COACH PETRINO: “Watching the video yesterday, the defensive video is bad. As a staff, we have to do a better job of putting our players in position to make plays. As players, we have to execute the call, make sure we trust our teammates to do their job and I do my job. And then, everybody needs to run full-speed to the ball and we need to tackle better. We were out of position a number of times, probably our worst performance by our safeties that we’ve had all year. Those guys have done a good job for us most of the year. It’s really disappointing—something that I didn’t anticipate would happen in that game, and certainly, we’ve got to have a good week of practice and work hard at it.
Special teams-wise, I thought we did some really good things. (Redshirt sophomore punt returner) Rodjay (Burns) continues to give us a big boost with his punt returns. His effort and his ability to break tackles on that return, that was a really, really good return. We did a good job holding some guys up at the line of scrimmage that helped us. But, he had to beat two guys off the bat and break a tackle, and then, he just finished the run very physical. We also blocked a punt. Unfortunately, it went across the line of scrimmage, but it was a great effort. (Freshman linebacker) Yasir (Abdullah) continues to do a good job on special teams for us and show how, eventually, he is going to be a good football player for us. And then, (freshman running back) Hassan (Hall) had a really nice kickoff return. But, our other kickoff returns hurt us a couple times on our field position. I think we started once on the 11 and then got a penalty and started once inside the 10. The kickoff returns were something I thought we need to better at. It hurt us a lot. Our kickoff cover team did a good job going against a really good guy and a really good scheme. We got it where we were getting them inside the 20 and they decided to fair catch, and the guys that are playing on that team are giving us great effort. Rodjay made a great tackle on that, too. Some young guys are doing a great job. (Freshman running back) Trenell Troutman had a really good game on kickoff cover, which is good to see.
Offensively, I feel like we’ve made some improvements. We did a better job of running the football. We did a better job blocking the front to run the football, and our receivers got in good positions. Hassan and (redshirt junior running back) Trey (Smith), I thought, did a good job of breaking tackles and running with the ball. (Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jawon) Puma (Pass) delivered the ball, made good decisions. He’s doing a better job of seeing defenses. He has to understand where the pressure comes a couple plays. There’s a couple balls that look really poorly thrown, really airing-it-high balls, but a couple of those were he got pushed right into his face. So, we have to be more firm on the front, and our tackles have to not give up so much room, so he gets pushed right into his face. But, I did feel like he competed hard and did some really good things. We’re just not consistent enough to go score every time we have the ball, and that’s something—when you get in a game where you’re not able to stop them offensively, you’ve got to be able to match every series and we just aren’t consistent enough in being able to do that. And then, the one that really hurt us was the fumble return for a touchdown. Trying to make a big play and it looked like we had it there. You’ve got to take your hat off to their safety. He came through two blocks and made a great tackle. That really hurt, that really hurt the score and being able to get back in it and where we needed to be.
We play a really good football team this Saturday. We put the video on on Clemson. They’re as good of a defense as there is out there. Defensive front, linebackers are big and physical and fast. Lot of the same guys we’ve played against for the last couple of years, so we do know them well. And then, in the secondary, they’ve got good corners and they’re safeties that can both play the run and play man coverage, so that’s always a good challenge for you. Then, offensively, their quarterback is doing a really nice job for them. They’ve had some games where they’ve relied on the run and their offensive line was blocking the front. Their running backs are fast. And then, last week, they came out and threw the ball. He can really zip it. He can spin the ball. He’s got a really good wrist and can get the ball down the field to his targets, so it’s a great challenge for us. We’ve just got to get back on the practice field and work to get better.”
What’s Trey’s status? Is he okay?
“He has kind of a dinged-up shoulder that he’s been fighting over the entire year. It’s an old injury that flares up on him. He should be good by Saturday.”
Are you making the same mistakes or are they different mistakes? What’s happening with the defense?
“Like I said, sometimes we’re not putting them in good enough positions. So, we’ve got to do a better job as a staff doing that. And then, we’ve got to do our job first. Sometimes, you don’t do your job and you don’t trust that your teammates going to do his job, so you come out of what your responsibility is, and then, it makes it worse. It opens up the hole where you’re supposed to be, and that happened a number of times. Then, our safeties really have to understand that the run-pass, and when it’s run, fire and get downhill to their proper spot and make the tackle.”
I think the opening line was 37 points this weekend. I know you don’t pay attention to that stuff, but do you recall feeling like—ever as a coach, you were in a position as tough as this week against Clemson on the road?
“I mean they’re a good football team. They’ve been a good football team since we’ve been in the conference with them. But, I don’t know anything about any lines, but I know when you put the video on and you watch them play, it’s a great challenge.”
What message can you give your team to give them the belief that they can win on Saturday?
“Well, what you have to do is go out and practice hard. Do everything you can to get in the game and try to get it into the fourth quarter. That’s what you have to be able to do is try to get it into the fourth quarter. There have been games in the past that teams have went in there and beat them, so you have to rely on the fact that we’re going to just give our best effort and play as hard as we possibly can.”
Bobby, as you’ve watched film throughout the season, are you able to, I’m assuming, but are you able to pinpoint some of the reasons as to how this resulted in a 2-6 season with some of the losses that have been as large as they have?
“I mean, every game is a little bit different. We are very young. There was no question about that, and very inexperienced on defense. I think offensively it took us a little longer to get started than I thought it would. We just haven’t been able to match people when they’ve scored, and we haven’t been able to outscore them. The Boston College game, I felt like our defense played good for three quarters, and offensively, we struggled in that game, and physically, got beat up on the front. So, it’s kind of been something that each week has been a little bit different. That’s kind of what happens when you’re not in a good football team. Right now, we’re not a good football team.”
Are you confident that you’re the one that can fix those issues?
“Yeah, I believe in myself. I believe in what I’ve been able to do as a coach. We’ll grow, and we’ll get better.”
At this point in the season, again with the defense, that seems to be the biggest problem right now. You’ve played eight games. What can you do from here?
“You try to get them in better position, just like I talked about. As a coaching staff, we’ve got to get our guys in better position, get them to work together, understand exactly what they’re supposed to do. Tackle better and run full speed to the ball.”
Each week, your message has been “Got to get back on the practice field, got to get to work, got to get things fixed.” But, do you have a different message for the players as far as being able to deal with being stuck in a five-game losing streak at all?
“That’s what you do, is you go on the practice field and work to get better. The biggest message that you have for your team is that you have to be able to stay together and stay positive and not let this affect you. Not let defeat affect you. And understand that you have to overcome obstacles in life. You have to overcome setbacks, and that there’s no quick fixes. There’s no magic wand that you can put out there. There’s no one in that locker room that wants to be 2-6, I can tell you that. Unfortunately, we’re not a good enough football team right now that we are where we thought we would be and what we want to do.”
Can you clarify when you found out about the allegation against (sophomore tight end) Kemari (Averett) last week?
“I think it was coming off the practice field when I came over and said, ‘Hey Jake, how you doing?’ And then, you said, ‘Hey, can I talk to you?’ And I said, ‘Today’s not my day.’ And then, after that, I asked (Louisville football SID) Rocco (Gasparro), ‘What was that all about?’ And then, he told me. So, I wasn’t doing a no comment. Remember, I’m the one that came over and said, ‘Hey Jake, how are you doing there, buddy?’ And then, I heard later that you said I refused to comment on it. I didn’t even know what you were talking about. I was actually just being friendly because you’re usually not at that area when I leave the leave the practice field. So, that’s the first time I knew about it.”
Would you have wanted to know about it sooner?
“I mean, yeah, I think we all would’ve wanted to know about it sooner. There’s no question. One of the things that I truly believe is that we run a disciplined program, that we can keep our players accountable for what they’re supposed to do on the field, in the classroom, off the field. Our record speaks for itself. We certainly don’t want anything like that to ever go on, ever happen. But when it does, we’re going to do the right thing. There’s no question that that’s what we’ve always done.”
With him, I know you suspended him after the first, after he was arrested. With him, I think he’s been kicked off campus, have you thought about just making it official and kicking him off the team or what’s going on there?
“There are certain things that, as a football coach, that you don’t get to do just what you want to do. You have to go through the chain of command. Even like that night, I had people calling me and saying, ‘Hey, this isn’t right. You’re not saying anything. People are taking shots at you.’ Well, I was told I could not say anything. I was told I could not comment on it. So, I just had to be coachable and not comment on it. That’s just how it is. That’s the way it works. That’s just the chain of command. I have bosses and they say, ‘Hey, you can’t say anything,’ then, I can’t say anything. They have their own reasons why. But you just say, ‘Yes, sir.’
By whom were you told not to comment?
“We don’t need to get into that.”
Bobby, you’ve talked several times about not having really gone through a season like this before as a coach. Are there people, other coaches, that you lean on that you talk to in times like this?
“A lot of times you don’t talk to anybody. I have not been very good when we’ve lost games about talking and calling people. I used to talk to my dad a lot about it. There no question about that and I miss that. Certainly, that’s something that’s no longer there. There’s not a lot of people you reach out to when you’re getting beat.”
What do you look for in practice among players to show that they’re still bought in?
“Attitude and effort, how they go out and work. Are they still trying to get better in the individual drills? Are they still putting the effort in when we do group and team drills? I feel like these guys have. I think it showed offensively certainly in the last four weeks, and the ability for Puma to overcome a setback, get back on the field and feel now like he’s starting to execute and do some things that he felt like he could do all along. When you see guys stepping up like Hassan, and (senior wide receiver) Jaylen Smith probably had his best game of the season. He got off to a really slow start. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to practice for a really long time, and he didn’t start like he wanted to. The good thing about Jaylen was he really worked hard at practice. It was killing him that he wasn’t getting the performance and the production that he’s used to getting. It was good to see (junior wide receiver) Seth (Dawkins) come back. Seth has been injured and not out on the field much, so he came back. I think he had five catches for us. (Freshman wide receiver) Tutu (Atwell) keeps getting better, and to see his production. You work hard on individuals, and are you improving as an individual? And then, you’ve got to do it with your position – the linebacker group, the O-line group. How do we get better as a group? Then, your side of the ball. I really do believe that our players understand it’s a team game, and that we do win and lose as a team. Like I said after the game though, you have to face it when one side of the three phases doesn’t hold up. So, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Going back to an earlier question, you said you don’t talk to people.
“I talk to people. I just don’t go calling and saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got any advice for me?’ I don’t do that. I might look at the phone and say, ‘Nah, I don’t really feel like talking to you today.’ I do that sometimes, but I don’t just not talk to people. I know there’s a lot of answers out there, and there should be. That’s how this profession is. You understand that. I used to always feel good about it that you get to go out there and make the play call and knowing that everyone else in the stands had a better play that you should call. That’s how it works. That’s the name of the game. You have to be able to believe in yourself, believe in what you do, handle the criticism, understand there’s criticism. But we’ve done a lot of great things here too. We’ve done a lot of great things in our career. We’ve got three conference championships in three different conferences, if you guys recognize that we were 7-1 two years ago and co-champions with Clemson. We believe in what we do, we’re just not where we want to be this year.”
Did you have any fear or indication at all back in August when you watched this team get ready for the season that this kind of season could happen?
“I think what I did is, I really felt like, ‘Hey, the defense is really starting to get better because we’re making this more competitive in practice.’ In spring ball, I had some fears about the offense is going up and down the field on this defense, and they’re young and inexperienced, we’re making a lot of mistakes. As we got into camp I thought, ‘Well this defense has really improved. Maybe it wasn’t that the defense improved, but we just weren’t executing the way we needed to on offense.”
You mentioned that you have confidence that the players are still bought into the program and the coaches. Is it a better gauge in the individuals in practice, or is it a better gauge in the games and watching the film to see if the guys are fully bought in and competing at a high level throughout the game?
“It’s certainly both. There’s no question about that. It’s also in all athletics, private victories always succeed public victories. You have to be able to do things in practice and be successful in the one-on-one drill and do it there before you actually go out and do it in the game. But, certainly, you’ve got to gauge both of them, there’s no question about that. If you go out in practice and you don’t have the focus and the effort and the concentration that you need, then you’re never going to get it done in the game.”
Have you seen any signs of that being the case?
“No, this team has done a good job of working hard and working to get better. Like I said, I think that’s why you’ve seen the offense improve and get better. You’ve seen our special teams – particularly our punt return and our punt team and kick off cover team. I’m not happy with where we’ve been on our kick-off return. We’ve got to execute better and get better blocks because we have a really special returner. We have to block better for him.”
Social media’s changed things so much in the last 10 years. Do you talk to your guys about staying off of that? How do you keep the noise out of the locker room?
“We bring people in to talk to them. It’s something that do every preseason. You bring somebody in. You always talk to them about criticism and how to handle it. It is part of society now. I can walk into the video room, we have a lot of student workers, we have our video workers and everybody else. There can be 10 people in that room, and not one of them is looking at each other or talking to each other. They’re all staring at their phone. It is what it is. I would agree with (Oklahoma State head coach) Mike Gundy. I heard what Mike Gundy did and I said, ‘Yeah, there we go.’”
What did he say?
“I don’t know, you’ll have to find out.”
If you were an administration with a tough decision to make, viewing what’s going on in the program this year. Would you retain you for another year?
“Yeah, I would. I think what you see is what our record has been, what we’ve done here, what we’ve built here, where we’ve been, and understand that we had a bad year.”
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