KYLE FLOOD: Good morning. Good to have another home game this week, back in High Point Solutions Stadium, expecting another great student turnout for sure, and I would imagine the fan turnout, et cetera, will be excellent for homecoming, so this will be an exciting week for our program.
A great win for us last Saturday, Big East Championship game win. (Cell phone rings.) That generally costs the players 20 push-ups when that happens. We'll give you a pass the first time.
And we've moved on, and this week it's later in the year, we're moving out of conference for the week and playing a really, really fine Kent State team.
Coach Hazell has done a tremendous job, and I think a lot of people in the area are familiar with Coach Hazell. I believe he was on Coach Schiano's first staff here and was the assistant head coach and then moved on to Ohio State where he helped them win a National Championship and has done a tremendous job with this Kent State program, and I think you see that not just in their record but how their players play on film.
They have the most dynamic offensive player in the country, No. 1, Dri Archer. I'll just read you the statistics, and it's almost video game-like statistics: 10.1 yards per carry, 13.9 yards per reception, 47.7 yards per kick return, and he's had 11 kick returns. So it's not like he's only had one or two kick returns and he popped one. So he is a tremendous, tremendous offensive weapon, and again, the most dynamic offensive player that I certainly have seen on film or on TV this year, will be a tremendous challenge to our defense to try to minimize his impact on the game.
They have a senior quarterback who does a really nice job, No. 3. I think any time you have a senior quarterback leading your team, they will bring to the table intangibles that younger players just can't have because of their experience. And they've got another guy when they move No. 1 out to receiver, No. 34, their running back averages over 4½ yards a carry on 144 carries, very consistent runner, tough runner, a bigger back, a 250-pound running back, which again, our defense is smaller in size, and you've got to be ready to tackle when you play these bigger backs. It always presents unique challenges. You don't see very many 250-pound running backs a year, and they've got a receiver who's an excellent, No. 6, 12 and a half yards a carry.
And on defense they do a good job. They play 4-3 defense. They pressure probably a little less than some of the teams we've seen. They're like 25 to 27 percent pressure depending on what the field position is and the game situation, so that will be a little different for us. We've seen some high-pressure deals the last couple weeks. These guys have a tendency to play more base defense on film. We'll see if that remains the same as we get to the game.
They have a defensive tackle, No. 5, who's a tremendous play-making football player, very hard to block. The only guy I can compare him to, because he's a shorter in stature guy for a defensive tackle, would be somebody who played here that you'll be familiar with by the name of Ramel Meekins. He is that type of playmaker and just somebody that you had better account for him every play or he willmake the play from his defensive tackle position. He is a guy who's constantly in the backfield when you see him on film, a tremendous, tremendous football player. They play good team defense. They play a lot of players on defense. But that guy, No. 5, he really jumps off the film, and he is a disruptive, disruptive force in every game that he plays in.
And we're playing a very well-coached team, a team that, like us, is +2 a game in turnover margin, and just to give you some frame of reference because we've talked about a lot of these things throughout the year, things that win football games, if you take the top 11teams in the country in turnover margin, their combined record is 79 and 4, so there are certainly some statistics that over time have proven to win football games.
I don't think it was a surprise to anybody if you come in and you say whoever wins the turnover battle is going to have an opportunity to win the game, I think we all know that; you watch enough football to know that. But to see that the top 11 teams in the country are 79 and 4 over the course of a seven-game or seven-week season is just a tremendous, tremendous statistic, and this week we've got two teams that have done a good job of both taking care of the football and taking it away.
With that, I would open it up for questions.
Q. Do you trust your kickoff coverage against Archer? I guess Western Michigan just completely kicked away from him or prevented him from returns. What do you do this week with him on kickoff returns?
KYLE FLOOD: I think we have confidence in our kickoff coverage. I think we had a great challenge a couple weeks ago with the returner from UConn who's probably the best one in our conference, and now this week we've got another tremendous challenge because we may be facing the best kick returner in the country. But I have a lot of confidence in our kickoff coverage. I think our players will be excited about the challenge this week, but this is a tremendous player, there's no doubt.
Q. He has three touchdowns this year off kickoff returns.
KYLE FLOOD: Yes, 47.7 yard average, three touchdowns.
Q. Along with the kickoffs, how different is your coverage if DiPaola is kicking versus a righty because it's other side of the field most times?
KYLE FLOOD: I think every kickoff team has different types of kicks that you utilize, some higher, shorter kicks, some directional kicks, and the coverage has to really adjust depending on what play necessarily is called. They're not all -- not all kickoffs are the same I guess is the best way to answer it.
Q. Gary Nova, offensive player of the week in the Big East. How far has he come from maybe the first two weeks of the season?
KYLE FLOOD: I think every week he's taken another step forward, and I think this week was a good one because I don't know that he had the type of first half that necessarily he wanted to, although I think likeanything else, he needs to get some help, also, from the guys that are catching the football. And to be able to overcome that on the road, down 10 at halftime, I think it's just one more experience that in the future he'll be able to draw from and say, hey, I remember how this feels and I remember how we reacted to it. We need to do that again. I think it's certainly another step in the right direction.
Q. Carroo, obviously he's got a pretty bright future at wide receiver down the road. How about the decision to play him on special teams? Was it tempting at all to let him red shirt and say, hey, let's give this kid four good years at receiver and obviously it's been the right decision because he's made such an impact for you guys on special teams. What did you see to do that?
KYLE FLOOD: I think it was very evident to coach Rossi, to myself and to the entire staff that he was too good an athlete and too much of a competitor to not use him on special teams, and as I've said before, we've used special teams as a phase of the game that can win for us every week, not just a way to pass the ball back and forth. So he was somebody that we thought could make a difference. And I think that's proven itself out.
There was a tackle two weeks ago, tremendous play, a blocked punt this week. He's made an impact in every game by doing that, and he's helping us win. He is a big part of the reason why we've had success this year.
Q. Gary's best two statistical performances this year were when Rutgers was trailing by 10. How much of that is his individual effort and then how much of it is just the change in play calling because the team is losing?
KYLE FLOOD: I don't know that it's a change in play calling. I think if you look at every game, if you went back and watched them, you're going to see us take shots down the field. When they're successful I think people have the perception that there was a change in play calling. When they're not, I think people say they need to take more shots. I don't know that there's been a big difference in any of the games in terms of how manyshots we've taken.
I think for Gary, he's got to do a great job of executing the game plan every week, and I think he's done that. I think he's taken -- he has taken his knowledge of the offense a little bit further every week. As that happens, he'll have more things available to him. And then what people may perceive as the offense opening up will just be his ability to really utilize the whole offense. I don't think it'll be any change in philosophy or play calling.
Q. There have been about a half dozen examples of MAC teams beating BCS schools this year. Will you hold that up as a reminder for your players?
KYLE FLOOD: Certainly three in our own conference, so it's not lost on us for sure. And I think when our players put the film on today of this team, because yesterday we spent most of the day reviewing the Temple game, I think they'll see right away that we're playing a quality opponent, a team that's 6 and 1, and generallywhen you get to this point in the season, teams that are 6 and 1 are 6 and 1 for a reason. This team knows how to win. They have a coach who has a tremendous amount of experience at the Division I level, some very successful programs, and he's done a good job with this team. This is a very well-coached team, and certainly our players know that teams from that conference don't go anywhere in the country and are intimidated. We will get their best shot, and we need to make sure they get ours.
Q. Is there anything new on Federico?
KYLE FLOOD: He's better. I just saw him today downstairs. I said, how do you feel? He says, Coach, I feel a little bit better than I did last week. So I think we're closer. Does that mean this week? I don't know that. If you said, what would you project past the bye week, I would be very confident that after the bye week for sure he would be ready, but he may be ready this week.
Q. Two-part thing. What does Archer do so well just in the offense, and then is their offense similar to anything you've seen this year?
KYLE FLOOD: They are a gun-run offense or a read optiontype of offense, and what that does is it forces you to account for different players on the field at the same time, which in turn creates more one-on-ones for players like Archer. Now, it creates one-on-ones for all their players. What makes him spectacular is the combination of his speed and change of direction. The things that you would imagine would make him a good kick returner are also what make him very difficult to tackle in the open field. If he gets through your first line of defense and into the open field, he's just a dynamic player. He's a one-step change of direction type of runner, and you'd better get him down early because the longer the play goes, the tougher it's going to be.
Q. How similar in terms of personnel and offense is this Kent State team to Ohio last year?
KYLE FLOOD: Oh, I don't know. Ohio last year seems like a decade ago. I don't know that. I know this: This is an extremely talented, talented football team, and they've got tremendous play makers on offense, and they've got a defensive tackle who's as disruptive a guy as we've seen. It's going to be a great challenge to play this team. I couldn't even think to go back and compare it to a team that we played that long ago.
Q. Given the competitiveness that was in that game with Ohio last year, will you use that at all, or is that even -- is that flushed?
KYLE FLOOD: Every week I think the games are going to be competitive. I said something to that effect after the Temple game. I don't go into any game with any other thought other than this is going to be a 60-minute battle, and this is going to be a tough football game. If it goes any other way, I'm always a little bit surprised. So I fully expect this to be a very competitive football game, and we're going to have to battle for 60 minutes to hopefully come out on top.
Q. You mentioned the coverage. How has DiPaola done as an actual kicker on the kickoffs?
KYLE FLOOD: Up until this past week he was a little bit inconsistent. This week was actually his best week. We felt really four of his five kicks he really did a nice job with. The one that was called out of bounds is a tough one, but we'd rather it not be that close so we don't have to deal with that.
Q. In terms of the running game, what have you seen now consistently on what's making this team successful being able to run it?
KYLE FLOOD: I think when you're consistent running the football, the first thing you need to have is positive runs, and I think we've had that. I think we've been able to minimize negative runs. When I looked at Jawan's stats from the game, he had zero yards lost, which means all of the -- even the bad runs are 0, 1 and 2, and when that's the case, play callers will tell you -- I have a lot of play calls for 2nd and 8. When it's 2nd and 12 and 13, it makes it a lot harder.
Q. Before the games you have Jeremy Cole leading the team out of the tunnel. Is there a story behind that?
KYLE FLOOD: No.
Q. Any reason for him taking that role?
KYLE FLOOD: Well, the coaches are on the sideline. I didn't think it was in the best interest of our brand of Rutgers football to have me running out of the tunnel. I thought the players would be more impressive. Coach Cole was the last man standing, so he got the job.
Q. How much closer -- we saw Jawan as a receiver. How much closer is he to becoming a complete offensive back? Ray didn't catch a lot of passes until his final year. How much closer is Jawan to being a complete offensive back?
KYLE FLOOD: I think we see him as a complete back. I think we really do, and that doesn't mean he can't improve in his runs and his routes. We're always trying to make improvements, but I think in terms of his skill set he is a complete back. I've gotten that comment a lot because I think Ray catches quite a few passes now for the Ravens, but I always try to remind my friends, we did have a guy, Brian Leonard, who caught a lot of passes when he and Ray were together, and thenwhen Brian wasn't here anymore we threw it to Ray a little bit more.
But there's no doubt he's a weapon for us out of the backfield, and again, he's proven himself week in and week out to be one of our better play makers.
Q. In terms of the running game, how important has it been to have that track record of success this season that the offensive line and everyone in the run game can look back to, a résumé that they can look at to say, hey, we've already been successful in the run game this season?
KYLE FLOOD: I think it gives you confidence, but at the same time, and as we learned on Saturday, every week you go out there, you have to earn your rushing yards. Having 100-yard back last week doesn't mean you start any further ahead this week. At the beginning of the game both teams will have zero yards rushing, and you've got to earn every yard. I think every week you've got to go out there and earn ultimately whatever you're going to get in that game. So I think certainly it gives you confidence that you can do it because you've done it in the past, but it certainly doesn't make it happen for you. You have to make it happen every week.
Q. Everybody knows obviously how well the defense has played, but we talked so much about the short fields that they had to defend last week. Talk a little bit about the toughness that goes into short fields and how much confidence that gives you this week if Archer is able to set them up with some good field position.
KYLE FLOOD: We're going to do everything we can to try tonot make that happen. But I think what you see is a defense that's very stingy. You see a defense that's very determined to make people kick field goals, regardless of the starting position or even regardless of when a team my make a play on us because teams do that, and I think that happened a coupleweeks ago in the Syracuse game where they were able to get down there and ultimately not get in the second time.
We are not going to concede touchdowns. Our defense is not going to do that. They take it very personally.
So I think regardless of where a drive may start, certainly when they start inside field goal range they're going to try and hold them to a field goal, but at no point are you going to see our defense concede anything.
Q. Since we're talking about special teams, what did you see out of Doerner in the Temple game, and any concerns about his play?
KYLE FLOOD: No, I thought Doerner did a good job. I think he averaged 41 yards a punt for the game, which was excellent, because when you're in a game, the punters don'tpunt against each other per se, but there is a back and forth in the game, and when you face a kicker and a punter of their caliber at Temple who's probably the most consistent player in our league at that position, it makes it morecritical. I thought Justin really stepped up to the challenge. I think their punter averaged 44 yards a punt and I think ours was 41 for the game. I'm not positive, but I think that's about right. And I think that is a factor in the game to make sure the starting field positions don't get skewed. You don't want to punt and then have them punt and lose 10 to 15 yards because you're not doing your job.
Q. Jawan and Ray have drawn a lot of comparisons from fans out outside observers. Can you kind of compare the two, ways they're similar, ways they're different?
KYLE FLOOD: I think it's very early to make those comparisons. I think that's a -- I don't know that they're that similar. People have asked me that in the past. I think all running backs are decisive through the line of scrimmage. If you're going to have any success running the football as a runner, you had better be decisive, you had better change speeds as you go through the line of scrimmage. That is the sign of a good runner. That tells you really if his eyes are correct.
But when they get through the line of scrimmage, to me they're completely different runners. Ray was a run-through-your-arms type of guy and Jawan is really more of a try-to-make-you-miss kind of guy, and both have had success. But to compare Jawan's success with Ray's success is very premature. Ray rushed for 1,000 yards, then 1,700 yards, then 2,000 yards. So you're talking about a three-year body of work. Jawan is an excellent football player, he's one of the better play makers on our offense, but I just thinkit's a little early to start making those comparisons.
Q. Any thoughts on whether an undefeated Big East team deserves to be in the National Championship discussion?
KYLE FLOOD: I don't really think about that right now. I think there's so much football left to play. I've always felt that those things sort themselves out through the year, and certainly after fivemore games, if there is a team in that situation, then it should be addressed.
Q. Again serving as motivation, do you think you'll talk to your team about Cincinnati losing to a MAC team this week?
KYLE FLOOD: I think our players are aware of it. I think they watch TV and they watch the highlight shows at night to see what's going on around the country and in our own league. I think every player in our program knows that, and I think they probably also know that Western Michigan beat UConn and Ball State beat South Florida. I think they're aware of the teams that certainly we're most familiar with in our own conference, aside from the other ones that that conference has had the ability to win this year. I don't think that'll be a surprise to any of our players.
Q. Will you keep an eye on the Louisville-Cincinnati game on Friday just to see the result? Not that you're going to root for one team or the other, just to see how that shakes out?
KYLE FLOOD: Not so much to see how it shakes out. We usually watch the Friday night game, just a way to just relax the night before the game. So we usually watch it. But again, there's going to be a lot of things that -- we're going to be out of conference this week, then we have a bye week and then we're going to be out of conference the following week after the bye. The next three Saturdays there's going to be a lot of things that are going to shake themselves out that really we won't have anything to do with in the Big East because we're not playing in conference.
Q. I know you mentioned early that it's homecoming weekend. What does that mean for you going through it for the first time as the head guy?
KYLE FLOOD: Homecoming to me is always a neat day. I think you get a lot of fans and a lot of alumni that come back and try to target that day specifically as one of thebetter crowds of the season. I would expect that this will be a packed house on Saturday. I think our student turnout has been so consistent, it's only going to get better this weekend, and I think the 3:30 start the students will be excited about that, campus will be excited. I think it'll be a great day for college football right here in Piscataway.
Q. You talked obviously about being out of conference this week, the bye next week. Your players, every time we ask them, they repeated same thing about being 1 and 0 this week, with the understood part at the end that gives us a shot to win the Big East title. Could you just address from your point of view watching them, listening to them, has there been any added effort on your part to make sure that they keep the same kind of focus for out-of-league games that don't help them toward that end?
KYLE FLOOD: I think ultimately I've got to take my own advice, and I tell the players in a lot of situations in their life, control what you have the ability to control and then don't worry about the other stuff. If you don't have control over it, don't worry about it. Understand what's going on, but don't put too much concern into it.
For us the only thing we control is being 1 and 0 this week. If we do that, at the end of the year we'll see where we are and there'll be opportunities for us, and the better we do that, the better the opportunities at the end of the season will be for us.
We give the players the opportunity to enjoy, give them a chance to enjoy the win for about 18 hours, depending on the week. This week maybe we'll give them 24 hours because there's a bye afterwards if we're fortunate enough towin. But to me, after that you'd better put your sights back on being 1 and 0 because the only game we have any control over this week is the Kent State game.
Q. Kent State's coach just talked about how losing through those early years at Rutgers kind of taught him something about adversity. From your experience is losing a good teaching tool?
KYLE FLOOD: I've heard it said -- I think it wasBill Gates said that success is a lousy teacher because it makes you think that you're better than you really are, and losing -- I think losing serves to focus you more than winning can at times, unless you have a mature football team or unless you have a mature organization.
I think any failures you've had in the past, if you can draw on them to keep yourself focused, then what you've done is you've taken a negative and you've turned it into a positive. We have certainly -- the older players in our program, the fourth- and fifth-year players have lived through opportunities that we were not able to capitalize on. I think that's in the front of their mind as motivation, not that we're thinking back to the specifics of those games, but I think that serves as motivation to say, hey, maybe focusing on being 1 and 0 is the right thing to do, and let's not get caught up in the other stuff because ultimately we played a four-game season, then we got a break, now we're at the last game of this four-game season, and then we're going to have a break, and we can kind of assess what's going on and then get ready for the last four-game season.
I think when you go through tough times, tough games, losses, tough seasons, whatever they are, they're different for everybody, it doesn't have to be a season, it may just be a game, if you can keep that in the front of your mind as motivation, it helps you to focus more than anything so that you can improve.