Oct. 17, 2011
TULSA, Okla. - University of Tulsa head football coach Bill Blankenship sat down with select members of the media Monday for his weekly press conference. He discussed the victory over UAB and previewed this week's meeting with Rice.
A full transcription of the press conference is below...
It's nice to come back in after a win again. We are pleased to be back at 3-3 and, more importantly, 2-0 in conference play. That is a real focus that our players have had since the beginning and we realize that we are getting into a run now where all we will see are conference games. We like playing out in front schedule-wise and win-wise. That's a big deal.
As we evaluate and look back, we have some game balls that we gave out. Clay Sears and G.J. Kinne both had exceptional nights. Ja'Terian Douglas, he is really continuing to grow into the type of backs that's learning to play the entire game. It doesn't take much to see the kind of threat he is when he gets in open space. We're really enjoying that.
DeWitt Jennings on special teams had three tackles inside the 20-yard line. He is really continuing to really bring a lot of leadership to that unit and is playing well. Kevin Fitzpatrick was 3-for-3 again and great hang time on his kickoffs. It is really allowing our coverage teams the opportunity to dominate.
Offensively, positives include 30 first downs and over 500 yards. I think 11 or more explosive plays and those are good things. We were able to control the ball for 87 snaps. The offensive line played very well and we had no penalties on the offensive side of the ball. We only had one three-and-out. Winning third downs has been a much better accomplishment on both sides of the ball. The huge, absolute glaring flaw on the offense is the turnovers. It's an issue that we have to continue to focus on and do a better job of emphasizing. The one interception was, I don't think, a terrible throw. It was a bang-bang play ... but the three fumbles and we had another fumble that we didn't lose. Those weren't the case of someone putting a helmet on a ball. We were carrying the ball loose and not being secure with it. We had to do a better job with it.
Defensively, we talked about third-down conversion rate and it is what we are trying to strive for. It was much improved. The things we are trying to emphasize on, we are doing well. UAB only converted 3-of-15, so third downs were really good. In the third quarter alone, after coming back from a motivational speech from Coach (Brent) Guy, the defense went three-and-out five times in the third down. That is exceptional. We did have five penalties and two passes over the top that were back-breakers. Those are things we fight against constantly and I know that's an area that we have to get refocused on.
In the second half, it was nice to look at the series breakdown and it was all punts and two interceptions. It was nice to finish a game like we did defensively. We didn't start like we needed to. I did mention that special teams with DeWitt Jennings. Donnell Hawkins also had three tackles inside the 20. We're getting really good work from our coverage units. Coach (Scott) Downing are doing good work. Freeman Kelley averaged 25 yards a return and I think we have more room to get better, but that was encouraging
They are a whole lot better than what I was expecting to see. They have a great win over Purdue and their other win is Memphis. You look beyond that and they have four losses, but it was losses to Texas, losses to Baylor, Southern Miss ... those are really good football teams. I almost feel like they've been on a schedule similar to what we were early in the year and their record is very much not an indicator of who they are.
We watched them specifically on defense today and this is a very good defensive football team. They chase the ball really hard and are physical. I think they do a great job and are very athletic. They have several sacks. Scott Solomon is very active with 4.5 sacks this year. They fly around and attack the ball well and will be a real challenge for us. We'll be ready for it.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT GOING ON THE ROAD WITH THIS TEAM?
I enjoy hanging out with these guys. We have a great family of players that have a good time in the hotel. We typically, especially if we have a night game, we'll have a room where we set up some TVs and show movies and that kind of stuff. Guys like to hang out and watch football games on Friday night. That's been a lot of fun to get in there and hear the trash talk and the fun. These guys get along very well.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF HAVING A TIGHT END LIKE Clay Sears?
The advantage we have with Clay is that he hasn't always been a tight end. He's not a 270-pound guy that can be a physical masher. Clay walked on here as a quarterback and played a year at quarterback and eventually went to being a wide receiver. He spent a couple of years as a wide receiver after that first year and then worked in last year as a tight end/hybrid player. The thing that he brings to the table is the ability to line up and be a tight end, but when we put him out in space, it's not a foreign environment to him. He's run routes in space. He's worked on defensive backs trying to cover you and not just linebackers. He has some ability out in a spacious area that a lot of times, people that only played tight end are uncomfortable with. The balance is that he's more of a hybrid guy that can make a lot of different plays. We do split him out a lot. He does a good job of blocking at the line of scrimmage, but he's not a guy that we want to get out and mash with all the time. Someone told me that it's the first 100-yard game since Garrett Mills. That's a good accomplishment.
We've mentioned it in here, in passing, but the guy's an excellent receiver that can catch the ball. He has big hands and I kept thinking he would become more and more part of our game plan each week and we've talked about it to some degree. Going into every game, it's hard to know what the defense is going to take away and what they are going to focus on. This was a game where it just worked out that the middle part of the field is where we were able to work most of our magic.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST STRENGTH THAT YOU'VE DISCOVERED FROM THIS FOOTBALL TEAM MIDWAY THROUGH THE SEASON?
I think they are very resilient. These are guys ... I've been very pleased with the fact that they don't panic. These are guys that can face adversity and look at it in the eye, spit in their hands and go to work. That's what I've been very pleased to see in the past and that's what encourages me through the rest of the season. I don't think anything is going to surprise them or shake them up. They are going to stay in there and fight.
The other side of it is they sometimes don't have that sense of urgency. We saw that last Saturday night. In the first half, we were not playing at the level that we thought we should be playing. I don't think they felt a sense of urgency about it. I mentioned on Saturday night that I felt like we were playing to the level of the record of what UAB had, not what we've seen on film. Everyone was telling us they were 0-5 ... this is a conference and you go straight through it and we'll see it as we go, that anyone can beat anyone in this conference. I've seen it in the four years that I've been here. It's important that we do build a little more sense of urgency. I'm glad that we have that calmness to us.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THIS MERGER WITH C-USA AND MOUNTAIN WEST
I'm really excited about the concept. Bubba has kept me in the loop since the beginning, and we've known it was in the works. The thing we like about it the most is it can bring some stability to what we're seeing across the country. It gives us an opportunity to enhance our postseason opportunities, whether it be through getting an automatic qualifying spot out of that conference or how it is going to be restructured when all this resettles. The fact that the schools that are involved and the number we bring and all of the time zones and markets, i think it gives us an opportunity. People say what if it just one spot? Well that's better than we have now. Right now, we know we're not in an automatic qualifying conference. If we can get to a point that 18-20-22 schools and of that, we know we have a way to play our way into a BCS game or whatever it is called, that would be huge. We think we're moving in that direction with this merger.
HAVE YOU HEARD IF YOU WOULD PLAY INTERLOCKING SCHEDULE OR OWN CONFERENCE?
I think they've released enough information to know that we have an intention of playing a championship game next year and the intention of playing a two-tier championship in the future, but all that has to be worked out. We are working toward a championship format with the hopes and plans being that there's enough of a market for us that if we present a champion, that champion should have an enhanced chance in the postseason. I think you will see more of our nonconference schedules settled for three-four-five years down the road. I think what you will continue to see is, depending on the makings of it, you will see a little more of the regional exchange of those schools that are not in the division that we are in. None of that has been walked through completely, but I could certainly see us in a situation where you play your division opponents and have a couple of crossover games. That's what you would need to get into that championship game.
IS IT DISAPPOINTING TO HEAR TEAMS LIKE SMU AND HOUSTON, GOOD RIVALRY GAMES, ABOUT LEAVING THE CONFERENCE?
I think everybody has explored options. We have explored options about leaving the conference. All of us have tried to look at what our options are. None of that surprises me. I do think this merger, for lack of a better term, is still the best answer for us that has been a part of it. The current Conference USA schools and Mountain West schools fit nicely. We're doing this for a reason. It enhances our opportunities and I really feel like it's a win-win for us.
YOUR THOUGHTS ON BUBBA MOVING ON TO NORTH CAROLINA...
I'm disappointed for us, but proud of him. It's a great situation. I know enough about what Bubba has done in the past and some opportunities turned down. They looked like, on the surface, good opportunities. He's done what he thinks is good for he and his family. For us, it's a loss. But it's also, when we have coaches that go on to take positions elsewhere, I can't do anything but be happy for them because they're moving on and doing things. It feels like that's kind of our family that is expanding and branching out. I'm thankful for Bubba and his leadership and what he has done here. I am hopeful that he'll look as good in Carolina blue than Tulsa blue.
IT DOESN'T MATTER IF COLLEGE, PRO OR HS. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE LUXURY OF HAVING A TRUE LEADER AT QUARTERBACK?
I've probably said the same thing over and over again. Pretty much when I got hired, and people would ask and I said one of the great comforts I've had is having a third-year starter at quarterback. He's seen everything. He's been to all the big stadiums. Not only that, he's a really good player. G.J.'s ability to create plays, I think, makes it really hard on opposing defenses. It makes it really good for us. There are times that we sit back and say that's not exactly the way we drew it up, but it sure looked good with the way he made it happen. When you have that `it' factor like G.J. has ... I know I very often just go boy, I'm glad that he's on my team. I don't know if I want to defending that guy because of his competitiveness and what he is able to bring. He's tempered that since 2009 when he was a new guy. He had that `it' factor, but he wasn't seeing the defenses and the field. Now, he sees the blitz and knows how to dump it over to (Ja'Terian Douglas) on his hots. Several of those throws last Saturday were strictly because he absolutely knew exactly what the defense was doing and executed our offense flawlessly.
SOMETIMES WHEN GUYS GET DINGED UP, THERE CAN BE A MENTAL BLOCK AND SOME MAY PLAY SCARED. HE'S NOT DOING THAT.
He didn't do that at Boise when he was fresh coming off of his injury. He flipped that switch last week. He told me it was the best he'd felt in a long time and he played that way on Saturday.
GJ MENTIONED THAT HE LIKED THE TWO-MINUTE OFFENSE AND WORKING FAST. WILL WE SEE MORE OF THAT?
I think that he operates really well at that. The thing is you'd also ask him how he's developed that two-minute side of things. He's really improved that dramatically this year. We're allowing him to do a lot more of the play calls himself in those two-minute situations. I know GJ well enough and he'll be a great coach someday. He likes anything where he gets to call plays a little more.
WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE BCS WITH OU AND OSU AT THREE AND FOUR AND YOU LOOK AT THIS PROGRAM OVER THE LAST FOUR YEARS, TULSA IS NO LONGER THE OTHER TEAM. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PRIDE OF WHAT TULSA HAS DONE?
It's fun to be a part of it. I felt like we caught the wave at the right time. I give a lot of credit to Steve Kragthorpe and his crew turned the fortune of this program. How did all that happen? You have to give a lot of credit to Stead Upham, Bubba Cunningham ... we can now recruit. I don't know if I would have been able to recruit all the players we've been able to bring into this program if it looked on campus like it used to look. We had to bring them in at night. We're not the biggest school, we know. We're literally the smallest. But quality, you walk around and see it. That's something that, when I say, catch the wave. When Coach (Todd) Graham took over and hired me to be a part of the staff, I thought laughingly how many times I would have come if I got the opportunity to come to this school because I wanted to come. Now it's the best time to be here. To have the opportunity to see where we are, this is a great time in Tulsa athletics and Tulsa football, especially. We're just at a level where we are playing very high at this point in time.
WHO IS PLAYING GREAT OUTSIDE OF G.J. Kinne?
I think you have to give Willie Carter a lot of props. He's playing well offensively and making few mistakes. I really like what Tyler Holmes and Clint Anderson are doing on the left side of the line. Across the board, they are playing really good up front, but those two have solidified what we're doing on offense. On defense, Curnelius Arnick has been solid with another 10 tackles this week. Dexter McCoil ... those guys are playing really well.
CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT ARNICK?
There's nothing flashy ... it's a real tribute to the time he spends in the film room. He's really relied, during the course of his career, to depend on his reads. He's flourishing in Coach Guy's setup. He's just not missing tackles.