Narduzzi: 'Another tough Monday'

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Pat Narduzzi held his weekly press conference Monday, and here's video and a full rundown of what he said.

NARDUZZI: Another tough Monday. Another tough Sunday. We had a tough Saturday down in Atlanta, as you guys know. Played a good football team down there, well-coached, have a lot of respect for Paul Johnson and what he does as a program, their schemes and what they do. Good football coach. He's been doing it a long time. That's the first time they've gotten us in three years, so chalk one up for them. Nice job, and we'll keep going back to the drawing board on everything we did there.

But moving on to the next one, obviously we've got a Rice football team coming in here that's a 1-3 team like we are coming off a tough loss to FIU and they've beaten UTEP, lost to Stanford and one other, Houston, I guess, good Houston team that's athletic, so they've had a tough schedule, as well.

Coach Bailiff is a great football coach. I don't know him personally, but I've heard a lot of great things. Everybody that's ever worked for him loves him. We're looking forward to having them come up here and rebounding.

With that, I'll open it up for questions.

Ben said after the game that you told him he's still the guy, still going to be starting. Is everyone on the same page there? Is that what you expressed to him?
NARDUZZI: You know what, not really. To be honest with you, I saw him coming in right as I was walking out. I think he was the next one up (in the postgame press conference), I just said, hey, go in there with confidence; you're still our guy. He is still one of our guys; we've got two of them we like. And I thought Max did some great things when he was in there, too, and I thought Ben did some nice things. When you look at the opening drive Ben took down the field, if you do that three or four or five times, I'd feel pretty good. When we have eight three-and-outs, I don't feel very good. We get a turnover at the 34-yard line, we gain one yard and three downs, kick a 50-yarder and miss it, it doesn't feel real good, so there's some things that need to be better.

It was our worst performance rushing the ball, and I've talked about making decisions in the pass game and decisions in the run game. They're both big things, and obviously Ben can make plays with his feet and he scrambles around and does a lot of things, but he's still got a lot of room for improvement, as does Max. We're still searching. It'll be a work in progress this week, and we'll see what happens.

But that was kind of an after-the-game feeling good about the first drive, and I wanted to make sure he went in with confidence with you guys so you guys didn't get after him. But when you watch the tape, there's a lot of things that we have to work on.

You mentioned it was a tough day running the ball. Is that a byproduct of the fact that people can just bring eight guys to the line?
NARDUZZI: Yeah, it might be. We've got to get it deep, and people are playing us a little bit different, at least on Jester's side, and we don't help ourselves with some of the techniques and fundamentals we use at the receiver position, so it's got to clean up.

Is it still a case of Ben kind of staring down receivers at times?
NARDUZZI: There were some times. What did you see? There were some times. You see that one tipped ball early, guy fades right into it because he looks over there, and that's probably a completion if you keep your eyes where it needs to be. So there's little things, polish, and things that you certainly can work on to get better at, but you've got to do it every day and you've got to go out in the game and prove that you learned something.

And that's probably the most disappointing thing is just watching the improvement week to week is not as much as you'd like to see, and I know it's not game 1 to game 2, it's game 3 to 4 or 2 to 3, and you just want to see more improvement out of a younger team.

Do you challenge Jester at all? You talked about technique a little bit. He has seemed to have some troubles?
NARDUZZI: Jester challenges himself. I don't know if he needs me in his head. Receivers can be like kickers, too, you know, and everybody can be like kickers. Coaches can be like kickers, reporters can be like kickers. Some people got thin skin and thick skin. Jester is hard on himself. He cares, and just seeing some different things, it's probably frustrated him and he needs to get out of that and play loose and go, and we'll address that again this week.

Still a wide-open competition between Ben and Max this week?
NARDUZZI: I believe so, yeah. I mean, we're going to talk as a staff here. We're going to talk as a staff this afternoon, just kind of figure out where we are. I think it's also based on what you're seeing, what are they doing defensively, what's our game plan, and I think it comes down to a game plan as far as who they are defensively as we break them down and what's our best match-up against what they do.

Speaking of the game plan, other than the early touchdown with Qadree (Ollison), it didn't seem like Ben was looking downfield that much. Was that more him or was it more what Shawn Watson is telling him to look for?
: Well, I think he's supposed to go through his progressions and key what he's supposed to key, and sometimes you look there and sometimes you don't, and that's maybe a little bit of the problem, too. I'll leave it at that.

Paul Johnson made some comments after the game about your technique on defense, some things you guys do. I don't know if you heard about it --
: If we did, we didn't do it very good. On the dive, I'll guarantee you that. Some things we did?
He kind of alluded to the fact that you guys might play, was it dirty -- he said dangerous.
: I said dangerous on the radio show.

He said your defensive linemen --
: Hey, we're locked into Rice. Just look at the tape. We're focused on Rice. That's water under the bridge. Appreciate you letting me know that.

Henry Miller to linebacker?
: Yeah, Henry Miller moving to linebacker is something that we made last week, and we're slowly transitioning to that spot, and again, you say why. It's just try to move guys around to where we think they can best help this football team, and I think that guy can be a great outside linebacker. I think he can be the future Star (position), as big as strong as he is. We just need to coach him up, and one of the big reasons is that with the return of some guys, whether it's Therran coming back and Damar coming back, it was just like he was caught in a logjam back there mentally of being a guy that was going to be seriously considered to get on the field, and I was like, he's too good a player, we've got to move him up, which is kind of my evolution, Coach Conklin's evolution of kind of how we like to move and get speed on the field. That's what happened to Seun, he was a safety that would never play for us on the hash, and he's playing some pretty productive football for us at that Star position. It's a hybrid DB/linebacker position versus all the spread stuff we see, and he does a nice job.

Keeping with the linebackers, I'm wondering why we didn't see more of Chase Pine
: Chase Pine came in for a play. You didn't see him?

You said you didn't have anyone else to put in there.
: Jerry (DiPaola of the Tribune-Review), tell him why I'm not talking about Chase Pine. (Smiles)

(Injury) So that's why?
NARDUZZI: But I think he's going to be okay anyway.

Is it the ‘I’ word?
NARDUZZI: It's the ‘I’ word. He got dinged up a little bit, and it is what it is. He played, I think, 11 plays on special teams, but he was the guy. He was the guy that got all the reps at that position, and then we had to move to the third guy, which was not good.

Which O-lineman did you like better: Bookser as a right guard or Bookser as a right tackle?
NARDUZZI: I like Bookser when he's on the field. As a matter of fact, we're sending him over to the School of Medicine to find out if we can clone Bookser. Bookser is playing well and he was productive at guard and tackle. I liked the combination with whoever is next to him is playing really good. That's a combination I like. Whoever that other guy is going to be the key, and that's what we're looking for, get some consistency at that other spot.

You talked about one of the things you like about your job is coaching coaches. I'm curious when you've got one side of the ball that's particularly been struggling that's been a few weeks now for the offense, do you go with Shawn?
NARDUZZI: I do, and maybe I'm messing them all up in there. I give my thoughts on what I see, try to look at their self-scout, things that a defensive guy could help them out with. I don't go in there and try to mess with schemes. But the main thing is I look and say, hey, how's the back of line, have you done anything out of this, those type of suggestions, without -- there's nothing worse than someone coming in that doesn't know what they're talking about on that side. Now, I can talk fundamentals and I can talk technique and what looks like a play action pass and what looks like pass, not play action, and I can talk about run fundamentals and playing with leverage and knocking someone off the ball, and those are things I'll focus more on. Their plays are their plays. How do we make the plays better, which is the fundamentals. That's coaching. That's making sure your individual periods, your team takeoff periods match what we're doing out there, and obviously sometimes you guys are out there for the little team takeoff we have where we're throwing screens, for example. You guys are out there for that period usually when we're throwing some screens, but we're throwing screens on air, and it's just to get those guys air, but in the game we haven't executed our screens very well, so I said, hey, if we're going to run some screens we're going to do it against real people this week. We'll go exchange, so those are coaching the coaches. Like hey, guys, they're struggling with having guys in front of them instead of - it seems a simple concept but not good enough, so we've got to do something to fix that. So it's really what you practice every day, so those are little things that - there's more than that, but little things you try to look for as a coach.

Along the same lines are you going to try to get more creative with the offensive play calling this week?
NARDUZZI: Yeah, I mean, you can do that if you'd like to. Is ‘more’ better, is the question. I'd like to see him get the stuff - we've got a pretty lengthy playbook, and every week you pick stuff that you like, but it comes down to execution, so the more stuff you throw in - it's like playing flag football: if you've got 10 things on your wristband and you're bad at all of them, it's not very good, so more is not always better. It's quality of what you have in. And right now we're trying to master the quality of knowing who to block, so you may even see the game planning go slimmer so we can get good at what we're doing.

That's how I'd like to do it.

How did you like the Whitehead-Hamlin combination?
NARDUZZI: We didn't put them out there together - you're talking about because they were on the same side together? You mean the safety - you mean like a corner-safety? They were in the game together, but it wasn't like we tried to put them together. But I like when No. 9 is out there, I can tell you that. Damar had a good game. One missed tackle, which he's a young guy, and it was an easier tackle on the quarterback when he spun on and had a heck of a move by TaQuon, but Damar is getting better every week, and he's aggressive, he's tough. I don't know if you noticed his block on the punt return for a touchdown, but he's physical, too. I mean, for a guy that has not played a lot of football here, he's a football player, and I like what I see out of him and what I saw in Whitehead Saturday.

The other guy who was blocking on the punt return, and was on a couple special teams, was Thomas MacVittie.
NARDUZZI: How about that? Thomas is a guy that we've been working in - as a matter of fact I think you guys mentioned it in camp a long time ago. I don't know why I remember what you guys say about being a personal protector on the punt team. He's just such a good athlete. He's athletic. He can do a lot of different things. So we moved him into special teams, and he's liking it. He sits in special teams meetings with a smile on his face, and he's taking that as a role to get on the field and make an impact, and it was great to have a lot of those guys -- one of the other key blocks was Pinnock's block at the very end where it was a physical block. It was not an easy block. But he laid someone out. I don't know what number he was, or maybe he was a freshman, too, but he had a great block to spring the final part of that run.

And is that an indication that MacVittie might move somewhere at some point in time?
NARDUZZI: No, I don't think so. He's still a baby, and not at all.

How valuable is George Aston to what you guys do offensively?
NARDUZZI: Yeah, he's extremely valuable. I gave you a little bit of hint last week, I guess, and said he was probable, and he's more than probable this week. There's not a guy - I love this football team. Win or lose, you love these guys you coach every day, and they grow on you. But George is a not only good football player, but he's an intense, brings it every day, and you should have seen the sweat he was in pregame. ‘Coach, I'm ready. You're the last guy that has to okay me to go.’ And I'm like - because he looked okay last week but not great, but he's gotten better every day. He got better sitting in a hotel room on Friday night. He's a difference maker for us, not only as a football player but emotionally in the huddle. I think he'll add some intensity that maybe we're lacking. And you need those guys in the huddle. And he's a guy that's going to make a difference for sure.

Broadening out a little bit, you look at some of the results on Saturday, NC State goes to Tallahassee and wins, BC makes Clemson work for it on the road --
NARDUZZI: Syracuse takes LSU to the wire.

When you look at the league, does it maybe speak to - I know it's early, but that this thing could be more wide open than normal? One loss isn’t the end --
NARDUZZI: Well, I think that's always the case. One (ACC) loss, I'm not worried about one loss. I'm worried about one win each week. We didn't help ourselves Saturday with execution and whatever. But it's -- we're just focused on the next game to get to two and three and then head into the ACC again. But not worried about one loss or two losses. I think our guys know it could be -- Coastal champion could have two losses. You just don't know what's going to be; it's too early. One game into the ACC, if you think all the hopes are shot, then you haven't been around college football long enough to know there's a lot of good teams and anything can happen any given weekend.

Does that catch your eye when you see NC State --
NARDUZZI: Catches my eye how good the ACC is, period. You talk about from top to bottom, it's a darned good conference. You know, I think it's the best in the country, and you keep watching some of these other teams play, and you watch State go down to Tallahassee and do that, it opens up your eyes. You watch Syracuse go down to LSU, maybe more impressive what he's done up there, Dino has done with that football team and taking LSU to the wire, as well.

Any of the other results Saturday --
NARDUZZI: Yeah, I've got to look. I've got to find out what's going on because I've got to vote for that coaches' poll.

How did Weaver do?
NARDUZZI: Weaver did well. Weaver had a great week of practice. Weaver was better equipped, I guess, for the option. Just a different type of game. And Weaver keeps -- as far as I'm concerned, Weaver is a starter as well as Allen Edwards. Allen Edwards just wasn't as good with the option and the little things that you had to do to get your hands on the tackle and some of those things. Weaver did a nice job and played really good.

Are Dintino and Morrissey in a battle again?
NARDUZZI: They are. I think they've battled every week to be honest with you, but just some things that we did in there that wasn't good enough. You know, competition makes everybody better, and Dintino is a good football player, too, so we've just got to play who practices better, who's doing the little things right.

What did you see as a response from the team over the last week? Was it decisive?
NARDUZZI: Not even close to decisive.

Did you see a response?
NARDUZZI: I did. Our kids were locked in, and I told them that on Thursday and Friday, even our Saturday meetings. They were just a little -- it's a little different attitude to them, and we talk a lot about attitude. I thought you could look at special teams wise, I thought we played a darned good game, played good enough to win. Not just - if you go back and look at those punt returns, we're one block away from scoring another two. I thought our special teams played well overall. I guess you could yell at Winslow for kicking them out of the end zone just because he's booming them, so we've got to practice now his - 60 yards away from the end zone you can't just hit it like you did because you're now cranking the ball better than you ever have, so we've got to do a better job as coaches of getting him in that range in practice when we practice punt and making sure he doesn't do that because he's now got that leg, and his operation is so perfect right now. So I was happy with special teams.

Defensively I think, like I say, anytime there's a loss you look at the coaches. They did a nice job. They did some different things on the dive. I think someone asked me about the toss play early, right, someone like last Thursday or Friday, whatever day we talked, said about the toss play. We crushed the toss, but that's what they do. They do a great job coaching. Like I said, Paul Johnson does a great job, and we took the toss away, but then they did some different things on the dive. So next year we'll try to take what they did and then he'll have something else that he'll pull out of his bag of tricks. Again, we made some adjustments in the second half to get it and we missed a couple tackles here and there and were getting worn out to be honest with you. We were on the field way too long, and that's what's going to happen, but when you look at the execution of it, there was some good stuff. Defense flew around, played with great effort and played tough all the way to the end. I mean, our guys never quit, not a guy on the football team. We had Ox, our equipment guy, said he had never seen two broken facemasks on linebackers. We had two smooshed facemasks. It was a physical game, and there was a lot of hitting going. Our kids played hard, played with a lot of passion, and that's what you like.

What do you see when you watch video of you in the run game?
NARDUZZI: Execution, missing blocks, not staying in our lane on zone plays, maybe going the wrong way. When I say that should be handed off here, not handed off there, some of those little things that you guys would not see because you don't know, you're just watching the same game. Ran that way. But there's some numbers issues that you run into if you don't go the right way, and those are some of the things we've got to correct, and then we've got to knock some people off the ball. Those are what I see. And I see tailbacks not taking good paths, too. There's a lot of things. It's not one guy, it's 11 guys all the time, and that's a fact.

With a team coming in like Rice that's not as big, strong, fast --
NARDUZZI: They're bigger and faster than you want them to be as you think they are to be honest with you.

Might you try and get more guys involved this week than you have in the past?
NARDUZZI: Yeah, we tried to do that against Youngstown. We wanted to do that against Youngstown. That's always nice to say. This is not a 1-AA team coming in. This is a well-coached, hungry football team that I see. They play with passion, too. They've got high motors on both sides of the ball, I think, and we're not looking to play more guys. We're looking to play the guys that are executing properly in practice, play those guys, hope they go out on the field and execute and practice and we do a great job as coaches getting them in position to make plays and play the guys that help us win the football game. That's all I'm worried about is a win. That's all we can be.

I'm not worried about who gets in the game because they'll get their opportunities on special teams if they're a backup and they execute on that team. Not worried about who plays and how many play. I'm worried about the quality of how we play.

The old adage is if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have any. I'm sort of curious, would you like to find an identity at some point offensively?
NARDUZZI: We wanted to find an identity back in camp when we announced that. You know, you don't want to go through the two-quarterback system. It's kind of like we did my first year with Chad and Nathan until it kind of washed out. But we tried not to do that, but we're still to the same point right now, who's that guy going to be, and that's just kind of the situation we're in right now, unfortunately.

Were you disappointed with Johnson comment about the four fumbles?
NARDUZZI: I didn't read it. I don't read the newspaper. Was it in USA Today on the front page?

I believe it was.
NARDUZZI: With other comments? No, I didn't see it. I don't look.