Sept. 17, 2008
General Statement: It's been a really good week of practice so far. The guys are really impressed with Chase Clement and what he's been able to do. Probably the most productive thing about their football team right is third-down conversions. They're right at 50 percent and that's because [Clement] has the ability to run and throw. We've gone back with our team and talked about our objectives on defense. When you look at what has happened over the last five or six years of college football, the spread offense is here. The quarterbacks in the Big 12 are really good. I was told today that 11 of the top 12 quarterbacks in the Big 12 are in the top 40 in passing efficiency in the country. So people are going to complete passes against you and they're going to make yards. So we've gone back and really studied it and looked at it. What we're looking at now for our goals on defense - obviously completion percentage of passes is very important because people are throwing the ball as much or more than they are running it in this league. Right now, we're at 44 percent completions. Yards per attempt, it's more like the running game because so many people are throwing shuffle passes, flares, hitches and slants. We'd like to have your yards per attempt at five yards or less. Right now we're at 5.44 yards, so it's a little above that. (UTEP) got 80 yards in the fourth quarter passing which put us a little behind.
Obviously we'll stay after the turnovers and explosive plays. There were more explosive plays in the opening ballgame than we wanted, and I think there were about three at El Paso. But we've still got to cut down on the explosive plays, especially right before the half. And we're not forcing the turnovers we need to. That's been a huge emphasis for us - why aren't we forcing turnovers? We have to continue to do that. And getting pressure on the quarterback. We're not going to get as many sacks - we've discussed that - because of the rules and the quarterbacks can get rid of the ball. But we've put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. We've just gotten two sacks, but 32 pressures. That means that we changed the quarterback from his normal position and put him in an uncomfortable spot to pass. Nineteen hits on the quarterback, that's very important to us, that the quarterback doesn't feel comfortable in the pocket.
And the best thing we're doing right now is scoring defense. We're playing great defense in the red zone. We're only giving up 11 points per game and that is the most important stat. Turnovers help you get the ball back so you get to score more, but scoring offense and scoring defense is what you're trying to get. People are going to throw the ball and get yards. A 300-yard passing game is nothing anymore, and that's what we're seeing. It's not about the yards you're giving up, it's about the points you're giving up, it's about the yards per attempt you're giving up and it's about trying to keep them from getting too many explosive plays, but definitely forcing more turnovers. You do that by stopping the run and trying to get more pressure on the quarterback.
On how playing football will relieve some stress for players from the Houston area: A lot of people move on after a hurricane. We see the reports and we see what's happening, the people that are dealing with it deal with the stress beforehand. They deal with reality afterwards. Some kids don't even know about their homes, they can't see them, they haven't even been there. Football is a great distraction from everyday problems, and we told our guys we know they're dealing with a lot of things off the field. I know the Rice kids and coaches are too. We want to help in any way we can. We want to make sure everybody is safe, we want to help you within the rules the best we can. But at the same time, when we've got you for football, try to focus just on that and get back to work.
On getting the running backs to run through contact more: The most important thing for our backs is to take care of the ball, period. They've gone a good job. I think us and Oklahoma are the only two teams in the Big 12 that do not have a fumble at this point, so that is huge. They're catching the ball, they're protecting well, and they're doing all those things well. We've taken film from the first two games and shown them, "There was a hole here that was big enough and we needed more yards, so kick through. You got two, you should have gotten four." If you keep getting four over and over, you'll get your explosives. Let's not look for the big one right now, let's just go back and be a good, tough, running football team. If you're getting the four-yarders, the big ones will come.
On the special teams: We feel like right now our special teams have a chance to be as good as we've had since we've been here. The three blocked kicks in two games are huge. It's an attitude that we've gotten back that we lost last year. We're not returning the kickoffs as well as we'd like, even though we're not returning many kickoffs. We haven't had the opportunities. Our kickoff coverage in the opening game wasn't very good. It was much better and our kicks were much better in El Paso in the second game. And our punting has been really good. John Gold has been a pleasant surprise for all of us. Because we've put such an emphasis on blocking kicks, it's helped us with field position, but we haven't returned as many. I think the punt return for 16 yards against (UTEP) was big for field position and the long field goal return by Quan [Cosby] was really big, but we think that our special teams have to help us at a time when this league is so good. That's why we're putting even more emphasis on it than ever before.
There wasn't as much emphasis [on blocking punts] last year. Nobody is as good as Duane [Akina] and he was taken away from it, which was a mistake on my part. He's the best in the country, that's why we've got more blocked kicks than anyone else. The kids believe in him, they believe in his system and his schemes. But it's not about schemes, it's about the attitude that you approach the schemes with. That's why we've gone back to blocking kicks.
On Rice head coach David Baliff: He did about all he could do other than win a national championship at Texas State. So when he decided to take the Rice job - he and I talked about it - there are enough players in this state for David to win. His team is much better than it was this time last year. He's made a tremendous amount progress and he hasn't even been able to get his recruits on the field yet. David Baliff is the right guy at Rice and he will do a tremendous job there and get them back on track.
On LB Sergio Kindle: Sergio has grown up so much since he's been here. He's got a tough dad who has hung in there with him and been good. (Sergio) understands the deal. One of the things I love about Sergio the most is if he does something wrong and you ask him, he tells you every detail, maybe more than you want to know sometimes, but he will tell you the truth and I think that's the reason he's been able to get back on track. He's playing so hard, he's playing well, he's been able to stay healthy and we just hope it continues for him. We need his help because he's such a great player. He's playing right now like the young guy we recruited.