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C-USA Championship Postgame Quotes Tulsa vs UCF

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Dec. 1, 2012

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TULSA HEAD COACH Bill Blankenship

Opening statement
COACH BLANKENSHIP: I guess we had to find something to finish the game that we hadn't done before. Done about everything else. This team came from behind. They played in the lead. They've done all those things. And I just couldn't be prouder. This is a great moment for these players and hopefully for the city.

Q. Coach, on the last punt return, you were watching that play unfold, was it one of those: Oh, no, don't touch it, don't touch it; okay, great move?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: No, the rule is in our favor. And I'm just so proud that Coach Bitson and Coach Downing had talked to Trey about that. Once they touched the ball, there's really no harm/no foul for us. Even if he ran and fumbled it, would go back to the original touching if we wanted it to.

Just that Trey was so smart to notice I mean, I immediately want him to go try something. That's what you do. That's why you teach our guys that ball happens, you try to pick it up; if you're on the cover team, you try to pick it up, give it to the referee so it goes dead. Trey's just a smart, smart, smart kid and a playmaker.

I didn't think he was going to score. I thought, man, if we just gain a first down out of this deal, that's a big deal.

Q. That was a great block.
COACH BLANKENSHIP: That was Derek Patterson. Derek is one of our guys there's a group on special teams that are guys that don't play much. And they've had really solid year. We've had some crazy things happen on special teams. But today was a really good day.

Q. In all your football life, is that as good as an improvisational play as you've ever seen?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: I heard two or three coaches say if they've been around a smarter football player in terms of just being, having the savvy and the instinct, Trey does that. He gets it.



And the neat thing about him is that if you teach him something, if you tell him something, he remembers it. So that's one of those things, a lot of times we talk about it but maybe the returner doesn't remember, oh, yeah, get away from it. He saw what happened and took a shot. Big, big play.

Q. Did Patterson think the play was over for a moment?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: Yeah, I think he was already walking off the field. He turned around right in front of us to get the block.

Q. Had a number of blocks, fumble in the opening kickoff, talk about special teams in general?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: It's been a journey all year. We certainly have opportunities. And we get one blocked ourselves, a PAT there. They made plays. We get a great block and I would almost bet the house that Marco would have run it in. He makes a great diving tackle we save the one but could have turned it around and got two more out of the deal.

So special teams has been an adventure, to say the least. Mostly from what we've had to deal with our young kickers.

But the cover teams, the blocking teams, all that has been solid all year and they played extremely well. This is another game. And, again, the wind was a big factor. But they have the best kick returner in the country, at least in my opinion. And for us to keep him in check was a big deal.

Q. You came out for pregame, did you sense just how much the wind would affect the game?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: Yeah, that's one of the things, if you play here enough you know you get that wind, it can make a difference. We had a couple of those last year.

There's all kinds of discussions: Do you take the wind? Or do you try to play? Defer for us was the easier choice because that way we would most likely get the wind, if they took the ball. And then we would have the ball coming out second half.

But it's a factor. It's a huge deal. You saw how it knocked down punts and the kick off that Cole kicked into it really almost went backwards once it hit its peak. It was a tough deal.

Q. You talked about in the press conference Tuesday almost (indiscernible)?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: Conference champs.

Q. How does it feel?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: Big time. Mostly because of the seniors that come up and they've been breaking those huddles for four or five years. And I think I said this before, but there are seniors that tell me: This is something I've not gotten to do. There were guys that were on the team that carried over from the '05 team, but these guys were not around for that.

And so it's a huge deal to them to do something for this program that they haven't got to experience.

Q. You changed the game. At least you restored order on your sideline when you scored right before the half. And the drive begins. Were you just really trying to kind of
COACH BLANKENSHIP: Yeah, if we didn't get something real quick we would run it out. It's kind of one of those things: Oh no, okay, but I think we ran I don't remember if it was Alex, but somebody ran out of bounds and stopped the clock. What I didn't want to do was give them the ball back with that wind, you know, that we would have had to kick against.

But as soon as you got a first down and got some tempo going, we felt like we would be able to keep it going and we made some big plays.

Q. I remember the third and six Cody keeps for eight. I don't remember if that was Cody improvising or
COACH BLANKENSHIP: It was a replay. It was a play that he either gives the sweep or carries it. And it's a fairly safe thing. I think that's the one I'm talking about. And once he got the first, then you knew that we had some time to do something with it.

Q. Now that it's over how difficult is it to beat a team twice in two weeks?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: Well, it's tough. They knew a lot about us. But I felt like we knew a lot about them. UCF is a really good football team. They're very well coached and again they did not do things to give you the game. And they make you earn it. We still had a couple of turnovers and kind of kept us from doing everything we needed to do.

Q. Did you decide before the game that you're not going to try a field goal unless you're in a certain area or was it just situational?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: No. We had talked with Coach Downing, and we were probably not going to try a field goal going into the wind. It was going to be really tough blowing around. And we get to practice here every day so we know what strong south winds do.

And so we had a pretty good feel for that. We would have gone for field goals coming this way, going to the north. But what we wanted to make sure was right before half I didn't really even think about seriously going to field goal because the ball was on the 2. Would have been a hard angle. Get one play. It wasn't going to be you couldn't even go center of the ball and have time to kick one.

So kind of rolled the dice there a little bit. But felt we had a good selection from the previous game plan.

Q. Would it have been the same philosophy, Coach, in the final possession before over time, if you would have picked up another first down, would you have taken a shot down the field to try to get into position?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: Are you talking when we got the ball at the minute and a half or two, we did exactly the same thing we ran a couple of the same plays.

The interesting thing was, I don't know if you remember the sequence, but we had about a second and four and we ran the ball to Watts. If we had gotten a first, we'd have already called the shot play. Call play action and get it going, be something we could look at.

What a lot of people didn't realize they were sitting on two timeouts and if I throw an incomplete they could force us into a punting situation on our own end and that's not a comfortable place for me.

So it was important for us to understand that they still had timeouts left and not to let them force us into giving the ball back or even having to punt it on fourth down.

Q. You talk about Alex grinding it out for you there.
COACH BLANKENSHIP: You know, he did what he's done all year. There were times that he didn't play, didn't get it going as well but if you keep pounding the rock one thing Coach Johnson says all the time, you don't break the rock on the first pound most of the time, second or third, you have to keep pounding it. We felt we got momentum right there before halftime with him, and then we struggled a little bit going into the wind in the third quarter. But we still had some good plays, but big Al's pretty strong when he's heading downhill.

So we actually tweaked a couple of calls and helped him there at the end.

Q. Broke the record today.
COACH BLANKENSHIP: Yeah, I didn't think about that. That's kind of cool, too.

Q. Would you describe him as kind of the ultimate role player?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: Absolutely. He understands his role. He embraces his role. And if anything we would like to find ways to get all of them the ball more. But UCF is so well coached. They knew what we were faced with and they were going to come down and load up the box and not a lot of space to run.

Trey has a real knack for finding some open space even in tough situations, but big Al is straight downhill. We're at the late part of the season. They identified Ja'Terian and every time we were trying to go with him and did a good job of defending him as well. But we'll get J.T., get him broke loose.

Q. Where do you think this team gets its resiliency from?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: I think we've got a lot of guys that have played a lot of games. And there's just no shortcut to experience. A lot of they don't even have to be seniors but there are a lot of guys playing that have played in a lot of games, and I think we've just got guys with a lot of heart.

I mean, we had kind of a devotional chapel on Thursday and they were talking about Secretariat and the big heart he had and how he finished even with all those huge finishes at the end.

And it was a great challenge for our guys, because that's the way they've played with a lot of heart.

Q. What can this win do for you as you get ready for the Liberty Bowl now?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: Certainly gives you momentum. You want to go into Bowl season with a win. I think it's a springboard to that. It's just another opportunity for our guys to do something that they haven't done. And we're excited to be going to Memphis.

That's a big time I was a fan the last time we were in Memphis. And I can't wait to go back with the team.

Q. You guys have gone to a lot of Conference U.S.A. title games but you haven't won one until 2005.
COACH BLANKENSHIP: I don't know how to answer that other than I just think it's huge. It's big to us since I came in '07 as an assistant coach, we've, I guess, missed on two different occasions in '07 and '08. And it doesn't feel the same going into Bowl season without a win.

But this is what we talk about trying to focus on championships and building on those kind of things. And we're excited. We've had one of those for a long time that we look at and guys talk about, and we want to get another one.

Q. Did you know you had 94 plays?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: Not really surprised. But it felt like we were getting a lot of reps. Our defense was playing really, really good. They made it tough on them. We gave up way too many third down plays.

Bortles did a great job with his feet. He extended plays and scrambled out of trouble and in a way he'd scramble, hit the receiver over on the sideline to get them out of, I guess, coming out of the south end was reminiscent of the play he made for the touchdown on the first game we played.

He's just an outstanding player. We had a harder time getting pressure on him today than we did the time before. So you give them a lot of credit for that.

Q. To get touchdowns from Watts, Singleton and Ja'Terian seems appropriate for this team, doesn't it, for this team this season?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: It does. And I'd be remiss if I didn't point out, and I think you guys know, Thomas Roberson had a big time game. He made huge catches for us, touchdown and the whole thing, and he continues to kind of be that receiver that people tend to forget about that. All he does is help us win.

Q. When you struggled on the fourth downs three times, did you start to think that it wasn't your day?
COACH BLANKENSHIP: Oh, yeah. I mean, it's what we've been good at all year is fourth and one. And I'm anxious to go look at it and figure out what happened that we don't get those. But it was frustrating for us, no doubt.

But I guess we were probably would have gone for it again.


On the punt return for a TD
"The [UCF player] just jumped up and hit the ball, and once he hit it I knew I could go wherever. If I fumbled or lost the ball it didn't matter because the ball would go back to where they first touched it. Coach Downing talks about that in special team meetings all the time. I was just thinking to get as many yards as possible."

On the special teams unit
"We have a lot of walk-ons and former walk-ons. One thing about those guys is that you know they are going to give it everything they've got. They give a 100 percent every time. They go down the field with so much heart and they are just relentless. On special teams just fly around and go full speed all the time. It is just hard for teams to stop them."

On knowing any points would win the game after the blocked field goal
"We had so much confidence. Especially once the defense got that blocked kick. I was comfortable just letting Alex take it from the 25 in. I felt like we could just run the ball however many times we needed to to get in the endzone. Just give the ball to Alex and he's going to run some people over."


On the called rushing plays for Alex Singleton in overtime
"It's pretty obvious when we get seven offensive linemen in and `Big Al' back there in the backfield that we are coming at you. He is going to hit you in the mouth. Also, hats off to the offensive line for blowing people off the ball."

On the last possession of the first half
"Coach actually wanted to just keep the ball on the ground and run the clock out. But the plays that he called, they were two-way run options for Trey and I, so I wasn't just trying to run the clock out, I was trying to score. And once we got the first first down, I looked at Trey and said, "Get as much as you can and get out of bounds, we're going to score." I got to carry it twice and got two first downs, and I just knew we were rolling it in. My mindset was, "Hey, let's go get six."

On the grind of the game
"We've had games like this all season. I think that's what prepared us for this championship game. We like to get down and dirty and get these guys going. Especially the Big Guy [Alex Singleton], once you get him going, he's hungry. We have seven great offensive linemen that love to get after people. With our receiving corps, we didn't really utilize them the way we could the entire season, just because we are so good at running the ball. And why stop something that is working for you? And in tough games like this, the defense is going to step up and stop people, and we'll come out on top."

On knowing any points would win the game after the blocked field goal
"There's no doubt it was motivational. When they went out for that field goal, we knew we had won. Because, we'll grind it out. We'll go four downs and get three yards in a cloud of dust for the first down and just keep moving. So, when they blocked the field goal, everyone on the offensive side of the ball on the sideline thought, "Alright, we got it. Let's go win this thing.""

On the wind
"The wind is the one factor that can stop a passing game. It's not the rain, it's not the cold, it's the wind. Obviously, most of the times we threw the ball it was with the wind. Though, I think it was probably tougher going with the wind than against it, because you have to try and take a lot off of it. Even on that first pass to Keyarris, I barely flicked the ball and it took off out of my hand. It's just a challenge that you don't try to think of, you just let your brain take over and go through the regular motions."

On bouncing back after losses
"I'm pretty sure, across the board, everyone is sitting in the locker room thinking "Alright, let's get this taste out of our mouth. Let's go back to work." And after every loss, we've had our best practice week of the season. And this past week, we were firing on all cylinders. Offense, defense, we were getting after it. We knew that we didn't want that taste again. Losing sucks."


On the feeling of getting the winning touchdown
"It's my first championship ever. I'm still ecstatic about it. I can't really even explain it right now. It just feels so good. We have been talking about it all week and it's here now."

On getting the ball again after the call back
"I just looked at my offensive line and we said "We're just going to get it again. If they call that one back, we're just going to get it again. We'll put it in for sure this time so they don't have a doubt," and that's what we did."

On the touchdown record
"I thank God for it. Records are made to be broken. It feels good."


On winning the conference championship
"Like Alex said, it's just a feeling you can't explain in words. You go back to your freshman year when you first came in and you look back at everything from then until now that you worked on, it was all for this moment. To get this moment and to win [the conference championship] is just surreal. I thank God for blessing us in this special way and it just feels good to finally accomplish our goal."

On the big stop in overtime before the blocked field goal
"Yeah, we definitely felt that the game was ours then. But even before the blocked field goal and even before overtime, we expected to win. We know what it takes. We've been in situations all season long on defense, with our backs against the wall where we just need to stop [the opposing team] and hand the ball to offense so they can score. So we were always confident in it, we always had confidence in each other. And even if it's just three points, we're not trying to give that up, so we're going to try to block the field goal. That's just always our motto. To keep pushing and have confidence in ourselves, and it happened in reality."

On his pride in the defense
"I have so much pride in them. On defense our motto is always to stay together, no matter what. And we've faced a couple of things that didn't want to go our way in every game this season. And it happened in this game. UCF was a great opponent and we knew it wasn't going to be easy, we knew it was going to be tough. But as long as we all stayed together and believed it would go our way. Everything we did in practice this week has showed. Everyone sticking together, fighting to the end and playing hard led to the results today."

On a Liberty Bowl opponent
"It doesn't matter. We're blessed to be in the situation we're in, and we just have to try to take advantage of it. And get ready to win."

COACH O'LEARY: Heard a whistle blow. Give credit to Tulsa. Good conference championship.

Q. What did you say to the guys in the locker room after, especially when there's a play with a punt return, when there's especially controversy there?
COACH O'LEARY: Some controversy. You have to make plays in the game. It's a championship game. I said to them earlier: You good players have to play great, and you guys of average play have to play good. And we had a chance in the fourth quarter with 5:05 or something left to move the ball and get first downs and an opportunity to control our own destiny. We didn't get it done. I think you give credit to Tulsa. They boned up on defense and I thought offensively in the overtime they did what they had to do to win the game.

Q. How difficult was it to move the ball into the wind?
COACH O'LEARY: It wasn't difficult if we could run the ball. I don't think the offensive line had a great game again at the point of attack. I thought we should have had more yards there. I think it was tough throwing. Both quarterbacks struggled throwing the ball into the wind. Most of the big scores were headed into the wind, but it wasn't as much throwing as it was the ball was moving as far as some of the throws.

Q. Looked like the field goal in overtime was a little bit low?
COACH O'LEARY: I thought it was poor execution by the offensive line and protection. Call what it is. I blame the kicker enough. I don't need to blame the kicker on that one. I thought the offensive line was not protecting the gaps that they're protecting. They let too much penetration occur.

Q. Tulsa's running game was effective. What did you see from that?
COACH O'LEARY: Nothing except we didn't tackle like we should tackle. Too much hidden yardage. We're making tackles. And give Tulsa credit.

I think of all of the yards I would be surprised if half wasn't hidden after the first hit. So they did a good job of executing. And, again, it was a good conference championship game. Obviously tough way to lose a game in overtime, but I thought they made plays when they had to make them and we didn't.

Q. Can you talk about the thought process about the timeout at the first half?
COACH O'LEARY: We were trying to get more players into the game. They were screwed up on the call. So I called a timeout to get that done. Third and 7, I didn't intend on getting the ball back. Normally call it to see if you want to kick a field goal. It was a call to get more their breath underneath them on the passing down and to get some more play at the rush team on the field.

Q. The coverage on that deep throw that set up the touchdown, looked like basically a punt and two guys there and just couldn't make the play?
COACH O'LEARY: Yeah, they should have made the play. I thought it was a pick. And they both stood there. And that kid, 26, made a good catch. And they got a touchdown out of that where the timeout had nothing to do with that. They basically was willing to get our feet underneath us, and we had some injuries early in that first half and they get the rush people out there.

But that was poorly played ball. Good play for Tulsa, bad play for UCF.

Q. Fumbling the opening kickoff can be devastating sometimes. How was the team able to recover their poise after that?
COACH O'LEARY: They did. I thought they did a good job there, got the stop, got the turnover. And again it was under they did check it out to see whether his knee was on the ground or whatever. But for the most part I thought the officials did a good job in the game, controlled the game and kept it moving.

But the only time I actually spoke about it was when they, on the punt return the kid said the whistle blew. And more than two or three, that's why they know you have to down the ball. You just can't touch it. You've got to down the ball.

But that was something that you know, that was a score they got that you'd like to get back.

Q. What were your thoughts during that punt return, what did you see and then
COACH O'LEARY: First of all, the kid went up and smacked the ball, which is not real smart. If you're going to do that, grab the ball.

And then when he touched the ball is when the kid, the other kids coming down there were in pretty good coverage lanes, said they heard a whistle. Whatever. They should have still played the ball. And that kid made a good play and congratulations to him.

And it's something that we probably should have made a play on ourselves, but you don't down a ball hand the ball to the official is the only thing you're safe of when you're downing the ball.

Q. Blake had some bright moments. I could see you on the sideline trying to get him to calm down.
COACH O'LEARY: Get his feet underneath him and step correctly. I thought he had some really good throws and other times I thought his feet were a little bit too shaky not shaky, but rattled back there. He had some good heat on him, pressure. You've got to keep your poise. And that's a young quarterback that's only going to get better with those situations occurring.

Q. I thought that was huge for him.
COACH O'LEARY: It really was. I thought he made some really good plays in the game, just not enough of them when it counted in the fourth quarter. That's the key to the game.

That last drive in the fourth quarter was the one we had to get first downs and first downs. And you can't do that, especially when the wind's there and you gotta defend against a long field goal. So you have to punt the ball on fourth down.

Q. Have you ever been involved in a game that the wind played such a major factor in everything?
COACH O'LEARY: Not really. I tell you what, it affected both teams pretty much as far as throwing ability and what they could do. But, again, I thought the team that won today ran the ball better. And I think Tulsa did.

Q. One memory that's going to stick out is Rob Calabrese putting his head down
COACH O'LEARY: Great play by him. Saved two points. Great effort play by him. As they came to the sideline, big grin on his face. But great effort play by him and again saved two points, which means the difference in the game. It wouldn't have got to overtime.

Q. The team has one more game to play. What do you expect from them as they regroup from this?
COACH O'LEARY: The kids are resilient. Films pretty much don't lie. They'll look at it. And the only thing I said to them after the game was I mean, the only time you need to be really we obviously lost the conference championship. But if you didn't play with 100 percent effort with your God given ability, then you need to be disappointed. But if you gave the effort you need to give and we came in second, you can hang your head high and we'll line up for the next game.