RUSTON, La. (Sept. 19, 2011) - Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes spoke with the media following Tech's 35-34 loss to Houston and in advance of Tech's game at Mississippi State on Saturday, Sept. 24.
Opening Statement . . .
"Nothing has really changed much since Saturday night. I had a chance to go back and review the game film and I feel positive about a lot of things that happened during the course of the game. I felt like we played about as well as we could play for three quarters. We capitalized on most of the opportunities we had offensively, really played good defense against a very good offensive football team and did some great things in the kicking game. Our special teams have continued to be a strength for us and I am really pleased with what we are doing on our teams."
"The thing you have to do on those types of games is learn from them. It's tough to deal with. It's tough for your players to deal with, tough for your coaches to deal with, tough for fans to deal with but you have to learn from it. We had chances, we felt like, to put the game out of reach both in the third and fourth quarter where we need one more score really to make it, almost, an insurmountable lead. We got down there, really put together a nice drive. We were moving the ball extremely well and fumbled going in and then the next possession turned it over with an interception and I think that kind of opened the flood gates a little bit."
"Our defense had to play a bunch of snaps pretty quickly. Houston started getting in their rhythm. That is what we did the first half, we kept them (Houston) out of their rhythm. That is what offensive football is. It's about timing. It's about rhythm. It's about guys playing together and execution and so much of that has to do with being into a rhythm offensively and they (Houston) never did get settled in the first half. I thought Tommy Spangler had an outstanding game plan and that is what we prevented them from doing the first half. They never got comfortable. We mixed up some blitzes. We showed blitzes and dropped. We showed dropped and blitzed. We were able to do some things where we got some good matchups, pass protections wise and we continued to do those things in the second half, Houston just made more plays."
"They (Houston) a little bit less drop back plays in the second half. Some more boots, some more things to move the quarterback out of the pocket a little bit and they got the ball down the field in those situations. So, they did a good job of reacting. We knew that they would. They've seen every conceivable defensive blitz. Case Keenum has through the years and he handles them all well. I knew it would be a matter of time before they started moving the football a little bit. I wish we could have gotten one more ball into the end zone or got one more ball over the goal posts from a field goal to put the game away but we couldn't do it. They (Houston) made some plays down the stretch."
"We had a chance to drive down and kick a field goal and get it done. Both losses this year, we have had a chance to do that. Again, against Southern Miss and against Houston, both games we got the ball back with plenty of time to be able to put a drive together and weren't able to do it, which is disappointing. We spend probably more time than anybody in the country working on special situations. Both overtime and two minute offense and it is something that we have to continue to work on and get better at; two minute offense and two minute defense . It has been a weird season. We have played three games and we could easily be 3-0. We could easily be 0-3, so, it's been strange up to this point. The thing we have to do, against good football teams, you have to capitalize on opportunities and I feel like we let some slip through our fingertips at the end of that game the other night."
"The great thing about this week is we have a challenging game. It will be a great atmosphere in Starkville. Mississippi State, obviously, has a great football team. They're 1-2 just like we are. They're disappointed. They've lost a heartbreaker to Auburn. They looked really good against Memphis, ran up and down the field, did whatever they wanted to do against Memphis. They really moved the ball against a pretty good Auburn defense and ran into LSU last week and LSU is just really good on defense. I'm not sure that I have seen a defense any better than LSU's. Maybe the 2009 USC defense when I was at Arizona - Actually that would have been the 2008 USC defense. Where they had the three first round draft picks at linebacker. But that is about as good a defense as I have seen. LSU is really, really good on defense and they did a good job (against Mississippi State). Mississippi State played great defense against LSU. It was a real physical game. They have had a few extra days to prepare for us. That (game) was a Thursday night game, so, I am sure they will use those days to be well prepared. We are going to have to play extremely well and take care of the football and capitalize on opportunities if we are going to have a chance to win the game Saturday."
On if he would have done things differently against Houston in terms of clock management . . .
"No. That is like getting a 7-0 leading and going into the four corners. How many basketball games in your life have you seen people get a 10 point lead, go into four corners offensive and lose? I would have not fumbled when we went in there. That would be my preference, to not fumble and have a chance to kick a field goal. I am not going to ever coach not to lose. That will never happen as long as I am here, so, we will always try to win football games and never try not to lose them."
On not being able to put a team away in the fourth quarter . . .
"That is just being good enough to do it. That is ultimately what it comes down to. Part of what happened Saturday, we kind of did with smoking mirrors. I mean that (Houston) is a good football team. You know that is a team that physically manhandled UCLA, just dominated them. Sometimes the magic wears out a little bit and they (Houston) made some plays and that is what good football teams do. It really comes down to confidence and having done that."
"I have been where Houston was when I was at Texas Tech. I mean we would be down 28 and laughing about it on the sideline and that is a great feeling to have when you are down 28 and you know you are going to find a way to win. That is where this programs wants to get to. Those guys didn't panic. They knew they were going to score. They knew they could score it was just a matter of getting it done."
"So much of it has to do with confidence and your mentality. I've been places, I was at Arizona and when I went there it was like, oh my gosh we have lost these games this way, this guy dropped this ball, this guy did this and I think when you coach like that, there is so much fear of failure. That is not the way that we approach the game. You have to try to go win and not be afraid to make a mistake and not be afraid to turn it over and have enough confidence to know that if you do then you're going to respond and get it done. That is confidence. You're going to do it once or twice and then all of the sudden you think you can and you just build on it."
"Part of it is being good enough to do it. If we were where we wanted to be offensively, Saturday, then we would have had a chance to score two or three more times and I think that would have taken care of itself. So, we just need to execute better offensively. We knew there was going to be some growing pains early in the season with a young quarterback and all new guys playing skill positions and moving guys around. What really hurt us in the fourth quarter was not having Quinton Patton and not having Myles White and missing Lennon Creer for most of the third quarter and all of that stuff really had an impact on us. We need to be able to overcome all of those things that happened. All of that happens during football games. You have to overcome it. You have to be able to make the plays down the stretch regardless."
On when he thought the game might be getting out of hand . . .
"Really, the whole time. I knew that they were capable of scoring fast. It wasn't like we were on the sideline going 'we've got this one in the bag.' I felt like if we got one more score in. . . Tony and I talked about it on the headset as we were driving down there getting into field goal range, Lennon (Creer) made the long run getting down the sideline and got us down to about the 18 yard line, I believe, and we both said 'make sure we don't take a negative play. Don't get sacked. Don't take a negative play.' Because I felt like if we kicked a field goal in that situation that is tough to come back from."
On the status of Quinton Patton . . .
"He got hit. As he was catching the ball, the safety came across and I think he hit him with his knee or foot, kicked him in the thigh. He is actually doing better than I thought he would. He was in a lot of pain Saturday. Anybody who has had a bruise in your thigh knows how painful that is and I didn't expect to see him being able to do much yesterday. He is in a little bit better shape than I thought he would be in, so that is encouraging."
On the other player injuries from the game . . .
"I think everybody will be fine. I think everybody will be back this week. We expect everybody to be back and hopefully Myles White will be back. He warmed up a little bit and just couldn't quite go. If you are an O Lineman you can kind of push through the foot injuries a little bit more than a receiver can because he relies so much on speed and cutting. That injury is taking a little bit longer to heal than we anticipated but hopefully we will get him back this week."
On the back up receivers . . .
"They are good. Quinton (Patton) is just playing so well right now. Richie Casey and Andrew Guillot have both done some good things for us but Quinton and Myles White kind of give us a different dimension. They are faster, a little bit more explosive than those other guys."
On Taulib Ikharo . . .
"Taulib (Ikharo) has been fine. Taulib played pretty decent the other night. He struggled the first game a little bit but since then he has played pretty well."
On having depth at running back . . .
"You have to have depth at running back. I don't care if it is the NFL, college football, high school football, whatever, those guys get banged up. The game has gotten so much more physical. It use to be you had a tailback, you turned around gave him the ball 30 times and somehow they stayed healthy. Now you turn around give it to them 15 times and they have a hard time staying healthy. It doesn't really matter what level it is on. Whether it is the NFL, college football or high school football for that matter, it just seems like the game has gotten so physical. Those guys take so many hits that it is hard to stay healthy, so, you better have really a good three-deep."
"Lyle Fitte came in and did some good things for us as well at that position. Lyle (Fitte) has been a guy that we have been moving around to try to figure out ways to get him the football and he is usually productive. He did a good job carrying the ball for us the other night."
On the defensive challenges they will face against Mississippi State . . .
"Mississippi State is just going to overpower you. It's just what they do. They have a good scheme, kind of an option based scheme. They have two really good running backs. They have some injuries on their offensive line. I know they have had to shift some people around. They have tremendous speed at wide receiver. Their quarterback is a very large, physical, hard to tackle guy that will run you over. Physically looks like Cam Newton, probably doesn't run as fast as Cam does but throws the ball well. He is a good accurate passer. He's just an overall good football player. He executes the offense extremely well. That is the thing you notice about him, is he does what he is suppose to do. He is well coached. They have enough skill. They have big plays guys. The backs are big, strong guys but they are very fast and they make a lot of big plays. They wear you down. That is what they want to do. They want to wear you down a little bit and all of the sudden you arm tackle the back and he breaks a tackle and goes 60 yards for a touchdown."
On whether they should focus on defending the running game or the passing game. . .
"You have to do both. They throw the ball well enough that you can't just commit eight or nine guys to the box and say go ahead and throw it. It's tough to defend. They are basically running what Florida was running when (Tim) Tebow was there. It is that same type of offense with a little bit of other things built in, but the same thing. When you have a big, physical quarterback like that, he is basically a running back. It is hard to outnumber them in the box and you have to take some chances and stack the box but they throw it well enough to make it scary."
On preparing for the atmosphere at Starkville . . .
"We will probably do something later in the week. We will practice with some noise on Wednesday and Thursday in preparation for going into a loud environment. We will do some things. Offensively it is not that big of a challenge for us, just because so much of our stuff is signals and there isn't a lot of verbal stuff going on. It will be challenging. That is a great atmosphere. I have had the chance to coach in that stadium a couple of times when I was at Kentucky. We went in there one time and I think they were 6-0 on maybe a Thursday night and that place was loud, so, I know the crowds have been better now than they were. I know they have expanded the stadium. It will be a challenge for us from an environment standpoint. "
On any hangover heading into Mississippi State game following Houston loss. . .
"I'd really rather not be playing any SEC school. Last time I checked we're not in that league but you play who is on the schedule. It's not that big of a deal. We like to play good people and that is a good football team. You look at Southern Miss and they are going to have a good team. Houston is going to have a good team. I think both of them will be right in the thick of the Conference USA championship and we had a chance to possibly win both of those games. This will be challenging for us. I don't think we are going to have a hangover. Our players are going to be eager to get back out there and ready to perform and practice. They have done that this year. They have bounced back well and I expect them to do the same thing today."
On Nick Isham . . .
"I think he is going to be really good. He just kind of makes plays. He is making some mistakes, which we expect. He forced a couple of balls Saturday, which again, a freshman is going to do from time to time. He is still learning how to understand situations. First and 10 you definitely don't want to force a ball when you have a good kickoff return, your close to midfield and we call a play action pass and forced one throw there. They kind of rolled to coverage and caught him in a surprise on the first interception, but the thing about him is he learns from them all. When he makes a mistake he learns from it. He is getting more and more comfortable running than he has in the past. I think that is part of his game that a lot of people haven't seen yet. He is a good runner. He is outstanding in the pocket. He has a great presence and can create some plays by moving around. We have to continue to become better as wide receivers, when he is on the run, of getting open. We think that can be a positive part of our game, is when he scrambles and leaves the pocket. That is something we have to continue to develop and teach to our wide receivers, where they need to go and how they need to get there. We have to get some big plays out of when he scrambles but he is going to get better. He is going to be a really good player by the time midseason rolls around. That is what we are hoping for."
On the teams winning mentality . . .
"It is kind of like the analogy I made about Arizona earlier. They had some really touch losses and some bad things happened to them. When that happens, it is hard not to expect something bad to happen and this team here has kind of been through that. It just seems like they have lost a lot of close games through the years. We lost our share last year and they lost their share the year before. It seems like the year before that they won a bunch of close games and ended up in a bowl game and I think that is the difference. In college football now, any team can win on any Saturday. So much of it has to do with how teams match up. That is something that I think is unique to college football. Certain teams match up against other teams better because of scheme, because of personality and I think that is what makes college football uniquely different from pro football. There is such a difference in schemes. You might play Navy one week and they might throw the ball three times and you might play Houston the next week and they might run it three times. You just don't see that in the NFL. That is what, I think, makes it so unique."
"The Central Arkansas game, we made some plays down the stretch. We thought that was encouraging and I think in some ways we gained some confidence from that. The Houston game, we have to do a better job at the end of the game being able to drive down and get in field goal range and kick a field goal and make it. We have to have more killer instinct. That has been the issue with us. You can go back to last season and look at New Mexico State on the road. we got off to an early lead and let them come back into the game. San Jose State, last year, we couldn't quite put them away. We let them come back and hang around and hang around. You can look at Central Arkansas, the other night, the same thing. We had a chance to go up 28-10 at halftime and for all intensive purposes and put them away and that was the same thing that happened to us Saturday was, here is Houston down 34-7, just make something happen. Put a drive together offensively, go down and score and put the game out of reach. If you don't do that and you are playing someone who is good on offense, they are going to start clicking and that is what happened with Houston. They made a couple of big plays and hit us on a couple of big plays and got us reeling a little bit defensively. Part of it is learning how to play when you have a lead and be able to make those plays and put the game out of reach.
On where the Houston game ranks in terms of frustrating losses . . .
"It is certainly close to the top if it's not at the top. When you coach football there is always going to be some stuff where you are just like 'how in the world did that happen?' It is certainly frustrating just because winning a game like that is kind of what we needed. We need to win a game like that against a good team. It's been a while since they have won a game against a I-A team around here. I know they didn't last year. I'm not sure they did the year before. So it has been a long time for us to beat a team with a winning record if it's a division I team. We need to do that. We had a great chance the other night. Houston will probably be a nine or 10 win team this year and that would have been a nice win for us. We have to move on. That is the biggest thing, move on. I think our players saw what we are capabale of and, I think, that is where you learn. What you learn from is, ok here is how good we can be and he is how we got there. Again, we got there by playing aggressive football. We ran a fake field goal when we could have kicked a field goal because we knew we needed to score points and we ended up getting a touchdown out of the drive. We did the stuff that we felt like we had to do staying aggressive to create enough of a cushion to be able to win a game. The worst thing we could do is send the message to our players, that lets not screw this up or lets not mess this up. We want to win games. We don't want to be scared."