RUSTON, La. (Nov. 21, 2011) - Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes, along with select players, spoke to the media Monday following Tech's win over Nevada and in advance of the team's game at New Mexico.
Head Coach Sonny Dykes
"Another good win for us. I was really proud of our football team on Saturday. It was one of those games that our guys will remember for a very long time just because of the way it went down. It looked pretty bleak for a while but it's a great testament to our players' character and toughness for hanging in there and making plays. A couple of balls bounced our way and we were able to win the game."
"Our defense did a fantastic job of limiting their offense in the first half, especially because we did not have a great offensive first half. Our first half wasn't pretty. We had two first downs and 40 yards going into halftime. The defense created two first half turnovers and to go into halftime playing the way we did only down 7-0, we did not lose confidence."
"Nevada strung some plays together in the third quarter but we continued to play hard. We had a couple of stops and forced them to kick field goals. That was very critical for us. At one point, they were on our five yard line and we held them to three points. We strung a good drive in the third quarter that gave us confidence and ended up with a field goal. We did not really change our play calling in the second half. They did not do anything different defensively. If anything, they got more aggressive with blitzes and continued their man coverage. Then a couple of our guys made some big plays and it was great to see because some of those guys were players that were not very involved at some points this season."
"[On the final scoring drive of the game], Jacarri Jackson made a fantastic catch on a fade route against press coverage. Hunter Lee probably made the play of the game on third down when he went up over the defender and caught the ball. He continues to do what it takes to help us win. It was a fun and exciting game. I was very proud that we hung in there and extremely proud of our effort and resiliency. That game was a microcosm of our season; not great early, but keep hanging in, slug away and keep expecting something good to happen and all of a sudden good things happened for us and we were able to make plays down the stretch."
"This week's game is a big game. The more games you win, the bigger the games get every week and this is the biggest game we'll play this year. We're playing for a conference title and a bowl game so this is a big week for us. We have to do a good job preparing."
"We're on a different schedule this week because the players are out of school, which is good in some ways because we can keep their focus a little bit more and spend a little more time watching film and with walk-throughs. It's also alarming though because any time you change your schedule, there is a little concern that comes with it. You get used to preparing a certain way with a certain schedule and in the 12th week, you change it up a bit. That's going to take a little getting used to but it will allow our players to rest a bit more."
"It seemed like our players were tired on Saturday and it didn't seem like we were as mentally into the game as we were in the past. Our warm-ups weren't as crisp as they have in and we looked tired before the game. Part of it was a long season, a lot of emotional games, fifth road game in six weeks and it just took us a while to get going. Once we got going, we played extremely well. We're going to have to have energy this week because New Mexico State is coming in here without anything to lose. When a team comes in like that, they will play hard and aggressive all game. They will be zoned in from beginning to end and very prepared to face us."
Q: What's the deal with Lennon Creer? How's his injury?
"He's got an ankle injury so we'll see where he is towards the middle of the week. It's kind of a strange thing because we tried resting him some early in the week and he just couldn't go on Saturday. He didn't do much at all in practice until Thursday. It's one of those injuries where the more you do, the more sore it gets and the longer it takes to recover. What happens is you do not get to practice and when you don't practice, you may not be as sharp in some areas. We'll evaluate him a little today and see what he can do. We'll make a decision by Wednesday on whether or not he can play."
Q: What has it been about you and this coaching staff that has you in this situation in only your second year together? You inherited a team that at times teetered with being successful but not consistently. What has it been for you to be able to be successful so quickly?
"Derek Dooley has to get some credit for it because he recruited excellent players and a lot of those players are still a part of this program. Adrien Cole, Jay Dudley and Matt Broha are just a few of those great players that played for him and are leaders on this team. We inherited a lot of good players that have been in this program for a few years and have a lot of experience. The thing we felt like we needed to improve on was the culture around here. We had to make players play as one cohesive unit. We needed to get the players to buy into playing as a team. These players have been through a lot with two different head coaches and any time there is a change in a coaching staff, it's difficult to players because there are new expectations and new ways of doing things."
"The big thing has been our players' work ethic and beliefs. We have a blue-collar approach with them; come in, practice and play hard and get better every single day. We try to keep it as simple as possible. We also hit a home run on some junior college players that have improved our team tremendously like Quinton Patton and Oscar Johnson. We've had some walk-ons that have come in and helped us tremendously as well like Hunter Lee. We've lost a lot of good players to season-ending injuries like Lyle Fitte, Ray Holley, Ryan Williams and Andrew Guillot. We've lost some guys in skilled positions that really hurt us but it's a testament to our players that the next guy went in and played great for us. Craig Johnson, David Gru and Stephen Warner have been great for us. If you get good contributions from many different players, it gives your program a chance to be successful."
Q: You mentioned the play calling wasn't any different in the second half. You had some opportunities in the first half but did not score. Was the biggest difference guys just getting those individual one-on-one plays that you weren't getting in the first half?
"There's always the perception that there's some magic in play calling. The plays that work are good calls and the plays that don't are bad calls. The better players you have, the more plays work and with our guys, it was just about us being off in the first half. Our pass protection was outstanding all game. We had time to throw all game. We had Richie Casey behind on a busted coverage in the first half that would have been a touchdown. On the Casey play, we were beaten up front and got flashed, forcing Colby Cameron to throw under duress for an incomplete pass."
"When we had receivers open, we didn't make a good throw. We had running lanes and just couldn't make a safety miss. It was one of those things where nothing was working. We didn't make any competitive plays. When you face a defense that plays a lot of man coverage, you have to make competitive plays on the football. You're going to be bad offensively if you don't because what they are doing is outnumbering you in the box, making it difficult to run the ball. They dare you to throw the ball and you have to be able to throw it when they do it and sometimes it's hard on quarterbacks. When you play a lot of teams that have zone coverage's like we have, it's a big adjustment. When a team plays zone coverage, guys are open and look open. In man coverage, everybody is covered more tightly and your quarterback becomes more hesitant at times and your receivers aren't as open at times. We misfired a lot in the first half, but played well in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter."
Q: A lot of times, Nevada's defensive line moved laterally before the snap. How much of a confusion was that for the offensive line because of blocking schemes? How about for Colby?
"The problem was that they kept doing it and we kept jumping. We had three false start penalties when they were doing that. We started our cadence and then they said something so our guys would move. Our players flinched so we would get a false start penalty. We're not a team that gets a lot of false starts. We try to keep it simple on our guys and go on one snap count, so they pretty much knew what we were going on. It takes a little bit of time to get used to it. We saw them do it on film but they did it more against us on Saturday because they were enticing our players to illegal procedure penalties. Our guys handled it well and there wasn't too much confusion. They just thought the center was snapping the ball."
Q: You mentioned that the last game was a lot like your season. How was Colby's performance much like his career, especially once he got going in the fourth quarter?
"The funny thing about college football players is that most guys have careers similar to Colby. You come in and have to work your way up. You go through disappointment and you just keep working. You get an opportunity and then it's up to you at that point to make the most of it or not. To Colby's credit, he's made the most of his opportunity and it's a testament to him. A lot of quarterbacks talk about transferring if they don't start and it becomes more about him and not the team."
"Colby's never been about himself. He is a great team player and that's what makes this team good. We could have been a splintered team and had all these problems that other teams have like defenses and offenses hating each other and quarterbacks hating each other. There are football teams that have all of those issues and we haven't. It's a credit to our players, but really our coaching staff because when you haven't had success a lot of times, your coaches have to be your leaders and teach the players. As the players gained more confidence, they have taken control of the team. When you have players that can take control of the team and monitor those kinds of things, then you will have a winning program."
Q: What is it about New Mexico State that stands out? What do you see in film that stands out?
"Their speed. They have guys that can run on offense and defense. They have great speed and transfers from a lot of California universities/junior colleges. Most of their guys can run. When I was in Arizona, a lot of those guys were guys we recruited to Arizona or were guys that we knew about. They have a lot of good skilled position players on both sides on the ball. They are very explosive offensively. They throw the ball down the field more than any offense I've seen in a while. They going to take their shots and we are going to have to make tons of competitive plays on the ball because they are not going to be afraid to throw it down the field. It starts with our defensive front. We are going to have to pressure the quarterback and make him uncomfortable. If you allow him to sit in the pocket, they have a lot of guys that can run and make plays."
Q: Talk a little about making major strides and getting fans to attend home games. It's more eye-balls for your program; especially since you guys are playing at home this week.
"If you want to have a big time football program, you have to have support from people. It's important to us and our fans have been outstanding this year. The students have given us tremendous support. I know it's certainly not the most convenient weekend in the world being the holiday weekend, but it's going to be extremely important to our seniors. When you win more football games, you get better attention. Bowl people and conference people will also watch us play so it's important for us to play well and show that Louisiana Tech is a force to be reckoned with from a support stand point and playing stand point. We want it to be difficult for opposing teams to play here because of our fan support. We have a great senior class that has played well for many years and they deserve to play their final regular season game in front of a great crowd."
Q: With that being said and all eyes on you, do you think your team feels pressure going into this week's game?
"We try to focus on what we control and that's playing well, preparing well and doing the little things right. When you get into games like this, you have a tendency to think about things that don't really matter and this team has been great at only worrying about what we can control. We want to focus on improving and practicing/playing well."
Q: It seems like you've played your best games on the road this year. Are you going to try to give this home game kind of a road game atmosphere?
"It's been a weird year that way. We've won five road games this year and it shows the maturity of this team. We have to handle this test the same way because it's going to be a difficult game. Our players will have families in town and you will have distractions if you are looking for them, so our players need to be focused and dialed in."
Q: Playing for a championship is always the number one goal for any college program. You have a chance to make that happen on Saturday. Just talk a little bit about playing for a championship.
"That's why you play. Those games are hard to win and it's difficult to be in this position entering the last game of the season. That was our goal coming into the season; to be in a situation where we are playing for a lot at the end of the year. It's up to us to make sure we do everything right and give ourselves a chance to win. We expect to do that every year."
Q: Talk a little bit about Ryan Allen being a finalist for the Ray Guy award?
"It's a great honor. It's a real credit to the people that vote for that award because having a non-AQ guy in the top three shows that the voters did a great job. He definitely deserves to be there and has had a remarkable year. I've never been around a punter that can impact a game the way he can. It's a great award and gives our program great publicity."
Q: Back in 2008, before you got here, Tech played in a bowl game but it was a struggle to get there. This season, you are already guaranteed a bowl game. Does that take some of the pressure off knowing that there will be a postseason for you guys?
"It's nice to have that, but our deal is to win a championship. This season's success will be measured on how well we play Saturday. The bowl part of it is nice but we told our players that you want to play a game as important as Saturday's. You have an opportunity to win a championship and our players are going to do everything they can to seize it."
Q: Looking at the state of college football in Louisiana, there are three teams in the state playing well this season and looking for championships (LA Tech, LSU is looking for a national championship and Lafayette is playing well). What does that say about college football in the state?
"It's more about the outstanding high school football in the state. The quality of high school football in the state is outstanding. They are well coached and play against quality opponents. There are great programs with great players. The coaches develop their talent extremely well. It's critical for us to continue to recruit from the state. Per capita, the state of Louisiana is second in the nation in putting talent in the NFL behind Hawaii."
Wide receiver Quinton Patton
Q: Talk a little bit about the excitement going into this week's game after the great win this past week.
"It's very exciting coming off a win like that to continue our win streak. We're just trying to take it one game at a time."
Q: Talk a little about your tackle to save the game. It doesn't show up in the stats or anything like that, but talk about tackling Hunter Lee out of bounds to stop the clock.
"It looked like he needed a little bit of help getting out of bounds so I tried to help him out to stop the clock."
Q: Talk about playing for a championship. As a player/team, what have you guys talked about, or have you guys not worried about it and just worried about handling your business?
"We're just going about our business, and play one game at a time. We're not worried about the championship. We're just trying to win our next game and worry about preparing and improving in practice on a daily basis."
Q: Talk a little about Colby's performance. He wasn't the starter early on, but has really played well since becoming the starter.
"He has been himself all season. He was on the sideline early on and came in when he got an opportunity and really stepped up when we needed him most."
Q: You've been one of the leaders on the team this season.
"I try to keep everyone positive and not keep everything so serious all the time. I try to get my teammates to smile because sometimes they get too tense. When they are tense, they try to do more so I try to keep them smiling."
Q: You guys got off to a slow start but have really played well the second half of the season. Talk a little bit about that.
"We just pay close attention to detail in practice. We go through everything in practice and try to make it perfect."
Q: When you have a team like New Mexico St., who have nothing to lose and will try to knock you guys off and how do you prepare for that?
"We're just concerned about ourselves and preparing ourselves for the game on Saturday. We're in control of our own destiny."
Q: Was there one play that got you guys going, as a receiving group, in the fourth quarter against Nevada?
"The Hunter Lee catch. That really got us going because the ball was up for grabs and he just went up and got it."
Linebacker Adrien Cole
Q: 17 tackles is quite a performance.
"It was all within the defensive scheme. I'm just following the scheme and I was able to make plays on Saturday. I wasn't trying to pad my stats."
Q: What's your mindset going into this week knowing that you can win the championship?
"Since it's the next game, it's the biggest game. We don't underestimate nor overlook New Mexico St. They're a good team that just ended up on the shorter end of the stick in some games. They're a great team and we expect a good game on Saturday. They're a team on the rise."
Q: What's the biggest difference in Colby's performance as a starter last season and this season?
"Just really more experience. He has done a good job of following coach Franklin's game plan and he's just shown that he has grown into more of a complete player and leader. Even though we were down most of the game against Nevada, we knew we weren't out of it because Colby has such a great presence."
Q: Do you have anything special planned if you win on Saturday?
"Nothing special planned. Hopefully we just come away with the victory."
Q: What was it like when you were down 20-3 in the fourth quarter?
"Anything can happen. We were just going to keep fighting until the clock hit 0:00. Coach Dykes has continuously instilled in us to keep playing until the game ends. The game does not end with 59 seconds left in the game. Great things can happen to teams that continue playing until the end and we knew we weren't out of the game. I'm proud of our team for continuing our game plan and for leaving Nevada, which is such a tough place to play in with a victory like that."
Q: Talk a little about being here the last few years and playing under Derek and Sonny and being in a position to play for a championship. Sonny has said a lot of it has to do with Derek's recruiting, you included.
"Coach Dooley helped plant the seed in this program while coach Dykes came in and nurtured the seed, watched it grow and turned this program around. I'm so happy that we've been able to show results on the field. It's a great feeling overall."
Q: Fresno St., Nevada and Hawai'i are always teams that are atop the WAC standings, while you guys are the "little guys". How would it be sending them out of the conference with a win?
"We don't really look at it that way. We just worry about winning the game and that objective has never changed. We don't take anything for granted and hopefully we are able to come away with a victory on Saturday."
Q: Talk about the sack to end the game on Saturday. What happened on that play, because you looked like you could not be stopped?
"That play was set up by d-end Christian Lacey. He got a great jump and he hit the left tackle with a spin move, forcing the quarterback the other way. He ended up coming my way and I was able to finish him off, but it was a great play set up by Lacey."
Q: You've said coach instilled playing until the clock hits 0:00. Can that define your season as well?
"That game was a perfect reflection of our season. We started off slow like our 1-4 start. It just took one catch/one spark to snow ball us and we ended up on the right side of the coin."
Running back Hunter Lee
Q: What's this season been like for you from walk-on to a major role?
"It's very exciting and has been such a fun process. As a receiver, I wasn't playing too much early on in the season. But I've been blessed with an opportunity to step up and be a play maker for this team and it's been great. I love this season and team and have enjoyed every single part of it."
Q: Everybody wants to know how you "slipped thru the cracks." Is that another chip on your shoulder?
"Everything happens for a reason. I'm not bitter with the whole recruiting process. I love where I am and I love the turn out. It's been fantastic for me. My coaches told me that coach Dykes program in Louisiana Tech was a great program for walk-ons. At first, I didn't really give Tech a chance until my dad and my offensive coordinator told me to give it an opportunity. I spoke to the coaches and they were great. They told me honestly that they thought I could play as a true freshman. The one thing that really brought me to Tech was the coaching staff. They were truthful with me and told me that they believed I would get an opportunity to play."
Q: At what point did you think, "Hey I can compete with this guys and contribute?"
"It started around camp. I started running routes against the db's and linebackers and realized I can play with these guys. Every game, my confidence grows."
Q: What would have been your plan if you didn't speak to Louisiana Tech?
"Right out of high school, my first choice was Boise but it came down to West Virginia and Tech. My best friend went to West Virginia and they have a great program. They run the spread so I would have had a chance to play. I would have played some slot and running back. I came here, checked it out, loved it and here I am."
Q: Sonny says that so much of the success of this year's team has to do with the success of the walk-ons and JC transfers jelling with the rest of the team. What does that say to you when he says it's because of these guys?
"We've tried to give our all each and every play. We all wanted to show that we can contribute to this team. Even though some of us had to walk-on or play at the JUCO level, we wanted to show that we belonged. For some people, that might put a chip on their shoulder and motivate them to play harder. They have shown that and everybody has contributed as a whole and that's why we're winning games."
Q: Is your recruiting process still in the back of your mind? Does it make you think that you have to prove yourself?
"Not really. At first, out of high school, I was surprised by the situation I was in. Then I liked the fact that I was a walk-on. When I saw film of myself playing, I understood why I didn't get a scholarship and just tried to improve on the areas that I needed to improve on."
Q: What was it like the day you were told you would be on scholarship?
"I went to the secretary because she called and told me to sign some papers. She handed me a blue form and I asked what it was for and she said it was my scholarship. I was overwhelmed and it was a great time. I'm so thankful to be here right now. For coach Dykes to give me a scholarship is amazing. I love it."
Q: Did you realize Patton tackled you after the catch?
"I was looking to get out of bounds but all of a sudden I felt a strong force pulling me out. I looked up and it was Patton. It was a huge play by him to pull me out of bounds and stop the clock."
Q: Patton said that your catch was the one play that changed the momentum of the game. When did you think it did?
"We always knew we had a chance to win. We knew we could do it and we put together some good drives late in the game. We made some good plays and put together some good drives and won the game."
Q: Did you visit Boise and/or West Virginia?
"I visited both."
Q: Talk a little bit about your catch. It seemed like it went right through the linebacker.
"I don't know how that ball got through. It's a great feeling when a quarterback and offensive coordinator have trust in you. I jumped up and the ball got through and I just secured it."
Q: Did Paul walk onto West Virginia?
"He did but he received a scholarship soon after."
Q: How good does it feel to have a friend to bounce that off of when you're going through the same thing he did?