"We are looking forward to getting back to Kenan Stadium and playing in front of our home crowd. I know Ruffin McNeill will bring in a very hungry and talented East Carolina team, so we know that we have our work cut out for us."
I was wondering, what do you feel like are the good characteristics of a great offensive coordinator, and when did you kind of start noticing those in Blake?
"Well, I think it's a guy that first of all has a great presence with a unit, and I think that's very important, a guy that can handle an entire unit and can motivate an entire unit. Then the philosophy has to fit. That's very important. And then I think a lot of the personality of the guy is very critical and how he relates with players.
"And then as far as a play caller, I mean, that's always -- I think play calling is overrated a lot of times. I think most of the work is done throughout the week in the game plan and put together a good game plan, and then from there you get a feel about a person.
"Blake and I have been together for a long time, and I have complete confidence in him."
In terms of your offensive emphasis in practice this week, where are you hoping the offense to improve this week?
"Well, shoot, I hope we improve in every area because I don't think there's any area on the offensive side of the ball where I feel like we've arrived. I mean, if you look at -- go back and look at that second half, I mean, we were inept in every situation we were put in offensively. We've just got to play harder. We have got to execute. We can't shoot ourselves in the foot. And every guy on that field, all 11, have to give a little bit more on each and every snap."
Did you privately fear before the season that with Gio gone this might not be as productive an offense as it was last year?
"No, I didn't. I really expected our offense to be more productive this year just going into our second year, and I still believe that. I still believe we're going to be, and I'm going to expect us to be."
How well do you know Lincoln Riley over at East Carolina? I guess you guys are all cut from the same Texas cloth there, so to speak.
"Yeah, I knew Lincoln when he was out at Texas Tech and did a nice job out there, and then actually visited with him a little bit when I was at Southern Miss, and then he joined up with Ruffin. So I've known Lincoln. I know he's a young coach that started out there in Mike Leach's system and really did a nice job for them, and then he's brought it now to East Carolina and is doing a heck of a job over there."
Did you guys interview him for a job at Southern Miss at one point?
"Yeah, actually did, sure did. Brought him in there at one point and thought about hiring him. Actually did."
Was it a position job?
"Yeah, it was just a position."
Just talk about playing against East Carolina this year. On film, on TV, it seems like they have a high-powered offense. What do you have to do on Saturday?
"Well, we're going to have to play really well on defense. Obviously, it starts with getting pressure on the quarterback. We're going to have to get some pressure on the quarterback. But you've really got to stop the run. You've got to stop the run and make them one divisional, and then you've got to get pressure on the quarterback, and then after that it's tackling in the open field. I mean, they're going to get the ball out in space, and you're going to be in one-on-one situations a lot of times. We have got to get a lot of guys running to the football, playing hard, and if we do that, we've got a chance."
Talk about this rivalry between East Carolina and North Carolina. It's a non-conference game but you guys are literally 15 minutes away from each other.
"Yeah, when you play an in-state team, you've got guys on your team that played with guys on their team or played against guys on their team in high school, and so they have relationships. Anytime you have that scenario, it's going to be a little bit more intense. You're going to have guys that have history with each other.
"Then you've got the fans. You've got the fans on the eastern side of the state that are obviously the East Carolina fans, and they're sprinkled around, so there's a lot of bragging rights that come into play."
I know Eric Ebron caught 40 passes last year and played very well, but I guess I'm mesmerized by the one-handed TD catch on Saturday. Can you talk about how he's playing this year? Has he upped his game a little bit or are you using him better?
"I think, first of all, the guy is really talented. I mean, he really is. He can make plays like that, and unfortunately there was a couple more that he had later in the game that he could have made those plays, and probably a little bit of that is we played him too much because of the situation. We needed to get him rested a little bit better so he could have played better towards the end of the game.
"But he is so talented. I mean, he can block at the point of attack, so he's physical enough to do that, but he runs really good routes, and he's got great hands, he really does. He has a knack for making that catch that seems to be really hard, and when he's making those catches, he's usually getting the tar knocked out of him, and he does a great job of concentrating on the ball and not worrying about his body. He's definitely a threat in every situation that we're in."
Obviously last year Gio carried most of the load, was your big-play guy, the running back. Can you talk about your running back situation now and what you're doing to make up for his absence?
"Yeah, well, it really hasn't changed. The philosophy has been whoever is the hot guy, that's the guy that's going to go. Unfortunately we just haven't got anybody that's gotten hot. Now, part of that is a combination of the offensive line, blocking on the perimeter, backs seeing the reads, seeing the cuts, all those things. So we have our combination of problems there that we've got to get solved, and then somebody needs to start making those plays so they can stay out on the field longer. If not, we're looking for somebody to do it, and it's hard to do that when you start playing multiple guys, you know."