The Owls earned their first win of the year last Saturday and will look to get back to .500 and make it two in a row against Wagner this weekend. On Sunday Coach Kiffin held his weekly media conference call. Below are the highlights from that session.
Obviously [Saturday] was our best game of the year. It was exciting to win. I wouldnít say it was a must-win, but going 0-3 would have been very disappointing to start the year, where I think at that point you are dealing with some confidence issues. It was good to see. Plus, there was that middle run there [of 13 points to go up 34-17], which shows some really good football. You donít go on runs like that by just one guy making a play or the ball bouncing your way, so it was good to see because that takes all three phases to go on a run like that against a good team. They hung right in there with a Big 10 opponent in Indiana and blew out the other game. I think [Ball State] has a really good offense, who is going to score a lot of points on a lot of people all year. We did give up a lot of yards, but we made impact plays by five sacks, four turnovers and a fourth down stop, which is actually kind of like a turnover, so if you look at it that way, we forced five turnovers in the game, which is good. But we didnít tackle very well, especially in the backend. We were a little thin back there with Korel Smith being out for the game and Chris Tooley missing some time with a family emergency. He actually flew commercial very late Friday night to get to the game. We are going to have to play better in the backend going down the road and cover better, but especially tackle better. I thought Larryís [McCammon] stats werenít dynamic, but he played really well. [Ball State] was definitely trying to stop the run, and thatís why you are able to sit back there and pass. They geared up some tight techniques to stop the run, so I thought Larry did really well and Chris [Robison] played extremely well. He was very accurateÖ so it was good to see.
Stats aside, was yesterday the first time you saw Chris [Robison] play for a full four quarters?
There were two games, the Air Force game and this one. He got a lot of help in the Air Force game number wise with some sweeps that count as passes that go for a lot of yards. He earned a little more than all the Air Force ones, so yes, I would say so.
On John Mitchell
Obviously with the three touchdowns with two of them being out of rhythm plays, but he made them, especially that last one that he caught over the guy was exactly what we needed. What we talked about all week was we arenít going to be really good until we start making some plays outside, so that was great to see.
You talked about (Mitchell) just getting that confidence going because you have seen him do that type of stuff in practice all the time. How do you ensure that that confidence carries over to on the road where he is doing that kind of stuff regularly?
I donít know. I have been very positive to him all week about how he was going to make plays. During Friday nightís meeting, we talked about how he played in the spring game, so confidence is very fragile either way, up or down. Sometimes one game like that, especially for a receiver, can change the rest of the season.
You had said after the game that it was kind of a relief with obviously not going 0-3. Did you get that feeling from the players too that now we have won a game we can get back on track?
Yes, I think there was a lot of excitement in the locker room with it being the first time the team winning, but I think that excitement, but also that relief too. In that game, you saw we kind of outplayed them early, but then handed them those two touchdowns to go down 14-7. I think the team did a really good job playing through adversity. Every good team has to find moments early on. The way we played [in the] UCF game, I think they may do that to everybody like they just did to Stanford, that kind of woke us up. Everything happens for a reason.
Were you encouraged on what you saw at left guard and right tackle?
Yes, I thought they responded to the criticism well. Our guys understand we have high standards for them, and we explain to them with why we do things and why we say things. Itís why you come here. You better have thick skin if you want to be coached well and know that nobody is above being benched or demoted if they arenít doing their part to help us win, especially on an effort standpoint.
With Wagner coming up, how do you ensure you donít suffer from a letdown? What do you preach this week?
Itís about us and we got a lot of room to improve. We arenít playing enough players and we have a lot of players playing too many snaps and both receivers played way too many snaps, especially John [Mitchell] played 80 snaps or something like that. Rashad [Smith] and both safeties played too many snaps. We are very thin at running back, and Larry actually got hurt at the end there and so heís even questionable now. We have to worry about ourselves and get more players ready to play.
With the Larry situation, I donít recall Kelvin [Dean] got back into the game after that fumble. Is that a career benching or where does he stand?
It is not a career benching. Heís a true freshman, but it was a very critical fumble. They are going to happen sometimes on big hits, but that one wasnít. Both those plays, that one and the next one play, back-to-back, that will have those guys [Dean and Willie Wright] on the bench for a while because that was the whole key to the game was taking care of the ball.
With the other injured running backs, [Malcolm] Davidson and Daniel Leconte, is there an update on either of them?
Leconte actually played some special teams during the game, so heís technically back and Malcolm is still not back.
Kelvin [Dean] played the first two games on special teams too, right? If you are going to redshirt him, you still have one more look at him, would you want to see him against Wagner and give him as many reps as possible? Or is it better to see what maybe he does during Conference USA play?
Heís not going to redshirt. The guy is going to contribute on special teams. We arenít going to worry about four games redshirting. The guy is going to be available to play all year. Again, the transfer portal has made it much harder to redshirt people because again, I think we were at 74 [players] before we started adding walk-ons, so if you are 11 people short, that hurts your ability to play people on special teams and it hurts your ability to redshirt players because you have less players.
You mentioned Korell Smith earlier. I donít think he traveled, was there a specific reason why? Is he injured?
Yes, he is injured.