Oct. 10, 2011
TULSA, Okla. - Tulsa head football coach Bill Blankenship held his weekly press conference today for the local media. He discussed how the team spent its bye week, and how everyone is preparing for the UAB game this Saturday.
We had a good bye week after the win over North Texas. We were able to do as we planned. We had good practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The guys got a little time off on Friday and Saturday. We came back and actually had a full practice on Sunday evening. Eveyrone came back on time and did what they were supposed to do. It was a very productive week and weekend.
I think our coaching staff and our players needed a little time to freshen up and lighten up the load on their bodies a little bit. We came back pretty well refreshed and had a good practice last night.
Did you get to watch the Mississippi State-UAB game on Saturday?
I watched most of that game. Certainly, we have done film study since then. I thought, obviously, UAB played very strong. They led for much of the game. Mississippi State began to run the ball and looked like they got to them late, but I thought UAB played very well and it shows the kind of team ... if you look at what UAB has done so far, Mississippi State, Troy, those are good indicators of a team that's really close to being able to win, but just haven't been able to finish.
Can you talk about UAB's record. Can it be deceiving?
Your program hasn't played UAB since 2008. Is it like a new team to many of the current players?
We'd like to think records can be deceiving because we're sitting at 2-3. Anytime you talk about another team, you have to look at the mirror and say how do we feel about ourselves? We don't have a winning record. It's probably wise to view UAB as a very dangerous opponent and certainly, if you look at film, you'll see that they do a good job of making it tough on the teams that they play.
It will be. It's only the seniors that have played UAB because, in the rotation that you mentioned, the teams from the East rotate in and out. It has been two seasons that we haven't seen them. UAB is not one that we've seen a lot, even in playing our other opponents on video. It's not a real familiar team for us. The study is really important this week to get back on track.
Something that jumps out is their experience on the offensive line and special teams?
Their special teams are very good. It seems like, in talking to Coach (Scott) Downing, our special teams coordinator, that we played in the first five weeks and now another one, some of the best punters in the country in terms of being able to put the ball in a great location and keep it away from the returners. They've had good success in their return game as well. They are a veteran offensive team, at least up front, and I think they've really done a pretty good job. They've been dangerous on offense. They haven't generated as many points, when you look at it comparably in the yards and big plays that they've had, they have a pretty productive offense.
Do you think they have some urgency to win for their head coach's job?
I can't speak for how they are approaching it. They've played with great passion and intensity against Mississippi State. I would hope that they wouldn't play that well against us, but I think they will. They are at a point in their season where they are desparate to get a win and I think they will continue to battle. If there's one thing you have seen from them in the five games, you haven't seen them fold up the tent. That says a lot for what Coach (Neil) Callaway has done for them.
Your team has dealt with a lot of perseverance this year.
I've been very proud of our team and the way they have battled through adversity this season. We've always, those of us that have been in the game for awhile, you know that you are never going to have a season absent of adversity. Some seasons, you have a little more than others and this is one of those where we've had a lot. I love the way this team has responded and I think they've shown a lot of mental toughness and, even at times, physical toughness to overcome many of the issues that we've had to face. I just like where we are. I like this group. I like their mindset right now and I think they are hungry to make this run through conference play.
It seems like something like that would have to bring a group of guys together.
Anytime you deal with adversity, one of two things can happen. It either fractures you or it does bring you together. I think our guys really have done a good job of tightening the ranks, locking arms. Everything I've seen, it has been a group that wants to tighten up and get stronger.
Does that pay off later in the season?
There's no question. It's going to go one way or the other. If you pull together, you get stronger. If you fracture, you get weaker. I think it's going to pay off for us. The fact that we've seen some really good teams and we've had to play at a higher level will do nothing but help us later down the road.
We're almost to the midway point of the season. Is Conference USA evolving like you thought it would, with the competition among the 12 schools?
I think it's playing out to be a little stronger than what I had anticipated. I don't know that I was ready to see that, on any given week, how many of our teams have had big wins. For Rice to beat Purdue early in the season, for Marshall to beat Louisville, for Southern Miss to completely dominate Navy like they did, Houston over UCLA ... you go down that list, there's a lot of big wins. SMU beat TCU. There's not going to be any gimmes down the road. I go back to UAB. They don't have a notch in their belt, but they have played extremely well against some good football teams.
The C-USA West Division alone is coming up strong?
I think so. That's all to be seen as we play this out. There are no cupcakes on the schedule. They've proven that. Each of these guys have gone in and had some marquee wins. UTEP is a tough place to go play and we've known that for a long time. They took Houston, who has been very solid all the way through the season, right to the wire before Houston got that win. As we look through the last seven weeks of the season, it's going to be an exciting run for us.
How is your injury situation right now?
Most of what we've been dealing with --- in fact, none of what we've been dealing with is season-ending injuries. Most of them are the sore hamstrings, the concussions, shoulders. The fact that we were able to go a week and not have any hitting, it really gives our guys a lot of rehab and recovery time. We had more guys at practice last night than we've had fresh for at least 2-3 weeks. I think we've got to have a good week and work through it. There have been times, like in the North Texas week, where we lost guys on practice on Thursday to non-contact injuries. Those things happen. But going into this week, we are at a pretty good place. We are maybe as close as we've been to full strength as we've been in a long time.
Are you going to get some of the receivers back?
Some of them are back, some haven't practiced yet. With us practicing on Sunday, you don't have the luxury of having as much ... a lot of them will have their medical checkups on Monday and if they are cleared to go, they will start on Tuesday.
How did G.J. practice during the week?
Very well. He told me yesterday that it was the best he's felt. He felt really good and practiced at a very high level yesterday.
You've been a part of the football program for five years and Tulsa is playing its 50th regular season C-USA game on Saturday. Can you talk about how Tulsa has left its mark?
It is kind of interesting. You look at the wave that we've caught at the University of Tulsa and the timing of going into Conference USA was very similar. I was fortunate to hear President Upham's state of the university speech and as we talked about what has gone on during the last 6-7 years during his tenure, it corresponds with the timing of moving into Conference USA. The successes that have happened, not just in football but all of our sports, and then walk around campus ... there is a common thread of the past 6-7 years. A lot of that can be attributed to our president and the people he has brought in. I'm really thankful to Stead for all of that.
What are you thoughts on conference realignment? Where do you think it will be five years, two years from now?
I'm interested in where it will be five minutes from now. The talk that's going on consistently is mostly talk. I'm very thankful and met with Bubba (Cunningham) a few minutes ago and know what he knows. We're all kind of out there hearing the same thing. We're working on some contingency plans. I think you can have these press conferences all over the country and how many opinions would you get on whether Missouri will be in the Big 12 or not. If that happens, what happens next? If that doesn't happen, what happens next? Most of us, as coaches, and I know it's really boring, but we've spent a lot of our time getting ready for UAB and the opponents we have. There's really so little that we have to do with it.
UAB gave East Carolina, Mississippi State and Troy everything they wanted. What are they going to try to do when they come in here and what do you have to do to defend that?
In the (Mississippi State) game, Mississippi State tried to run no-huddle and a hurry-up at times. What I really sensed from UAB was a significant effort to slow the game down. Of course, you can't slow it down on defense, but you can slow it down a little bit on offense and keep the game close. The advantages to a team like UAB is to play good defense and not give up the big plays and then there's a little bit of the North Texas model - run the football and try to keep the clock running as best as they can. Strike and get those opportunities ... if I were playing Tulsa, I'd say they have all these turnovers. If you just stay close, they may give us some free ones. UAB has taken advantage of most of their opportunities ... they've had a couple of pick sixes the last couple of weeks. Most of those have come from deflections and balls being batted around. Still, that's a way for a team that stays close to get in it. It's important for us, on the other side, to do what we do and be aggressive offensively and take care of the football. Defensively, we have to make them earn what they are going to get. Our defense has done a pretty good job of that.
Is it beneficial to have a veteran quarterback like GJ, that's not going to force things and be patient?
It's always beneficial to have a veteran quarterback and that situation is another one because one of the things that happens is you'll get a little frustrated. If you don't score fast enough, frustration builds and you feel pressure and you're not playing at the same level. The veteran guys know we're going to break the ice. I was really proud of GJ in week two at Tulane. We struggled early against a team that we thought we would be able to move the ball against. He kept his composure and his mind and kept the guys on the sideline ready. When it broke loose, it broke loose. I think that veteran guy really gives you a leg up in those situations.
What did you think about Union's game against Owasso the other night.
The only thing I will say about that is I was coming home from another game that I had been to. It shocked me that it was still on the air because it was like 10:30 and they were replaying ... there was an injury timeout at the time ... I kind of started listening and did listen to the rest of the game as it wound up. I listened to the last 30-40 seconds from my garage.
No disappointment for your old school?
I can't say there wouldn't be a little disappointment. I really care about those guys. That is a place that I have my heart, but I always have great respect for Bill Patterson and what they have done in Owasso. It was a great day for them. I think it was a hard thing for Union to go through. It's not Coach (Fredrich's) first rodeo. They will rally the troops.