“You know, it’s always an exciting week. Believe me. I think from campuses, both schools, both programs, the opportunity to play in a rivalry game that has a lot at stake obviously with us both in the same division, they’re an awfully good football team. I think they’ve come a long way from early in the same season as far as from an offensive perspective. I think Connor Cook has done a nice job. I think their whole offense has really taken off, and you can really see it. We pay attention throughout the year, but really their football team. Their defense is as good as any. That’s going to be a big challenge for us. Playing up in East Lansing is always a bit of a challenge. Any time you play away from home, that’s just part of it. Making sure as a team that our focus and discipline and all those things have to be spot on for us to go out and compete at our highest level. That’s what we need to do. We’re excited. It’s going to be a fun week.”
With how aggressive Michigan State plays, how do you get your team to embrace that level of physicality?
“Well you hope your team does the same thing. We’ve been inconsistent in that department, so they all know, the guys who’ve been here. I think there’s 27 of them who were there in East Lansing two years ago. It’s not a whole lot, but they understand that it’s a physical next five weeks, and it starts with the physicalness that Michigan State will play with.”
Can you talk about this game in the context of the Legends division title?
“Well number one it’s the passion for this football game by Spartans and Wolverines, something that as a coach or a competitor you understand that and you look forward to it. The other part of it, the piece of the puzzle, it is important football game when you look at where you want to be and where they want to be at the end of November.”
What are the areas you need to improve the most for this game?
“I think our special teams need to get better. I don’t think we’ve punted the ball as well as we need to. I don’t think we’ve covered at times the way we need to. Big plays defensively. Can’t give up those big plays, and you can’t have those lapses. From an offensive standpoint, you always want to be able to have a running game and count on the guys up front being physical at the line of scrimmage, and getting Fitz or whoever it might be in the backfield started.”
Michigan State likes to attack the middle of your offense and blitz their linebackers. Will you get a good test for how good your new guards are going to be?
“I don’t think there’s any doubt. I think those two guys – and the good thing is there’s nine other guys out there with them. Believe me, there’s other guys who will be there for the first time with more significant roles than maybe they were before. I think how we handle their defense, their front seven, how we get off bump coverage and all those things as tight as they play. Those are all things we’re going to learn. I’d like to know a little bit more before, but that’s not going to be the case.”
Will you know the identity of your team after this Saturday?
“I think it gives you a little bit of an idea. Will you know it for sure? I’m not sure. I think there’s no doubt that every part of this game from the offense and defense, every fabric, whatever it is, you’re going to find something out about your team.”
How do you get Devin Gardner not to try to do too much?
“Yeah. You can’t give the ball away. I think they lead the conference in turnover margin and those things. We’ve got to do a great job of taking care of the football. Great job in decision-making. I think a lot of it, and you asked specifically about Devin. A lot of it for a lot of guys is the fundamentals that you play with and the techniques, and not getting yourself off kilter with how you’re going to play.”
Can you talk about the run game and how important it is to run against them? They haven’t given up 100 yards to an opponent yet.
“Yeah. And if you watch them enough you know why. I think running the football opens up so much of your play-action game. I think that’s where offensively they’ve done a nice job. They’ve done a great job with pounding it in there with the power plays, the stretch plays, those kinds of things, and the play-action game has really helped from an offensive standpoint. I think it’s important for both of us to establish a running game of some sort.”
MGoQuestion: What have been the keys to Michigan State’s improvement on offense over the course of the season?
“I think their offensive line is better. I think they’re playing better together as a group. I think Langford is a back who’s very patient. I think he’s come on. I think the quarterback situation’s settled now, and there’s not who’s going to play, who’s not going to play?”
MGoQuestion: Given the propensity of their offensive coordinator to break tendency in rivalry games (e.g. Ohio State 2011), how do you prepare for that?
“Well you have to prepare for what they do, and most teams are going to have four base running plays, four base pass concepts. You’ve got to be a little bit different in some ways in how you call a game. But at the same time it’s the same plays, and getting all the looks you can at those plays is going to help you.”
Michigan State doesn’t like you very much. How do you feel about them?
“Well we don’t necessarily like them either. This isn’t an admiration society. It’s a great rivalry with two teams that are 45 miles apart? That might not be enough, but it’s what it is.”
It sounds like you’re hoping your players are physical rather than knowing that they’re going to be.
“Yeah, I would say this in answering that: I think there’s a lot of guys who have played a lot of snaps. They understand it. There’s some new guys, a couple true freshmen, that haven’t played in this magnitude of a game. But you look at the back half of our schedule, it’s all physical. Every game’s got to be a physical game. I think from that standpoint, yeah, there’s some guys who don’t know it yet. I think they’re learning. I think they’ve learned in the last couple practices.”
How uneasy does that make you feel, that you have to hope -- ?
“I’m not hoping. It’s not hope. I don’t know if hope’s the right word. I think it’s more of us educating guys who haven’t played in that environment.”
How would you compare and contrast this rivalry with the Ohio State rivalry?
“I think they’re both important.”
[Sorry everyone, my recorder crapped out on me while this was taping, so I’ll just write up a summary of important things that were said. As always, most of it was people trying to get Hoke to say something provocative or edgy, like “how tough is your team?” and “is this an important rivalry game?”]
- Team is better equipped to handle the tough road environment. Learned a lot from 2011.
- Gardner’s fundamentals have improved. Getting a couple snaps in East Lansing in 2011 was a valuable experience.
- Michigan has not changed game prep to simulate Michigan State’s “physicality.” Will continue to do prepare the same way.
- Jake Ryan could play more continuous snaps. Previously he was rotating in for three snaps and coming out.
- Memory from playing Michigan State in 1997? "Charles Woodson's interception."
- Drew Dileo’s status is questionable. Coaches will see if he can practice on Wednesday before making a decision on whether they will unleash The Threat.
[ed: sent after PSU game. Eric Upchurch photo @ right.]
Something that has been gnawing at me for a while is what we have really reached Hoke’s ceiling in terms of coaching? I wonder if only a generational player like Robinson was able to change that the past two years. I don’t doubt Hoke is a terrific person that will be able to recruit due to his personality, I just don’t know that there is depth regarding football strategy as well which is required to be elite. I otherwise just can’t explain such a discombobulated state going into a third year of a coaching staff even with a younger o-line.
I don't agree with that premise. It looks like Hoke is bringing in a large number of NFL talents on both sides of the ball and if those guys do work out, the philosophy of the staff will be in line with what Michigan can do. Hoke is working with a decimated senior/redshirt junior class that provided his team Gardner, Ryan, Black, and zero other starters. The class after that one was constructed during the chaotic final days of the Rodriguez administration and suffered further when Hoke was given only three weeks to add ten guys.
There is no comparison between those two classes—which should be the heart of the team—and what Michigan will begin to have when the 2012 and 2013 classes, which have lost one of their 52 members so far.
This is not the ceiling. Michigan loses Quinton Washington, Courtney Avery, and Thomas Gordon after the year, and no one else from their two deep (if Cam Gordon is now the third-string SAM.) They bring in Jabrill Peppers and probably DaShawn Hand, either or both of whom could be generational players. They can go from a good defense to an elite one. On offense… I don't know, man. I'm on the Art Briles side of the fence…
"We do not try to go to the body to set up the knockout shot," Briles said at a recent coaching clinic. "We try to score on every snap."
…and some of the stuff they've tried to do with personnel ill-suited to do it sets your teeth on edge. Once they have those guys in place, though, things should be smoother, if somewhat old fashioned.
This 8-4 lookin' Gator Bowl outfit is not the ceiling. The minimum reasonable expectation for that is "not able to beat Urban Meyer much."
[After THE JUMP: maybe the D wasn't that bad? (It was.) And linemen running amok.]
- Joey Burzynski is out with a torn ACL. Drew Dileo should be fine.
- Amara Darboh is out of his boot.
- Offensive line is still subject to change.
- Team will take Tuesday off and resume practice Thursday and Friday.
- Offensive game plan vs Indiana was to use a lot of double moves to take advantage of Indiana's corners' tendency to jump routes.
- Defensive game plan was to not get frustrated.
“It was great to win the football game the other night. Obviously we don’t like winning games when we give up that many points. We have to do a better job defensively in some areas. Offensively, obviously, it was a great offensive performance. I think playing itself, going into the game to take advantage of some of the things that Indiana did defensively, some of the double moves, the play-action game out of the two-back and 12 personnel sets were really good. And it helped that we were able to run the football. I think the guards that played did a nice job. Was it perfect? No. But I think all three of them did a nice job. The unfortunate thing is Joey [Burzynski], we’ll probably lose for the year with an ACL. You look at your depth and you look at the last five games you’re going into, you need everybody. We’re fortunate Chris Bryant is still a guy that will compete, and Kyle Kalis is a guy who can compete. That helps you a little bit but you feel bad for Joey because he’s worked so hard to get to this point.”
What is more impressive? The offensive performance or the defense stepping up to make plays at the end?
“Well we knew we needed a couple stops at the end defensively. We were fortunate enough. But offensively, obviously we were pretty much in sync. I thought Devin [Gardner] did a nice job, found the guys who were open. Ran the ball better, which you look at the film and we’ll see why we ran it better. But that was a big part of it. We needed to complement each other. The stops at the end helped complement the offense. But the offense kept moving. Kept bailing us out a little bit defensively.”
Would Kyle Bosch have played if Joey Burzynski hadn’t been hurt?
“With Kyle, being here since January has helped his development. Joey getting nicked up a little bit probably got him in the game a little sooner than he would have. But he was a guy that Darryl [Funk] and Al [Borges] thought was coming along.”
FORMATION NOTES: More tackle over stuff. This is the aforementioned play in Picture Pages that's just an I-Form with Lewan and Schofield flipped, mostly notable for PSU's super heavy package on the DL. Penn State brought this out three or four times.
They had one snap in an offset pro-form with Hayes in the backfield.
And, of course… this.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Gardner all the way at QB save one Morris snap after Gardner's helmet popped off. Toussaint almost all the way at RB; some scattered Green, and one Justice Hayes snap in a two-back look. Norfleet got one snap, a fake jet sweep that led to a middle screen.
At TE, Butt and Williams played a ton; Funchess put his hand down every once in a while but was mostly part of the WR rotation. That rotation has almost entirely come down to Gallon, Chesson, Funchess, and Dileo; Jackson got one snap IIRC and Reynolds none.
The OL was a revolving door. Magnuson first came in to replace Williams in tackle over sets after Williams gave up a sack, then replaced Lewan, with Schofield moving to left tackle and Magnuson generally existing on the right. Burzynski first replaced Kalis after his personal foul and then played most of the second half and overtime in place of Bryant.
[After THE JUMP: probably a rainbow of kittens]
- The coaches had to take Taylor Lewan's helmet from him during the game to keep him off the field. He should be good to go Saturday though.
- Everybody's rotating at guard. Except Ben Braden. I heard second-hand that Joey Burzynski and Kyle Bosch took a lot of 1st team reps yesterday, but who knows what it will be today.
- I don't think we've seen the last of "tackle over."
“We had a good practice yesterday. I thought we had a lot of energy. This is a pretty resilient group. I think they’ve proven that throughout the year. I think the leadership’s been good. Especially the senior class and the captains have taken their roles very seriously and have done a great job of how we approach each day. We have a big test on Saturday against Indiana from an offensive perspective. They’re top three in a lot of categories in our league. Have a lot of skill players. I think their offensive line got a little beat up through the course of the year, but they’re very athletic. Run very well in that system. They’re going to try to create some space with different things formationally. Defensively they have some new faces in there. I think the secondary and the linebackers they’re very active. It’s a good football team and Kevin [Wilson’s] done a nice job.”
Potential changes on the offensive line?
“We’ll see. Guys are working hard.”
In the last couple weeks, you’ve known by this point in the week what the switch would be.
“But I don’t know by now this week.”