- Staff Reporter
RUSTON, La. (Sept. 24, 2019) – Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz spoke with the media Tuesday in advance of Tech’s Conference USA road matchup with the Rice Owls set for Saturday at 6 p.m.
On last week’s game vs. FIU:
“Let me start by saying that it was a great environment last Friday night. I’ve got to thank all the students and the people that showed up to watch us play. I know it wasn’t a typical game with it being played Friday night instead of Saturday, but I thought the crowd was energetic and into it the entire game. You could see our players playing up to the emotion of the crowd – especially with the student body. It was an enthusiastic crowd and it was great to see them there.
Last week we emphasized two things with the team. We talked about opening conference play and we talked about playing at home. We’ve really talked about the importance of playing at home and where we used to be at as a team a few years ago here at The Joe. We didn’t like the way we played in the home opener, so those were the two things we tried to hammer home with them leading up and I thought they really responded. I thought we played a complete 60-minute football game in response. The team was upbeat, energetic and communicated well the entire game. It was a great venue for a great football game.
It was a very competitive game with two teams that were fighting their tails off. I give FIU an awful lot of credit. I thought (QB James) Morgan played on heck of a football game and lived up to his billing. Great players play well in big games, and he proved why he’s a great player and one of the best in this league.
On the same side, I was really proud with what we were able to do offensively. We had the one turnover that deflected off the guy’s foot, but other than that we had a turnover free game. We rushed for 275 yards and threw for 290 – just a lot of production all around offensively. I thought there were an awful lot of positive things. We were really good on third down, won the turnover battle and played hard. A lot of credit has to go to the offensive line for the way they opened up holes and came off the ball. They really accepted the challenge of the stymied running game up to this point.
Justin Henderson played a physical game, ran hard and protected the ball, which is where it all starts. Jaqwis Dancy and J’Mar (Smith) each ran for about 70 yards. But that all started with the offensive line.
Defensively, some guys are improving and getting better. I thought Willie Baker played his best game of the year. Milton Williams stepped up and played really well. Connor Taylor played an excellent football game and was rally active and all over the field. L’Jarius Sneed and Darryl Lewis both played well. We just need to keep getting better, and that has been our battle cry all year. I thought we probably played our best game to date when you talk about effort, playing smart football and executing our game plan.
I know people are in a panic about our pass defense. This was a tough game for us because we came in with two game plans for two very different quarterbacks. This is a defense that has played together for four games under this scheme. We thought we would see both QBs and equal amount of time, but instead we got all Morgan and about five plays of Wiggins. We had to make some adjustments and add some things at halftime that I really thought helped us get stops late. It was going back and forth there until the third quarter where we started to get some timely stops and build the lead out that way.
I still think our secondary is one of our biggest strengths on this team. We just have to continue to build on the little things.
On special teams, Bailey Hale really stepped up for us. After he started the season going 0-for-2 against Texas, he’s bounced back and scored 19 points on Friday, setting a team record for a kicker in a single game. He was the conference Special Teams Player of the Week and just did a great job for us.
That was probably our most complete game as a team this season. It’s great to be 1-0 in the conference, but that game is behind us now.”
On facing Rice:
“Everyone wants to look at Rice and judge the book by its cover. People look at them and see they’re 0-4 and assume they aren’t very good, but this is a team that’s played one of the toughest schedules to this point of the season out of anyone in the country. They held Baylor scoreless in the second half last week. I’ve really been impressed with this team on the field. I think Mike Bloomgren has done a great job with this team. They are playing hard and physical and doing some good things. They lost a couple one-score games to Army and Baylor. I think they’re on the cusp of breaking into something as a staff over there with what they’re putting together. I told our guys that it would be a huge mistake to underestimate this team. I think Rice plays with a great passion, huge motor and a lot of energy as a football team.
For us, our challenge is to outperform what we did last week. We’ve got to keep getting better and avoid going backwards. In conference games, you can’t take anybody for granted or else it’ll come back to bite you.
We know this is a good football team. They’re built to stop the run. The big play has hurt them early on, and that’s why I think they had success in the second half against Baylor was because they limited those big plays. I think it’s a very dangerous football team.”
On the players taking responsibility for mistakes:
“We talked about this after the Grambling game when we came into the locker room and it was the quietest locker room I’ve ever been associated with. It felt like a loss. That showed how much this football team wants to win and win while playing a complete game. They were disappointed because they know it wasn’t up to the level of execution we want to be at. Our staff has done an incredible job with getting our team to buy into the motto and worry about us. There were definitely some positives after FIU, but we’re still a long way from where we want to be. We had one strong performance in the run game. I’m proud of them, but everybody knows we’ve got to get better. We have to play some really tough teams still ahead of us and need to find a way to put our best foot forward every week. I love that about this team – that we can win on Saturday but watch the film on Sunday with a determination of a loss.”
On using the FIU game to build momentum:
“I certainly hope we do. I don’t know that we need to turn the corner as much as we need to improve in some of the little things to get better. Offensively, we’ve had some productive outputs but we need to take that hard deep dive look at what we’re doing in the red zone. If we stay healthy and continue to stay humble then I think we have a chance to be a pretty good offensive football team.”
Article sourced from provided press release.