Transcript: Rice Football Press Conference
Nov. 7, 2011
Rice Head Coach David Bailiff
Recapping the UTEP Game
"It was exciting to win a homecoming game. I believe that was our seventh straight homecoming win. It's nice to keep that streak alive.
"I have to start with offense. There's nobody I am more proud of than Nick Fanuzzi who got his opportunity to start and to come into that game and take advantage of the play. To throw for 405 yards and just to really lead the offense down the field. He made plays when he had to. I am really, really proud of him. Same with Taylor Cook filling in for Luke Willson. I thought he had a big-time football game where he took advantage of his opportunity to make plays and he did. Keshawn Carrington filling in for Eric Ball at center, he really played a fabulous game also. I am proud of those young men who had opportunities to play and they made the most of them.
"You can never say enough about what Tyler Smith does for this football team and the role that Turner Petersen is now playing when in the `Owl' and running it at running back. He really makes us tick and is a physical runner. And then what Vance McDonald did for us with his eight receptions and his 13-yard run.
"We hit a rhythm. I thought we were physical. I thought we made plays when we had to and we didn't have many penalties except the two late but offensively overcame those to score.
"Defensively, Bryce Callahan with his two picks gives him five for the season as a redshirt freshman. He gets better each week. I really thought overall our linebackers played very well. Cory Frazier at the other safety set the edge nice. UTEP had been averaging 161 yards a game rushing and the defense held them to 98.
"Special teams, Chris Boswell hit his field goals. He was 2-for-2. Ultimately you hate to kick field goals in the Red Zone but I was glad he made those two when he had the chance. We need to continue to improve some deep ball security. We need to get the hang time back on the kickoffs that we weren't getting Saturday but I was thrilled to come out of there with a conference victory at home.
"Northwestern will be a challenge for us in Big 10 country. We understand (Dan) Persa may be hurt but the other young man (sophomore Kain Colter) is a fabulous athlete. They are leading the Big 10 in passing and just a solid Northwestern football team. It is what we need to aspire to become. They are solid everywhere - offensively, defensively and special teams. They don't give up big chunks of yardage. Defensively they are just solid and they are very consistent offensively. That's why they beat Nebraska. They ran the ball effectively. They threw it effectively. They played solid defense."
Talk about Nick Fanuzzi coming into the game and doing what he was able to accomplish ...
"He showed a lot of poise in the pocket. Nick has never been afraid of getting the big hit in the pocket. That's one of Nick's absolute strong points. The great thing about that football game is we had no turnovers offensively. That is what we have been lacking this year. I thought because of Nick and the way he threw the ball, and if you look, he ran the ball very effectively also. He kept the chains moving. We had big plays. The amazing thing is our longest drives always ended up with field goals. We didn't get any big plays on them but Nick still consistently moved the chains. That is what he has to do. He had great ball security. He played with a lot of confidence and poise. When we needed him the most, he was there to make the plays for us and he did that for four quarters."
Talk about the interceptions, those two situations ...
"The second one that Bryce (Callahan) made I thought was a big momentum changer for us. All turnovers are absolutely critical. The two interceptions has a lot to do with keeping UTEP's offense off the field. The defense held them to 98 yards rushing because they simply had few opportunities to play offense. That was big time and I thought it gave us a lot of momentum at that point in the football game.
You are one of the nation's leaders in Red Zone offense at 26-of-29 but only 16 have been touchdowns. Can you talk about that?
"We were five-for-five the other night but two of them were field goals. If you can finish those drives out with touchdowns then they are not onside kicking it at the end of that one. That's how critical those drives are. That has been a point of emphasis. But once again, you see how critical those field goals can be in a tight ball game. And Chris Boswell is one of the finest in the country. He has missed two this year, one was a 55-yarder at Baylor and the other was a slip on a wet field. He is as accurate as any young man I have been around.
"Yes, we want touchdowns in those and then we don't have onside kicks that Vance McDonald gets to win it in the end."
Talking about a team which has players from the state of Texas ...
"I read they have five young men from Houston on that football team so you know there's going to be a lot of guys on our team that know them. I know Corey Frazier (Eden Prairie, Minn.) has a high school teammate who plays for Northwestern now.
"We do see them (Northwestern coaching staff) all the time in recruiting because we are both universities that are looking for true student-athletes. They have done an absolute great job of attracting ... you look at their schedule, you look at what they are accomplishing now. We inspire to be like them. They are competitive in the Big 10. They are competitive when they go out of conference. It would be a huge shot in the arm for us to go and get a fourth win and get a win on the road."
Talking about the dual threats at quarterback ...
"If it is Persa ... Persa last year was the difference in the game. He threw for 307 last year. We played really solid defense last year. At halftime, defensively, we had only given up two field goals. It was the 68th play a year ago before they scored their first (offensive) touchdown. We hung with them for a long time. You'd like to go there and really compete. Like I said, they are just so solid. They take care of the football. They tackle defensively. Coming off a big win at Nebraska, you know they are going to have a lot of confidence."
It has to be encouraging going onto the road having played well offensively the last two weeks?
"Absolutely. I thought that game was the one that we achieved rhythm for four quarters. I thought we achieved it, I guess it was Marshall, in the third quarter but we didn't maintain it for the entire football game. We didn't give up a sack in the game. I think it gives us tremendous confidence going to Northwestern that we just played our best game offensively of the year.
"You look to, we think we will have a chance to get Luke Willson back this week. I think we will have a chance to get Sam (McGuffie) back this week. I haven't received anything about Eric Ball yet but I think we will get some guys back and that will help."
Talking about the excitement in the locker room after the UTEP game ...
"Locker rooms are a lot of fun when you win. The highs are so high. When you see the kids singing the fight song and doing cheers, that's why you do it. When you get beat, there is not a worse experience when you look in their eyes and you know they are down and you feel like you are the reason that you let them down. That motivates you to go back to work that Sunday to try to get those kids to experience that feeling.
"It was a tribute this week ... we truly did have our best week of practice. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday they were completely focused. They knew we were going into a game in which if we played well and were accountable to each other we would come out on top. And that's what we did. We played like we practiced all week.
"It was everything. People drawing a line in the sand. Every team mistakes. If you make them, you have to overcome them. We hadn't been overcoming them. We still made them the other night but I think we showed a lot of grit. I think the seniors - John Gioffre, Michael Smith, Xavier Webb, Jake Hicks, Tyler Smith - I think we had some good meetings of just how the rest of this season was going to go. I think they took great ownership of holding their peers accountable. I think the coaches put together nice game plans. We have to continue to build on what we did and continue to make this football team better every play starting today when we bring them over here and introduce them to Northwestern."
Rice Senior Defensive Lineman John Gioffre
Talk about the defensive effort ...
"You know, what we all talked about before, the game is playoff time. We can't lose or we don't go to a bowl. We're just taking them one at a time. First of all, the week of practice was amazing. You just knew ... everything was on point. No busted assignments, mental focus was huge and you just saw a lot of guys stepping up. And not necessarily ... coach calls it pressing, trying too much and you actually end up hurting the defense, but everyone was just doing their job. People like Bryce Callahan just making plays when they can. It was great. It was awesome."
After starting games and finishing games, one of the things coach has been talking about all season, finishing games, in the second half of the game did you establish yourselves?
"There was times when we were trying to put the game away, and they're a solid team. They were fighting back and you just got to learn to keep your foot on the pedal. I think this team especially, we've gone through a lot this season and no one's giving up and no one's letting up. There were a few plays, a deep ball or the kickoff, you got to keep your head up and keep trucking through those situations and we did. We played pretty solid, and pulled through."
Talk a little bit about the `playoff' mentality ...
"The last time any of us had a real playoff mentality was high school and what we said was just `it's fun.' I mean, you don't want to be in the situation we're in, but we're here, and we got to do it. What we said was just `let's put all of that stuff aside, we've had a lot of bumps and bruises, let's get over them, and we have to win.' There's nothing to lose. I mean, the bowl eligibility, but a lot of people stopped pressing and just started having fun and doing things right. It's good. Spirits are high. I guess the excitement factor that just brings everyone out to play."
You guys know Northwestern pretty well for a non-conference team, what's it going to take to beat them?
"They're a solid team. It's just another game. I say that every time we play a big opponent. We played Purdue, another Big 10 team. The thing is, we've said it a few times this year, when we play teams like Texas and Baylor, and Purdue, you can not give them any room. You can not make mistakes because they'll capitalize on it. So if we just play our game, that's all we have to do. You don't have to make ten sacks as a D-lineman or have a thousand yards rushing, just do your job. If we just play solid, consistent football ... don't press, have fun out there and just do your job."
Someone made a deal about when you beat Purdue, about how it'd been forever since you beat an automatic qualifier school, does that take a little bit off the mindset that it can be done?
"I think, especially here at Rice, a lot of that comes into play where people start talking `oh, you can never beat so-and-so school and so-and-so conference and they have five star recruits' and all this. As players, its football. You got to try and beat the guy who's lined up against you, that's the biggest thing. We've shown that we can hang with those big football teams and high-powered offenses. We've made mistakes, but at least we know what we're doing, and as long as we are correcting it, and as long as we eliminate that ... We're our own worst enemies is what I'm trying to say. The conference or the school, it doesn't matter to me. It's a win that we have to have. And Northwestern, its an away game and they're going to be a tough opponent, but like I said countless times, I love that atmosphere to play in and I know the rest of the team feels that same way."