Weekly Q And A With Tom O'Brien
Eagle football coach reflects on Syracuse win and the season so far.
Q: Your thoughts on the Syracuse game?
A: We had tremendous effort on Saturday. We've been on a roller coaster ride the last four weeks. We had a terribly disappointing loss to Temple, then came back and had a high moment beating Pittsburgh, then we had an extremely low moment at the end of the Miami game, when we couldn't win the football game, then we hung in there and played for 60 minutes this past Saturday and were fortunate enough to beat an excellent Syracuse team, at their place, on Homecoming. We're tired. Our batteries are drained. We need the week off desperately. We'll get back on the practice field, take some time off, then start preparing for West Virginia as we normally would, on the weekend.
Q: You have talked in the past about the need to play a full 60 minutes. Is that something you have really tried to instill in the program?
A: I talked a lot this year about mental toughness. We have some physical limitations, but the only way we can solve those problems is to get out there and recruit. We can solve those problems off the field. The on-field challenge deals with mental toughness. We played a couple of down-to-the-wire games last year. This year, Baylor went down to the last minute, Navy went to the last minute, as did the Pittsburgh game, the Miami game and the Syracuse game. For the fifth time this season we played games that required us to play 60 minutes. You've got to be prepared to play the whole way, and if it goes overtime, you've got to be prepared to play that. You have to be mentally tough and able to withstand all the highs and lows that happen in a football game. Your mental outlook is so important. That's one thing that we've been able to accomplish this year.
Q: Is there anything you can point to that has helped you get over the hump this year to a winning season?
A: We knew coming in that we should be pretty good on defense. Chris Hovan is a tremendous player, he's up for all the national awards, and he deserves every one, because I haven't seen anyone blocking him yet without tackling him 10 times a game. You look at the numbers Frank Chamberlin had Saturday -- here's a kid who started off at fullback, played some tight end, we moved him to linebacker last year, and he learned on-the-job the whole last year. His progress has been tremendous this year. Two of the last three games we've won basically by playing great red-zone defense; when teams got to the scoring area, we forced them to make mistakes or got them out of their rhythm and forced them to kick field goals. Saturday, they (Syracuse) ended up missing one that ended up being the turning point of the game, and we were able to go down and kick one. Most of them (defense) are seniors. Unfortunately, you look at this football team, and if they were able five years ago to redshirt Hovan, Chamberlin, Newman, Cirino and White, think of what kind of football team we might have coming back for another year.
Q: You took an interesting tact, saying that the pressure was off after the first six games of the season.
A: I think it was. Some people thought I was joking, but I was serious. What have we got to lose now? We go into games being two-touchdown underdogs, so what the heck? Against one of those teams, we lose in the last seven seconds on a field goal, and we're able to beat the other, a top-25 team. I think that, in some respects, they (the team) didn't really believe they could beat Miami, and there wasn't the same look at their eyes in the fourth quarter as there was in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh. But the same look in their eyes was there in the fourth quarter against Syracuse. Even though we lost (to Miami), for them to get back and understand that they played so well and they had the opportunity to win -- you've got to believe you can win, you've got to refuse to lose. Lombardi talked about it a long time ago -- the will to win. That's one thing we (coaches) have stressed since we've gotten here.
Q: Can you talk about DuJuan Daniels and his Midas touch -- every time he touches the ball for the first time in different areas, he scores. Are you thinking about moving him to running back, or somewhere else?
A: Well, he could play running back, that's what he came here as. Dumb me, I had him on defense all last year. Saturday, he came up, he put a great move on their safety and then he outran everybody down the boundary. It was a tremendous effort on his part, a great return. What a tremendous effort by DuJuan. He's going to keep returning kicks now. Maybe we'll get him on punt returns.
Q: What is William Green's situation?
A: He has a pulled groin. He's one of those guys we hope we can get healthy this week and get him back on the practice field and see how it goes.
Q: The third down obviously has to be a concern. Are you thinking about re-evaluating this week?
A: No, not at all. We were second-best in the conference until this week, and we're still in the top half of the conference. If you look, they (Syracuse) were 0-for-4 in the fourth quarter, when it became important, and they were 0-for-1 on the fourth-down conversion in the fourth quarter. They had two weeks to prepare. They did some things that affected us a little bit, and they held on to the football. But we outpossessed them in the fourth quarter, the only time we did it the whole day, and we stopped them on third down. And I think those were keys to the game.
Q: What has the reaction been, on campus and around the city, to the success you've had?
A: All I can say is that Conte Forum is a much happier place today than it was in December '96 when I got here, if that's any indication.
Q: Your defense, coming into the year, was experienced, but on offense, you had lost your quarterback, running back and a lot of receivers. How has your offense conformed so far?
A: We knew going in that we had to replace seven starters, plus we ended up hiring a new offensive coordinator and two other new coaches. So we had three new coaches and seven new starters, a unit that had to grow as the year progressed. The last three weeks, I think we showed great strides in offense. It started in the Pittsburgh game when we came back to win it, continuing through the Miami game, and the same thing on Saturday. We had trouble getting off the field with the defense for about three quarters, but you go back and look at the stats sheet, and we averaged 5.8 yards per play in only 46 total offensive plays. They had 83 total plays and only 4.0 yards per play. We were productive in the time we were in there. We've continued to grow. We can get much better, but we are getting better, and that was the key to the offense this year.
Q: Was the Miami game a turning point for you? Were you concerned that they would get down after what happened?
A: That was a major concern, but I think we took it and used it as a positive. We were close to them, and Miami's a great football team. We played them toe-to-toe for 58 minutes. We said if we can play 60 minutes and believe we can win, we'll have a chance against Syracuse.