JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Nov. 13, 2017) – The ETSU football team held its weekly press luncheon to preview this Saturday’s Southern Conference game at Chattanooga. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Finley Stadium.
Head coach Carl Torbush, defensive coordinator Billy Taylor and offensive coordinator Mike O’Cain met the media for the final press conference of the 2017 season.
Below are comments from Coach Torbush, Coach Taylor, and Coach O’Cain.
HEAD COACH CARL TORBUSH
Last week, we got beat 42-7, which wasn't indicative of how we played. There are two games this year where I do not feel like we played as well as we needed to play to give ourselves a chance to win. Obviously, this was one of them.
Defensively, we forced Samford into five straight three-and-outs to start the second half and held them to seven points in the final 30 minutes of the game. Obviously, Samford ran the ball a little bit more, but still we did a really, really nice job in the third quarter alone. We held them at minus seven yards, which is hard to do against anybody, much less Samford.
Nasir Player has probably been our most consistent defensive football player, not only in playing the game, but in practice. He recorded his sixth sack of the season, which is fifth most in program history, so that says a lot about him.
Austin Herink became the sixth quarterback in program history to throw for over 5,000 yards. Austin had a pretty rough ball game, but obviously he's done a great job over his career. We would not be where we are as a football program without him. He got beat up some, he got hit hard, but he continued to compete. He just had one of those games where things did not work out where they needed to work out, and I can promise you nobody hurts more than Austin does for us not having the chance to win that football game.
At halftime, we were down 35-7 and I told our team that I wanted to see who would go out there and who was going to compete. When we’re behind by that far, we wanted to make sure that we had a chance to win the second half. And I thought our guys came out in the second half and played hard.
We have a lot of guys that will fight. I think they've been coached to fight. Obviously, that's not the type of game that we wanted to get into. A high scoring game, that's not what we are right now. Samford has a really, really good football team. You look at the things they've been able to do, and they have done them extremely well. I thought coach Hatcher did a really nice job, after they got the lead, of making sure that they were able to run time off the clock and get the game over with.
I consider Chattanooga our crosstown rival, because that's as close as we're going to get to a crosstown rivalry, even though it's three hours away. When I say crosstown rival, that means the closest thing we've got to being across town, like you would in high school football, and I still believe that UTC and Western Carolina should be those type of schools. We have to do our part in making it a rivalry again... And the only way you make it that way is to go beat them.
Chattanooga has some really good athletes. They have a lot of guys back from last year. Obviously, they've had a tough year, but they still have a lot of talented players on their team.
Their record may be 2-8, but they have lost a lot of close games and also played some highly ranked teams in Jacksonville State, Wofford and LSU. They've been a little bit snake-bit, but they are a very, very dangerous football team. I have no doubt that we'll get their best effort, this week, just like they need to get our best effort.
We are getting ready for another road game in another tough environment, so it's an exciting time. They have a big stadium, which has hosted the national championship a number of times. We are looking forward to going down there and seeing how we can compete against a dangerous team who beat us a year ago. You can throw that 2-8 record out the window because that's not indicative of how good they are.
Chattanooga has a very established football program. They've been in the national playoffs three straight years and they were three-time defending SoCon champions up until last year.
It’s an exciting way to end the season because this is the type of team you want to end it against – a team that you need to beat going into off season. We want to have a good taste in our mouth going into the off season. The only way we can do that is to win the football game. We're not in it to play close, we're in it to try to win. That's what we anticipate going down there to do. We want to make sure that we improve from last week because last week, in a lot of ways, we just didn't play as well as we'd like to play at this point in the season.
ON GETTING THAT FIFTH WIN AND ENDING THE SEASON ON A POSITIVE NOTE
It's important to get the fifth win this weekend, because we want to head into the offseason on a positive note and to continue to show improvement. Just like Billy (Taylor) and Mike (O’Cain) said, we're doing a lot of things better now than compared to the previous years, but they don't put an asterisk by that win-loss record.
Heading into last week’s game we had a chance for a winning season, which was our number one goal, but that goal's gone so we have to move to the next goal, which is to win the fifth game and build on that heading into the offseason. It's a lot more exciting to go into the offseason after a win than a loss.
Plus, we need to get this win to help make this a rivalry again. Chattanooga is a team that we compete against in recruiting quite a bit and for us to continue to move forward, we have to win some recruiting battles against them. Obviously, we're not going to recruit all the same guys that each other does, but at the same time, when we go head-to-head we need to win our share of those battles in recruiting. It's a lot easier to recruit if you tell the recruit that you won that ballgame previously and that you're moving forward.
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR BILLY TAYLOR
ON THE DEFENSE
This is the third year of a process, and one of the things that we're really excited about is we signed 16 freshmen to scholarships last year and we've red-shirted 12 of them. So we're playing with four true freshmen. Those four true freshmen have been very integral parts of what we're doing on Saturdays, but we're still building for the future.
It’s a process and I believe we are moving forward in the right direction. When you look at last year's champion, The Citadel, we led 17-14 here at home in the second half and it came down to the wire. And then, fast forward about six weeks later, when we're playing Wofford, who won the championship this year and we have the ball with a chance to go in and tie it, or win the ball game with a minute left to play on their 25-yard line. So the process is moving on, and we're getting better every day. I'm just proud to be a part of it.
ON THE RIVALRY WITH CHATTANOOGA
To me, it has always been a rivalry. When I was a player, their head coach was Buddy Nix. I remember Coach Nix saying in the newspaper that the rivalry was more for ETSU than it was for Chattanooga. Well, we had a lot of success against them during that time, so I'm glad they felt that way, but to me, I'm hoping that it's going to end up being the FCS version of Alabama-Auburn or Ohio State-Michigan, because we're two state schools. Like coach (Torbush) said, we recruit in the same areas. It would be good for the Southern Conference for both of us to be very competitive and it would be great if we played them the last game of the year each season. And when it gets to a point where we're playing those games for the championship, or to go to the playoffs the next week, I think that would be the things that we're striving for. This game's important to me and it always has been since 1983.
ON IMPROVING THE SECONDARY
For the last two years, it's been a real high issue for us in recruiting, because for whatever reason, we've had more attrition at that position (the safety position) than anywhere else. For us, our safeties are so important, because they're the quarterbacks of our defense. They do our adjusting, they make our checks. Any time you have to play a young player back there, it's like starting a freshman quarterback. Right now, we are starting a freshman in Tyree Robinson and he has done a great job. We have Paul Hunter, who's been here for two years now, and he's getting ready to play his last game. He has also done a good job for us. We also have another true freshman in Titus Tucker, who has also been playing a lot for us, so two of our top three safeties are true freshmen. That's tough for us right now but it's going to be good for us in the future, because I think both of those young men have the ability to be starters for the next three years and we'll be very solid at that position.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE O’CAIN
ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE
I think the biggest thing with us up front is just the physical nature. You have to be a big, strong, physical guy in the game today to play up front, and we're not there yet. That's part of the process of recruiting. That's part of the process in the weight room, and that's not done over a year or two years. That's done over three, four, five years, and also recruiting over a period of time. But we've come an awful long way from where we were.
We still have a way to go to get there, but I feel like we have three young offensive linemen that we are redshirting in Isaiah Jones, Tre'mond Shorts, and Dadley Louis, who we feel like have the ability to come in and push some of the current starters next year and be able to get in and compete. They are all big, strong guys right now. We've recruited bigger and stronger over the last couple of years, which hopefully will help us stay on the run.
ON THE BIGGEST IMPROVEMENT FROM LAST YEAR TO THIS YEAR
I would say we have improved the most up front. Last year we had a hard time competing in some of the games and moving the football. This year we put ourselves in position to have a chance to win games in the fourth quarter, and at this stage that's what you want to do.
I think it starts up front with those guys, because from an offensive standpoint, if you don't get it done with those front five guys, you don't get it done anywhere. We have made tremendous improvements there. We still have a way to go to where we need to be. Austin (Herink) has made a tremendous improvement. He is throwing the ball very accurately. The interceptions that he threw Saturday, he misread one coverage and got him to cut it. It was a very accurate throw. The other one the linebacker made a nice play and he just didn't get it quite high enough. He got a little bit greedy, probably should have thrown an underneath route. But he's been very, very accurate passing. That's the other improvement.
Even our receivers. We're catching the ball better. We're running routes. You look at it as an offense over three years. We've just progressed like you want to. We have gotten better every year at every position, and that's what we have to continue to do.
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