Nov. 13, 2012
HOUSTON - University of Houston football head coach Tony Levine and selected student-athletes met with the local media on Tuesday to discuss Saturday's road contest at Marshall.
"It seems like it's been a year since the last press conference; we've had a lot go on in the past seven days. The best news we received yesterday when D.J. Hayden was released from the hospital. He called me and asked if he could visit with the team which he did at about 5:15 yesterday evening. It was great to see him. I've seen him almost everyday over the past week. To see the progress that he's made has been remarkable. He is home resting and we'll see him again hopefully in the next day or two.
Coming off the disappointing loss Saturday, we felt like we were in it for a while going at it with the best team, record-wise, in our division. We missed a field goal early, they came back and scored a field goal and three became 10 which became 17 and they got away from us. We tried to establish the run in the second half, and we were playing catch-up basically the entire afternoon. It was disappointing that we were on the field way to long defensively and never got into a rhythm on offense. We would have some drives start, and then fumble a snap or get backed up by penalties or a dropped pass would stall the drive. We hurt ourselves when we're trying to execute and can't on offense.
This week coming up is a great example of two teams who have their backs firmly against the wall. We're both 4-6, we both have two games remaining and we both need to win then next two games to extend our season and go to a bowl game. It's a great challenge for us. Marshall is extremely explosive offense; they're uptempo, no huddle, throw the ball all over the field and they've got a group of talented receivers and running backs who run the ball more than people give them credit for. It will be a great challenge for us defensively.
On offense, we've got to hold onto the football, sustain drives and run the ball against Marshall. Again we'll have to find ways to do that and find ways to move the chains. Of course we wouldn't mind scoring quickly on offense, but we need to sustain drives and keep our defense and their offense off the field as much as possible.
I have memories of the last time we were there in 2008; it was a Tuesday night game on ESPN and that's the game where Patrick Edwards suffered his injury. The weather is supposed to be beautiful, we are going to go on the road, play well and win a football game."
"It's a long list right now of who's injured for us."
On senior defensive back D.J. Hayden visiting the team yesterday after being released from the hospital
"We have continued to talk about D.J. in our staff meetings and in meetings with our players. In the staff meeting their was a rumor that he was going to be let out. I got a text from his mother saying he was in fact being released. D.J. and I then exchanged texts and we talked and he asked if he could come by and address the team. We rearranged our schedule a little bit because I wanted to make sure that everybody on the team was there. We pushed our team meeting back from 3:15 to 5:15 and his mother drove him up here to the side of the building. I told them that a special guest was coming to talk to them and they didn't believe me that it was D.J. It took him a while to get in the building from 50 yards outside; I walked up the hallway to see where he was and he was being pushed in a wheelchair down the hall. When he came in the door the team gave him a standing ovation, and he said to me `coach, I want to walk in'. He took his time, walked up front, sat down and addressed the players for about 15 minutes. It was very special to have him and see how well he's doing."
On the difference in practice after Hayden addressed the team
"I definitely saw a lift in the guys. We didn't practice as long yesterday. I saw an energy I hadn't seen since last week before the injury to D.J. and I would expect a lot of energy in today's practice as well."
On Hayden's message to the team
"His main message was to never take things for granted. It wasn't `win the game for me,' it was necessarily football related, it was `take nothing for granted'. He talked about the opportunity that everybody has, not just the players, and how quickly things can change and be taken from you. His message was extremely clear and everybody in the room understood."
On how Hayden's injury has affected the team
"It puts things in perspective for everybody. When you are at the age that our young men are, you tend to think you're invincible. I go back to last Tuesday when after stretch when we called the team together for huddle, D.J. gave them a 30 second motivational talk, broke them down and then they split up into their groups. First part of practice, 20 minutes later a collision occurs and his life changes. That message was understood by everybody in the room."
On how this whole week has affected him
"I said this yesterday, I've been a head coach now for give or take 10 months, but I've been here for five years. The night before the East Carolina game we were in a team meeting and it was just me and the players. I talked for probably 30 minutes about how everyone here is so unique and our program is so unique; different guys from different backgrounds have come together for a common goal. In that respect, I remember D.J. Hayden coming down for his official visit like it was yesterday; now he's a senior getting ready to finish here in our program. I have said this before, and we live it here, I look at our 125 football student-athletes the same way I look at my four children. That's how I treat them and that's how I think of them. Getting in my truck, driving over to the hospital, waiting for the surgeon to come out and say where your child is at and how he's done, that's real life as my dad would say. It was a tough week, but the outcome was what everybody hoped and wanted."
On this week's challenge on the road with so many players injured
"We are going on the road with our backs against wall, trying to win a football game and with a lack of leadership. We're going to have to create that. We've got to push that aside, the lack of possibly Charles Sims, Jacolby Ashworth, and D.J. Hayden, three of our four captains. We've got to block that out and focus on the task at hand. We have to create our own energy and be exciting to play. With success comes success; I've heard this said before that success breeds success. We've got to come out strong early and look to our other guys to become leaders. Regardless of age, positive, and experience we have to have guys who will step up."
On the importance of starting fast
"It is imperative that we start fast for this game."
On making adjustments to score quickly
"It's something we think about, talk about and we've changed practice up to work on. We look at a number of things in addressing this. 3-0 may not be considered starting fast, but it does something for our demeanor and our confidence. It's something we need to do, and there are different ways of trying to achieve it. When we starting going to team right after we stretch in practice, we were successful in the following two games; obviously in the last two we haven't been successful starting fast, so it's something we will evaluate as coaches."
On time of possession hurting the defense and the running game on offense
"We need to run the football, but if I know we can throw it and move the chains, we throw it and move the chains. We're not consistent enough right now in the passing game, whether it's protection, whether it's the throws not being accurate or whether it's first passes. If we throw it on first down and it's incomplete for whatever reason, now we're facing second and 10 and we're deciding whether to run it, throw a screen, throw it down field, and if we get a couple yards and it's then third and seven, I don't mean to sound negative but if we throw and don't get the first we go three and out and have only taken up 30 seconds on the clock. We've got to be able to move the chains whether we run it, whether we throw it, we have to be able to sustain drives on offense and do that early in the game. Both teams need to have some success and experience some confidence building plays early in this game."
On the importance of winning the next two games
"There's so many things that go along with these next two games. For the seniors who have been here, to send them out with that 13th game is at the forefront of our minds and is our top priority. It helps with recruiting, when we can talk about the bowl game and they see us preparing for it. The extra time to practice helps the young guys get more reps and show what they can do."
On importance of next two games
"It's huge. These next two games represent a lot. A lot of the young guys don't understand that yet. I don't want them to learn it the way I learned it. Not making the bowl is probably one of the worst options you can have. You're going to come out and it's going to be miserable. Making a bowl, you get that extra practice time. There are a lot of things that happen in those bowl practices that you can't make up for. At the same time, we have to focus on this week and just win one at a time. Right now, we are just focused on beating Marshall."
On mood of the team
"There's a lot of things going on, but I definitely think we're positive. There's been a lot of diversity with things that are really emotional with last week or just a small little injury here or there. It can go a long way and it can get you down. I definitely think we are in high spirits with what's been going on. I've been proud of how we've handled this diversity."
On D.J. Hayden's visit
"It's just great to see D.J. out here. I know he missed it as much as anything. It was definitely an emotional moment, but I'm so happy to see him up here. Just seeing him out of that hospital, happy again, seeing his mom, and to see him here was truly a blessing. Everybody really responded well. It's a breath of fresh air to see that your friend is okay. It's an overwhelming joy.
On improving efficiency
"1st and 3rd down efficiency. You have to put yourself in a good position, especially in these drives. You also need have an explosive play."
On a ownership of getting out to a fast start
"Ownership wise, I'll put the whole thing on me. It's a reflection of what I'm doing, but at the same time everybody has to perform."
On what to expect from Marshall
"We need to get in the right play and not over thinking things. We can make plays as a team and we definitely need to get that sense that anybody can make a big play at any time. It should be a lot of fun and free flow."
On Marshall's defense
"They're not a one dimensional defense. They'll bring a whole bunch of different types of coverage and blitzes. We need to be ready for that as an offense. I need to do a better job of getting us into the right play, coverage or blitz."
On the injuries this year
"This year we've had a lot of injuries, but we have had guys step up. That's what we've worked on all season is having guys step up in key roles. I can only speak for the offensive line, but every guy that has come in has done a great job. I have complete faith in them to get the job done when called on."
On seeing D.J. Hayden
"It was great seeing D.J. Some guys have gone to see him at the hospital, but the majority of the team had not seen him since the injury. It was awesome being able to see him in a team setting. When he walked down and talked to the team it got everybody fired up. He told us not to take anything for granted and cherish every moment in life."
On the importance of the final two games
"Our morale has always been up because we know what we are capable of. We just have to focus on Marshall and be the team we expect to be. Our backs are against the wall so it's time to give everything we have to stay alive."
On the importance of this week's game
"It's very important. We need to go get two more wins in order to be bowl eligible, so it's a pivotal game for us in the season. We really want to get this win for our team and our coach."
On seeing D.J. Hayden yesterday
"I spent some time with him after practice too. He's an inspiration to all of us. His story is going to be told throughout all of college football. It's a good for him to be able to come back and speak to the team. It was good for the team."
On the emotions of this past week
"It was a very emotional time for me because he's my roommate when we travel on the road. The past game was very emotional for me. When he came back you could see everybody had a sigh of relief to see that he is back and walking around. It's amazing to me that he us walking around after having such a major surgery. It speaks to what kind of man he is."
On the training staff
"We have the best training staff here. Just our ability to come in every day and have them keep us going and make sure that we get everybody back healthy. They do a wonderful job."
On the emotion seeing D.J. Hayden
"There was a lot of emotion when D.J. visited the team. Everybody clapped and a few of the guys started tearing up. It was incredible because we didn't know if he'd be with us and to see him is a blessing."
On the keys against Marshall
"We've got to go out there and play Cougar football the way we know we are capable of. If we play our game, we can't be stopped. They have a great offense so it'll be a great challenge for our defense especially on the road. We've been working all week and we'll be good to go on Saturday."