Martavious Odoms and Denard Robinson
Denard, did you have any idea that this kind of performance was in you guys today?
Denard: “Oh yeah. We play as a team and came out like we did. Of course, oh yeah.”
Martavious, can you talk about battling back from the slow start due to injury and the feeling of catching that touchdown?
Odoms: “It felt great. I got my chance. Coach called a good play. Denard threw the ball and I caught it.”
Denard, how important was field position for you guys?
Denard: “That’s the thing. We played as a team, and that’s what we needed. We got everybody executing. Those three teams [were] executing.” Were you just more comfortable today? That was probably your best game in a while. “Oh yeah. Everybody felt good today. The offensive line gave us time to do what we had to do and [gave] the running backs holes to run [through].”
Denard, can you talk about what you saw on the Odoms TD?
Denard: “Me and Martavious had a race, what, two years ago? So I saw that he can run, and he went right past the defenders and I put it in the air.”
What happened in that race?
Odoms, to Denard: “… What happened?”
Denard: “You have to tell them. You have to tell them.”
Odoms: “No, you should tell them.”
Denard: “Ah … he beat me. He got a win there. He got a win.”
Martavious, Denard gets a lot of scrutiny about his arm, but can you talk about his perfect throw from the 50 to the back of the endzone?
Odoms: “Yeah a lot of people doubt his throwing because he can run so well, but when he needs to throw and make a play, he gets the job done.”
Your reaction to the “Beat Ohio” chant in the fourth quarter?
Odoms: “I knew it was coming. I was prepared for it.”
Denard: “We have to celebrate this one first. Tomorrow we’ll be on Ohio.”
Denard, you had the chance to talk to Lavonte David. What did you guys have to say?
Denard:“I told him to keep going and have a great rest of the season.”
Fitz had another great game. Can you talk about how he’s grown in the past four weeks?
Denard: “I mean, I knew he was a physical running back, and once he gets into an open field he can make guys miss and run the ball. I think he’s been ready. He just had a couple injuries.”
Was any part of Nebraska’s defensive play a surprise to you?
Denard: “I mean, it’s always a little surprise, but we kind of adjusted -- coach adjusted well and called some great plays, and we executed.”
Denard, today you matched Tom Brady’s 35 career touchdown passes. Thoughts?
Denard: “Oh I didn’t know that. I’m not a big stats guy, so I’m going out there having fun with my team, so that’s the biggest thing.”
Looking at where the season started to where you guys are now, especially given the expectations externally, how does it feel to be 9-2 heading into the Ohio State game?
Denard: “I can’t tell you how it is outside, because inside I know everybody in here knew we could have a great season this year, that we would go and do some special things this year. That’s the biggest thing everybody knew. We worked hard all offseason and that’s it.”
How big was the roughing the kicker penalty in terms of momentum?
Denard: “Oh that was big. The offense we knew we had to take care of the ball and do what we had to do.”
Martavious, did you feel like you were close to breaking a long run?
Odoms: “Yeah, I think I was really close to breaking through. There’s always the guy that I don’t see that so happens to trip my leg or hit me.”
Was this the best special teams performance you’ve had in a long time?
Odoms: “I wouldn’t say that.”
Is there another game that stands out more?
Odoms: “Um … not really. I mean, I feel like on special teams we really take pride and Coach Hoke takes pride in special teams. People just go hard on special teams and [in] regular play. I think special teams is a really big part of the game. It’s most of the game, really.”
Denard, did you appreciate the crowd counting down the play clock when the scoreboards weren’t working in the first quarter?
Denard: “Yeah, that was the biggest thing. I was supposed to send someone as soon as I walked in about it (Ed: I think that’s what he said. Denard was speaking Florida here.) I mean, I appreciate the fans helping us out because we really needed it. Shout out to the fans and I hope they’ll be ready next week.”
Denard, you can win 10 games, beat Notre Dame, Nebraska, and maybe Ohio State next week, but you can’t play for the Big Ten title. Can you talk about the good vs. bad of that?
Denard: “We can only control what we can control, so that’s the only thing we worry about. We worry about playing Ohio next week.”
Martavious, have you ever seen Terrence Robinson make a hit like that in practice? Can you talk about the emphasis on special teams?
Odoms: “We have some pretty fast people on our team, and Terrence Robinson is one of them. He does a great job on special teams getting down there. We knew if he gets down there he can make a hit, and that’s what he did.”
Denard, can you talk about cashing in our your opportunities today compared with last week when you were unable a couple times?
Denard: “We still think we had missed opportunities today, too. We have to still grow and start putting the ball in the endzone when we need to.”
Can you talk about the momentum going into the Ohio State game that may not have been there the past couple years?
Odoms: “Like Denard said, everybody knows what next week is. We’re just going to enjoy this one and prepare for next week when the time comes.”
Denard: “I feel the same way. We have to enjoy this win and tomorrow we’ll be preparing for Ohio.”
Do you feel this is the highest level you’ve played at in years?
Denard: “Not that Michigan has played at.”
Since you guys have been here.
Odoms: “I mean, games are up and down so you really can’t tell if you played at your highest level. When you feel like you played at your highest level, you go watch film and you didn’t do so well. Can’t really say.”
Is the team playing as well as it has since you’ve been here?
Denard: “You could say that because all three of the teams are playing well.”
Mark Huyge and Fitzgerald Toussaint
You guys held the ball for 40 minutes. How important was that?
Huyge: “Yeah I know for a fact that our defense plays better when they have a limited amount of time on the field. I didn’t know we held the ball for 40 minutes. It’s a good deal. Uh, yeah. It’s great when special teams can contribute like they did. I swear every time we’d come off the field and sure enough we’d be right back on with a quick turnover or a three-and-out. It’s a good deal.”
Both of you guys heard about the “Blackshirts” defense and watched them on film. Were they as advertised?
Toussaint: “I would say it was a very physical game, but we prepared all week for this game and we knew what was coming and we expected everything we were given.”
Huyge: “It was very physical up front. The main thing was that we knew we had to be physical throughout and just try to wear them down. With the time of possession, I think that helped.”
Can you talk about how the running game has evolved from the start of the season?
Toussaint: “I would say a little bit more execution. Up front the guys handled their business. We prepared for these moments, and that’s what happened.”
How much did the turnovers help your psyche today?
Huyge: “It’s great. I mean, we can get turnovers and even though you’re on the bench and you don’t expect it, I’ll take it any day of the week. Just to be able to run out there with great field position as an offense, we know we have to get it done once we get down in there.”
Hoke has said this is the most well-rounded game you’ve played. What’s the cause of that?
Toussaint: “I would have to say it’s more teamwork. Organize the team and focusing mainly on unity.”
Huyge: “Yeah, execution. Just executing on every play and in all three phases.”
Why is that better now than earlier in the year?
Huyge: “Maybe just time. More games, get more experience.”
Thoughts on “Beat Ohio” chant? Also, the fact that fans are calling them Ohio rather than Ohio State?
Huyge: “It’s going to be a big one next week. We’ll enjoy this one for a little bit, but the whole emphasis starting back in January when these guys got here was this game coming up. We’ll be really looking forward to them, and we’ll be ready.”
Re: Denard, there’s a lot of criticism about his quarterbacking. Can you talk about his game today as a runner and a passer?
Huyge: “Well Denard … I love playing for Denard. I really do, because I know in the run game he makes stuff happen all the time. In the pass game, he can pull the ball down and run, too. When he threw that ball to Martavious Odoms in the endzone there, that was a great throw and a great catch. That was something that we need.”
Mark, how much confidence does this win give you going into next week?
Huyge: “Well, it does give us a lot of confidence. In the past -- and I don’t want to bring up the past -- but past seasons we haven’t been playing well in November. It’s very important to be playing well at the end of the year. It’s a definite boost for sure.”
In the last couple weeks, you’ve really gotten the ground game going. How does that change the offensive scheme?
Toussaint: “I wouldn’t think it changes any schemes. It’s just the way we prepare and the guys up front execute.”
After you lost to Michigan State, guys like Mike Martin and Jordan Kovacs said this year was different and there would be no second-half collapse. Why was it different?
Huyge: “I think it’s just an emphasis of getting better every week, where improvement was the key. You had to put the one behind that you lost and the fact that that was our main goal was to get better. We knew if we got better in November we’d be playing better football, and that’s obviously what’s shown.”
Molk said Monday that last year the philosophy on offense was “score score score” because the defense couldn’t stop anyone. How does the success of defense change how this offense operates?
Huyge: “It gives us more confidence, that’s for sure, that we know that if we do mess up or have a three-and-out, we can rely on our defense to make plays. Obviously they’ve been doing that all season, and special teams, too. That was huge.”
Senior legacies and rivalry games -- what does Saturday mean for that legacy?
Huyge: “It’s a big one. It’s a big one for all of us seniors, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Either of you guys catch yourself peeking at that countdown clock?
Toussaint: “Everyday. Everyday.”
Huyge: “You walk in that building it’s right there.”
Toussaint: “It’s right in your face. Can’t miss it.”
Do you guys do anything related to beating Ohio State throughout the year?
Huyge: “Yeah the emphasis is definitely on Ohio. When we bring it up in meetings, we talk about it everyday.”
You might not have been aware, but the power was out in Michigan Stadium. (surprised laughs) Could you hear the crowd chanting the play clock? Did it affect you guys not being able to see the play clock on that side of the field?
Huyge: “Well after the first little mishap, I think Denard didn’t know which ref had the signal that was making the calls, but yeah, you could hear it, 'Five, four, three, two,' and I’m like, 'Snap the ball … snap the ball …' ”
Mike Martin and Jordan Kovacs
Mike, can you talk about Ryan Van Bergen’s impact the last few weeks?
Martin: “Yeah, he’s stepping up. The whole line up front is doing a great job of communicating and executing. Ryan does a great job on the vocal side of things. Helps us execute, and we all do a great job echoing the call so we can all play tough.”
How much did you focus on stopping the option?
Martin: “Yeah that was one of the main focuses we had during the week. Preparation was key and talk about that everyday on our team. Beginning Sunday to Monday watching film and getting looks from our scout team -- they did a great job. So I feel like we prepared well and it showed on the field.”
Anything you saw on film that made you think you could do certain things?
Martin: “You know, a few things -- coach does a great job of tweaking things week to week and giving them a different look on our side of it. For us to be able to execute and attack them differently with keeping in mind how dangerous they are on the perimeter with the option and everything, that was big for us.”
You’ve played in the first night game, now first game against Nebraska. In games like this, is it important to make a statement, or is it more like “another game, another win?”
Kovacs: “I mean, coming into the game we knew it was going to be a big game, both [teams] coming into the game 8-2. We want to make a statement every time we take the field. We knew it was going to be a big game, and we played pretty well in all three facets of the game, and we earned this one, so we’re excited about it.”
Hoke says this is first time you’ve played in all three phases. Why are you peaking now this late in the season?
Kovacs: “I just think we’re all starting to click. Defensively, we’re gaining some confidence every game. We’re improving every game. The offense did a nice job of complementing us. They did a good job of holding onto the ball and making some big plays when they had to. They moved the chains on third down, which always helps. And you can’t say enough about the special teams. Any time you cause two turnovers, it’s kind of tough to lose a game like that. I think you have to take your hat off to those guys. Offense, special teams, and defense played well. There’s a few plays we’d like to take back, but we’re always looking to impove, but we’re excited about next week.”
You’re allowing three touchdowns fewer per game this year compared with last year. You’re basically the same players. How does that happen so quickly?
Martin: “It’s always going to be in the back of your mind, but this is a new year. Really our mindset has just completely changed 360. This senior group, and this team, they learned when coach Hoke and the staff came that we were going to have to buy in. It really started from our winter conditioning, summer conditioning, fall camp, all those different phases leading up to the season, and now it’s showing with our focus and our dedication to this team and this coaching staff. We know we’re getting better, but the season is far from being over. We still have a lot of work to put in, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Kovacs: “Just to piggyback off that question, it’s guys like Mike and Van Bergen stepping up and being great leaders for our defense and for our team as a whole. But the same time I think our offense helps us out a lot. Anytime you’re not on the field as a defense, they can’t score too many points on you, so I think they do a great job holding the ball and moving the chains. They aren’t doing that hurry-up tempo anymore, so I think that’s really helped us out.”
After the Michigan State game, you talked about being out-physicaled and out-toughed. Is that what you did to Nebraska’s offense today?
Kovacs: “We knew that they were going to be a physical team, and that the tougher team, the more physical team, was going to win this game. To a certain extent, I think we played pretty physical, but like I said, there’s always some lapses and always some plays that you’d like to have back. I think that’s still an area that we need to improve on everyday.”
Jordan, can you talk about how huge this win is for this program, and where does it rank in your career?
Kovacs: “This was a big win. Huge. I can’t stress that enough. Like I said, we knew it was going to be a big game coming in. I think that this is the best win that we’ve had since I’ve been on the team just because it’s so late in the year. I don’t think that we’ve ever had a game this late in November that really meant as much as this one. I think it was a big for us. We played well in all facets of the game, and it was a fun win. I guess we’re looking forward to next week.”
Mike, how different will this week feel knowing that you’re on par/favored going against Ohio State for the first time since forever?
Martin: “Yeah, well, like I’ve said before, the mindset of this defense and this team is on a whole n'other level this year. We’ve had young guys step up. We’ve had great leadership with the seniors. A lot of juniors and the underclassment have gotten a lot of time. It’s really just putting all those pieces together knowing that we can play Michigan defense and Michigan football for a full 60 minutes. That’s what you need to win football games, because you can’t start a game out strong and not finish it. We’ve done those things before, and it’s never worked out. I feel like we’ve improved as a team each week, and we have to make sure we take a positive step for this week coming up.”
Can you talk about the pride that special teams players take in their job since most of them are backups? Also, their impact on this game?
Kovacs: “I think all special teams players take a lot of pride in that facet of the game because a lot of those guys don’t play on offense or defense so that’s their contribution to the game. I think a handful of them are walk-ons as well, so they’re excited to get out there and play in the Big House and wear that winged helmet. I think they played great today. They made a huge impact and caused some turnovers, and I think they won us the game.”
“Beat Ohio” chant ftw. Thoughts?
Martin: “We all know what next week has in store for us and this program. That’s the end of November, that’s the deal. This stadium, this team, and all of us, we’re just going to enjoy the win tonight, but tomorrow get focusing on Ohio, and that’s something that we’ve done each week for every single team. This is a huge game for our legacy as a team, for this senior group, for team 132. We just have to make sure we finish the season out the way we want to, the way we’ve envisioned the whole season.”
Jordan, you’re an Ohio guy. What does this game mean to you?
Kovacs: “I think that as the game winded down the last minute and a half, and we were kneeing the ball, I think that everyone was thinking that in the back of their heads, like, ‘All right. This was a big win, but it’s on to the next one.’ We’re excited about it. Like Mike said, this was a huge win today. We’re going to enjoy it for the next few hours, and then we’re going to come in tomorrow focused and ready to improve and ready to get after Ohio.”
Is it different going into the Ohio State game this season than in years past?
Martin: “I believe, especially as we progress through this season, this team has taken major positive steps. It’s showed every single week we’ve made an improvement. We know what our capabilities are as a team. We know [that if] we play together, play as a team, that good things are going to happen. We have to complement each other.”
Is there any extra punishment this week if you slip up and say “Ohio State” instead of “Ohio”?
Kovacs: “Not that I know.”
Martin: “I don’t know. This week’s going to be an intense week. I don’t know if any of you media want to come to practice. I don’t think you guys will be able to make it. This will be a good one.”
Mike, can you talk more about shutting Nebraska down on the perimeter?
Martin: “We knew how dangerous they were, the weapons that they had, Martinez and Burkhead. We knew we had to attack them a certain way. We took advantage of the strengths that we have on our side of it. I believe we did a great job with executing. We had a few plays here and there that we wish we could have had back. That’s something that we have to improve on and we will do that, but overall I feel like we did a great job executing.”
Did you feel like you were successful in accomplishing what you set out to do when the first half ended and Burkhead didn’t have very many yards?
Martin: “I have no clue what he had at hafltime, but I knew that we were playing together and we were playing hard. We were having fun playing defense and playing Michigan defense. We knew we had another half at that point to play. You clock in for 60 minutes, you have to make sure you finish them all out.”
What does it mean that this week will be intense? How much more intense than normal?
Martin: “Everyone knows how big this game is. From our side of it, from the other side of it -- that’s what makes it such a great game, because of how much time’s put in, how much it means to each program, and really playing this great game of football in the month of November. Can’t get better than that. This week has to be one of our best weeks of preparation, period. That’s what it needs to be.”
Can you talk about last night’s team meeting? You were tweeting photos.
Martin: “Today we honored the armed services for everything they do. We’ve embodied and embraced some of their principles and things that they believe in on their team. You can never compare it -- what those guys do is something that is just amazing, but accountability and the different essences of teamwork are something that we adopted, so they visited us, talked to our team, really gave us a few words of wisdom, and it meant a lot. They gave us a couple of their tridents that represent the U.S. Navy Seals. That’s something that represents what they embody. That meant a lot to us as a team.”
Just to follow up, from “Beat Ohio State” to “Beat Ohio” -- is that something you immediate adopted because of your head coach? Is “Ohio State” forbidden?
Kovacs: “That’s what he calls them, so that’s what we call them.”
Can you talk about the uniqueness of Greg Mattison’s defensive scheme?
Kovacs: “He brings an unbelievable scheme. Obviously he was coaching with the Ravens before and he’s established an NFL defense here. I think that we do a pretty good job disguising and giving them a bunch of different looks and giving the quarterback something to think about. But at the same time I think our D-line has really been playing great so far. They really help us out on the back end. You can’t tip your hat off enough to those guys up front.”
Mike, has it hit you that this is your last time preparing to play at the Big House?
Martin: “That’s something that I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks here. That’s why you have to take each day for what it is. It means a lot. You always tell those younger guys it’s going to fly by. You never listen, though. I didn’t listen. But this is huge for our program, for our seniors. Really I thought about my last time having clam chowder at the Campus Inn, because that’s the D-line’s favorite thing to eat on Friday. This is going to be huge, and we have to work hard this week.”
Can you talk about the importance of special teams today? “Well that was a big part of -- it always is a big part of every game, but to be able to knock some balls loose and start with great field position is a good thing for us. Obviously offensively having a short field, I thought that was a big part of what our kids were doing and what helped us today.”
How happy are you with all three phases of today’s game? “Well it’s probably as well as we’ve played with all three phases. We still had some opportunities from an offensive standpoint that we didn’t take advantage. Then we don’t field a punt and [it] backs us up, then we’re kicking with a short field … there’s always something. I can sit up here and go on a long time about that, but as a group, they played with a great toughness and complemented each other well. I thought the guys up front offensively were really working hard to make things happen. Fitz did a nice job. Denard did a nice job. Defensively, our front seven played well.”
With everything that was going on today, did you feel an additional pressure to win? “No. No. We’re going to win the game. We’re going to fight and compete and coach and motivate and do all those things.”
What did you do differently in kickoff coverage this week? “We really didn’t do anything differently. We challenged our guys, which you always do. For them to outcompete the guy they’re playing against. T-Rob hit him and the ball came out, and Cam hit him and the ball came out -- it was really just playing and competing as best we could, every guy who was in that locker room.” Were they going harder? “You know, I don’t know if they were going harder. It looked like about the same speed we do going down.”
How big was the blocked punt and converting it into a touchdown in terms of momentum? “That was huge. When he kind of dropped it there and ran -- yeah. Field position again is a huge part of it. We capitalized on a mistake in there that happened. The hustle that the guys showed, I thought, was great.”
Talk about Denard’s poise in the pocket and the challenge of having to run plays without a play clock in the beginning? “Well, you know, a couple things. Number one, I think the one thing we could do as a coaching staff and as an offense is make sure that we’re getting the plays in as quickly as we could. We had to make sure the huddle was set as quickly as we could get it set. If you’re a receiver or one of those guys coming in and out, you’re hustling on the field or off the field -- those personnel groups. The first one, the penalty we had, that’s on me. I should have called a timeout. For me not to do that, that’s bad coaching. I thought he did a tremendous job.”
How much has this defense grown since January? “The seniors on that defense have done a tremendous job. They’re prideful kids, the Mike Martins, Van Bergens, Woolfolks. We from day one have said that we are going to play and coach for our seniors. I think the young guys understand that and I just think fundamentally and technically they’re playing what they’re coached to do, and they’re playing together. That’s been fun to watch.”
How were you able to limit Burkhead? Was there anything you saw on film? “No. You’re just doing your job. If you’re a nose tackle you’re getting a double or a base reach. You have to play the base reach and get off and make plays. We talked about because of the physicalness that he likes to run the football with, that we wanted to try and get 11 guys to the ball all the time.”
Is that the best you’ve seen Denard play since you got here? “I don’t know. I’d have to rewatch it probably. I thought he did a nice job managing our offense. I think he took advantage of some creases that he found in there and accelerated through them pretty well.”
Could you have dreamt of a better way to welcome Nebraska to the Big House and the B1G? “Well I don’t know. They want to win, we want to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s Nebraska or Slippery Rock. We want to win the football game. I’m just being honest about it. We have a lot of respect for Nebraska. The pride and the tradition that they have. Bo Pelini is an excellent football coach. They’re a good football team.”
Can you comment on the time of possession disparity (42 min to 18 min)? “You play really good defense when you get to watch your offense. Believe me, and that’s part of it. Our offense, not every game, but having a little bit of an advantage in time of possession. One of our best defensive calls is them on the field. And then you look at the defense, I think we were 3 of 13 defending them in third down conversions -- you’re helping yourself defensively and getting off the field.”
With six minutes to go, the crowd was chanting “Beat Ohio, Beat Ohio.” Thoughts? “Well, we’re going to really go to work on that tomorrow. But that’s our next opponent.”
Can you talk about the momentum you have going into the Ohio State game? “You know, we won two in a row, right? There’s another to go win.”
Is this as close you’ve come to play the kind of football you envisioned when you started? “You know, we definitely want to run the football. We want to control it. We want to take care of the football from that standpoint. And we want to play defense as 11. We want to play defense where we’re stopping the run and then putting people in situations where they feel they have to throw the football. That’s where some of the uniqueness of what Greg does has been good for us.”
Can you talk about picking the spot to fake the field goal? “We had put it in. It’s the one Penn State used against us in ’95? I think it was ’95 up there. [We] wanted it on the right hash, [and] they gave us the look that we wanted. Even if we had kicked the field goal, Drew Dileo -- having him as a holder, he’s such a smart football kid. He did a tremendous job with it. You got it, you might as well use it.”
Thoughts on how Denard played on third down? “Well I thought he did a nice job. Believe me, because we were making low yardage on first down and on second down we went backwards a couple times. When you get into a situation [with] those longer third downs, I thought he was very accurate with the ball when he was throwing it. I think the throw that he made for the touchdown to Martavious Odoms was as good as a throw I’ve seen him make, especially on a long ball. It was a great catch by Martavious, but that’s where he had to put the ball.”
You’ve emphasized Ohio State since the first press conference. Why is this going to be different, and how does it feel to go into it with nine wins? “Well I think any time that rivalry is played, and believe me, we appreciate it always at the end of November. We have tremendous respect for that football team and that program and that school. It’s exciting."
"It's exciting! You get excited! Look!”
When you hear the fans chanting it, does it get you a little charged up? “Well it’s eight days, less than eight days.”
Defending the option, whose responsibility was it mostly? “Well it was more the ends. Our ends did a nice job on the quarterback. We tried to keep the backers inside because of what they were doing with the zone part of it and put it on the two ends. The one he got out earlier in the game, our end didn’t do the job he should have.”
Did you change some things on offense? Seems like Denard was making more checks at the line. “No. Not really. It was about normal.”
Don’t hate me, but as much as you guys dominated today, there’s a certain team down the road that won, so does that taint this victory at all? “Not at all. Not at all. We had our opportunities. Part of competitive sport and competitive life is you have to take advantage of the opportunities. So no. I really don’t hate anybody.”
Denard looked really patient in the pocket and made some good decisions. Is that the Denard you usually see in practice? “You know, I think he was a little bit beat up in the mid-year with some ailments, but I think he’s healthy now. I think he’s more confident. One thing I can tell is he’s taken ownership as a leader. That’s neat to see.”
Opening remarks: “This is a little nicer press room than I remember.”
What’s it like being at a postgame press conference? “It’s exciting. It’s exciting to be down on the field at the end of the game. I told Dave Brandon before the game, before the ceremony -- you look around that stadium, and there’s no place in the world like it. To see such a great effort, a total team effort today, a great victory over an outstanding football team was a great day.
Can you comment on the play today? “Well I agree with whatever coach Hoke says. But that was fun. I was hoping on fourth down down there that we would go for it. He sent the field goal team in and ran that fake. I thought that was a big, big play in the game. It was well executed. And there were lots of good plays -- kicking game, defense -- outstanding game. Scored a lot of points.”
Talk about the job Brady Hoke has done to get this team to a 9-2 record. “Well I think it’s remarkable. Any transition is about finding out a lot of things that you don’t know about your players, and the players finding out about the coaches. But I think, when I look at that team today, they’ve consistently played very good defense, and I think the transition offensively has been good. When you realize we’re two losses, both of which we had chances to win -- I don’t think you could ask the coaching staff and a team to do a better job than this team has done. This is just wonderful to see. I mean, you talk about every phase of the game … what I look at is the intensity with which they play. They’ve given up very few big plays this year, and here we go into the last game of the season with a lot to play for and great momentum. This team has started to believe in itself. Coming back here today, that crowd was outstanding, and they’ll be outstanding again next week.”
The fifth year seniors were players you recruited and were on the team during your last year. Did you get a chance to talk to them after the game? “Well I have run into a few of them during this season. I’ve just tried to tell them how proud of them I am, what they’ve done. They persevered. On any team your senior leadership is a critical issue, so I think it speaks to what those kids have done this year. It’s been exciting to watch them.”
Do you miss being on the sideline? “Yeah. Yeah. When you’re part of a great victory, there’s nothing like it. But I’m so happy for Brady and the staff and the players, because Michigan football is -- we’re where we want to be.”
Did you get any jabs from the Nebraska fans about the ’97 championship during your tribute? “The tribute -- and I’ve said this and it’s true, if you coach at a place like Michigan with great tradition -- and the players that played for me were outstanding players but great people and people who were unselfish who put the team first. That’s how a coach gets selected for the hall of fame. That’s certainly my case. I had great, great players and great, great people.”
(Ed: If you were wondering, the answer is no, Lloyd did not answer the question)
A lot has been said of “Michigan football.” Did today feel like Michigan football is back? “Yeah I think it was a loud statement. Great defense. I’ll tell you, that’s what I expected from a Nebraska team. They’ve always been a very very physical team, played great defense, run the football. But as I looked at this game, that’s a hard-hitting football team … it was what you want to see in a football team from the standpoint of our performance.”
Prediction for next week? “Whatever Brady says.”
[Hoke will be up shortly. Players tomorrow morning.]
Nine wins? Annihilating a ranked team? Going into an Ohio State game favored? Muppets.
And you can't have one without the other…
GERG MINUS ALL OF THE POINTS
Please examine the Liveblog Chaos Mitigation Post for information on how to liveblog without causing chaos.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Nebraska|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor MI|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, November 19th 2011|
|THE LINE||Michigan –3.5|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
|WEATHER||mid 40s, cloudy, 10% chance of rain, moderate wind|
Why have one mascot when you can have two on a tandem bike? OH NO DAVE BRANDON HAD AN IDEA
Run Offense vs. Nebraska
Lavonte David likes the letter X
One week after Michigan turned in a poor outing against an Iowa run defense currently struggling to get its nose above average (thus causing all Michigan fans to PANIC about the previously-taken-for-granted running game), they kicked off the Illinois game by marching 80 yards in four plays against a top ten defense. By the end of the game they'd put up the best numbers anyone had against the Illini:
How did this happen? Michigan went from a 50-50 split between the shotgun and under center to nearly 80-20. In the UFR yesterday I calculated a gap of almost 2 YPC between the two, with shotgun averaging 5.8 YPC and under center 3.9. The numbers above disagree slightly: remove the under center runs and you get a smoooooooth 6.0 YPC.
If it wasn't blindingly obvious before—no. It was blindingly obvious before and is now even more blindingly obvious. Michigan has two run games. They are Oregon from the shotgun and Akron from under center.
As for the opponent, you'd think a team that practices against Taylor Martinez and has an undersized lightning bolt of a weakside linebacker would have disproportionately good performances against mobile quarterbacks, but that is not the case:
Head coach Bo Pelini's defenses have thrived against pocket passers. Against dual-threat quarterbacks, the results aren't nearly as good. In both of Nebraska's losses this season, a run-pass threat at quarterback did much of the damage. So facing the most electric dual-threat player that college football has seen since Michael Vick (i.e. Denard Robinson) presents an enormous challenge.
Survey says: yeah, but it's not quite the blowout you'd think from the above. In seven games against BCS opponents Nebraska's faced two pro-style statues, two passing-oriented scrambly types, two out-and-out dual threats, and a crazy melange from Northwestern. Results ordered by total yards above or below season average:
*[YPA based on Miller's production, not Bauserman going 1 of 10. Using Bauserstats is ridiculous.]
Yards are a noisy stat but the overall picture painted is a team that has difficulty defending the pass when they are stretched or busy defending the run. Mobile quarterbacks have had mixed success when actually probing on the ground. Miller averaged 9.1 yards a carry; Persa and Colter combined for 4.2; MarQueis Gray had just 3.9.
The run games that seem to work best are the sort that pound between the tackles. OSU still does this with aplomb. Wisconsin is Wisconsin. Washington has the tough interior running of Chris Polk, and MSU is MSU. Penn State may not have done so hot but they are Penn State and the thing that leaps out from that chart above is how Nebraska is so not Illinois.
They weren't even when they had Jared Crick; now that he's laid up with an injury their defensive tackle rotation is like Michigan's… with less quality at the top and depth. This is from the immediate aftermath of Penn State:
The defensive line is beat up too. Of course All-American Jared Crick is out for the season and Thaddeus Randle has missed the last couple of games.
[Chase] Rome, who missed the game against Northwestern with a groin injury, was able to play enough to give Terrence Moore and Baker Steinkuhler a break every now and then.
“We don’t have a lot of depth right now,” Rome said. “At least I can contribute and give the other guys some rest when they needed it. I thought it was a good system with how it worked out, especially with it being my first time out since being injured.”
Moore and Steinkuhler aren't Crick, or anything approximating him. They've combined for just four TFLs. Will Heininger's managed that by himself.
The bulk of the tackling and playmaking comes from WLB lightning bolt Lavonte David—think Brandin Hawthorne except really good—and MLB Will Compton. There will be gaps in the line; getting hats on second level dudes will make the difference between a pretty good and a very good day.
Key Matchup: Michigan versus the dirty pictures the I-Form has of them. This is actually another matchup where it seems possible Michigan will have some success lining up and running straight at the Huskers, what with their undersized LBs and dodgy DT situation. That worked out to the tune of 3.6 yards per Fitz carry against Iowa. Don't take the cheese.
Pass Offense vs. Nebraska
Alfonzo Dennard and some guy who is not good
Michigan took one look at this matchup in the swirling winds of Memorial Stadium and decided to pass on passing, a decision that worked out just fine. They're not likely to do the same against a less intimidating Cornhusker defense. Nebraska enters the game 86th in sacks and 29th in pass efficiency defense. While the latter number isn't far off that put up by the Illini, the former is a huge step back from Whitney Mercilus and the blitz-mad Vic Koening. When Michigan drops to pass this will be closer to Iowa than Illinois.
Nebraska's YPA ceded can be found above; the place it seems Nebraska struggles is when they have to defend with an extra guy because the quarterback is a threat or they are playing Wisconsin. (Russell Wilson's four carries had little to do with the gameplan, but Wisconsin is Wisconsin.) Play action appears to be the death knell, what with 81-yard Kain-Colter-to-Jeremy-Ebert touchdowns popping up in box scores. I mean, holy terrible safety play, Batman.
This makes the lack of the damn I-Form even more imperative since Nebraska's weaknesses multiply like badgers once you force a safety into the box or make them defend both run and pass. They never want to do this. FFFF:
You know how Iowa does the whole cover 2 zone thing constantly? Nebraska is their cover 2 man counterpart, pretty much doing the same thing on every play and relying on their defensive talent to make plays. Unfortunately, the Huskers lost their All-American DT, Jared Crick, and now only have three healthy scholarship players on the interior of their D-line. Their corners are very good in coverage, but the safeties looked very susceptible to deep throws over the middle, especially off play-action, and the line just can't generate any pass rush.
Dollars to donuts this is because the Huskers have one asskicking cornerback and not much else in the secondary. Alphonzo Dennard has 20 tackles this year… and five PBUs. That is the statistical profile of a totally awesome cornerback. Michigan is going to avoid him like everyone else. This should hurt them less than most teams because they have a deep stable of eh receivers with no particular standout. I guess Hemingway might be less likely to catch a deep one, which, like… when is the last time that happened?
Husker safeties Damion Stafford and Austin Cassidy have racked up a lot of tackles but those big flashy YPA marks above are their doing. Stafford is a big hitter fresh out of JUCO; Cassidy appears to be a former walk-on who emerged as a starter halfway through last year. Last year's Michigan offense would be good for some Worst Waldo plays against this pair—finding some in this year's offense is up to Borges.
There's only one guy Michigan has to watch for in pass protection: end Cameron Meredith. He's got five sacks. No other Husker has more than two.
Key Matchup: Denard (and possible lingering hand issues) versus the usual array of WTF throws and decisions. He's been better in the Big Ten season and should have time to survey. I think he'll be okay as long as the hand is.
Run Defense vs. Nebraska
Sometimes Nebraska uses the wildcat… but when?
Illinois brought a rep for using a lot of option. They left having deployed it once, and not well:
Nebraska will not do the same thing. After the disastrous Callahan years they have restored sanity to college football by reverting to an option-based system featuring a terrifyingly fast quarterback who throws like a duck. Yea, and all was right in the world again.
Nebraska's option is of the spread, modern variety but it's still option. They do all the spread 'n' shred stuff you've seen Michigan run the last few years but their blocking is more heavily focused on POWER than Rodriguez; unlike Michigan their POWER is actually fairly POWERFUL instead of AMY GRANT HIT WITH A TRANQUILIZER DART. They'll run triple option. They'll run the inverted veer and use the back to the outside a a pitch guy. They'll run in your face with POWER from the pistol. They have a diverse and scary run offense that is totally going to option off some of Michigan's baby-faced youth on the edges.
Probably, anyway. Despite all the blingy option plays, Taylor Martinez's season has taken a decidedly Denard-like path:
He hasn't rushed for more than 60 yards since the Ohio State game and his yards per carry has dropped to 3.85 from 6.68 YPC in September. Nebraska fans will take that trade. Martinez is learning how to throw. He won't forget how to run. The threat of his speed is enough on its own.
Michigan fans will be violently split on that trade, because they are violently split on all things. If Martinez averages 3.85 YPC on Michigan I thi nk Michigan wins, though. That's because Martinez is a relative home-run hitter. Tailback Rex Burkhead is a gritty tough son of a gun Eckstein, a cerebral bellcow who really takes to coaching and finds his way on the field through his smarts and subtle racism. [ed: This was unclear. Just making a joke about how white RBs are described, not implying that Burkhead is a racist. Fun with ambiguity! Not fun.]
Burkhead is a grinder. His long against real competition this year is 22 yards and he specializes in pounding out 100 yards on 25 carries with a YPC under 5: 121 on 25 carries against PSU, 69(!) on 22 against Northwestern, 130 on 35 against MSU, 119 on 26 against OSU, 96 on 18 against Wisconsin. He managed to edge over 5 YPC against Minnesota and Wisconsin; the former was Minnesota and the latter was a blowout. It's hard to see Nebraska getting anything past Michigan's safeties given the trends in both seasons.
Speaking of those safeties: I expect Michigan to go with a lot of man and three-deep that allows Kovacs to shoot up into the box where he can be the tiny space linebacker that made him a three-time Heisman winner in an alternate universe where open-field tackling is the most coveted thing in a football player. It's either that or hoping Michigan's cornerbacks can be tough on the edge. Not betting on that. The over/under on Kovacs tackles is set at 8.5.
Key Matchup: Youth on the edge funneling to Kovacs. This did not so much happen against Northwestern. It did against Illinois—once. Nebraska will be a stiff, confusing test for the freshmen in the lineup.
Pass Defense vs. Nebraska
throws like a duck; catches like a duck
One look at Taylor Martinez flapping the ball out to his receivers and you think "Nick Sheridan with legs," and for big hunks of his career that has been true. Unfortunately those hunks have not come recently:
Since [Wisconsin], Martinez is 77-for-122 passing (64.2%) for 865 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. That's a passer rating of 142.18 which, if it was his season total, would place him third in the Big Ten ahead of Michigan State's Kirk Cousins. That's not factoring in drops, which have become a growing problem of late.
WR Kenny Bell said there were "at least four" in the Penn State game. The Minnesota game had at least three that I can remember in the third quarter alone. No matter, the trend is clear. Martinez, as a passer, is playing as good as he's ever played.
There are games with Minnesota and Northwestern in there. As someone who's seen his team's erratic quarterbacks play Minnesota and Northwestern and emerge averaging 10.6 YPA with five TDs and three INTs… eh… maybe it's best not to consider Minnesota and Northwestern. Survey says:
Given the opponents, Martinez is actually backsliding a bit when it comes to YPA. But the thing that jumps off the page is the lack of interceptions. Michigan's had more multi-INT quarters than Martinez has had games.
The key here will be responding to paly action. Martinez has gotten significantly over 20 attempts in two games. In one he was bad, in the other he was playing Northwestern. In all other games Nebraska makes up for the lack of skill at QB by going mostly with play action. (Yes, it is frustrating to watch Nebraska roll the pocket on an option fake and then drop back without getting their QB killed.) Putting Nebraska in situations where they can't effectively do that will end drives. Doing that will probably require defending it when they can.
There's no point focusing on any one Nebraska receiver. They're immensely diverse. Seven players have at least thirteen catches on the year; all save Burkhead have a YPA over ten. Kenny Bell is nominally the top WR with 23 catches for 306 yards. This seems like a situation where having seven receivers means you have none: as mentioned above, drops have been a big problem for the 'Huskers. Michigan may get bailed out a couple times.
I'd expect something similar to the first four games above: few attempts, decent success with those attempts. If Martinez starts pushing into the 30s it will be bad news for UNL.
Key Matchup: Demens and Morgan versus play action drops. The bulk of Nebraska's damage comes in big gaping holes between the linebackers and safeties. I don't think this will go well, but it only has to go well enough.
Massive Nebraska advantage. The Cornhuskers are great on kickoff returns—freshman Ameer Abdullah has a touchdown and a few other impressive returns this year—decent on punts, good at punting, and have hit 16 of 19 field goals this year. FEI's introduced special teams rankings; they're fifth. Michigan is 80th.
Key Matchup: Gibbons you put it through the uprights?
It's a candy corn hat, you pervs
- Folks on the edge against the option aren't actually there.
- Michigan lines up under center.
- Martinez is slinging darts.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Nebraska gets stuck in an obvious passing down. Michigan's okie package gets pressure without providing tons of scrambling lanes when it sends four.
- Molk and company can pound the shaky interior of the Nebraska DL.
- Kovacs appears to have cloned himself.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 (Baseline 5; +1 for Is This The Best Team They've Played? Seriously, +1 for Option Paranoia After Northwestern Game, –1 for But Mattison Heals All, –1 for Their QB Throws Like A Duck, +1 for Our QB Throwing Like A Duck Would be An Improvement, –1 for Boy We Figured Out What To Do Last Game, +1 for Maybe, –1 for Run Defense Weakness In Opponent At Home.)
Desperate need to win level: 7 (Baseline 5; +1 for NYD Lockdown, +1 for I Like Nine And Half Wins And I Cannot Lie, –1 for It's Pretty Much About Next Week, –1 for Keeping The Possibility Of A Sparty No Open Is A Silver Lining To A Loss, +1 for ALAMO REVENGE, +1 for 1997 JUSTICE.)
Loss will cause me to... place way too much importance on beating a 6-5 team next weekend.
Win will cause me to... place way too much importance on beating a 6-5 team next weekend.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Oh, hell. I just know the defense is going to have a comedown. I just… I look at the opposing offense and think "okay, they'll get some yards but are they going to bust anything long?" I've been predicting this will happen in the option game all week but now that I've look at the numbers, they just don't have it. Burkhead tops out at 20 yards and Martinez hasn't had anything, really, since the Ohio State game.
And if Nebraska isn't busting it long, if they're grinding it down the field, how long can they manage that before Michigan's third and short defense rises up and boots them off the field?
On the other side of the ball, as long as Borges makes the obvious conclusion from last week—shotgun forever—Michigan will move the ball. They'll even get some opportunities downfield when the safeties freak out on play action, which they'll have to if Nebraska is intent on running man in a nickel package against Michigan. If they do that it's like crediting Michigan for running the bubble when they don't, and then you could see some fireworks.
This looks like a win, but two things worry. Turnovers, obviously, and then what figures to be a massive hidden yards advantage for the Cornhuskers. It's really easy to see this game show up in "Life on the Margins" after Michigan outgains Nebraska by 150 yards and still loses.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan finally hits a Worst Waldo play.
- Burkhead averages 4.0 YPC on a zillion carries.
- Denard has a day that mildly surprises to the positive.
- Michigan, 26-20