ECU's McNeill addresses media about Dec. 22 bowl game
East Carolina will play Louisiana-Lafayette at noon, Dec. 22, in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Louisiana-Lafayette, finished regular season play with an overall mark of 8-4 and a Sun Belt record of 6-2. The Pirates and Ragin’ Cajuns, who have met on 10 previous occasions, will battle for the first time since ECU posted a 20-10 victory on Sept. 22, 1990.
East Carolina (8-4, 7-1 C-USA) will be making its sixth bowl appearance in the last seven years. The Pirates played in the Papajohns.com Bowl in 2006, the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl in 2007, the AutoZone Liberty Bowl after the 2008 and 2009 seasons, and the Military Bowl in 2010.
On Thursday, ECU coach Ruffin McNeill addressed the media in advance of the game. Here is a transcript of some of his comments, courtesy the ECU sports information department:
“We are excited to be here. It is always good when you get the chance to play in a bowl game. Part of our goals when we started to play in fall, was to get into a bowl game and it is always a great feeling to reach a goal. I am very proud of this football team.
“In fall camp we divided the season into four quarters. Each one of our quarters totaled three games. We felt like this approach would be the best for the team and the program to keep our focus on reaching our larger goals.
“In our first quarter, we went 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the conference. In our second quarter, we went 1-2 and 1-1 in the conference. At that point we realized the adjustments and the changes that we needed to make in order to improve as a football program such making Shane (Carden) the starting quarterback and having Vintavious (Cooper) take over as the running back. We finished 2-1 in the third quarter, but we went 2-0 in the conference. We closed the fourth quarter strong by going 3-0 overall and 3-0 in the league. I am very proud of the way we finished in winning five of our last six games. I thought going 8-4 was good. Ideally we wanted to be better, but I was proud of our overall record. I was also pleased with our 7-1 conference record and being the Co-Conference USA East Division Champion.
“The players and staff have done a great job of cancelling and drowning out the noise this year. And noise can be in a variety of areas including listening to all the positive or the negative that comes with a season.
“The team was resilient and able to bounce back when adversity hit at all points through the season. I like the competitive character of this team. They are not afraid to compete and welcome the weekly challenge. One of our main intangibles from day one was the amount of teamwork that we exhibited. This team bought into the concept of teamwork and that is a very hard thing to do.
“Our next goal is to now play our best game on Dec. 22 against Louisiana. We are looking forward to going to New Orleans next Tuesday. In anticipation of this game, we have divided our bowl practices into segments.
“We knew that we had 12 practice sessions to work with so we made the first five days our fundamental and development practices. We went best-on-best for those days, but we also focused on developing our younger players by allowing them to scrimmage against each other on four of the five days. These scrimmages were for both our players that we are redshirting and those players that were on the travel squad that had not gotten a lot of reps through the season.
“The remaining seven days have been devoted to preparing for our game against Louisiana. The process we are using is to slowly add a piece or section daily, so we don’t get the players too far ahead of where the team needs to be mentally. We feel this is the right approach for our group of players.
“We ran this week’s practice like we would for any game-week throughout the regular season with a Sunday practice. We gave them Monday off, practiced Tuesday and Wednesday, and will go again today and then again tomorrow morning.
“This group has done a great job of having a coachable attitude. They have done everything that we have asked them to do and have really enjoyed the process. The outcome and goals are there and will be if we stick to the process.
“During our Monday press conferences throughout the season, we talked about circumstance and vision. The circumstance is what is happening right now and that is what we have asked our players to grasp in working toward our bowl game. Once we go to New Orleans, we want to play our best football game. That is the vision that we have been talking about.
“The key to this game is to play with great tempo and speed against Louisiana. Louisiana also likes to play fast and enjoys that style of play. We expect a very physical football game. That is what our team presents on all three-sides of the ball. I have also found in the past, in bowl games, that execution and fundamentals are elements that can never be neglected and we have stressed both throughout our week of practice.
“We are looking forward to the game and the continued process. We are not there yet, but we have a few more days of practice left to get better. Bowl games are exciting. It is a reward for our players, coaches, families, all of the support staff, school administrators and of course our great and loyal fans.”
On Louisiana-Lafayette ...
“Terrance Broadway, who is a transfer from Houston, is their quarterback. He runs the ball extremely well and is an excellent passer. He really runs their offense well and is a smart football player.
“Alonzo Harris and Effrem Reed are their running backs. They both have good speed, but Harris is the bigger of the two backs.
“Harry Peoples is the top receiver. He is the guy that we need to make sure that we keep our eyes on and have a plan for him. He is Broadway’s favorite target. Peoples is an excellent route runner and is very dangerous after the catch.
“I think one of the keys to their team is the play of their offensive line. They are very big. We have faced our fair share of large offensive lines this year in North Carolina and South Carolina, but Louisiana’s will still rank as one of the largest we are facing this season.
“On defense, they switched to more of a 4-3 base in their near upset of Florida and have had great success with that system ever since.
“The top defensive player is free safety Rodney Gillis. Gillis ranked among the nation’s leaders in interceptions this season and was second on the team in tackles. He is a very active football player that has a nose for the ball.
“Christian Ringo, a defensive tackle, leads their team in sacks with seven. Justin Anderson is their tackle leader with over 100 stops this season.
“Louisiana is very creative with their defense and blitz quite a bit. The way they attack the line of scrimmage with their linebackers reminds me a little of the way Houston plays.
“They are also very solid on special teams. Brett Baer is both their kicker and punter and does well in both roles.”
On Vintavious Cooper’s impact on the offense ...
“I think that Vintavious came and showed great patience. He was a lot more patient than others would have been. He picked up our offense in the first few weeks and also improved on his pass blocking. He realized that if he wanted to be an every-down back, he was going to have to show improvement in his pass blocking and blitz pickup and he did. He also catches the ball well and of course runs the ball well. He is a patient runner with great vision. His ability as running back has allowed Shane Carden to develop as a quarterback. He was named the Conference USA Newcomer-of-the-Year and I really thought he should have earned a selection to the first team for all-conference as well.”
On Shane Carden’s development ...
“Shane was really battling for the quarterback position even back during the spring before he hurt his finger and needed to have surgery. Lincoln (Riley) did a great job of monitoring all the quarterback’s reps in a very tight race during the fall. Shane was not named the starting quarterback to begin the season, but when he got his opportunity he took full advantage of it. He is a great leader for our team and studies the game with a great passion. He is what I refer to as a “field house rat” similar to a “gym rat” in basketball. He is always around the field house, studying and trying to get better. What I like about him on the field is that he is starting to see and recognize defenses. The game is beginning to slow down for him. The more he sees and does, the better that he will become. He has shown constant improvement each week. I like his progress. These additional practices have also been very good for Shane’s development.”
“Last year, if Dominique Davis struggled we didn’t feel like we had anybody that could be turned to that would make us feel comfortable running the offense. This year we didn’t have that hesitation. Against South Carolina, we had some offensive struggles. Shane was inserted and although he had an early interception, he settled down and was calm and poised. When he was given an opportunity, he seized it and never gave it up. He took care of the football, moved our football team and extended plays with his ability to move around in and out of the pocket.”
On ECU’s team health ...
“I am very thankful that we have been healthy this year and hope that it continues. I also think the depth that we have built has aided us in staying healthy this year. We have also been smart about our work. We gave the team a week off from practice after the season to heal up some lingering nicks and bruises and have been taking things slowly with our practices leading up to the bowl game. We want to go to New Orleans healthy.”
On playing indoors At the Superdome ...
“I like that we have already played once in the Superdome this year against Tulane. The lighting is different in a dome. I also like that we are familiar with our surroundings having been on the turf before. We will have the chance to practice in the dome for one day and then walk through the next day. Having competed in the stadium and in this environment already once this season is going to help.”
On making a bowl game after missing last year ...
“It was disappointing to not make a bowl game last year. I have a unique situation here. I see everything from three different perspectives. First as an ex-player of this program, second as the coach of this team and last as a proud alumni and ex-student of this school. So when I look at a game, I either enjoy them or hurt three times as much. Not going to the bowl game last year just ate at my core. And I think it ate at our coaches’ and players’ core too. It showed the way they prepared and displayed the work ethic for this season in the off-season.
“We have talked about TBA (Trust, Belief and Accountability) and these guys have bought into it. The message is to not let the man that lines up next to you down.
“Being able to accomplish one of our goals and getting the chance to go to a bowl game was a great feat for us. We wanted to win the conference and ended up tying for the division. We wanted to get to the conference championship and just came one game short, but I am still proud of all that we have accomplished. We are excited about going to New Orleans and getting the chance to play somewhere.”
On importance of a bowl victory ...
“I think playing your best game right before the off-season is always important. There were 70 teams chosen to play in bowl games and we are honored and fortunate to be one of them. Winning the bowl game will definitely help and aid our program as we begin all our off-season preparations.”
On coaching the team’s seniors for the last time ...
“I talked to them about our reps running out. We have a one-game season left for our seniors and have had three weeks to prepare for it. You can see the intensity in our seniors at practice and that has caused me to blow the whistle a little quicker to end plays. I am sure it will be emotional for all of us. You never want to leave anything on the field, when you walk off for the final time.”
Best behavior for The Big Easy ...
“We have our Pirates in Public Program. The bus station location has been diagrammed for them and the route back to Greenville has also been shown to them. I expect our team to conduct themselves with a level of professionalism and in a first-class manner. We addressed it with them the night of the bowl announcement and we will address it will them once when we arrive in New Orleans. I expect nothing but great behavior by our Pirates.”