"(I) think about 'The Lion King,' Simba gets hit over the head and (he's told) 'the past can hurt,' " Harbaugh said Monday afternoon. "'You can either run from it or embrace it and learn from it.'
I don't always golf. But when I do, I think of brunette girls.
What’s your overall reaction to your team’s reaction to winning No. 900 against Michigan State?
“Well to be honest with you I don’t know if they realized the 900th win. Maybe the two seniors had an idea -- the two captains -- where we’re at, because that wasn’t the point of focus for the week. It was playing a great rivalry game, a game in our division, that’s important to win. Playing hard and playing to represent the 133 years of Michigan football.”
Reaction to Drew Dileo’s game?
“He’s not the biggest guy. He’s not the fastest guy. But the one thing Drew is, he’s a football player. What he does for our football team in a lot of different areas from an off returner in kickoffs to holding on PATs and field goals, I think you all would agree that there were two field goals that were pretty important today. The one at the end, that’s a skill set. He’s just a tough, undersized, not fast enough, but he’s a football player. That’s what he is.”
Where do you think your defense is at right now compared with where you want it to be?
“We really had a bad series in there defensively. You give your opponent credit, but we didn’t do some things well at the start of the second half. They went down and scored the touchdown. You know, I think we’ll look at the film. I think we’ll look at some things we did well, and I hope we repeat those, but we’re not near the defense we need to be to win a championship in this conference.”
Denard was bottled up for most of the game but was able to make some big plays when it counted. What does it say about his leadership ability?
“I think he’s been an outstanding leader. The confidence that he has and his teammates have is part of it. I don’t know if anyone on our sideline thought the game was over. The defense was playing well at that point. Get the ball back and see what happens.”
Can you talk about the fake punt but then holding MSU to a field goal afterwards?
“Yeah that was a very good play for Michigan State. That was a smart play. They saw that we weren’t leveraging the outside, and that’s something that I need to do a better job with as part of the punt return team coaching staff. Because that got them some hope, got them in the game, but the one thing we told the defense: ‘Keep them to a field goal. If we keep them to a field goal here, then good things can happen for us.’ Obviously that’s what happened.”
Did you feel like you did a better job of matching their physicality this year?
“I think so. Yeah. I thought our kids, you know, we wanted to play, finish everything we were doing. Blocks, plays, catches, runs, whatever your job is to do, we wanted to finish. I thought we practiced that way. I thought we did that.”
You’ve talked to us before about Matt Wile having a big leg. What went into the decision to put him out there for the long field goal?
“You answered it. Bigger leg. Stronger leg. That’s one reason why Matt kicks off for us. We had some wind with us. That wind kind of changed really right before the start of the game, so we felt that he would have the leg to do it. He did by kind of a lot.”
What does Michigan State do defensively that’s so effective in terms of bottling up Denard?
“I think they’ve done that to a lot of players, quarterbacks. I don’t know a final statistic, but they have good players. They play extremely aggressive. The things that they like to do, sometimes can be higher risk and higher reward. It’s a belief system they have. They tackle well. They do the things that you need to do in order to play good defense.”
What do you feel like you need to do in order to become a Big Ten championship-level defense? Also, what is Raymon Taylor’s status?
“Raymon got a little boo boo. He’ll be probably okay, most likely. Turnovers. We need to do a better job of creating. We need to do a better job [putting] pressure on the quarterback with four guys. I don’t think that’s a strong suit of ours. That can help our secondary out. I think at times we’re playing too far off the guys in coverage. So that’s a start.”
Gibbons seems a bit of a free spirit.
“What do you mean by that?”
Well, you know, last year at the Sugar Bowl about the brunettes and stuff, not that I don’t agree with him, but …
How do you approach kickers? Do you stay away from them? Do you say something before a big kick? Are you superstitious? Where’s your mind at? Do you go up to him and say, “Hey, we got this one?” Do you --
“I’m with those guys a little bit during practice. I’m not a kicking coach, but it’s kind of like golf, which I’m probably a pretty good golfer ... if I would do it. Those guys, they know what they need to do and how they need to do it. I think them going up to the stadium during the week is helpful because the wind in there’s a little different, especially with the new stuff up there. I think it’s a little different. You know, both those kids, we have a lot of confidence in. And anything else, when you show confidence, kids are going to respond. Not that you don’t rip them once in a while, but I decided when they called the time out, I was just going to watch Gibby do his thing. I don’t know. There’s no magic to it.”
As well as Michigan State’s defense played, you maybe missed a couple opportunities for big plays (dropped pass, missed a block, etc.). Were you disappointed by the execution?
“Oh. I think you could go through every game and there’s going to be execution. We didn’t block down once on a run play that may have been pretty open. We don’t block down. Why? I don’t know. 113,999 or whatever it was? A good defense that you're playing against. You want to see them all execute, but no one has ever played a perfect game. No one will ever play a perfect game. They’re 18-22, 23 years old. We’re going to try and prepare them and remind them and do all those things and grow them right, and then … go play hard.”
Dileo said on the radio that he thought the kick was going wide right. What was your view?
“I watch the people sitting behind the goal post. Because they’ll tell you. I’ll be honest with you. You can’t see it from [the sideline].”
Kovacs said this was the monkey off the back for you guys. Does it feel like that’s what this was for the program, preventing them from beating you five years in a row?
It’s not more meaningful than a “Yeah”?
“It’s an in-state rival. But we have bigger expectations.”
Did you feel like the icing-the-kicker timeout helped you or hurt you?
“I think we were well prepared. Denard did a tremendous job spiking the ball. The field goal team was there. Dan Ferrigno was there, our special teams coach, had all those guys right there ready to go. I think it’s a strategy that can work. Can’t work. You know? Flip a coin.”
What made you go back to Gibbons rather than Wile?
“Because it was his range. We had talked about distance, and it was his range, and he’s more consistent than Matt has been in practice at that range.”
[player transcripts will be up later today]
- Elliott Mealer mentioned that the scout team does something "extra" for motivation. Hoke, unsurprisingly, does not reveal what that is.
- UPDATE: It is THIS. [h/t indyeagle]
- Drake Johnson is playing running back for the scout team. So is Norfleet.
- This was the shortest presser ever, so there is no jump.
“Good practice yesterday I think on both sides of the ball. I liked how we competed with each other. Thought that, you know, when you put in the plan and sometimes Tuesday’s a little more thinking, I thought we reacted well and I thought we had a good tempo and were playing fast.”
You’ve practiced well in previous weeks, but is the focus more intense during a rivalry week?
“Well I think it’s been a continuation, but I also would agree that when you play in a rivalry game, there’s always a little more intensity to it.”
Did you do anything different in practice?
“Not really. I mean, uh … no.”
On the scout team?
“They … know their role, so they practice hard.”
How has the scout team been this year?
“I think, you know, it probably would have been a little better if we didn’t have some of those guys dinged up, like Wormley or Chris Bryant. Whether they’d be up or down, just your ability with depth and those things. But I think they’ve worked hard. We give an award out every week to guys on each side of the ball, and who in the kicking game does a great job, giving looks, so. I think they’re doing a good job. I think they’re motivated. Our young coaches, our GA’s do a good job of prepping them each week with watching film and mechanics and all that stuff.”
Do you have them wearing green during the week?
“Uh, you know, sometimes you do.”
With the way Le’Veon Bell is size-wise, do you have a particular guy on the scout team mimic him?
“No. You know, Drake Johnson gets most of the heavy lifting. Fleet gets down there to run some, but we don’t have anybody that size that you would use for that.”
Would you say Taylor Lewan has lived up to the expectations for him this season?
“I think he’s played pretty solid.”
The secondary is ranked third in the nation in pass defense. Is that because they’re playing that well or have they just not been tested enough?
“Well, I don’t know if we’ve been tested, you know. We haven’t had balls thrown down the field vertically in the pass game. I think this will -- since early in the year …”
You mentioned how --
“… really Alabama, to be honest with you. So I think that’s all part of it, where we’re playing a lot of spread teams that want to use the bubbles and want to use those things. I think that’s a fair assessment. I think we haven’t been tested yet.”
Are you interested in seeing how they stack up against a downfield passing team?
“Oh sure. Sure. I mean, I don’t know. I like the bubble screens and stuff like that.”
Does it speak at least a little bit to how your safeties have been playing?
“That’s a big deal. It’s made all the time. We want to be inside and in front. It’s a big part of whether you’re playing two-deep or playing single high, you have to do a good job of if you’re the guy, you have to keep your depth and be the last one to the party. I think those two guys have been a catalyst, and I think J.T. has improved every week.”
Are any of the ACL injury guys close to practicing?
Are they in rehab?
“Rehab. They’re doing fine. Some of them are at different levels.”
Do you think any of those guys will be able to practice by the end of the year?
Assessment of Michigan State’s defensive line without Jerel Worthy?
“Well I think they’ve filled it in pretty well. I think they’re very aggressive. I think Ted Gill, their D-line coach, who was one of my coaches at Ball State in college, has done a nice job of developing that group. That style defense is such that it’s an aggressive defense.”
You mentioned you have some guys wearing green…
“At times there is green out there … We have grass. Field turf.”
- Vincent Smith was held out due to a hamstring.
- Kenny Demens jumped the route and got the interception because he knew it was coming based on film study and preparation.
- Fitz's job isn't necessarily in danger; Hoke says he just wanted to get the other tailbacks some quality work.
- Hoke made the decision to pick Desmond Morgan for No. 48 before realizing the Grand Rapids connection, but learning of it made it cooler.
File, because I forgot to bring my camera and I forgot to take a picture of Hoke with my phone because I was a little out of it because I wasn't feeling well because I was ... dehydrated. Yeah. Dehydrated.
“It was good to win Homecoming. It’s good to win any time. And really thought complete game-wise, a lot of ways this was the most complete we played. Running the ball with the running backs, Denard obviously had some great runs in there. I thought defensively, after the second series, third series, we started playing Michigan defense. Played well against the run. And then I thought when we did that on first and second down it gave us an opportunity to try and put some pressure on the quarterback and helped the guys do a nice job. Some things in there -- we had some penalties, running the ball early, [penalties] against our defense we weren’t happy with, but overall it’s probably as complete as we’ve played, but it’s not near good enough.”
Both fronts look very solid. Your assessment?
“I think really up front defensively, I didn’t think we were playing with gap integrity and getting of blocks as well as we needed to. They were hitting in there and getting four or five yards, or five or six yards. That wasn’t stout enough at the line of scrimmage. I thought we had some more work to do there. I thought we played better as the game went on. I think at the same time there was a lot of improvement. From an offensive standpoint, as we continue to grow to some degree, I think we’re playing a little better when you look at pad level, I think we’re playing a little better with the speed we want to play with.”
There were a couple critical fourth down stops by your defense when the game was still in doubt. How important were those plays?
“Those were critical, but the one where they went for it on fourth down and our defense stepped up and did a nice job, we got the ball [with] two minutes, and we got nothing. That’s frustrating because we felt coming in the locker room after half time that we left some points on the board. You can’t do that when you play for championships.”
Quinton Washington and Kenny Demens?
“And I’ll tell you. Quinton has improved every game. It’s exciting as a coach when you see a guy who steps out there and gains confidence and plays better, and he’s a big part of our football team, and he’s a wonderful young man. Kenny, I tell you, the interception, he had seen the route. He was prepared. And that’s one thing we’ve done better as a team is the preparation. He knew formationally, he knew route-wise, he knew when they lined up what route was coming so he could jump the route. That’s the maturity that you like to see in your football team. Kenny being a senior, you expect that, but when it works out you’re excited about that.”
Can you assess how Russell Bellomy played, and how important is it to give him some good game experience?
“It always is, you know. Russ, we’re very excited about Russ Bellomy, and have been. He came in there with a lot of confidence. We had the one exchange problem alter in the game, and I think the ball slipped or we didn’t get it up enough, but he’s a guy that we think is a good quarterback. That’s why we recruited him. It was good to get him some work. Obviously meaningful work, but any work is good work.”
At what point do you start thinking about Michigan State?
“I don’t know. I mean I hope the guys enjoy this right now. I don’t know if you ever don’t think about rivalry games. I think that’s always part of what makes us special being Michigan.”
Why did you choose Desmond for the jersey, and did you lay any special expectations for him with Gerald Ford being a president and all that?
“Yeah. And I’ll tell you, it was very easy to choose Desmond because of his character and his integrity, because of how he comes every day in our building, I think in our classroom, in the community. He’s a great kid. It would really -- the grand rapids connection didn’t have a whole lot to do with it until I felt that I was going to do it with Desmond and then it kind of clicked in.”
What was the thought process behind using Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls earlier in the game?
“Um, you know, we just wanted to give them both some more carries. I think competition is always healthy for everybody, so giving those guys out there some time. Vince, we didn’t play him at all becaues he had a little bit of a hamstring, and that’s where Justice got some more reps because of that. Giving Thomas more carries was part of it.”
Is it still Fitz’s job?
When Denard went out, how confident were you that you could win with your defense?
“I’d like to tell you I was very confident. I felt good that our guys on defense, and then the other piece of it I thought our kicking game -- I thought we had kind of challenged that group, challenged ourselves as coaches. Our kicking game had to make improvements and has to continue to. At that part of it, I was comfortable if that’s the way it would have gone.”
Was Denard’s boo boo a hand injury?
“Just a boo boo.”
How relieved were you that it wasn’t that serious?
“Any time any guy gets dinged up with boo boos and stuff, you always worry about it.”
It’s two games in a row that Denard hasn’t thrown an interception. Is that comfort with the game plan or just maturity?
“I think it’s a combination of both. I think he obviously reassessed probably after Notre Dame a little bit. I think we all did. I think game plan-wise, we were bound and determined that we were going to run the football. In the passing game, the play-action part of it, the part of the passing offense that he felt most comfortable with.”
Can you assess Fitz’s play today? Did he get the jumpstart he needed? Second question is how much did you stress not peeking to Michigan State?
“I’ll answer the second question first. I didn’t even talk about it because our guys never even mentioned it, looked at it. I was really surprised, but I felt real confident about every week for us is a championship game no matter what. So they have to prepare for every opponent like a championship game. There was none of that in the locker room or anywhere else. It was Illinois and how we wanted to play and how we wanted to prepare. I thought Fitz ran the ball hard. I thought he got more north and south. Jump starting? I hope. But at the same time, I think there were two runs I didn’t really like, but other than that, I thought he really started getting vertical.”
Is it fair to say he needed a jump start?
“Eh, I don’t know. You gotta explain jump start. Is that when your battery dies and you -- ”
“Well we didn’t do that with him. But I just think, and I said this before -- it’s not always the back. There’s 10 other guys other there. If Denard doesn’t carry out fakes very well, then that’s not going to be effective. And I just saw that as a piece of coaching and how you put an offense together.”
You always preach relentless effort. Can you talk about Jake Ryan missing the quarterback, hitting the ground, and then coming back to force the fumble?
“You know, Greg and the defensive staff do a tremendous job when you talk about effort and the toughness that you need to play football at Michigan with, and defense at Michigan with. And the pride that, number one, the self-pride that Jake has and how this is a football player. It’s more of a Michigan pride than team pride and a defensive pride -- that’s not why he got off the ground and forced a fumble, but that’s part of who he is and who we want to represent.”
News bullets and other important items:
- Brandon Moore and Stephen Hopkins still have unclear injury status. They may or may not play Saturday.
- The staff is wearing the Chuckstrong t-shirts on the way to the stadium.
“Uh, thanks for coming. Good practice yesterday. Liked how we’re preparing right now. I think the intensity level hopefully will be the same today from an offensive standpoint. I think talking to Al, they got a lot of good work done yesterday. Defensively, I’d say the same thing. I think both coordinators were pleased. I mean, not happy, but pleased with the preparation that we have.”
Were the practices as good as they were last week?
“Uh, I think it was comparable. I think coming off the bye week and not playing for a week, I think you always have a little more intensity it seems like. I think they’re comparable.”
News bullets and other important items:
- Kickoffs: There was one bad kick and nine missed tackles, but kicking it short and to the right was on purpose to avoid Raheem Mostert.
- Denard's wrist is fine.
- Gallon's job as punt returner is not in danger.
- Hoke did not consider putting in Rawls earlier for Toussaint.
“Thanks for coming. Very pleased with the win. It’s great to win, obviously. I thought we set a tone early defensively and great to win on the road is what I should say because you look at this league on the road, it’s a tough place to play. I thought we set the tone with the three-and-out on the defense, and offensively, 17-play drive, almost nine minutes, really was what we needed to do. We play really good defense watching our offense out there on the field. That’s a good deal. I think we practiced well for the week. We prepared well. Liked how our guys came to work every day, and we need to continue to do that. We know we’re in a championship game every Saturday, so our mentality and attitude needs to reflect that by our actions in practice. We had a good day yesterday, and hopefully we can continue that.”