"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Jake Butt and Amara Darboh
Jake, I know you guys put a lot into this and you were down only four at the half. What happened, and what’s the feeling after that one?
“Uh, we just didn’t execute. I think we only got the ball once or twice in the third quarter. In a game like this you’ve got to be able to run the ball and play defense, and we weren’t running the ball very well. We weren’t getting stops on defense. We just didn’t execute. In terms of how it feels, it hurts.”
9-3 is obviously a big turnaround season, but losing two of those to your rivals- does that sour the season at all for you?
AD: “Yeah. That’s obviously not something that we wanted to do. We went into both of those games planning to win, but in both of those games we didn’t execute until the end and the end result shows it.”
The improvements in the passing game that we’ve seen throughout the year- can you talk about those a little bit or detail those. Obviously maybe not today, but through the season the marked improvement in passing.
JB: “Again, it’s come a long way and each week you’re going to get more comfortable with each other and with the quarterbacks, the quarterbacks are going to get more comfortable with you running your routes, the timing, the ball placement, and all that. I mean, we had a good gameplan. We thought we’d be able to execute. We had some good plays downfield today, but it wasn’t enough. You know, you gotta get back in the film and see what you did well, see what you did wrong, make some corrections, and continue to do the things that are working.”
What was the hang-up with the passing game today?
“I don’t know. I actually didn’t think- we weren’t too bad in the passing game today. We left some plays out there that needed to be made, but we weren’t too bad. But again, in a game like this you need to be damn near perfect and we weren’t.”
What was the message from your head coach after the game?
AD: “Just focus on the season. We still have one more game, and no matter what bowl game we go to and what team we play we’re going to learn from this game and go out ready to play.”
[After THE JUMP: Wormley and Chesson]
Can you just share what your message to the team was after this tough loss?
“That was for the team, not for public consumption.”
Obviously they’re a big read-option team. What were they doing, and why did you think your defense struggled so much to stop the run today?
“Yeah, they’re very good and they got after us running the football and I think the number one thing was we weren’t tackling well enough.”
Any thoughts on Jake Rudock having to end the regular season on the sidelines?
“Uh, it’s what happened. Went down on his shoulder. I don’t know how serious it is. AC to the left shoulder.”
Could you just talk about some of the improvements throughout the season from when you took over in fall camp to this point now? Obviously this isn’t the result you were looking for, but 9-3 on your first year.
“Well, yeah. We’ve talked about it many times. Very proud of the team: the way they’ve worked, the way they’ve progressed, and we’ll just stay at that. Closed quite a bit of ground. Still more ground to close on, but knowing our team they’ll stay with it.”
You talked about putting steel in your spine from previous losses. Is that what this is more of, especially against a rival like Ohio State?
“Well, we got beat. Didn’t play well enough in the game to win it, but we’re gonna regroup, come back with the same drive and aspirations that we’ve had: win the next game.”
You said earlier in the week that you thought Jabrill was a really good running back, and obviously we saw more of him. Were we going to see more of him used in the second half if the game had been a little bit tighter?
“Uh, yeah, he was in the second half.”
[Hit THE JUMP to see my question go over as successfully as the rest]
In a game that’s had a couple big-time special teams plays, how important is John [Baxter] in a game like this? What has he done for the program special teams-wise?
“Yeah, I think obviously every game special teams is a huge part of it. Not just the big momentum plays that anyone can see, but there are a lot of hidden plays in a game that change field position and those sorts of things that are always big.”
Talk about their offense and the challenges it presents.
“They’ve got great athletes at all positions. They’re a cohesive unit. The same starters have really been playing all year long; they’ve been able to stay healthy. There are dangerous guys with the ball in their hand and they do a great job as coaches of getting those guys the ball in their hands and trying to get it to them in space, so it’s a really tough team to prepare for.”
Are you able to use the film against Michigan State or was the weather such a changing factor that you throw that tape out?
“Yeah I mean, we evaluate all the games. Try and get a handle on what they did throughout the season including the Michigan State game, understanding that weather obviously probably affected or played a part in that somehow. It’s just- as most teams do, you sit there and you evaluate the whole season and look at things situationally and what they’re trying to do.”
There were some reports this morning that you interviewed for the Maryland job. Is that a job you’re interested in?
“It’s- this week is so important to our guys. My 100% focus is on this game and our players. That’s what this profession is all about. You’ve got to make sure that you’re taking care of your job and the job you have week in and week out because it’s a tough task, especially with this team this week.”
[After THE JUMP: Urban planning]
Looking at what John Baxter’s done on special teams this year, obviously you guys opened against Northwestern with that kickoff. What has he brought to special teams for you guys?
“John’s done a great job. He’s a really detail oriented coach and puts guys in great position. Everywhere he’s been he’s always been top quality on special teams. There’s three phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams so you’ve got to be clicking on all three to have a good football team.”
Jim says the approach is going to be the same as any other game in terms of preparation and how you go about things, but is there a little extra energy in the building this week?
“I mean, anytime you’re getting ready to play any game you’re excited. I think there’s a lot of things going on. Everybody’s thankful for Thanksgiving; their families are coming to town. We’re going to get a loaded stadium. But in terms of preparation, this is just a normal week for us. We’ve got our next opponent and we’re trying to get these guys read to go and perform at a high level.”
Does having gone against a really good pass rush last week help you in any way in preparation in being able to look at what you did against them?
“Yeah, that’s- I think the last couple weeks we’ve had good pass rushers. That helps us quite a bit, just helps us in preparation for that. And being in those hostile environments like Penn State’s a loud place, very good rushers- I think they led the nation in sacks. So, I think confidence level will be up because of that. When you’re performing at a high level it makes you feel good, makes you feel that you’re doing a good job at it.”
[After THE JUMP: How to make your offense dimensional]
I know you’ve been talking about Ohio State a lot today, so I wanted to do something different and go in-depth on one play. So, let’s talk about your touchdown catch in the first quarter against Penn State. First of all, you guys line up and it’s a double tight end set. What do you then see from the defense?
“So, I saw a safety. They’d been rolling a safety down in the box. I saw some linebackers clouded over me. I knew I was going to have to get open on the corner route, but to be honest it was so loud early on in that stadium I was just staring at the ball because I couldn’t hear Jake. I was staring at the ball but thinking in my mind mind what I would have to do. That’s kind of what I was doing early on in that game, and once the ball was snapped I just kind of fired out and diagnosed what I had. I think I had a safety squaring me up maybe 10 yards off. I tried to push up on his grass, sell the post, threw my eyes inside and he really bit on it and popped open on the corner route.”
As far as the routes were designed there, as you said you were running the corner route. It looked like Amara was running to the inside to pull a safety away from you. Is that what happened?
“Yeah. I think- I don’t know what exactly- yeah, it was a post on the outside and corner combination. I don’t know if he was trying to pull a safety out or what but he ended up pulling the corner out of there, which left a big hole in there that Jake kind of just dropped it into.”
How much of that kind of defense did you see from them throughout the game, where they had, as you said, a safety shaded over you who you knew you’d have to work your way around?
“A lot of the times I did notice there’d be a safety or I’d be kind of boxed in by linebackers in a lot of my routes, so it’s kind of tough getting open like that but if they’re putting two or three guys on you that means someone else is left one-on-one or left open, so I don’t mind it when they’re double teaming me. But yeah, it’s a good respect thing when they’re throwing a safety down on you or they’re throwing a couple guys on you. I think that shows they respect your ability to run routes and catch the ball.”
What was the most common coverage you saw from them?
“We saw they ran like a Cover 6 on one side of the field and Cover 4. That was a big coverage for them. A lot of middle field open. That’s what I noticed.”
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest]
Joe Bolden, Kyle Kalis,and Willie Henry
When Michigan State won on Saturday, how did that change your feelings toward The Game and what this matchup might mean?
WH: “Personally for me it didn’t because this is the biggest rivalry in college football, in my opinion. They’re going to go out there and give it their all. We’re going to control what we can control, so we’re going to go out there and play Michigan football Saturday.”
KK: “Yeah, I have to agree. You know, the whole year it’s really just been us controlling our own destiny. It’s going to be up to us having a great week of practice preparing for the game. They’re going to come out hard like they always do. Yeah, doesn’t affect anything for me.”
Joe, you’re a senior. You’re from Ohio. Is there really anything else to say this week?
“Not really, no.”
Is this a game you’ve been waiting for?
“Yeah, [for] four years, you could say. Since I committed.”
Considering you’re all from Ohio, what does this mean for your family and your friends having to deal with both sides of the rivalry?
KK: “There’s definitely some conflict, but it’s all good. This is the best rivalry game in college football. No doubt in my mind, and I know I’m not the only one who thinks that. It’s going to be fun. We’ve all been waiting for it. Team’s been waiting for it. Both teams are going to come out hard, guns blazing, not holding anything back, and it’s going to be a good one.”
Willie, you guys made a slight schematic change going into the game with Penn State on Saturday: you put four traditional down linemen in the game. When did you make that decision, and how do you think that approach worked this weekend?
“That was all coach Durkin and the coaching staff. They come in every week and they’re scheming up something different to help the defense and the team to put us in a better situation to win games. They thought going down to a traditional 4-3 look was better for the team; I’m all for it. It was more what was best for the team and a schematic advantage for Penn State.”
How do you think you guys did with it?
“I think we did well. I congratulate the D-line. I felt like we put a lot of pressure on Hackenberg during the game and tried to keep pressure and get to him with a four-man rush.”
[More after THE JUMP]