Bobby Wilder Press Conference (Video and Transcript)
By ODU Athletics
Below is the transcript from the Bobby Wilder press conference.
Good afternoon everybody good afternoon to all our 12th Monarchs out there in Monarch Nation. Coming off a 37 to 30 win at FIU which was a very good win for our team on the road against a team that was 6-2, 4-1 in the league. They were undefeated at home. So to go down there and get that win, very proud of everybody in our organization. We approached this game as our backs were to the wall, that was the mindset we had as a team knowing that we had to get this win to continue to make these November games relevant, and our guys were definitely ready to play. We had a 24-14 lead at the half, and then in the second half although we allowed a lot of yards, we were able to get a couple turnovers, stopped a fake punt, they were huge momentum plays for us in this game.
Starting with our special teams, Nick Rice continues to be a weapon for us, he was 3-for-3 on field goals from 41, 18, and 23, and he made all four of his extra points. At this point in his true freshman season, he’s 13-15 on field goals, 21-21 extra points, he’s making 94% of his kicks. The two that he missed, one was blocked early in the year against UNC that would have been good, and he missed a 46 yarder against Charlotte. Really proud of the way Nick is performing, and then we also got the tackle for loss by Miles Fox on their fake punt that they attempted late in the third quarter. At that point they had momentum, they had cut the lead to 24-23 and they went for the fake. We were in what we call a punt safe look, which means our defense is on the field we just took Rob Thompson and put Darrell Brown as the returner. So, we were defending some type of a play they might run and potentially giving up any shot at a return. Miles Fox made an outstanding play which got us the ball on their 46, we went down and scored to get the lead back to 31-23.
Defensively, it was really about getting the turnovers in this game. This is a very good offense, I think their quarterback Alex McGough is one of the best in the league. We did not do a good job defending the pass, we gave up too much yardage in that regard, but we were opportunistic, getting those turnovers was really big for us. Our redshirt freshman linebacker Jordan Young continues to play really good football, he gets better every week. He had nine tackles in this game to lead us, and he had the big strip from their outstanding receiver Thomas Owens in the fourth quarter that got us the ball back. We were able to drive, take a lot of time off the clock and get a field goal. Daniel Appouh also in the fourth quarter had a strip sack when they were driving to score points. Just a textbook play up the field, came back, and ripped the arm down through the quarterback and Pat Toal recovered. In this game something we have not been good at this year, we outscored them 13-0 off of turnovers, so the points off turnovers which had really hurt us all year were the difference in this football game for us. I’m counting stopping that fake punt that led to a touchdown, and then the two turnovers led to two field goals.
Offensively put up 37 points, which was the second most we have scored this year, we had 38 a couple weeks ago at North Texas. Steven Williams continues to make improvements, this was his highest completion percentage of the year at 17-for-24, 71%, 240 yards, two touchdowns, and for the second week in a row we didn’t turn the ball over on offense and that corresponds with winning football. When you’re not turning the ball over, you’re going to have an opportunity to win. Ray Lawry is still not 100%, but he’s getting healthier. The hip pointer is not an issue for him now, he’s still working through the hamstring part, but 19 carries, 168 yards, two touchdown. Ray would tell you he’s 90% or better, I tell you he’s still playing at about 75%, which is pretty amazing that he’s able to put up those numbers and he’s still not completely healthy. It was good to see Isaiah Harper get explosive in the pass game, he had his most receiving yards in his career, 108 yards. We’re trying to get him the ball more in situations because of how explosive he can be, and that’s something that we will continue to work on this week. Our offensive line played really well, when you rush the ball for 199 yards, your offensive line is playing good football.
This week’s opponent is Rice who’s had just an incredibly challenging year from the start. They played the first game in college football this year in Australia against Stanford, and then they couldn’t come home. That devastating hurricane that hit Houston, they actually flew from Australia to Fort Worth, Texas, and spent a week there with TCU practicing. At the time they had coaches that had been flooded out of their house, they had players flooded out of their apartments, a number of their staff and players lost their vehicles to the flood. When they did come back, it was all about trying to help themselves, help their families. I thought they did a great job in the relief effort trying to raise as much money as they could to try and help other people which is the kind of person David Bailiff is as a head coach, he’s a really good person. Then they clearly played the toughest non-league schedule of anybody in our league, I think anybody in the group of five. They played Stanford and Houston who both have a shot to win their league and they’ve also played Army who’s 8-2, and Pittsburgh out of the ACC. That got them 0-4 early with those games. They have their win at UTEP, but that put them in a really bad spot with a lot of injuries.
You can see they’re starting to play much better football, this past week against Southern Miss they ran the ball for 254 yards. They’re one of the top rushing teams in the league, they average 183 yards per week. Defensively they have the preseason defensive player of the year Emmanuel Ellerbee, and it’s easy to see why he is. He’s a tackling machine, he’s got 101 tackles to this point. They have the leader in TFL’s and sacks Brian Womac, he’s got eight sacks on the year which leads the league, 16.5 TFL’s. They have 22 sacks overall as a team which is fourth in Conference USA, so we know this is going to be a major challenge.
This will be a lot again this week about us trying to get healthy, being smart with what we’re doing in practice. I feel like we came out of this game fairly healthy, we didn’t lose anybody through this game, just more bumps and bruises so hopefully we’ll have everybody available this week. One thing that I’ll point out that I’m really proud of is we’ve been able to play really good football in November through nine years. We’re 25-4 in November, we’re 2-0 this year in November, and as I shared with the team yesterday and really tried to challenge them with this, I think it has a lot to do with two things. Number one we cut back on practice time, but we don’t cut out fundamentals. We always start practice with blocking, tackling, footwork, throwing, catching, doing bag drills, and trying to stick to the fundamentals that a lot of times as a coach when you get challenged with practice time that’s the first thing that gets cut. You want to spend all your time out scouting, you want to show the kids the plays they’re going to see, and we’ve stuck with that and I think it’s helped us.
I feel like we’re getting better as a team fundamentally, I feel like we’re throwing the ball better, I feel like we’re catching it better, I think our tackling has improved throughout the season. You look back at the FAU game and all those missed tackles, we’ve gotten much better in that regard, so hopefully we can keep this momentum going in November. This is also our last home game and its senior day, we’ll honor 13 seniors that have been the first class to go all the way through the transition. You think back to players like Melvin Vaughn who played as a true freshman in 2013. I can remember him starting at wide receiver at ECU five years ago, so we’ve had some players that have gone through this transition and really have done a credible job helping us maintain a measure of success through this transition. We’ll be excited for those kids on that day as well.
Q: Bobby, you lost six in a row a couple of weeks ago and things looked pretty bleak, how has the atmosphere turned in the last two weeks in the locker room?
A: It’s clearly the most challenging thing I’ve been through as a coach to lose six in a row and try to find ways to make sure that the presentation is the same, trying to keep everybody positive, trying to keep everybody focused on improving. I think it speaks volume to the kids and the assistant coaches, everybody’s hung in there. Obviously that was a rough stretch, but we played some really good teams. When you look at the teams that we lost to during that stretch, a couple of ACC schools, and then I think four of the better teams in our league. We lost to the team that’s leading the east, the team that’s leading the west, and two other bowl teams right now in Marshall and Western Kentucky. I feel like those were good teams and I just kept trying to remind the players that we’re capable of playing a lot better. What really hurt us in that stretch was the turnover margin, it was as bad as we’ve been through six games, and then you look at us the last two weeks we’re plus three. We’ve taken it away three times and we haven’t turned the ball over, which has been the key to winning.
The one thing I’ve always felt about this program is the type of kids we have. It just always seems to me like when they’re backs are up against the wall they really step forward. If you want to call it more motivation to be successful, and they know it I didn’t have to talk about what the scenarios were yesterday with them. Just basically said to them here we are the third week in a row and we’re still right up against it, and they sense that. I don’t have to motivate them in that regard, I don’t have to say to them here’s this week, here’s next week. It’s just been about our backs are against the wall, we all know it, so we’ve got to have our best week in practice. Talk to them about what we need to improve on fundamentally and they get it. I’m in here this morning at eight o’clock here comes the offensive line, then here comes the wide receivers, then here comes the DB’s. They’re all here, they all want to put more time and effort into it, and that’s really encouraging and it’s inspiring as a head coach when you see that. For a team that’s 4-6 and coming off a 10 win year, they could say hey this has been a massive failure this year, but they’re not doing that. They’re saying let’s do everything we can do to try and finish strong.
Q: Have you done the math yet, with six wins do you think you’re going to a bowl?
A: I have not, I know this year has been a really good year for Conference USA. I think we already have six that are in, I think there’s another three that are at five and then I think it’s us and LA Tech that are at four. That’s a really good year, I can’t remember back to when we joined in 2014 ever having this many this late. It just feel like there’s more this year. I think people did a better job in there non-league this year which helped. We were 2-2, but there were a lot of 3-1. The only one that really didn’t do well was FAU, they went 1-3, but now they’re just rolling the way they’re playing football. I haven’t checked it because I also think it factors into the other leagues, and who might fill the slots. I haven’t talked to the kids about it, I haven’t been asked about what would happen, or the possibilities. Just trying to stay in it, if we can just stay in it for one more week that would be pretty exciting.