"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
What goes into deciding whether to go punt block or punt return when you’ve got such an explosive return man in Jabrill?
“Uh…same thing that goes into when you throw a fastball or the curve. You know, you’ve got to pressure- the ability to pressure a punter keeps people in protection, sets up the ability to return. The ability to return a punt sets up the ability to pressure, and it’s really not unlike making calls of any kind in the game of football. You do all your work and you crunch all your numbers but you coach the game by feel, and it pretty much is that.”
How pleased are you with that unit? Does that unit still have more to give?
“The punt return unit?”
And punt block.
“I’ll tell ya, I’m really pleased, actually, with the punt return. The amazing thing is we’ve had 51 reps of it in five games now. Somebody needs to go back far and see how many times there’s 51 reps in five games. Obviously it’s because we’re playing amazing defense and what have you, but if you really look at what the unit has done, there’ve been three returnable balls kicked to us out of 51, okay? Obviously we had a round robin with all the Australian rugby punters against each other in the first four games, and everybody found out it’s really hard to return one of those. Three returnable balls, and we’ve- you know, the baseball analogy is we’ve hit the ball hard but unfortunately we’ve knocked it off the wall for doubles and triples. We haven’t had a home run yet.
“I think the thing that goes unsaid is Jabrill’s amazing decision-making back there [and] unselfishness to not risk balls that shouldn’t be touched or should be on the ground, protecting his teammates, those kinds of things. Besides being explosive the punt returner needs to be a great decision-maker and really needs to handle the ball well because one of the things we always say is if you have the ball you have the team, and you need to take care of the team. It’s been effective. I wish we could get more returnable balls, but I’m not in control of that.”
[After THE JUMP: Baxter is the Yogi Berra of this coaching staff]
We’ve heard a lot of guys say you tell them to stamp their personality on the defense. When did you start using that?
“I don’t know for sure when. Some time ago. I think it’s just a way for me to describe to those guys that-I mean, I think it’s important to play with a personality. You were recruited here for reasons that are good. Don’t change that. We don’t want robots. Keep playing the way you play, obviously within the scheme and what we do, but play the way you play the game. I think that’s important.”
They also say they believe in what they’re being given now, and that gives them more confidence. Can you talk about, as a coach, watching that process take place?
“Yeah. I just- I’m really proud of our guys of how hard they’ve been playing. That’s the biggest thing to me is playing with effort and playing with the technique we’re talking about, and so any time you get a group of guys that are believing in one another and playing for one another then I think you have a chance to have something special, and I think they’re starting to understand what that means.”
Any similarities between Oregon State’s offense and Northwestern’s
“Yeah, I think too often spread teams are all clumped together like, ‘Oh, they’re a spread team or a one-back team.’ I think there’s always a lot more differences that apply within those offenses than what some might say. Northwestern’s definitely unique in what they do and they’re really good at what they do. I mean, they’ve had that system there for a while and they do a great job. You can tell their players know what’s going on and know where they want to go.”
What are some of those unique things?
“Just…they’re committed to the run game. They’re a physical group. They’re committed to the run game, and they do a great job of changing up formations and personnel and all that but at the end of the day they want to run that ball, and they do a great job of it.”
You do some hands-on teaching. They said you get in the drills sometimes and show them stuff. Is that something that you’ve always kind of felt people learn better that way or it keeps you engaged or why do you do that?
“I don’t know. I’ve probably never but that much thought into it other than I think just what we said about stamp your personality as a player. I think you do the same thing as a coach, you know, and that’s…I don’t know. That’s just me. I like being hands-on and being involved in it. I like being high energy. Whatever your personality is, if you’re true to it I think that usually gets a response.”
[After THE JUMP: Nothing else about robots. Cyborgs maybe, but not robots. Fine, no cyborgs either. But defense, yes. Definitely some talk about the defense.]
Ryan Glasgow and Joe Bolden
How do you replace someone like Mario [Ojemudia]?
"It’s hard to replace a guy like Mario because obviously the way he plays, how he gets his job done. But the greatest thing about football is you've got somebody working just as hard pushing right behind you trying to take your spot, and it makes you better. I think we'll have somebody that will get in there and get the job done."
The streak now is 14 of 16 shutout quarters. As a defense that's got to be something you hang your hat on. Is that something you’re thinking about, or is that just a byproduct of success?
RG: "I think it's a byproduct. Our goal is just for them to get no yards on every play or negative yards. If they make a yard it's a failure for us. Every guy is trying to win their individual match up on every play. If you don't do that you are hurting the guy next to you and your hurting your defense. We have a lot of guys winning their individual battle on every play, so that's going to be a byproduct of it."
The defensive line has been especially dominant. Willie [Henry] with that sack on I believe Garman… What's been the key of you guys being able to get in the backfield so easily?
RG: "I think a lot of it starts in practice. There’s a lot of competition. I think we have a two-deep on the D-line that a lot of people would kill to have, and people are trying to take everyone’s spot every day and if you don’t perform in practice you’re not going to play in the game, so everyone’s pushing each other and I think the competition really helps that come out.”
Jim just pointed out that the two defenses on Saturday won’t actually face each other, but when you see the stats Northwestern’s coming in with, compared to yours [they’re] very comparable. Do you look at it as a way to kind of show them up in a sense, that your defense is better?
JB: “I don’t know. I played high school with a kid, Drew Smith, who’s a linebacker for them, so we’re always going back and forth and stuff and talking and hanging out. But I think coach Harbaugh hit the nail on the head saying the two defenses aren’t going to play against each other. Like Ryan said, they don’t get any yards on offense and they don’t get any points, you can’t win a football game without scoring points.”
[The rest after THE JUMP]
You said the other day that you thought Mario [Ojemudia] would most likely miss the season with an Achilles [injury]. Is that the case, and who do you look at to step up obviously with him being out this week?
“Yeah, that’s…that is the case. Look at- look within our roster, look within our defense. It’s a…don’t know exactly who yet, but I mean, you know the guys.”
How long have you known Pat Fitzgerald and could you talk about any background with him?
“Yeah. Great competitor. Background would be starting with I was Stanford, he was at Northwestern. First crossed paths on the recruiting trail. Sized him up and said, ‘This guy’s a fine, fine coach and great competitor.’ He’s done a fabulous job. He’s a great coach.
“And got to know him this summer. Came to our football camp and did a tremendous job talking to the campers and sharing football lessons and life lessons with them. Thought it was fabulous. And his football team is a tremendous football team, so, you know, everything you look at with Pat Fitzgerald is really good. Admire him.”
Watching them on film, what impresses you most about their defense?
“Athletic. Mike Hankwitz does a great job. They react as athletic and fast as anybody we’ve seen. No. 18 [Anthony Walker] is as good a player as we’ve faced, so all those things. Really good scheme. Great team defense. Leading the country in points allowed. I think that’s the thing mainly is this team reacts and flows to the ball as good as you’re going to see in college football.”
Going back to the reference of sizing up Pat Fitzgerald, with the defense of Northwestern No. 1 and you guys right behind them, have you given this a lot of thought as far as [being] a battle of the defenses? Is this a big game in your mind for both defenses, yours particularly?
“Well, that’s part of it, yeah. Offense, special teams; all equal parts of the game.”
But given the ranking for both defenses, do you feel like it’s a bout or-
“No, the two defenses won’t go against each other. They won’t face each other, so look at it the way you always look at it: it’s three phases, and you want to win each of those phases.”
[After THE JUMP: “I’m paraphrasing here, but how many hits can you take and keep coming back? So pull up that clip. Sylvester Stallone did it well.”]
Where has the line improved from the first week?
“Oh, they’re getting better, you know. Really building a good brotherhood amongst each other, great communication, playing with better pad level, really paying attention to details of what we’re trying to teach them. So, it’s exciting.”
What about that forecast? Do you prepare differntly for heavy rain? Do you do drills?
“No, not really. I mean, you always take it into consideration. Everybody has the wet ball drill and different things like that like everybody practices. We’re keeping our eye on that, but you just plan. You don’t change your gameplan. You just go with your gameplan that you originally wanted to and stay with it. I’ve been in situations where you change everything because of the weather and it really messes with your mindset.”
Jay says you guys are a weatherproof team for the most part-
“Who said that?”
Jay said you were a weatherproof team for the most part. What does that- do you agree with that?
“What, weatherproof? Yeah, absolutely. Whatever Jay Harbaugh says, that’s what I agree with. Oh yeah, absolutely.”
Is that a testament to your versatility?
“I just think that what we do offensively, it’s- we can spread out, we can bring it in tight, we can throw the ball deep, we can throw it intermediate, we can run the toss play. We’ve got a lot of different things. We’re not one-dimensional, so we can adapt and change quickly for what people are giving us.”
Was it significant to have the BYU game when you did? A turnover-free, kind of smoothed out offensive game?
“Uh, it was positive. I think it’s something that you build on, and that’s what you want to be, turnover free. Absolutely. That’s what you’re striving every week to be, so that was good. Really good.”
[The rest after THE JUMP]
You’ve got to be pretty pleased with the play of your group through four games.
“Yeah, definitely really pleased. Lot of room for improvement still, but we’ve made a lot of plays and are gradually improving week to week in terms of technique and everything.”
After one week it looked like Jake was going to be kind of the focus of your group; he caught eight balls, and now you guys are spreading it around. Which is more desirable, to have a lot of different guys or one that you know will [inaudible, but they’re insinuating a go-to guy]?
“More desirable would be to have more guys that you know you can trust, so I think we’re working towards that. Spreading it around is good. I think being able to get a bunch of guys on the field and not have anyone know who you’re throwing the ball to or whether it’s run or pass is a good thing, so we like having more guys involved.”
A lot’s been made of the wide receivers’ blocking. How do you like your group in terms of that?
“Yeah, we’re doing a nice job. The receivers are setting the bar really high, though, in terms of their effort through the end of plays and second-effort blocks, cut blocks, so they’re giving the rest of the offensive players something to strive for and putting really impressive stuff on tape.”
Khalid [Hill] was saying after the game that that was sort of an important moment for him to actually get involved in the offense again. Have you seen sort of a difference in him over the last few weeks, and even now with sort of a confidence boost from that?
“I don’t think a difference necessarily in him. I know obviously he was excited, and then the group’s excited for him to get a few touches and to have his number called but he’s been working hard. I don’t think he’s approached anything differently.”
[After THE JUMP: Hopefully the MARS game is more fun than the MOON game]