COURTESY OF RUTGERS' ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS DEPARTMENT
Interim Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Nunzio Campanile
NUNZIO CAMPANILE: Obviously we had the opportunity to look at the tape and a lot of good things. It was a good day for our guys. Really happy to see them have the opportunity to celebrate, go out and enjoy a win and just go out and play like we know they are capable of playing. I thought it was a pretty complete game. We struggled a little early on defense but I thought we really settled in. We had a great performance from Damon Hayes. I thought he really played fantastic, and Avery Young with a huge tackle on the goal line I thought really changed the game.
On the offensive side of the ball. I thought we played a pretty complete game. The last few weeks we've been much better on third down which has been a major issue for us the last few years, and to start to see some change that. Hopefully there's some things to build on and what we've done on offense. Looks like there's some growth, and hopefully we can keep doing that. There's been much better balance in who is -- the ball distribution, who is really important. I thought that we had the type of balance that we would look for in the run pass, you know, not necessarily in the number of passes, but in the -- I guess, what we were able to get out of the 21 throws that we used. All in all, I thought that was all really good.
And we're getting ready to play a pretty good Illinois team that seems to be on a roll and getting better. They have had a couple really big wins, so it will be a great challenge for us and I think the kids are excited to get back to work and play this next game.
Q. You had a fourth down call early in that game against Liberty in your own territory, if it goes the other way, this game could have gone the other way. Curious about the aggressiveness of that decision, and if in general you find with the way the team is, being more aggressive on down like that are a strategy you have to take?
NUNZIO CAMPANILE: I think obviously if you -- you'd better believe you're going to get it, I guess, if you're going to do it. I think there's a time and place for everything, and to me, it was a little bit of a no-brainer. They went down and scored, and if we gave them the ball back and went down 14-0, I'm not sure that at that point, our team, that that would have been a great thing for them.
I thought if we are going to, you know, we are going to play to win and we're going to show them we have confidence in them and we are going to go make some plays; at the end of the game, we're involved with some of this analytics stuff and when it came back, they kind of agreed with the call. Obviously there's a lot of risk involved anytime you go for it on fourth down on your own end. We liked the play we called and match-up, and thought we would get it and thankfully we did, because if we didn't, like you said, it definitely could have been a major swing in momentum.
Q. Is that something you've done in the past? Are you usually an aggressive guy in those situations?
NUNZIO CAMPANILE: I have been that way since the day I was born. That's the way I was raised. My father was that kind of guy as a coach. It's kind of the way I played. You know, as a coach, that's always been the way that I would prefer to play. I think that you should play to win, but it doesn't mean that -- you also have to recognize the game and how it's going. If it's going to be a low-scoring defensive game, you have to punt that ball. If you're not sure what it's going to be, you know, a lot of it depends on the situation.
So over the years, I would say that I've made mistakes where I thought, you know, this is what we would do the last seven years, but this year we really aren't the type of team that can run, get this situation. So I think you live and learn that way. I thought that was one we needed to go for.
Q. Does any pressure come off your shoulders or the kids shoulders now, having gotten back in the win column, or is there still a sense of urgency trying to move things forward here throughout this season?
NUNZIO CAMPANILE: I hope that there's a little stress relieved from the players, but at the same time, I mean, there has to be a major sense of urgency going forward. We've got four games left here to continue to improve and that's kind of the thing I've been trying to say the whole time is in the end, I want this team to be better in December than we were when I was put in this position.
This game is going to be a huge step towards that. They are a really good team. They are playing really good defense and we need to be able to build off some of this stuff that we did. I think that defensively, we maybe started to get a little confidence in the second half, and were able to make some plays and hopefully there's some stuff that we could build off there, too.
Q. Johnny gets co-Freshman Player of the Week in the Big Ten. Comment on that and also the growth you've seen in him over the last few weeks.
NUNZIO CAMPANILE: Well, obviously I'm really happy for him and really proud of him. It's a tremendous accomplishment, you know, because a couple weeks ago, people were saying that guy is not a quarterback. The truth is that there's a major learning curve for those young guys, and I mean there's some really tough defenses coming down the road. I'm not certain that we are going to go out and three for 300 yards or something next week but I do think that the work he's put in in practice, he's startling to get those reps.
I kind of mentioned this on Saturday. I told the whole offense, we kind of just finished training camp. We finished four weeks in getting these reps in this offense. We started doing a better job of -- he got us in the right plays, the right run checks, the right passes, the right reads, got the ball out of his hand faster. You know, he just was a much better decision-maker on Saturday, and hopefully that will continue to grow.
But I'm really proud of him, yeah and I think that there's a chance for him to continue to develop that over the next four weeks, absolutely.
Q. Along those lines, two questions, I'll ask one at a time. One you talk about that growth and learning there. Also, what about, you know, you're the quarterback, you're the starter, you're the leader of the offense even though you're not necessarily a captain per se but how have you seen him embrace that leadership role of that offense because obviously going from third string to being the starter is a big difference, and now you have to command the respect of your teammates and all.
NUNZIO CAMPANILE: I think last week was probably the -- the first week he was a little better at it because it just happened like hey, Thursday, walk into practice, hey, by the way, you're going to start today. I don't think that he spent a lot of time overthinking it. And then I think for two weeks, he probably spent a lot of time overthinking it and he was trying to be somebody that he's not because he's trying to be a perfect quarterback. I don't think that that would be fair for any young guy.
But last week, he went out and practiced and said, hey, I'm just going to cut it loose and go make some plays and he did that, and now I'm sure the guys around him have a little more confidence in hey, we actually can go do this because it's a major piece to the puzzle. I think that this past week, he established himself much more as a leader in practice, and he played with much more confidence and because of that, the performance was better.
Q. The second part, it's well documented now that he came to you and said, listen, I have to do what I do, I'm trying to please everybody else. Talk about coaching him -- you guys won a championship together, what quarterback you saw as compared to that guy you saw that won a championship?
NUNZIO CAMPANILE: The guy that I saw on Saturday, is the guy that I coached, you know, for all those years. I don't know that he's ever going to be a prototypical, you know, Peyton Manning-type of quarterback. He's not. But I think he can win a lot of games in college football with his skill-set. You see a lot of guys -- I always say over the years, guys like Taysom Hill and Collin Klein, and Tim Tebow obviously was a Heisman Trophy winner; that's tough, rarefied air to put somebody. I'm just saying his skill-set lends well to college football. He's a big, strong, tough, athletic guy and you kind of have to build your team around those skills.
One thing that we have is we have a bunch of different guys that we can put the ball in their hands and let them run and some of our receivers will hopefully continue to emerge. We're finally able to get the ball to Bo a little bit. Some of those things made it easier for him to do that and I think that was good. I don't know that he's ever going to be the traditional drop-back-and-throw-it-50-times-a-game guy, but he at least showed on Saturday that he can make a bunch of throws, and he did.
Q. Do you have a plan mapped out about the redshirt guys and who is playing?
NUNZIO CAMPANILE: We evaluate it every week. There's not a lot of guys that are left. The freshmen, you know, there are some guys that they have been playing special teams and we'll just stop playing them. There's a couple other guys that we'll kind of communicate with this week and next week about where they sit in that situation. You know, there's a couple sophomores and juniors that maybe have played in their four games and we'll decide what we'll do with them in this next week. I think we'll have a really much clearer picture.
There are some other guys that have not barely played at all, so they will definitely at opportunities to play at least on special teams. So it is something that we are constantly looking at, and I do think that if the situation were different and that some of those guys, we would be just like, hey, you've got to play. Right now, it's a little different. We are trying to do what's right and fair for those guys and their future and the future of the program.
Q. Any specific guys that we haven't seen that we're going to see?
NUNZIO CAMPANILE: Oh, boy. You know, just some of the freshmen I guess on special teams. Guys that have played a little bit, like Brian Ugwu and Mohamed Toure and maybe Zukudo and some of those guys. Christian Dremel played a couple snaps in the Minnesota game. He'll probably get some work in the next few weeks. We have some guys that are a little banged up at wide receiver. Mainly those guys. More younger guys.
Q. Illinois, looks like a team that's about to turn the corner, a similar situation Rutgers was a few years ago. Do you see any parallels and what do you think they have done to get to that point?
NUNZIO CAMPANILE: Well, one, I think they play really hard. I do. I think that it's evident in all three phases that they are playing with great effort, and obviously, even just a couple weeks ago, people were saying, you know, oh, there really hasn't been any growth. Obviously you go out and beat Wisconsin, the truth is, it's hard to win games in this league. I think they are playing really hard. They have got really good speed. They have got talent. You know, they changed a little bit offensively from last year, probably more based on the quarterback than anything.
But they are entertaining to watch. The last two games on defense, they have been pretty dominant and they managed to get the points in the 30s almost every week. Last week they played in a monsoon, so that was tough. I think they are a pretty good team.
Q. Since the win the last couple days, have you seen a difference in the team confidence-wise? NUNZIO CAMPANILE: I hope so, but you know, the truth is, I don't think we'll really know until we get back to work and get on the field on Saturday. It's great to win a game, but one of the big things I told the entire team is, you know, we have talked a lot about dealing with adversity. But now we have to talk about dealing with prosperity. Nothing changes. If anything, there should be almost -- to the earlier question, like a greater sense of urgency to go out and continue to improve. That will be the thing I'm curious to see, when we really hit the field on Tuesday how excited we are to go out and compete and try to build off Saturday.