Aztec Football Press Conference Quotes

Sept. 22, 2015

SAN DIEGO -

SDSU Football
Weekly Press Conference Quotes
Fowler Athletics Center

Head Football Coach Rocky Long

Opening Statement:
"We have an exciting week this week. I think our team is excited about going to a place we've never been. I'm excited about going to a place I've never been. It's always a great experience to play in a stadium like they have and an atmosphere like they have. That's really fun for coaches, it's really fun for competitors. Now, the bad part of it is that they're a pretty good football team. They've got a couple first-round draft choices on defense, they've got a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, they've got really good receivers and running backs, and they're a perfect Big 10 team. They're gigantic on both sides of the line of scrimmage, so it's quite a challenge, quite an opportunity, but it's an exciting deal. It's fun to go to stadiums where they've got a 100,000 people. Doesn't matter if you're the victim or not. It's really fun to be in that kind of atmosphere."

On his favorite college stadiums that he's played in:
"I have two favorites: Tennessee and Oregon. We played the University of Washington (at CenturyLink Field) where the Seattle Seahawks play a couple years ago and that's probably the loudest stadium I've ever (been) in, but college stadiums it's Tennessee and Oregon. I've been to Tennessee four times. I've been to Oregon several times but that's fun every time. Their stadium is not gigantic, but they're right on top of you. It's loud and they can reach out and touch the guys on the bench. It's kind of a fun thing except sometimes the guys want to go up in the stands after."

On his previous teams' history of not caving in against big schools on the road:
"There have been times when we've been on the road where we've played well and there have been times where we went on the road and we haven't played well. I've been told that it's been a long time since anybody has beat one of those kinds of teams on the road. I've been told that many times, so I went back and looked. I went back and looked and it's really hard to find... When's the last time we beat a ranked team on the road? Just a couple years ago at Boise State, but that doesn't count. That doesn't matter. That doesn't count because they're not a traditional power in somebody's mind. I don't know whose mind it is, but that one doesn't count. So until we beat one of those boys on the road that everybody else thinks is a big boy, it doesn't count. Just ask.

On last week's loss affecting the team's confidence going into this week's game, and if it would be any different had the Aztecs beat South Alabama:
"Yes, I think we'd be more confident if we had won the game. That's natural. So I think our confidence has been shaken, but that doesn't change the excitement of going and having a chance to play in that environment and having a chance to win. The only time you don't have a chance to win is when you don't play."

On what he's seen on film from Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg:
"I see a classic, drop-back, pro-style quarterback. He moves around, He's big, he's got a strong arm, he moves around in the pocket to find passing lanes but he's never looking to run or scramble, so he's more of a classic-style quarterback. The first week of the season, they tried to be a spread team and lost. They are no longer trying to be a spread team, they're trying to be a pro team. They're pounding the ball and using play-action pass more than they did the first game of the year. They've gone back more traditional, so Hackenberg is more in his type of system rather than the spread system. He's not a spread quarterback."

On Penn State running back Saquon Barkley:
"He was very impressive in the last game. They kind of alternated running backs up until the last game and then he got most of the carries last week. According to the statistics he's 5-11 and about 222 lbs. He's got big legs. He's hard to bring down one-on-one, breaks a lot of arm tackles, and he's got good speed, not great speed, but good speed."

On if he feels like his run defense has been up to par so far this season:
"I don't think our run defense has been tested. We've played spread teams, so you choose what you want them to do, basically. You try to put everybody in coverage and try to keep them from throwing the ball and your run defense is very suspect because you don't have enough guys in there to stop the run. If you put enough guys in there--this is the reason the spread is so successful by the way--if you out enough guys in there to be really sound against the run then you've got a lot of holes out there in coverage. So what most people do, and what we do, is try to do both. You try to disguise things and make it look like you're not playing coverage and it looks like you've got enough guys in the box to stop the run, so they decide to throw it and you bust out of there and play coverage. Or, you show coverage and they look out there and count their numbers, because it's a count system, and they say `Well, they don't have enough guys in there, so let's run it,' and by the time they snap the ball you have enough guys in the box to stop the run. It's fun on the board. The Xs and Os part of it is really fun to try and scheme so that you win most of those battles. Sometimes the other team gets the best of you, and sometimes you're not hitting it at the same time, and sometimes they're just better than you are. It doesn't matter how many guys you put in the box or how many guys you put in coverage- It doesn't matter. Sometimes they're just better than you. And what's happened with the spread is you've got a lot of one-on-one tackles in the open field. We gave up a long run last week because we had a running back on a defensive back in about a five-yard square because they blocked everybody else, and the defensive back missed the tackle and the guy went 70 yards and we have terrible run defense. The rest of the night the run defense was ok, but the average per carry is terrible, so we have terrible run defense. It's all your perception of things. You can make statistics say whatever you want. We have not been tested in this kind of running game yet, and they don't really care how many guys you put in the box, so we're going to put a bunch of them in there and see if we're good enough to hang in there and keep the game close. They feel like they have the advantage physically up front and at running back. They're big and strong and they figure they're going to block you and the running back is going to have a one-on-one tackle and he's going to run over you, and that's worked really well for them the last two weeks."

On how he thinks his defensive line matches up with the offensive line of Penn State:
"Size-wise, it's not even close. They're a lot bigger. Now, that doesn't always mean that the outcome is going to be in that direction, so we'll see. I think we've got good players, I think we've got tough guys, I think we'll stand up and fight. Let's see if we're good enough.

On Jake Fely's health and other team injuries and player updates:
"Jake Fely is fine. He was cleared yesterday. We had a short practice in just helmets yesterday, but he went through the whole practice, so he's ready to go... Dakota Turner has a bad shoulder, but he should be ok. Nico Siragusa has an ankle sprain, but he should be ok. Everybody else that wasn't out before is ok, but we're not getting anybody back.

On defensive linemen Christian Heyward's performance:
"It was rusty, and I don't know exactly how many snaps he got. He probably got about a third of the snaps in the game, so he'll get more reps this week. We're hoping he can play half the game, and we're hoping he can play better since he has actually played now. We hope he plays at a better level."

On the play of wide receiver Lloyd Mills last week:
"I thought Lloyd had a great game and I think it really helped our team. He's been struggling with different kinds of leg injuries, but he did a really nice job. Now, all 11 guys did a really nice job on the punt returns. The guys blocking for him did a great job giving him a chance to get started, and he's good with the ball in his hands. He found the seams, made some guys miss and outran some guys, and I thought it was a huge momentum shift in the game that actually gave us a chance to win. I thought the play he made on the reverse pass back to the quarterback is as good a football play as I've ever seen. He's left-handed, so it was designed for him to run a reverse, get to about midfield, stop, and throw the ball back to the quarterback, and he throws it ok but he's left handed so it was done that way. He's got the ball in his right hand, he gets tackled, he's going to the ground and shifts the ball from his right hand to his left hand and throws it up and it's right on target to the quarterback for a touchdown. You can pick some plays that are as good as that on some highlights, but you can't pick one better than that. That was an amazing play. So, I think he helped a lot."

On if he is surprised that quarterback Maxwell Smith is still struggling with his consistency:
"Yea, I'm a little surprised. I thought going in that it would take a little while, maybe not this long, but I thought that it would take a little while, though. He played a lot, but he didn't play the last two years, so it takes you a while to get back into things and every individual is different. Some make a quick transition, some don't. I'm a little surprised, I thought it'd be faster than this, but I'm positive because I thought he looked much better in this last game. He had a while there where he wasn't very good, but he did the best job late in the game when he took the ball down the field and scored and put us ahead by three. That was his best drive of the season so far, so that's a positive sign."

On what Smith's reads:
"He's missed some reads, and he's missed a couple wide-open passes that are not hard throws. Sometimes you miss because it's a very tight window and it has to be almost a perfect throw to get in in there, and sometimes you miss it and that's not ok but it's kind of ok. But there were a couple times last Saturday where we had potential of a big play, and the guys wasn't covered, and we missed the throw. There was a crossing route to Donnel Pumphrey that could have been a 60-something-yard touchdown pass on about 3rd-and-4, and he threw it behind him."

On Donnel Pumphrey's drop in average rushing yards compared to last season:
"We're not blocking the line of scrimmage as well. The receivers have something to do with it, and actually the receivers are blocking a little bit better than they did last year. Most of it is because we're not giving him as big of seams as we did last year. People are playing us just like they did last year, and so the one linebacker or safety that is in the hole has a much smaller area to make the tackle in so there's not as much room for Donnel to make him miss. It's as simple as that. If you give him another yard of space in there, he makes people miss and those three or four-yard runs turn into 15, 20, or 25-yard runs. The seams are there, but they're not as big of seams as they were last year, so they guy that's in the spot making the one-on-one tackle is making it now where last year half the time he got juked. The running plays are exactly the same as last year. It means that the offensive line is getting on the right people because there is a seam there. We're not getting the same movement as we got last year, and if you want to be realistic, there's a reason for that, too. There's three new offensive starters on the offensive line. Two of them did not play one snap last year. The center and one of the guards did not play one snap last year, and one of the tackles played about 15 snaps last year. Now, I think they're physically able, but they're not nearly as skilled as that group of players last year that had nothing but experienced players on the offensive line, and a couple of those guys got kicked of the team for various reasons or they'd be here right now. That's interesting too, isn't it?"

On if the wide receivers' play has improved:
"Yea, a little bit. Not dramatically, not to where they need to be. The one touchdown pass we threw Mikah Holder did a really nice job of separating from that defensive back. He almost made him fall down."

On the comparison between the way his 2013 team bounced back after its season-opening loss to Eastern Illinois and this year's team bouncing back after its loss to South Alabama:
"I'm glad you asked that because we're in a similar situation right now. I think we're playing a lot better team this week than we did after that game that year. I think that this shows the character of your players. I'm the same coach, and we're coaching them the same way, and our motivation techniques and our patting them on the back and telling them they're ok, and trying to give them a better scheme that gives them a better chance to win- that is all being done the same way. I have a lot of confidence in this group of kids, but you never know how young people are going to react to a situation. That team decided that they were going to go to work and get better, and they made a bad thing that happened to them a good thing. This year's team has the exact same situation in front of them. I really like our players, i think they're great kids, and I expect them to do the same thing. Do I know they're going to do the same thing? I have no idea. I think they came into the season expecting to win every game."

On whether or not outside expectations are unrealistic:
"I think that most everybody is unrealistic about their expectations, and I don't think that just about sports. I think most people expect things to be better than they are, and there are two ways to handle those things, and I'm not just talking about games. Some people get mad and depressed and go off the deep end. Some people resign themselves to it and just live with being a little unhappy because their expectation level was not met, and then other people get mad and try to go to work and try to make it better. I think we're that second group. Things aren't going like everybody wanted them to go? I promise you that the 115 players I have on the team are more disappointed than anybody in this room, anybody in this town, or anybody in this country. They're more disappointed than anybody else can be, they're just part of the team so they can't talk about it. They have to put on a front."

Junior warrior Malik Smith

On his second half play last week against Southern Alabama:
"(Assistant Safeties Coach), Coach (Danny) Gonzales gives us the freedom to do what we want as long as you make the play. If you make the play then it's great but if you don't, you're going to hear about it when you come to the sidelines. On that play, I went with my instincts and it paid off for me. I'm happy that it'd paid off otherwise I was going to hear it. It's always good when you make plays like that."

On SDSU's defense taking on its opponent's run game:
"I think it goes back to execution. We're not executing like we usually do. We're trying our best to get it right in practice. Not having Jake (Fely) is a big loss, but it's not an excuse. No team should be able to run the ball on us like that. We're not executing like we usually do but we're going to get that right."

On missing sophomore defensive back Trey Lomax:
"Not having Trey is different. It's not the same. But, that's not an excuse. If anybody goes down, the next guy has to be ready to step up and play. Not having Trey (like I said previously) is like missing a heartbeat. We're missing one of our brothers out there on the field. Trey is a great player and makes great plays. Not having him out there is tough. (Sophomore defensive back Kameron Kelly) Kam is doing what he can but he's young and does not have that much experience. Everything out there is moving fast and it's new to him. He's coming along as best he can."

On playing in Beaver Stadium for the first time:
"I'm extremely excited. I can't wait to play in front of that crowd. It's a big stage. Saturday can't come fast enough for me. I'm excited to play Penn State. They're a good team. We're a good team. We're going to see who comes out on top."

On the mood of the locker room after last week's loss against Southern Alabama:
"It's been real quiet in our locker room. Everybody is mad. Everyone is locked in and focused on this week. We don't want to take any more losses for the rest of our schedule. We don't want to lose anymore. Nobody likes losing. It's been real quiet and people seem like they are real determined to win this game and every other game on our schedule."

On Head Coach Rocky Long:
"Coach Long is doing a great job. Like Lloyd (Mills) said, he's not out there missing blocks, missing tackles, dropping passes, etc. None of this is on Coach Long. Coach Long is doing a great job of getting us ready. He treats us like men. He talks to us like we're men and we talk to him as a man. There's no confusion. You can talk to him about anything."

On Penn State's junior quarterback, Christian Hackenberg:
"He's similar to (California junior quarterback Jared) Goff. He's been on the Heisman watch. We know he can strike at any given moment. We're not underestimating him. We know that he's a good quarterback. He throws the ball really well. He reads good defense. We're tuned in on him and going to play him as good as we can by getting some pressure on him, covering the receivers and stopping the run. We're going to try and do it all."

On what he expects heading into this week's game:
"We're expecting them to run the ball and throw the ball as well. Their quarterback can change the play at the line of scrimmage to a run play or he can change it to a pass play. He does it all. We're expecting them to run the ball a little bit because they're big guys. It's not about them. It's about us and what we're going to do to stop them."

Junior wide receiver Lloyd Mills

On his touchdown pass during Saturday's game against Southern Alabama:
"We're happy that we got a touchdown. It helped us score. On film, we saw that the whole defense shifted. I trusted (Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator) Coach (Jeff) Horton because he brought me in earlier in the week and showed me where the defense would be at. I just trusted him and knew that if I got it up and no one was over there, then Maxwell would make the play. You have to give kudos to Coach Horton in the play call and him trusting how they would react."

On the play giving him confidence:
"It gives me confidence because at the start of camp, my legs didn't feel good. I couldn't run. At the start of the season, I didn't feel like myself or feel like I could do some of the things I knew I could do. Second week, I felt a little bit better but wasn't quite there. Then, this past week at practice I did a little better. I felt as healthy as I've been in a while. It gives me confidence to build on."

On his injuries this year:
"Hamstring (happened on) the first day of camp. Spring and summer were the groin. Before camp, I was 100 percent and ready to go but the first day of camp, I made a cut and my hamstring tightened up so that limited me. I wasn't able to run and I messed up my groin a little bit more. Now, I'm good. As you can see, I'm running at a good pace and moving like I used to so there's no more concerns."

On transitioning to Assistant Wide Receivers Coach Hunkie Cooper:
"The transition has been great. He's real energetic. He is more of a guy that we can relate to because he's younger. He's played closer to our generation if that makes sense. He's a guy that is very physical with us. He'll hop into drills with us. He'll be the defensive back and be mad if you don't hit him hard enough or block him the right way. We need that mentality in the run game to help spring some runs, so that's been a good transition."

On Head Coach Rocky Long:
"First of all, Coach Long has led this program to five straight bowl games. He's done things that coaches previously haven't done. For someone to say and write something like that is bad on their part because they don't know what goes on in here. They don't know the things he does for the program and what the coaching staff has done for us. I can speak for myself and the rest of the players that we believe in the coaching staff. We just have to make more plays. Coach Long didn't miss blocks. Coach Long didn't miss tackles. He put us in the position to win and we just have to perform. We're not where we need to be but we're making the right steps where we should be. If everyone relaxes and lets us play, you guys will be happy with the end result."

"I don't have as much interaction with him since I'm not on the defensive side but outside football, he's a great guy and has great conversations. In fact, he challenged me this week like, `Hey Lloyd, can you get two good punt returns this week? That would really help us win.' I took the challenge and got two good punt returns. He's a great guy that you can talk to about anything. When we do interact, it's good conversation."

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