Nov. 26, 2013
Houston Head Coach Tony Levine
"Alright, we'll go ahead and get started. We had a little change in today's schedule for our program. In 30 minutes we're going to get on buses and head over to Reliant Stadium to practice at the Texans' bubble here this afternoon. It'll be good to head over there, a change of scenery is always good, it'll give us a chance to be indoors since that's where we going to be playing Friday morning and get a good typical Wednesday practice in for us, being that the game is on Friday.
"Coming off this last game, not really anything changed in my mind with what I said after the game in terms of two good, quality programs playing each other. I was certainly proud of our student-athletes effort. Our kids played extremely hard. I've got a lot of respect for Coach (Tommy) Tubberville and the program at Cincinnati. We made a couple of mistakes, a couple key mistakes that you can't make against a program of that caliber. The good news is they are correctable, we had teachable moments in the game and certainly in the meeting watching the video with our student-athletes afterwards. I expect those corrections to be made moving forward.
"We've got another certainly quality opponent this week. When you look at the programs we've played this season, a national level, their win-loss records, I put SMU right up with all of them. It'll be a great challenge for our program; this is a rivalry game. Last year when you look back on last season, we had won three straight and we go over to their place and really quite frankly got embarrassed on a Thursday night nationally televised contest. Everyone in our program is looking forward to being at home in Houston for the game Friday. Coach (June) Jones and his staff have done a great job. I know Garret Gilbert, their quarterback, is as good a quarterback as I've seen on video this season. He got banged up in the South Florida game, hopefully he'll be alright. I've not heard his status yet for the game. When you watch him on film, I don't have time in the next 27 minutes to talk about how well he's done this season. His confidence is at an all-time high, the NFL scouts that come through here on a weekly basis are just raving about him. He's had a great season and he's got a bunch of talent around him and certainly defensively they have a three-man front that has posed problems to teams and have done a great job stopping the run.
"It'll be a great challenge for us. It'll be senior day, I mentioned that a couple of times, we will recognize our 14 seniors and two juniors that will have their last game in front of our students, fans and alumni. We'll get out on the practice field here in a little bit and continue our preparation for Friday."
On facing a different style of offense this week compared to last week
"No, and to respectfully disagree with you a little bit, Cincinnati, while statistically they've been running the ball well, really since their South Florida loss they've been throwing it quite a bit more. Heading into the game we knew they were going to be throwing more, they had done that coming into our game. Against the run, I felt like we did a good job. When you look at the stats, we gave up around 170 something yards rushing, and I think 80 yards rushing unfortunately on that last drive. We did not do a great job statistically against the pass versus Cincinnati. There is going to be some carry over if you will. We were playing some five defensive back packages and putting Zach McMillian at safety that we will be able to utilize in this game as well. We are very familiar with SMU certainly with both programs transitioning to the American Athletic Conference from Conference USA. When I look at what Cincinnati had done most recently and certainly tried to do against us, and we were prepared for what they were going to do, I don't put the Cincinnati program offensively, I don't compare them to some programs we've just played that were huddling and were getting a true fullback and tight end and running a power, isos, and leads. I think there's more carry over than you'd think, if you will."
On if the youth of the team has been a factor in the last few games
"I think it's a combination of a number of things, the last three games. I would hope no other programs would take this the wrong way, when you look back at the last three opponents, two of the three right now are in the top 20 or 25 in the nation in those polls. Cincinnati now because of the win is 9-2. They're established and quality programs, which we are as well. The last three programs we've played had a 6th-year quarterback, a quarterback that's up for the Heisman and might be the number 1 pick in the draft, then a fourth year junior at Central Florida with Blake Bortles who scouts are talking about as a high draft pick as well. Veteran guys who have been in their system, been in their program. Brendan Kay, who some people might say well he was a backup, he started a lot of football and has played a lot of football at Cincinnati. It's been a combination of a number of things.
"Everybody thinks the transition to this level for a true freshman is very simple and it's a little bit tougher than people imagine. We've got some young men in our program who have been here a couple of months who a year ago were playing against high school football programs, and now they're playing against 21, 22, 23-year-olds that are obviously bigger, faster, stronger than what they faced a year ago. We've got other guys in our program that were playing against different conference opponents a year ago.
"This has been a good stretch for us. When you look at our schedule, and early in the season I was asked quite a bit `What do you think about the schedule,' and I mean the schedule, it is what it is. Once it comes out, that's when we're playing and that's when we have our bye weeks. Early in the season we had a couple of games and a bye, we had a couple of games a bye, and we went eight straight. You look back right now and you bring up a freshman and you look at the stretch we've been in in terms of BYU, Rutgers, South Florida, Central Florida, Louisville, Cincinnati, there are some great programs there with no break. We got some guys banged up, everybody in the country right now is sore and banged up. As I stand here we have four days left. We will be at practice today and have a couple of guys that won't practice and the injury report says sore. This is the time of the season where some young men get out of bed and they're walking a little bit slower and they're feeling some more pain now just because of the physicality of the sport and the programs we've played. I see our young men out there giving everything they've got. I see our young men making plays.
"When they look back at this last game, and I certainly can't give enough credit to Cincinnati, they're a great program they're well coached, and we had a chance to win that game. When you look at that last drive, I don't think you ever lose a game on one play. I go back to the first drive, we're going down the field and we do a poor job on the field of communication and do something really in my mind we haven't done all year, we put the ball on the ground. It was an unforced error which as a coach drives you crazy. You teach and you understand and you move. We had opportunities to win that football game. We certainly didn't and I could stand up here for 15 more minutes and talk about different things the last three weeks but I think it's a combination of a number of things. As a coach, and I speak for everyone in our program, staff and coaching wise, every game this season, regardless of who we've played, a ranked opponent, on the road, at home, regardless of who our opponent was, our student athletes all week have felt like we're going to win the game and during the game they've felt like we're going to win the game. When you've got that feeling in your program and the kids are playing hard, you've certainly got a chance. I like where we're headed, I like the improvement that we've seen, again those mistakes we did make in this last game are correctable, and I expect they will be. "
On staying focused the week of the final game and Thanksgiving
"One thing unique about our program is that the vast majority of our student athletes are either from the greater Houston area or the state of Texas. When people ask me `Give me one word to describe your program' the first word I say is family. We've done a good job as coaches and staff members starting last week making sure our student-athletes have a place to go, really starting tomorrow. We're going to practice early tomorrow and leave here by 1 o'clock and making sure they had places to go tomorrow afternoon and evening. Thursday morning we're not requiring them to come back until 3:30 Thursday. I do not like distractions. I appreciate you saying we've done a good job being consistent in our message. One thing I think we've tried to do and get success from, I'm big on communication, try to make sure our student-athletes understand a week ahead there will be practices, meetings, the weather, traffic, travel, everything we're getting into for the upcoming week. Certainly with the game on Friday coupled with the Thanksgiving holiday Thursday, we've given them great notice of what this week is going to look like. Today is a little bit of a distraction with the weather and going a little earlier and going over to Reliant but I don't think it's going to affect anything very much at all in terms of the game Friday and this being the Thanksgiving holiday. To me it's tougher if you're playing on the road."
On showcasing UH Football with nationally televised games
"I think it's a great opportunity. When you look at this season, it's been, I used the words `fun' and `unique,' in that we moved into a good conference. Really right before the season began, the conference officially changed their name, so now as coaches, we're recruiting everyday, so now as coaches you're talking to recruits, and we came up with a plan of how we are going to integrate the new conference. Up until this past summer, you could say the Big East to recruit us, they were familiar with that, and the American Athletic Conference just took some time. With us, when you talk to young men about being able to come and be a part of our program, they really achieve every goal they have for themselves. Get a great education, earn their degree, social development, character development, spiritual development, and a chance, if they want to, to play in the National Football League. Then you add the exposure element to it. In my last five years here, we'd be on TV, but it didn't have the four letters `ESPN' always when you talked about. Now, on a weekly basis it does. It can be ESPNews, ESPN 2, ESPNU, or certainly the Halloween game in the spotlight on that Thursday. For the most the part, the recruits we're talking to have those channels. On a weekly basis, we're on national television. It's great for recruits and it gives our program great exposure. To wear the black uniforms, have a good night, win that football game. We're going to come out Friday again with those uniforms this week. It's great for our program. Someone asked me the other day, is 8-4 a lot better than 7-5. Really, to me, 1-0 is a lot better than 0-1. We're going to try and win the game this week. Again, I expect another great practice today. I mentioned this the other day, and I said earlier, this is a rivalry game for our program. A lot of our student-athletes were high school teammates of SMU student-athletes or they've played against each other. We've recruited some of their student-athletes; they've recruited some of ours. Again, we've got young men from Dallas; they've got young men from Houston. It's going to be a great game, one that they'll look forward to and we are as well."
On defensive back Trevon Stewart
"I'm glad you brought him up because I was thinking about him this morning sitting at my desk. A lot of these national award finalists have come out and in the last couple of days. He's a young man playing a position he did not play in high school. He's been in our program now, year number two. Playing defensive back through 11 games, he's responsible for ten turnovers. That is remarkable. He and I talked on Sunday at length, one on one. I couldn't be more proud of him. He's just a great representative of our program. Great young man, great family, and among other things, which you see in him are two things. One I've said before, he loves to play football. Just absolutely loves to play the game and two, he's a young man that when you talk about as a coach, you're going to play how you practice. He gives everything he's got at practice; he goes 100 miles an hour stripping the football. He comes to see me a couple of days ago, initially about what happened at the Louisville game, he felt horrible. He just wanted to talk. He hadn't had a turnover in a couple of weeks. I said `How many interceptions have you had this year so far?' I think he said he had three. I said just keep playing hard, keep tackling, you guys are turnover machines. Keep doing what you've been doing and sure enough you're going to get an interception and we did in the game against Cincinnati. Trevon Stewart is just a fantastic young man and a great representative and ambassador for our program if you will."
On offense not making as many big plays in second half of season
"It's something we've got to get back to. We've got to throw the ball down the field and give ourselves opportunities to make plays down the field. When you talk about some of the big plays we made earlier in the season, one that sticks out is the short catch and long run (WR) Daniel Spencer had against BYU. The back of his hand went down, he kept his balance, and he redirected, went all the way across the field, and got a couple of good blocks. When you look at that, that's a student-athlete making a play right there. We had some plays early on, where our quarterback didn't break the pocket and find the receiver down the field. We've got to take some more shots down the field, throw the ball deep, just by calling that type of a play. We had it the other day, (QB) Greg Ward threw the ball down the sideline and had a big catch by (WR) Xavier Maxwell. I agree with you, we've got to get back to making some of those big plays that helped us early on and gave us points. It gave us momentum, gave us confidence. We have to get back to doing that, I don't want to say I'm concerned that we haven't the last couple of weeks, but it's something we need to do this week."
On QB Greg Ward getting more playing time
"At this point as I stand here, we have a specific plan for Greg already. What you'll see Friday is what I'm talking now, but I don't want to tip our plan to SMU at this point. Greg came in and provided a spark for us. He did a nice job when he was in there. You look back at the Rutgers game, at the South Florida game; he's come in and had some success. He comes in this game with only two weeks of playing receiver at level and makes some key catches as well. He's a young man we talked about; we've got to find a way to get him the football, get him on the field, and you will see that this Friday in some creative ways."
On senior class
"Our senior class is a relatively small class with only 14. I'm really proud of them. We've been through some real, real highs in our programs and we've been through some tough times as well. You talk about a young man that, it's unique, when I look back at my coaching career and I was at a place for three years and a place for two years and a place for eight months and a place for three years and a place for two years and I've been here six years. When I stand up here in team meetings, we have our student-athletes sit by classifications in school, so our seniors sit up front, followed by our juniors, then sophomores then freshmen. When I stand up at these team meetings and I talk, I look in the front row; I see the Richie Leone's and the Zachary McMillian's, guys that I can literally picture like it was yesterday sitting in their house as they were seniors in high school recruiting them and now they're seniors in college. It goes by so quickly and that Friday is going to be an emotional day. These guys have meant so much to our program. The example they've set for the young men that sit behind them has been incredible. To see these guys grow, not only as athletes, but as students off the field. To sit in Richie's house, I flew into Atlanta six weeks in a row and sat in his house six different evenings. He was 17-years old, now he's 21, 22-years old. To see the development off the field, the change, the maturity process, not that they were immature, but just now they're 21, 22, 23-years old, now they're getting to either have a professional career and move out into the real world and that's why you get into coaching. To be around young men and hope you have some kind of impact on their life away from football. I couldn't be more proud of these young men. (OL) Austin Lunsford is a young man in our program who has done a great job of everything we've asked. He's going to graduate next month; he's already got a job lined up. (QB) David Piland is certainly going to graduate next month and unfortunately can no longer play. We'll recognize all 16 of those student athletes this Friday. It seemed I was just telling them, and they tell me this, Richie came into my office and said `It seemed like you were just saying 18 days until the Southern game,' and now we have 4 days left, so it goes by quickly and certainly we'll be sad to see them leave."