Nov. 5, 2013
Tulsa, Oklahoma -
"Football is a funny game. Sometimes, you can look at statistics way too much. The irony of it (Tulsa's loss to Texas-San Antonio) is we had more first downs than they did. Offensive yardage was about the same. Our defense versus their offense - they were 3-of-12 on third downs. We were 9-of-20. Usually, third downs are a big tell-tale statistic. We were 2-of-3 on fourth downs. But the key - as we talk about always - how deadly are turnovers? How deadly is the hidden yardage involved with those turnovers? That's the biggie. I don't have the pixie dust to fix that. We're certainly working on it. We're doing the drills. We're making it a point of emphasis."
"We still believe that if we put together a cleaner game, we still have the ability to win football games. But we certainly need to execute better."
About East Carolina:
"I certainly have a lot of respect for Ruffin McNeill. He's done a fabulous job at his alma mater. He's going to have probably the most talent we're going to see since the (Sept. 14) Oklahoma game. This is a very veteran, quality, talented football team. Offensively, (quarterback) Shane Carden leads our conference. He's throwing at about 72 percent. He's incredibly efficient with low interception numbers. Justin Hardy will be as good as any receiver we'll see all year. He's averaging close to nine catches a game. Over a hundred yards per game. He's far and away their biggest target, but they have a number of (receivers) with more than 20 catches."
What's the status of offensive guard Stetson Burnett:
"There was nothing on the X-rays in terms of any fractures. He has a very severe ankle injury. Definitely out this week. We don't have him in the game plan at all."
What does Burnett's absence mean to the offensive line:
What is Jake Alexander's status:
"He's the most dominant offensive lineman we have. Stetson, I believe, is an NFL-type player. He's an outstanding leader and a four-year starter. There's certainly a loss there. He has the ability to play both guard and tackle, which we utilized on a regular basis. We'll move into a rotation initially that puts Gabe Moyer at right guard. (Dylan) Foxworth will play center and (Jake) Alexander is still at left guard. We had hoped to (limit) Jake to a few less snaps, to protect him with the (knee) struggles he has had. You're going to probably see Garrett Gladd in the rotation a little more. Possibly Chris Wallace. Those guys are in the guard areas. Blake Belcher, we expect to play a little more."
"If Jake is a healthy Jake, he's as good as they come. He's been battling his own issues, but his courage and leadership are something we can't do without."
At 2-6, do you continue with business as usual in regards to your lineup, or do you try to get more playing time for less experienced guys?
"That's really an interesting discussion that we've had ourselves. From my standpoint, we certainly don't want to hold guys back who we are trying to develop. We're not going to throw aside seniors in our program who are doing well and helping us do as well as we can to win. That's not going to happen under my watch. There's a balance - if (seniors) are healthy and performing, then there's no difference. But if they're not performing or not healthy, then, obviously, we need to be developing the players who are going to help us down the road. We're not ready to go to next year, but we always have to be conscious of our program. Our program is bigger than a season. A season is bigger than a game."
Who starts at quarterback this week?
"We're having those discussions. If there had been one guy that was clearly playing better, it would be an easy decision. Their performance can help you make a decision. As it is, there's not been a whole lot of difference. I could give you the pluses and minuses of each guy. It's all on the table."
If someone attended the Liberty Bowl, then disappeared for 10 months and now sees that you are 2-6, and they asked how this happened, how would you respond? Is there an easy answer or would it take you three hours to explain?
"There are no easy answers. There's just an accumulation of some things we can control and some things we can't control. The football bounces funny. Some years, you get bounces. Some years, you don't. The law of averages does catch up to you at some point in time. But any one of those is just an excuse for how the whole season has gone. There are no simple solutions and no simple answers. There's no simple identity for the problem and no simple solutions. I would maintain that there's always been a very fine line between winning and losing."
When Demarco Nelson gets his suspension coupled with so many key injuries early on, do you say what's going on here?
"It's been a while since we've had seven or eight season-ending injuries to starters . . . but we can't control that. We kept guys playing last year. The injuries we had were typically short-term type things. We've got a different set of cards this year. There's nothing easy about it. There are teams that overcome those, and we haven't been able to yet."
Is a below-average passing game the most glaring of Tulsa's problems?
"The issue with quarterbacks - it's a two-way street. A quarterback can make other guys around him better. Other guys make the quarterback better. But it's a very glaring situation when your quarterback is not making others better. I don't know how much better we can make each other. That's the issue with the people we have at present. We have to maximize who we have. We know that Keevan Lucas is a fine football player. How do we maximize him? We know that Trey Watts is a very productive football player. How do we maximize him? Those are the things we are trying to accomplish."
Has enough time passed that you now can remember the 2010 East Carolina game as having been a classic? (East Carolina beat Tulsa 51-49 on a final-play touchdown pass):
"I don't know if I'd call it a classic. I remember being in the press box when they caught the Hail Mary pass. There were coaches that said, `I've never seen that happen before.' I said, `I have.' I had experienced it before, and it won't be the last time somebody wins - as Nebraska proved (last week) - on a Hail Mary. It was a brutal season-opening loss. Fortunately, we were able to bounce back and have a really good year."
There were seven lead changes in the fourth quarter in that game:
"I know it went back and forth. It was crazy. It was a great environment. It looks like they've had great crowds. I remember that game, they were very loud and energetic. I think it's an absolutely fabulous environment in our conference. They do a really nice job.
Tulsa is on the brink of being mathematically eliminated from the possibility of a ninth bowl appearance in 11 seasons. What's been going through your head and some of the players heads as you go into this game:
"Well, they can count. We can count. It's something we get reminded of pretty regularly. I don't think we had to be reminded of it. It's been (since) 2009 that we didn't go to a bowl game. We had two good years with Todd and then we took a step back and didn't go to a bowl game. That was pretty hurtful to us then. Guys that are here, some of them may be aware of that but haven't experienced it. They've had a pretty good run, '10, '11 and '12. It ain't over until it's over. We're going to keep battling."