STEVE ADDAZIO: Well, we’re obviously disappointed today. A lot of preparation went into today - a big day for our seniors, for the guys here that have done so much for our program. You know, credit to Syracuse, to Eric Dungey. I thought he was incredible today. He’s a heck of a football player, and he stepped up and had just a phenomenal day making plays when there weren’t any plays to be made. More credit and power to him. He’s a heck of a football player.
We had too many penalties, too many issues, you know, we went down the field in the first drive, had a great kickoff return, brought it down, went to kick a field goal from the 15 and missed the field goal again. We were able to then go down and score, which was a nice drive, and we had some good things going on, and then we turned around and gave up some big plays.
They scored, and on the kickoff return, Mike (Walker), who did a great job all day long, was going for second and third effort and the thing got knocked out, and it led to two quick scores within minutes, seconds, whatever that was, so that made it difficult. Then of course we lost Wyatt Ray, and then of course we lost Zach Allen, and then of course we lost A.J. Dillon, so I would say those are three powerful players.
Our kids battled, we got it back in the third quarter to a 28-21 game. I felt good about where the momentum at that particular point was. I felt like we had good energy and good momentum, and then we had a series of a couple issues on defense, and that thing popped back again.
It was hard to get it back again at that point. I think our guys played hard. I thought we played sloppy. We made too many mistakes. We’re going to have to get that fixed. I’m proud of what these seniors have accomplished. They’re going to go -- for the fifth time in six years they’re going to go to a bowl game, a good bowl game. We will have a chance to have some time to get some rest, and I’m hoping that maybe -- since the fourth game of the season we haven’t seen our tailback be able to be healthy, and since then -- when I think about Eric Dungey and what he was able to do today, what a great player he is.
I feel bad that one of our players and one of the best players in the country hasn’t been able to do that since game four. To no fault of his own he’s worked and tried so hard to overcome this injury and maybe with more extended time now we can get that behind him. I’m hopeful that can be the case as we get into bowl season. I thought Anthony Brown played very, very well, and that was good to see.
I also thought we got a window into the defensive line - a bunch of young guys, obviously, played the bulk of the second half of that football game. We got a chance to watch them play and that was a good thing. In a tough situation, it was a good thing to be able to see them play.
I think, as our kids know, we got a chance to go get our eighth win in a bowl game, and to continue to develop we have a fine, really good football team that’s going to be here for this bowl game and coming back next year at the most critical positions where you need to have those kind of talented players, and we have them.
I’m looking forward to seeing that. I’m looking forward to watching guys like Hunter Long have bowl prep - who I think is going to be an exceptional player here - taking care of our seniors, really bringing along our young players, and seeing if we can get our best players healthy and back into the mix here to bring us back into being an explosive team, which is the way we started out.
I’m looking forward to that, and we will get ‘em in here tomorrow, get back to work, look at the tape, get on the road recruiting, and go about our business; find out where we are playing a bowl game and keep rolling. Any questions?
Q. You mentioned Wyatt and Zach, Steve. Seemed like you guys were effective early in the second half with blitz packages. Did Dungey just do a really good job of adjusting to that?
STEVE ADDAZIO: He just made some plays. Take the one play where the ball was snapped through the legs and it went down to the, I don’t know, 1 yard line or something, and all of the sudden he’s scooping it and throwing it and instead of a loss down to the 1, it’s back out to the line of scrimmage as an incomplete pass.
He just made some plays -- one play we got him on the ground, knee down, he throws it and let it go, and it ends up in somebody’s hands. Those kind of plays. That dude is just making plays everywhere!
Adjustment, I don’t know if there is any adjustments. I think we played some pretty good defense at times in there. I think early on, we let up a couple of big runs. Again, I thought we were in position a couple of times, too, in the back end. We had a blown coverage early, that was that cheap shot there, that was a blown coverage, and that hurt, you know, because that just turned -- that was just a quick thing, and our offsides penalties were just ridiculous, those are ridiculous. Those are no-talent issues, and those are inexcusable.
Q. Steve, you mentioned A.J. has been hobbling the last couple of weeks, and then Wyatt and Zach go down today. Considering how the last couple of weeks have been, does it seem like it snowballed just last week and into this week and how the season wrapped up?
STEVE ADDAZIO: I don’t know. I wouldn’t call it a snowball. I just think at the end of the day we lost a heart breaker. We came off the Clemson game, which was a big deal here, and we lost Anthony Brown in the sixth play of that game, okay, that happened. We put a lot into that.
Felt great about going down to Tallahassee. We went down there highly prepared, and I thought we played really, really hard. We gave up what we gave up at the end to lose a heart breaker.
We come back in here at home, we play a good football team with a senior, veteran, fifth-year quarterback, who is sensational - I think maybe the best quarterback in the league, in my opinion. I’ve been saying that for a long time; I’m not saying something new right now, and he played at his absolute best. Coupled with that, I think we made some very foolish mistakes, and in addition to that, to answer your question, we lost arguably our three best players.
AJ has not been able to be anywhere near full speed since the fourth game of the season. That’s just the way it is. He’s given a valiant effort, but I wouldn’t even want to put a percent on it, but we’re not seeing anywhere near the same explosiveness that we’ve seen, the speed, the acceleration, the ability to cut. It’s just not going to go away until I don’t know when. It could be through bowl prep or it could be not until spring ball, I really don’t have the answer to that.
But losing the other two guys today against that kind of offense and that quarterback, that’s probably not what you want to see happen, just like you didn’t want to see your quarterback go down and play seven against Clemson. But through all that, with all of that being said, we battled our tail off against Clemson, went down to a 1-point game against Florida State, and then we take this game, we’re back in it in the third quarter and it’s 28-21, without either one of those defensive ends at that point.
I think it speaks to the toughness and the character of the kids of our team. I would call that a little bit of bad luck, a little bit of not good fortunate, and when you get into this thing, deep into it, you need a little of that, you’ve got to have some of that go your way. You can’t lose all your fire power on both sides of the ball like that, not all of it but a big chunk of it. Just like they could have ill-afforded to lose Dungey, right? Look at the impact he had on that game.
The good news? Here’s the good news. Our impact players are coming back, and our quarterback is coming back, and we’ve got a lot of talented players coming back, because we’ve recruited well and developed well and built the program well. So tough times don’t last, tough people do, and good talent shows through. Not everybody gets hurt all the time. You get your run of staying healthy and not having that hit your program too. That will happen. We’ve had a run of that, from last season when we lost Anthony in the eighth game of the year, for the year, right? So we’ve had our share. I’m guessing that will turn.
Q. With the expectations and the idea that this was the year that you guys could take another step, did the way these past few weeks played out, did that feel more disappointing on a macro level?
STEVE ADDAZIO: I mean, we did take another step. We came in here, and a week ago Saturday we were the 19th-best team in the country. We had ESPN GameDay here. Why? Because we were, at that point, playing for the conference championship, just two weeks ago. So we took a big step, sold this place out, first sell-out in years. A lot of good things have happened. Are we disappointed in the last two games? For sure. No doubt about it, you know?
We’ve just gone through the details of what led to that here right now. Would we like to have overcome all of those injuries and things that we had and still taken this? You darn straight we would have liked to.
But we’re playing a high-caliber team today, and it’s hard to do that when you’re in that situation. So we did take another step, and we still have a chance to win our eighth game of the year in our bowl game, okay? I’m going to say it one more time: Those guys are all coming back. We’re not losing our fifth-year quarterback right now, we’re not losing the best player on our football team.
So we’re built right now to keep grinding for that finish line to be able to compete for a conference championship. To do that, we still need to -- in this conference we’re in, on the side that we’re in, we’re going to have to stay healthy to do that, though.
Toward the end here, physically it appears to me that we fell a little bit apart over the last few weeks in critical situations. We’ve lost some absolutely critical, key players. Does that mean we don’t need -- it has nothing to do with going off sides four times -- but we need to have the firepower to make the plays necessary to overcome some of the teams and the star quality player that we’re playing against right now. Simple as that.
I’m disappointed in the last two weeks, for sure, especially last week, but I’m excited to get going and to get in a bowl game and to have an opportunity to get our eighth win there and keep developing our program, because that’s what this is all about. It’s all about that. It’s all about to continue to stay and grow at a certain level, okay? That’s what we want to do. That’s what we’re striving to do, and we’re in position to do that. We’re in great position to do that. We have a third-year quarterback and a third-year Heisman Trophy candidate tailback and a really good offensive line and a great tight end and a promising group of receivers and we have to replace two great pass rushers, but we watched two young guys do that today and play at a pretty good level. Those are the things I’m focused on.
Q. How do you look at whether that’s sort of a steady pattern or whether that’s something that you still have to work on?
STEVE ADDAZIO: I think you can always grow and I think you need to grow. Right now we want to go get win No. 8. That’s our goal, win No. 8. That would be great thing, get win No. 8. That’s what we’re striving for. We play in a very competitive conference in a very competitive environment and there’s a fine line in there. We certainly had our crack this year to get one or two more in there, and we didn’t get that done, but that doesn’t demean what we’ve done, you know?
We’re going to have five players drafted here, at least, maybe more. And we have recruited a talented group that’s going to be still talented next year, and we’ve got a bunch of wonderful, hard-working, represent-the-university, great players, and we’re going bowling again! It’s easy to take that stuff for granted, but those are the facts of the matter.
I have history, and I understand history, so I know where we’ve been and where we are, and where we are trying to go, okay? But it’s been somewhere between 6.5 and 6.6 wins a year since 1980, which is 38 years. We’re at 7, and we’re trying to go for 8; that’s our goal. And we’re a whisker away from hitting more than that, and there is no prize for second place, but we’re encroaching on that fast. In terms of getting those next couple of wins in there that help us take the next step and compete.
One or two Saturdays ago, we were competing for the conference championship against one of the best teams, period, in college football, without our starting quarterback after play six. We’ve been ranked three times in the top 25, we’ve had ESPN GameDay. I’m telling you, there are a lot of positive things happening, and we’ve got to keep that mindset, and we’ve got to keep growing and developing that. We’re striving to compete for a conference championship. That’s our goal.
We did that two weeks ago, and we fell short of it. Now we’re striving for what’s available as our eighth win and we’re going to go like crazy to get that eighth win, and we’re going to keep recruiting and keep developing our program, and we’re going to keep building this thing the right way, the first-class way, with the kind of kids that we want to represent this university.
So, yeah, I’m proud of ‘em. I’m disappointed. I’m not satisfied. There is more meat on the bone, and we want to get it. So we’ve got to get to work, hard, and get ready for three, four weeks from now, whenever it is, to go get win number eight.
Q. Steve, you’ve emphasized the importance of win number eight. Does it help to have a month or so of preparation to kind of get people on track, after closing the regular season on three straight losses?
STEVE ADDAZIO: I think the biggest thing it helps is to get three star quality players healthy enough to play in that game, which will absolutely happen, all right? I think it gives you what amounts to is a whole other spring practice for the development of your younger players that you want to see in key spots next year: Specifically at the defensive end position, at the safety positions. We’ve got some key, key guys that we want to work with and really get a jump life start with.
The goal in bowl is not to grind guys like Zach Allen or grind guys like Wyatt Ray or grind guys like Ray Smith. The goal is to make sure Brandon Barlow is taking the next step and Marcus Valdez and T.J. Rayam and Jaleel Berry and to get Mike Palmer back playing some safety, and to see Tate Haynes really -- who has really developed at corner, and to continue to see guys like Tyler Vrabel at right tackle and Anthony Palazzolo and then of course, Elijah Johnson has been cleared. He has been practicing now for the last three weeks. He started as a true freshmen here. He’s been out of football now for two seasons, but he’s been cleared for the last few weeks and practicing. What a great opportunity to see one of our very best offensive lineman come right back into the fold. And to let Alec Lindstrom, who we think is going to be a great player, come back in here and take a bunch of snaps at center.
And then to continue, I think you would all like to see the continuation of the development of David Bailey, another really exciting, young, big back, and then C.J. Lewis and Jehlani Galloway, and Kobay and those young receivers that we have that we feel really good about right now, and Noah Jordan-Williams. That’s what this stuff is about.
That’s what’s so critical about bowl games, and that’s how you keep yourself rolling, and you don’t hit these divots, because you don’t want your program to go back to the days of being a two- or three- or four- or five-year program or six. You are trying to keep where you are and then lift it further up. That’s how you go about this. And what you don’t want is any disruption along the way, because when it gets disrupted, it can get disrupted for a while, and that’s not going to happen because the recruiting is consistent and strong and we’ve got really young players in the pipeline.
Q: Did you see the kicker coming? Did he just kind of sneak in there?
MICHAEL WALKER: Yeah he just snuck in there. There was some jumping over the pile and he kind of just got in there.
Q: Big picture: you guys came into this season with a specific goal, when circumstances don’t turn out, what do you see from the season so far?
MICHAEL WALKER: I mean it’s definitely a disappointment. We came into the season aiming for an ACC Championship, that was the goal. We were up for that playing Clemson. It hasn’t gone our way the past few games. We just have to end on a good note and send the seniors out on the right note, including myself.
Q: How do you balance that out with the fact that you do have the chance to go for that eighth win for the first time in almost ten years?
MICHAEL WALKER: It’s definitely something to boost this program. It’ll set the platform right. We’ve had a great season. The past few haven’t gone our way but it’s still been a hell of a season. I hope it’ll help future teams.
Q: Do you think the team has taken the next step?
MICHAEL WALKER: It’s hard to say. These past few games have been tough. Earlier in the season, we definitely were taking the next step but it’s been rough.
First and foremost, I just want to say that it was an honor to wear #31 today. To receive the Jim Scholarship really meant a lot and to see his family after the game, seeing them and having them embrace me: it was a great feeling and I’m glad I was able to do that.
Q: Early in the second half there were a couple of trumped plays, nobody was covering. What do you think happened?
LUKAS DENIS: There was a slight bit of miscommunication, confusion. We were able to stop that from happening later in the game. I think there were just sudden plays. Things happen in football and it’s all about how you bounce back so I think we were able to stop some of those from happening later in the game.
Q: Do you think the team was able to take the next step this season?
LUKAS DENIS: I think we were able to do a lot of things that haven’t been done in a while. I think as a senior class we’ll be able to look back at this season and smile. We still have a lot left; we have a month to play football and a chance to win eight games which hasn’t been done in a while. We definitely took the next step. I’m very happy with that next step. Things were tough my freshman year and we were able to flip that around with the help of coaches. Coach Addazio always stayed positive and helped us grind through it. I’m just really happy that we were able to turn things around for him and for the program but we still have one game left so we’re looking to that.
Q: Coach Addazio really emphasized how important win number eight is for this team and now you have a month to prepare after a three-game slide. How do you really get the team prepared and get win number eight? How important would it be for the program and for the senior class who started with that 3-9 season?
LUKAS DENIS: That’s the thing about these guys, it’s not going to be hard to get them fired up. I’m pretty sure we’re all ready to play the next game. We all want to get back into the film room, we wat to know what went wrong, we want to get back outside to practice. We’ll have a very productive month of practice, we’ll practice as hard as we did week one. That doesn’t change around here. We’ll be pumped up and ready to go.
Q: How do you try to stay on track despite injuries to players around you?
A: Of course it makes things difficult but we always preach that the next man up has to be ready. Just like last year when I went down, the next man up had to be ready. Simple things like that. Yes, it makes things hard, but it’s not impossible.
Q: What do you see as the differences between a good and a great team?
A: Like Lukas said, it shows how hard it is to be a great team. Not taking anything for granted during practice, in your extra time, being out in the film room – anything. Anything that could possibly help you get better and help this team get better I feel like will be *the* next step. That will increase execution. That will get us closer and closer to being a great team. We have to appreciate that and learn from that. There’s nothing that won’t get us ready to play this next game. It’s hard to talk (about) right now because today was really uncharacteristic and there were things that we need to clean up as a team. If we clean those things up there’s a different outcome today, there’s no doubt in my mind. There’s so much that we left on the field and we need to make sure we finish this thing off right, get to this bowl game and attack it. Like Lukas said, it’ll be the same type of practice we had week one. It’s just going to continue and we’ll push this thing over the top to get this eighth win and send the seniors off right and finish it off.
(Transcript provided by Boston College athletics)