this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
Other stuff: Festivities you won't go to because you have a tailgate. Soccer doubleheader tonight, though: men at 5, women at 7:30. The MZone provides Know Your Foe. BWS previews the Irish. One Foot Down reviews the Michigan offense. Too little data so they make big, but it's worthwhile.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Notre Dame|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
September 10th 2011
|THE LINE||Notre Dame -3|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
|WEATHER||High sixties dropping to low sixties; 40% chance of rain; NO SUN!!!!|
|MY AWESOME KELLY NICKNAME||Zach De La Coacha|
Run Offense vs. Notre Dame
This remains an enigma after an abbreviated, well-in-hand game against a MAC opponent. Michigan mixed a bunch of different formations and blocking schemes—minus the stretch—en route to 7.3 YPC.
What they'll do when a rivalry game is on the line bears little relation to what they were running out with a two-score-or-better lead against Western Michigan. But if I had to guess, and I do, it will look more like Michigan's first possession than the rest of the game. When they got the ball for the first time they were down a touchdown and there was no guarantee the defense wasn't still a flaming tire fire.
On that drive Michigan operated exclusively from the shotgun and ran Robinson four times. When they were nervous, they went back to the well. In a huge, meme-establishing matchup for Brady Hoke's career he might as well run those power plays with 1) his best running back, 2) an extra blocker, and 3) the possibility of QB Draw Oh Noes.
In addition to a wide array of QB power, look for the zone read. Michigan ran it to good success late and Notre Dame was irresponsible on the zone read against USF. Three times in the first half they let the outside guy in the zone read break contain. Once it was an inverted veer on which both the give and take would have picked up eight or so. While USF's overall stats were bleah, they moved the ball fairly well in the first half despite having absolutely no hope of completing a pass longer than zero yards. In the second half they were content to run the ball into stacked lines.
[SIDE NOTE: One reason the zone read was successful may have been a USF tweak to it: running it out of the pistol. Michigan's current setup isn't far off. After the QB steps forward, he's almost at pistol depth. The difference is the positioning of the running back. In the pistol he gives nothing away because he can head to either side of the QB. In the traditional shotgun the zone read is on one side or the other. You can flip this assumption with speed options and other plays that make the optioned-off guy a playside defender, but Michigan hasn't done this and the pistol seems like a cheap way to sow uncertainty in the defense. I don't expect to see it against ND, or ever, since Borges is focused on other things.]
As for the rest of Notre Dame's run defense, it remains largely the same. They've got a bad situation at ILB next to Te'o, where Carlo Calabrese lost his job to Dan Fox… and then Fox was pulled for Calabrese midway through the USF game. The outside linebackers seem a bit confused. The ends are good, though—I can see Lewan handling Ethan Johnson but on the other side of the line Michigan might want to option off Kapron Lewis-Moore. That's a matchup that does not favor Huyge. Michigan will remain left-sided.
I hesitate to offer much in the way of predictions given the uncertainty here—I think Michigan will struggle to move the ball on the ground from under center, but there are opportunities to get a defense that seemed vulnerable to confusion last week out of position.
Key Matchup: Molk/Omameh/Barnum against NTs Cwynar and Nix. If Michigan is going to run power they're going to have to blow the NT off the ball in the 3-4. That will be much easier when the relatively slight Cwynar (6'4", 285) is in. Nix is a 340 pound hambeast who, while only a redshirt freshman, may be able to stand up to double teams.
But can he deal with Molk reaching him? I'll be watching ND's substitution on the nose and how Michigan reacts to it. I'm hoping they make Nix move laterally while pounding Cwynar.
Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame
This is also almost totally unknown. BJ Daniels is awful. In the first half when USF racked up 16 of their 23 points, Daniels completed zero (0!) passes past the LOS. The only thing we can take from the USF game is that Notre Dame has trouble defending bubble screens. The Bulls consistently racked up 5-10 yards despite the wholesale suck of Daniels. Chalk up some free yards on the outside.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame's late-season defensive surge came against Utah, Army, and the backup quarterbacks at USC and Miami. The former was passing in a driving rain storm; the latter had 282 yards on 33 attempts and a passer efficiency rating of 152.
What data we have on Notre Dame's pass defense leans towards not so good, but it's mostly "ask again later." Denard Robinson got thirteen dodgy attempts against Western. A lot of different things are within the realm of possibility.
These are basically the same teams as last year, when Denard went 24 of 40 for 244 yards and a touchdown, but extrapolating from that is dangerous. Michigan debuted QB Draw Oh Noes for a 30 yard touchdown, got something similar for another seam throw down the sidelines to Odoms, could have had a couple more to Roundtree, etc. Michigan's snag package was new, too. All the things Denard could do were new. Not so much anymore. He'll will have to do new things against a veteran secondary. Every starter is a senior. They remember what happened to them last year.
Meanwhile, Michigan has a new offensive coordinator with a totally different passing game that he has already installed. We did see a QB Oh Noes or two against Western and a lot of familiar things, though, and it's not like Borges can't dial up a high-low read of a cornerback. The issue will not be slants and flares and various underneath passes but the mid-level stuff and beyond, particularly getting the same results out of Denard without getting him killed or asking him to fit it in a tiny window.
So who knows?
Key Matchup: Borges vs Acquisition Of The Big Easy Play. Even assuming that Denard just had an off day and is about as accurate as he was last year, Michigan's not going to go up and down the field just based on his arm. The omnipresent threat of the run and the lack of safeties that implies will be critical. I think Borges knows this and will take advantage, but to do that he's got to force those safeties into the box with Denard's feet, or at least the zone read.
Run Defense vs. Notre Dame
Against USF, Notre Dame's rushing offense looked a lot like Michigan's might over the course of the season. They operated from the shotgun and ran tons of power from it. They didn't use the quarterback on these things, but they still go good yardage. Starting tailback Cierre Wood is a talent. I've hardly seen Toussaint run so this might sound dumb, but the two backs are carbon copies: fast, agile, bouncy, with an inside edge. Wood might be a bit more athletic but it's hard to tell given the limited evidence available.
Wood averaged 5 YPC on the day. While he was less than explosive against a USF team that lost three starters off its line, the Bulls were a solid defensive team last year and project to be one again. Backup power back Jonas Gray did 4.3 but also lost a back-breaking fumble that was returned 98 yards for a touchdown; he's a guy who just runs straight ahead and gets what he can. Wood is the threat.
Notre Dame's line is powerful—virtually every guy on it was recruited by Michigan. On short yardage their ability to cave in the center of the USF line was impressive. Often backs had to do little other than run up the backs of their offensive linemen to pick up a good gain. When Notre Dame pulls they often pull two linemen because center Braxton Cave is agile enough to get outside. He and a backside tackle will frequently show up at the point of attack—don't think Notre Dame can't put MANBALL yards on your face because there isn't an H-back on the field.
As for Michigan, they brought on a 220 pound true freshman to play DE in their passing spread and got burned for it. Other than that the Broncos didn't pick up much. At night in temperate conditions expect much more from the starters than we saw in week one. Brennen Beyer will be relegated to the bench and hypothetical extra DE will be Jake Ryan, who was an impact pass rusher last week. The rest of the line should be able to hold up on the interior, and Kenny Demens will be hard to run past.
Unfortunately, it's not hard to envision Wood exploiting Michigan's weak edges with his ability to bounce outside. It will be easy to lose contain against him; Michigan's outside linebackers were thoroughly bleah against Western; Michigan will lose contain. If Wood doesn't go over 100 yards that will be a surprise. Holding him to 4 YPC instead of the 5 and getting Kovacs to slice him down to live another down will be keys. They'll get yards. Michigan has to make them earn touchdowns.
Key Matchup: Mike Martin vs Cave, etc. Martin is supposed to be banged up. If he's ineffective that takes a major source of the zero-yard plays Michigan needs to kick ND off the field out of play. This is the time to Make A Statement.
Pass Defense vs. Notre Dame
Last year this was either walk-ons at QB for the Irish or DOOM. This year the guy who got yanked in favor of that walk-on after doing this…
…is in charge. Unfortunately, he's not fresh off the pickle farm anymore. Now a sophomore, Tommy Rees came in at halftime after Crist had bombed himself down the depth chart and lit up the USF secondary to the tune of 296 yards on 34 attempts. He was victimized by drops, one of which led to a crippling interception. (The other INT was Rees's brain going "FLOYDFLOYDFLOYDFLOYDFLOYD" despite Floyd being double covered.)
Rees's situation was a major factor in those numbers. South Florida entered the second half up 16 and played to not give up the big play. Almost a third of Rees's yards came on an all-but-meaningless drive that started on the ND 11 with two minutes left and USF leading by ten. Before that he was playing strictly against a GERG-style three man rush that never got home. He was able to leisurely survey the defense and grind down the field as USF gambled that playing like idiots wouldn't catch up to them before the end of the game*. He was really good at this.
And then there's Michael Floyd (@ right), who I don't have to describe to you. ND's other receivers are just all right. Theo Riddick might be good if he learns to catch. TJ Jones is currently holding his binky tight and sucking his thumb in case the bad man yells at him again. Tight end Tyler Eifert isn't Rudolph, but he is pretty good. He'll be a source of frustration.
Michigan's situation here is far less doom-ridden than last year. Woolfolk should return. I'm betting they put him over the top of Floyd in the hopes that his speed and height can break up some of the deep stuff. Avery and Floyd both had their moments against Western and will put the theory that Tony Gibson's real name is Debbie and real profession is pop start to the test. Kovacs seems like he's moving to genuinely good. The main issue is the situation at non-Kovacs safety. In the nickel Michigan figures to be running much of the day that was Carvin Johnson or Marvin Robinson, neither of whom seems ready for primetime. I wonder if Michigan will roll out Avery as that nickel corner—something he played last year—and move Gordon back to the safety spot.
Meanwhile up front, Michigan used an array of blitzes to freak Alex Carder out. They didn't get much pass rush from the front four save freshman Jake Ryan, but the starters were sat for much of the game due to punishing heat. I don't think that override what we've seen for the careers of Martin and Roh and Van Bergen. They'll get to the QB whether by blitzing or not. Rees will probably get a read first.
Key Matchup: Mattison's zone blitzing against Rees's ability to react quickly. Some of the blitzes won't get home and Michigan will give up chunks. What happens when Michigan's blitzes do slip guys through unblocked will decide the game. Does Rees panic and throw balls up for grabs? Does he shut down like a deer in the headlights as Kovacs bears down and he can't find a receiver? Or does he zing evil passes to evil Mike Floyd for evil yardage that makes us lose?
*[Seriously: Skip Holtz went full Lloyd in this one. It was a little repulsive to watch. If ND didn't have the worst case of butterfingers they would have blown the lead, deservedly. The only thing I thought during the second half was "I hate football coaches."]
You'd think this would be a huge advantage for Notre Dame but last week David Ruffer missed a chip shot field goal, Ben Turk averaged 34 yards on five shankalicious punts, and USF ripped off a 34-yard punt return—their only opportunity of the game. Notre Dame's got problems, too.
It's still a Notre Dame advantage because Ruffer has an excellent track record; Gibbons does not.
Key Matchup: GIBBONS YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS AAAAAA
I call him "Brian Kitty"
- The extreme efficacy of Mattison's blitzes turns out to be playing against a crappy WMU line and those four-man zone blitzes aren't getting home.
- Uncertainty at the safety spot opposite Kovacs bites Michigan in the ass like it did last year.
- Denard is operating from under center.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Rees starts chucking it off his back foot because his ribsies are hurty.
- Nix == zone stretch == Omameh-Te'o reunion
- Brian Kelly's head turns mauve.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 (Baseline 5; –1 Home night game with frickin' firewurks, +1 for Mike Floyd aaaiaigh, –1 for Mike Floyd didn't do crap last year…, +1 for Because of Walk-on Stuff And Cam Gordon Making Him Irrelevant, +1 for Ugh More Freshmen DL, +1 for Denard's Not Getting 500 Yards This Time, –1 for True Sophomore With Scant Experience Against Mad Mattison)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for Let's Get This Party Started Right, +1 for The Sky's A Different Color And It's On Another Channel, +1 for It's Notre Dame And They Are Very Annoying, +1 for A Win Probably Means Borges Is The Platonic Ideal Of Borges, –1 for It's Not Like We're Playing For A National Title This Year)
Loss will cause me to... make even more insufferable comments about the stupidity of MANBALL
Win will cause me to... WOO SHOTGUN MANBALL
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
I always hate this section because predictions are stupid. I hate it even more now because predictions in this specific case are even stupider than stupid. There's all the uncertainty above and then the possibility of yet more pounding rain. So, like, I don't know, man.
But strictures and conventions. After watching the ND game I'm a lot less worried about the yardage disparity against USF. Skip Holtz went into full turtle mode at halftime(!) of a game he led by two scores. It was gross. In the first half USF moved the ball pretty well but had fewer opportunities to rack up yards because of a defensive TD and terrible, terrible punting by ND.
USF ranked 112th in returning starters according to Phil Steele and still features terrible BJ Daniels, who is terrible, as their quarterback. Under the circumstances I might have pulled the Holtz there too. And when they finally got scared after ND missed a chip-shot FG to bring them within a score, they took the offense out of the garage for an 80-yard, 14-play touchdown march.
So… don't put too much stock into Rees's performance. He was allowed a ton of easy underneath throws with no pressure at all. He's a true sophomore who was a generic three-star out of high school. Severe meltdown is possible. Unfortunately, that goes both ways since Rees is throwing to Michael Floyd.
Michigan is almost totally unknown. We got some encouraging notes from Al Borges in a brief window and we saw some sexy NFL style zone blitz packages that promise to rattle quarterbacks all year. Mattison will have more in the drawer. And then there's last year and Denard running forever and ever amen.
I think it comes down to turnovers. Given what we saw last week, the relative abilities of the opposing teams to get pressure on the quarterbacks, and an admittedly hypothetical improvement in Denard Robinson's ball security, that slightly favors Michigan.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan's shotgun breakdown is approximately what it was last week and Robinson nears 20 carries out of necessity.
- Borges brings back the stretch when Nix gets in and Molk kills him to the point where Nix ain't in no more.
- Michael Floyd destroys M to the tune of 150 yards and two TDs. Many of these will be on Rees panic bombs as Michigan rushes him.
- Michigan, 26-24.
Let's all not panic. Uni-watch reports that the piping is dead:
(As per usual, do not be alarmed at the white pants.) I was never a piping fan—too West Virginia—so its removal is welcome.
(HT: the board's JeepinBen.)
Quote of win. Patrick Omameh on Denard Robinson speech patterns:
“He just has to do everything fast, and I don’t know why,” Omameh said. “I think we’ve kind of adapted to his … I guess, uh … method of speaking. We say he be speaking Florida.”
Yes, I'm a sucker for ungrammatical uses of "be." Also I find it hard to believe why Omameh thinks Denard Robinson doesn't have to do everything fast. He completed a Rubik's Cube before it was invented. He can't eat eggs. When he gets in a Ferrari the car tries to shift him. He's too fast for eggs! What does that even mean HE'S TOO FAST TO FIND OUT
“It’s just real fast,” Omameh said. “Everything is just super sped up. I’m like, ‘You know, you can slow down a little bit if you want us to run the play right. But, you don’t have to.’"
Even better quote. Manny Diaz on BYU's fullbacks:
They've got fullbacks that want to block your soul.
That is all.
More McGary. Sam Webb's latest article in the News is on Mitch McGary with more from McGary's (and Glenn Robinson's) tough-talking AAU coach Wayne Brumm:
"The post player is intimately and intricately involved in John Beilein's system," Brumm explained. "I don't know anybody who runs a better offensive system for a post player than Michigan. So I have to say, why not (Michigan as a possible destination)? Everybody else is (analyzing McGary's recruitment) like they're a friggin fan. We're trying to pick a school that is in Mitch's best interest."
Brumm added: "John Beilein can flat-out coach. The people I talk to and the coaches I talk to, I'll flat-out tell you — they are scared of John Beilein. They are worried about the day he starts getting the talent that they've got (at their schools). He's been at a bunch of places that he couldn't recruit high-major talent. Now he's at Michigan and it looks like he is making some headway there. When he starts with an even slate in terms of talent, look out! Look what he did last year. Look what he did with Darius Morris, Timmy Hardaway, and look what he has done with Jordan Morgan. My goodness, isn't anybody paying attention?"
That sounds like a guy who would like McGary to hit up Ann Arbor. On this morning's WTKA recruiting roundup, Webb delivered the "gut feeling" on McGary's top three: Michigan, Maryland, and Florida. No disrespect to those programs but that's a lot less of a mountain to hurdle than UK, UNC, and Duke, the other schools he plans to visit. I'm kind of thinking this is going well. Listen to the roundup—Webb won't say it (specifically disclaims it, actually) but it sounds like he believes this is happening.
Brumm also literally states that Bacari Alexander "gets it." WOO!
Mattison on the trail. Wolverine Nation—how is that URL even available?—has launched. They've put Tom behind a paywall and don't have an RSS feed, but here's this excellent article from Mike Rothstein on Greg Mattison's recruiting style:
"He didn't realize at the time just how expensive they were," former Texas A&M defensive coordinator Bob Davie said. "The business manager brought him in and they could have bought a new car with how much he spent on that mobile phone. I'll never forget that.
"That's just how he does it. He's going to work harder than anybody."
Rothstein hits up Mattison's head coach from back in the day when he was a D-line coach at Northwestern and various players from his Notre Dame days.
The other guy. ND DC Bob Diaco on Denard:
"Unfortunately it just is what it is," defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. "We need to be perfect, because any little crease and it's over, he's gone. It's not like, somebody hits a crease and he rattles for eight, 10 yards and you get him on the ground. This guy hits the crease and he can punch a hole in the top of the defense like that." …
"It's just a monumental task defending a runner at quarterback in particular, that it almost gives you the feeling like they're playing with 12," Diaco said. "It's a problem."
This game will not only be the first real opportunity to see what Borges does with Denard, it will be a major hype-check on Diaco. After his defense gave up 35 in a humiliating loss to Navy that had option-savvy Middies in disbelief that anyone could be so incompetent:
Navy wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. Kelly and Diaco just have absolutely no clue how the Navy offense works. …
If Diaco and Kelly hadn’t seen it before, then I have no idea what film they’ve been watching, or if they even watched any at all. That isn’t even hyperbole; they thought that Navy’s fullback ran through the A gap. And that was their plan– to send the inside linebackers crashing into the A gap that nobody was running through. That just made those LBs easier to block as either the fullback or quarterback ran right by them and into the secondary. …
What’s almost as incredible as this horrible game plan is the fact that despite Kelly’s assertion to the contrary, Notre Dame never adjusted. Those ILBs kept running into the A gap for the entire game. Once or twice Te’o scraped outside to make a play in the backfield, and I’d think,”OK, now we’ll see something else.” But we didn’t. Notre Dame would go right back to the same old thing on the next play, and the Mids would pick up a big gain.
Diaco appeared clueless in a media interview soon after. The next week his D gave up almost 400 yards and 28 points in a loss to Tulsa and people were screaming for his head. The next four games were all wins in which ND game up 17 or fewer points.
- Three points ceded to Utah, a mediocre offense.
- Three against Army, whatever.
- 16 against USC in a driving rainstorm slopfest in which the Trojans were helmed by Mitch Mustain.
- 17 against Miami in a game where Jacory Harris threw three picks on seven attempts and was yanked for Stephen Morris, who averaged 8.5 YPA but threw a pick of his own.
Last week USF only got 250 yards but BJ Daniels is horrible. Is the improvement real or a mirage? No idea.
I'm like what? Your game programs for ND are going to be electronical:
Each gameday program includes an audio file of "The Catch," Desmond Howard's famous touchdown against Notre Dame twenty years ago.
But it's not just the audio of the call, from the announcers that day — Frank Beckmann for the Michigan Sports Network and Brent Musburger for ABC — it also includes the play call from Michigan's head football coach at the time Gary Moeller and sound from Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac in the huddle.
That's kind of cool. Fifteen bucks cool? I'll listen to yours.
BONUS: Darren Rovell suggests there is a person in this world whose "dream" was to "embed the audio file of a famous play into a gameday program." Reach for the stars.
Blog content. NKOTB From Hope There Is Glory is not a Notre Dame blog, but a Michigan blog sporting statistical breakdowns of the WMU game. Here's a section:
Passes attempted against
Passes completed against
Etc.: WMU stunt blitz picture pagin' from BWS. Vincent Smith picks it up. MVictors on Michigan's first night game. Jerry Palm projects us in the… Fiesta Bowl? Good lord. Very cool Mike Leach interview from a technically oriented football site. HT: Smart Football.
Sippin on Purple breaks down a That Goddamned Counter Draw the Wildcats ran against BC. Why don't we use this for good? Denard rollout will make this enormously successful.
News bullets and other important items:
- Cam Gordon's status (back) is "up in the air," probably leaning towards sitting out for Notre Dame.
- Stonum and Jerald Robinson are stunt-doubling for Michael Floyd in practice.
- Woolfolk OK, will likely stay on special teams (confirmed from yesterday).
- Hopkins will contribute, could win starting job, or even play fullback.
- Hoke will continue to wear pants on the sideline, even though he prefers shorts.
From file (Yes, my file)
Opening remarks: “Ahem. Everybody ready?
“Thanks for coming out. We had a pretty good practice yesterday. We had the first day of school. You worry about how that affects guys, especially your freshmen -- getting them to class, making sure they know where they’re going -- but overall putting a plan in. Tuesdays are usually a day that there’s a lot of planning. There’s a lot of tweaks to the game plan, and sometimes they’re not as good as you’d like them to be, but I thought overall -- as a team and in the kicking game and the offense and defense side of it -- I think we had a pretty good day. We needed a better day today, obviously, because that improvement daily is very improtant to us.
“We run it pretty live. We get after it pretty well. I think our guys understand that. I think we looked at some personnel things that we’ll continue to look at throughout the rest of the week, building up to Saturday. We'll go pretty full-go.”
Will Woolfolk remain on special teams? “I would expect Troy will be healthy. He did more yesterday, really, than I thought he would. And the thing I liked about it was Troy wanted to do more, and there’s been situations we’ve all been in as coaches where some guys who’ve played football and are older, they may be a little delicate about when they get back in there, but he jumped right back in, and I was real pleased with the way he approached yesterday.”
So is he going to stay on special teams? “Oh, sure.”
Did you see improvements in kickoff coverage? “We work our coverage teams two days a week, and then our return teams two days a week. I think for the first day, it was good. I think the guys know that we didn’t perform like we should. We’ll look at some other guys in there a little bit, but I think it was pretty decent yesterday.
Did you see what the problem was on film? “We had one situation where two guys ran into each other. There’s a way you want to avoid blocks, and placement of the ball is important when you want to kick into the boundary a little bit more -- you need the ball a little more into the boundary. We were folding the guy early in the game, and we quit doing that because of where they wanted to take the football. So I was more pleased yesterday than I was on Saturday.”
What about Cam Gordon’s status? “He’s still up in the air. I don’t talk much about injuries, but he’s still up in the air. He did a couple things yesterday, but not near as much as we like.”
What do you need to see to feel good about him playing? “I need to see him go out there and run around and play football today. Because if not -- you pretty much have to do some things on Wednesday on a full tilt level, or Saturday you’re not going to be effective anyway.”
Borges always says make plays, not miracles when talking about Denard. What’s your take on that? “That’s always a good point. When you have a guy who has a skill set that’s pretty special, and Denard is, as he’s progressed in the offense and learning it, I think he sees that he doesn’t have to be everything. And that’s an important part. There’s a poise and composure that you want to play with, that you don’t want to force things whether from running or throwing it. I think just staying within the framework of what we need our quarterback to do, because I think he’ll make enough stuff happen during the course of the game that will just happen because of that skill set. But he just needs to play in the framework of what we’re doing offensively.”
With the way your running backs played last Saturday, was that reinforced for Denard? “If our offensive line -- and it starts there -- can get movement on the line of scrimmage, if our lead blockers, whether it be with an H-back or a U-back or a full back, can get on guys, and we do a great job down the field with the receivers, then good things will happen.”
Is Stonum giving you a good look in practice for Michael Floyd? “Well I don’t know. He’s pretty daggone good. I would say that the thing about Darryl is that he is a team guy. He has jumped in with both feet, and really done a great job the week before, and right now him and Jerald Robinson are both wearing number three out there, so it gives our guys a good look.”
What more do you want see from your linebackers? “The linebackers and the defensive front -- we need to see more disruption up there. I don’t think it’s been a secret that I wasn’t real happy with how we played there. There’s a higher expectation, and obviously your second level guys, the linebackers, they’ve got to do a great job with their run fits and the different defenses we have. Jordan does a nice job of deducing [plays]. He’s a smart football player. You gotta give him some credit for some of his reactions as a football player.”
What did you lose by not having a fourth quarter? “Well depending on how the game goes, there may be some guys you would have loved to get in the football game for experience. I know offensively, just talking to Al a little bit, there’s some things that he wanted to look at in a game environment that we didn’t get to.”
Would you have liked to try for a FG? “I like touchdowns. PATs are fine.”
How do you feel about Rees as Notre Dame’s QB? “You look at the last four games of last year and you look at what he did -- he played with a great deal of composure. He has a very good arm. I think his release is good. I think he understands conceptually Brian’s offense. Both of them I think are very talented guys. Obviously Brian’s going to make decisions that are best for his team, but we have to prepare the same way for both of them.”
Could Hopkins win starting job? “Oh he could. We’ll let the week play out. I think he’s done a nice job. He did a nice job in fall camp.” Could he play fullback? “He can play some fullback. Can … has.”
Did Toussaint solidify his spot at all with his performance Saturday? “No, well -- I think right now he’d be the guy to start the game.”
Did you run more single-back than you planned? “I think number one we’re trying to get Denard comfortable. I think that always is part of it. Your quarterback -- doesn’t matter if it’s Tom Brady or Denard Robinson -- you want guys to be comfortable because that position specifically is so important to your football team. We may have gotten a little more into the two-back stuff as the game progressed.”
You’re a shorts guy. How come you wore pants on Saturday? “I think I probably have to. Believe me, I’d wear shorts in a heartbeat.” Did Dave Brandon make you? “No, I think it probably just comes with the territory.”
How do you feel about Brian Kelly’s in-game meltdown? “I don’t know… you don’t think of that. Every guy’s different. That’s what makes -- you’re all different. You all have different questions, and you all have different slants in what you look at, and so I mean, everybody does some stuff differently. I know I look real big on HD. But my whole point is: you’re coaching kids. You’re trying to help them so that they’re going to make the improvements and fundamentals, techniques, recognition, sometimes it maybe a mentality you’re expecting them to play with.”
Have you interacted much with Brian Kelly? “He was in the MAC Central. He beat us three times.” You talk to him at all? “League meetings, those kind of things. I’ve got a lot of respect for Brian. He’s a good coach. He was at Grand Valley and did a great job there … [and then at] Cincinanti and Central [Michigan].”
News (and other important items) bullets:
- Hopkins will be major contributor, can compete for starting position at RB
- Borges wants to use less shotgun -- Saturday wasn't representative
- Mattison does not plan to put any one cornerback on Michael Floyd all game
- Woolfolk is healthy and practicing at full speed
- Woolfolk will remain on special teams
- Barnum will be back this week
- <3 Kovacs
Coach, you look great. “Well, thank you.”
How would you assess Denard’s performance? “He managed the offense very well first time out. He had very few errors. A couple of deals, but nothing catastrophic, which is really all you ask for the first time out. He didn’t create the big plays that he’s used to, but our tailbacks did. So as long as somebody does, we’ll be fine. Eventually that part of his game will surface.”
Did you get use enough plays on offense you wanted to? “Oh, it wasn’t even close. We ran 39 plays. I mean, we didn’t even scratch the surface. There was so much left in the bag, just the way the game went, which is kind of good. Didn’t even begin to approach our menu.”
The one play where Denard scrambled and almost threw a pick, did you use that as a teaching moment? “Of all the plays he had, that was the only play that was a little higher risk. After the fact, he realized he should have probably checked the ball down to the tight end in the flat, but he got a little greedy on that one. But for the most part his decision-making was fairly accurate, other than a play or two.”
Is it hard to get a gauge of your offense with only 39 plays? “Yeah, a little bit. But you have 39 to judge, [so] judge and go from there. It was incomplete in so many ways. But it was a win, and we’ll take it, and we’ll go from there. We got another week to practice.”
This horse isn’t dead yet. Let’s beat it some more. Fitz vs. Shaw? “Both of them showed up. We ended up playing them both, probably Fitz a little more than Shaw, but Shaw did some nice things.”
Can you comment on Notre Dame’s defense? “They’re legitimate. Their third-down percentage -- [USF] got two or three third down conversions on them. If you look at their numbers, South Florida didn’t move the ball very well on them. And just because of the circumstances of the game, they lost, but the defense, I thought, was outstanding. Te’o the linebacker was as active and as physical a player I’ve seen in a while, and that’s quite a statement. He is a good football player. They get pass rush with only four guys. They don’t have to blitz, which is disconcerting. They’re good on the back end -- Harrison’s around the ball all the time. Ball hawk, physical, well-coached. They use their hands real well up front on the line. They’re good.”
What do you see in Harrison Smith? “I think he puts himself in position real well. He doesn’t get out of position a lot. He’s got a feel for where the ball’s going. It looks like he plays smart. He’s physical. He’s just one of those guys I’m sure they count on.”
Passes were distributed pretty evenly between receivers against Western. Is that going to be how you do it for the rest of the season? “Not necessarily, no. I think there’s going to be games where you’ll see one guy catch a bunch of balls, and the other guy won’t catch as many, and vice versa. Once you get into the battle, you don’t know how it’s going to go, so you’re never sure exactly who’s going to get it. Now you design certain plays to go to certain guys, but because of the nature of the defense you’re not going to get it to those guys. You always want a degree of distribution, but I’m not obsessed with [the idea that] everybody needs to catch x amount of balls. I could care less about that. What I care about is taking what the defense gives you, and if that means one guy catches ten passes, then so be it.”
How did Denard do under center going through his reads? “I thought he did a pretty darn good job. For his first time, his under center play was really good. His shotgun play was -- that’s kind of his power zone, and that’s why we’re going to use that and do that stuff. His under center play was solid. His mechanics in terms of exchange, tracks and things -- had a couple of errors on some tracks, but for the most part was pretty reliable.”
Only two of Denard’s runs were scrambles. Were you pleased with patience in pocket? “He did a nice job on one scramble particularly. I think he got a first down. He came off one of his receivers a little quick -- but for the most part, what you have to understand is you want him to give the pass a chance, but you don’t want to be so obsessed with him always wanting to check the ball down, because he is the best checkdown you could have. So what could be perceived as impatience is sometimes a little more designed than you might think.”
Talk about that NFL pass to Grady? “That was the second option. That was a good play. They jumped the slide play, and he threw the ball. That was a nice play by him. He reset his feet, got his hips set, and he hit [Grady] right in stride. That was totally designed. And no scramble there.”
How would you assess O-line play re: Schofield vs. Barnum? “Mike had a good game. Mike did a good job. He was very solid in there. And now this week, we’ll see how the thing goes [between Schofield and Barnum]. It’s nice to know [Schofield] can, if that makes any sense.”
Is Barnum back in the lineup for Notre Dame? “Oh yeah. Absolutely.”
Talk about going for it on fourth and one. Whose call is it? “It’s my playcall, but it’s [Hoke’s] decision.”
Do you coach Denard on his scrambling or do you allow him to improvise? “When the protection breaks down or the pocket gets pushed or for some reason he can’t see, he has to go to an improv mode. All our improv has structure, but Denard does a lot in there that I don’t draw on the board. The one thing you don’t want to do is inhibit a playmaker. A guy that can do some things, you don’t want to make him so that he’s so robotic he’s not doing what he’s capable of doing. Yeah, there’s structure within our improvisation, but his ability to create -- I always talk about create without doing something stupid. He’s living by the law pretty good, knock on wood.”
Would you have gone completely vanilla if there had been a fourth quarter? “Had we scored on the last drive, we probably would have gotten a little more physical. It’s hard to say, but when we get ahead, we like to run the football if we can without being too conservative.”
Is the ratio of shotgun vs. under center what you’ll stick to the rest of the season? “No, no … no. The game had no balance to it with regard to that. If we had played a fourth quarter, we would have been right about where we wanted it.”
Would Devin Gardner have gotten some snaps? “I don’t know. We’ll see. I couldn’t tell you. That’s up to Brady.”
Is Hopkins going to have a role this week? “Oh, absolutely. You bet. He was in the fold big time. Before he couldn’t play, but now that he’s back, he’s going to be a factor. He’s a good player. He brings something to the table. He’s a big back that you like to have.”
Is he competing for the starting job? “They’re all competing still. I’m not counting him out of the mix.”
(more after the jump)
A photo of the elusive Greg Mattison in his natural habitat.
Can you share what it’s like to have coached on both sides of rivalry? “It’s a great rivalry. I mean, you’re talking about two of the greatest schools in college football in athletics. I don’t think there are any better when you look at the whole package of it. I know it’s a huge rivalry for everybody involved in it. It’s Michigan. It’s Notre Dame. That’s what it is.”
Was it weird when you went from Michigan to Notre Dame? “Yeah, it was hard. I can tell you that was hard because it was Michigan … you know, I can’t honestly say if I even really knew what a big rivalry that was. I never grew up being a Notre Dame fan. I’m a Lutheran, not a Catholic. When you do that decision based on family, once you’ve made that decision, you kind of go, ‘Whoa.’ But I had a great eight years there. Got to see my family through school and my daughter in collge there, so that made it a really, really good deal.”
Assess defensive performance early in the game and how you adjusted later? “The thing that happened is what you kind of worry about happening when you have so many guys that haven’t played a lot of football. You probably got the toughest scenario you could get because it was a very fast paced -- they were switching personnel groups in and out without us really being able to see what they were, and you got defenses that you’re playing for certain personnel groups that you hadn’t against a different group. This young group needs to see everything.
“Then it goes down to when a team hurries like that and speeds up the pace, communication is everything, and that’s something we’ve been harping on. With a young group of guys and young linebackers that haven’t played a lot, the communication is the first thing -- when it all happens -- it goes. [During] that [first] drive, there was a number things that we weren’t aligned correctly on. And we’re not good enough to do that. We’re not good enough to not be perfect at what we’re doing. Once they came off the side and we settled them down, and we just said, ‘Hey listen. There’s a whole ball game ahead of us. If we get these things corrected we’ll be fine.’ And then we get the interception, and [we] let them pick back up again.”
Hoke wasn’t happy with D-line play. “Neither was I.” What stuck out to you? “I wouldn’t just single out the defensive line. When we looked at that tape, I knew what I would see. That is not how we want to play defense. Our whole thing is stopping the run. Some of those runs were me -- I’m calling pressures to try to get after the quarterback and he runs a draw, and we didn’t fit our gaps right. That kind of thing happens. Others they weren’t. We have to be able to stop the run. Anytime a team runs the football on your defense, you can’t have a great day. I think a lot of our fits, our backers fitting, our defensive line knocking them back, playing real physical every snap, all those things have to improve.
“The one positive thing in the entire game, though, was we kept the ball inside and in front for the most part. We can’t allow a big play [to become] a homerun play, and that quarterback is a big time quarterback, and that wide receiver is a great wide receiver. So our guys did keep the ball inside and in front, so we could get more guys on the tackles.”
Rees vs. Crist? “Well, I think that they’re both very good quarterbacks. The one thing that you have to understand with Rees is he was the starting quarterback the last four games [of 2010] and they won all four. And then he goes in this game in a half and throws for 300-some yards or whatever. So obviously he’s a guy that when he goes in ball games, he does a great job. I think both of them are very talented. You wouldn’t be at a school like Notre dame or Michigan if you didn’t have talent. I think they both have good arms, and they both appear to be very intelligent, and they both have a great wide receiver."
How do you get D-line up to where you want it to be? Will you keep blitzing as much? “It depends if a team is going to throw as much as [Western Michigan] threw. It all depends on what the team does. We won’t sit back and play zone coverage until we have the ability to get a rush with a four-man front. And that comes from technique -- that comes from a lot of things. It’s not fair to that secondary and it’s not fair to that underneath coverage to let a quarterback like that hold it. I’m not going to say I’m a guy that’s going to blitz every down, but when it dictates it, then I think you have to.”
Do you need to get more production out of Craig Roh? “Definitely. He has to play better. One of the things we addressed is that we had too many players in that defense that did not get production. We have a big chart up in our hallway [where] you get points for tackles, for assists, for caused fumbles, all those kind of things, and then you also get minus points for missed assignments, missed tackles, that kind of thing. [Ed-M: Mattison keeps a UFR!!!] On our defense we had too many guys that didn’t have a lot of points. You had one guy that had 47 points: Jordan Kovacs. So we gotta get more guys get production. And Craig’s one of those guys. We’ve gotta get more out of him. I think he knows that, and he understands. He saw the film himself. He understands he’s a better football player than that.”
What makes Kovacs so special? “He’s a football player. He’s a Michigan football player. If you had a team of eight of those. I’m not going to say 11. Eight of those. You might sit on a lawn chair and watch the game. That hit that he came on one of the pressures -- you all saw the picture. It was what you tell and what you coach. Put your face right through his chest. Wrap him up. Eyes up. And he put his helmet right through the football. The thing that people didn’t see on that was he was in the endzone almost the same time as Herron after he had caused a fumble and made the hit. That’s what Michigan defense is about. The same thing happened that was a positive -- Jake Ryan on his tipped [pass]. He hit the gournd after he tipped it, [and] he was the first guy down there next to Herron. And that’s what we’ve been talking about. That’s a great sign. Now we gotta keep doing that all the way through a ball game.”
Did Herron just happen to be in right place at right time or was he actively doing things right? “He was where he was supposed to be. He executed the defense and good things happen. Thank goodness he’s fast. He never looks like he’s running that fast, but not many people catch him.”
Kovacs said he expected to have fewer tackles in this new scheme. But he led the team in tackles on Saturday. At what point is that going to change? “I hope soon. You hit it right on the head. When your safety is making a lot of tackles, that’s not a good thing. It’s a good thing we have Jordan Kovacs, but that’s not a good thing [for him to be making all the tackles]. That happened a number of times -- if a linebacker were where he was supposed to be, he would have made that tackle. The great news though is Jordan was where he was supposed to be, and I think at times when I’ve watched, he’s been up in there too far, because he’s been trying to make [the tackle], and all of a sudden if he misses the tackle, [the other player] is gone.”
Does having a guy like Kovacs allow you to do more with the defense? “Well it allows you to call it without wincing. No no … I have confidence in the entire defense. I wasn’t pleased with our performance. I was pleased with the win. I was pleased with the turnover margin, but as a defense I can’t say I was pleased because I really, really believe in my heart we can be much, much better than this. And we have to be. We have to play better defense than what we did. “
How do you defend Michael Floyd? “You better make sure, number one, that you’re playing with great technique on him. If you don’t -- in the back end -- if you don’t play with perfect technique, you’re going to get exposed. I think the second thing is you can’t allow the quarterback all day to throw to him, and I think you have to give him a number of different coverages so he doesn’t know all the time what you’re getting.”
Are you going to play one cornerback on him the entire game? “No.”
Was Woolfolk on pace for Kovacs’ level of production before he left the game? “He made some very physical hits on those bubble screens, which was great to see. I would love to see him play that game. He needed that. I would have loved to have that thing go four quarters. We needed it. We need every second of playing under pressure that we can get. But I’m glad that we got out of there like we did, and we got a victory, and now we just got to improve more.”
Was Woolfolk going full speed in practice today? “Uh huh.”
Will you lobby to keep him off special teams? “No. No I won’t. honestly, I will not … special teams play is a huge, huge part in our defense -- if you saw where we started on defense after a number of those kickoffs. There’s three equal parts to the game, and I’ve seen too many coaches that will say, ‘I gotta have that guy.’ Okay then put another guy [on special teams] that doesn’t do as well and you’ll see how fast that ball comes back. We really believe in that here.”
What do you and Hoke talk about on headset? “He doesn’t have it on, does he?” But he said he did! “Oh I don’t even know. I tell you what, to be honest, he probably can hear everything I’m saying without the headset on, so I don’t know. Brady is -- he is tremendous on the sideline. After that first drive -- because he’s a great defensive coach -- He was over there saying the same things I was saying to those guys. A lot of head coaches might not have reacted like he did. And that pays dividends, because we trust these guys. We believe that they’re going to try as hard as they can. Now we gotta get their tehcnique better, we gotta get a lot of thigns better as coaches, but they’re going to try it, and they’re going to do it. Just like today’s practice. There was a whole bunch of mistakes … but you know what? They went hard. And we’ll get those corrected. We just gotta keep on eliminating those mistakes.”
Ryan Van Bergen
This is not the greatest press conference in the world; this is just a tribute.
Does Hoke talk a lot about ‘feeling players’? “A little bit, yeah.” What did he say about feeling a player’s impact? “Um, as far as whose impact?” Anyone’s impact. “Oh he just talks about everybody doing their jobs. Everybody making sure that they do their job and make sure they’re aggressive about it, and when he says impact, I think he’s just talking more about toughness and mentality that you bring to the game.”
You scored a defensive TD against Wisconsin a couple years ago. What’s it like watching Herron score? “It’s just really exciting, especially for Brandon, to have that opportunity. When you score on defense, it’s something that’s unexpected. It’s just such a big bonus for a team, when your defense is giving you twelve points, you’re going to win a lot of football games. We’re pretty excited about it, and we’re going to build off of it.”
Mattison said, ‘We’re not going to sit back.’ How much do you enjoy playing aggressive defense? “It’s fun. We’ve been excited about it for a long time. Coach Mattison is an aggressive-style coach. Once we figured what [Western] was doing offensively, we tried to attack them. One thing we have to do better though is we have to improve our four-man rushes. Coach Mattison can’t call a blitz to get after quarterbacks -- we have to go put pressure on them ourselves and help out our DBs. It was fun, but at the same time we have a lot to do.”
What do you have to do specifically to get better rush? “Up front we need to get off our blocks quicker, and execute our moves. That’ll come. That was the first game.”
What’s Hoke like on the sidelines? “Passionate. He’s got a lot of energy. You can really feed off of him. He’s got enough energy for everybody on the team. He knows when to be tough, and when to come over and tell you in a calm manner what to do. He’s got a really good feel for everybody and all the players and their attitude."
Was it hard to get consistency on the D-line with all the substitutions? “No, no, not at all. [Western] came out with a no-huddle. Hats off to them -- we didn’t know they were going to do that. So the coaches did a really good job of rotating. I think we probably played 7-8 guys on the defensive line. We needed that. It was 120-130 degrees on the field I heard. If we weren’t rotating, it could have gotten ugly really fast. We need that rotation, and coach wants to get more guys in. He wants us to be able to go full tilt when we’re in the game, and I think we were more productive because of it.”
Is there a night game you’ve played in that stands out? “Night games -- they’re fun as far as atmosphere and stuff, but the thing that people don’t realize is how much it sucks when you’re waiting around in a hotel. We wait around in a hotel before the game, so you’re sitting in your hotel room. Coach is trying to keep you occupied, but you’re waiting to play a football game, watching other football games in your hotel room. That’s a big wait when you’re getting up at nine o’clock and you’re not leaving to go play until five. But it is a good experience.
“One that comes to mind is when we went to play Iowa in their stadium. That was pretty cool. It just seems like the fans are just that much more into it when the lights are on. I don’t know why, but it does seem like it’s more electric.”
You didn’t give up many big plays. What went well? “We had some good things happen as far as we’ve been trying to limit big plays, because that’s been an Achilles heel of our defense for the last couple years, but we definitely need to improve. There are things that they did, and we knew they were going to come after us with certain schemes, and we didn’t stop them. There has to be some adjustments made. We had some good things, but we had a lot of room to improve, and luckily we got in to watch the film yesterday, so we can start working on that.”
How did you find out you were an honorary game captain? “Coach Hoke told me, I wanna say Friday? I think? He told me Friday. It was a big deal. It’s a very big accomplishment for me to go out there with those guys. A lot of players have told me they look up to me as a captain and a leader. I was excited. It was a really, really cool experience."
Does Hoke give out any individual honors, e.g. helmet stickers a la Bo? “Not really. Coach Hoke is a big advocate for ‘the team, the team, the team.’ The individual awards don’t mean anything if your team’s not winning. The emphasis on the team has really helped our guys come together and helped our chemistry. Presenting individual awards isn’t going to be in Coach Hoke’s -- that’s not in his personality. Unless I’m wrong and maybe something else comes, but right now I don’t think there’s anything lined up like that.”
Where do you rank the Notre Dame rivalry compared with MSU or Ohio? “It’s a big deal. We’ve been playing each other a long time. The history goes back. I think Michigan was actually the ones who taught Notre Dame how to play football, if you look at the history. They were supposed to go to Evanston and play Northwestern, but we went down to South Bend and taught Notre Dame how to play football. I think that’s how it went down. It’s a big deal. This goes back so far, and there’s so much history. That and we’re so competitive in terms of most wins in college football. I know they take it very seriously, and we take it very seriously. It’s exciting to be able to play in it."
Did you watch the end of the ND-USF game? What did you think of their offense? “Luckily for ND, they have two very talented quarterbacks. They had their hiccups, but it was their first game. They’re going to get into their zone, and they’re going to start playing well, and we have to be prepared to see both [quarterbacks]. No, I didn’t see the end of the game. I wanted to, but nothing against NBC, but I did not like the program they had on while the rain delay was on, so I was like, uh, I’m just going to watch the other ones. I did not see the TV copy. I will watch the film copy though.”
Talk about Notre Dame’s O-line. “Big. Notre Dame’s got some big offensive linemen. Their biggest one, though, I wanna say his name’s Charles Stewart, I’m not sure. He graduated. He was their left guard. He was like 370, a really big kid. Their right guard, Trevor Robinson, I think is his name. He was a kid that Michigan recruited, and I was his host when he was here. Their center’s really good, too. He’s been there for two years, I think, and very experienced. Their interior line is really experienced. I think they have younger guys on the outside, but they also have a year of experience underneath their belt. So they’re going to be a good test for us as far as a defensive front and where we are in comparison to other teams, because Notre Dame’s offensive line will be as good as any we’ll see.”
(more after the jump)
(Ryan Van Bergen, David Molk, and Denard Robinson will be up tomorrow morning.)
- Cam Gordon and Troy Woolfolk will play next Saturday
- Fitz remains starting RB
Press Conference (filmed)
"It is a holiday, but in your profession -- in our profession -- you really don’t have holidays, but that’s okay."
Opening remarks: “As far as last Saturday, it was good to win. The weather is -- you can never anticipate what happens -- but it was good to win a football game, and we think we learned a lot team-wise when you look at where we need to really improve. It was good to get out and obviously play someone else besides yourselves because we did that for four weeks. There’s a lot that we can learn from the film, there’s a lot that we can continue to learn from the film and improve on, and hopefully we’re gonna make a big improvement because the test gets much bigger this week.
“This is a great rivalry game, and one that we’re excited about obviously. There’s some other things that go along with this game this year with playing at night, the first night game, and the throwback uniforms, and all those things, but the one thing we talked about as a team is we can’t get caught up and distracted. The field’s still going to be 120 yards long when you include the end-zones, and 53-point-something yards wide, and so that’s not going to change. That’s where our focus has to be and how we prepare this week to play our best football and make a lot of improvements.”
Talk about the injuries to Troy Woolfolk and Cam Gordon. “Troy, he just sprained his ankle—his other ankle. It felt better yesterday. I think emergency-wise, he could have gotten back in Saturday. He’s doing a good job, and Paul Schmidt, our trainer, is doing a good job treating all those things. Cam, he tweaked his back earlier in the week, felt better but still just didn’t feel good enough. There was no sense for us to try and put him out there where he could prolong the recovery process, I would say.”
Anyone else? “No.”
Do you anticipate them starting this Saturday against Notre Dame? “Yeah, I do.”
You didn’t allow very many big plays of 20+ yards. How would you evaluate your safeties? “Obviously I think Jordan played a terrific football game, when you look at his production and the things that we asked him to do. I thought he played very well. He did miss one tackle in there, but he played well.”
“Marvin was getting his feet wet a little more in game-atmosphere kinds of situations, there’s a lot with the communication we need to have more of back there. He’s got to be more vocal -- he’s not a real vocal guy anyway.
“I think Thomas [Gordon] played well, but there’s some things that I know that he wasn’t satisfied with that he needs to improve upon, but he’s had a tremendous camp. We asked him to do a lot because when Troy went down, he moved into nickel in that situation. I think we were okay there. I think there’s a lot that we need to do a heck of a lot better this week.”
ND’s QB situation is kind of up in the air. How does that affect how you prepare? “To me, it doesn’t change anything in our preparation. With the style of offense that Brian runs, I think they’re very talented. [Notre Dame] will make the decision that’s best for the team, and we can’t worry about that. I don’t think it changes the offense in any way at all.”
What’s the most memorable Michigan-Notre Dame game you’ve been involved in? “I was here kind of in those odd years. We played Washington two years and we didn’t play [Notre Dame]. And then we played UCLA two years and didn’t play [Notre Dame]. I think [what was memorable] in the ‘97 year was when [Notre Dame] was inside the red-zone three times, and defensively [Michigan’s] guys stood up and didn’t let them get any points.”
Earlier last week it didn’t look like Herron or Avery were going to start. But then they played a lot. How come? “Some of it has to do with what kind of defensive set we were in. Courtney was the third corner coming in. Troy goes to nickel, Courtney comes on the field. I don’t think the [depth chart] played a part in it. Just what subgroup you were in. The other one was when Cam started hitching up with his back a little bit, we had to get another guy with some experience some reps in the design of the defense that we were in, and I kept going back with that because it depends whether we’re in the dime or nickel or base, where we line up -- but that was the only reason.”
You have countdown clocks for MSU and Ohio. Is Notre Dame on a different level? “Those are Big Ten conference games, that’s always part of it. In-state rivalries and obviously the rivalry on the last Saturday in November is special. [The Notre Dame rivalry] is important as anything. This has always been a game where … I remember Coach Schembechler always talking about, you always get a gauge on where you’re at as a team, because it’s always going to take a national spotlight, and it is an environment where you have expectations of how your guys are going to play.”
Is there one thing you were really happy with from Saturday? “Well, there’s probably a lot of things I was very unhappy with, but we’ll leave that for later. But here’s what I thought: Rushing for 190 yards in three quarters of game -- that was a good thing. I think that once Greg Mattison and the defensive staff made some adjustments [with] the pressure on the quarterback … The man coverage, we have to be much better this week because of the talent that Notre Dame has. But I thought there was a flow to the game then. Herron takes the ball back, and we come back out, and it’s a three-and-out. So we were starting to get some flow and momentum.”
Can you elaborate on what else you need to improve? “We have to play better run defense, we have to play tighter coverage in zone, we have to be able to pressure the quarterback with four guys at times, or with three guys at times from a defensive perspective. We had some missed alignments that were based on communication that you can’t have, or lack of communication.
“From an offensive standpoint, we took care of the football, which was big and always will be big. But there were a couple decisions that we need to make better, and we have to do a better job staying on blocks down the field because there were several opportunities for other bigger plays in the run game. Our routes, where [receivers] broke a couple of them off early -- the receivers have to be more disciplined within the scheme, especially when you’re in the timing phase of your game.
“And then the kicking game -- our kickoff coverage will get a lot of attention from where we place the ball on the kick to how we get off blocks going down the field. So that’s huge. Obviously we’re going to give a lot of attention to PAT and field goal protection on the inside. You can’t get knocked back, and that was part of the one that got blocked. A big part of it was because we got knocked back too much. Another problem was that the snap was too high. It took Gibbons a little longer to approach the ball because of that.
“I could go to the punt team, I could go on and on … kickoff return -- better decision than taking the ball out of the end-zone, getting on guys a little better, I mean this could be a marathon, but I don’t have the time for it, and neither do you.”
Will we see some different personnel in kickoff coverage? Well you could. It’s competitive, and you’re evaluated, and if we’re not doing the job we think we need to have, from a competitive standpoint, because part of getting off blocks is getting competitive, and having an intensity of what you’re doing. That part of it, believe me, was addressed yesterday and will continue to be addressed this week. There could be some different faces on there. It’ll be a fun week, we’ll put it that way.
Do you feel like D-line led the defense? “I think we played okay. We weren’t – you guys have heard me talk about ‘hearing football.’ You also want to feel guys during the course of a game. I felt number 32 during the course of the game. An impact. To some degree, I thought J.T., you could feel him out there a little bit. I never felt our front like we need to. Not to be specific – I think we played okay, but I think we need to play at a higher level and a higher standard.”
You ran 39 offensive plays. Was that enough to answer some questions or are there still some things for which you need to see more in order to evaluate? “I think it’s a little bit of both. I think there are some things that are still out there. Talking to Al and the offensive staff, there are some things we didn’t get to in the offense that maybe we would like to have gotten to a little more. We also saw some things that we wanted to get done, too.”
(more after the jump)