tonight. We’re just ready to get out there and have another chance to get another win.”

On the excitement of playing on national TV
“Definitely. That goes with everything we’ve been saying. We’ve got something to prove. It’s on ESPN, and everybody will be watching. We’re going to go out there and hope to have a good game.”

On the new uniforms
“We love them. It’s exciting, but at the same time everybody has been saying that we can’t go out there and not play well in them. They’re exciting. They’ll get everybody super excited during the game, but we’ll have to go out there and do what we’ve been doing.”



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