Louisiana Tech Weekly Press Conference Transcript: Nov. 11

Nov. 11, 2013

RUSTON, La. - Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz and select student-athletes spoke to the media Monday at the team's weekly press conference, giving a preview of LA Tech's game at Rice this weekend.

Head coach Skip Holtz

Opening Statement:

"I will start with a big shout out to the five young men who are going to graduate this week. Congratulations to them. You talk about 17 players that have already received their undergraduate degree, which is what the ultimate goal is for these young men. I am really proud of the five young men who will be receiving their degree this week and really all 17 that have been able to receive their degree so far."

"Another big shout out to everyone that braved the weather. I know it was a 10 percent chance of rain and it rained all day Saturday, so I am sure that scared some people away. With the weather, to see the people that were there and the support we were given, we are really appreciative."

"A big congratulations on the honoring of the 1973 football team that won the Division II National Championship here at Louisiana Tech. We talked in the locker room with the team about some of the history and some of the teams that have had the opportunity to put on that uniform and to wear that helmet and represent this university. What a great honor it was for us to have the opportunity to go out and play this great game for this great university."

"It was a nice win for the program with it being the Rivalry in Dixie. I was really excited to see our players go out and play with the energy that they did. I am proud of the energy they played with and the way they went out and the way they performed. We have a lot of guys that are pushing through some injuries right now, with some bumps and bruises this late in the season. I thought we really played well as a team. It is probably our best game that we have played as an offense and as a defense, together. Unfortunately, we could not match that with our special teams but it was probably the most complete game we have played all year offensively and defensively."

"Offensively, we had some production being able to score 36 points. I thought the five offensive linemen really played well. This is the second week in a row that we were trying to create a little bit of stability there with Jeremy Graffree moving over there to the left tackle, Mitchell Bell at the right tackle, Tre Carter and Matthew Shepperd at the guards, along with Cano at center. I thought they really played well on the offensive line."

"You cannot talk about this game without talking about Kenneth Dixon, the job that he did, the energy that he runs with and the passion that he plays with. He plays the game with a great amount of energy. I thought Blake Martin went in there and did a nice job carrying the ball and even Marlon Seets had an opportunity to run a little bit with Tevin King still not able to go with his ankle. I thought they did a really nice job."

"Scotty Young stepped into a difficult situation. I talked after the game about just the resolve that he has had with a little bit of the adversity he has gone through, starting at quarterback, getting injured, losing that job to Ryan Higgins and then with the injury getting the opportunity to come back. He really made the most of it. I thought he did some really good things and most importantly he protected the football, which is huge for us especially going into this game this weekend."

"I thought the wide receivers played solid, especially the guys inside. I thought D.J. Banks, Hunter Lee and Jon Greenwalt really played a good game. I thought on the outside we really did not do anything special but they played well. They played solid on the perimeter."

"On the defensive side of the ball, giving up two yards a rush and only 59 rushing yards huge shout out to that defensive line. The way Justin Ellis played, I thought he played an excellent game. For IK Enemkpali to be playing with one arm with his should right now, I thought he did a really nice job. Some other guys stepped up when you look at Andre Taylor, Kevin Kisseberth and Kendrick James stepping up. The way they stepped in with Dora not being able to play, I thought they did some good things on the defensive line. Our linebackers continue to play well with Mitch Villemez and Daniel Cobb probably played his best game so far. Beau Fitte continues to come along."

"When you are going to talk about Kenneth Dixon on offense and the great individual effort he gave, you have to talk about Adairius Barnes. He had two interceptions and the opportunity to have three. The easiest catch of the three was the one that he dropped. The other two were one handed interceptions. I thought the one down on the far end, when he went up over the top and made the one handed interception on the double pass, was just a great individual effort. Adarius Barnes stepped in for Le'Vander Liggins and played a nice game."

"Overall, I was really pleased with the way that we played on offense and defense. A lot of guys played well for us. We had about 13 winners on both sides of the ball in the Victor's Club, which is the most that we have had so far to this date. Hopefully coming down the stretch here with these final three games we are starting to play better as a football team and it is starting to come together."

"The special teams, Kyle Fischer did a nice job kicking the ball. He was two for two. We have to do a better job on our punting and with our kickoffs. We have to do a little better with that and go to our drawing board and work up what we are going to do for what I pose to be a very dangerous team this weekend with Rice."

When you talk about Rice, you talk about David Bailiff, who I think is one of the best football coaches in this league. When you look at the job he has done at Rice and the respect I have for him as a man, as a person and the job he has done with that program. I think their players play hard, smart, fundamentally sound, technique oriented and I think they have a really great football team. I think he has done a great job of building that program and I have great respect for him."

"When you look at this Rice team, it starts on the defensive side of the ball. They have the number two scoring defense in the league. They are a very aggressive defense. It all starts with their preseason defensive player of the year who starts on the corner. I think (Phillip) Gaines is an outstanding football player. Their corners play a lot of man coverage. They have some really doo defensive lineman and other interior guys. When you look at them statistically, in passing defense, scoring defense, red zone defense, third down defense that is where they are the strongest."

"One of the reasons they are 6-3 and having the success they are having is they are the number one team in the league in turnover margin, they are plus six. We have talked about some of the struggles we have had going into that game on Saturday. We were averaging 2.7 turnovers per game and only forcing 1.7 turnovers per game. It was nice to see that reversed a little bit, as we finished this game at plus three. I think that is huge for Rice right now. We are going to have to do a great job of protecting the ball."

"On offense, they have a senior quarterback and four senior offensive linemen, four returning starters on their offensive line. They are very smart and give you a lot of different formations and a lot of different looks. They will run their quarterback, but he also throws it very well. Offensively, they are very diverse and very balanced. They make you defend he field not only length wise, but width wise as well form sideline to sideline."

"They have one of the best kickers in this league. The only reason he is not first team is because there is a gentleman down at Tulane who is also a great kicker. He has 41 of 50 kickoffs for touchbacks. He has kicked 11 kicks over 50 yards in his career. He kicked a 57 yard field goal against us last year. He is a very talented kicker and he is going to pose a great challenge for us because as you try and match kicking game for kicking game, we do not match the productivity. We are going to have to find some ways to offset that."

"It will be a great challenge for us. It was nice to get a big win this weekend. We talked about having four games remaining after Florida International and we have to go one at a time. We accomplished our goal last week about going 1-0 and we have to make sure we do everything we can this week from a mental stand point and practice stand point to try and find a way to go 1-0 in the conference again this week against Rice."

On adjustments made in the second half vs. Southern Miss:

"One of the things we have struggled with at home is that we have struggled in the second half. When you look at our Tulane game and our North Texas game, we changed some things at halftime where we found a little bit better way to communicate, trying to put all our players in our locker room with how broken up and divided it was and that made it difficult to meet as offensive and defensive units. We opened the Jarrell Room up for halftime and met in here where we had a little more space. We could bring everyone together and start to break some things down. I think that helped with our second half adjustments."

"We talked a lot about the second half letdown we had against North Texas. We challenged our players to come out with great energy in the second half. You play the first half to give yourself a chance to win in the second half. We had the lead and I thought they went out and answered it and played a 60 minute game with great energy and enthusiasm. We looked at some things we were doing offensively. We were struggling in the passing game in getting the ball down the field. We tried to go underneath a little bit more with the ball control where we could get some completions and keep the chains moving."

"After the first drive had stalled and had about five drives where we had to punt before the two minute drive where we went down right before the half. I think a lot of credit goes to the players for the energy, the determination, and the will. I think it helped us a little bit to get everyone on the same page and get everyone in a larger team atmosphere."

On giving Scotty Young more freedom to throw the ball downfield in the second half:

"We had some pressure on our quarterback early in the first half. We went to more of a turn back protection and then throwing a lot more quick game. The quick game was to offset some of the things they were doing to bring pressure off the edge. It was no really way down the field, it was hitches and slants and things that were underneath. That was part of it in trying to protect our quarterback, giving him a better opportunity to throw the ball."

On Ryan Higgins' status:

"We are going to get another evaluation of him. He is making progress and doing well. We think he has a great chance. We were hopeful he would be ready Saturday. He practiced a little bit on Wednesday and Thursday. Not knowing whether or not he would be cleared we were a little weary to give him a lot of the reps in practice. If Scotty was going to be the guy, we wanted him to get the work. Saturday morning we just wanted to know if he was available for us. He was not cleared Saturday morning and we hope he will be cleared this week as we begin practice. Everyone is much more optimistic with the gains that he is making. We do now know who will be starting at Rice. We will not know until we go through this week at practice. If Ryan is available we are going to get both of them ready to play in this game. I am not going to put Ryan out there injured, where he cannot defend himself. Once he is cleared to go, he will start to get work."

On Scotty Young's progression from the beginning of the season until now:

"It is a lot of the people around him. It is not just Scotty. I do not think Scotty has thrown an interception this year. He did a good job protecting the ball early. The reason we went to Ryan was because Ryan was having a little more success with his legs. With the way we were struggling protecting the quarterback, we needed somebody in there that had a little bit more mobility to him. That is the main reason we went with him. It was not so much that we went against Scotty, we just went with Ryan's athleticism because of the way we were struggling with our pass protection."

"We were taking some sacks early and the quarterbacks were taking a lot of hits. I think part of that has been shored up with the comfort within the offensive line, with Jeremy Graffree at left tackle. I think we are doing a much better job of protecting the quarterback, therefore, I think we are having a lot more success moving the ball as an offense."

On Rice's option offense:

"Fortunately, it is not the wishbone or veer option. It is more a zone read, speed option and things along that line. They do a really good job with it. It is a little bit different but yet you have to make sure you can defend the option in every formation they get into. It really makes you simplify everything so you are players are not too confused. It is option football, but it is not the same option we faced against Army."

On the tight ends on Rice's team:

"We have to shore up the middle of the field. I think one of the negatives with our defense Saturday, was the pass defense. You see we gave up 300 yards passing, we allowed some big plays down the field, about 6 plays that went for 20 plus yards."

"However, we ended up with four interceptions as well. That is the give and the take as an offense. How much do you want to throw the ball way down the field when you are going to turn the ball over four times. I think we have to do a better job with our underneath coverage with our linebackers and trying to shore up the middle of the field. That is something we have to continually work on and that is something we made a huge point of yesterday when talking about Rice."

On getting pressure on Rice in the backfield:

"With some of the injuries with IK limited and (Vontarrius) Dora not being cleared to play at this point, it takes your two pass rushers off the edge. When you look at the interior guys we have with (Shakeil) Lucas and Ellis and also some of the guys up front in Vernon Butler, Malcolm Pichon and DeAngelo Brooks they are bigger guys and more of run stoppers."

"The way we are built defensively is to have more of our run stoppers inside and our speed on the perimeter. Right now we don't have our two speed guys on the edge. It makes it difficult but this is not a game where you are taping your ears back and trying to come flying off the edge. As I said a minute ago, for every formation they get into, you have to make sure you can handle option responsibility. I do not know if this is going to be a big game where you are just trying to sacks and pressure on the quarterback, as much as you are trying to make sure you are covering the middle of the field. You have to make sure you are not giving up the big play with the option in some passing situations."

On whether the team is reaching its full potential:

"I think we are getting closer. I do not know if it is so much reaching our potential as much as we are improving every week. We talked early in the year about a lot of the inexperience but I think we are getting better as the year has gone on. I have talked about us being a work in progress and I think some guys have improved. Some guys have started to get better. We feel like we have some of the pieces in the right place on the offensive line. Those guys are starting to develop consistency, camaraderie and communication. It is still making it a little bit hard with some of the injuries that we have when guys are in and out every week. That is the challenge that you have and that is why depth is so important. I definitely think we are getting better in a lot of areas as a football team."

On the matchup vs. Rice this weekend:

"The way Kenneth (Dixon) is running, the lack of productivity in our passing game, the running game is what is carrying us, through FIU and through this game. Ever since the North Texas game, that he been a real emphasis for us, we have to eliminate our passing a little more and start running the ball. With what they do with man coverage, they are a little bit different than anyone we have faced to this point because they do play so much man coverage. They will lock their corners up and try to take those outside receivers out of the game. It is going to be interesting with them having two weeks and two days to prepare for this game if they will change much from a defense with what they are going to try and do to load the box and try to stop the running game."

On grading Scotty Young's performance on film:

"Scotty played well when you look at the overall picture. He was 22 of 37 and I believe he had five or six drops. So when you look at it that way he is 25 of 37. He threw the ball pretty accurately. On his ten misses I would like to see when we throw the ball down the field a little bit more, keep it in play and give our receivers a chance to make a catch. He protected the ball, managed the game, and ran the offense. I do not think he did anything flashy or great. I thought what he did do was really important and something you expect out of an upperclassman, a guy that is a junior that has been in that position and played before. I thought he stepped in and did a good job of managing the game."

"There are some things that we can improve on and he realizes that and knows that. I do not think he played perfectly because we could have had some more success down the field. On our 22 completions we only threw for 158 yards. A lot of that was more of the ball control, underneath completion where we can make some first downs and move the chains because we were really not having success in the first half with our passing game."

On needing a quarterback that is a game manager vs. a play maker:

"It is predicated on how they are playing. That is why we talked about after the game, I do not look at having two quarterbacks who have both started and who have both won as a negative or a controversy. I look at it as a positive. They both have different strengths. One is young and can run around with more athleticism. One who has done a really nice job of managing the game, ever since the beginning of the season he has done that. We felt like during the middle of the season, we needed more out of the quarterback position with Higgins being able to make some plays. It is a balance that we are going to have to weigh. That is why it is hard for me to say at this point that one of them is going to be named the starter today. We have to look at who is going to be healthy and who is going to be available as well as what we need to do as an offense to try and match what they are going to do with us as a defense."

On whether he considered shuffling players at wide receiver because of dropped balls:

"Jaydrick DeClouette went in and played about 40 plays, which is the most he has played so far this year. Richie Casey had a drop and Sterling Griffin ended up with two. Eddie Johnson played for about 20 plays and did a good job with it. I think we have the four or five right guys on the outside we are just going to have to see where everyone is health wise and who is going to be the most productive for us. Eddie is starting to play a little bit more, Jaydrick is starting to play a little bit more and then inside with Hunter Lee, Trent Taylor, D.J. Banks and Jon Greenwalt I feel like we have some really good guys that are playing well for us."

On how the wildcat offense was implemented:

"I said that we needed to find a way to run the ball in the red zone. That was one of the things that we had really struggled with. When we had the open date and went back and watched the film to figure out some of our problems. When you watched it all, we had to figure out the big problems. The turnovers were a big part of it, the fumbles, it was not interceptions."

"People trying to pressure us more down in the red zone so we tried to secure an edge, put a couple backs in the backfield and make Kenneth the quarterback. Snapping it right to him, we knew that he was going to get the ball and I thought the offensive coaches did a great thing with the sweep that ended up going to the outside scoring one of them and then with Kenneth being able to run the inside game. I think it is something you are going to see more of, rather than less of."

On Adairius Barnes:

"I talked preseason about Adairius Barnes who I thought maybe had the opportunity to be one of the best NFL prospects on our football team. It certainly did not look like it early in the year as a sophomore out there at NC State when he was out there getting burned."

"You just see that his comfort level, his blood pressure, his poise getting better. He has figured out game situations and what an offense is trying to do to him. He is starting to get a really good feel at corner. He is getting more and more comfortable out there. Now I think you are starting to see some of his talent come to the top. He has great ball skills and great feet. He is as quick as can be and I think he has the chance to be a really special player."

On Tevin King's return:

"We were hoping last week. When I stood up here last Sunday I thought we were going to have him back when I last watched him run on Sunday night. When he started cutting and going a little more full speed with football type related drills it got sore on him and he got even more gimpy then he was at the beginning of the week."

"I am very optimistic. He practiced last night and was running around. We just have to make sure that it does not swell up again on him and he does not go through the soreness that he did last week. I am very optimistic he will be back next week which will be another wrinkle in our wildcat."

On having film from a LA Tech opponent from last season:

"This is the first time since the season began that we have had the opportunity to pull out last year's film to see how some of our guys compare against the opponent. IK and Justin played against these linemen last year that we talked about returning. It is nice to at least get a barometer gauge on your talent, where your talent ranks against the team you are about to play."

"Unfortunately, here with the number of seniors that we had, when you watch the offensive side of the ball, even the defensive side, there is not a linebacker, defensive back, wide receivers, offensive lineman or quarterback that played against them last year. It does give you a little bit of an opportunity to see what they are doing."

On evaluation of Rice, a team that returns 18 starters:

"They are a very talented team. They are 6-3. You look at some of their losses and they have played some really good football teams. They are sound and well-coached. They are really good on defense and give you a lot of problems on offense because of everything they do. Coach Bailiff has done a great job there. I think they are an excellent football team. There is a reason they are tied for first place in our division. I think they are one of the better teams in our league and I think this is going to be a huge challenge for us going down there and playing."

Senior WR D.J. Banks

On receiving his undergraduate degree this quarter:

"It is a wonderful feeling. When you first go to college that is the reason why you are there; to get an education and see the light at the end of the tunnel. To actually get to that point is a blessing."

On playing Rice when he was a player at Tulane:

"Maybe a little, but I would not say too much. I feel like they have good coaching and good players, and it is just a matter of going out and playing them. I do not know how much different they are."

On the receivers having problems with dropped balls:

"I think it is just a matter of focus. Our coaches do a great job of giving us chances to get better, whether it is with catching the ball or running routes. Whatever it may be, I think it comes down to focus. I believe in every guy we have at receiver. It is just a matter of having that pinpoint focus."

On needing to win two of the next three games to get bowl eligible:

"That has pretty much been our approach, to take it one game at a time. It is pretty obvious we want to get to a bowl game and we have to win. We are taking it one game at a time and if we focus on each and every game, then we will be able to get to that goal."

On facing Rice:

"It is a great opportunity to go out and put one of our best performances out on the field. We are taking it as a challenge. We need to go out and worry not so much about the opponent, but do what we are asked to do by our coaches and play as hard as we can, and then we feel things will take care of themselves."

Junior LB Mitch Villemez

On growing his hair out for Locks of Love:

"It is really simple. I knew that there are a lot of kids out there, or maybe not even kids, whatever the case is with cancer or whatever, they do not have it. I have plenty of it, so I might as well grow it out for a cause."

On the linebackers locking down the middle of the field:

"We just have to cover the hashes. The big thing going into last game was to cover the hashes. They like to throw to the hash. Really, it is getting into the film room and we will know exactly where they like to throw it and what they like to do."

On the linebackers gelling as a unit as the season progresses:

"It has been awesome. Even in the spring, it was not bad. We came in and they welcomed me, Nick (Thomason), Tony (Johnson) and all the junior college guys with open arms. There was not any bad taste in anybody's mouth with us maybe taking someone's spot. That really helped and like I said, it has been fun. That is probably who I hang out with the most, is the linebackers, so we gel. It has been nice."

On returning close to home to play Rice:

"I will have quite a few [family members at the game]. Actually, a couple of buddies I played with at Blinn JC are on the Rice team, so it should be fun."

On the defense's approach to Rice's option offense:

"We know it is going to be hard-nosed. It will probably be one of the more physical games we play all year, especially with filling the gaps. With preparing for that, we know what we are getting into with more of a bigger team and with bigger backs especially."

On whether Rice's offense is similar to Army:

"I do not think we are ever going to have another approach like we did to Army. That was a mess. Really, it is just being gap-sound and make plays."

On colliding with Thomas McDonald on a possible interception:

"Probably the series right before that, we were talking about how for him to get an interception, I would be the first one to meet him down in the end zone. Then, it worked out the complete opposite. When it happened, I just said, 'I'm sorry.' He did not [see me]. I did not see him until the last minute. All I could do was just turn my head. He said it was just because I was from Blinn JC and he was from Navarro, and we were in the same conference. It was more of a rivalry-type thing, so that is really why I did it. Coach (Kim) Dameron said I was going to get the Crunch Award."

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