JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Oct. 31, 2016) – ETSU football held its weekly football press conference on Monday as the Bucs are gearing up for this weekend’s Southern Conference road game at Mercer.
Head coach Carl Torbush, junior wide receiver Dalton Ponchillia (Nashville, Tenn.) and graduate defensive back Ryan Powers (Jupiter, Fla.) met the media to recap last Saturday’s game versus No. 5 The Citadel, while looking ahead to this weekend’s matchup against the Bears.
Below are comments from Coach Torbush, Ponchillia and Powers.
HEAD COACH CARL TORBUSH
ON CITADEL GAME
The Citadel has an outstanding football team. It's going to be hard for anybody to beat them. I was very impressed with their offensive line and running backs. Their quarterbacks also did a great job operating the football team. Defensively, they have guys who can run. They have a good-looking football team, and they control their own destiny to win the conference championship.
I think it was a great opportunity for us to go into a hostile environment, which it was. I thought our young men played extremely hard and played very, very physical. The outcome of the game did not show that obviously. We got behind way too early to give ourselves a legitimate chance to win.
We're getting behind by two touchdowns early in the game, and at that point we are just trying to play catch-up football. We're not the type of football team right now that can consistently do that, but I do think by looking at the game and watching the film, our young men played extremely hard. They did not back down and the effort was there. Obviously, there are some things we need to fix on both sides of the ball, which will give ourselves a chance to be competitive in that type of ball game. Offensively, we did some things early but we couldn't get the ball in the end zone. The interception at the end of the first half really shifted the momentum.
Defensively, I thought our kids played really hard and physical, but at times, we didn’t play smart football. We got misaligned several times because of some formations they gave us, but I give them a lot of credit for that. The Citadel did a great job throwing a lot of different things at us. It's the reason they're ranked in the top three or four in the country right now and have the winning streak they are on. Right now they're 8-0 and rightfully so. They deserve to be 8-0. They have figured out a way to win close ball games. They have figured out a way to win any type of ball game. They have three games left, and if they play as well as they have been, they'll be competitive in all three of those games.
We’re going right back into Mercer's home field for the second time and we all know what happened down there last year. We're playing on their Homecoming. Normally, when you have a Homecoming game, you're playing somebody that you feel like you can beat up on and have a lot of smiles after the game. The best thing we can do is go down there, compete and give ourselves a chance to win. They have a lot of their players back from last season and so do we. It's going to be basically the same two teams. Playing them for a second straight year will give us the opportunity to see how much we have improved from a year ago.
Mercer is one of the teams that we modeled our program around a little bit as far as starting things up, because I have known Bobby Lamb for a long time. Bobby has done a great job coaching over his career. He’s a good football coach and has been on the FCS level just about his entire college coaching career. He knew going into it what it was going to take to build Mercer into a strong program and he has done a great job of it. They have great facilities and an excellent fan base. They do an excellent job filling up their stadium on Saturdays.
John Russ is a very talented quarterback who ranks fourth in the conference in total offense. He has accounted for 72 passing touchdowns and 101 career touchdowns already, so he's done a great job. He's a redshirt senior, so he's been there since the very beginning of this program. He’s a very experienced quarterback and he understands the game. He's a guy that we're going to need to slow down to have a chance to win.
They have a really good receiving core and they do a great job spreading the ball around. They have about six receivers who have 200 or more receiving yards. They have great athleticism and have big-time playmakers.
Mercer also has some strong running backs and most of them are whom we saw last year. Payton Usher is a running back that's extremely quick and Alex Lakes is their leading rusher. They are using both those guys and playing both of them quite a bit.
Offensively, they have a good scheme. We're not going to be in the three back option attack this week. It's going to be more what you see at most college football games on Saturdays. They will line up in the I-formation, and they'll run power football and some bootlegs off of it. We will also see some play action and they will try to hit you with the big play. They'll also get in the conventional offense where they're going to be spread with four wideouts with the one running back in the backfield.
This will be a great opportunity to see where we are. It will be a good challenge for our football team. The thing I'm excited for, and I think our players are excited, is to see the improvement we have made from last year to this year. When you go back and play the same team you played last year, in the same environment, it gives you an opportunity to see how much improvement you've made in a year. We'll find that out really quick, because both teams basically have the same players that were on the field back from last year’s game.
DOES IT MAKE IT EASIER TO PREPARE FOR A TEAM THAT YOU PLAYED LAST YEAR?
I think it makes it a lot easier. We are going to spend a lot of time looking at last year's film. They're going to run very similar offensive schemes and it will give us a chance to fix some of the mistakes we made. We will spend as much time on last year's film as they will.
ON USING THE HOMECOMING GAME AS A MOTIVATIONAL TOOL
That's a motivating factor. I don't care what level you're on. Whether it's high school, FCS, Division II or FBS, when you're somebody's Homecoming game, they usually try to play a team they feel like they've got a pretty good chance to win if they play up to the best of their ability. Obviously, we use that as a motivating tool. I don't know if it means anything. I know on the schedule, when you see Homecoming, it's usually a game that you like to mark up as a W.
DOES THE WIN OVER KENNESAW STATE GIVE THE TEAM MORE CONFIDENCE HEADING INTO THIS WEEKEND’S GAME AT MERCER?
I think it makes you more competitive. If you're an athlete and somebody beats you, and beats you handily, you'd like to have another shot at him. It's just like a boxing match. If you get beat that first match in 15 rounds, you'd like to have another shot at him to see what you can do again. Hopefully we can show how much we improved from a year ago and give us a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter.
JUNIOR WIDE RECEIVER DALTON PONCHILLIA
ON MAKING THE RETURN TO MERCER
It will be exciting to see some old friends, but I think as a team, we're very excited to go back down there and show the improvement we've made from last year. Personally, I don't want to treat this game differently than any other because I don't want to let emotions get in the way of my play.
WITH WHAT YOU GUYS DID AGAINST KENNESAW STATE, DOES THAT GIVE THE TEAM CONFIDENCE FACING A TEAM THAT YOU GUYS HAVE SEEN LAST YEAR?
I think so. We saw that earlier this season at Kennesaw State. We showed a lot of improvement from that game, so we should be able to use that to our advantage this weekend. Mercer is a good football team, but we all remember what they did to us last year. We need to play well for the entire game and can’t make any mistakes.
ON THE DIFFICULTIES OF PLAYING FROM BEHIND
It's definitely difficult playing from behind. As a team, I think we need to mature a little bit more and come out stronger. I think that's one of the areas that we have struggled with this year. We need to be focused and come out strong at the beginning of the game.
AS A PLAYER, DO YOU LIKE TO TRY TO GO INTO A HOMECOMING GAME AND SPOIL IT FOR THAT HOME TEAM?
I think it's always exciting going into another team's Homecoming game and have the opportunity to spoil it, because it would always hurt to also lose a homecoming game. I would say everyone on the team would be excited to go and ruin Mercer’s Homecoming.
GRADUATE DEFENSIVE BACK RYAN POWERS
ON BEING FAMILIAR WITH PLAYING MERCER
We played Mercer every year when I was at Stetson. They have a good offense and do a lot of different things. Even though I was with a different team, I think it helps being able to see them before. It’s something that I can go back and look at, and hopefully, pick up on some things that can help us out this weekend.
ON FACING MERCER’S PASSING ATTACK
Every week we go into the game with a different game plan. Obviously, Mercer is going to throw the ball a little bit more than what we've seen in the past. Our game plan isn’t going to change too much as far as other teams we've played, but it's definitely going to be different because of the style of offense Mercer runs.
ON DEFENSE BEING ON THE FIELD A LOT THIS SEASON
As a defensive player we have to be ready for stuff like that; that’s what happens in football games. We always have to be ready for any kind of change of possession or getting back on the field. We have to remain focused and be ready to get out there whenever our time is called. It’s an opportunity for us to turn the game around, get a turnover, or get some momentum going.
ON THE DEFENSE HAVING MORE CONFIDENCE BY FORCING TURNOVERS THE LAST FEW GAMES
The turnovers have definitely helped instill some confidence into our defense. I think we've done a good job of forcing turnovers. Our biggest thing is we just need to execute our game plan a little bit better, and that's what we really need to focus on this week.
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