“I’m just really proud how hard this football team played (at Old Dominion) on both sides of the ball. Offense, defense, they battled all day. When you’ve won one game you’re really proud of the players for when they’re still fighting and battling as hard as they are for each other.
“Offensively we challenged (the players) to get these games started faster. We took the first drive and scored points with a touchdown. The second drive (Fr. QB) Miklo Smalls throws a long ball to (Jr. WR) Austin Walter, a 50-yarder caught on the 5-yard line. They call us for holding and we lose that drive. The third drive we take the ball down to the 20-yard line, attempt a field goal and got it blocked. The wind was really blowing, so it was critical in that first quarter to take advantage of the wind. The second half we had the ball for 20 minutes, scored two touchdowns, and just came up short. We rushed for 244 yards. Miklo continues to improve every time he touches the ball. He rushed for right at 100 yards. We just didn’t quite score enough points.
“Defensively, Brian Stewart and his staff are doing an incredible job. They played that game short-handed. They had two three-and-outs to start the game. Zach Abercrumbia blocked a field goal. They really did some remarkable things until the last two minutes. We had two third downs and couldn’t get off the field, and let them score with 37 seconds left. Brandon Douglas-Dotson, our corner, played exceptionally well. Emmanuel Ellerbee had 11 tackles. Brian Womac, who’s had an incredible season, had 2.5 more tackles-for-loss in that game. He’s still tops in this conference for sacks and tackles-for-loss. Jack Fox had a 47-yard punting average. We just continue to make that one or two mistakes that’s not letting us win these things.
“North Texas is coming in. (Head Coach) Seth Littrell has really done an incredible job there in two years. You see the development of their quarterback (Mason Fine). He’s the guy who makes it all go. He’s got incredible touch on the football, and they’ll challenge you. Vertically they use the whole field. They have a nice big offensive line and probably the best receivers in the conference. They are averaging 38.2 points per game. Defensively they are very aggressive. We’ll have a challenge on Senior Day.
“We’ve had some great seniors here. This will be emotional because it will get to be the last time they ever get to wear that blue Rice Owl jersey. It’s always an emotional day for us.
“We started this season really with high expectations. I thought we were a bowl team, I really did. We had a great spring and high-energy all through camp. It just didn’t come to fruition. You want the best for these kids, just like you do for your own kids. When they are suffering you are suffering. In being responsible for this you continue to try and find a way out of it, to give them some hope – and hopefully give them a win in this last game.
“You go all the way back to the FIU game, where we had a chance to win that one and we stall on the 9-yard line. We had a chance to win (Old Dominion). We’re just not taking advantage of some of the opportunities. As far as being proud of the way their fighting, it’s an incredible tribute to these young men – how hard they are continuing to fight and play for each other. It’s the leadership of Emmanuel Ellerbee and Brian Womac and Peter Godber. Those guys keep rallying, and they keep coming back and giving us their all. They do everything we ask them to do. They come over here and practice extremely hard. They try and be detailed. We just won one football game.
“Wins are important. You’d like these seniors to go out with a win. They didn’t come here just for the Rice degree, they also came here to win football games. You want their dreams to come true. You’d like to send them out with a win against North Texas – who’s 6-1 in conference play right now, and really hot. We’ll do all we can to battle them Saturday at noon and do our best to achieve that goal.
“Our offensive line was our veteran group going into the season. We lost Cory Klingler early to injury. Then we lost Kenneth Thompson, Sam Pierce and Calvin Anderson. It’s taken a little while for players in there now to gel, but under these circumstances our offensive line has really performed admirably most of the season. Early in the year the problem was not the offensive line, it was turnovers and having young quarterbacks.
“(The players) are going to keep working hard and to do the best we can do, and the coaches are the same way – it’s high effort and high energy, and we’re going to do the best we can. It’s going to be an emotional time on Friday night when we talk to the seniors. It’s going to be emotional when you watch the seniors down there with their parents.
“Our younger guys have been playing extremely well. Look what (FR-WR) Austin Trammell has done for us the last couple weeks, catching the ball and picking up some first downs. The way he’s running that jet sweep he’s very instinctual. (Redshirt FR) Will Phillips at tight end, gets better and is making more plays every time he steps on the field. (FR-WR) Cameron Montgomery had the big first down run for us at the slot. Miklo getting better every day. We have some young ones who are getting better, but for offensive skills we have only one senior, Robby Wells III. Everyone else is freshmen and sophomores except for Austin Walter – and I’ll tell you what, that run Austin had (at ODU) he made everybody miss. There were five guys that missed. He’s really played well, he’s gotten better running through tackles and really catching the ball well the last couple of weeks. The young ‘skills’ have really played well for us.
“(Coaches) are in the moment and learn to compartmentalize. My first goal, always, is to take care of these young men like they are my own. That is what I am going to do. I learned from Jim Wacker, my old college coach, that ‘I am not going to have a bad day.’ I am going to have a great days. I am going to keep working hard. I’ve been very fortunate. I have been happy everywhere I have been (in coaching career). I enjoy every day of it and though I may look 59, I feel I’m 26. You make it the best you can each and every day, and you make the best you can for the young men each and every day.”