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August 22, 2014

Bill Blankenship

BILL BLANKENSHIP:  Always appreciate you guys coming out, and hopefully this will be a good setup for us as the year goes on, so I, again, appreciate you.
Obviously a little different being on Friday, having this conference, but the Thursday start certainly pushes us into this.
We've had a really, really physical, demanding fall camp, and I think our guys have thrived in it.  I feel really, really good about this team going into our game on Thursday.  From a health standpoint, really for the grind we've put them through, we're really in a pretty good place.  Very healthy.
You will probably note that Jesse Brubaker is down on the depth chart, and that is a health issue.¬† He is a day‑to‑day guy based on a concussion.¬† Normally we won't talk about that much, but that's a very glaring spot on the depth chart.¬† And again, we're going to play him as quickly as he gets cleared back in.¬† So we approach it as a day‑to‑day thing, but as of today, you'll see that Jerry Uwaezuoke will be the starter there at the defensive tackle spot.
All the other guys that we have talked about, those of you that have been out, we've been practicing and practicing well in the last few days, and so we feel very good going into the ballgame.  We'll have a practice this afternoon.  We will not practice again on Saturday.  We will practice on Sunday afternoon at 2:00, and then our classes start on Monday, and we will have the normal Monday off for our players, and then we'll practice again on Tuesday, which for us will be a Thursday practice and then be ready to roll come Thursday.  I still have trouble getting the days out.
With that, I'll let you kind of guys where we want to go today.

Q.  Have you found (inaudible) or is that impossible (inaudible)?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  I think we feel much better about the offense, who we're going to be, how we hang our hat.  I think that's a great analogy.  There's always in every offense that I've been a part of, you've got to have that fallback that if nothing else, we're going to do this, and I think I can speak for our whole staff and our players.  I think we feel really good about having that as a game point with our offense.

Q.  (Inaudible.)
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  Both.  It's a great point that I think Denver hit on in our media day.  You know, we can build on excuses from the past.  We don't think that's healthy.  The point is I think we've gone back and really tailored this offense to suit the personnel that we have.  The positive thing for us is that the quarterbacks that line up behind Dane are much more similar to him than different, and so I think that will make a difference in how we approach the game.
Again, I think we have a better feel because we've just been more diligent about throwing things out that may be good but don't fit our personnel, and utilizing our players in the best positions and the best places to get them.
Again, it has to manifest itself on Thursday night, but we have felt really good about the progress through fall camp.

Q.  You always say the backup quarterback is one play away.  When you tailor an offense, do you describe to a guy what that means?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:¬† Well, in the previous account, we had a quarterback in Cody that in 2012 had been a really good carry‑the‑ball‑downhill, he wasn't going to fake anybody out, but we designed runs for him to be the only back in the box and have one lead blocker, you could run him downfield and gain yardage.¬† He was very comfortable under center, and so a little more West Coasty in terms of how you set up the offense and your three‑step passing game and play action and those things.
We transitioned to a guy that's about 6'1", 6 foot and a half inch and played in an offense where‑‑ he, Joseph Calcagni and Jay Burgess in my understanding never took more than two snaps from under center in their whole high school career, so that's what they came into.¬† So there's definitely a comfort level for those guys if we keep them in the gun and keep them in a little more of a spread attack.
We're still going to use our tight ends, we're still going to use fullbacks, we're still going to get under center some, but it's certainly pared back from what it was when we had Cody, and we're trying to utilize receivers in such a way where there are certain things that Keevan Lucas does very well, and there are still things that he doesn't do very well.  We'll quit asking him to do the things that he struggles with and let's really focus on the things he does well.
Keyarris is well known, but Josh Atkinson has really made a good move, and we've found a role that I think really suits him.  He's done a great job this fall.  I think he's come into his own.  He's staying healthy and really providing some movement for this offense.
So if you get those three as kind of the beginning point, and then there are I think at least four or five others that we're going to be utilizing as receivers that I think it's going to make it a little tougher to be predictable.

Q.¬† They had a pretty tough time in spring‑‑
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  Oh, yeah, it was his first start.

Q.  Just talk about the battle he had to overcome from the first game he started until now.
BILL BLANKENSHIP:¬† Well, I think if you talked to him, he would tell you exactly that.¬† As much as he had prepared and he had been in games, that was his first start.¬† We definitely had the freshman big‑eyed effect.¬† It happens a lot.¬† It took him a while to settle down as the season went on and played a little better.¬† But again, I go back to we probably did a very poor job‑‑ not probably.¬† We did a poor job of going into that game with an offense that he would be comfortable with.¬† We were still trying to put him into‑‑ frankly up until the middle of the week we thought Cody might play, so we were still in that mindset that hopefully we could get to that, and Dane could operate the offense in practice, but again, it's like being pretty good at something or really being exceptional at things that you know.¬† I mean, we all have gifts and maybe talents or things we're just more comfortable with, and I just believe we've done a better job of getting him into a more comfortable role.

Q.  Do you feel like he's progressed (inaudible) backups, how do you feel like those quarterbacks have progressed with daily interaction?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  Yeah, frankly it's a little embarrassing that they're doing so much better without me, and I think that we've definitely seen in practice, this is a group that has grown a lot.  I say, again, a lot of it is, and I think the fact that they're getting a consistent dose every day, and that guy is not leaving to go to other meetings.  As much as Press Taylor and David Johnson and I worked together and they were great at doing that, it was still two different voices, it was still things that we probably didn't carry over as well when the other one was not in there.

Q.  There's a big question whether Dane can exceed the level that he was at last year.  If he doesn't, how are your backups?  Are they capable of coming in and helping?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  We know as much about them as we know about Dane.  We can spin it in a real positive way and we can tell you everybody is ready to play, and we think they are, but until you get in the heat, you just don't know.  And that's what I tell you; I am very confident about what we have seen through fall camp.  It's got to manifest itself on the field on Thursday night.  That's what we have to see is that we continue to do what we've prepared to do, that we don't take steps backward, and I'm confident that's going to happen.  But again, until we all see that, it's not going to answer those questions.

Q.  What do you think are the (inaudible)?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  It's an interesting thing that you bring that up because I think there are a handful of freshmen that are definitely going to play and play this week, and D'Angelo is one of them that we have been incredibly impressed with.  He has a serious approach to the game.  He studies.  He knows what's going on.  He is an incredible athlete.  It's easy to see why essentially we're playing at quarterback but using him in all kinds of areas, so he's adapted very quickly to playing the running back spot, and usually those freshmen struggle with pass protections and things like that, and I think he's ahead of the curve there, too.
He's definitely a guy that's going to get action as we go along.  Hopefully he's splitting that with two or three other guys, but there is no way we're not going to be using D'Angelo.  He's too big a playmaker.

Q.  Who are some of the other freshmen you expect to play?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  Offensively the freshmen you will expect to see is D'Angelo and Nigel Carter.  Nigel is having a very good fall camp.  Nigel will be playing technically behind Keyarris, but you'll see him, be able to spell him, and then there are some packages where we use them both.  Bishop Louie is probably a step behind those guys, but I do believe Bishop will be playing.  He's had an outstanding fall camp and continues to be an elusive playmaker on offense.
Defensively we've really been impressed with Jeremy Smith and Petera Wilson, and those two we expect to play early on.¬† They've had‑‑ Jeremy Smith, much like D'Angelo, has been a very mature‑‑ he acts like a grown man in the presence of the other guys, not just athletically but how he approaches practice, how he approaches his craft.
So I think those guys really stand out.  Am I leaving somebody out, all the freshmen that we've talked about?  Earl Rollins at defensive tackle will most likely be one of the guys rotating in in the interior.  Of the defensive tackles that came in, we think Earl is the furthest along and will get some snaps on Thursday.

Q.  For a guy as talented as Jeremy Smith (inaudible) on offense versus defense?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  A lot of debate.  The head coach has to decide some of those things.  You know, we actually had Jeremy start on the defensive side.  We took him out of a couple of practices, moved him to offense, certainly threw him a ball, had him practice on some blocking.  There's no question in my mind he could play tight end for us, as well.  We just think the curve is probably a little steeper at tight end than it would be at defensive end.  He's an outstanding pass rusher.  He's going to play on a lot of special teams.
People from Berryhill would know this already, but he's also a heck of a punter.  He probably could stand in there with any of the punters we have and compete for that job.

Q.  Talk about playing on Thursday night, having to open up on Thursday night.  There's two Thursday games, three Friday games, some with opposition you haven't faced before.  How do you cope with all that and the changes that go into the week to week?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  I think there's just one Thursday game.  I may be wrong.  Do we have another Thursday?  Oh, at Central Florida, yeah.
Anyway, that tells you how much I've looked ahead because we just can't get caught into that.  But what I do know, when we analyzed it, there's really only one short week for us, and I believe it's the Central Florida week, which is maybe a Friday game where we played on the previous Saturday and have to turn it around quickly.
The other games have some kind of exception to them.  Either we were off the previous week or it's Thanksgiving weekend or it's something that has allowed us to feel a little better about the game prep.
I think that's just where it's gotten to in college football, certainly in our conference.  We have a tremendous television contract that gets us a lot of exposure, but with that comes the, you're going to play on Friday night, you're going to play an occasional Thursday night game.  I think any coach in America, if you said what do we want to do, we'd like to play Saturday afternoon at 1:00 or 2:00, and that would be the easiest thing to ever do.  But it's not really about us, and I think the best thing for our program is that opportunity to play and get some national recognition, and to do that, we've got to be willing to go on a little bit of an unusual situation.
We think the Friday night window is a really good window nationally.  In Oklahoma that's not a very popular deal, and we certainly understand that, but in terms of for our program, we think it's a pretty good deal.

Q.  As to playing on Friday night especially, being a high school coach (inaudible) were you part of that resistance, we don't want to do this?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  Well, if you're talking about from the collegiate standpoint, understanding that there are pockets across the country where Friday night football is a much bigger deal than other parts of the nation, and I think our area happens to be one that Friday night is a big deal.  We do know that there will be some conflict with that.
It is interesting if you look at what high school football has done is they've begun playing especially a lot more outside of Oklahoma, and you get in the metroplex of Dallas and Houston and those areas where there are multiple high schools, they play Thursday, Friday, Saturday.
I think we're a football team; you just play football and you hope people want to come, and I think they will.

Q.  A lot of talk about the importance of this game versus Tulane, but also (inaudible)?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:¬† You're being really nice.¬† Everybody wants to know is it a must‑win.

Q.  Talk about it from that perspective, finally closing the book on 2013.
BILL BLANKENSHIP:¬† Well, there's no question.¬† I will just say this:¬† We've closed the book on 2013.¬† Now, what every coach in America wants is to win game one because you want the catalyst.¬† You want the springboard into the season into week two.¬† Any way you shake it, 50 percent of college football is going to lose in week one, and if we made that into a must‑win, our season is down the tubes, then we've got nothing to do for the next 11 weeks.
So the reality is we understand how important it is.  We have made an emphasis on how important it is.  We have talked our team from the beginning about we divided the season into quarters, and we think the first quarter is winning August.  And you win August by winning in fall camp, and we believe we've done that.  We actually celebrated that last night.
And then we also believe winning August is going to be a victory in our opening game.  So that's part of what we've got to do to set the tone for the rest of the season.  Then you break it into September, you've got those games in September, then you've got the games in October and November, and if we'll take it and eat the elephant a bite at a time, we believe you can really come out and do very well.  If you really try to look all the way to October to the challenging part of the season, then all of a sudden you get lost in what needs to happen right now.
It is a very big game. ¬†We know coming off of‑‑ we can't hide from our record a year ago.¬† We can't hide from what we felt about it and what other people felt about it.¬† But all we can do is go out and absolutely give it our best, and I believe we will.¬† We need to get it started right, but I will just tell you, regardless of what happens next Thursday, we're going to get ready for week two.

Q.  What did you celebrate last night?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  We had a mock game last night, so we also had a mock victory celebration.

Q.  Gatorade bath, anything like that?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  Nothing like that.  Ice baths, everybody is doing that right now.

Q.  The perception of Tulsa football really changed a lot of years ago, and really the program has only had a couple blips since then.  Do you consider last year just a blip on the screen, and do you feel you have the players and personnel to make that just a blip on the screen, something they'll soon forget seven or eight games into the season?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:¬† We do.¬† And again, it's just what we believe.¬† I was fortunate to be a part of a really good staff with Todd Graham, and we had two great years and had a bad year.¬† I know Steve Kragthorpe got things going, had a great year, then we took a step back on a year.¬† I think that's the nature of college football, frankly, and in most places you're going to have a hard time sustaining consistently a top‑20‑type game, and we've seen that at really good programs.
Now, we can't assume anything, and I think that's what we've tried to do coming out of our off‑season is to really be very diligent about locking down the things that were maybe left hanging last year, that were just‑‑ we've enumerated it many times, but there's just a way to get better, and you cannot assume that winning is going to happen.

Q.  Defensively what have you seen from Tulane?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  Defensively this is a very confident, fast, aggressive defense.  They are going to pressure you and blitz you from every angle.  I very much appreciate and admire the speed that they play with on defense.  They're fairly reckless, and it served them very well last year.

Q.  Reckless in what way?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  Well, reckless in a defensive way.  They're going to bring folks at you, and they're going to gang up on you and try to blitz you, play a lot of man coverage.  You've got to execute very well in those situations or they benefit from that.  And their defense did very well last year, not just with us, with most of the people they played with.

Q.  They've got a Montana on their team.
BILL BLANKENSHIP:¬† They do.¬† We played against Nick Montana a year ago.¬† It's kind of the all‑name team for some of them.¬† They've got Bob Marley's grandson Nico, who's a very good linebacker, Joe Montana's son is one of the quarterbacks.¬† Apparently if you can believe the stuff that's coming out of New Orleans, they've named Tanner Lee, the red‑shirt freshman as the starting quarterback, and again, we prepare for all of them.
First games, to go back to this, if you really try to just focus on a guy or on personnel, man, it's tough.¬† We've had‑‑ I think to date we've had 24 practices.¬† Well, you know, if you haven't been at those 24 practices, there's probably been a few changes since a year ago.¬† Same way we absolutely understand that Tulane has some the same thing.¬† So we have to glean what we can, figure it out.¬† They say Tanner Lee, the red‑shirt freshman, came out of spring as the starting quarterback.¬† We've expecting that to happen.¬† But again, we played against Montana, we know he's a good player, as well.

Q.  The way Curtis has built the program, reinvigorated the program has been fairly impressive.

Q.  You've seen it from a distance.  Can you maybe comment on how they've evolved?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:¬† I think the most interesting thing from Tulane that I've witnessed is just the confidence that they began to play with a year ago.¬† This is a team that has always had some talent, but I do think Coach Johnson has brought in a better athlete at some positions, more speed.¬† Sometimes they're not big but they're fast, and it suits their style of play, especially on defense, because they will, again, get after you.¬† They'll blitz a lot, pressure, play man‑to‑man.¬† I think what that has done is it's brought a confidence to them a year ago, a little more swagger, feeling like they've accomplished and kind of turned the corner.

Q.  Does it remind you of what happened here at all?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  Maybe if you go back to Coach K's era.  I think a team that had really struggled for a while, and then when they started gaining that confidence, they've always had smart kids, they've always had athletic kids, and now they've begun to gain that, it may be a little similar to what we saw in the turn that Coach K had.

Q.  More difficult to sustain than it looks?  Once you get a couple wins it should perpetuate itself, or doesn't it work that way?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  I don't know enough about their program.  I just know sustaining winning is tough anywhere.

Q.¬† Do you remember a game here two years ago, the most awful thing that's ever happened‑‑

Q.¬† Have you kept in touch with Devon Walker?¬† I know the program here has done a lot and the people here have done a lot to help them raise money.¬† Have you thought about that here recently because of‑‑
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  No question.  I don't personally stay in touch with Devon.  We follow him because of my relationship with Rick, Coach Rick Dixon, athletic director.  Because of that, we're very much in the know of his development and what he's been able to do and accomplish.  I think it's nothing short of amazing what Devon has done to date in dealing with the injury, the paralysis, and moving forward with his life and being an example and an inspiration for his team and for people with spinal cord injuries.
It's still very surreal looking back.  In fact, we had a dinner a couple of nights ago with President Upham and with some of the people that were there, and as you flashed back in your memory to that whole event, it's just numbing to realize the enormity of the situation and the injury.
It is not lost on us that this is the first time we will have played Tulane in our stadium since that happened.

Q.  Can you talk about Michael Mudoh, what he brings as a player?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:¬† Well, as a person he may be the best singer on the team.¬† That may be up for discussion, but he certainly is the one that has won a few throw‑downs in the singing category.¬† He was asked yesterday at the luncheon by people at our table if he was working on his music, and he said, no, pretty much put that behind during our preparation for the season.
He is an incredibly talented and gifted young man.  He also is a very good football player, was a young man out of Houston that we were able to red shirt, so he's going into his fourth season.  He still has two to play, as you know, stepped into a role last year without Marco Nelson next to him, and still led the team in tackles and led the conference in tackles.  So he's a very productive player, and I think if you put Marco next to him, then all of a sudden there's a very solid safety net, so to speak, pun intended, in the secondary.
Michael is an outstanding, all‑around student‑athlete.¬† I think he's an accounting major, will graduate in the spring, as will several other of our guys that are fourth‑year juniors.

Q.  Talk about Keyarris.
BILL BLANKENSHIP:  Keyarris has had steady progress.  He had a little setback about halfway through fall camp with some muscle strains, came back from that, has been practicing full speed for several days now, and really makes a big difference.  Any time we go against our defense, good against good, it always kind of tells you where you are because athletically there's just a big difference.  So it's very noticeable when Keyarris is present, and his first day back three or four days ago, he made like two big catches in our drills against each other.
He's a difference maker, no doubt.

Q.  Changes the way the defense is played?
BILL BLANKENSHIP:¬† Well, it changes the way most people do.¬† We'll see Thursday what it does.¬† But he is a match‑up problem for most people, and because of that you tend to get some safety helping over the top or at least getting close.¬† If they leave him one‑on‑one, he's definitely a guy that we want to throw to one‑on‑one.

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