JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Oct. 2, 2017) – The ETSU football team held its weekly press luncheon to recap last Saturday’s game at Furman and preview this weekend’s Homecoming game with Robert Morris.
Head coach Carl Torbush, redshirt junior wide receiver Hunter Wike (Canton, N.C.), junior punter Marion Watson (Waxhaw, N.C.), and redshirt sophomore Landon Kunak (Spartanburg, S.C.) met the media inside William B. Greene, Jr. Stadium on Monday.
Below are comments from Coach Torbush, Wike, Watson and Kunak.
HEAD COACH CARL TORBUSH
ON ROBERT MORRIS
We played Robert Morris two years ago and played one of our better football games that season. It was a nip and tuck battle. It was more of a defensive struggle than an offensive game. Both defenses played well. It was a close ball game going into the fourth quarter. I thought our players played well at their place. We have most of our guys back and they don't, which we can say about every week. Two years ago, they had seniors and we didn't have any seniors, but we'll have our hands full now if you look at their schedule. They have been beat by Youngstown State and North Dakota State, who are two of the better teams in FCS football year in and year out.
On defense, they run extremely well, they play hard and they play tough. They play good defense every week. They really don't care about the score on defense. They take great pride in what they get done on defense and it's going to be a great challenge for our offense this week because we need to establish a running game to give ourselves a chance to be better in the passing game. Even though you throw 400 yards last week, you think you're good in the passing game, but if we get the run game going that will continue to make the passing game that much stronger.
Offensively, they have some younger guys on their offensive lines, but they are still big, strong guys. They have some good running backs that are solid, even though they haven’t been able tor rush for many yards. When you look at them on film, they look a lot better than they do on the stat sheet. Their quarterback is a big, strong guy who throws the ball well.
It'll be a great challenge for our football team. I tell our guys all the time. "You only have one Homecoming game each year… and if you want to have a happy Homecoming – for not only you – but for the fans, for the alumni, for the former football players, you need to win on Homecoming." We feel for us to have the football season that we want to have this year, this is a game that we need to win. We need to win, we need to play well and we need to play well in every facet of the game.
ON THE IMPROVEMENT OF THE KICKING GAME
I don't think there's any doubt we have improved our kicking game over the last several weeks. Our snapper has done a really nice job for the most part. He's had to make a couple catches that I don't like him having to do, but our coverage team has done a good job of covering. But the biggest thing is Marion (Watson) has been able to kick it consistently between 42 and 45 yards with nice hang time, so we're able to get down there. Most of his punts recently have been fair catches, so when they're fair caught that means they can't have a chance to return, so that part has been a plus.
Landon (Kunak) has done a really good job all season long with kicking it in the end zone. Whether it is straight ahead or angled into the corners, there have been more non-returnable kickoffs than there have been returnable kickoffs, so he's done a good job there.
I think the biggest irritating factor were the onside kicks. We didn't do a very good job on those, because there is no way, form or fashion you should ever have an on-side a kick get returned for a touchdown.
ON THE DEFENSE GIVING UP BIG PASS PLAYS LAST SATURDAY AT FURMAN
Those long pass plays shouldn’t happen. We don't coach it to happen. It was just a busted coverage. It's simple as I can put it. If you see a guy running wide open, somebody's busted the coverage. I don't care what level you're playing on, whether it be the FBS National Championship game, FCS, it doesn't matter.
If you see one that's wide open, you could pretty well be assured that somebody busted the coverage or fell down. Even if it happened with some of our young players, it is still not an excuse. Our young guys have to grow up, too. If they're old enough to be on that football field, they're good enough to play for us. They have to understand there are no excuses about youth, but as a defensive back, you need to have big eyes. I say it real simple. If the guy's not blocking you, he's not blocking you for a reason.
ON ESTABLISHING THE RUN GAME
We have to get better on the offensive line. We need to be more physical. Going into the season, I felt like that would be a strong suit. The offensive line has gotten much better, but again, you need to see results. It's easy for me to say it. We have to execute it.
When you look at the stat sheet and it shows you are averaging two yards per carry – two times four doesn’t equal a first down – so that puts us in trouble. In my opinion, we have to average of approximately four yards a carry. That will help us get more first downs and keep the chains moving. That way our quarterbacks have a better chance to be successful because they won’t be forced to be in 3rd-and-long situations. When it's 3rd-and-8, 3rd-and-9, that is when a lot of the sacks happen, because the opponent knows we have to throw the football.
Overall, we just have to do a better job of running the football. Our running backs have to get tougher. Our offensive line has to be tougher up front. For us to be successful, we have to be able to run the ball and move the chains. Defensively, we have to make them drive the football and don't give up big plays. If you look at how we got beat last weekend, both of those didn't happen.
HUNTER WIKE – R-JR. – WIDE RECEIVER
WHEN AUSTIN HAS A GAME LIKE HE HAD THIS PAST WEEK, YOU SEE HOW MUCH HE GOT HIT. WHAT DOES THAT TELL YOU ABOUT HIM?
It shows just the type of person that he is. Austin comes in daily and is ready to go to work each day. From watching his film, to practice, to gameday, Austin goes out there and does all the right things. In practice, he does an excellent job preparing for the game. It just shows how much he cares about this team. His leadership on and off the field has been tremendous. He has really taken great steps this year. I am happy to see where he's at, but the fact that he's taking these shots right now shows how unselfish and tough he is. He's getting the ball to us receivers and he's just playing phenomenal right now.
HOW MUCH FUN IS IT BEING ON THE RECEIVING END OF A GAME WHERE ARE YOU SETTING SCHOOL RECORDS?
It’s fun to get a lot of yards and put up points, but in the end, we are focused on winning the game. It's a lot of fun when we pass the ball a lot, and we're having success doing so. Some of the posts that Austin (Herink) threw to Vincent (Lowe), he was moving up in the pocket, took a shot as he's throwing the ball and just lands a dime right in Vinny’s arms.
Austin has really taken some shots for us right now. He’s getting the ball up in the air and finding the open receiver. It's really a great confidence booster for us receivers and motivates us to run our routes as crisp as we can – as fast as we can – and get open for him, because we know he's going to get the ball to us when we are open.
ON THE NOISE LEVEL AT GREENE STADIUM
It does get pretty loud. The way that this stadium was built and how it's all compact, we have all the fans around us. With all the noise on gameday inside the stadium, plus the excitement that's going around Johnson City right now about ETSU football, it is really positive. It's a very good thing for our program and makes for a strong home field advantage.
ON THE 2015 GAME AT ROBERT MORRIS
Going back two years ago to Robert Morris, I can remember the defensive struggle that we had – and how on offense – we weren't as smooth as we've been this year. We struggled offensively. Being so young and in our first year we were getting things worked out. We were figuring out the offensive line, to the receivers, and the communication with each other. We were just figuring out how to work as a team. That game gives me a bad taste when I think back to how close we were to getting that first FCS win against Robert Morris. Hopefully, we'll be able to get the job done this week.
ON THE HOMECOMING GAME
It means a lot and it's going to be loud. William B. Greene Jr. Stadium is going to be packed and it's going to be loud. There is going to be a lot of excitement around campus this week and we are looking forward to playing in that atmosphere.
ON AUSTIN NOT FAVORING JUST ONE RECEIVER
As far as our receivers go, I believe we can go out there and all contribute something to the team. We can all go out there and we can play whatever position we're put out there by our position coach. We will do our job and give 100% effort every play. In just the past three years of playing and going through that experience together with Austin, it really gives us an edge as far as the receivers to quarterback relationship goes.
MARION WATSON – JR. – PUNTER
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE FOR YOU IN THE PUNTING OVER THE LAST FEW WEEKS?
I know I've struggled a lot, but it's all about trusting the process. Everyone is going to have their off times. I have people behind me – Coach Torbush, Coach Goss, and Coach Daye – they just keep on pushing me every time. I think I was just rushing myself when I get back there sometimes, and the last couple weeks, I've worked on relaxing and going out there and doing my job. When I'm rushing myself, I just need to get back and relax, and I've been doing that these last few weeks.
HOW DOES IT FEEL WHEN YOU GET A HOLD OF ONE FOR OVER 50-PLUS YARDS?
It feels really good. My job is to flip the field position, so when I am able to do that, I am helping our team. That’s how it should be every time. There’s no excuse for what happened the first couple weeks.
IS IT A MATTER OF CONFIDENCE? NOW THAT YOU'RE DOING IT, YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN DO IT MORE?
It's definitely a confidence booster. I couldn’t do it without Adam Mullins (my snapper) and the protection I’m given. They're all doing their job, so I have to do mine as well.
LANDON KUNAK – R-SO. – KICKER/PUNTER
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THIS YEAR AND LAST YEAR?
Spending more time in the weight room has helped, and for me, it's a big comfort thing. Coming off my redshirt season last year and playing my first initial year, I kind of had to shake the dust off. I had a year of practice and working out in the weight room. But for me, I am more comfortable out there this year and have been able to shake the dust off. There's nothing really like being in a game situation until you face it. You can practice for it, but there's nothing like going out there in a true game setting. I decided to come back this year, my second year playing and show everybody what I can actually do.
WITH YOUR ANGLE KICKS, HOW MUCH OF THAT COMES FROM COACH GOSS AND HOW MUCH OF IT DO YOU GET TO DECIDE?
We have a couple of kicks that we can pull out the bag. Most of it is in my follow through and not really getting the most solid hit, but me following through to correct spot. It plays a little bit of luck with it bouncing off the end zone, but it's mostly me not getting a solid hit on the ball. But as you can see, if I do get a solid hit, I am able to get it through the end zone for a touchback.
IS YOUR GOAL TO GET A TOUCHBACK ON EACH KICKOFF?
It definitely is. As Coach Torbush preaches a lot, field position is a key part of the game. He'd rather take his odds for somebody to have to go down the field 75 yards than 40 yards.
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