JAGUAR FOOTBALL RECAPS ARKANSAS STATE; PREVIEWS TROY

MOBILE, Ala. – University of South Alabama football head coach Kane Wommack, offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, defensive coordinator Corey Batoon, along with corner back Devin Rockette and tight end Brandon Crum  met with the media Monday to recap the Arkansas State game and preview Saturday’s “Battle for the Belt’ contest at Troy.

Head coach Kane Wommack
– On if this week’s feels different:
“Yeah, it’s ‘Belt’ week.  I think you have to embrace rivalries, I’ve been a part of a lot of them at a lot of different places and this one is fun.  When you have an in-state rivalry it’s always important, especially when you have bragging rights and there’s recruiting on the line and the opportunity to build momentum for your program and also push some momentum off of another program that you have to compete against.  I think it is an exciting deal, it’s fun for me because I’ve been a part of this rivalry before; we had a tremendous win in 2017 the last time I was a part of this rivalry in taking the ‘Belt’ and bringing it back home to Mobile.”

– On starting the second half better:
“We’ve obviously shown in the second half that we can come out firing on all cylinders, we’ve done that probably as consistent as anything this season except for this past week when we didn’t do a very good job especially with how explosive we were in the first half and the first four drives of the game.  Here is what is exciting about our team right now, particularly on offense: we have Jalen Tolbert, Jalen Wayne, Caullin Lacy and Jake Bentley, we’re able to create explosive plays downfield, but we’re also putting drives together and that to me is where you build consistency in a program.  If you can have drives like 99-yard drives after going and scoring a touchdown already, putting those drives back-to-back where you can convert, stay on schedule on first and second down, convert on third down and execute in the red zone we’re showing that we can establish ourselves offensively as a team that can move the ball down the field.  How consistent can we become in that?  We’ve shown now that we can do that in the first half, coming out of halftime and finishing the game, but can we do that consistently over and over again when it matters most?”

– On Troy LB Carlton Martial:
“I think Carlton Martial is a phenomenal football player, the way he runs to the football he is very instinctive.  There are linebackers who are great athletes, but if you don’t have instincts at the linebacker position you’re never going to maximize your abilities.  Carlton is not the biggest guy on the field, he’s not the fastest guy on the field.  But he plays with tremendous instincts, he’s fast enough and he’s big enough, and that to me is the makings for a great linebacker.  He reminds me in a lot of ways of Bull Barge — who we had here a few years ago — but I think he does a tremendous job of creating energy for his team.  You can tell he is the leader of that defense and they play so hard in large part because of a guy like Carlton Martial.”

– On Troy:
“I think, first and foremost, they play very hard on defense, they are one of the top teams in the country in sacks and tackles for loss and they create a lot of takeaways.  We have to be comfortable being uncomfortable against them, they are going to get us in some second-and-12 situations and we are going to have to operate and find a way to convert on third down and keep the drive alive.  The one thing they have shown on top of that is that they’ve given up some explosive plays, we have shown that we can create explosive plays and no different than any other game we’ve won we have to capitalize on the explosive play battle.  We also have to stay on schedule enough, and when they do get us off schedule we’ve got to be able to capitalize on second and third down to be able to make that back up and keep the drive alive.  From a defensive perspective, we have to get the ball back for our offense.  If we can create more opportunities to create these explosive plays it’s going to give us more opportunities to score, and that means being great situationally.  We have to be excellent on third downs, we have to be great in the red zone and we have to win the explosive play battles from a defensive standpoint so that our offense can go execute at a high level.  Turnover margin, explosive play battle, situational football — those are the things that until the end of time will be really important.  And they always show up in rivalry week.  The one thing I would add to that is playing with a relentless physicality, the most physical team typically wins in a rivalry game.”

Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite
– On the key to offense starting fast the past couple of weeks:
“Just execution and trying to give them more opportunities to make some plays, specifically pinpointing some guys early in the drive. Ninety-nine percent of it is the players, and I’m not saying that in a negative way like they weren’t executing; just executing at a higher level coming out of the gate.”

– On Troy’s defensive front:
“Number one, they have a good culture on defense; it has gone on over the course of years. I coached against them in 2006 in the New Orleans Bowl, and they had a great defense then. They always have a great defense. There are expectations that come along with that culture. But they are solid at every position. There isn’t a weakness where you look at them and say, ‘Go at this guy, or run this direction.’ They play multiple linebackers and have guys on the back end with good instincts as well. They have a very active front that is relentless to the ball. Their defensive ends make a lot of plays. Their culture and expectation is to play good defense, number two just their relentless pursuit to the football and number three they all have good defensive instincts.”

– On Jake Bentley’s ability to run:
“I think he is becoming more comfortable with more playing experience as the season has progressed. Some of those situations are third downs where he is trying to keep the chains moving, and some are in the red zone where he is trying to create momentum and score. Obviously, you want your quarterback to try and protect themselves to stay in the football game; they are more value in the game than an extra couple of yards. In those situations, I think he has made good decisions protecting himself, but trying to move the chains or get into the end zone. What we’re working on at that position right now is getting rid of the football and ending plays the right way without a turnover, and obviously trying to avoid sacks which is the big emphasis now.”

– On maintaining offensive consistency:
“You have to understand who you’re playing against. They [Troy] are number one in the country in TFLs [tackles for loss], number three in sacks and 10th in takeaways, and Georgia is in there somewhere. They are a really good unit, and you have to prepare yourself mentally to play against that and understand there are going to be times where they make their plays. And you have to be mentally prepared for that and mature, and understand you’re not going to end every drive with an extra point. Understand what kind of game you’re going into, and when you’re playing a great fighter and they do expose themselves you have to strike. They’re not going to expose themselves very often. They are a great defense and do a great job of it. Their scheme does a great job of it as well as their players playing hard.”

Defensive coordinator Corey Batoon
– On the key to the defensive turnaround against Arkansas State: 
“Coming out of [the ULM game] we talked about not playing with the right effort and angles. I felt like our players came out and played with great energy [against Arkansas State]. We didn’t have the same self-inflected wounds. When we did make mistakes, because it wasn’t a perfect game obviously, I thought the effort and overlap of guys playing hard and flashing to the ball really showed up.”

– On what he’s seen on film from Troy offensively: 
“The last couple of weeks they’ve been really balanced. They’ve been very productive in the run game. Their back [Kimani Vidal] is one of the best running backs in the league, he’s just a freshman. He’s very physical and has great vision in their zone scheme. He runs behind his pads and understands hitting vertical creases. The offensive line has done a nice job the last couple of weeks, particularly, of covering people up and creating some push at the point of attack. They are very gifted outside at the receiver position. Their quarterback has given them some continuity in their system. He’s very comfortable in the system and it shows. Troy just looks really comfortable out there running their offense and is executing it at a pretty high level right now. We’ll have our work cut out for us.”

– On how the quarterback change several weeks ago has helped Troy offensively: 
“I feel both of their quarterbacks are pretty good players, but for whatever reason they went with the guy who was a starter for them last year [Gunnar Watson]. Anytime there’s continuity and familiarity, it shows up. You kind of saw the offense change a little bit in terms of production and a lot of that has to do with the run game. They are doing a great job in the run game right now. Their running back is special. I think they are playing really good complimentary football with the run game and the passing game. That’s probably where they want to be at this point and time.”

Senior cornerback Devin Rockette
– On the defensive performance last week compared to the week before:
“Well, the weekend before, we knew we didn’t play with as much defensive effort and we didn’t get to the ball like we needed to. Last week in practice, that is all we worked on. We worked on getting to the ball and taking good angles. I felt like it really showed up Saturday against Arkansas State.”

– On maintaining consistency:
“We just have to be consistent with what we do on defense as a swarm defense. That’s our identity, swarming to the ball, and we have to keep it consistent.”

– On creating four takeaways last week:
“Takeaways are always a part of our defense. We play with vision coverage. So, we always have our eyes on the quarterback at all times. It is just about us creating opportunities to get the ball back to our offense so they can go score.”

– On the importance of the game at Troy:
“With this being my last rivalry game against Troy, I can’t wait to play. My freshman year, I wasn’t getting to play but I was traveling. People were getting hurt and I had to play [against Troy]. I stepped up and filled some big shoes. So, I enjoy playing Troy.”

Sophomore tight end Brandon Crum
– On his touchdown reception against Arkansas State: 
“It’s just catching it like usual, but with a different ending.”

– On the tight ends being more involved in plays as of late:
“It’s a good feeling and it’s about helping everyone out. Lincoln [Sefcik] and I aren’t going to be mad if we’re not getting the ball, but it’s nice to get it every now and then.”

– On if there is more to Troy leading up to the game:
“There’s more surrounding it, but other than that it’s just another good team we have to play.”

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