The Owls moved to 2-2 on the season in a lopsided 42-7 win over Wagner Saturday. Despite the offensive showing, Coach Lane Kiffin still points to needed improvement on the ground as the Owls enter this weekend's Conference USA opener, on the road, against Charlotte. On Sunday he held his weekly media conference call. Below are the highlights from that session.
I thought after looking at the film that we didn't play great in the game. I think that the score was a result of having mismatches personnel-wise, so it was a lot of good stats in the game obviously, but I thought we should have been able to run the ball better. We probably should have had 50 to 60 yards rushing until that last series. (Nick) Tronti was a bright spot, really competitive in there running the ball and commanding the offense. I thought defensively, I would have liked more turnovers. They did do well on 3rd down, getting off the field early on. Penalties were a concern on both offense and defense, critical penalties on offense and defense. We were able to overcome some of our offensive penalties with some 3rd down conversions. Good and bad in the game, I think the passing game was the bright spot the last two weeks. I think Chris (Robison) has thrown for over 745 yards in two games with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. John Mitchell almost had 300 yards receiving over the last two weeks has been a bright spot and D-Lo (Dangelo Antoine) with the big game, but we aren't going to win this conference if we don't figure out how to run the ball better.
After watching the film from last night, how would you assess this year's team, as you guys go into league play?
I hope we are better defensively than we were a year ago. Statistically, that hasn't necessarily been the case with this team, but we did play three really good offenses and two of the best in the country. We kind of wish we could mix last year's running backs and the ability to run the ball. Those guys with this newfound passing game and receiver play would be really special. We need to be better in the passing game and obviously are missing the run game, especially after one of the most productive players in the history of college football left (Devin Singletary).
With that being said, is there one area in the team that surprised you in a good way in how they played in non-conference play?
I think in the last two weeks, the receivers. Pico (Tavaris Harrison) made some plays, John (Mitchell) making huge plays and then D-Lo (Deangelo Antoine) getting the start and having four touchdowns after having what I think was two touchdowns in his entire career. I said that one of the big things was going to happen with the transfer portal that after losing all of these guys, being able to have the ability to find some of these guys in there that, even though they don't give you scholarships to replace, that would come as walk-ons. We have had two quarterbacks do that and D-Lo at receiver has helped a lot.
With the running back unit, what do you think they need to work on in order to perform better or at a level you would like to see from them?
Consistency, which comes with experience too. You're talking about very inexperienced players, and really, of the three running backs who carried the ball for the most part… Larry (McCammon) who is a true freshman, Kelvin Dean is a true freshman and Daniel Leconte hasn't played very much and probably had under 10 carries coming into the game, so that will come with experience also and we have to block better up front.
Do you have an update right now on Harrison (Bryant)?
I hope he plays this week.
James Charles I think didn't see the field this week, was there something behind that?
No, he was actually captain of the game. We just weren't running the ball very much and went with Larry early and he wasn't really getting tired because a lot of the RPO's ended up being passes with them playing cover three every snap in the first half. Then later on, when it was out of hand, I wanted to try to get some carries in for Kelvin Dean.
Were you surprised to see how well Deangelo Antoine and Nick Tronti did?
No, because we noticed this… I think the position change really helped him. Even though with the injury during the game to John (Mitchell), he went back outside, but he is really more of a slot receiver. We needed more help outside coming into the season, so that's where we were playing him early. But then we weren't getting a lot of protection from the slot. Two guys moved inside this week, so that allows him to get more jet sweep-type stuff and things like that, so he really received the opportunity. His last two coaches that he had really liked him, he's a good kid.
I think Desmond Noel saw the field in the fourth quarter. What did you take from him from the first time he was out there?
It's a difficult situation, I mean the guy just got here. It's one thing to miss all offseason, he missed all of training camp. He is a very aggressive player that will be really good, but he just doesn't know everything right now.
Do you have an update on Tyreke Tisdale?
Yes, I hope he plays this week.
Javion Posey was on the field on that Tronti drive, is that accurate and what did you see out of that?
That was accurate… He was out there, but we didn't really throw the ball, so he didn't have any opportunities that way because of the score.
Did he block well or is there anything you can take away from it?
He went in there and tried to block. He gave good effort. You don't really want to throw the ball with the score, so he didn't get any opportunities in the passing game.
Was (Deandre) McNeal out there too?
Yes he was, he and Posey played the exact same amount of snaps.