Coach Larry Coker's Weekly Press Conference Comments

Oct. 1, 2002

Coach Larry Coker’s Weekly Press Conference Comments

Opening remarks

“Good morning, it’s good to be back. The open weeks are nice, but you miss having the opportunity to play football every week. It came at great time for us. We had a great ‘Toilet Bowl’ scrimmage last Thursday (September 26). Carl Walker was our most valuable player. The trophy was awesome. One of the best trophies that we’ve ever put together. Carl intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown on one of the last plays of the game to seal the fate for the offense. But, it was a great week for us, a great fundamental week.”

On the upcoming game against the University of Connecticut.

“They’re a much-improved football team. (Head coach) Randy Edsall’s really got it going in the right direction. I hate to be redundant, but they’re good at what they do. Their basketball … everything they do, they do first class. Their basketball, men’s and women’s, their new stadium, they’re a program that’s really on the upswing. Probably the thing that they have now is they’re bigger, they’re faster, and they’re stronger. The people who I’ve talked to that have played them for three years now can see a huge difference in the Connecticut program. They’re led by a quarterback, he’s a sophomore … he was recruited by several Big 10 schools. He’s had several opportunities. He’s a very good player. They also have something that they haven’t had and that’s a running game. That’s been a hug difference for them. Their running back is averaging, I think, 111 yards per game. That’s been a huge difference for them. Their team averaged only a little over 70 yards a game last year running the ball. Defensively, they’re really among some of the nation’s leaders. I have them down as 17th in pass defense, 28th in yards allowed, 36th in the country in points allowed … That’s pretty impressive. Again, who have they played? Well, Georgia Tech, Boston College … so their schedule hasn’t been that bad there.”

On UConn’s impressive performance against Boston College

“We just played Boston College and I think that they’ll use (their impressive performance against Boston College) as a confidence builder for their football team. Even with the overtime loss (to Ball State), I don’t think that they feel that they played well from the standpoint that they missed two field goals. But they did have two 90-plus yard drives to put the game into overtime to give themselves a chance to win the game in overtime. So we’ll definitely use the Boston College game as well as the Georgia Tech game.”

On UConn quarterback Dan Orlovsky

“Well it’s huge for the program, because, again, he’s a quality player and he’s a young player. Again, they continue to build and for him to come in and have the opportunity that he has, it speaks volumes for Connecticut football. Really, that’s what you have to have to get your program ignited and generated. You have to win over some of your local recruits. You (the reporters present) might know some more about this than I do. But I’ve heard that when this program really got good was when the Alonzo Highsmiths and those types of players said, ‘You know, let’s stay right here. Let’s be good right here in South Florida. Let’s go to the University of Miami and be good.’ So, that what transpired.”

On guarding against an upset

“There are upsets every week and when you take away the edge, the mental focus, then you really open yourselves up to making mistakes and allowing teams to have a better opportunity to beat you than (they should). Again, Boston College went to the wire with Connecticut and that was in Chestnut Hill. So I think those are things that we really have to guard against. These are the games that really concern you because you have to be focused. I don’t care how good you are or how talented you are. And we work really hard as coaches to make sure that we’re getting better and we’re getting ready to play Connecticut.”

On Miami’s defense

“I like where we are. Boston College controlled the ball on us too much and we allowed that to happen. But they didn’t score a touchdown and obviously that was huge. We forced turnovers. We had no turnovers and Boston College had three. That was very, very big in the game. I really like where we are defensively.”

On Miami’s secondary

“I can really see our young secondary getting better and better, the Greg Threats and the Glenn Sharpes. And also with Maurice Sikes and Sean Taylor and those players are starting to come on. Alfonso Marshall had his best game since he’s been here against Boston College, so that’s very encouraging.”

On improving the turnover margin

“I hope (that we’re improving our ability to produce turnovers). It just doesn’t happen by accident. We would work on it everyday. (That is) protecting the football and creating turnovers. You have to force the issue. I think we’re putting more focus on it and I think they’re understanding it. We’re not on pace for what we were a year ago and for some obvious reasons. But, as you can see, we’re going to get there. Instead of getting three, if we can get two, that’s still a huge plus for us. We’ve got to make sure that we maintain and protect the ball on offense and now that’ll balance out somewhat defensively what we get done.”

The defense revisited

“I didn’t know how we’d rank, but I knew we could put pressure on the quarterback and that’s huge. Not everybody sees how we play and it’s kind of like the old scenario when you played the wishbone offense. You only saw it one time and you can’t get ready for it. Our scheme in our secondary is kind of complex. You have to have talent. You have to have athletes in order to do that, but it’s hard to get open. You’ll see in the video sometime that the guy (the quarterback) may have time, but there’s maybe nobody to throw the football to. So, I think it’s a combination of those things. First of all, being able to have the pass rush is the paramount issue, but to think that we’d be third in the country pass defense, I wouldn’t have guessed that, certainly this early.”

On leadership in the secondary

“I’d have to say (that) Maurice Sikes (has taken on a leadership role in the secondary), just because he talks more. Sean Taylor is certainly a good player and Antrel (Rolle) has played well, but I think Maurice Sikes (has been the leader). He’s a little bit older and this is his moment in the sun. This is his opportunity. He’s played behind Ed Reed and now this is his time – this is his season.”

On the run defense and the secondary

“If you can stop the run with seven people, that allows you a lot of flexibility. That’s been a key for us. For the most part we’ve been able to do that. But we mix it up. Sometimes, we will zone blitz and play zone and have the eighth guy in the front and then sometimes we’ll disguise it and we’ll have seven people stopping the run. Not many people at this level or the next level can stop the run with seven people and if we can do that then it gives us a tremendous advantage.”

On improvements in practice

“One thing that we always work on is tackling. That’s something that we’ll continue to work on. That’s huge. Offensively we stress so much ‘finish … finish, finish, finish, finish, finish.’ (We stress) finish with our blocks, with our runs. Against Boston College two years ago, we had basically no long runs and no long passes and that’s not the type of players we have, (although) you have to give Boston College credit. This year, we had nine long big plays in the game (against Boston College) and, obviously they were huge plays. Willis McGahee was involved in a lot of them. A lot of them were individual efforts that he made happen. But I think you’ll see that a lot of things were happening downfield with the receivers blocking and it really paid off as far as long runs and big plays are concerned.”

On the relationship between turnovers and big plays

“They’re very much connected. I think the one turnover and the defense scores a touchdown, for one. And usually it ends up is in field position. You research it out and if you have to 80 or 90 yards for a touchdown as opposed to you getting the ball on their 37-yard line your chances of scoring go up enormously with the short field than they do with the long field. I heard a commentary about Norv Turner and how good he is with the short field, but that he’s not quite as effective with the long field, but that’s everybody. That’s why kickoff coverage is so important because we had four kickoffs inside the 20-yard line that we covered and, now that their offense has 80-plus yards to go, chances are really pretty good in our favor. Even though they (Boston College) drove the ball quite a bit and had time of possession, they didn’t get touchdowns. They ended up kicking a field goal and then we had an opportunity to score a touchdown and take the lead.”

On whether or not Miami is attempting to make a statement to future BIG EAST rival Connecticut

“The knights of the Round Table are out there trying to turn dragons loose in your castle and so you have to protect that. Nebraska used to do the best job in the world. They used to be so much better than everybody and it seemed like it, especially when I was at Oklahoma State and they were a lot better than us. They would, it almost seemed like, they would beat you for large scores so that you kind of remembered things. So you’d go and play them the next year and you’d be (hanging your head) saying, ‘They beat us 84-2 last year.’ I remember we had a great offensive team at Oklahoma State one year that I was there, we averaged almost 50 points a game and the score in Lincoln was 28-0 at the end of the first quarter and I looked over at the defensive coordinator’s pad, I was the offensive coordinator at the time, and he had on his pad 28-times-4-equals … well, if you figure out the math, it didn’t look very good for the Cowboys at that time. That’s what their philosophy was: ‘We’re going to control our castle, we’re going to make a big statement.’ We’d like to be able to do that, but I think that there’s so much parity in college football (now) that sometimes it’s hard to do that. The thing that we try to do is work on us and see how good that we can be and play as well as we can play.”

On Miami’s other sports rivalries with UConn

“I haven’t called (women’s basketball coach) Ferne (Labati) and asked for any advice on how to beat Connecticut. I’m not holding back on that, I need to call her and just talk to her about Connecticut. We really have a tremendous amount of respect for the Connecticut program and I really mean it when I say that Randy Edsall has done a tremendous job there.”

On D.J. Williams’ play in second year at the linebacker position

“He’s (playing) much better. He’s much more comfortable at the position. As a high-school linebacker, so many times it’s ‘Just go run and make a play.’ But I think in college football you have to play your assignments, you have to understand your reads, your progressions, and I think that he understands the defense a lot better. It’s a totally different defensive scheme than I think he’s been around. I think he’s a much, much better football player than he was a year ago and he’ll continue to get better.”

On whether or not D.J. Williams was considering leaving the University of Miami at any point

“Well, there were rumors. I don’t know how really close he was. It’s kind of funny. I go to these Hall of Fame banquets every year and probably every one of them will say, ‘I really appreciate this, it’s the greatest honor of my life. I started to leave my second year, but my Mom or coach so-and-so …’ Almost every one of them considered leaving, maybe transferring. (No matter) how sincere he was, obviously we’re glad he’s still with us. Butch (Davis) was here (as head coach) then and I’m sure he had some conversations with him. But when I got the job (as head coach) we moved him back to defense and I feel he’s very happy where he is. We’re certainly happy that he’s here.”

On backup linebacker Leon Williams

“(He’s doing) very well. Leon’s doing a great job on special teams. He’s backing up Jonathan Vilma at the middle linebacker position. Leon is only a redshirt freshman so he’s got a lot of football ahead of him, but he’s playing very well, as is Roger McIntosh, the other young linebacker who had an opportunity to play against Boston College.”

On the state of college football (especially among traditional powers such as Nebraska)

“A lot of it is parity. A lot of it is academics. A lot of it is, obviously, recruiting. You just work at recruiting. You try to evaluate … in professional football, they come here dozens of times. They’re going to test, measure, weigh, measure, retest, see every film, interview, (subject the athlete to a) psychologist, they’re going to have everything known to man and they’re going to mess up with guys that they sign. In college football … I never saw Kenny Dorsey throw one pass (live) when we recruited him. I saw video and I saw him practice basketball. I never saw him throw. Do you think an (National Football League) guy would come in and sign a quarterback (without having) seen him throw one pass? That’s unbelievable. I guess what I’m saying is, we all make mistakes, you just can’t make too many of them. You can’t make too many of them, but I think that’s a little part of it. I’m not saying that they (traditional powers) made any mistakes. Such as … do you think people would have loved to have Dan Morgan and Santana Moss? These were terrific players that were recruited by our program and maybe they weren’t the highest of the highly recruited athletes, but you can’t take everybody. We’d love to have 50 scholarships now, because we’re a hot program now and a lot of people want to come.”

On evaluating recruits

“The films are very important. But we’ll test out character and make sure he’s a quality person. The other thing is (whether or not) he’s academically sound. Because you may have two guys who are somewhat similar. One’s qualified to get into school from the information that we have and the other isn’t, that makes it pretty simple there. You’re going to take the higher academic qualifier. Now (regarding) things that stand out on film. There are two things that I like to see. One of the things that I like to see for defensive backs, I like to see track times. Well, does he run track? If so, what does he run? If he doesn’t run track, why doesn’t he? Most skilled athletes in high school are track athletes. Just look at our guys here, that are on our track team at the University. On the video, I like to see people make plays. I don’t care how fast you are, but you need to see somebody do something on film, whether they make a lot of tackles, interceptions, or returns. You’ll see some of these guys and you only need to see about five plays and you’ll say ‘Wow, this guy’s pretty special.’ They’re some that may have all of the credentials, but you watch 100 plays and well ‘Where are they. They need to show up.’

On Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey

“I think he does come alive when pressure’s on. Say, when I recruited Ken, just watching him in basketball, you could see he’s a playmaker, he makes things happen, he’s got a lot of presence on the floor. I think that’s what he has on the football field and I think that you don’t see from him is (the way that) he gets us into the right play at the right time. You’re in a position to run a bad play, but he changes that play and gets you into a good pass play that allows you to have a big play. That’s why running and passing is so important to us, because if you’re so stacked to stop the run then we’ve got to be able for Ken to get us into a pass. Then we have to execute it. I don’t know, he just seem to have that knack for being able to win the big game and make plays happen when they need to play.”

On whether or not Ken Dorsey should be considered the best player on Miami’s team

“Try (being successful) without him. We’ve been in practice without him before. And the way that I like to characterize it is this: try putting me in at quarterback, well that’s a bit of an overstatement (laughs). But I could do the running game at the University of Miami. I could hand it off to Willis (McGahee). I could toss it to Willis (McGahee). But now, who do you take out of the game. Now what have you done with Andre Johnson or Roscoe Parrish or Kellen Winslow and these guys. You can see in the Rose Bowl, if you take Ken Dorsey out of the mix, now you really have a math problem trying to run the football. All the blitzes change. All these things are predicated on what we can do when they try to stop the run. If I were playing us, I wouldn’t let number 2 run down the field. I would put eight guys on him, and I’d see if they could protect for Dorsey and see if those guys could catch it. But, we think we can and that’s because of Ken Dorsey. We got into a little bit of that last year when (observers) said, ‘Well, Bryant McKinnie’s the best player on the field.’ You ask any of nine coaches who they would have to have. Although obviously Bryant’s a great player, no doubt you would have to have number 11 (Ken Dorsey).”

On Dorsey’s leadership

“We hadn’t even dried off from the Rose Bowl and he’s out here in seven on sevens getting better for this year. And, also, the presence he has in the weight room. He’s different from most quarterbacks. Most quarterbacks don’t like to do things like that. They kind of like to come around the complex, watch a little video, and go to South Beach (laughs). But he’s a blue-collar kind of guy. He’s going to be in the weight room. He’s going to be in the video room. And they know that. And they’ve got a lot of confidence in him that he’s going to deliver what we need. Do we always hit on all cylinders? No. He’s like any quarterback. I was talking to Steve Walsh yesterday and … in the quarterback position, you’re great one day and you’re a goat the next. (Walsh said) ‘Look at Trent Green, he invented quarterback play. You look at him and you think he’s phenomenal. Where’s this guy been? Trent Green’s been around a long time, but there have been other days when Trent’s been a goat.’ That was Steve’s point. That’s the nature of the position. You get so tired of hearing (oscillating opinions on Miami Dolphins quarterback) Jay (Fiedler). It’s an up-and-down position and that goes with the position. Jay Fiedler knows that. Trent Green knows that. I think Dorsey knows that, but believe me, he’s a special player.”

On Dorsey’s vocal leadership

“Last year, he probably didn’t need to do that. But he’s become so knowledgeable about our offense that he knows where people need to be and what we need to be doing and I think that’s been a huge plus for him. In college football, with the rules like they are, where there’re no quarterback schools, no mini-camps, you better have somebody like that, that’s going to be there and basically run the offense for you and be out there like a coach. Kenny has developed into that type of player. Now, obviously, during the season, we’re there every day, we’re involved in it, but you can’t get it all done in the few weeks that you have before you play Florida and then Connecticut.”