Nov. 5, 2013
Head Football Coach Tony Levine
“As we do after a win, we have our players of the game. Offensively, a young man that I want to take a little extra time to talk about, a redshirt junior wide receiver Aaron Johnson. He’s been in our program for four years. We’re extremely proud of the work he’s put in and a great example of a guy that’s improved on a yearly basis. He was a high school quarterback, actually played as a true freshman played at safety and played on some special teams, then we moved him to the offensive side of the football. He kind of waited his turn, was backing up Larry McDuffey earlier this season; Larry had a head injury and Aaron comes in and catches three passes for 40 yards, a great fade down their sideline and two critical slant routes on third downs. We’re very proud of him. He’s a young man who is going to continue to improve every week, is playing certainly more than he ever has.
“Our defensive player of the game, defensive back Thomas Bates. Just a little bit about Thomas, he earned his degree in four years and graduated last May. He played his best game of the season by far - he had 70 snaps, had seven tackles, five solo tackles and five pass breakups. Really proud of his performance and the season that Thomas has having.
“On special teams, kick returner Demarcus Ayers. We made the move with him to the X-receiver position when Larry went down, he rotated with Aaron Johnson. He had a catch for 30 yards from Greg Ward, had four kickoff returns for 124 yards in the game, 31 yards per return with a long of 45 yards. He’s a young man who’s getting better and better every week.
“Scout team players of the week, on offense, offensive lineman Josh Thomas. On defense, our scout team player of the week was defensive lineman Josh McNeil. Then the special teams (player of the week) freshman receiver Jack Thomas.
“Again, looking back at the game, and the short week, I’m proud of our student athletes, proud of our staff, proud of our coaches. Last week at this point, it was a little bit of a blur because it happened so quickly. We had another great team win. Winning football games is not easy. I said this after the game in my comments in the press conference, and we knew that game would be just like it was. We knew it would be a 60 minute game. They have a lot talent, an outstanding coaching staff, talking about South Florida. Their freshman quarterback, Mike White, played extremely well. Our two freshman quarterbacks played well additionally. Good to get the win and we set our sights now to the game this week in Orlando against Central Florida.
With the questions last week in terms of what challenges do you face with a short week, and it was certainly something we were looking forward to with the exposure that the Thursday night nationally televised game would give our program, there are some advantages going into this next game in terms of having a few extra days, not necessarily to game plan, although that is an advantage, but to get your guys a little bit of a break and regroup as you go into this longer week, if there’s such a term as that.
I know Central Florida is coming off a bye; they’ve got homecoming Saturday night. The thing about their program, I mentioned certainly George O’Leary the head football coach there has done an outstanding job. We are familiar with them, just having been in Conference USA for the last five years that I’ve been a member of our program. They are very, very talented, across the board on offense, defense and special teams. Nationally, and I was asked this yesterday, when you talk about a Coach O’Leary football team and program, what comes to mind nationally it’s that they are a well-coached team. That’s really been a trademark of his as long as he’s been coaching. They make you earn everything, they don’t make mistakes, they don’t turn the ball over, they don’t commit penalties. Fundamentally and technically, they tackle extremely well on defense. They have a clear identity offensively in terms of taking care of the football, being very physical up front, establishing the run. It’ll be a great challenge for us and an opportunity that our student-athletes, staff and coaches are looking forward to.”
On a pleasing performances so far
“I have been pleased with how our young men have performed to this point. It’s a combination of a couple of things. You go back to last spring, we had four new assistant coaches joining our program, and I was very pleased with how everything went during the course of the spring practices, however looking ahead, we were still going to have close to 50 newcomers join our program that weren’t here yet and weren’t sure which ones would contribute this season. Figuring, based on the five years I’ve been here, that somewhere from 7-10 would play for us. You don’t ever go into a season thinking you may lose your starting quarterback in the first half of the second game. Knowing that and sitting with our overall record at this point, playing two true freshmen at that position, the kids have gotten better every week. Our staff has done a great job making sure they understand what they are doing, certainly in all three phases but even by breaking down the field by position. We’re taking it one week, one game at a time. I am pleased with how they’ve responded. We’ve still got some youth in our team and that’s where it’s fun as coaches to see these young men improve on a weekly and daily basis.”
On being satisfied or looking for room to improve
“There’s room for improvement. Part of that is for us right now, when you look at our leading passer being a freshman, our leading receiver being a true sophomore, our leading rusher being a sophomore, on the defensive side of the ball, Trevon Stewart, Adrian McDonald true sophomores both in high school did not play the safety position. There’s still some teaching and learning, your question is a good one in terms of it’s almost the middle of November, they ought to know what they know by now, I go back to the game last Thursday night and we got a chance to take a knee and end the game and we’ve got guys with the football running out of bounds and stopping the clock with a minute and a half left. So, if they don’t know that at this point we either haven’t taught it or they haven’t learned it, but there’s still improvement that is going to be made and needs to be made even in these last 24 days of the regular season.”
On having a specific plan for QB Greg Ward
“(We have) a specific plan for him in which series he’ll start and what situations Greg would come in. He came in and gave us a spark Thursday night. Somebody mentioned the announcers, when he came into the came, said he’s a running quarterback and in the first half he throws it down the field for thirty yards to Demarus Ayers. Again, we’ll continue to have a specific plan for him based on series and situations.”
On concerns when facing first ranked opponent
“Certainly Central Florida is an outstanding football team. When you put on the video and look at their statistics and look at their depth chart, obviously, know who’s coaching them, there is no glaring weakness. You don’t say ‘Well, they’re deficient in this area.’ They’re extremely well coached across the board, they have talent across the board and, again, this is a team that doesn’t lose games. The team that wins is going to have to find a way to make plays and beat them, they don’t beat themselves is what I’m trying to say. Again, we’re going to continue to prepare this week as we have every week regardless of opponent and certainly recognize the talent and challenge that Central Florida is going to present to us.”
On QB John O’Korn’s surprising progression
“Surprise may not be a word that I want to use although technically I just used it. He’s exceeded expectations to this point, if you will. Again, I’ve referenced this a few times. We had a talented quarterback in Case Keenum and as Case was a true freshman, he redshirted. There’s such a learning curve on from high school to college and you’d like to red shirt every freshman if you can just to let them get their feet on the ground academically and that transition in school, gain weight, eat, just understand how your whole program works, strength and conditioning. Again with injury to (QB) David (Piland), we had to speed that up with John. We had him come, and I want to say he’s thrown around 22 touchdown passes and four interceptions playing the competition we have. Again, he is a second-year starting quarterback and reminding everyone as a junior in high school that he was the backup. We felt like he was going to be extremely talented. We felt like he has the intangibles you look for at the quarterback position in terms of leadership, work ethic, and character. To play at this level so soon, the phrase ‘exceeded expectations’ is the one we will use.”
On rushing numbers in three of the last four games
“It’s a little bit of a couple of things. I’ll take Rutgers for example. We ran the ball OK in that game. We rushed for 211 yards, but John threw five touchdown passes. One of the matchups we wanted to see was us throwing the ball against their pass defense. When you look at all the other opponents that we’ve played, BYU that are toward the top in the country in rush defense, so again, we have to be balanced as much as we can. We cannot be one-dimensional. We feel like, again, what we do schematically and philosophically on offense as a team is going to try to stop our run, so we have to be able to throw the football and the other way around if they’re going to try to stop the pass and outnumber us, if you will, in the passing game, we want to be able to hand it off and give (RB) Ryan Jackson and (RB) Kenneth Farrow more involved.”
On rush ends
“When you talk about our rush ends, (DE) Eric Eiland, (DE) Trevor Harris, and (DE) Tyus Bowser, they all have very unique stories. Eric and I are the same age. He played minor league baseball with Toronto for five years before coming here. Again, he’s a power guy. He came here as a 205 pound walk-on, if you will, safety, and is now up to about high 230’s, 237, 238. All three of them, because they probably are more similar than people think; they can all run, they’re very athletic. When you look at their backgrounds in terms of Eric being a professional baseball player, Trevor Harris playing one year of high school football that was at the wide receiver position, he was 6’5”, about 200 pounds, went up to the ASA junior college in Brooklyn, New York, gained weight in May, they had the vision to move him from front receiver to defensive end and now he’s 6’5”, 235 pounds. Tyus Bowser who is 6’3” and about 230 and is an outstanding basketball player who will play both sports here. He leads our team in sacks right now.
“They all have similarities. They have great speed, they have great explosion, they’re very athletic, and they’re all new to that position. Eric Eiland was hitting curve balls, or at least attempting to, two years ago. Tyus Bowser being a great basketball player. Trevor Harris, two years ago, was catching pass at receiver, so they’re all learning the position. Coach Logo has done a fantastic in just taking three athletic, very intelligent young men, and just starting from scratch and teaching them a brand new position and those three playing at an extremely high level.”
On DE Tyus Bowser being a late commit
“Tyus came on the visit here the final weekend right before signing day and actually called me Tuesday, the day before signing day to tell me he was going to come to Houston. He was as late of commitment we had in last years class.
On DE Tyus Bowser’s sacks this season
“He had 24 sacks as a senior last year and again, he is a high school teammate of Greg Ward.”
SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN Rowdy Harper
On moving from tackle to guard
“It’s been different. At the very beginning of the year I was playing guard for about a week or two so I got a little bit of my bearings in it. Then I went back to tackle and Ralph (Oragwu) got hurt, and then coach made the decision to put me back at guard. I went into that (position) and had a little bit of struggles the first few games just because it was my first few weeks back at it, and my knee injury as well was kind of bugging me at guard. Now my knee is better.”
“It feels great, and I’m really getting more comfortable. The cool thing about guard is I’m getting exponentially better I feel like each game, because it’s a brand new position that I haven’t played since junior year of high school, so every game I play and every practice I’m in, I learn a ton of new stuff. At tackle it was just more tweaking little things.”
On the team needing all of the depth they have had this season
“That’s definitely weird. Last year we had a few injuries but my redshirt freshman year when I started we didn’t have any injuries. We kept the same five the entire year. It’s been a big difference from then until this year, but luckily we have the depth. The coaches brought in some great guys, coach Elarbee coached them up, and we’ve had guys step in without much of a drop off if any. We’ve just continued to roll and mesh together.”
On playing next to his buddy and fellow offensive lineman Rowdy Harper
“It’s business out on the field but it’s fun. We get to go back after practice, hang out and talk about it. It’s something we’ve talked about. Freshman year he was playing guard a little bit, and it was fun playing tackle and guard, and then he got moved to center so we were away. Now we’re playing center and guard so we get to mess with each other a little bit and have fun.”
On the national buzz that may come around during the next few weeks
“I don’t see the team really caring about national buzz very much. We like to win. We’re used to not having much buzz at all so we’re fine with that really. We win for each other, and we win because we hate to lose. Our goal was always to win conference so this next game we play is another step to try to win conference.”
On what the next two weeks mean to the program
“It’s exciting. We’re in control of our own destiny and it’s how we’ve worked up until now to get that chance to do that. These are important weeks, because it’s the next week. You can fall off just as easily as you’ve started winning. It’s important, and we’re working hard to win this game this week and then continuing to work hard the rest of the season”
JUNIOR WIDE RECEIVER Daniel Spencer
On what the approach to this week will be
“The same way we approach all the other weeks. We’ll just go out there and do what we need to do to win the game.”
On how it feels to have the offense clicking so well
“It feels good to go out there and just do the same thing every week. We’re preparing well. It’s kind of easy how we’re just going out there and doing it.”
On the play and confidence of freshman quarterback John O’Korn
“He’s doing great. We love him for what he’s doing so early as a freshman. He keeps his composure really well. If he throws a pick or something, he comes back and goes out there and throws a touchdown. He’s playing really well for being so young. He’s always had that command. I don’t know how he has it but he has it. Whatever it is that he needs he has it.”
SENIOR DEFENSIVE BACK Thomas Bates
On the importance of the defense this season
“The defense has been pretty important. The more turnovers we get the more opportunities the offense gets. If you’ve followed us the whole year you see we’re a second-half defense. They (other teams) get all of their points in the first half. Great defenses win championships.”
On playing a team that is known to have a good defense
“The only chip we have is ‘something to prove’. We have something to prove to the whole country. Our defense is pretty good too. We’ll have to see how it goes on Saturday.”
On if turnovers are preached at practice
“Coach (David) Gibbs and all of our defensive staff preach on getting turnovers. If you’re good on turnovers in the game you’ll win the game. That’s what we preach.”
On what needs to happen to stop UCF this weekend
“We’re going to do what we do. Tackle, play good defense and get turnovers.”