Florida Atlantic Head Coach Lane Kiffin met with the media on Monday to recap the Owls' Shula Bowl XVI win, keeping pressure on against Charlotte, receiving Top 25 votes, and the improvement of passing and tackling.
Shula Bowl XVI Recap
"Really an exciting game as far as guys making a bunch of plays, significant game-changing plays, in all three phases of the game, but really probably surprising to you I donít think that we played very hard on offense, which is shocking to me in that type of game and the magnitude of that game. We had a lot of point and a lot of yards. I thought we played really hard on defense. I donít know why that is. We just didnít have a mentality of really finishing them. Even though it is not going to make sense, because we did. The last five drives, there was four touchdowns and one field goal to end the game. We scored at the end. The meeting today was not as good as you probably think it would be. I really challenged that it is not about the opponent we are playing. Like it is every week, it is about us getting better. If you want to be a championship team, you need to keep improving, regardless of the record of the team you play, whether the game matters because the division is already decided. We have a big challenge to get better. We have a big challenge to go 1-0 this week. Big challenge to stay undefeated. You can go down as being 8-0 in conference. Big challenge.
How gratifying is it to hear Azeez (Al-Shaair) say right after the game that Charlotte is on the clock, right after winning the Conference USA East Division Title? It seems as though they are still focused.
"I didnít hear him say that. I just heard that now. It is the first I have heard of it. It is very satisfying. That is a good analogy. That does speak volumes for where the team is at. I think they were excited, as you can see them go get the trophy. They were excited in the locker room. But I think it was a little bit shorter than maybe you would think, for the magnitude of getting the championship game, winning the division, beating your rival. That is a good thing."
With the division being clinched, does that change the game plan with Charlotte? Maybe play guys that donít get as many snaps?
"No. We donít think that way. We donít care where we play, who we play, our job is to win. We donít think that way. It is not the NFL where the game doesnít matter because you have already clinched. A lot of times they donít play their starters because they basically want a bye week. That is different. We want to be undefeated in the conference. We want to leave no doubt in the regular season how we played, and end on whatever that is, an eight-game winning streak. It would be huge, have a lot of momentum and get better. Eventually if you keep winning, you are going to get in the Top 25, so it is much different than the NFL."
What precisely did you see that made you not like what you saw on offense?
"We played hard when the ball was snapped. It was like a service team mentality. Like hey we got them blocked. Why arenít we keeping our hands inside and slamming them to the ground. Why arenít we finishing them? Blocking them and not finishing. The mentality. I think they got tired on defense. There was a lot of standing both ways. That is not how we expect to play. I told them it looks like what you do on service team when you are going against your own team. You try hard but you donít really have a different finishing killer instinct. Luckily, we have really good players that made guys miss or just outran guys, but that is not how we want to play."
On Receiving Top 25 Votes
"Not really cool, because it doesnít matter until the end. That is the week that is remembered. Nobody says, hey Week 11, you guys were this ranking. Just like College Football Playoffs, none of that matters. It matters to fans. It matters where we are in the end and that is why we need to keep proving and keep getting better regardless of who we are playing. I told them today, if you want to be a Top 25 program, then you need to finish that way. So, you better get better regardless of who you are playing each week. Not only do you play better this week, you play better in the championship game. You play better in the bowl game."
Back earlier in the year, you went to Jason (Driskel) and said at some point we are going to pick a guy and stick with it. And you did that. Has Jason rewarded that faith, especially the way he has played the last three games?
"He has. Like you mentioned he has played his best football by far in the throwing game here lately. We did say that today, in the team meeting. What you guys have done that has allowed you to win the division and be a potential championship team is, you worked on (that) our kickoff return is struggling, we are not tackling in the backend and our passing game is not very good. Now as we sit here today, our kickoff return is doing really well, our tackling is much better and our passing game is much better. That is a credit to them."