“It was outstanding to go on the road and get our first conference victory; a road win against Charlotte. I’m proud of this team. To go down 21-0 and just keep chipping away and come out with a 22-21 victory. The locker room was one of joy. Everybody that’s involved with the football program from the players, the coaches, the trainers, the equipment (staff). There was sheer energy (and) sheer jubilation to get that win. Really, you can’t say enough about young men that have had a tough season. To get down 21-0, it could have went the other way. Instead, it strengthened their resolve to keep fighting and to keep plugging away.
Offensively, we ran 98 plays in the game; 50 runs and 48 passes. We only had one three-and-out. They just kept playing. Tyler Stehling had as gritty a performance as you’ll see from a quarterback because he took a lot of hits. He threw the ball very effectively. He ran the ball very effectively. He actually carried it 20 times; 15 were designed zone reads and the other five he just pulled it and scrambled. I was really pleased with how Tyler ran the offense.
We had a lot of quality drives in that game. But, we had a 14-play drive where we didn’t get points (and) we had a 10-play drive where we didn’t get points. You have to get points when you get those kinds of drives. We’d get a foolish penalty or make a mistake that would set us back. But I was pleased with the way we converted third down to keep drives alive.
Austin Walters really performed well. You have to look at what Zach Wright and Kylen Granson did receiving. Both of them had double-figure (receptions). That was the first time in Rice history that we had two receivers with double-figure receptions. We always talk about needing one more point and the offense generated 22.
Defensively, in the first quarter we gave up 169 yards. In the second, third and fourth quarters, we only gave up 110 yards. You have to be pleased with how the defensive players kept responding to adversity. They continued to play extremely hard. Kalif Phillips, (Charlotte’s) running back had six 100-yard games. Our goal coming in was to hold him to under 100 (yards) and we actually held him to 87 yards. We tackled extremely well. We had good field distribution. We kept leverage on the football. We contested every route. I would still like to see more takeaways. But that was really an outstanding performance.
On, special teams, D.J. Green came back. It was his first game back this season. He had surgery in the spring. He came back and was an absolute force on special teams. He and Brandon Douglas are the young men that caused the fumble right before halftime that gave us a one-play drive for a touchdown. He was very uplifting and inspirational in everything he did. He just kept making play after play. So it was great to have D.J. Green back. Jack Fox, I think is one the best situational punters in the conference, getting the ball inside the 20 (yard line).
It was great to get that win. We have UTEP coming to town on Senior Day. They’ve won three ball games this year. But, they have a great running back in (Aaron) Jones, who has right at 1,400 yards rushing. He’s averaging 7.2 yards a carry. They are very sound and solid offensively, defensively and on special teams. We’re going to have to play well. We’ll have to tackle in space like we did last week to get a win. Coach (Sean) Kugler has really done a great job of keeping that football team playing hard.”
On what it was like to see the team comeback against Charlotte:
“It really does reveal the character of these young men. If you were standing on the sidelines or in the locker room at halftime, it wasn’t a ‘Woe is us’ mentality. It was ‘Let’s go get this thing done.’ We had a lot of guys lead in the locker room at halftime and it just turned it. We just maintained a great attitude and had a will-to-win. We kept making enough plays to pull it out there at the end. There’s been no give-up in them and I think ultimately, that’s what led to this win.”
“They’re solid everywhere. They have a great tight end (Hayden Plinke) that really helps them in the run game. Anytime you have a running back like Jones and a quarterback that are above average players. The way can run the ball, the way they can play-action the ball, the way they can keep it out of your hands when they get going. That’s what I mean. We’re going to have to try to get them behind the chains, much like we did for Charlotte. Charlotte was a team that wanted to stay on schedule and get into third and shorts and we kept preventing them from getting in third and shorts. That’s what we need to do with UTEP. It came down to us tackling well.
Defensively, UTEP runs a lot of blitzes that are high-pressure. They have an extensive playbook defensively. We’re going to have to prepare for it. These players will come over here and practice like we haven’t lost a game this year.”
On Kylen Granson:
“The way he ran the bubbles in his routes, there is nothing that is true freshman about him. He is 215 pounds. He’s a guy that walked through the door and power-cleaned 320 (pounds). He’s big. He’s powerful. He’s fast and is very confident in his ability. This is the first game that we actually left three receivers behind where he got extensive reps. We were having to take him out and give him some breaks because he hasn’t played that much. But, he wanted in there and he did a great job not only catching the ball but he’s very physical when he blocks. But there’s nothing true freshman about him. His future is really bright.”
On Tyler Stehling:
“He played with so much grit. He really ran the offense well and made great decisions other than when he threw into the Cover-2 and got the interception. But, also in addition to his great stats, he also had one tackle on the day when he threw that interception. He’s the one that tackled the guy and got him out of bounds. But, he is just as confident. His confidence grows weekly. It was good to get Jackson Tyner and J.T. Granato some snaps in that game to let them grow also. But, that was Tyler Stehling’s most complete performance this season. The way he threw the ball; the way he ran it. Just the way he ran the offense and the way his leadership is starting to grow. You see him talking to people and being more demanding. I’m very proud of him.”
On UTEP running back Aaron Jones:
“There’s no doubt (he’s one of the top running backs Rice will face). He’s averaging 7.2 a carry. He’s one of the all-time leading running backs in Conference USA. He’s a great player. He can do it all. He can come at you downhill and make you miss or he can go to the perimeter and make you miss. Jones can beat you with his speed or his power. He has great vision too. He makes people miss.”
On the makeup of the team when they are down but still fighting:
“We don’t have a lot of seniors but we have really good quality seniors. Zach Wright has been very instrumental in giving the team direction. Not just in the locker room but out on the field. He’s an emotional leader of this football team. He refuses to let anyone quit around him. The same thing defensively with Alex Lyons. Alex is the same way. In the locker room, they are not going to let guys around them let down. As tough as it’s been, these seniors are trying to hold this team to a standard of excellence.”
On if Emmanuel Ellerbee will take over the leadership role:
“Absolutely. He’s already a junior leader. It’ll be a smooth transition for him because of the type of young man that he is. That was his sixth double-figure tackle game this season. He’s playing really well.”