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Blankenship Holds Weekly Press Conference

Tulsa head football coach Bill Blankenship
Tulsa head football coach Bill Blankenship
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Nov. 7, 2011

TULSA, Okla. - Tulsa head football coach Bill Blankenship discussed last week's victory over UCF and previewed Marshall in Monday's press conference. He also discussed the experience of being in his first earthquake this past weekend.

Full transcript is below...

Bill Blankenship
OPENING STATEMENT

It's nice to be in here on a Monday following a good Thursday win. I thought it was a very big win for us, to be able to go into Central Florida and come out of there with any kind of win. But the kind of win we were able to accomplish was very hard fought and to be able to grind out a physical type of game ... there's still something about that kind of football that makes it a lot of fun.

In the big scheme of things, as far as we're concerned, the game couldn't have finished any better when you think about how, from the middle of the fourth quarter on, when we were able to drive down to take the lead and then withstand a flurry from Central Florida. We were able to get a stop on a goal-line stand and then grind it out to run the clock out, that's about as good as you can think of a way to finish out the game.

I saw a lot of positives. Normally we give away game balls in the locker room. It was such a game really where there weren't any individuals that we noted. Obviously, Curnelius Arnick has been named the defensive player of the week for the conference and deservedly so with 19 tackles. This was a very rewarding team win and, as such, we gave each of the team members a game ball symbolically.

Some of the things to point out are, defensively, that our guys fought hard and limited a very good UCF running team to 155 yards rushing. They kept them to 5 out of 12 on third down conversions and only gave up 1 out of 3 on fourth downs. It's a big turn of events when you can do that. They only got in the red zone three times and only got a touchdown and a field goal.

 

 

Kevin Fitzpatrick was 3-of-3 on the night and it was a huge deal, as it turns out. A stat that fell under the radar is that we only punted one time against a team that prided itself on ball possession and controlling the game. We only got off the field one time on a punt, that was good.

Offensively, we accumulated 28 first downs, which was a huge deal and 252 yards rushing. You start trying to identify that is. The offensive line really played a physical game. G.J. Kinne was outstanding and very intelligent with the way he played and competed his tail off and looked for first downs and played smart. Trey Watts had big plays, Alex Singleton had plays, Ja'Terian Douglas had big plays, Willie Carter had big plays, Clay Sears had big plays. All were guys that stepped up at different times during the game.

Receiving, it was such a team deal. Jordan James had his high game for the season with six catches. We had 15 receptions spread out to five different receivers. That tells you how we saw the game and how we saw it played out. It was a complete team performance.

Marshall had a bye week, so we certainly have enjoyed having a couple of extra days to prepare for them. They've been able to work on us for an extra week. This is a team that's certainly had some highs and lows. You look at the fact they've beaten Southern Miss and Southern Miss' only loss of the year has come to Marshall. They beat Louisville in Louisville, a huge win. This is a team that is turnover- conscious. I think they lead our conference at plus-7 in turnover margin. They've had 21 sacks and create a lot of things defensively. They've had 10 interceptions and recovered 12 fumbles. Their defensive end Vinny Curry is really productive and an excellent pass rusher and defender. One of our guys told us he's just been invited to the Senior Bowl.

A few weeks back, they changed quarterbacks and seemed to go even more productive offensively since they changed quarterbacks. A.J. Graham is their guy and it appears to us that they've rallied behind him. Tron Martinez is an outstanding running back and we believe their most effective receiver is Troy Evans. He's a guy that's really quick and appears that he can do everything. They are effective with what they do offensively. They spread it out, but they usually use a tight end. Matchup-wise, you are always looking for how can we fit that together.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HAVING NO PENALTIES AT UCF?
That's very rare and I don't know if I've ever had a team that's had zero penalties. I think it does show a lot of discipline. The guys are playing smart football. What I usually look for in the penalty category is how many is the unforced or foolish-type penalties. Sometimes you can get some for aggressiveness that, while you don't want those, those aren't like lining up offsides. Operational penalties are the ones that drive you crazy. To have zero is a big deal.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE IMPACT OF Curnelius Arnick?
In game one, against Oklahoma, we were like `wow, he had all those tackles.' He's continued to do that every week. If you go back and watch him on film, what he does on each individual play is as impressive as how he finishes those plays. He has a real knack for seeing how a play develops and then making a move to get to it and make the tackle. He studies a lot of film and I think it shows that he's really become a very intelligent player. I think he knows what to expect as he sees formations aligned.

One of our fourth-down stops was after a timeout. We were getting ready to call a particular stunt, a particular blitz. He said `Coach, if you do this, I'll hit him in the backfield.' Sure enough, that was the call. He has a real knack for understanding what is going on. You can't put a measurement on that. It's huge for our defense and our team.

YOU RECEIVED ONE VOTE IN THE AP POLL? DO YOU LIKE GETTING THE RECOGNITION?
I'd rather how it in December. We're on the right track and I love where we are going as a team, but we need to finish ... Marshall is where it's at. If we take care of Marshall, we'll have opportunities beyond that. Marshall is really the focus of what we have to do.

IN THE GRAHAM ERA AND KRAGTHORPE ERA, THIS TEAM HAS DONE A GOOD JOB OF WINNING GAMES IT IS SUPPOSED TO WIN. IS THAT IMPORTANT?
I think it is a matter of perception, to be honest. As I've said before, crazy or not, we expect to win. We expected to win in week one and we expected to win in week two and I know outside of our room or outside of our locker room, that may not be the case. Are we doing what everybody expects us to do? I guess that's great, but I'd like to do better than that.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT Tyler Holmes?
Tyler Holmes is in his fourth season as a starter. He's ripping off consecutive starts and had one little injury in 2009 where he missed some games, but Tyler has been pretty exceptional for us. I think it was something we all took pride in last spring or summer when he was selected in the first round of the Canadian draft and knowing that is something that he could do if he chooses to. We'll see what happens. I think he's definitely has a NFL future.

He'll be called on, as will Matt Romine, to have a big role this week. They move Curry around from side to side. He'll get to work against both tackles. They'll have their hands full.

WAS THE WAY YOU RAN THE BALL AGAINST UCF A TESTAMENT ABOUT HOW GOOD THE OFFENSIVE LINE IS?
I think it says a lot about the line they've become. We felt pretty good early in the year. We've actually run the ball reasonably well all season, but this was a defense noted for being able to stop the run and I thought this was really one of those games that, when you get through and you've run the ball, that every linemen, every back, the quarterback, everybody takes great pride in saying this game can still be physical. It was good to see that we could do that.

WHAT IS THE TEAM'S CONFIDENCE LIKE RIGHT NOW AND CAN IT SNOWBALL?
I think so. Confidence is one of those things that you need to win. People have asked me if the first three games helped build you to this point. No. They helped us in a different way, but the biggest thing you suffer from when you lose is confidence. Are we still growing as a team? It's really hard if you don't get that immediate feedback of Ws or success. It's hard to fight through. Now that we are on a five-game roll, certainly the guys feel a lot better about themselves. I think that translates into we are practicing better and being more efficient in what we do. The guys are preparing well. It sure makes a difference. You want to walk out there and expect to win. I feel pretty good that is where we are as a team.

HOW BENEFICIAL IS IT THAT YOU HAVE THREE RUNNING BACKS THAT DON'T SEEM TO HAVE EGOS AND HAPPY WHEN ONE HAS SUCCESS?
It's one of the things I've been very, very proud of. Coach Holman Wiggins has done a great job with those guys. I was blessed over the last two years to be in that running back room. One of the challenges is that you don't have a guy that's just a dominant guy, but one of the huge blessings is that they really do celebrate each other. If you took a show of hands, I'm sure every guy in that room wants every snap until he gets tired. They have really accepted their roles and I think it's one of the things that have helped us be really good because we're rolling in fresh backs. Alex Singleton is getting better and better as well. His continued development will make that battery of running backs even tougher to defend.

SEVERAL YEARS AGO WHEN YOU LEFT UNION, YOU TOOK A LEAP OF FAITH. HAVE YOU HAD TO PINCH YOURSELF AT TIMES?
A few times. It's a pretty good run right now. But, as my wife and I talk about it pretty regularly - Angie is not new to the coaching world - this is a roller-coaster ride. It's a cliché, but it's really true. There's only two types of coaches, two types of players when you start talking about this - the humble and the humbled. She reminds me if you're not a member of the first group, you'll soon be a member of the second.

DURING THE NONCONFERENCE SEASON, YOU SAID WINNING THIRD DOWN WAS IMPORTANT. NOW, YOU LEAD THE LEAGUE IN THIRD DOWN DEF IN CONFERENCE GAMES AND ONE OF TOP FOUR IN COVERTED THIRD DOWNS.
Typically, you get what you emphasize and what you work at the most. Everybody talks about and works on turnovers as an example. But, again, at some point we haven't flipped (turnovers) like we've needed to yet. It's gotten better, but we are still at a minus-4 in turnover margin, but our third-down conversion rate has steadily moved up offensively and steadily moved up as far as stopping opponents on defense. That's been encouraging for us because if you flash back to five or six weeks ago, the point of emphasis became start fast and win third downs. To this point in the season, we've done pretty well at that.

Kevin Fitzpatrick HAS A BIG GAME FOR YOU AT UCF AND IS PERFORMING WELL. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HIM?
It was especially big for him. I was pleased that he was able to perform as well as he did in Florida. He's the only Florida kid on the roster and he had about 80 people on the ticket list. It was a pretty big deal to him. He was geeked up. He was not hitting the ball like he is capable of hitting it, so I felt that it was huge that he settled down and was consistent on those field goals.

That's where he's been all year. That's a great weapon for us, to know that you get down in the red zone and that's somebody you can count on. I'm sure there are some BCS standings that were a result of people not being able to hit field goals. I think it's huge to have a guy that can do that.

THE DEFENSE ISN'T ALLOWING AS MANY "BIG-SHOT" PASSES THIS YEAR AS LAST YEAR. WAS THAT A POINT OF EMPHASIS?
There's no question that we've done a much better job of keeping the ball in front. We've let a couple get over us and that was huge because it was such a huge emphasis for us to keep the ball in front and make them snap the ball again. A great example was right before the goal-line stand, they got a long conversion, a long pass and a perfectly thrown ball and the guy got run out of bounds at the 5. Make them snap it again, snap it again and snap it again. Sometimes you win. When you give up shots over your head, most of the times there are no snapping it again because they get to the end zone. That's been a point of emphasis from day one, what Coach Guy has done with staff and our players. It's a credit to Dexter McCoil and Marco Nelson. Our corners have done a good job of keeping it in front. We're getting beat sometimes, but not nearly like what we had seen in the past and what we are trying to prevent.

We're not getting the kind of pressure that we want to get. We've gotten better at that and we have to do better if we're going to make a run during the last three weeks.

IF YOU WIN THIS GAME, YOU'RE GUARANTEED TO PLAY HOUSTON FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP OF THE DIVISION NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS IN EL PASO. IS THIS A TRAP GAME?
No, it's not a trap game. This is a game that you know what's at stake. Our guys are very focused. I'm confident that they will tell you that they understand what is at stake with Marshall. The fact is we've been talking about it for the last several weeks. We know, with every week, it gives us a chance to play for the championship. Most of these guys come from successful high schools and understand the playoff mentality and I've tried to relate it to a playoff mentality ... now we are down to a three-week playoff to see if we have a chance to play for the championship. Our guys get that. They understand this is a big deal. We have Marshall at home and I think they grasp the fact that if you beat Marshall, then you are playing for the championship. That's important for everybody to understand. Hopefully our fans will get ahold of that, too.

IS THIS AN EXCITING GAME FOR PRESS TAYLOR?
I think it is. We have Press on our staff, who played at Marshall, as a GA. It's a big deal for him. Russ Hoffman, our equipment guy, is a Marshall guy as well. There are always these little extra stories that you probably are involved in every week and every game. Football is a tight-knit community and you have friends on every staff. Sometimes people you don't like as well on some of those staff, but for the most parts people love the relationships ... I'm sure Press is going to be around a lot of people that he'll want to talk to before and after the game.

BEFORE THE SEASON, YOU COULD POINT AT THE SMU-UCF GAMES IN AN 11-DAY STRETCH AS IMPORTANT. HOW BIG WERE THOSE TWO WINS?
Huge. I said it on Thursday night and I'll say it again. We knew it was going to be tough. SMU is a tough football team, a physically tough football team and to play as well as we did in that game and then turn it around and play another tough, physical game ... there is nothing finesse about playing Central Florida. There's nothing easy about going into Bright House and that environment. It's loud and a raucous environment. They have great student involvement. That's why you saw a big smile on my face because we accomplished a lot in those last two weeks, but now we have to keep it going.

WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THE EARTHQUAKE?
That was a first for me. I slept through the previous one. That thing got my attention. Nobody had a video camera on me, but I probably had Herbstreit eyes.