Nov. 21, 2011
TULSA, Okla. - Tulsa head football coach Bill Blankenship held his weekly press conference Monday on the campus of The University of Tulsa. He discussed the team's seven-game win streak and previewed the C-USA West Championship showdown with No. 7 Houston.
Full transcript is below
It's kind of like we talked about in the locker room with our players, we can actually talk about Houston now. We've been very fortunate to have a good stretch run. Our guys played well on the road in a tough environment. We have not had good success at UTEP like we talked about before. To go in, get a fast start and finish ... it wasn't perfect by any stretch. We had a lot of mistakes and a lot of things we needed to work on. But to leave there with a convincing victory was a big deal for us. We are very thankful.
Offensively, Trey Watts had his best game since he's been here. All-around, the numbers speak for themselves in all-purpose yardage. Ja'Terian Douglas continues to be the speed guy we need him to be. Jordan James, for him, that was his first touchdown catch and we believe that's what he is capable of. He's a big receiver with great hands and a matchup problem. It was fun to see that materialize. Clay Sears had a big game and I think the absence of Willie Carter probably meant that Clay had to have a bigger role and he certainly stepped up with seven catches. If you look at the offensive line, it was a very physical game. We continue to grow into being a physical, aggressive offensive line and that unit creates some good things both for G.J. and the running backs.
Defensively, Tyrunn Walker
had his best game. Two sacks, a forced fumble. Overall it was his best game. I hate that it was a little tainted with the late penalty and we're not happy about that, but by the same token he was playing very well. Lowell Rose
had a very strong outing at corner with five tackles and disrupted a lot of pass plays. Kwame Sexton
had to fill in for Marco early on in the game and played very, very well. Kwame still has some things in just making the right decisions, but athletically and instinctively, he really played above our expectations. Curnelius Arnick
had another 14 tackles and we're beginning to take that for granted. DeAundre Brown
probably had his best game since he was hurt and came back. He was productive and had an outstanding interception. Shawn Jackson's
pick six was a big play also.
Special teams wise, we were disappointed with the blocked punt. We have to make that correction. We just misblocked it on the back side and turned a guy loose, which is always a fear in special teams. The positive note is the kick returner at UTEP was leading the conference and the first time all year, he was tackled inside the 10-yard line. Our kick coverage teams did very well and Trey Watts' kick return for a touchdown was a big play.
WITH A BIG, EMOTIONAL GAME COMING UP ON FRIDAY, DO YOU WORRY ABOUT PLAYING WITH TOO MUCH EMOTION?
I think that's probably a concern for some people. I don't think I'm too worried about them being too emotional. These guys have been very focused along the way. The seniors know what is at stake for them personally playing at home. They want to be back in Chapman. I would be surprised if, to a man, they didn't tell you that they fully expect to continue their career and play well here. It's a much bigger deal to them to what the team does than to them going out as seniors.
It is a big deal to us coaches because when we start looking at it, you start getting a little emotional as the staff looks at the leadership and what these guys have accomplished and what they are going to do. That day will be special to us. We will take time pre-game to honor our seniors.
The long answer to a short question is I think our guys have shown to be a focused lot. I like the way they came to practice this morning. I'm OK with a little bit of emotion. We don't want to overdo it and I don't think we will.
WHAT DO YOU TALK TO THE TEAM OR NOT TALK TO THEM ABOUT THE OPPONENT AND WHAT IS AT STAKE?
It's still about Tulsa. It's been a consistent theme all week long. If we improve during the week and in practice ... we know the opponent and we know what they are capable of. We have great respect for Houston. I think it's fabulous they have the ranking they have and it's well-deserved. As a non-AQ school, you like for guys that are doing what they are supposed to do to get that recognition. It's probably long overdue. By the same token, it doesn't matter to us. That's a team that stands in our way to win the West Division title. It think our guys understand what we've done the last several weeks is what we have to do again.
DID YOU FIND IT MORE DIFFICULT THAN EXPECTED TO KEEP FOCUS WEEK TO WEEK WITH BIG GAME LOOMING OR DID TEAM DO IT NATURALLY
Even the guys with great maturity, you know it's out there. We said probably as early as last spring that the way the schedule played out, we should be playing Houston for the division title on the Friday after Thanksgiving. We've been talking about that for a long time. From that standpoint, they had it planted in their brain that we're not going to be done with this until the Friday after Thanksgiving. From that standpoint, it's been there. Occasionally you run across a squad that has it emotionally and this group has been focused along the way.
DO YOU EXPECT A SHOOTOUT WITH BOTH TEAMS HAVING GREAT OFFENSES?
It wouldn't surprise me. I think our defense is playing really well. They've been feeling a lot better about their defense and they felt really good about the way they played against SMU. Both defensive coaches and staffs and players would probably think it's not going to be a shootout. I've been involved in these type of games at different levels. It always seems to be a surprise with the way it plays out. It really could be a shootout or it might be one of those three-touchdown games or something where someone runs away with it. I've been in all of those. That's what makes it fun as you play this thing out.
WOULD YOU BE COMFORTABLE WITH A SHOOTOUT WITH THE WAY YOU ARE PLAYING OFFENSE?
I'd be comfortable with anything that ends with a W.
HOUSTON HASN'T BEEN HELD TO LESS THAN 35 POINTS THIS SEASON. HAS ANYONE DONE ANYTHING TO SLOW THEM DOWN AND HAVE YOU SEEN ANYTHING ON FILM?
No. They're pretty good. They've been very good. They certainly remind us of some of the best we've seen this year. I think you certainly put them in the same category offensively with Oklahoma State. They have the same kind of quarterback as Boise and Oklahoma. They have that personnel. Athletically, they are very good.
WHAT MAKES CASE KEENUM SO SPECIAL?
He's a great competitor. He's much like our quarterback. He's a guy that battles. We're so fortunate to have GJ because that's what he is. When you have a guy that has skills, but is also a great competitor, it does a lot for your program and your offense. I think Case is a great operator of what they do. He just manages and gets the ball to the right people. If you look at the SMU game last week, he'll run when he has to and scramble. It's probably not what he wants to do the most, but he's willing to do what it takes to win big games.
FROM AN OUTSIDER'S PERSPECTIVE, DID YOU SEE HOW MUCH THEY MISSED HIM WHEN THEY FINISHED 5-7 LAST YEAR?
Was it as simple as he didn't play or his leadership wasn't there? Sometimes, it's what happens to other guys. I think a mark of greatness is do you make other people better. In Case's situation and from an outsider looking in, he has made the guys around him better. Because when he wasn't there, they either emotionally dropped off or physically wasn't the same team. With his leadership, it looks like to me they are on a roll.
HOW WOULD YOU FEEL ABOUT FOGGING UP THE BCS AND KNOCKING THEM OUT OF IT?
That's the recipe we'd like to see. That's the nature of college football. The guys that are ranked are fighting to stay ranked and the guys that aren't are fighting for recognition. We're OK with that.
YOU SAID EARLIER THAT IT'S NICE NOT HAVING TO OUTSCORE OPPONENTS RATHER THAN PUTTING UP 40-50 POINTS TO WIN. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT?
The thing that's been really satisfying as a team as a whole is that we have really had a balanced team. We have a good offense and a good defense. We have a good running game and a good passing game. Our defense has gotten really good against the run and really improved against the pass. Those kind of teams have chances to really be good because we're actually multifaceted. We're not leaning on one side of the ball and hopefully that would pay off on Friday.
YOU HAVE SCORED 50-PLUS POINTS IN THE LAST TWO GAMES AND HOUSTON SCORES A LOT OF POINTS. SMU WAS ABLE TO BOTTLE HOUSTON UP IN THE FIRST HALF LAST WEEK. CAN YOU FIND THINGS OUT OF THAT GAME TO HELP YOU?
SMU has a very good defense. They were a team that, fortunately for us, we got out on early. Houston has come from behind more than once and were down at Louisiana Tech. They haven't been down but were held in check at SMU. They've always continued to bounce back and put up big numbers. It's wrong to think they are only a passing team. They've ran the football well. They have outstanding talent on both sides. What's good about where we've gotten to - and I'm not into comparison scores at all - but we haven't been as explosive offensively as Houston is perceived to be. They scored 49 points at UTEP and I felt we were pretty much in control with where we were at.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF GETTING PEOPLE OUT ON FRIDAY?
Home field advantage is all about energy from the crowd. Our guys are going to create that and they are going to be a part of that. If our phone calls and people calling for tickets are any indication, I think you better hurry. I think we're going to have a great crowd.
WITH THEIR OFFENSE, WHAT IS HARDER TO DEAL WITH? THEIR PHYSICAL ABILITY, SPEED OR THE FACT THAT CASE DOESN'T GET FLUSTERED AND HAS AN IDEA OF WHAT'S GOING ON?
Probably a little of both. They have tremendous speed offensively. They have players in several places, receivers and running backs that are capable of going the distance if they get in space and you don't tackle them. A lot of their touchdowns have been screen passes, little crossing routes, draw plays and all of the sudden a guy goes 60-70 yards and it was not a throw down the field. Case has dropped some bombs on people, but they are catching balls and getting yards after the catch. I think Case makes them so much more dangerous because he is so accurate. They have the speed to make it happen. He just doesn't miss many. He's really pretty good and gets the ball out quick and he hasn't been sacked often. His part of the equation is really important. The people around him, it goes back to what we said before, the mark of what he's done is make the guys around him much better.
IF YOU COULD PINPOINT IMPORTANCE OF A PASS RUSH, CONTAINMENT OR SECONDARY PLAY, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
You have to have that balanced attack. What you have to do is you have to get pressure with your front people. We're going to bring blitzes and different looks. Everyone has done that. If we don't get pressure with the front people manned up in blocking, then he'll have plenty of time to throw if we're in coverage or not. You start with getting pressure and secondly you have to make him throw underneath and outside throws. You have to make him take harder throws and knock them down.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ZAC SPAVITAL?
Zac is a young man that basically grew up with my sons. Steve Spavital and Tina, we coached together for 20 years. Adam and Josh and Caleb grew up with Zac and Jake. Jake is coaching at West Virginia and Zac is with Houston and has been there a number of years. They are a family of great coaches.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THOSE FIRST THREE GAMES (AGAINST TOP 10 TEAMS) AND DOES THAT HELP YOU?
Apparently that just set us up for another ranked opponent. We've added our fourth ranked opponent into the mix. They should be talked about the same way that we talked about Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State.
WITH ALL THESE QUESTIONS ABOUT CASE, IS THERE SOMEONE ON THE TEAM THAT WE CAN'T OVERLOOK? IS THERE SOMEONE THAT CAN TAKE THE SPOTLIGHT AWAY?
No. They have a lot of individually great players, but Case Keenum is the key. There's no doubt about that.
HOUSTON IS TALKED ABOUT A LOT. IF THEY HAD YOUR SCHEDULE, THEY COULD BE 8-3 ALSO. DO YOU THINK YOUR KIDS FEEL THEY ARE NO BETTER THAN YOU?
I think they have accomplished something. They are 11-0. There are only two of those in the country now. It doesn't matter what your schedule is. That's a pretty big deal. We respect that. You do flip the coin and say what if they played our schedule? Who knows. You have to give them credit for beating everyone they've played. You give them credit for that. But, by the same token, like when we didn't back down to play our opening game in Norman, we're just as excited about this game as well. And it means a whole lot more.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THEIR DEFENSE?
They are very fast and physical. They are a defense that runs around very well. Sammy Brown was the national player of the year last week. He has a tremendous number of tackles for loss and sacks and has been a pressure guy. We have to be aware of them. Marcus McGraw is a guy we've played against for three years and is a good player. They are in an odd front, a three-man line with two outside linebackers similar to what SMU does. They create some problems for you. They mix and match who is blitzing. They play a lot of zone and do it well. It's going to be a good matchup. They are one of the best defenses in our league that we've seen.
WIN OR LOSE AT UTEP, IT DIDN'T MATTER BECAUSE THIS WAS THE GAME YOU NEEDED TO WIN TO GO TO THE CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME. WERE YOU IMPRESSED WITH TEAM'S FOCUS AT UTEP?
It mattered to the guys that wanted a chance to run the table and do something that hasn't been done here. We've been blessed to be in a program that's won a lot of games recently and to follow coaches that had the program on a high note. Our players want to do something special. One of the things that hasn't been done is run the table in conference and go undefeated. We wanted a chance to do that and to do that, we had to play well at UTEP, a place we haven't played well. Our guys knew what was at stake and knew we didn't have to win that. It says a lot about their maturity and leadership that they knew we had to play well.
DO YOU HAVE AN OFFICIAL STATUS ON Stetson Burnett?
Stetson Burnett, we've likely lost him for the season. He's going to have an MRI to confirm that today, but all indications are that we have lost Stetson to a knee injury.
COACH GRAHAM ALWAYS TALKED ABOUT IT ALWAYS COMES DOWN TO HOUSTON?
It's probably true. My experience is just over the past four years, but Houston is always in the mix at the end. I go back to what we talked about in our locker room and our team, with the way the schedule feel and that Houston was our last game, we knew that probably had to be for the division title.
YOU HAVE GUYS BANGED UP AFTER UTEP. DO YOU EXPECT THOSE GUYS TO RETURN?
I hope so. Most of those guys that were dinged up with concussions didn't practice today. We think we'll get them back. Our doctors do a great job of making sure they are cleared before we let them back out there. It will be a day-to-day thing. We have to prepare like we're not going to have them and hopefully we'll get them back.
AN 11 A.M. GAME HELPED YOU AND YOU STARTED FAST AGAINST MARSHALL.
That worked out pretty well. We're going to practice these next two days at 11 and that gets our body clock right and hopefully that will keep us on track.
DO YOU ALLOW THE COACHES FAMILY TIME DURING THANKSGIVING?
It's probably not ideal. There's a lot of high school coaches still involved in the playoffs and the thing we talked about for years is practicing on Thanksgiving. That meant you were still in the playoffs. We have to go through the process of educating our families that Thanksgiving is football time. We are going to be thankful if we're busy on Thanksgiving. We've talked about that from the beginning. We knew and our families knew with a Friday game that Thanksgiving was not a day we could let them be gone. We're going to practice on Wednesday and feed them lunch and then they'll have a 24-hour window to stay local and get in homes of guy around here. We don't want guys traveling, but at least we can get away and have family team. We're going to have a team dinner on Thursday. To be sitting where we are and playing for a championship game is a great Thanksgiving.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR WALK-ONS?
It's a fascinating story that a lot of people have missed, how many of our guys are playing right now and making plays as walk-ons. Trey Watts is a special story. Clay Sears is a special story. Nathan Largen, Michael Britton, Bo Abott. On our 66-man travel roster, there are another 6-7-8 walk-ons that travel with us and not those guys that have earned scholarships. It's a great thing to allow people to be a part of this. Walk-ons have had more involvement this year, but allowed us to redshirt a big group of our incoming class from last year, which hopefully will pay big dividends down the road in determining depth down the road.
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN A CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP IN YOUR FIRST SEASON?
It would be tremendous. I'm already over the moon at eight wins. We're already counting and figuring out ways to get to 11.