November 7, 2013

Strong: We're focused on us

On the multiple bye weeks:
"It's so weird, because what you'd like is you play about eight games and then you get a bye week and then the season's over, but it's almost you go four, you get a bye week, you go play three or four more,
then get a bye week, now you go play three, then you get another week, then you play one. When you're playing well, you like to just get a schedule where you can just go play the games."

On if DeVante Parker is 100 percent:
"The week off has helped him. I think that he still needs some treatment here these next few days to get him to Friday, but I expect him to be around 90-95 percent on Friday."

On what Coach Strong likes about the first eight games and what needs improvement:
"We're sitting here 7-1, wishing we hadn't lost the one, but it's over with now. You just like the way the team has developed and became a football team.

"You look at us offensively and you still have one of the most outstanding players in Teddy Bridgewater. I like the way the running backs have a really came on. Dominique Brown, the last two weeks, has really been running the ball well. You look at that running back position with Dominique (Brown), Senorise (Perry), and (Michael) Dyer, you could've had a situation where it could have been a problem, but with those guys, they have enough respect for one another and being a teammate, it never became an issue.

"Then, the offensive line, each week it was from (Abraham) Garcia to (Ryan) Mack, from (Kamran) Joyer to (Chris) Acosta, and just trying to get the right five in there, because you were pretty solid with Jake (Smith), (John) Miller, and (Jamon) Brown on the outside, but we're just trying to get that right side and get it really solidified.

"Being a surprise for us, we took Lamar Atkins and moved him from linebacker to full back and he's done a really good job for us. One time, Teddy (Bridgewater) threw the ball to him and ran right into coverage
and a guy hit him right in the stomach, but L.A's (Lamar Atkins) done a really good job catching the football and blocking for us. The wide receiver position, you lose DeVante (Parker), but then guys were
able to step up from (Damian) Copeland to Michaelee (Harris) to Eli (Rogers) making big catches, to Robert Clark, to Kai De La Cruz, but yeah you're really solid at the wide receiver. With Gerald Christian
and (Ryan) Hubbell at tight end position has really given us something. So, the offense has been able to move the ball, done a very good job of moving the football and like I said, the quarterback position, he's as good as anyone in the country.

"Defensively, it's just that one game you look at when you had a chance to go make a stop and we didn't make that stop, but I've been very pleased at the way we've played. You look at our side with Marcus (Smith) and (Lorenzo) Mauldin, we have 15 sacks between those two guys. I think two seasons ago, we had 15 sacks for the whole year, and we're sitting here with four games left to play. Brandon Dunn has really been a good surprise for us being in the middle. You always talk about you want to be good down the middle of your defense with Brandon (Dunn) and Preston Brown playing well. Then, Calvin Pryor having an all-star year. I've been very pleased with the way we've performed on defense.

"Special teams, we can get a lot better, even with (John) Wallace kicking it as well as he's kicked, it's just the cover teams. We're not getting much return yards. We get one return against FIU returning the kickoff, but you'd like to play better on special teams; it's all about field position. It's all about changing the field position and that's what you would like to see accomplished, which we need to go get better at. So, you look at this team, we want to continue to go get better and we have four games left and still have a lot of work to do."

On what Coach Strong has to do to keep the team motivated during bye weeks:
"What I try to do different during the off week is cut down practice. I like to go right after practice and go right to work. What helps it is when you go competition ones on ones and twos on twos, then guys get going. If I go out there and we've got some scout working and guys standing around, then you kind of get upset as a coach, because you're not getting anything accomplished. When I go good on good, then we cut it down, then we get to work and I tell them, 'Guys, we will be out here as long as you guys want us to be out if you're not working. If you're going to go to work and get some good work in, then we're in and we're out.'"

On how Connecticut doesn't look good on paper:
"No, they don't and it's not so much the record. I don't think the record really shows how good they can be. You look at (Lyle) McCombs, a little running back that gave us fits last year and then you look on the defense side of the ball. (Yawin) Smallwood is back there on defensive end and we couldn't block him at all. They're going to look good on defense. They've got three guys up front and they can control the line of scrimmage, but any time there's coaching change and then there's a new coach to take over, then guys lose their confidence and things happen and it's not good. I told our players let's not look at their record, let's worry about ourselves. We need to go up there and get started well and get going good."

On how much he reminds them about what happened a year ago:
"They know that now cause I have talked about it enough. They understand just how important games are and we just are not in the position to go waste an opportunity; you only get so many. Let's make sure we handle our business and take care of our business."

On how happy he is about how his team responded to the loss:
"Well, I still tell my team, even though they lost that game, that they are still the best in college football. You have to believe that guys and we had a stumble there but it is all about now who are we and can we overcome that obstacle. That is really going to show our true strength of us. For us to bounce back against South Florida and play that well was good. There is a lot of football left and we had a meeting yesterday and I said, 'Remember November.' Everyone remembers November. There are some key games in this month, so let's make sure we don't stub our toe and continue to go out there and work the right way."

On if he does anything to help the Houston coaches since they play UCF:
"No, because we will play them the following week. What is going to happen is going to happen. So no, I don't say anything to the Houston coaches."

On how much their season can change Saturday night:
"You are counting on someone else to help you. I don't know about change because you are sitting there hoping someone does something for you when we ourselves messed it up. I tell my guys we are in the position we are in because of what we did, not because of what anyone else did. Someone else beat us but it is our fault."

On if it is a helpless feeling not controlling your own destiny:
"No, because I still say there is a lot of football left. It is week by week, everyone thought we were going to run the table. Three weeks ago, everyone would have felt like that. You have to play and see what
happens. It is important we take care of our business. We can't worry about someone else. You are looking down the road to someone else and you get slapped in the face."

On if Marcus Smith has surprised Coach Strong this season:
"I'll tell you what we've done with Marcus (Smith) to help him with his number is we've kind of floated him. What I mean by 'float' is I've allowed him to stand up and get down into three-point [stance] and he's so athletic that he can drop into coverage or he can go put his hand in the ground and go rush the quarterback. The sacks that he's had has been fun, because what he does is beat people one-on-one."

"It's not like he's just ran through an open gap and tackle the quarterback. He's been able to get down on the ground and beat linemen one-on-one and we bring him a lot even when we're three down and he's
standing up. He's a guy that can come off the edge. It's good for him. He's developed and he has a lot of confidence now and he really believes that he's a really good player."

On if he think the top teams have separated themselves in college football:
"You look at it and the teams at the top have been there the whole year. You look at one and two; there has not been much change. Florida State is a team that recently has moved up. The teams that are there, they are playing well, they are undefeated. When you talk about those teams, they already have tradition built. The expectations are always there. The standard has been set for those programs and that is why they are where they are right now."

On if Coach Strong has been surprised at how well the defense has been:
"I've been surprised, but I think back a year ago and, defensively, we didn't play and gave up some really key stops and I think those guys, hearing that during the summer, wanted to go prove a point. When you have up front (Roy) Philon being a senior, (Brandon) Dunn being a senior, and Marcus Smith, we've got three seniors up front. Then we have (Lorenzo) Mauldin being a two-year starter, and then at your backup position with (George) Durant and Preston (Brown) being a senior. You look at the back end with Hakeem Smith, we have some seniors on defense, so you would think that we would have stepped up and played really good on defense, not nor we've played as well as we've played, but it's been fun to watch and it's a group of guys that I don't think they care who gets the credit. It's all about just playing and playing as a team."

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