PRESS CONFERENCE VIDEO: Narduzzi Syracuse Preview 

PAT NARDUZZI: Good to be with you again today. Obviously, it was a much more pleasant Sunday here with our kids. A lot of energy in the room last night compared to a lot of sad faces and disappointment here in the last couple weeks that we faced.

I couldn’t be happier for our kids. I mean, that’s kind of why you coach this game is to be around our guys and to enjoy wins together. There was a lot of good things on tape you watched. There’s a lot of little things you’ve got to fix. Fumbled on the one yard line with some communication errors on offense, just blocking lines of fourth and one, same thing. Just really communication more than we couldn’t block them up front. Little errors like that; you’ll see a guy run through with a front call, whatever may have been done there.

And defensively, pretty solid performance overall except we gave up a 70-yard pass on a coverage where, you know, safety has got his eyes in the backfield trying to look and say, I wonder if he’s going to throw it there. And by the time you get your eyes back around, he’s got too much time and he didn’t get there fast enough.

But the next challenge is Syracuse. Obviously a good football team that came in here a year ago and put some points up on us and we put some points up on them. Defensively, I think they are a lot better football team than they were a year ago. I think they are somewhere, 49th or 50th in the country in total defense. They are playing well…Coach Ward has got them going on defense.

They have got some junior college guys in. They are playing faster, playing a lot of man coverage, packing the box. So they are going to try to force us to try to throw it over their heads or loosen up, one or the other; and if Jester and Max play like they did last weekend, that could be fun to watch.

And then offensively, again, they spread it out. Coach Babers is a very creative guy, the old Baylor coach, and you see all those things. They did some stuff that we had never seen before a year ago, with pulling a tackle out and they had never seen it before, and now they are doing it all the time. They must like it.

So we’ll be obviously better prepared for some of those, just quick-now routes, where they are getting a blocker on you, taking a tackle and putting him on the corner. Some interesting, interesting stuff. But I’m sure they will have some new creative stuff for us.

Tempo will be an issue that our defense has got to cope with, and I think with our depth on defense right now (knocking on wood) and we’ve been pretty darn healthy. You know, Phillipie Motley is probable for this weekend, so we’re going to find out how he looks this week. He did a lot of things last week, so you add another corner in the mix, it just gives you some guys that we can rotate. We were a little short last year, which, you know, was part of the problem, and then plays on the field were another part of the problem.

Look forward to that challenge again, going up there and playing in the dome.

Q. You had mentioned last year’s game — how much did you look back at that tape?
COACH NARDUZZI: You look at it a lot. We’ve looked at that thing probably 15 times in the last year. You look at it a lot. You look at, you know, they are going to come out and do some of the same things. They are going to do a lot of things different and you try to prepare for what they possibly could do. You are looking at all the games they have played this year. You have a five-game breakdown plus that, so it’s like a six-game breakdown that you are looking so say, who are they this year because everybody is a little different 2016, 2017, and then find out what kind of new wrinkles they want to do based on what they have seen us also have problems with.

Not only are you looking at what Syracuse is doing, but hey, what are your weaknesses; what are they seeing. They want to get matchups. Sure, they are going to try to go after our safeties, and I would, too.

So we have got to shore up what we are doing with those guys, how we are doing it. And you know, they can go after the corners. I hope they go after the corners because I feel good about who those guys are out there right now. I feel a lot better than we did last year at this game.

And then we’ve got to stop the run up front. They are 34th in the country, I think total offense, so they are very balanced at running it and throwing it.

So it’s not just throwing it around the park. They have got a lot of, you know, short stuff they will throw out there, and they are talented. They have got some players out there.

Q. In trying to attack the safety, they have this kid Philips who had 17 catches. Is that sort of what they try to do, get matchups?
COACH NARDUZZI: They are getting matchups. They put smaller guys inside and try to work your safeties, put their bigger guys on your corners. So some of the bigger receivers are out there. Ishmael is out there. So they will put their bigger guys outside and throw some jump balls and they will put their small guys in and try — it’s something to deal with, that’s for sure. It’s interesting stuff and they spread you out.

Q. You’ve seen what they do on tape — how ready are you —
COACH NARDUZZI: We’re not ready at all right now but give us a couple days and hopefully we will be.

Q. When you played Oklahoma State there was a lot of trying to get guys on the field, the right packages between snaps, obviously to go tempo. At what point does it become — you have to be wary as a coach of trying to do too much, too quickly; just saying, keep the 11 on from snap to snap and hope they don’t screw it up?
COACH NARDUZZI: If they sub, we’d like to sub, okay, so that’s the first thing is the referee will give you one of these (stretching arms out wide to the sides). You’ll see the umpire, there’s been times I’ve watched tape, and they are subbing and you can see the personnel changing. And you know, and again, coaches coach, players play, and officials got to officiate.

But if they sub and Jerry (points to beat reporter Jerry DiPaola) comes in the game, we are supposed to have time to say, okay, Jerry is in. He’s a bigger tight end, okay. He doesn’t run so well, okay. We can get someone else who doesn’t run so well in the game —

Q. Jerry’s got game speed —
COACH NARDUZZI: He’s a gamer. (Smiles) So we should be able to sub. But there’s times you’ll watch on tape where they are not standing over the ball, and that center judge should be staying over the ball — 11 best out there, if it’s three-and-out, that’s great. But if it gets in a longer drive, and that’s what they want to do is get a big play on you. And you’re going, oh, gosh, let’s sub them out, and then they are going to go even faster at that point.

Q. Schematically, how similar are they to Oklahoma State?
COACH NARDUZZI: They are very similar. I think to attack us, they are going to play three and four wide-outs. A year ago, empty was their favorite formation, so they are going to line up on empty and ding, ding, ding and just throw it around. And just remember, they did that all last year with their backup quarterback. Dungey was out and Dungey’s back now.

Q. They ran the ball pretty well against you guys last year.
COACH NARDUZZI: They started off throwing, it got us thinking all the stuff out there, and then, you know, then our linebackers started looking.

So our guys got to trust what they are doing and you know, trust it. But you see linebackers running in the box and then thinking, okay, it’s not a run, again, because they are just going to throw it over my head. So they start to run out towards the pass and then it is a run.

I mean, you’ll see Seun Idowu, who doesn’t normally do that, do that several times, and it’s like, you know — so they play that cat-and-mouse with you, throw it out there, and then run inside.

So no, we didn’t — that’s why I said, it’s a challenge and that’s why they have successfully, 34th best offense in the country right now based on the numbers; they have successfully ran it and thrown it on everybody they have played.

Q. Speaking of the run game, do you like the combination of Bookser at tackle? Does that give you the best chance to run the ball?
COACH NARDUZZI: Right now he does, I mean, based on, not only run the ball, but protect the quarterback, too. He did a good job of protecting Max last week and that’s critical.

Q. When it comes to the issue of running the ball, is it the same things you saw from the previous week, just running backs and all other guys, pretty much involved.
COACH NARDUZZI: You know, it’s a little bit of, you know, just not running the ball like we need to and not blocking them as good as we need to. Again they are packing the box up in there.

So again, whether you want to throw it or run it, I mean, I think they assume let’s pack the box and make this quarterback throw the ball. Well, guess what? He did. We hadn’t seen it thrown like that before. So you know, Max is — Max is back, and we’ve just got to keep him that way and we’ve got to be able to throw the ball this weekend, for sure.

Q. How much can a game like that help you in the future with Max– teams know now they have to play you honest in the passing game —
COACH NARDUZZI: Jester got his touches and threw the ball up there. Max has got confidence he can do it in the game, and I think Coach Watson and his staff got confidence, hey, we throw it up there, we’ve got a chance. You know, whatever it is.

There’s a lot of guys made plays out there from Aaron Matthews to Lopes. There was a lot of playmakers out there. It wasn’t like we were throwing it just to him. I think there was a lot of good things that loosens it up. You can die by one player or you can loosen up a little bit and let us run it a little bit, I guess.

Q. How much was it what you guys were doing versus who you were playing against? The level of competition will be a little bit higher, so evaluating tape off a game like that, how do you weigh that?
COACH NARDUZZI: Again there’s so much parity in college football now. You look at, you know, some people that are winning football games out there nowadays. It’s not like it used to be. There’s parity. There’s a lot of good football teams out there. Rice is a good football team. They have got guys that are good football players.

There will be a couple guys on that football team playing in the NFL. So you know, was the competition — you know what it was a year ago when we played Clemson, or Oklahoma State? No. But it doesn’t mean they can’t make plays, and you talk about this. Again it wasn’t like they won by seven, either. That was the other thing you look at it. It was a convincing win. It wasn’t a 28-0 half-time and then we stopped playing in the second half.

So we learned our lesson there, and it was a convincing win. I mean, I think we scored in every drive in the first half offensively, except for the one; we fumbled on the one.

Q. What I was trying to get at is more like: What did you see on film from an execution standpoint that you think is going to hold up over one week to the next, as opposed to is Jester a better athlete —
COACH NARDUZZI: We’ll find out. We’ll find out this week. But there was better execution. I think our kids stuck with the plan. Overall even in the run game when it didn’t go, the guys are hitting the right holes. And again, there was more execution in the passing game as far as doing the right thing. The week before, we could still be better blocking downfield with our wide-outs for sure.

But our receivers, their releases were better. There was just more — sometimes receivers get into that tendency of just I’m going to run a route and not run it the right depth. There was still a little bit of that going on, either the wrong landmark for a tight end or, you know, a bad release by a receiver. Releasing inside, okay, which brings the corners eyes inside which is not good. So all those details, which I saw get cleaned up a lot.

Now we have to have consistency, too. So one week doesn’t define you as a football team or an offense.

Q. Now that Max is back, do you think going back to him instead of turning away from him, and he does that, can sort of help his confidence?
COACH NARDUZZI: I think so. And again, I don’t think he lacked any confidence at all, anyway. I think he’s a very confident kid. I think most quarterbacks are confident, and so is Ben. Ben is ready to go too, now.

You guys asked me — Jerry asked the crazy question: You think you found your quarterback? For a week we did. And Max has got to continue to play well or Ben will jump back in there, and I trust Max will do that. I love what I saw.

To me I saw a different, more calm, composed guy that made quicker decisions, and that’s what we’ve got to keep him — he’s got to know how he got to where he is, what he did to get there and to again. Again, versus a good pass rush, too. Our offense did a great job. We gave up three sacks, and one was a tight end, one was a back, one was a lineman. But overall, we protected the quarterback for as much twists and movement they were giving us inside.

Q. Doesn’t one’s confidence get taken to another level when he sees the ball get caught —
COACH NARDUZZI: Find out this week. Confidence is a good thing for sure.

Q. With Max now back to being the starter, how much of a leash is on him, how much leeway — what does he need it do to retain that spot?
COACH NARDUZZI: He needs to keep doing what he’s doing. There’s no leash. Put you on a leash. There’s no leash. We’ll drag you around game time. But there’s no leash. I mean, we don’t put leashes on any of our guys. We want him to go out and play, play football the way it’s supposed to be played, and we’ve got a faith and trust in him that he can go out and do that.

Q. Are you expecting your offense to have to have the best game of the season going up against the Syracuse offense?
COACH NARDUZZI: You know, I never say, you know — I think our defense has got to play the best game of the season, too. I think we have to play great as a unit: Offense, defense, special teams. You can’t go in there and say: Hey, offense, you’d better score a lot of points because they are going to score a lot of points. That’s a poor attitude to go into a game with.

We have to play better in all three phases to win a football game. It’s a good team, and we’re still a young team, but there’s still plays to be made out there for everybody.

Q. How would you evaluate your defensive line and how they have played so far?
COACH NARDUZZI: You know there’s a lot of good things they are doing and there’s a lot of things that you want to see better, you know.

But again, we’ve got total different defensive line than we had a year ago. So there’s a bunch of young guys that are a work-in-progress right now, but I like what Coach Partridge is doing and it takes time.

Q. Any of those guys stand out the most? Seems like Weaver is the one that has made the biggest jump.
COACH NARDUZZI: Weaver has done some good things. Dewayne Hendrix, I tell you what, he can run and burst. He does some special things out on the field at times.

But inside Shane Roy has been really, really steady. He was the defensive unsung hero this week just because he does everything right inside and did a nice job.

Q. What do you think has led to the increase in turnovers, the forced turnovers?
COACH NARDUZZI: Them putting it on the ground and throwing it up to us I guess. They want to take shots — our guys are making plays on the ball. You look at Dane Jackson, that’s a beautiful — you talk about Jester Weah having confidence, and you go back to, you know, do they have confidence to throw it at number 11. Because they keep throwing at number 11 the last couple weeks and he’s made plays out there. You might complete one, but then you throw a pick and that’s a change-of-field position and a major factor where quarterback is going, maybe I shouldn’t do that.

You know, I think there’s a lot of factors that go into that but I’m happy with the way the corners are playing.

Q. There’s been a lot of talk this year about inexperience of defense. At what point, with game six coming up, does that not become a factor?
COACH NARDUZZI: I don’t think it ever becomes a factor. I think we’re going to be a heck of a much better football team in a year from now if we don’t lose much, and we’re going to have guys that have been through the fire.

You know, you wish they would learn weekly but it’s hard. It took you years to be a good writer. It didn’t happen: ‘Hey, I wrote a bad newspaper article today; I’m going to write a good one next week.’ I guarantee it; it takes time for things to gel and for them to really figure it out. You think they figure it out, but they go back to the same things. It’s just a time thing I think.

Q. But coaches have to have a lot of patience then.
COACH NARDUZZI: Better. Just like a dad. Better have a lot of patience.

Q. Are you a patient dad?
COACH NARDUZZI: I’m pretty patient. My wife will tell you no. But probably more patient at the office than I am at home.

Q. Damar Hamlin, has he been getting the most snaps?
COACH NARDUZZI: I would say it’s about even. Him and Bryce have been playing probably about even, guessing, without counting.

Q. Having already played Penn State — how prepared do you think the defense is to face another offense who does RPOs —
COACH NARDUZZI: Well, I mean, I think we are better prepared now but we’ll find out. I mean, that’s why we practice, and you know, we’re definitely going to see RPOs, okay.

I think our guys kind of looked at it, and again, I told you after the Oklahoma State game we went and watched that tape because it’s going to help us for the future. You know, not only were we watching Syracuse tape; we’re watching that Oklahoma State tape to say: What are they seeing, where is their matchups, what do we need to do to defend that better.

The only problem is, they only give you 11 guys to do it with, so we’d like to get 12, but they ain’t going to give them to us.

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