The fourth-year head coach of the Bulldogs talks about the upcoming game against Rice and defending the spread option.
On the upcoming game against Rice
"This is a game that I said in January would be a very pivotal game for us. It didn't matter what the records were going into the game. I still think that. I think when you are playing against a team that has gotten off to the start that Rice has, then this is the game they are going to nail their flag to the mast. This is a game they have to win. We are playing against a team that is going to play their best game. I think there is a big difference between Rice football on grass and turf."
"Our players are going to have to buckle down and play execution perfect football, especially on defense. We've played good defense all year, but it's a different situation this week. We're playing against a wishbone team. I think their quarterback is going to be back...I really expect to see him. He runs the option very well. He's very quick. I think they are a lot better team on turf than on grass. Put that together with their last four games along with what happened to them last year here in Fresno, and I expect to get their best shot on Thursday."
"This is a must-win for us. We need to win three games in Texas if we want to win the conference championship. That's a tough task. Our football team realizes it, and we need to get off to a good start at Rice on Thursday."
"A lot of this game is going to depend on how the game goes early. Last year, we jumped out to a 20-0 lead. This year, I suspect Rice is really going to try to control the football against us. We are going to have to play great defense in this game. This is a game we've really got to come to play."
On going for a WAC championship
"Our conference championship is the most important thing we play for. It is big to us. Win a conference championship in any sport, no matter what the conference is - that's the goal of any team...Like I said, it starts at Rice against a team that's 0-2 in the conference. They're playing us in a short week...they've got a million different angles that if you want to feel sorry for Rice, you can. But the bottom line is adversity makes teams stronger. And (Rice head coach) Ken Hatfield has been around a while, and that team is going to be ready to play on Thursday."
On the running game
`We are going to try to run the ball, like we always do. The running game hasn't been like we'd want it to be. I think our offensive line has been together a little bit longer. I think we've had good practices the last two weeks running the football against our defense. There were days before where we wouldn't get back to the line of scrimmage. Now we're starting to hit some creases. Josh Levi has added a new spark to the offense...Paris Gaines hopefully will be where he needs to be. But the running game has got to be good for us. Down the stretch, we're going to have to run the football. Especially against a team that wants to consume the clock."
On the passing game
"I like what we are doing with the passing game right now. I think Dave Carr is coming on very nicely. The passing game is averaging close to 300 yards per game. But if we want to be a complete team, a team that wants to compete for a conference championship, we've got to get the running game going."
On the Rice football team
"There are times in a season when a team has to make a stand. And this is a time where Rice has to make a stand. But also, there's a time when a team like ours has to make a stand and show what we are made of. So this is going to be one of those games when there is a lot of pride on the line for Rice. They are at a point in their season where they could turn their season around with a win on Thursday."
On defending the option
"There's a lot more cut blocks, there's people that have to be assignment perfect...When you are playing against the option, you have guys assigned to the dive, assigned to the quarterback, assigned to the pitch. You have to be very disciplined to stay with your option responsibility. If you aren't, they're going to make a big play on you...Then when you make subtle changes during the game, people better understand those changes, or they'll make a big play on you...There are a lot more adjustments that go on during a game against an option team than in a normal game."
On Paris Gaines' status
"He's seeing the holes better. He's popping his legs through holes instead of diving through holes...We've had some live contact practice, but it's not the same as in games. He's just got to see things better. If you watched Rice vs. Fresno State last year, Derrick Ward and Paris Gaines accounted for 200 yards rushing. Those are two big guns we haven't had at 100 percent yet this year."