HOUSTON - University of Houston football head coach Tony Levine and selected student-athletes met with the local media on Tuesday to discuss Saturday's upcoming road contest at East Carolina.
Houston Head Coach Tony Levine
"When you look back at the game Saturday, our goal was to start fast. I think it was obvious that we accomplished that. The score going into halftime was 35-7, and what we talked about at halftime was coming out fast and setting the tone for the third quarter. We came out and scored a quick ten points, then I was not happy with the remainder of the game. Our medical staff made the decision after the first series in the second half that Charles Sims suffered a leg injury and he needed to come out of the game. I think most thought that we took out Charles because of the score but that was not the case.
Looking ahead to this week, ECU will be an excellent challenge for our team. One thing we have expressed to our team is that so far this season we have played two games outside the city of Houston. In those two games we have turned the ball over 15 times. That is unacceptable, and it makes it very difficult to win games when you do that to yourself.
Offensively for them they have a quarterback, Shane Carden, who we are familiar with because we recruited him. He is a local kid from Episcopal here in Houston who is a tremendous talent. Defensively they run a 3-4 defense and are very athletic. It will be a good challenge for our offense especially on the road. It's about what we do. We have to go to East Carolina and take care of the football on offense and special teams. On defense we have to tackle and force turnovers. It'll be a big challenge and no offense to East Carolina, they have great student-athletes and coaching staff, but our focus is on Houston."
On the last month of the season
"Our primary focus is on East Carolina. One thing I've heard for a very long time is people remember what you did in November and not necessarily the first two months of the season. We are confident right now. We have won four of our last five games. It's now a four game season for us. We showed our guys who we are playing and the standings. Our goals are still out there but we aren't talking about anything but East Carolina, and what we have to do to be successful at East Carolina."
On the turnovers on the road
"Going back to the SMU game, we had a muffed punt, we fumbled a kickoff and we had three different quarterbacks throw two interceptions. When we played a top-25 UCLA team we had some injuries with our starters that forced us to play different. There are no excuses, but that equals 15 turnovers, which equals two losses. In the last five games I have liked how we have taken care of the football in four of them. Obviously one of them was an embarrassment. It's about what we do with ball security that is a top priority to being successful on the road.
On D.J. Hayden
"D.J. is a tremendous young man and is getting better as the season goes on. I talk about this it seems like every week, but he is getting better every week on the little things. He has only been in our program for two years because he is a junior college transfer. It speaks volumes of the kind of person he is doing things off the field. He has two interceptions for touchdowns in the last two games. He's made a lot of great plays, and a lot of offenses aren't going after him. Louisiana Tech has one of the better receivers in the country, who is among the top nationally in statistics and when we put D.J. on him he had four catches for 36 yards. He was able to create plays that helped us on Saturday. They have the ball in the redzone and instead of it being a 21-14 game, he gets the pick and turns it into a 28-7 game."
On progression of David Piland and the offense
"David Piland is getting better each week. I think our offense continues to grow with the help of our coaching staff. They have created a lot of plays with misdirection and thinking outside the box as far as play calling. Coach (Travis) Bush has done a great job of keeping defenses off-balance with his different formations. Charles Sims' first touchdown against UTEP was the same play against North Texas but in a different formation. I like the rhythm we are getting into right now. It's getting harder for other defenses to just focus on Charles Sims because we have other guys stepping up to make plays. Guys like Larry McDuffey, Deontay Greenberry and Daniel Spencer are really playing well. I feel as though each week the offense is getting better."
On the challenges playing at East Carolina
"I would say it's one of the toughest places to play in the conference. We expressed this in our team meeting that this may be the best environment we play in all year. They have passionate fans there. You will see as many people tailgating when we drive in as you'll ever see. When you first step on the field there will be a couple people already in their seats welcoming you to their stadium. I've had experience there not just here at Houston, but at Louisville as well. It's a great atmosphere and it's something we're looking forward to.
Redshirt Sophomore Quarterback David Piland
On unfolding through the first half vs. UTEP
"I thought we did a pretty good job. They dropped a lot of guys into coverage and really tried to take away our third downs and third and longs. I had a couple of little alleyways I could take; five yards, get down, and wouldn't get hit. We kept moving the ball like that. Charles, obviously, running the way he did was impressive. We did a good job moving the ball, but at the same time, looking at the film, there's a lot of things we made mistakes early on in the year and we kind of reverted to them. We're going to get those fixed this week before we go against East Carolina."
On first game back from injury
"It's going to happen. I wasn't running when I got hit for the concussion. So it's one of those things where I will protect myself when I can, but at the same time we're trying to get first downs, we're trying to win games, we're trying to go score. I'm going to do whatever it takes to do that and focusing in on what I can do."
On defense turning the ball over
"It's been wonderful. Especially going from the SMU game where we turned it over nine times. Now they're getting a bunch of turnovers for us and it's taken a lot of pressure off us. Then, us scoring and putting some points up takes pressure off them. We are doing a great job of that. We need to do a better job of ball security on offense and special teams. They're doing great; D.J. (Hayden) is doing great."
On road game turnovers
"I don't really know why it was those road games. It wasn't necessarily crowd noise or anything we necessarily did that was different. We're going into it this week and it's been a big deal--ball security in away games. Not only that, creating our own energy, having fun with the game when there's not fans who are going to cheer every time you catch a ball. We're going to go out and it'll be a lot better this time. We're going to go out and perform."
On playing at ECU's stadium
"Last time I watched Houston play there was the conference championship during Case's junior year. It was loud, crazy and apparently pretty cold. I'm excited to have an opportunity to play in that venue and soak everything in."
On improving in November
"Every game gets us that much closer to accomplishing the goals we want to accomplish. Knowing that every game is the biggest game we're going to play. We need all of them. We need to go play and perform at our highest level for these next couple games and definitely bring our `A' game. There are no excuses for turnovers or poor plays."
On ECU's defense
"They're a great team. Just kind of focusing on what I can control; seeing when they're going to roll coverage, or bring blitz, and really brining us into the right play, and making plays happen."
On D.J. Hayden
"He's been great. He's one of the best corners in our conference and probably one of the best in the nation. He breaks on the ball; he's fast as can be. Just his energy and leadership has been great. Him stepping up into that leadership role has been awesome for myself, and everyone on the team. We definitely feed off his energy.
Senior Placekicker Matt Hogan
On preparation routine for upcoming games
"Each week I like to watch the film on the other team and get their field goal scheme and how they are going to block, and from there we can make adjustments if need be. Other than that, I try to get as many mental reps in the week as I can because kicking is kind of like pitching. You don't want to wear your arm or your leg out because you want to be fresh for the game so I try to maximize each attempt I get during practice."
On feelings of setting the Conference USA career record for points
"This is pretty special seeing how the guy that broke it (Stephen Gostkowski) is a very successful kicker in the NFL. I hope to keep building on it and follow in his footsteps."
On the atmosphere at East Carolina
"It's always great to play in front of a crowd, especially one that's as passionate as ECU fans. It was a great atmosphere the last time I went there. It's always nice to play in front of people that appreciate the sport and show them a good time. I really enjoy being in that atmosphere but I try to block everything out during the game. It's a good memory to have later on in life."
On the importance of the final stretch of games in the month of November
"Teams remember how they play in November so you want to start off right in the first game. I think we do want to come out and play well enough to set the tone for the rest of November."
Redshirt Freshman Running Back Kenneth Farrow
On playing with Charles Sims
"It's been really good. Since I first got here, I've learned a lot of things just from watching him and some of the things he does. Whether it's certain plays or his work ethic, it's definitely been fun being back there with somebody that good when I'm so young. It's been a good experience for me."
On the challenges that the ECU defense presents
"We're getting to the later part of the season so we know everything we can do and we've made adjustments to those defenses already. It shouldn't be a problem, as long as we go out there and do what we're able to do we should be fine."
On if ECU will be out for revenge
"That's the case with every team on the schedule now. The team that we had last year, there weren't many close games against us. We're getting everybody's best shot especially since we're leaving Conference USA."
Senior Defensive Lineman Ameen Behbahani
On creating turnovers on defense to give opportunities to offense
"We definitely talk about having all 11 on the ball and playing as hard as you can. Really creating turnovers is a lot about 11 guys running at the ball, one guy gets it out, and another is there to get it. With interceptions and getting to the quarterback, it's about creating pressure and having the right people go the right places and blitz at the right time. What we're taught is how to get to the quarterback and that causes interceptions. That's a big deal for us. Getting our offense another chance to score is a big deal for us."
On the environment at ECU and the young players experiencing that
"We talk about how it's a tough environment to play in. A lot of the young guys haven't been there; this is the first time we've been back since my freshman year. We tell them all the time that we can't let the environment mess with us or change the way we play. We have to play our game, do what we do and complete our assignment."