Baylor Head Football Coach Matt Rhule
Weekly Press Conference
Sept. 12, 2017
“First of all, thank you guys for coming, especially in the morning. As we finish practice and have our press conference, we appreciate you guys being here.
Obviously, I’ll start with the quarterback situation. I’m excited for Zach [Smith] to have an opportunity to go play. I’m proud of Anu [Solomon], and the way he went out and competed. Anu came in on Sunday and felt banged up and felt beat up. He had some symptoms, maybe concussion-like, so immediately our medical staff put him in the protocol, and I told Zach he would be the starter. I texted Zach Saturday night and told him he was going to play this week after the game regardless. I had to wait and see the film, and I never really got a chance to see the film before I had spoken with Anu who was waiting for you. So that way, just to give you that backstory, Zach will be the starter and Charlie will be the backup this week, and we’ll go from there.
Zach, if you go out there today, you’ll see he’s learned a lot from the chance to sit back there. He had a little intensity and fire in him in everything that he did, and I think he’s going to ignite his team in any small way that he can. I’m excited to go play a really good Duke team. Coach Cutcliffe, if I could have my son play for anybody it’d be Coach David Cutcliffe. He’s been there for 10 years and does it the right way. I love watching his teams. They went 4-8 last year, but you watch and they just keep getting better and better and better. A lot of those kids on that team I know from recruiting in the northeast. Victor Dimukeje is their freshman defensive end who is lights out. They’re obviously one of the best teams in the ACC now, and they look like a top 25 team, and it’ll be a tremendous opportunity for us to go on the road and play a great team like that.
Obviously, we’re all not happy about being 0-2, and there are a lot of things we have to correct and we’re working hard to correct them. I would say that there have been some bright spots and there are some people that are playing really good football. [Chris] Platt continues to get open down the field, we just weren’t able to hit him on a couple of those. I think [Denzel] Mims is emerging as a big-play threat. I thought [John] Lovett in his first start, we might’ve played him a bit too much, will continue to get better and better when Terence [Williams] gets back. On defense, I was really proud of the growth that they made from one week to the next. That was a tough, physical defense out there, and that was tough, physical defense in UTSA, and I thought our kids responded to the challenge and played a great 4th quarter and gave us a chance to win. While we’re unhappy with the result, we had the ball with a chance to win in the last two games. As I told our team, it’s all about us. It’s not about who we play or what it looks like, it’s all about the way that we play, and if we make one more play we win those football games. So that’s the mindset that I have and that’s the mindset our team has.
[David] Smoak asked me yesterday, I made a comment in the post-game press conference about “I won’t quit on you, don’t you quit on me.” Some people asked me if I thought they’d quit on me, and there’s not even a shred of that. Those kids are looking to us. Since the day I got here, those kids said “just promise us you’ll never quit on us.” That’s what they’re looking for. Those kids don’t want to feel like they’re on an island. They want to feel like they have a coaching staff that is with them. That’s the first thing they asked when I got here. “Are you going to have our back when things are hard?” And so, that’s what I meant by that comment, that I’ve got their back no matter what.
And I’m proud of these guys. And this is a team, in my opinion, that everybody should get behind. They’ve battled through adversity. They’re battling through adversity right now. They come to play. Guys get hurt, and other guys step in the game.
We’ve got freshmen, who aren’t just starting as true freshmen, but they’re starting at a position they’ve never played before. And those aren’t excuses, those are great stories to me. Rob Saulin has practiced all season at offensive line and he’s playing tight end in that game. Tristan Ebner has played receiver his whole life, and he’s playing tailback. So I’m proud to death of these guys. I’m proud of Taylor Young, and all those older guys. I’m proud of Davion Hall. They’re seniors, and it’s not going the way they want, but they’re just playing better and practicing better and getting better. So, there are so many bright spots in the dark time. Not having won a game is not fun for anybody, but as I said to our team, I won my last seven games at Temple, and I lost my first two at Baylor, and I’m the same coach. I enjoy every minute with these kids, and that’s what I see from them. They had a tremendous spirit at practice today. They’re just fun to be around, and they’ll continue to get better until we find some success.”
On the mood of the team:
“Yeah that’s what I just said, I think they’re outstanding. I think they’re not happy, and this isn’t Pop Warner. We’re not handing out popsicles. But I think the thing that they see is what I told them during the game. They are saying to themselves, “Why can’t we score? We’re used to scoring, why can’t we score?” And then you go back and watch the film and see that we had three penalties on the first drive. And then the second drive, you’re moving, and you throw an interception. And those things happen. And then the next drive, you get all the way down to the 20-yard line, and it’s a nothing-nothing ball game, and we get a holding penalty. It’s just a play here and a play there. It’s one thing when you’re getting blown out, and you say to yourselves that you’re ten plays away. But those two ball games were just a play here and a play there. We’re going to play some better teams, so we better get better quick, as we’re playing a better team this week. But I think they see the progress.
I think the defense felt the progress from week one to week two. I think the offense sensed that, you know when [Chris] Platt ran by his guy on the third play of the game and he lays out for that ball and we couldn’t quite put it on him, if he catches it that changes the game. Sometimes we think it’s these big things, but it’s these little things right in front of us. That, to me, is why they’re positive. And I think it’s also because we’re playing so many young kids. The seniors you worry about, right? Our seniors are great leaders. Mo Porter is out there fighting. Davion [Hall], I talked about him, Taylor Young. They’re out there fighting. Taion Sells is on the scout team right now and he’s fighting. I think that the young kids see that we’re getting better and to keep working. So I’ve been pleased. We had 20 guys up in my office watching Monday Night Football last night. This is a process, and so the kids are going through it with us.”
On what Zach Smith brings to the offense and his reasoning in making him the starter:
“I just say, at the end of the game in the last game, we had some opportunities to make big plays and we just didn’t connect on them. And that’s on a lot of people, that’s not just any one person. And I just was impressed that Zach threw his helmet on, when he’s out on the sideline with his headset and we see blood, and he goes out there and completes an 18-yard in cut in man-to-man coverage with people all around him. I said to myself “okay that’s hard to do.” When he was running out there I said “do you want to run or throw it?” and he just kinda laughed and ran out there and I said “oh that’s my kinda guy.” So I don’t think Anu [Solomon] could’ve continued to take, you know he’s getting hit in the pocket and we’re not doing a great job up front, and we got a little overwhelmed the last two games up front. And so I just hope that Zach will connect on a couple more balls that are there. That was really it. I hadn’t even seen the film yet, it was just my gut. I know that kid was ready to go when I put him in, and I put him in twice, and he’s been ready to go. Put him in a little bit more, and see what happens. And circumstances made it where he’s in full time now. So I told Charlie [Brewer], “you be ready to go now,” because everyone has to be ready.
On if challenges he’s faced have been expected:
“I’ll answer that two ways. Number one, I thought we would be a little bit further ahead than we are, even coming out of preseason camp. When you answer these questions, you don’t want it to come across and make it seem like you’re making excuses. I want to make it clear that I thought we’d be a little further ahead. I thought Taion [Sells] would be out there playing for us in the first game. I thought Grayland [Arnold] would be out there playing for us in the first game. I thought Jameson [Houston] would be out there playing for us in the first game. And I thought we’d play the first game, but I don’t think I realized at the start of it the stress and pressure that the kids are putting on themselves. I’m kind of upset about being 0-2, but these kids have lost eight of their last nine. So, that takes a toll on you. A lot of people are asking why Coach Rhule is so positive, but it’s because these kids need some positivity. They’re a good team and they’re good kids, but they just need some good things to happen to themselves and they’ve got to fight through this dark time. That, to me, is something I don’t know if I recognized going in, that they were going to put a lot of stress on themselves. That’s why I enjoyed the last game so much. We blocked a field goal, made those stops in the fourth quarter, and the defense was out there saying “let’s go!” and it felt like football.
That being said, when I took the job, people asked me what I thought about it, and my concern was the roster, and just the number of people. When I met with them, there were a bunch of guys graduating, and they said, “you could have 65 guys coming back, or you could have 40 guys coming back,” and those are epic numbers. Now, we were able to stabilize that, but we’ve got 31 kids that weren’t on the team last year that are on scholarship. 30. Something like that, because we’ve got [Jalen] Hurd and [Jake] Fruhmorgen redshirting this year. That’s a lot of kids. And so, my concern all along was if we were going to hold up on the O-Line. We walked out there the other day against UTSA and against Liberty, and we haven’t won the battle up front yet. But we’re getting better. And some of our older offensive linemen are stepping up. Those are the things I was concerned with. Injuries and depth, those things I was concerned with. And they’re kinda showing up right now. And that’s why I say that we’re not going to have roster issues long term, and we’re not going to have injuries and depth concerns long term. What I do need to do is make sure our kids understand to fight through this. That’s what they’re doing. They’re fighting.”
On how much the older guys need a win to get things going in the other direction:
“Yeah, I’m always hesitant to even say that, because I don’t want to make that too much of a distraction. That’s why, for me, this is such a great job. This is really a great job. Those kids are walking off the field and fans were cheering for them. And that’s what these kids need right now. They need positive. I told the players that if anyone asks what’s going on, they say it’s the coaches, and they stay positive. These guys keep going out and practicing, and they need a win. They need small successes, which turn into big successes, which turn into epic successes. Those are the victories we’re looking for right now. I would’ve liked to have won one of these first two ballgames, obviously, but I will say that the issues will still be there. This is making all these kids look at themselves and look at the issues and say “what do we need to do?” Like how do we give up an 18-play drive right before the half? All those third down calls. On that drive, we had a bunch of missed assignments. We had a bunch of guys just do their own thing. And on other drives, we didn’t. So I think when you lose, you have to self-evaluate, and I think, as coaches, I’m doing that. I know my staff is doing that and I know my players are doing that as well. I think winning would really help them, but they are making the most out of the lessons that they’re learning, which is why I think we’ll have a championship culture from it.”
On missed assignments improving from the Liberty game to the UTSA game:
“Significantly. Especially on the defense. The defense came in off that Liberty game and said ‘okay that’s not happening again.” That’s why I talk about Taylor Young and Davion [Hall]. Davion’s practiced with Phil Snow five times before that game. Five times. Henry Black hasn’t practiced all pre-season, so they get in there and were doing maybe some different things and making some mistakes. There’s a difference between mistakes and then not buying into the little things. I saw much better buy in on the little things, which resulted in better defense. Now we still have to correct some of the other. We still haven’t forced a turnover on defense. That has to happen. We’ve got to knock a ball loose or pick a ball off. That’s what those games come down to. Now that’s a really good team in UTSA, and I don’t want to take anything away from them, but I really believe that we pick a pass and take it back for a touchdown, we were going to get going on offense. It was going to be a big game. They’re all kind of around us. But I think you definitely see the defense, I don’t want to say bought in because the kids are all trying to do what we ask, but way more understanding the ramifications of not doing exactly what you’re supposed to do. It’s like ‘don’t touch the stove,’ but then you touch the stove and its hot and you burn your finger. You don’t touch the stove again. Now they’re saying, ‘I got it coach. That’s why we need to do this. That’s why we need to do that.’ I was pleased with our special teams play. The punt game was good. We blocked a field goal. A punt return, we got on the ball. We made two explosive plays in the kicking game that gave us a chance. Those are things that got a little bit better and showed some buy in from the players in terms of the details and how important that is.”
On putting together a good game in all three phases:
“We improved on defense. We played well enough to win on offense two weeks ago. We didn’t play well enough on defense. We played well enough to win on defense this week and not on offense. Now we have to put it all together. I always talk about being a team and feeding off each other, and I think as the defense played well, the offense got frustrated because they couldn’t get the ball in the end zone. Then I think it’s the same thing we did in week one. Why didn’t we do it? You say to yourself, ‘the play calling, we should be doing this or we should be doing that.’ That might all be very valid, but then you put the tape on and you say, ‘let’s just talk about the plays we did do, and let’s just talk about what we did do.’ You say to yourself, ‘wow, had we caught this ball.’ No one has thrown the ball over 40 yards more than we have the first two games. We’ve taken a ton of shots, and we’re doing it because we’re open. We’re running by people, so we just need to make a couple more plays. I think with Zach we’re going to play a little more to his strengths this week. Hopefully, we can be a little bit more on the same page as an offense.
Those probably come down to me. Those are my issues. It’s probably me making Jeff [Nixon] and them do some of the things they probably don’t want to do. It’s me being nervous about losing [Jordan] Feuerbacher during the week and now we have Ish [Wainright] playing tight end, who hasn’t really done it very much. Then the three freshman tailbacks, me not wanting to be too diverse where we miss something. This week I said, ‘do what you guys want to do, just make sure Ish knows what he’s doing.’ I’ve got to trust the freshman tailbacks that they’re going to go do what they need to do. I think that those struggles on offense last week really at the end of the day come back to me, and come back to me not letting Jeff and those guys do what they want to do. I said, ‘you guys go do it this week, and I’ll keep myself over here.”
On road games and ranked opponents coming up in schedule:
“Oh, I’m excited about it. I think this is what our kids need to be quite honest. I think they need to play a game that they’re not picked to win. Where’s the pressure right now? Go play. I see the weight of the world on them and I tell them, ‘go play. Let’s just go play and have fun.’ That doesn’t mean we’re not going to work. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to wear suits on the road. It doesn’t mean I didn’t want everyone in study hall at six o’clock on Sunday night. We’re going to do everything right. That’s what I mean by “process”, but go have fun and play. Go play against some of the best teams in the country. Duke is a great team. I watch them, and I say to myself, ‘that’s what football looks like.’ They are playing the game really well, so let’s go compete against them. I believe that competitors play their best when they play against other competitors. I’m not predicting results. I’m just saying if you want to be a great player, let’s go get on the road and play against a great team and let’s see what it is. I think it’ll bring out the best in Zach [Smith] and Charlie [Brewer]. It’ll bring out the best in [John] Lovett. Someday they’ll be the team that everyone is saying, ‘oh we have to go there and play there.’ I think this will all be fun.”
On the opportunity to take the team on the road:
“First of all, I love playing at home. The atmosphere, the crowd did everything they could last game to help us rally. The crowd was awesome in the fourth quarter, so I will say that. But to me as a coach, one of my favorite things in the world is getting on a plane, and at Temple it was I would get my cheesesteak and eat and fall asleep. Here they tell me the burrito is fantastic, so getting on the plane, getting your burrito, taking a nap, getting to the hotel, checking in, throwing your jogging suit on, and just getting around the guys, and being sequestered. We have spent a lot of time with our players here. To go get on the road and just kind of be us, that’s a favorite of mine in football. Those are my favorite 48 hours.”
On the progress that Clay Johnston has made:
“Thank you for asking that question. That’s a great question because it’s something I had to recognize myself. [Linebacker coach Mike] Siravo and I, sometimes we have maybe been a little too hard on Clay. We are all over him. You know what he’s done? He’s just gone like this, and I thought he played a magnificent game on Saturday. I mean 4th-and-2 and he makes the play. It wasn’t even that he just kind of reacted and made a play. He saw the formation. It was man coverage. He knew he was going to get picked. He got deeper than the nickel. He ran over the top and made a play. That’s a play seniors make. That’s a play pros make, and he’s making it as a sophomore. He just lets us coach him. His dad is a coach. He lets us coach him. He works hard every day. Coach [Phil] Snow and I come in on Sundays and I always ask after every game, ‘what do I need to do differently? What do we need to do?’ Phil brought him up, and he said, ‘you know what Matt? We just have to keep coaching.’ Look at what Clay did in two weeks. Just think what he’s going to do in six more weeks, twelve more weeks, next year. Clay’s a wonderful example, and I think there’s a lot more guys doing that. Like the D-line. Mike Johnson on the D-line and Ira Lewis on the D-line and Bravvion Roy. We were wreaking havoc up the middle in terms of the run game. Now they hurt us a little bit on the edges sometimes. We played way better on the D-line up front than we did the week before. You kind of see guys doing this, and Clay is a great example of it.”
On Tecklenburg and Wilson at Center:
“Ish [Wilson] is healthy now, so I think that’s a big part of it. His hand is out [of the cast], and he played better in the past two games. We’re just kind of not big enough up front right now. We’re playing with Ryan [Miller], who’s fighting right around 285-290 and [Sam Tecklenburg], so we just said let’s put a 315 pound guy in there in Ish, and let’s put Teck in there. Ryan’s still going to play and Teck’s still going to play. I just felt like Ish had tremendous energy on the sidelines going back and watching the film, and I think right now we need some senior leadership. I think Ish, when he’s not starting, he’s shown it. That’s really always kind of been my challenge to him. Be a great teammate, and he’s doing that, so he deserves a chance to go play. We’re going to have all those guys play, but I think just a little bit more size inside, because we’re getting a little bit overwhelmed sometimes late in the game.”
On wanting his son to play for Coach Cutcliffe and not recruiting him to Baylor:
“I think my son’s already committed. Wherever I tell him he’s going, he’s going. No, it was fun because in the game I had my son on the sideline this Saturday. It was the first time at a home game that I’ve done that. He cheered until the end, and that’s always great perspective. I remember my first year at Temple. We lost then we lost then we lost. It was like our third or fourth game, and we went to Idaho. I tell this story sometimes. We’re walking off the field, and I’m getting ready to get in the locker room and I’m getting ready to rip this team. I’m playing there like I’m playing now. What are we playing right now? Eighteen first-time starters, 15 freshmen. I’m doing the same thing at Temple. I’m getting ready to go in there and rip the team, Coach Paterno style. All of a sudden, I look up and my son is walking in, and he’s dejected, like this. Then Sharif Finch, who’s going to be playing for the Cowboys or someone next year, is walking in, the same dejected look on his face. It hit me. They don’t need that right now. They didn’t need me to go in there, the Temple team, and rip them. I just went in there and said, ‘we’ll get better. We’ll get better.’ Then you look forward three or four years, and you’re winning these huge games and going to championships. It just hit me on Saturday night, my son doesn’t need any pressure. My son is going to school like, ‘are we going to win this week?’ My son feels the pressure. Our players feel the pressure. What they need is, they just need to go play. So, we’re just going to keep playing, playing, playing. Mr. Campbell asked me last week, ‘will this team get better?’ This team will get better and better and better and better and better and someday we’ll all hopefully talk about this stretch. That’s why I make sure I honor Taylor Young and Davion Hall and all those seniors, [Jordan] Feuerbacher, Mo Porter, and Ish Wilson. Because they’re seniors, it’s not going their way, and what are they out there doing? They’re out there 5:30 in the morning practicing saying, ‘hey let’s get this team ready.’”
On Zach Smith’s improvement since Rhule’s arrival:
“Today was a step to me. He got out there today and he’s yelling at guys where to get lined up. You remember last year, he was a freshman out there playing. I’ll say this again, I walked in there last week and I saw him and Anu [Solomon] playing ping pong. And in a day and age where most kids, if they’re not named the starting quarterback, they transfer. Someone asked me the other day, ‘are you going to have to re-recruit Zach.’ I said, ‘I don’t think I have to with this guy. I think this guy’s a Baylor Bear.’ So, for him to go out there and get a chance to start, it’s kind of cool because he has done everything right. He’s fighting, he’s scratching, he’s clawing to get his chance. I think he’s healthy. I’ve never really seen Zach move around because he came off that injury in bowl game in the spring. He limped around the whole spring. I think he can give us something in the run game. He can move around and scramble a little bit. He’s got a big-time arm. He’s really smart, but the biggest thing I think, as you see, he’s just a leader out there today. ‘I’ve waited my turn. I’ve watched for two games. I know what this team needs.’ They need someone telling them to get lined up and let’s go that way. And I hope we see that on Saturday, and I’m pretty sure we will.”
On what position his son plays:
“What does my son play? He plays defensive end, and I think I saw him running down on the kickoff last week. My wife went to the game on Saturday, and she told me he’s not playing hard enough. No, I tell you what though, the people here in Central Texas, Little League Baseball and he’s doing Pop Warner with Coach Rojo, they are wonderful people. They are patient, great coaches, and I’m grateful my kids have a chance to play.”
On how big his son is:
“Oh he’s only in sixth grade, so he’s only- what does he weigh honey? 85 pounds, so he’s little. He’s a little guy, but he loves to play.”