Houston Cougars head coach Major Applewhite met with the Houston media earlier this week in advance of his team's home Saturday against Arizona. The Cougars, who rallied in the second half to beat Rice 45-27 last week in their opener, beat the Wildcats 19-16 in Tucson in 2017.
On what Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate brings and the difference he made in the 2017 game
"That was a totally different team for the 3-3.5 quarters that he was not playing. It came down to the last series, up three, and they're either going to kick a field goal and take it to overtime, or they're going to score and win the game, and then Garrett (Davis) had an interception there in the red zone to seal the game. The game totally changed when he entered the game in terms of what he provided them at quarterback.
"(Running back, J.J.) Taylor, Shawn (Poindexter) (Tony) Ellison, all of those guys are tremendous athletes, but when he came into the game, there was a definite change in momentum and the spark that he provided. He's an elite player. He's a great quarterback, who is very, very athletic. He has a great host of talent around him in terms of Taylor and Ellison and Poindexter, who is playing great as well, so there's a lot more to that offense than just Khalil, but he has all those weapons, and he knows how to use them."
On the play of sophomore defensive back Deontay Anderson
"He played well. Defensively, in the second half, we started getting better on third down and started getting them off the field some, and then our offense started to pick it up, so the momentum and the complexity of the game changed in the second half.
"I don't want to just pick out one person's play. Deontay did some great things. For a guy that hasn't played a whole bunch he did some great things in week one. And like all of us, head coach included, you've been off for eight or nine months, and you realize, 'Alright, this is where I need to step it up, and this is where I can be better in week two.'"
On stopping third down conversions in the second half against Rice
"Offensively, we weren't moving the ball really well to start the game off, and we were playing great defense on first and second down. Some of the third downs they converted were third-and-7, third-and-8, third-and-9, third-and-11. So we were playing great defense on first and second down, and then as a defensive coordinator, and really as a staff because I'm a part of those discussions too, it's let's get them off the field right here. Let's deny the ball, let's play man coverage and let's get them off the field, so we can get field position for an offense that is struggling, but we didn't make those plays.
"We're in position to knock down a ball in the seam, we're in position to knock down two balls on the sideline, and (Rice wide receiver Aaron) Cephus makes great plays, and they keep the drives going. There wasn't a tremendous amount of points that resulted from those conversions, but it took up time, it took up clock and it just delayed the flip of momentum that you saw in the third quarter."
On the team's effort
"The team played hard as a whole. One thing you have to be really careful of is talking to them a whole bunch, whether it be in the locker room, at halftime or after the game. You haven't really had a chance to watch the game. You may see a particular player jogging late as the whistle is being blown, and that can formulate something that you tell the team that isn't true.
We really want to study effort. Some of our best players at times didn't have great effort, but by and large the team had exceptional effort. We're going to constantly coach that. It's one of those deals that 97 or 98 percent isn't good enough. It has to be 100 percent. We're going to be hard on everybody, whether it's D'Eriq (King) carrying out a fake or a guard finishing a block, Ed (Oliver) continuing to pursue the ball. We're going to keep pointing those things out because those are things that we're going to pride ourselves on, effort and ball security. We're going to grade those things very tough."
On how to progress from week one to week two
"There are a lot of things you find out in week one. To get better from week one to week two, you have to be intentional. You have to be deliberate. Where were my mistakes? Should I have gone for it on fourth down based on how we were playing on offense? Probably not. Did I help our punt returner with some rules that can make the game easier for him? That's how I have to get better this week, and I've got to be intentional in how I get better.
Same thing with offense and defensive players and the assistant coaches. We have to look at it and say was this a mental mistake, or was this something that I asked this kid to do that he physically can't do? Am I being stubborn in my scheme or in my play calling? There's a lot of things you have to look at but you have to be intentional and deliberate. That's something we've talked about, and we talk about before practice. We have to be intentional and mindful in what we're doing and understand what our weaknesses are, address it, get better at it and keep focusing on the issue throughout the week."
On redshirt quarterback/receiver Bryson Smith
"I told Bryson, you're playing wide, you're playing running back, you're playing quarterback, kick return and punt return. You have to find out if you're giving them too much or are you giving them just enough and need to clear up a few things to go out here and play more clearly, freely, and with confidence.
There's performance anxiety. I don't know how to say it any other way. Anytime you take the stage, I don't care if you're doing a presentation, teaching a class, giving a lecture, or going to play, people get nervous. It's human nature.
That's where you need to be smart as a coach and say is this something with anxiety and they'll be better the second week at it, or am I just putting this guy in a situation where his brains going to lock up and just can't do it.
It doesn't matter what I know as a coach, it's my job to take the air out of the game for them. If it's defining things that are very simple for him as a punt returner, if you take one step backwards, you take twenty steps forward, but you let the ball hit, and we play offense. Just trying to make things easier for guys. Being smart as a coach and realizing that's just nerves.
We missed this ball, but that's D'Eriq King. He's played a bunch of football. He missed this throw because it's the first pass of the game. He'll play beyond that. This guy hasn't played a lot of football and got his wires crossed on him. We got lucky on this next time it happened. Maybe, we don't have to put him in that situation again.
Not over-thinking it, but making sure we put the right amount of thought into it and make the changes from week one to week two. We need to help these guys out the best we can and put them in the best position humanly possible.
On Ed Oliver's success in the first game
"It's a difficult task. He's a great football player, and there are going to be a lot of different schemes that he's going to face this season. Starting off the game against a guy like Coach Mike Bloomgren, who has expertise with the offensive line, we saw him go about it in a lot of different ways. There are formulas that'll start coming out, and that'll evolve throughout the season. You'll begin to see how people are attacking him. He's going to get everything from snap count to perimeter runs, trap blocks and double teams and triple teams. He's going to see it all.
"The one thing that struck me most about his playing on Saturday was his maturity and poise; I saw it from all of our players. I saw it from D'Eriq. I saw it from Ed, and I saw it from other guys as well. When things weren't going well in the first and second quarters, there wasn't a lot of 'C'mon man. What are we doing?' You didn't feel all of that. It was 'Hey, we gotta tighten up.' There was a mistake here and there, and that's not acceptable. Our mistakes are going to continue to happen until we start playing cleaner football. After halftime, they all composed themselves, and we started playing better football. We gave up three points on defense, and then the offense started rolling.
"The physical play is great, but watching them hold their composure in a first game like that, especially against a team that had already played a game, was impressive. We've just got to keep doing that and building on it."
On playing complete defense the first half
"It was a combination of the flow of the game. We didn't do anything offensively in the first half. Any time a Stanford-or Rice-style offense snaps the ball 86 times in a game, that's telling you you're getting off the field too fast on offense. You're not playing good enough ball on third down. When we started playing better ball on third down, we started getting better field position. We started scoring. We started making them do things they didn't want to do. When you get to a two-possession game, a team that runs the ball like that isn't interested in throwing as much. We started getting some sacks, pressure, getting in longer situations, and the score started going our way."
On Roman Brown playing with Darrion Owens out
"It was great to get him in there. It was great to see him play. He played well. We had 22 guys on defensive play on Saturday. We were able to get to a lot of depth, and that'll help us down the stretch. I'm impressed with Roman and some other guys that came in and played at other positions. We need to continue to do that. Roman will get some time with Darrion out. Roman, Austin Robinson, Jordan Milburn, Elijah Gooden, Donovan Mutin, Jordan Carmouche, all six of those guys will play inside. We'll continue to roll those guys into the side backer."
On Ed Oliver's play helping other defensive linemen
"There is no doubt. When you got to ... commit these two guys to this guy, it frees up someone as a single one. Defensive lines are always fun to watch. Once one starts getting his hands on, then the next one gets his, and then it is just a feeding frenzy. You like to see that kind of excitement and enthusiasm. It was great to see Isaiah really get in there and get a sack, along with Austin Robinson and have some production for some other guys. I am sure those guys want their names called as much as Ed got his name called. It is always good to have some competition and see who can beat who to the ball."
On Patrick Carr earning playing time
"Once the backs started third quarter, we started running better. But by and large, we've got to get more verticals back. We've got to get better path level; we've got to run our feet at contact; it is not always going to be perfect. It is BYOB. You got to bring your own blocker at times and go. Those guys, we need to get more vertical, better lean and run our feet at contact. That was something we saw Patrick do. You saw him get outside with his feet but, when he got outside, he got vertical and found himself in the end zone. We just got to continue to develop."
"That is another thing from a running back position, having coached that position. It is difficult unless you just tackle all the fall camps, which you are going to run the risk of injuring the whole team. It is difficult until you get in those situations where you are playing live tackle and you start to get your legs and the feel for how to run the ball in the first couple of games. It was good to see those guys in the second half a lot like our team and get their rhythm going."
On facing Arizona and head coach Kevin Sumlin
"I've told our team that this is about us. It's always about us; it's about how we play; it's about how we practice. If we want to play at a standard; practice at that standard."
"This is not about playing a Power 5 team, or playing a Pac-12 team; that's not what this is about. It's about Arizona coming into Houston and trying to take something that's ours. They want to start their season off with a win now. They are going to try to come into our house, and take something that's ours, and we're not going to let them do that."
"We're going to focus on what we need to do from now until game time to get prepared to win on Saturday."