Monday's football press conference quotes

October 18, 2004 · MT Media Relations

OPENING REMARKS: On last week's game we, as a staff, took the positives out of the game and it is something we can learn from as we go. Credit to Florida and coach (Ron) Zook because their guys came out ready to play. You hope they won't play at the level they played at going into a game like that but they played well. We had some kids who I thought did some good things, but we got over-matched in some areas but now we turn the page and come home against an Idaho team that is coming off a good win against Louisiana-Lafayette. We came out reasonably healthy. We hope to get (defensive tackle) Jeff Littlejohn back this week after missing the last three. I thought (RB) Eugene Gross played well. (WR) Kerry Wright continues to play well regardless of the competition. I thought our offensive line fought their tails off. I thought we did some things and made some plays. We had some opportunities, not that we were going to win the game, to put the ball in the end zone a couple times and didn't, which was disappointing. A couple turnovers hurt us, which you can't do. That was a (Florida) team that is a couple plays or couple first downs away from being a Top 5 team in America, and you can see why when you line up on the sidelines and go against them.

Thoughts on Idaho: Now we get ready for an Idaho team that was impressive last week. Defensively, they ran around and made plays, put pressure on the quarterback. Offensively they run the ball well and their quarterback, Harrington, throws the ball well. We have a lot of work to get done this week.

Idaho ran a kickoff back for a touchdown last week. Is it a concern with Paul Wheeler's kicking or the cover team on kickoffs? The coverage has been fine. I've been very pleased with our cover team, but I'm disappointed in Paul Wheeler because he is so much more capable of getting done what we need done so we are going to have to make some decisions this week. When you kick the first one to the 10-yard line (at Florida) with no hang time, then you kick the next one to the 5 with no hang time, he's better than that. We are going to have to make adjustments so we don't hurt our cover team. That was one of the disappointing things coming out of this game. I thought (PK) Colby (Smith) did a good job on the field goals, but I felt like we had a couple high snaps to him in the punt game that probably caused a couple short punts. We have been good in the kicking game all year so that was disappointing.

You talk about being disappointed with not getting the points you want in the "Blue Zone" but the team is 20-of-23 inside the 20. Is it that you think you should be 23-of-23? I think so. I think it's a goal of ours every time we are in the Blue Zone. We want to get points. We went for a couple fourth-down things at Florida because of the score when we probably could have got points if we kick the field goal, but even the last fourth-down play we had Chris Henry open in the end zone, (QB) Clint Marks scrambled out of the pocket when he probably didn't need to and could have made a play right there at the end, which I thought would have been big for us. We expect to score points of some type every time we are in the Blue Zone. We had good drives going. We hurt ourselves on a couple drives. At times, I thought the offense moved the ball well. I thought we made some plays. They were able to get pressure but their (defensive) front is as good as there is in the country with their speed.

RB Eugene Gross has played well in several different areas. Is it just a matter of finding as many ways as possible to get the ball in his hands? He has progressed each game. You take maybe a protection breakdown on one of the sacks we had from Eugene and maybe one other play and he has played well. I like his toughness. He's starting to break tackles. I like some things he's doing. I think we need to keep getting Demarco McNair more reps at running back. I think he has an added dimension to him. Lee Baker is starting to make some plays for us running the ball out of the backfield, but Eugene has been very consistent and gained some tough yards against good defensive teams.

What is your impression of Harrington, the Idaho quarterback? He runs their offense well. He's played against us before. He's got a good arm on him, great awareness and they are a balanced offense from what I've seen. Their running backs had a good game against UL-Lafayette. They will spread it out and they will throw it. They have receivers who can go make plays. They are a physical offense. They want to run the football, come off the bootleg, have some drop-back, screen game and things like that, but he runs their offense very well.

After playing four of the first six on the road, is it nice to be back home for the next two games? Yes, it is. I think our kids are excited. We wanted to go to Florida and play against the best in the country and nothing could have helped it, but it came at a tough time. We were coming off a big win against Arkansas State. This conference right now, just look at last week, there is no telling what can happen from week-to-week. We are over the half-way point. We have five left and it starts with Idaho. We are going to learn from the Florida game and previous games. We are excited to be back home. It's tough on the road. I think a lot of teams learn that all across this conference. You can't make mistakes on the road.

What does it say about Idaho that they are able to beat a good UL-Lafayette team last week? It says a lot about them, how hard they play. They play well in the Kibbie Dome, that's a tough place to play. We are glad to have them here and hopefully we will have a great environment for our kids.

The Sun Belt standings are bunched up right now, what does that tell you about the rest of the race? I think anything can happen. You look across the conference and see that. We are concerned about ourselves and this upcoming game, but I think you see Idaho beats UL-Lafayette, Arkansas State beats Troy. There are so many things going on in the conference but what we have to do is take care of Middle Tennessee. We are facing an Idaho team coming off a big win and a team that has improved each week. We need to get better this week for us. We need to pick up where we finished last time we were home and build on that.

Is there something (WR) Kerry Wright brings to the field that we don't see? Kerry is very competitive and he doesn't care who lines up across from him, which helmet they have on, he's going to prepare each week, study film, he's going to know who's covering him, he's going to know everything about them. We talk about his individual stats nationally and in the back of Kerry's mind it's probably special to him but the biggest thing Kerry wants to do is walk out of here a winner. Team is very important to Kerry and winning is very important to Kerry. I think that's something that sets him apart from a lot of guys.

Do you talk to the team about the big picture as far as coming into this homestand with a chance to get back to .500? We are day-to-day. We talk about correcting mistakes we have made and try to prepare each day. We are not into the big picture. We are into getting ready for Idaho and playing the best we are capable of playing.

Watching film, what do you see in Idaho's offense?
They play hard. They have a good quarterback who throws it well. They have a good running game. They have good balance. We are going to have to buckle down and stop the run like we have been doing.

How big are these conference games? We need to win in conference because the way conference is looking right now there is no telling what can happen this year.

What does Idaho's win against UL-Lafayette tell you? They play hard and they are not going to let up. We have to make sure we have one more point on the scoreboard when it's over because this is a team that plays to the end.

What do you remember about playing Idaho last year? They ran the ball very well on us and we have to stop the run. They ran a lot of zone, couple tosses, but they got after us and ran it well. We have to control that this year.

You have played overtime games against Idaho, 5-hour games, would you like to get this one over sooner? It doesn't matter how long it takes as long as we win.

WR Kerry Wright
Your offense has the best percentage in the Blue Zone of any team in the Sun Belt. What makes Middle Tennessee so effective inside the 20?
I think the coaches put in good plays and we take advantage of executing down there. Once you get in the Blue Zone you have to find ways to score because if you don't it will come back to hurt you later in the game.

Does it help knowing you have a kicker (Colby Smith) who is pretty much automatic? It's nice to know on third-and-short if we don't get it we can still get three out of the deal. You know you want seven but sometime you have to make sure you don't make mistakes and you get points on the board.

Do you ever think about your individual stats and where you rank nationally? I listen to it but when your season is going the way it is you have to put that behind you and just focus on trying to win games. I'm sure it's something I will look back on when the season is over.

The crowd was very supportive at home last time, are you excited to be back home? Of course, I love playing in front of people who love you and care about you. I think the team feeds off the crowd. Our fans came out early to the game last week and they got behind us and boosted the energy. That makes you want to go out there and make plays.

You have had interesting games with Idaho, long games, overtime games. What is the mindset as you go into this one? You have to go in knowing they are going to score points and you have to score with them. The game is not over until the final horn and hopefully we are up. You have to be prepared. Drink all your water because it's going to be a long day.

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