JAGUAR FOOTBALL RECAPS ULM; PREVIEWS ARKANSAS STATE

MOBILE, Ala. – University of South Alabama football head coach Kane Wommack, offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, defensive coordinator Corey Batoon, along with wide receiver Jalen Tolbert and corner back Darrell Luter Jr., met with the media Monday to recap the ULM game and preview Saturday’s Homecoming game versus Arkansas State.

Head coach Kane Wommack
– On what the team didn’t do at ULM last Saturday:
“Execution didn’t show up in the game.  Our margin for execution is too wide right now, and that narrows the margin for success that we can have in a game so those two things have to flip.  We’ve operated and shown that we can play at a very high level 40 minutes of the game against Louisiana and obviously with what we were able to do against Georgia Southern, but then we’ve had these inconsistent moments where we’ve played with such poor execution at the end of the game against Texas State — particularly on defense — and the majority of the game last weekend against Louisiana-Monroe.  In such a short span of time we’ve had such a wide margin of execution where we are doing things at a very high level and also doing things at such an inconsistent level, and that has to diminish to where on our worst day we’re still operating very close to what our best day looks like.  If we’ll narrow that margin of execution we will widen our margin for success, and that’s how you turn things around as a program.”

– On the second-half run game at ULM:
“I think part of that is when you’re starting to go down and time is running off the clock.  They converted three third downs on the last drive to extend their lead to 10 points, if we execute on any of those third downs and get off the field it changes the way that [offensive coordinator] Major [Applewhite] and the rest of the offense has to operate.  Because we were not doing our job as a defense, it forced our offense to be a little bit more aggressive in the passing game as opposed to those body blows in the run game that we were able to do against Bowling Green, where you flip it around and we struggled offensively a good part of the game but because defensively we got stops — particularly in the fourth quarter — we were able to establish a run game and play nice, complimentary football/.  We were not able to do that [at ULM] partly because we weren’t stopping them with consistency on defense.”

– On how much pressure was on the offense against the Warhawks:
“It is what it is and it takes what it takes to win a football game.  I have a defensive background obviously, but at the same time we’re going to have to win some games 42-41.  We’re also going to win some games 22-19, but for us if it takes 42 points to win the football game then we have to score 42 points and everybody in this program has to realize that just a few more guys making a few more plays changes the outcome of a game.  I can’t tell you when those plays are coming, but we don’t know when those plays are so play as hard as you can with as much consistency as you can for as long as you can, and then come out of the game.  Right now we are way to inconsistent as a program.”

– On the program’s struggles on the road:
“I do think it’s harder to play on the road, there are more variables that you have to deal with.  There are a lot of teams that play with a little more momentum because they are in their comfort zone — Louisiana-Monroe is probably the best example of that — and we were that way when I was here before.  We had some tremendous road games, you think of Mississippi State my first-ever game here as a defensive coordinator where we go down 17-0 at halftime and then they don’t score a touchdown the rest of the game and we knock off an SEC opponent.  We’ve been more inconsistent on the road over the years, but we are an inconsistent program period.  Until we get to the point where we are operating with narrow margins of execution and we know what we are going to get, when we have a good week in practice we have to go execute on game day.  That’s what it always comes down to, all those habits that you have in practice lead to being able to show up on game day — and they are important — but ultimately it is about how you execute on game day.  We got punched in the mouth in the first half we rallied back in the third quarter, and then we got punched a second time and we didn’t handle it very well and I thought — on defense in particular — we started playing not to lose.  Defense is inherently reactionary, and when you play slower on top of that, that’s where you get exposed and I thought that’s exactly what their staff and players did to us.”

– On what stands out about Arkansas State:
“I think obviously their explosiveness offensively.  This is the same system that I came up in as a player under Blake Anderson and Larry Fedora, and as a coach starting out as an offensive line graduate assistant at Southern Miss.  There have been some tweaks, I think Keith Heckendorf has done a tremendous job of bringing stability to the things they have done in the past year with some new personnel going into this season.  Layne Hatcher does a tremendous job of operating their offense, he’s been involved in it a long time; he knows where to go with the ball and is decisive.  He can make all the throws and I think that is why they are throwing for more than 90 yards more per game than anybody else in the Sun Belt.  They are a little bit more inconsistent in the run game but they will pop some runs off that you can’t allow them to get, but from a defensive perspective for us it’s about limiting their explosives — none for touchdowns — and making them earn the length of the field the old-fashioned way.  You look at their defense and there has been some inconsistencies there both in the run and passing game, and yet at the same time they probably played their best football last week against Louisiana in large part because of the intensity that they played with.  That’s a credit to [head coach] Butch [Jones] and the rest of their staff, when you are 1-5 as a program to be able to come out and compete at the level that they did against Louisiana was a tremendous tip of the cap to their program.”

Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite
– On the positives and negatives against ULM:
“The turnovers in the first half. We had five drives in the first half and had three scores and two turnovers. We just talked to the offense at halftime and told them we are our own worst enemy and getting in our own way. They responded really well. They came out in the second half and scored on the first two drives, that was a positive. We just have to learn – and I have to learn better as a coach – by teaching our guys how to play in crunch time. That was a different game, it wasn’t a Bowling Green game where you are struggling to get something going and then you get something going late in the game to seize the momentum and win. We were trading punches at that point. We need to understand how to be productive in that situation as coaches and as players because that’s going to happen. As you are trying to build up a program, you are not going to start off as a new program blowing people out. You are going to have to win some of those situations where you trade punches and we have to do better in those situations and respond better.”

– On the running game late against ULMl:
“We still tried to run the ball all the way up until the last series before we had to throw it when we were down two scores. We were obviously making plays down the field and we were running the ball efficiently. We had some good runs in the first and second half. Ultimately, the way we were scoring and moving the ball was with explosive plays through the air. As the score starts to spread out, you have to throw the ball more.”

– On the progression of the offense:
“It is what it is. It’s our first year in the program. We are learning your system as players, you are learning your players as a staff and how they respond in certain situations. So, there’s going to be some slow, steady improvement. It becomes difficult when you have some injuries and lack some continuity. Whether you have a guy at wideout that is out like a Caullin Lacy and it can mess with the continuity there. Guys being out up front or at the tailback position can hinder the development. But, I can see us steadily getting better. We are learning more about our team and we are producing better. The production has been better the past couple of times out. We just need to continue to hang our hats on that and the habits that we create. That’s what we talked about this morning as an offense is about the championship habits that we have to create day in and day out. We have to understand that when we are in the moment like we were with about two minutes left in the third, we were playing a team that was trading punches with us. It might have been one of those who has the ball last. Now that we have been in that situation, we have to recognize it when we see it again and be ready to perform.”

– On what to expect against Arkansas State:
“Defensively, they are very aggressive. They believe in man coverage, they play their backers downhill and they are very good in terms of plugging gaps and putting people inside. Stats can be a little bit of an imposter of what they have done in terms of the last couple of times they have been out. I watched them against [Louisiana] – we had our close game against Louisiana – if we haven’t learned by now through seven games on the schedule, that we have to be prepared every week and ready to play. Anybody can beat anybody in this league and we have to be prepared week in and week out. Records don’t matter. Everybody gets scholarships and everybody is going to be ready to play.”

– On the differences of playing on the road and at home:
“Well, playing at home there is a familiarity of things being more common to you. On the road, there are some unknowns. Where are we walking through, where are the locker rooms and where are the play clocks. And then you are dealing with the crowd. I always felt that, as a competitor back when I was playing 20-something years ago, I always loved going away. You got away from all the family and friends, the ticket situations and all the people you knew at the hotel. But, when you get to some distant city, you could just focus on the game and feel like a gladiator going in with everybody against you. So, I always loved playing on the road and welcomed silencing the crowd. There are pluses and minuses both ways. Ultimately, once the ball is kicked off, it is the same thing. Making and stopping explosive plays, taking care of the ball and all of those things.”

Defensive coordinator Corey Batoon
– On the defensive breakdowns against ULM: 
“I don’t think we played with the same effort and pursuit that we had played with in previous games. Those are things you can control. You can control how hard you play, how long you play, and I thought the effort, particularly on the back side [of the defense] with some of the pursuit angles wasn’t to our standard. We have to address that and get it back to where it’s been.”

– On when he felt there was an issue: 
“The issue we had talked about all of [last] week was matching [ULM’s] speed on the perimeter, then taking great angles while playing with great effort. Pretty early on in the game when the ball got on the outside of the perimeter, our lack of taking good angles on the perimeter showed up. We have to whip blocks on the perimeter and bring the game back into the core. It felt like the ball when sideways all game, and we didn’t do a good job of brining it back into our numbers. You have to make adjustments, and I thought we made some good adjustments at halftime in terms of alignments and angles, but we had too much inconsistency in the first half, especially with our angles and pursuit.”

– On the play of Darrell Luter Jr. this season: 
“[Darrell] is such a good practice player and practice shows up on Saturdays. He comes out and does a great job as a technician, he studies tape, but his technique is sound. He competes his tail off in practice. Those things happen to show up on Saturday’s because it’s become automated for him. I feel he’s playing with a lot of confidence because he practices so well and his technique is sound.”

– On what issues Arkansas State presents offensively: 
“They have tremendous offensive talent. Their quarterbacks are both playing at a high level. [Layne] Hatcher has played recently because of injury, but he’s a player who has been in the system. I think they are very comfortable with him and his background with the offensive coordinator. They are probably as talented of a receiver group as a whole that we’ve seen this season. They can push the ball down the field, as well as hurt you with the short and intermediate game. They are a very complete team from a passing standpoint, and their run game is getting better each week. I feel the run establishes the pass [for them] and their ability to run the football inside the tackle box, as well as out on the perimeter helps them, because you have to bring those safeties down and you get the match ups that they want on the perimeter. Offensively, they’ve done a great job all year. You just have to look at the numbers that they’ve been able to put up. They’re a very good offensive team.”

– On how anxious the players are to get back out on the field after Saturday’s loss: 
“They are chomping at the bit. We had a great walk thru today. I had to slow them down a couple of times. You want to get that taste out of your mouth and get back to work. The guys showed up great and I anticipate great focus this week for Arkansas State.”

Senior wide receiver Jalen Tolbert
-On how he feels about the season: 
“I’m just executing. Coach calls the plays and it takes all 11 people doing their jobs, you know, just O-line blocking and holding up for Jake [Bentley] to be able to get me a nice ball. Then Jalen Wayne doing his job and on the other side Caullin [Lacy] just finishing. That’s something we emphasized after seven weeks of practice and games, just finishing and being consistent. I’m just working on myself being ready for these games.”

-On Jake Bentley’s accuracy: 
“Jake is a special player so having him back there running the show is special. The same way that he trusts you, you trust him, so it’s just special to be able to know and have faith that you are going to be able to win the route and that the ball is going to be where it’s supposed to be or that it’s going to be on time or whatever the reason or thing is. Having him back there or having him coming off the field and tell us like ‘Hey, it’s time to do this or that’. Having confidence in our quarterback is big for us.”

-On having a lot to play for: 
“We are honestly just focused on finishing. Obviously, we aren’t naïve and we know if we win two games we are able to go to a bowl game. That hasn’t been done while I’ve been here so that’s something a lot of people are working to play for. Of course, like Coach Applewhite said any team can beat any other team in this league, so just as we have the opportunity to go out and win out and finish the season strong, we have the same opportunity to lose out. We just have to come and be consistent and know what we are getting ourselves into and what we are playing for.”

-On the program’s road record over the past few seasons: 
“I know at home people are familiar, whether it was Ladd or Hancock Whitney, with the fans and everything around, the hotels or whatever. But you go on the road and its different. It takes a couple trials and errors just going out and seeing different things. If you aren’t used to that it may get to people, but I don’t really think that’s what is happening with us. We have just gotten ourselves into bad situations in the last two games on the road and that has caused us to come out with different ending than we expected. We started well in both of those games then kind of blew it, so this week we just have to finish strong.”

-On his history against Arkansas State: 
“I think last year they were one of the very few teams that played me normal. Our offense last year was just kind of one-sided and we just ran a lot of post overs and stuff. I think they let us have man coverage and allow us to have the opportunity to make plays which is what wide receivers thrive to do. It’s something that was easy for us to adjust to, however, when its people playing cloud on us its harder on us to make certain plays with double teams and triple coverage.”

Junior cornerback Darrell Luter Jr.
– On the game against ULM: 
“After watching film, it felt like our energy was off that game. A lot of us were not running to the ball and there wasn’t a sense of urgency like there should’ve been.”

– On playing on the road and how it affected the team: 
“I don’t think that’s a big part of it, it’s just a mind thing. We got to be prepared at all times, whether we’re playing at home or away. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we just have to come out fast.”

– On the second half of the game: 
“The other team [ULM] had a lot more energy than we did. They outplayed us and their mindset was better than ours. I felt like they came out on top with that.”

 – On how his performance has improved over the years:
“My game has improved a lot since last year. Last year I didn’t play a lot, this year has been pretty great. The new coaching staff and new techniques have been working out pretty good for me.”

– On what has led him to be among the national leaders in pass breakups: 
“It’s being able to trust your eyes and your feet, that’s something my coach [Dwike Wilson] tells me every day. The technique he gives us works, so I make sure I try to use that every snap of every game.” 

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