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Mike Elko Press Conference Quotes - Clemson

Mike Elko met with the media Monday. The following is from Duke Sports Information.

Duke Football Head Coach - Mike Elko

Opening Statement

"First, I think it's really important to just start by sending our thoughts and prayers to the Chapel Hill community. Obviously, there's not a lot of details out there right now, but certainly, thoughts and prayers that everybody over there is safe and that ends in a positive way as best it can. That is a lot bigger than anything else we're going to talk about here today. So wanted to start there.

"I think from a football standpoint, it is obviously it's an exciting time. When you do this opening press conference, it's here, the season is here. We're certainly at that point where our guys are tired of hitting each other and then certainly looking forward to going out there and hitting somebody else. I think we've had a really good training camp. We've had a really good summer. I think our team is ready to go out there and perform. We're excited for the opportunity. To go out next Monday night and finally get to put it on the line against somebody else and showcase what this team is. Clemson is coming in and I have unbelievable respect for this program. I've said this all offseason that they're the gold standard of ACC football. I think it's seven of the last eight ACC championship games they've played in. They've been in five straight playoffs. They've won two national championships. They've accomplished as much as any ACC program has since the ACC has come together like this in this manner. To get them in the opener, I think is an opportunity for our program, but it's also a huge challenge.

"They're going to come in here offensively with two extremely talented running backs that are performing at an extremely high level. Will Shipley has been around doing it for years it feels like and can do it in a lot of different ways. He can hurt you running, he can hurt you catching it and can hurt you in the return game. They've got a really good offensive line. I've known Cade Klubnik for a long time all the way back to my years in Texas and so I feel like he's been winning football games and playing quarterback at a really high level for a really long time even though it hasn't been as much at Clemson yet. This is his first full-time year as a starter, but we certainly have a lot of respect for his talent level and where he's at.

"Defensively, the length and athleticism just jumps off on the tape but I think it starts through the middle. They're really good through the middle with their two defensive tackles. Their two linebackers are really active and effective football players for them. They're involved in a lot. They create a lot of havoc. Their two defensive ends as well. Those are two kids I remember recruiting a long time ago. Those kids have been at Clemson for a long time, which is never a good recipe for a Clemson player to be there for a long time because they're going to develop and grow in that program. They're big, they're strong, they're long. The secondary brings back a lot of guys and it brings back a lot of guys with a lot of experience. That group is going to be really talented. It is going to be a huge challenge for us, but we'll be up for it, and we'll go out and play our best football next Monday and kind of see where it goes."

On his thoughts about the second scrimmage of fall camp.

"Yeah, probably more finalizing things. I think obviously that's what you want is a sharp scrimmage without a lot of penalties with a really good operation. We had that. I felt like we operated well. I feel like we communicated well. Those were the kind of things that we were looking for. I think we're finalizing snap counts more than a depth chart. I think that's the biggest thing. Who has earned the right to play, how many plays, and I think we're in a position this year where we have a little bit more depth and we have a little bit more competition, so I don't think those competitions end with one guy playing a certain number of plays and one guy playing zero. You're just trying to figure out how you are splitting up the game and how you are rotating guys in and then to what percentage are they playing? I think those were probably some of the decisions that kind of got finalized the other day."

On Monday being the biggest game in recent history to be played at home.

"Yeah, we don't acknowledge it. I think that's the starting point. I understand your question and I respect it. I certainly know what the question is about, but we certainly don't talk like that. This for us is one opportunity out of 12. We know that no matter what happens next Monday night, there's going to be 11 more on the schedule. They're certainly not going to cancel the schedule one way or the other, no matter how this game turns out. So, we know for us to be successful, we've got to play our best version of football. That's what we want our kids focused on. We're focused on ourselves. We're focused on how to go out and execute at a really high level next Monday night, and that's what we know we're going to need to do going into the season opener against Clemson."

On the keys to having a successful season after last year.

"It always starts with staying healthy. I think that is a huge starting point. We are deeper, but there are certainly guys on this team that need to stay healthy and need to be successful for us. I think we've got to be able to play the game physically the same way we did last year against what is going to be an enhanced schedule. We talked a lot about that this offseason, we've got to be able to run the ball. We've got to be able to stop the run. That will be a bigger challenge at times this year than it was last year. We know that and I think we're ready for that challenge. I think we've got to do a really good job playing situational football. I think if you look at some of the close games we played last year, you look at some of the more marquee matchups that we played last year, they came down to two-minute execution, they came down to four-minute execution. They came down to two-point plays at the end of the game, and our ability to execute those types of situations a little bit better than we did at times last year and those games I think will be critical."

On if there is a benefit of Clemson being on the schedule early.

"I think the benefit is them not being on our schedule to be honest (laughing). I mean, listen, you know the thing that's true about openers is this, they're lost sometimes a lot more than they are won. That's kind of regardless of talent level. You never know what you're going to get in an opener from your opponent or from yourselves. Those are always unpredictable things, right? So, you do everything that you think you need to do to get yourself ready and then you just try to go out there and play clean football. If we can limit penalties, if we can limit operational issues, if we can limit turnovers, if we can protect the football, if we can do those things and not make some of those first game mistakes, then in an opener, you feel like you've given yourself a chance no matter who you're playing. To that extent, maybe there's a benefit to doing it in the opener because you can focus a little bit more on yourselves and making sure you're ready to play clean football coming right out of the locker room opening night."

On the team being able to advance quicker this offseason with limited staff changes.

"You never know until you play somebody right? That's one of the challenges of college football is, we've had 38 practices against ourselves before between the UCF game and the Clemson game. We haven't had a chance to go out there against anybody else. So, you think you know what it's going to look like, but you never really do. Certainly, amongst all that uncertainty, experience helps. Guys coming back helps. Being in year two, it helps to have coaches back on your staff. I think all of those things are certainly positives for our program. At the end of the day, we still have to go out there next Monday night and play the game the way we're capable of and that's ultimately what it's all going to come down to."

On if expectations on attention to detail were met this offseason.

"We'll find out Monday night. I mean, yeah, we like what we have set in place. We create standards and our job as coaches is to make them live up to the standard and so we created the standard that we felt was good enough. We certainly met that more often than not and we talk about this a lot, but we've got a great culture. We've got great kids. They respond to messaging very well. They respond to challenges very well. We laid all of that out there for them for sure. I do think if you come out and watch us practice right now, we're operating and functioning at a much higher level than we did at this time last year. I don't think that's even debatable. The challenge becomes, can you do that well enough, over 60 minutes on a field Monday night, to have the success that you want to have and there's still some work to do before we get there."

On if there was a specific position group that exceeded all expectations.

"I don't know about exceeded all expectations. I think my expectations, and the kids will probably tell you my expectations are really high, so exceeding them was probably very challenging this part of the season. I think we've grown in a lot of areas. Obviously, it's been well documented that we have a little bit more depth in the secondary this year, and that's always a positive and there's certainly more movable pieces back there that we feel good about playing and think can be effective. I think every other position on defense is a year better, which is positive and good to see. Certainly, having a quarterback who's got a year under his belt is a benefit. I think he's functioning a lot better as an offensive player right now. I don't know that anyone fully exceeded expectation, but I think we're progressing at a good rate."

On how much the rule changes this season will impact the game.

"We looked at it last week. Obviously, the benefit of week zero was we got to kind of see it play out a little bit in games. I think it ultimately affected about six to seven plays a game is kind of what it looked like last weekend. I don't know how much that affects us. I think where we've talked about it as being a huge impact for us is just like if you're behind or you're in those two score games in the last five, six, seven minutes of the game. In the past those drives could be quick because the clock could stop on the first down. You could get a lot of plays in I think that's where the impact of the rule change is going to be. I don't know that necessarily in the second quarter, the fact that after we get a first down and the clocks moving that it's going to have a huge impact on it. I think it's going to be that stretch of like five to seven minutes at the end of the half and at the end of the game."

On getting the guys ready to play on Monday instead of a normal Saturday.

"I think our kids will be ready when they come out of the tunnel Monday night. I'd probably rather play earlier. I don't know that you really want to sit around all weekend and let all of college football unfold before you get your shot to go out there. But you know, it is what it is. That's the schedule and we'll certainly be ready to play."

On the mood of the team playing on Monday night to open the season.

"I don't know about the national broadcast part of it, but we're excited. We're excited to go out there and play somebody else. I think this group knows that a lot of people chose to come back to this program for this season. I think they know that if they play the way they're capable of they have a chance of doing something special this year. I think that has permeated throughout our locker room all offseason. It's been well documented, right? Whether it's DeWayne Carter or Jacob Monk or Jalon Calhoun, or Ja'Mion Franklin or Graham Barton, even Riley Leonard. In this day and age that we're living in, there are lot of kids that had opportunities to go either to the NFL or to other schools or whatever, and they all came back here together to do something. There's a purpose about it in our locker room right now and what we're trying to go out and accomplish. It's a big challenge. There's no doubt about it all the way through the season. Twelve games deep, it's a big challenge what we're trying to get done, but I think we're just excited to kind of get out there and start it and then get the ball rolling."

On how much adjusting has been done with Tyler Santucci joining as the defensive coordinator.

"I think I probably have the same level of involvement right now as I did last year. I said this last year, Rob [Smith] ran it, and I was kind of there to support. This year, Tyler's running it and I'm kind of there as well. Obviously, Tyler and I have worked together a lot and there's a little bit more familiarity that he has with the way I think about things just because he spent more time with me. Maybe he and I have a little bit better connection in terms of talking through issues or strategies or where we want things to go moving forward. He sees things a little bit closer to the way I see things. That's probably a little bit different. I still try to be the head coach, and I still feel like that's the role that I have to play."

On if there are any freshman that will be playing above the four-game threshold.

"I think above the four-game threshold right now today, you would probably say Peyton Jones is certainly on track to do that. Then from there, there's probably a lot of guys that are kind of like, teetering on the bubble of how does the beginning of this season go from a health standpoint? I think you look at your pick of DaShawn Stone and Leon Griffin III in the secondary. You look at Kendall Johnson at linebacker. I think offensively, you look at guys like Spencer Jones, Sean Brown. Obviously, Grayson Loftis is one play away from being in the two deep and so you know, that's probably where that group is for now."

On the emphasis with the clock changes that every point matters.

"I don't know that we really emphasize it like that, because we're not in that high tempo style. I think the tempo teams are thinking about it a little bit more along those lines. Maybe I'm wrong as we play through this thing, but the biggest thing again to me is I think that the games are going to end quicker. I think from seven minutes to two minutes is going to go faster because there's going to be teams trying to milk the clock and you're going to be able to do it more because the clock is never going to stop. Then the emphasis on going fast and that stretch when you're behind, because I do think that's going to run faster than where it used to maybe be three possessions to the end of the game might be two now. I think that's more of the emphasis. There's a bigger premium on playing every play for us. That's always something that we think is really important to begin with. I do think that's where it's kind of impacted. I think that end of the fourth quarter stuff is going to play a little bit different than a lot of games."

On if the rule change offers more attention to the two-minute drill.

"We've done more work with that. We maybe touched on it once in camp in previous years. We've probably touched on it three or four times this camp, both sides of the ball. From five minutes to the end of the game and how we think it's going to play. We have to be able to operate and where we can gain seconds or steal seconds or take seconds off. We've probably spent more time focused on that. Yeah, for sure this year than ever before."

On continuing to dominate the turnover battle, but also limiting the chunk plays.

"Yeah, that certainly was the biggest focus for us going into the offseason was improving that. I think anything regardless of season, you always look at areas of weakness and how do you improve them. We talked a lot about this, and I think this has shown so far through fall camp, the way we play coverage, and our defensive system is just different. It's just a lot different. I think one year further along, there's a much better feel for how we want to play the techniques in the secondary that maybe allows a little bit less thinking that allows kids to play a little bit faster. I think Chandler Rivers and Joshua Pickett are playing at a much higher level right now than they did last year. The two additions of Myles Jones and Al Blades Jr. certainly bring in bigger framed bodies and longer bodies that should help with those deep balls as well."

On if there are less nerves going into the first game this season than last.

"Um, no, I think nerves exist always. When you go into games like this, and we talk about this a lot and I don't mean this to come off like coach speak, but it's reality. When you're the head coach, you want these kids to get what they've worked for, right? You see how much they put into this. You see how much they care. You see how invested they are invested, and you just hope that through it all they're able to get the results that they've earned. That doesn't always happen. There's a little bit of angst and apprehension that it plays out the right way for them. I think there's always a little bit more for the opener because you know, in the back of our mind as coaches we always second guess everything. You'll have all those thoughts just constantly running through your head until you get out there and play a game. So that probably will keep me up from now until you know next Tuesday. You feel like you put a good plan together. You feel like you've executed it, now it's kind of just go out and play ball."

On how he sees the secondary roles playing out.

"I think probably a little bit still to be determined. I think we well documented the flexibility that we have. I think Chandler Rivers has the ability to play for us at corner and nickel, and I think he can operate and function at both of those spots. Brandon Johnson has the ability to function at nickel and safety and can function very well at both of those spots. We feel good that both those kids have taken enough snaps in both of those positions to be successful. Obviously, it's been good to see Jeremiah Lewis and Terry Moore play this camp. I think both of those kids, Jeremiah Lewis, obviously for the first time, but Terry Moore, compared to the spring, playing at a really high level. That helps, because it just gives us more flexibility. More pieces to work with. So, you know, right now I feel good about that group."

On the depth at the tight end position.

"Yeah, adding Jeremiah Hasley. I think getting Hasley over there was good. We feel like we added something that we didn't have in that room and that was a kid who was a physical, blue-collar blocker. He played tight end in high school, so it came pretty naturally to him running routes and catching the ball. We think that move was really important for us, and I think Jeremiah will play a really big role for us this year at tight end."

On if there is anything different to get the guys ready throughout the weekend heading to Monday.

"No, it's just trying to do the standard mental preparation to make sure that they're coming out of that locker room confident, comfortable and ready. I think that's the biggest thing. I've done this both ways. Sometimes you kick off at noon on Saturday, sometimes you kick off at eight o'clock on Thursday, and you're the first show that goes and sometimes you kick off Saturday night. Whether you've watched a lot of the weekend or none of it or some of it. At the end of the day, you just have to find your time and get your kids grouped up to come out at that time and be ready to play and execute. Being the first time, I've done it on Monday night, that's the last show of the weekend. I don't know that it's a lot different. I think we just have to develop our mental approach all the way through the days leading up. I think the hardest thing right now is keeping the days right because we're so regimented as coaches. This is our Monday, and our Tuesday is now our Wednesday. We're going to have our Monday practice on a Wednesday, so that's like, got me all kinds of out of whack and so probably harder for me than it is for the kids."

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