Mack Brown press conference highlights: excited about 2-0 start, impressed with Wake Forest's discipline; wants more physicality

Brant Wilkerson-New

Opening statement

Really excited to be 2-0 and I thought Saturday night was a lot of fun. It's the best atmosphere I've seen here ever. It was a better atmosphere than the 10 years we were here before. I think even the Florida State game because it was a better game and more excitement, but the crowd made a difference in this one and the crowd was loud throughout. They were very engaged and it was a fun night in Kenan Stadium.

We need a lot of the fans to go to Wake Forest this weekend, this Friday. I know it's tough on a Friday night because we hate competing with high school football, but that's when that happens with TV. That's what you do. But we also feel like that any fans that can get there, it'll really, really help us.

On Rene/Polino injuries

As excited as we are about the win, we're disappointed for Patrice Rene. He's worked so hard and he played so well for us at corner and he's out for the year. He does have another year because he did not redshirt. He'll have a decision to make whether he wants to rehab and come back for his fifth year or he'll graduate in December and he could go ahead and try to get drafted or apply to the NFL or he could go out in the business world.

We do want him back if he wants to come back and hopefully Nick will be back before the end of the year, but you lose two seniors and you hate it for them more than anything else, but you also hate it for us and what we'll have to do now is work really hard to continue to create depth.

On building depth

The games have been so close. It's been hard to play as many people as we'd like to play, and we told the freshmen this morning, the newcomers, that 'You guys need to pick it up. You're no longer rookies. You're going to have to play.' So, for instance, Storm Duck, those young defensive backs are going to have to step up and play this weekend with the absence of Patrice Rene and Wake Forest has two of the better receivers we'll see at 6'3 and 6'5. So, that really puts us in a tough spot.

On his takeaways from the Miami game

On Saturday night, we didn't stop the run great all the time, but we played really well on red zone defense and forced some kicks. We didn't turn the ball over. We protected it, and with them (Miami), we ended up getting a fourth down stop, which we count as a turnover and two blocked kicks, which were really key, a blocked field goal and a blocked extra point by Xach Gill and Jason Strowbridge.

So, we felt like those were keys in the ball game. We knew we had to play a clean game with very few penalties. We only had one penalty and that one penalty was a delay of game coming off the bench, which is unacceptable for us as coaches.

So, the guys did what they were supposed to do throughout the game, and I did think that we ran the ball well at times. There were runs that made a difference in this ball game.

So, it really did help us, but we've got to improve our red zone offense, too. We had a second down and two that ended up not making a first down. We had a third down and three where we would've gone four downs if we had made two yards and instead we ended up fourth down and four or five and that's when we tried the 49-yard field goal instead of going for the first down.

It's interesting with all these new analytics on the sideline. They're telling you what to do and sometimes I agree with them and sometimes I don't because they're not there at the game. They couldn't see how good that Miami front was. So, when they say go for a fourth and five, I say, 'Brother, you ain't here. You're not seeing what I'm seeing. We're having trouble with those guys up front.'

The kicking game was better. Michael Rubino kicking the ball out every time really helped us and we had the one great cover. Our punts were inconsistent, but our punt coverage was good. They've got one of the best returners in the country, so at least he didn't get in the end zone on us. So, we feel like that's an area we can continue to improve, but we felt like we made great progress in that area.

Three players of the game

The three players of the game, offensive player of the game was Sam Howell. Tomon Fox had three sacks and Michael Rubino kicking it out of the end zone every time was a great help for us in that ball game, especially when you score and you've got very little time left. You've got to make a decision. Most people will squib it to keep them from returning it, but then it gives you a shorter field and a better chance for a field goal. So, Michael kicked it out and that helped us."

On the short week

Today's practice was like a Tuesday practice. So, tomorrow will be a Wednesday's practice because it's a Friday game and a very short week as we start going through. We've talked to the guys about how they need to enjoy and appreciate their first two wins. We don't want them to forget them and act like they never happened. They're real and they're good and they're things that they should feel good about and it should give us confidence going forward, but you also need to move forward. You can't keep talking about those games. You've got to start talking about the Friday night game with Wake Forest, and I think they're doing that. I really worried about it after the first game, but then after this week, it seems like their total focus is on trying to get to be 3-and-0 and they understand the importance of that.

On the 4th and 17 call

We still have a lot of things to fix. Our coaches are doing a very good job, but we can coach better than we've been coaching and we can help the guys get in better positions than they've been in.

I loved, obviously, the 4th and 17 call.

That's twice in my career that we've overcome a 4th and 17 and then a 4th and 18. Vince Young did it against Kansas one day in '04 when we went to the Rose Bowl, and with Vince's it was a deep-square in (route) on 4th and 18, and game's over if we don't make it and he takes it down and starts running it and I start screaming at him, 'No! You can't do that!' and then he makes two miss, he made a third one miss, he stepped out of bounds 19 yards from the first down marker and he looked at me and said, 'Hey Pops, you want me to go ahead and score or you want to go to overtime?' and I said, 'Hey smart aleck, why don't you go ahead and score and let's get home,' and he threw a corner for a touchdown to Tony Jeffrey the next play, but he showed a lot of composure and I thought Sam showed that same composure on the 4th and 17 on Saturday because a lot of young quarterbacks, especially who had just been sacked, would've had antsy feet, thrown to an underneath guy to get it out of his hands quickly and they tackle us under the chains and the games over, but with him, he waited, he had the right route, it was a great call and then also I loved his composure on the touchdown pass to Dazz (Newsome) late. Beau (Corrales) drops the ball for a touchdown right before that, but he (Sam) looks at two or three different people before he goes to Dazz and he throws the corner route and Dazz does a tremendous job getting his feet down, but that was a great sequence of plays, and I also was excited with the option on the goal line to Michael Carter. They (Miami) had an overhang guy, which made it tough for us outside, but Michael just out ran him. So, the two-point play ended up being a good play, as well."

On moving ahead this week

As I said, we've got a lot to fix. One of the things we're really working on is depth. Injuries have really hurt this program the last couple of years. We have got to have somebody ready to play when somebody gets hurt and we challenged the team on that this morning.

Our words for the week are we want to have fun and appreciate where we are at 2-0, we also want to go into the game on Friday fresh. It's a different week. It's just a short week like an NFL week, and we have to manage it that way as coaches, but we have to have great focus and we've got a real tough opponent.

We respect Wake Forest. They have very few turnovers. They have very few penalties. They have a really good kicking game. They're 2-0. You go back and look at last year. They finished their season beating N.C. State in a comeback and then they just absolutely beat Duke badly to finish the season. Both those teams beat our team last year, and then to start the season, they had a real close game with Utah State, another comeback because their quarterback's been a comeback king, kind of like we've been the last two weeks, and then they just dominated Rice and they've had an extra day to prepare and be fresh coming back. So, it should be a great game.

On needing fans to travel

We really challenge our fans, even on a Friday night, like I said, to get to Winston-Salem. I remember that when we were here, we had sell outs here, but we always had great fan support, especially when there were some tickets at Wake or Duke and those fans that traveled with us really helped us in those situations in winning those games.

On approaching the short week differently 

You approach it a lot different.

We didn't go outside yesterday in practice. There's no telling when they got to bed Saturday night because they were having fun and excited, but they were focused yesterday. When we win, we celebrate. We show them a highlight film and we have players of the week. If you lose, we don't have anything. We have a hard discussion. Go back to work.

So, they had fun yesterday and yesterday was a day of celebration to celebrate the Miami game and get it out of your system. Then, we had the victory meal last night and got them in bed early. Got them up early this morning. We stared our team meeting at 6:30, and then we just had our two-hour practice and they were sharp and they did a good job and we'll cut a little today and we'll cut a little bit tomorrow and then quite a bit on Thursday.

They're younger than we are, so they can bounce back faster, but I was really impressed with the way they came out and practiced this morning.

How do short weeks change preparations?

The weirdest thing about this early morning practice that I feel like most people is that when people start looking at early morning practice, everybody's going to go to it if they can with the academic schedule. I mean, it's so weird that our coaches are through by three o'clock in the afternoon normally and their wives are all so panicked when they get home. They say, 'Did you get fired? I mean, what are you doing home?' because coaches have never been home, and the players have their nights free.

So, they obviously have to go to bed early, which is also a good thing, but it's very, very different as you start looking at what we've all done for our entire careers. So, with this bunch, I think the biggest part is they've bought in to the early morning practice. Last night, the only difference for our coaches is they stayed way late because if you've got Monday off and Monday free, that's when the coaches usually finish their game plans. We didn't have a Monday (off).

So, the biggest difference was they were here way late last night and started at 6:30 this morning. So, we'll grade this film today for practice, this video, and then we'll have our staff meeting this afternoon at 3, and then I'm sure we'll stay a little bit longer today and tonight just because of the timing of the game.

On getting players refreshed for Friday

We don't know this team. This team, with us, has never been 2-0. They've never had two emotional games, so what we told them is that you are who you are and if you're going to be a good team, you've got to create an edge and play with emotion every week. You can't expect a full house all the time. You're supposed to create the emotion for your team, and players have to do that more than coaches. Coaches can do it, but we're not on the field.

So, you learn this week a lot about whether your team is a player-led team or not and player-led teams are a lot better than coach led teams just because the players are around them all the time. The other thing is that I think it's great that we're playing an undefeated team that our guys have respect for. Even though it's not a conference game, it is a game that, historically, North Carolina has played and it's one of the things I don't like about the expanded conferences. Wake Forest used to be a real fun game for us every year and you go back and look at their coaches.

I coached against Bill Dooley, I coached against Al Groh when I was at Appalachian (State) there, I coached against Jim Caldwell when he was there, and then I coached against Jim Grobe, but it was when he was at Ohio U. I didn't get him at Wake Forest, but all those guys are great coaches and did a great job. Jim Grobe did things there that were just unbelievable for a long time and Jim's become a great friend of mine and I can see why now, and Dave (Clausen)'s continuing to do that. All these guys have been really good fits at Wake Forest and they've all done a great job.

On Wake Forest's strengths

The thing that they do such a good job of, in my estimation, is playing clean. So, they don't turn the ball over and they do not have penalties.

The other thing they do is I think they ran 106 plays against Utah State, so they go really fast with an offense that runs the ball and throws deep to big tall guys and that's bad. So, we've got to defend a 6'3 (Sage) Surratt and we've got to defend a 6'5 guy. Scottie (Washington)'s really good. They're both basketball players, so both athletic, they can jump and our tallest corner was Patrice and he's gone.

So, I think stopping the run and trying to defend those big tall guys and the quarterback's a good runner and thrower, as well. So, they do a great job of keeping the ball away from you and they can throw it, so that would be my biggest concern just looking at them for a day or two.

How did the state championship come about 30 years ago? 

Well, when we were here 30 years ago at first we were trying to beat anybody. We had no wins. We had 20 losses and two wins. So we were trying to figure out what can we do to stir somebody up, stir the players up? And then we, we really felt like, and it's been my philosophy my whole coaching career, is if you can't win at home, you can't win on the road. If you can't recruit at home, you can't recruit out of state.

So everything starts with your home state. And people used to laugh at the state championship, but all of our boosters liked it when we won it. So now they're asking me to get it back. Yeah, can we do that? But I do think in the present we've got good coaches and good players at the three schools we'll play a lot, two of them definitely, Duke and N.C. State. Those games are very important to our fan base.

The Wake Forest game historically has been important to our fan base. And then you add Appalachian State who's a great team, not a good team. You go back and look at their history next week, I mean, gosh, they’re a play from upsetting Penn State in overtime and Tennessee and you just go back and look at all the games they've played down to the wire with people.

So I think those four games are games that are really important to us. The other thing that's interesting is if we won those four, that's six. You've already got your bowl game. So it's really important to me personally, for our fans because when they get up on Monday morning and go to work, they do not want their counterpart at Wake Forest laughing at them about their football team. And I learned that long ago - don't mess up close to home. Because it smells, so you’ve got to make sure that you do your best in your state.

Has that become a big talking point this week? 

It does. It's been a talking point since we got here. You can't make it a point of emphasis that week… Our first goal is to win the opener. We did that. Our second goal is to beat all the teams in the state. We haven't played one yet. We've got two in a row. Our third goal is to win the Coastal, our fourth goal is to win the ACC and then hopefully you'd be in a position to win the national championship if that comes up. But those are our goals and those will not change.

Do you recall the moment Rene injured his knee? 

Yes. I think it was Osborne they hit the slant on the goal line and actually Wolfolk is coming in and Patrice is on the outside and he's diving and Wolfolk comes in and hits his knee from the outside. And I was hoping it wasn't bad, but he didn't play anymore after that. But it was a slant for a touchdown. And Nick was just rolled up inside. When you saw him lay there, that's when he hurt his.

It seemed like Miami got a lot more pressure after Polino went out. What can you do to cope with that? 

Yes. Brian Anderson has played quite a bit. I think he played 25-28 plays against South Carolina and he came in and played a lot the other night. That's what I've told these kids. That's why everybody is one play away from playing football. But Brian Anderson will be the starter and then Ty Murray, the big freshman, will be the backup and we need both of them to split time. So Ty got injured some in preseason along with Tristan Miller and those two guys need to be playing. So this forces our hand in making sure Ty's ready.

Do you feel good about putting Murray out there against Wake Forest? 

You don't know because he's never played, so that’s why my hair is grey and I look really old and tired. 

I told the players this before the game. Coach Royal, the legendary coach at Texas told me this one time. The reason there's pressure on coaches is we have responsibility without control. So we have the responsibility as a head coach of how our coaches and staff coach without control. We have the pressure of how our players play without any control over it. You can coach them, but when they walk out on that field, it's like you're letting your child go off to college. ‘Okay, do good, have fun. My check's in your mouth.’

So that's pretty much what you're doing. And when you say, do you trust a freshman? I don't trust anybody until the go out there and prove they can do it. And then after a time, you trust them. I know that a certain number of those guys are going to show up and play good every week. I know that.

There's also a group that you're just not sure yet because they haven't earned the right to get those snaps. Brian's earned that. Ty hadn't played enough yet. So hopefully now he will. And then as a coach we have to decide how many plays, if Ty gets in, how many plays does Ty get and you have to have him ready because if Brian goes out the first play of the game or tomorrow at practice, then you've got to have Ty ready to play and then who's your backup center?

I will say that Jace hasn't played yet. He had his best practice this morning, so he's been on the sideline cheering people on and being a tremendous leader and I'm really excited for the attitude that he's got. And I told him this morning, his practice - he can run without question - but he threw the ball better this morning than I've ever seen him throw, which was really good. And Antonio Williams hadn't played as much as Michael Carter and Javonte. And he has been a superstar leader for us. I'm just really, really proud of those two guys and the way they've handled it

Any of the younger guys getting work at center? 

Well, Avery Jones has been at center the whole time, but he's been slowed with his knee, his operation in the offseason. So we're hoping he'll get better now. And we've tried to work every one of them at center some just to see who can snap. In fact, we moved [Asim Richards] over there once and it was for one snap. He snaps like I did. So he's a basketball player? No, no, he's a tackle or a guard, but we feel like all those young guys are good.

But now Nick was such a valuable player for us because he could play both guards and center. And you can just move him around, let him do anything. He knew everything and he's a great leader. So we’ve just got to get somebody else ready to go.

At the beginning of the year, you said you didn't feel the pressure. You thought you guys would be pretty good now too. Now you’re winning, getting the fans out there on a Saturday night. How are you feeling now? 

I'm feeling tremendous pride. I don't feel any pressure at all. You know, everybody came up to me. They were so happy that we'd beat in South Carolina and they were all so, ‘What a great game! That's great. Oh boy, if we could only beat Miami. If we could just beat Miami. Oh, it's going to be so great if we can beat Miami.’ Well, if I go outside to lunch today, it's going be, ‘Hey man, Wake. We’ve got to beat Wake.’ So that's my life. That's my life. It doesn't change and that's a good thing. That's the pride that Tar Heel fans are having right now in their program and they just, they want it so badly. I think we saw that Saturday night. They're just crying for a great team and they want these kids to do well.

I think they know we've still got a lot to to do, but they know that the kids are trying really hard and these coaches are working so hard and we want the kids to win as badly as the fans do. So we're all pulling for them and I told the kids Friday, you know, you are who you are and this is a big stage and if you want to be on the big stage, win. You can't go out and stink against Miami and walk around like you're good. So if you want to be good, welcome to the big stage. You got a packed house and national TV audience. Now we told them, how many of you want to go to a bowl? You want to go to a bowl? Everybody's stuck their hand up.

And I said, if you don't, leave, get out of here because I want to go to a bowl. I said so this is a huge game to get No. 3, if you want to head toward being bowl eligible. So I think they just have to learn who they are. And we said, in life, when you get a great award, you got to get up the next day and go back to work. So be proud of this. And I used to say, forget it, don't speak, don't say it, but be proud of it. It's good. Let it help you build confidence, but let it help you get to the next game with emotion and be proud. Don't let it set you back because you're in a position where you're walking around being cocky and thinking about that last one. We didn't win the last two games because we stood around. We had to come back in both of them. So that's what these guys are starting to understand. They're learning how to win and that's fun to watch. 

On starting the season with two comeback victories

I as a head coach couldn't have scripted it any better because the biggest problem that we had on Saturdays was we were in some fourth quarter games and didn't finish. So now they finished twice and we sat out there and it's amazing the learning curve and the teachable moments that you have. So Miami drives down and scores. They’ve got to go for two and tie it up and I told the defense at that point, oh, I think there's four minutes left the game, 4:25 or something. I said, if you stop them on this two-point play, we win the game. If you don't, we're probably going to overtime, but if you make this stop, we're going to win the game.

I didn't realize they were going to kick a last second field goal, but I did feel like we would kill the clock. We'd drive it down, we'd score and that's the way we've won so many games. And when they stopped them on the two-point play, I just thought it gave us confidence on the sideline. Okay offense, now you’ve got your chance to win the game, go win it. And then they were able to do that.”

How were you able to limit the penalties and turnovers and play a clean game against Miami? 

How? I think just time and time again in practice where we've taught… we take a picture of everybody has a ball in their hand and we take the video and we critique every time a ball is in the hands of an offensive player. And take the picture and show him, no, that's a fumble just about to happen. And Sam did a better job of taking care of the ball this week because your quarterback is the worst ball handler because he doesn't get hit in practice and he's the guy that usually got it out here and he's looking downfield and that's why they get so many stripped. But Sam did a better job and our guys have really taken care of the ball. As far as the penalties, we had so many last year and we've had the ACC officials out there every day and we call every penalty.

And just like this morning in practice, we had one penalty again. So we're critiquing the penalty, we're calling the guys out at practice. We're bringing it up in team meetings where they see. One of the things that's really important is for the other team members to see who's playing well and who's giving great effort and for them to see who's not because the guys that aren't playing well are usually the ones griping in their locker room. Well, we need to show everybody this guy's playing well and this guy is not. So you need to pick it up. And it's tough. It's hard, it's tough. But it’s the same thing with penalties and turnovers. We cannot have penalties and I've repeated to the coaches so many times, you're either allowing it to happen or you're coaching it not to happen.

And the things that happen in practice are the things that happen in a game. So if we have a corner with three holding penalties or two pass interference penalties and a holding penalty, I’ll tell Dre ‘I'm going to see that Friday night because if I see it here, what's going to be the difference? And if you allow it to happen, I'm going to see it Friday night.’ And it's amazing how many of those things have come up that practice relates to the game. And the key to modern day practicing is practice as close to game speed as you can without getting anybody hurt. And you've got to have so many full-speed game reps and stay healthy. And if you get guys hurt in the game, that's going to happen. You've really got to try to do a great job of not getting guys hurt in practice.

You had Dominique Ross back this week. You spoke about finding some kind of rotation with him at linebacker. I think he and Chazz were pretty similar in snap count. Are you pleased with how that rotation worked out? 

Yes, and we can do a better job with that.

I think Dominique missed a lot because of his suspension and now he's back and we're doing a lot with him. We're trying to get him in a pass rush role because we've got to get more pressure on the passer. We had three sacks Saturday night, but we also let him stand back there too long and let him escape and get out too much. And Dominique is a guy that can do both.

So we've got to be careful with him that we don't put so much on him that he doesn't get enough reps at anything. So we're really looking at getting him more playing time as a pass rusher and as a linebacker.

Really pleased with Chazz Surratt. I mean, my gosh, it's been just inconceivable to see what he's done from quarterback to linebacker in two weeks. He makes the 4th-and-1 stop. He's outside, he's so quick that he jumps back in and and grabs their quarterback and keeps him short. I mean, he is playing so well. We're just really excited about him and I'm sure he'll be excited to have a brother out there. 

It's really interesting that if the brother comes across the middle, they may have a conversation with the Surratts. And he loves his brother. His brother is a big ole pretty sucker; he can run and catch.

You had a couple of big run plays in the first quarter and then again at the end, but nothing in the middle. Do you have a different game plan going into Friday?

You know, it's not game plan as much as it is blocking people.

Miami's got a great front. Florida didn't run much against them either. So we found some creases and we found some ways to run the ball. But we knew at halftime that we weren't going to be able to just line up and run the ball. South Carolina, in the fourth quarter, we were able to do that. Miami, we weren't.

So what they were doing enabled us to get some creases in the running game, get the ball outside to some of our backs. Those two backs in space are really, really hard to tackle. And then we were able to get the ball down field more. So I think our offensive philosophy - I used to worry about you've got to have this many yards, you’ve got to do this and got to do that.

Right now, we want to take care of the ball. We want to be able to run the ball when we need to run it. We don't have to run it every play. And we were able to get off the goal line with Javonte Williams. Dazz made a poor decision. He caught the ball too deep. We get the ball about the seven-yard line, so short field for them. If they get a three-and-out there and we punt it short and we were punting short during the day, that's points. And Javonte ran for about 12 yards. He gets the first down, then Michael Carter hits a couple of runs. So that was a great drive in bringing it out. We were more disappointed that we didn't run it well in short yardage and goal line.

We made some plays, but we weren't able to just… Javonte had one off tackle play for a touchdown. But that's what Coach is working on right now. We're working on our short yardage and goal line. You go out and we had a 2nd-and-2 about midfield and we ended up having to punt.

We can't do that. We had a third down and three or four down here where we kicked the field goal. And that's four-down zone. If we make two there, we go for 4th-and-2, 4th-and-4s and 4th-and-5s are a little bit tougher to make against a great defense. So Coach Longo and the coaches have really gotten after that offensive line because we were so physical the first week and we needed to be more physical in this one because we've got to be able to run the ball before we can throw it and that's who we are.

The reason I hired Phil is that they've been so great in the passing game with the Air Raid all the time and we've still got those concepts and we're doing a great job in those areas. But at the same time, Phil’s concept, like Lincoln Riley, has been to be physical and run the ball and we're better off when we can do both.