Tulane's Curtis Johnson optimistic about second half of season

AP Photo
AP Photo

New Orleans, La. - Tulane is just one win shy of bowl eligibility but head coach Curtis Johnson is keeping his team level-headed as they embark on the second half of their season after a week off.

The following are Johnson's comments to the media, as transcribed by Tulane Sports Information:

Opening statement

"Thank you guys very much for coming today. It was a great week off for our team. I think we did some of the things we wanted to accomplish. The week off was a lot of academics and I saw these guys around all of the time. They did do a lot of working out. They came back to practice these last couple of days pretty good. The East Carolina game was a big game for us. The defense was outstanding. The offense played like we probably should have playing with a new quarterback. The special teams played really, really well for us. We were lucky to come away with the overtime victory. Cairo did it again for us."

On the status of quarterback Nick Montana

"I don't know if he'll play or not. We're counting on him to play, but he's on a snap count of about 40 throws. He's upping it every time. It's his arm strength that we've got to get back going. He looked pretty decent on what he was doing today. It's a decision of whether you do or you don't. Do you risk getting him hurt again, or do you say 'okay, leave him out and give him another week to rest.' There is always a risk of injury. I look over and see his dad. His dad sometimes gives me the 'yay' and sometimes he gives me the 'no'. We're going to play him when we feel that he's healthy enough and when he can help the team as much as he can."

On what he guards against playing after a bye week

"Just a little bit of complacency. I told him the Sean Payton story about the cheese. Don't eat the cheese. Just getting out at practice, I've been very very encouraged with how we've practiced these week over the last couple of practices. They've practiced hard and they've practiced fast. We thought they would come out and be a little bit lethargic. They weren't like that at all. They were running around, flying around, hitting and doing some things well."

On giving his team the week off

"I guess you can say I did, because we were off. I think I saw some guys around, but I guess you can say I did. The one thing I wanted to get was I wanted to get healthy again. I really wanted the academic stuff. I'm always concerned about our student-athletes getting a chance to make up some work or getting ahead on some work. We've been doing this thing since August and they've been in school the whole time. That was my biggest concern. Now, we've got a couple of guys down - Montana and a couple of other guys who are a little banged up – so I wanted them to get a chance to rest up also."

On Nick Montana and Devin Powell practicing with the No. 1 offense

"We're practicing both of those guys. I just want to know what they can do. We also played Jordy some also today, so all three of those guys got reps. We just have to figure out who can do what and who gives us the best chance to win without anyone getting hurt anymore."

On if he would play Tanner Lee at this juncture and take away his redshirt

"I don't know if we want to do that right now. The thing about Tanner Lee is I think he's going to be a fantastic quarterback. I just don't want him to get hit. All of a sudden, they bring this blitz that he doesn't see. He's a young kid and he gets hit, and now he's out. Right now, those guys are in the mix and I like what I saw in practice today."

On how Rob Kelley looked in practice today

"He was fantastic. Orleans was the one that was a little bit gimpy, but (Kelley) was really good. Robert ran well today. I like what he's doing."

On Tulsa dominating the series since joining C-USA

"We haven't beaten Tulsa since 1968. It's a team that's going to be tough for us. They're big. They're physical. They have what we call the 'it' factor in this league. They're one of those flagship teams in the league that you have to play well against to stay in the game with them. Coach Blankenship does a phenomenal job running the football ball. They're going to try and run the ball on us. We've got to play good defense and use some eight-man front stuff in order to stay with them. Their special teams are outstanding, and offensively they can move the ball. They're going to run it so we're going to have to match their intensity."

On if he feels his team has closed the gap athletically against teams like Tulsa

"I don't really know how much we've made up ground athletically. I just feel that we're a little better prepared than a year ago. They still have a big gap. They're bigger. They're physical. They're kids have been in their program for up to four years. It's only been a year and a half that we've really been together. What our guys are doing in this little amount of time is special to me, but (Tulsa) is still talented. They've still have Trey Watts. They've still got the big offensive line. They've still got those good receives. We just have to go out there and play our game. We have to stop the running game. We have to move the ball, rush the quarterback and make some throws that will help us win."

On if the mindset of his team is changing now with a 5-2 overall record

"I still think that we have to play very, very well to play Tulsa. You have to understand one thing about a program like Tulsa: you're not going to knock their confidence down. They're not going to give up. They're just going to continue to play and play and play. We have to match their intensity. They feel that they are the champions of the league. We have to go in and we have to dethrone the champ. The champion always has a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. We have to play outstanding to play with this team. This team is a very good football team. They have a lot of guys back from last year's team. Again, we have to play very very good and they have to give up some stuff."

On if he is concerned about the offense' performance of late

"I don't know if we can do that. We just have to gameplan like we have. We talk about how we're going to have to win those games. We knew going into North Texas and Louisiana Tech that he was hurt. It wasn't going to be throw it left, throw it right. That's not what we were going to do. We wanted to run it. We want to play a complimentary game with our defense and our special teams. We're still not going to go out there and win the game with just our offense. I think our defense has to protect us. Our defense has to play well. Our special teams has to play well. We're going to do what we have to do on offense to try and get a victory."

On if there is a scenario with up to three quarterbacks playing or would he rather stick with one

"If Nick is not as healthy as we'd like him to be, then we'd definitely have to go with Devin and we'd definitely go with Jordy. We have a little package with him and we didn't get to some of it. But if Nick's healthy, I want to play Nick. I definitely want to play Devin also. You'll see those two, and Jordy is over here with his package. You could see all three of them playing or you could see two of them playing."

On the offense perhaps having a hard time finding a rhythm playing multiple quarterbacks

"I don't think so. I think what you do is do what guys strengths are. Each of them have different strengths. Jordy has his package. Devin, you see what he can do. He can throw the ball quick. Nick can just about do it all. It's just what his health is going to enable him to do."

On the importance of time of possession

"It's very important. It's something that we talked about last week against ECU. We had to win time of possession and we barely won it. We won it 30-29, but that was important because we didn't want this team to continue to get the ball, get the ball, get the ball. You saw what they did last week to Southern Miss. They kept the ball and it was 55 points later. That was a part of the strategy – not going out and throwing a pick or getting a three-and-out. We just wanted to possess the ball. We talked about it all week and this is a similar game. If we can win this time of possession against Tulsa, it enhances us of getting a chance to play with these guys."

On how much he learned from the Rice/Tulsa game on how to beat the Golden Hurricane

"Rice did a phenomenal job. They did some things that we're not accustomed to, but Rice moved the ball on offense. Rice played from ahead against them. Rice turned them one dimensional. And then you look at the Colorado State game, and it was very very similar. If we can come out, establish some stuff, win the time of possession and make them play from behind a little bit, I think our secondary is very opportunistic and I think we'll play well."

On the development of Devin Powell

"We did a little bit more with him this week. You just don't want to all of a sudden throw this whole offense on him because it's a lot. We haven't thrown it all on Nick. He's playing better. He's getting a little bit more of what he's doing. He's got a clearer understanding of more stuff. He can do the stuff that he can do. It's just that when we get in certain situations he needs a little more help. He's getting better at that. I thought he was outstanding today. I thought he threw the ball well today."

On if he's worried about his team feeling too good about itself

"The first day we got back on Sunday, the first thing we talked about was your mother was going to tell you how good you are. Your dad, your grandparents, your coaches, all the people in your school, your girlfriend – I tell them they have more girlfriends now than they've ever had – telling them how good they are. It's just like my wife. She comes to me and says, 'You guys are so great. You're so great.' No we're not. We're the same Tulane team that we've been. We're not there yet. What we need to do is continue to work, continue to improve, continue to play hard, and when this is all over in January – when I give them about an hour off – we can look back, have a nice little hour party and start again for next year."

On the team's rushing defense

"I think Coach Washington and Coach Sumrall do a fantastic job of game planning. Jason Rollins and Barry Lamb, also. They do a great job of game planning. The things that we talked about in the summer are the things that we're doing. The first thing we talked about was turnovers. I think now we're second in turnover margin in the NCAA, which is perfect for what we are. We're a young team. We're opportunistic. Our secondary doesn't have a conscious. They don't care. If they get beat, they just come back. The defensive line is coming out ready to play. We're playing a lot of guys and they're all playing well. Those are two big things. And then all of a sudden we talked about stopping the run. I really believe that if we can make any team one dimensional, it enhances our chances of winning."

On if he is worried about the team being too emotionally wrapped up in the Devon Walker story to focus on the game

"That's a good question. That's one of the things that I'm don't really know what to do with. You say here is a young man who means so much to our program and is such a driving force of what we do all of the time. He's constantly with us, physically or not. All of a sudden, we're kind of honoring him and doing something for him. That's the trick that you have to have this week. Emotionally, we have to stay even keeled. We have to keep them down a little bit, but we also want them celebrate him and what he's done. I just hope that we can get through appreciating him and focus on the task at hand. The biggest task is to win this football game."

On how long he thinks it will take to attract a larger fan base

"I think if we keep winning, the product will speak for itself. If we continue to play good defense and we continue to play special teams really well, and all of sudden the offense comes around. I think the second half of the season will be good for us. As we get going and continue to win, winning breeds that fan base. I told them team last year about a bandwagon over here that only had three or four people on it. Now we've got about 10 people on the bandwagon. Hopefully by the end of the year, we'll need two bandwagons."

On if he has allowed himself or his team to change their goals for the season

"Absolutely not. The goals are really short-sited. We talk about one game, one step at a time. The one thing I'm guarding against is reflections. I don't want reflections halfway through the season. We can reflect after the whole thing is over. It's just one game, one play, one practice. Let's just keep going and keep doing that. When you have a young team, you don't want to be long-sited. You want to be very, very short sited. You want to play the game that's right in front of you."

On if he feels winning the C-USA title is a legitimate goal for 2013

"What I said in the first meeting is that was one of the expectations. It was all of the above, but now what are we going to do. It's an open book. Let's write it. Let's put it all in. Right now, it's going pretty well for us. It could be better, but it's going pretty well for us right now."