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Head Coach Ellis Johnson Press Conference Transcript

Nov. 19, 2012

Press Conference 

Opening Statement:
"Against UTEP, I thought our players played, really since UCF, with the most emotion, most effort. I thought they really had a response to bad situations where we came back and answered a lot of things that occurred during the game. Those are the things that have not been consistent. I think that's a credit to the players. I thought that was very good. The only thing, I thought sometimes we either got over emotional or did some things - we had two personal foul, post-whistle penalties, which we make a big emphasis on that came at times that were really critical and helped their offense continue to move the ball and put our offense in a hole. The third (personal foul penalty) was a pass coverage personal foul and was a total accident. I think one of our kid's heads went to the chin and that's what they called it on. It was an OK call. It wasn't intentional. We had two facemask (penalties), a punt that should have been downed at the one that went for a touchback and a roughing the punter (penalty). All of those things looked like where players were almost over-trying. They sort of got outside of their skin, as we say, when they try to do things and reach a little bit too far. We're the second least penalized team in the conference and it's an area where we've been very good. Those did hurt us a little bit. When you get over 500 yards of offense and you're defense makes a stop for a punt or on downs half of their possessions, you should feel like you have a pretty good shot to win a ball game. In the end, the biggest football factor was the difference in the kickoff return yardage. It was (128 yards) difference in what we got and what they got. That's huge, plus one was a touchdown at a big time late in the game. The other thing, we had no takeaways. Although I thought our defense had a decent game, there were spots where we were not good enough. We still didn't get a takeaway and that's been something that has plagued us. It's something we have not been able to solve. We've put an emphasis on it, but it's something that has tracked us the whole way. UTEP did a good job. Two teams played in a tight ball game and they found a way to win."

"I know I addressed the two-point play (following the game), but it's still a decision where I'd a 50-50 call on it. We had scored and had a successful play with (quarterback Arsenio Favor) on a lead play during the series, and it was a play that was hurting them and the two-point play was built off of a play action on that. It was there. I thought the receiver got held at the line of scrimmage and Arsenio gave up on it a little bit too quick. (The receiver) got open a little bit late. I think if he had thrown the ball to him, it would have (drawn a penalty flag), but since the ball didn't go to him, I don't think the eyes went to him to see that. Then, on the scramble, he just couldn't get it to anybody. After that, we came right back, had two timeouts, could have stopped them on three downs, gotten the clock stopped and gotten the ball back and at least had a shot. Either way, you don't know if you're going to win in overtime so that's one you could go either way on. I thought we had the momentum and called that shot."

"Looking ahead to Memphis, they are a good football team. They are only 3-8 but they've won their last two games and are playing with a little consistency they did have early on this season. They've been really good on defense, very solid all year. Their offensive efficiency has gotten better lately and they are going to be tough. They have an excellent punter, and their turnover ratio is only negative-one and ours is almost negative 15. That's something we're going to have to overcome to have a shot to beat them up there. We still need to get a win for these older guys, a pat on the back, something positive to take these young ones into the offseason program. Arsenio will definitely start, unless something unforeseen happens these next few days in practice. This will be his third start. That's the most any one quarterback has had. I think that will help him. He'll probably do a much better job (as he gains more experience). This is a young man we did not have in the spring or fall and has only been back about five weeks. He's still not even totally comfortable with (the offense). I thought he did a heck of a job the other night, especially getting the ball downfield. It's something we haven't done well this year and it gave us a chance to produce on offense. I was really proud of what he did. I hope (Anthony Alford) is going to be healthy enough to give us another full speed quarterback ready to go with (Cole Weeks), but we'll have to see how his leg progresses."

On the momentum shift following the kick returned for a touchdown:
"We changed a couple of personnel on the kick coverage, and then we felt like it was better to squib kick a couple of them. Those didn't go to the right location and their field position was good all night. We finally decided, on the last one, that we had to kick it deep and at some point in time you have to trust your coverage. You can't continue to squib or kick sky kicks. They did a good job blocking, but we had a couple of guys that couldn't get off blocks. One got too far out of his lane and couldn't recover and another that just didn't bend to the ball. When they got through, the guy had enough speed to break it. It boiled down to just two guys that did not recover and make the play they had to make."

On his thoughts about Southern Miss still being a dream job a year into his tenure:
"Obviously, nobody counted on having to go through this experience. There are no excuses, but there are reasons. If you can show me a team that's been successful that's had to play four different quarterbacks and had them injured, in and out, I need their formula. That's just been one of the injury problems. We lost all our tight ends before the halfway point in the season, and my whole offensive philosophy that I wanted to install included a mobile, roving tight end. One that could run vertical, line up on the line of scrimmage and block, and one that could get in the backfield and lead block. We lost that - about 50-percent of our formations that we had built around during the preseason. At the end of the day, it's the head coach's responsibility to find some way to overcome those obstacles and get that done. What I'm going to have to do is evaluate. We're going to evaluate, and the first evaluation is going to start with me to make sure I didn't drop the ball on something, whether it's organization, X's and O's, player motivation, whatever. We've got to find out what else we can do to fix that. There are obvious things that happened to this football team - and I say this mostly in defense of the players - there are things that this football team incurred that are overwhelming, smothering. The injury factor being the most obvious. The overall experience of it - I never foresaw this. I have a good track record. Southern Miss has a good track record. It can be fixed but everyone has to pull in the same direction."

On the team's schedule over the Thanksgiving holiday:
"When you go through Thanksgiving holidays and Christmas holidays as a football program - and I've seen it done a lot of different ways - we'll try to balance enough free time for the players, because they've had a pretty rough run between academics and football, especially when you haven't won any games. You want to give them some down time but you want to make sure it's not too loosely organized that they lose focus. On Thanksgiving Day, we'll have a team dinner in the evening and it will be early enough that our local guys can go see their families. For the most part, classes are over on Tuesday so Wednesday and Thursday, we'll have a late breakfast, have meetings and practice earlier so they'll have some free time in the afternoon. It will be a full day for them. When you have a game on Saturday, you just can't take the days off."

On if (Arsenio Favor) would continue to be the starter heading into the spring:
"I think you absolutely have to give him the first start, but there's certainly going to be some open competition. Nobody has taken the ball through the entire season. Some of it's misfortune because they got hurt, but nobody has taken the ball and played a winning football game this year. Their grades have been decent, but they have not been a winner as far as percentages. To defend (Favor), he just got back five weeks ago. Like I said, he did not go through spring or fall and is still getting a grasp of things you have to call at the line, communication to the sideline, and it's hard for him because he hasn't had enough practice to be comfortable yet. He's done some remarkable things in our throwing game, considering how poorly we were throwing the ball before he got his chance. He made some good throws at Rice. Obviously, he's making progress. You have to give him the first shot right now. That being said, we'll hit the road recruiting, we're going to turn our focus a little bit into junior college recruiting. If we find a good, impact player, we'll take one at every position, to include quarterback. We've got to have some help coming in at every position. But, I'm really proud of (Favor) and you have to put him at the front of the line."

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