Going down fighting in a 45-42 defeat on the road against UAB, the Florida Atlantic football team comes back home to Boca Raton as they get ready to host the East Carolina Pirates on November 11th.
Head coach Tom Herman spoke with media on Monday to evaluate the current state of the team and their preparations against the Pirates.
Below are some of the highlights from the session.
Opening statement on how the team performed against UAB
"Obviously very mixed emotions from Saturday. Certainly the biggest one being disappointment and not being able to win and stay alive in the conference race having put ourselves in the position that we had. But also understanding the big picture where we're at, back-to-back road games against an opponent coming off its bye week rested at home. No excuses, but that was a good football team. I know everybody is going to look at their record and say, "well, they were 2-6". Well, we were 4-4 going into that game and they build really big fancy buildings in Las Vegas 'cause they're usually right and somebody had told me we were actually an underdog going into the game."
"So we knew the kind of opponent UAB was going to be and the challenges that they were going to face. Disappointed in the way that we started that game, especially defensively. But to be able to regroup, settle down and then the second play of the second half throw a pick-six, I don't know how long you guys have been covering this program, but from a lot of people I've heard that have been around here for a long time, in years past, that game probably turns out a lot different. So really proud of the guys and their resiliency to score 28 straight points and to put themselves in a position to finish that comeback."
"And then again, another learning lesson: we are prisoners right now. Unfortunately, despite all of the coaching and teaching against it, we are prisoners of our emotions. Collectively as a team, we've got some guys that aren't and unfortunately we still got too many that are and we have to understand that no matter what the flow of the game is on every play, everybody's got a job to do and the scoreboard doesn't care. The opponent doesn't, nobody cares. You got a job to do. Go do your job. And for about 25 minutes there in the second half, we did. And we showed ourselves what our best is capable of but I think we surprised ourselves unfortunately that we were in that position and didn't realize the strained effort and continuous attention to detail necessary to then once you get to that position to close the door."
"Like everything that's happened this season, we seem to be the kings of having to learn things the hard way. But the encouraging thing is we have learned and hopefully if we're in that position again against ECU, we'll know how to close the door this time, and I think we will. Again, defensively, we knew that offense scored a lot of points against everybody, but more than half of playing really good defense is just being in the right place at the right time with the technique that you're coached to be there in and we weren't way too many times and when you've got a team that's that athletic at their skill positions that get the ball in space the way that they do, if you don't have the right guys there at the right time doing the right thing, there's going to be bad things that happen and that was very much on display."
On the team developing its trait to rally from behind
"Again, very mixed emotions. So I'm really proud and you can have both. Rationally as a human, I can be proud of the fact that our guys didn't quit. They showed a ton of fight and grit and the will to perform at their best when their best was needed. And at the same time, be extremely disappointed that we couldn't continue it for six and a half damn more minutes, and that's frustrating as heck."
"But considering the alternative having been in that, if we were to put ourselves in that position, yeah. The fact that we did prove to ourselves and hopefully our fans and everybody that cares about this team that we are different, that we will fight, we will compete. I think right now, it's less a matter of knowing what's needed as it is a matter of doing it on a consistent basis. So the first step is recognition and our guys recognize our deficiencies and what we need to improve on. The harder step is the execution of that on a consistent basis and we're getting there. There is a sense of pride knowing that our guys did what they did to put themselves in that position, for sure."
Preparations against East Carolina
"They got a really good defense. We're in no position to look at anybody's record. They just took a top 25 team to within three points. They've been in every game, four out of their five conference opponents they have held to under their season average. So this game is probably going to feel a little bit more like Charlotte. Their offense is going to look different and the defense will look different. But it's going to be very difficult to move the football and they're going to try to and they know they've got a really good defense they do and they manage it well offensively."
"I think the biggest thing is that we know what we have on defense and we're fighting tooth and nail right now to put every finger we have in the dam to keep it from bursting, but the offense, we're going to have to provide some lift against a very good defense both statistically and just to the naked eye. Really well-coached, very unique scheme. The front is going to look very similar to Illinois when we played them but they played fast, they're very well-coached, and they make some really good adjustments on the move. You can tell they played in that system for a while and the kids really understand it so you guys can talk about their record all you want. I know Mike Houston's a hell of a coach and I've watched a couple games of their offense but I know I've spent significant time watching their defense this morning and it'll be one of the better ones we played in a while."
Having the defense bounce back by pressuring East Carolina's quarterback to rush his passes
"It'll be monumental, and the guys know it. I'm not throwing shade on anybody. I mean, that was really bad against UAB and it was frustrating. When you give up 44 to Clemson because they Moss you on a couple catches or they do this or that or they just drive you off the ball to run the football, I'm like "Okay, we're in the right place at the right time, the way we're coached to and they're just a little bigger, faster, stronger than we are". But when the talent is somewhat equal, they have really good players on offense, UAB and really good coaches, but it starts with just being in the right gap and covering the right guy. And if we can do that, we will play better defensively by default, if anything."
Stopping Pirates DB Julius Wood from making tackles against the FAU offense
"I don't know. That's like asking the defensive coordinator "how you gonna stop Lajohntay Wester?" We know he's a really good player. He's kind of the centerpiece of that defense. And so I think anytime you've got a guy that is that aggressive, that physical, you can tell they'd been in that system for a long time. He knows the strengths and weaknesses and what he's been asked to do in coverage and in run fits. He's kind of a hybrid linebacker safety if you will, because he gets his hands on passes and tackles guys after the catch and he stuff and runs for zero-yard gains too. I don't know that you ever really quote "neutralize" a guy like that? But I think probably maybe the best way to describe it is we're going to know where he's at at all times."
The Owls will be heading to the Schmidt Complex practice field on Tuesday morning to gear up their preparation against the Pirates.