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ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE MEDIA CONFERENCE


September 11, 2013


Scott Shafer


MIKE FINN:  We're now joined by Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer.  We'll bring on coach, ask for a brief opening statement, then go to questions.
COACH SHAFER:  Good to be back home with you folks.
The team and the coaches are extremely fired up to be back home and playing in the dome.  We look forward to seeing the home crowd there.
We take on a team in Wagner that was a championship team last year in their conference.  Explosive offense.  They're averaging 35 points a game.  They play extremely hard on defense.  They got a couple kids offensively that we have to do a good job against.
Dominique Williams, their runningback, is averaging 220 yards a game.  We're going to have to do a good job slowing him down.  They have an athletic quarterback in Matt Misley that has done some real good things in their first two games.
MIKE FINN:  Questions for Coach Shafer.

Q.  I know you've been asked a lot about your quarterbacks.  With Drew, the way he played in the first two games, have you been able to pinpoint in watching the tape why he's had some of the struggles he's had?
COACH SHAFER:  With Drew, first thing is, we had two good opponents in Penn State and Northwestern.  He got thrown to the wolves early, which is in the long run is going to be a good thing.
I was pleased with his increased completion rate.¬† I think he was 66% in the Northwestern game.¬† Biggest thing with Drew, he's got to eliminate the turnovers.¬† Sometimes he'll get locked in on a target.¬† He's just got to do a better job checking down. ¬†When things are muddy, he has to go down to the check‑down, get the ball out of the backfield, not try to force things.
I've seen multiple occasions where he's trying to stick it in there when really he should go to the check‑down.¬† That's something he's working hard at this week.

Q.  I'm wondering if going into this week there's anything you say to Drew so he doesn't play with any sort of feeling pressure?
COACH SHAFER:  I think more than anything, it's just getting into the flow of the game, trust his eyes, go play, have fun, enjoy the process.  I think any time you have a player at any position that is trying hard to continue to improve in his game, you want to make sure that his focus isn't so tight and narrow that he's not playing with the flow of the game.
All good athletes kind of get into a zone.  There were times Saturday where he was in a zone and did some nice things.  He needs to control the things he can, push forward towards taking the coaching from Coach McDonald and Lester, manage the game plan, play nice and loose.

Q.  Obviously you're off to a tough start.  Given the opponents you played, people wouldn't expect you to be off to a much better start.  Are you where you thought you would be at this point in the season?
COACH SHAFER:  I have to look at all the different pieces and parts that make up the formula.  We played poorly, especially coming out of the first half against Northwestern.
As a coach looking at it, critiquing it, disappointed at some things, but not discouraged.  We have to do a good job with the teaching response, stay the course.  We talk about staying steady as we go, correcting the pieces and parts of the formula that have had flaws in it, really focusing on direct targets.
Some of the things we need to continue to focus on is, first and foremost, the turnover ratio.  We're sitting at minus three.  You can't win a lot of games when you're at minus three.  We need to get in the plus category.  That's been a focus last week as well as this week.
Defensively you have to do a good job of eliminating the big plays, make them earn plays.  It's one thing when a kid is in a position to make a play, then they make a play on us, you can swallow that one.  We had too many instances in the Northwestern game where we gave them opportunities and windows that were far too big, especially in the passing game, as well in containing the quarterback, that hurt us.  Those are opportunities we handed to them.  We can't hand them anything.  If they earn it, that's one thing, but we don't want to give them opportunities.
That's kind of the approach we're taking, staying steady as we move forward and staying the course.

Q.  The thought process after the Northwestern game, how seriously did you consider starting Terrel and how did you get to the ultimate decision where you wanted to give Drew another shot to start against Wagner?
COACH SHAFER:  We went through it.  There were four interceptions there that Drew threw.  Two of them were all on him.  The other two were situations where we a tip pass interception and a great play by the safety at Northwestern down their sideline.
You never want to overreact to a situation.  You want to look at it for what it is.  I was pleased with his ability to come back after an interception and take the team down the field for a touchdown.  I was pleased that his completion, moving up to 66%.
For me it was, Let's take a look at who we have playing, what areas we have to improve on.  Are they areas we feel any player could improve upon?  In his situation, I felt strongly that he could definitely do that.
But I also feel good about the fact that Terrel went in and did a good job, played well.  I liked his approach and attitude.  Both guys will be ready to play this weekend.

Q.  If this was against Penn State and Northwestern in week three, the quarterbacks are where they are now, would you still be taking the same approach, Drew would start and Terrel would still play?
COACH SHAFER:  It's one of those 'what if' questions that are hard to look at.

Q.  Considering Wagner is an FCS team, does that factor into the decision at all?
COACH SHAFER:  No.  We have a team coming off a championship season and broke records.  Regardless of where they're at, a championship team is a championship team.  We need to approach it the same way we would any solid football team we're going against.

Q.  Recap the last two games.  What do you need to work on this Saturday against Wagner?
COACH SHAFER:¬† I think it's more turning back the focus towards ourselves.¬† As I mentioned a few minutes ago, I think first and foremost we need to work on direct targets of improvement.¬† Some of the things we pushed for after Penn State would be offensively our first‑down progress.¬† We have a goal of trying to be 60% on first down.¬† Our goal is to achieve four yards or more.¬† Coming out of the Penn State game, we were poor on first down.¬† We were only 21% in reaching that goal.
Coming out of Northwestern, we just missed our goal at 57% of the team reaching four yards or more.¬† What that does is it directly influences your play calling on second down and setting up third.¬† We were in third‑down situations in the Northwestern game.¬† When we get to that down‑and‑distance offensively, we look at all third downs, we had to have a success rate of 45% or more.¬† We reached that goal, as well, at 46%.
There are positives even in an ugly loss like Northwestern.
The other area was yards after contact offensively.  Our goal there is to improve, and we did.  We had 40 broken tackles for 179 yards, which was a huge improvement.  Really we increased that by 60 some odd percent.
So focusing in on those things in practice paid off coming out of Penn State.  Now as we move into the Wagner game, we have to look at turnover ratio, both offense and defense, and strive towards trying to get on the plus side.  We're at minus three.  I'd love to come out of the Wagner game and be at plus one or better and feel good about that offensively.  Then defensively eliminating the big play.
It's one thing when you give up a play because their kid made the play, you're right where you needed to be.  It's another thing where you didn't do a good job with your coverage, you gave them too big of a window or a missed assignment, and you handed them a play.
That's been our focus this week on both sides of the ball, and we're looking forward to reaching our objective against Wagner.

Q.  What do you see in Wagner in the video?  What type of team are they on the field?
COACH SHAFER:  They're a team that plays extremely hard on both sides of the ball.  They're a team that has some returning veterans that were part of a storied season, winning their conference championship in 2012.  They put up 35 points a game on offense right now.  They have a runningback that's averaging over 200 yards a game in Dominique Williams.  They have a quarterback that is mobile, can both throw and run, and can create plays to be extended with his feet.
Those are the areas we're focused in on defending.  We're looking forward to that challenge.

Q.¬† Wales, is that a day‑to‑day thing or will he play Saturday?
COACH SHAFER:  He'll practice today and we're looking forward to getting him back on the field.
MIKE FINN:  Coach, thanks for being with us today.  Good luck this weekend.
COACH SHAFER:  Thank you.  You have a good week.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports



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