Quotes from today's press conference

Raiders, Midshipmen set for Monday showdown

December 27, 2013 · @MTAthletics

QUOTES FROM TODAY'S ARMED FORCES BOWL PRESS CONFERENCEHead Coach Rick Stockstill and Navy's Ken Niumatalolo

THE MODERATOR: As we discussed previously, the coaches will make an opening statement about playing in the game.

Let's start with Rick from Middle Tennessee, an opening statement about playing in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.

COACH STOCKSTILL: First of all, thank you. We're very appreciative and honored to be here and representing Middle Tennessee in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. We are very excited to be here. We're honored to play against a great Navy team and looking forward to it.

COACH NIUMATALOLO: United States Naval Academy football program, like Coach said, we're very humbled and proud to be here; both sides recognize it's hard to win football games. So for our program to be here with Middle is a great testament to our players on both sides. Grateful to Bell Helicopter, Brant Ringler, John Garrison, they've done a wonderful job. We've been here a couple days, and the hospitality has been great. We've been eating well, so our players are excited. We're grateful to be here.

THE MODERATOR: Coaches, last time we talked to you, you probably didn't know much about either team going into it. You knew about the names, but Rick, a little comment about Navy and what you'll be facing on Monday.

COACH STOCKSTILL: Well, the thing that stands out, it's obvious that they're a very well coached team. Ken and his staff have done a great job, so we're playing against a team that is very disciplined and is very talented and has had a really good year this season.

There's been a lot of talk about defending their offense and what they do, and they execute it at a high level. So defensively we've got our work cut out for us. Then their defense, they don't give up a lot of big plays. They do a good job on defense. So I think it's going to be a great game.

Navy is, like I said, they're very well coached, and they've got a lot of good players over there that is the reason they've been successful this year.

THE MODERATOR: Ken, some thoughts about Middle Tennessee?

COACH NIUMATALOLO: The thing that sticks out when you turn on the tape, offensively, just how physical they are running the football, just the physicality of their line and their backs. They do a great job play passing. They put you in a bind. The way they run the football, you've got to get people involved with the run. They can throw the ball deep. On defense they get a ton of turnovers. They do a great job of getting the ball out and running to the football. They're a very disciplined team too. They remind me of their coach when you watch them on tape. They don't talk much, they just get the job done.

THE MODERATOR: Ken, obviously, you played two weeks ago against Army. Do you feel you have an edge that your team might be more prepared to play than a team that's had a month off?

COACH NIUMATALOLO: I don't know. That was a physical game for us, so our kids are banged up. You get to practice, but what Army does is different than what Middle does. It's a different team. They had some rest and they were able to prepare for us. So I don't know if one side has an advantage or not.

THE MODERATOR: Rick, you've been off for a month, and how's the break for you?

COACH STOCKSTILL: I don't think it will have any effect one way or the other in this game. We finished November 30th. We took a week and a half off there for final exams and finishing up school. Then we went back to practice and had a few days off for Christmas. We've practiced enough. If we don't play well, it won't be because of the layoff or anything like that. So I don't think it will have any affect whatsoever on the game.

THE MODERATOR: What are the keys of the game for Navy? What do you have to do to win this football game?

COACH NIUMATALOLO: The keys never really change. The game in football doesn't change. First and foremost we always talk about taking care of the football, no penalties and just playing smart, defensively just running to the ball. Those have always been our keys. If we don't do those things and we don't play hard and we don't take care of the ball, if we do have penalties, we have zero chance. All that does is give us an opportunity to compete.

COACH STOCKSTILL: We've got five things that we go into every game with that I believe in and is necessary to win a football game. It starts with turnovers. You've got to protect the ball. You've got to play smart. Like Ken said, you can't have missed assignments. You can't have penalties. You've got to be great in the kicking game. You've got to play with great effort and toughness. You've got to get and limit explosive plays.

I think in bowl games, the three things that stand out to me the most are missed tackles, because you've had a little bit of a layoff, ball security and the kicking game. So I think those areas are what we try to focus on each week.

THE MODERATOR: We have pretty good weather today, but the weather may be in the 40s on the game day. Is the weather going to play a factor into the ballgame at all?

COACH STOCKSTILL: Well, watching Navy's last game, I know whatever it is it's going to be a heck of a lot better than what they had to play in. So hopefully we can hurry up and get here Monday and play before it changes.

No, we've practiced in cold weather. We've had a couple cold weather games, so, again, you can't use weather as an excuse for not playing well.

COACH NIUMATALOLO: Well, it's like Coach said, it's a lot warmer than what we just played in, so our kids will be excited to be here.

Q. Ken, can you talk about your preparation for this game? The last two bowl games Navy played in hasn't gone so well. Have you changed anything preparation wise for this one?

COACH NIUMATALOLO: You just try your best. We have finals, but I know Middle could care a less how many finals we have. They're here to play the game. You just try to do the best you can with our time allotment. We didn't play very well, but last year is last year. Hopefully we can play better. Just try to make sure our preparation is pure as it can be. But I want our guys to have fun too. We don't want to practice nine hours a day or anything like that. We want to make our sure our preparation is pure and clean, and when it's time to have fun, we'll have fun and see what happens.

Q. (No microphone)?

COACH NIUMATALOLO: No, maybe eat a little bit more, but other than that, no. Like you said, if you look at our bowl records, I have a horrible bowl record, so I'm still trying to figure it out.

Q. As we all know the Army Navy game is probably the biggest game on your team's schedule. To have a game like that and refocus for a bowl game, how is that for your team to refocus and get them to what is another big game, but probably not as big as the game you just played?

COACH NIUMATALOLO: Well, just our two goals every year are to win the Commander in Chief Trophy and go to a bowl game. So this is our main goal to be here. So our kids recognize it's hard to go to a bowl game. There are a lot of people right now that are at home. So our kids try to be humble and recognize not everybody's playing in a bowl game in the United States Naval Academy. We're not a Top 5 program or anything like that.

We're grateful for our opportunity to play and play against another team that's won the right to be at a bowl game. So we recognize there are two teams that have fought hard. It's been months of preparation.

We're here at the end, but nobody has seen these players on both sides the summer workouts, the spring ball, all the hard work they've put in. So you come into the culmination of the season, and there is no let down. We're grateful to be here.

Q. You talked about protecting the ball. How important is forcing turnovers to what you guys do? Talk about a challenge of that against a Navy team that doesn't turn the ball over?

COACH STOCKSTILL: Yeah, it's amazing that you can go through 12 games and only turn the ball over eight times like they have. It goes back to what I said earlier. They're a very well coached team, and you have to give their players a lot of credit for the discipline that they've had in protecting the football.

You know, turnovers are hard to get. Sometimes you can go a whole year, and you practice, and you do everything the same way and you don't quite get the turnovers. In other years, the ball bounces your way.

It's just you play a team as disciplined as Navy is and protecting the ball. If and when you do get any opportunities, you have to make sure you get them. If the ball is on the ground, if the ball is in the air and you've got an interception and a chance to get it, you've got to get it. You can't be one of those hand clappers, you know? Almost got it and clap your hands. It's going to be difficult.

To me, when you go through a game and if you don't get turnovers, then you as an offensive unit, you have to be that much take that much more pride in protecting the ball and don't give Navy in this case or the team you're playing an added possession.

Q. In the Middle of the season you guys were riding a three game losing streak, had the Marshall game that was a tough, close, high scoring, hard fought game, and you pulled it out and won and haven't lost since. Was there any defining moment leading into that game, during that game where you felt like your team kind of flipped a switch?

COACH STOCKSTILL: Well, we were 3 1 after the first month of the year, and we got beat by a really good BYU team. Came back the next week and got beaten by a touchdown to East Carolina who played for the conference championship in the last game of the regular season. Then we went out here to North Texas and got beaten by another bowl team.

At that point of the year, we had gone through and lost three of our top 4 backs. We lost three of our Top 5 offensive linemen. We were playing with a true freshman at right guard. We were playing with a red shirt freshman at right tackle, and we were playing with our third team center because of injuries. I'm not making excuses, but we've played three really good teams coupled with the injuries that we had at that point. We hadn't had an open date all year, so we had gone seven consecutive games, four weeks of August practice, and I think we were a little physically as well as mentally fatigued.

We got a break. We got an open date before the Marshall game. But I give our players credit. We never panicked; our coaching staff never panicked. We kept our poise.

Like Ken said, it's hard to win games. Everybody thinks that because you're a two point favorite or ten point favorite or whatever it is, that you're automatically supposed to win that game. If you're a ten point favorite, you're supposed to win by ten points, so it's tough. We went through a tough stretch, but our players continued to believe in one another. They never panicked, like I said. We battled and we competed and we played as hard as we could and finished every game.

The Marshall game was kind of a shot in the arm. It was a great back and forth game in the second half. You win on the last play of the game. I think that gave us a little bit of confidence that's carried over to the last half of the season.

Q. A lot of focus on Middle Tennessee defense trying to stop the Navy option offense because it's so different. Flip this around and talk about Navy defense against Middle Tennessee offense. You guys really run the ball well. If you guys could comment on that match up as well as how the offensive line has been playing?

COACH STOCKSTILL: We've been we've run the ball, I think, pretty good all year. We've run it better the last half of the year because we've gotten a couple guys we've had more continuity in the offensive line. Everybody out there knows how important that is, probably more so than any position on the field other than quarterback. The communication and everything that goes in place or takes place in the offensive line, and we didn't have that because we had so many injuries and so many new people coming in the offensive line, those first four or five games of the year.

Now the last half of the year we've had the same five guys for the most part, and I think that's helped us from a communication standpoint, from a continuity standpoint. It's our receivers that have done a great job down field blocking, and our running backs because they're running behind the same five guys for the most part, have been a little bit more effective.

COACH NIUMATALOLO: I'm just a football Coach. You go to that store last night the Radio Shack and see the inventions that people have, and you realize there are really some smart people in this world. Really, football is trying to stay gap sound, you know what I mean? Get your hands on people, get off blocks. They've got 11 guys; we've got 11 guys. Try to get off blocks and stay in your gaps. We're a bend but don't break defense. We try to keep two high safeties if we can. But that's hard to do.

I mean, there are very few people that keep two high safeties, so might be some quarter stuff to roll and get a safety down in the box. But it's really simple. I mean, if we can't get off, we can eat up all of our people, and we have to get secondary people involved, it's going to be rough further. Then they go over top. So it's always been the case.

I mean, we watched our tape. They watch our tape. Try to get in the game and make adjustments, but football is a really simple game. It's just gap integrity. Trying to stay gap sound, trying to get off blocks, and if we can't get off blocks, it's going to be a long day for us.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, if you could introduce your two players and give a little thought about each one of them?

COACH NIUMATALOLO: Well, Cody Peterson is our team captain on defense. He's from Washington. He's a wonderful young man. He's a senior. He's led our team in tackles, he has 135 tackles to this point. He's just been a great leader for our team. Cody embodies who we are as a football team. Doesn't say much, just plays football. Comes to play, and he's a guy that runs to the ball better than any linebacker I've been around.

Our starting quarterback, Keenan Reynolds who is from Tennessee. Like I said, I'm not a very smart person, and he's made me a lot smarter as a coach. We were 1 3 when he took over as starting quarterback two years ago, and he's done tremendous things running our offense. He's as good an option quarterback as I've been around.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, I've never seen a coach to excited after a scored a touchdown against San Jose.

COACH NIUMATALOLO: I'm trying to forget that. I've taken a lot of flack about running down the field. I felt bad because the coach was a really nice guy. I forgot to shake his hand and ran down the field, but I'm just grateful I didn't pull a hamstring.

THE MODERATOR: I thought that was just a great moment, the excitement on that. Coach, if you could introduce your players.

COACH STOCKSTILL: Logan Kilgore is our quarterback. He's from Rocklin, California. He's one of our four captains. He's graduated with his undergraduate degree as well as his MBA, and just a phenomenal person. He's had a great career and holds most of our passing records here at Middle Tennessee.

Jimmy Staten is another fifth year senior. He's one of our four captains. He's from Waycross, Georgia, he's a defensive tackle, and, again, he's graduated and just a phenomenal person and has had a great year and great career for us.

Friend of the Blue Raiders? Like us on Facebook and become part of the True Blue army today.