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Head Coach Ellis Johnson Press Conference Transcript




Nov. 12, 2012

Press Conference 

Opening Statement:
"As far as the previous ball game, there's no question about it: I think the number one factor, just from a statistical standpoint or performance standpoint, we just couldn't run the ball effectively. There are a number of reasons for that. I thought that SMU probably physically outplayed us up front and did some things to take away the inside runs. Obviously, we're getting crowded at the line of scrimmage now from a game-planning standpoint. That goes back to the lack of effectiveness in throwing the ball consistently. The third thing is that I think they had a good plan. You have to give them credit. They did some good things, changing things up. Of course, the injuries to the quarterbacks (don't help). It's off and on, week to week, and it's just crushing our ability to grow in that area and continue to improve. I'm not sure this week who will be healthy or 100-percent healthy and which direction we'll go with that."

"Defensively, other than not tackling well early in the game, overall I thought they played very hard under some real tough situations. IT was certainly no perfect game by our defense, but I thought they played under some terrible field position as the game wore on and in some tough situations where they were back out on the field quickly. We made some improvement in some areas defensively. In the end, we just did not control their running game. They did a good job with a quarterback run played that they had not used but were very effective with it twice in short yardage. But again, in that area, I thought there were some areas we improved on and could hang our hat on. Special teams, again, I don't think it was the difference in the game, but there were two or three breakdowns there. (Punter Peter Boehme) had a fantastic day punting, but at the end had a seven-yard punt. There's been one of those now for three or four games, but he had a 40.8-yard average in spite of that. I thought early on he did some really good things in the punting game that helped us stay alive and get some field position turned over when we couldn't make first downs. We couldn't hit any big balls - a combination of things, protection, routes and the quarterback's inconsistency. It's no one thing that's doing that. We just have to continue to work hard on it and improve on it. Of course, the season is winding down and it's got to be improved into the future."

"That game was sort of a mirror. We were minus-two in the turnover ratio. I think we're up to minus-15 now. As a head coach, I keep trying to find something that I can do to figure out why we're so bad at ball security and why we're not creating more turnovers. We did not create a turnover on defense in spite of some really good effort at times. That's the one thing I keep asking and wondering when we are going to improve on that. Some things have a very logical explanation, but that one thing - to me - we've got to get a handle on what we can do to be a better team in turnover ratio, for the next two weeks and into the future."

On the approach to selecting a quarterback this week:
"(Who is healthy enough this week) will be a big part of it. When (Anthony Alford) got tackled on the scramble, it twisted either a groin or hamstring. He can play, but his best asset is his mobility, so unless he's 100-percent, we'll have to deal with that. We have a meeting today. I expect (Arsenio Favor) to be back. It was a non-football issue. I think (Chris Campbell) - now I haven't gotten a final report - but I think he's something we'll have to find out soon, but I'm afraid he may not be available the rest of the year. (Cole Weeks), obviously, will be available. I think he tried his heart out. He did some good things, does some really good things in the mental part of the game and game operations, but he struggled a little bit at times in the throwing area. That situation, with the injuries in our quarterback rotation, has kept us from day one growing in that position and finally finding one guy that we could center this team around and somehow improve week to week."

On whether the team's struggles might be mental more than physical:
"I'm sure it's a lot of mental. When you're around this frustration, there's a lot of (mental anguish). That's our job as coaches and my job as head coach to try to pick them up each week and get past that. That's human nature. The other factors, we've lost three tight ends and we lost them four or five weeks ago. We have no tight end in our formations for run game or passes. It's tremendously limiting to an offensive coordinator. (Tracy Lampley) has not been healthy since he got hit on the knee in the East Carolina game. He's not 100-percent this year and he's your best playmaker. He's frustrated and we're frustrated and I feel terrible for him. I don't think he's played a full speed game since Nebraska. He was our guy. It's been a lot of different things with injuries other than the quarterbacks, but I will say that (the injuries to quarterbacks) are the ones most magnified."

On if he anticipates any staff changes:
"I'm not going to deal with (coaching changes) until after the season. There may be attrition by choice. There may be things we have to evaluate. When a coach has lost four players off and on to injuries, I have a hard time figuring out how to evaluate him. I don't know if (tight ends coach) Garret Chachere can coach tight ends or not. He hasn't had any. I just use that as an example. Our problems right now are not coaching. I don't know if our answers are coaching, but I'm going to evaluate all of that. I think it's the wrong message to send to players - and the wrong message to send to anyone in this program right now - because it's not going to solve anything. That is something you always look at at the end of the year. What we'll do is we'll sit down with each individual player that is returning, have player interviews, have a demanding offseason and we'll go out and recruit some more good players to add to these. I'm just a very pragmatic, deliberate person in the way I do things. A lot of people don't have the stomach for that, but frankly, that's the way I'm going to do it.

On the team's mood at halftime after SMU scored just before the break:
"I don't think that one thing affected the players that much. I think it's a difficult thing when you know you're not getting anything going on offense and you're struggling defensively. I thought our defense did a good job in spite of not playing well and the tackling was poor early. We were holding the points down, but the two turnovers right before half - and one of them was not Chris' fault, the ball was dropped and their kid made a great play on it. Then, we gave them the ball in plus territory and held them to a field goal. The other interception was obviously devastating. Chris thought he could hit the big ball. He saw that he was unprotected, but he thought he had time to hit the deep ball to try to give us a little energy. He knew he had a hot route he could go to, but he felt like he could get it down field but the contact came too early and caused a short throw. Unfortunately, that was the one that hurt his neck. That just made it a bigger mountain to climb, but we were already struggling offensively. We weren't able to run the football effectively. We were struggling a little bit. Chris did a good job in several of the throws, had a few passes there where we were working the ball up the field. But, in the end, it's another ball game where we can't score more than two touchdowns."

On UTEP:
"Early on, they were playing very good defense, and I think struggling on third down conversions offensively. I'm not sure if it's injuries or what, but they have changed quarterbacks. They are not a typical Mike Price drop back-pocket team. They've gone to a more zone read team and the kid they've got now is a very good runner. Strong kid. So, as watch the games through the last two or three weeks, they've gone to a different quarterback with a different style. I don't know if that's good or bad for us. Our struggle has been, defensively, stopping the run more so than the pass. They are in the top half of the league in, I think, both scoring and total defense. Offensively, they're not, but they are producing a lot of rushing yardage. I think they put over 250 or 220 on Central Florida and played a tough game. They will be a very, very good opponent. Right now though, let's face it, we're depleted with injuries and we're not playing well. I think these are two winnable ball games we have left to finish up but it's going to be a challenge for us to be able to do it."

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