"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."
press conference recaps
Denard Robinson and Vincent Smith
Why was the passing game better today? Denard: “We just clicked. We worked on it in practice, and we just had to put it forward in games, and that’s what we did today.”
When the last time you had a rushing, receiving, and passing TD in the same game. Also, can you talk about the game plan that utilized you in a unique way? Smith: “I was just put in the right place at the right time. The coaches know what I’m capable of. What I have to do for the team to help them out.” Was it fun? “Real fun. And the last time I threw a pass was in high school, but not like three [TD’s] in one game.”
When did the 2-QB thingy arise? Denard: “We’ve been doing that in practice. We’ve been working on it. Coach said he’d throw it at us, and just be ready. And he called it, so we were ready.” Were you expecting it that early? “Oh yeah.”
That was an unorthodox offense today. Is that exciting for you? Denard: “Oh yeah … Just going out and having fun with my teammates.”
Denard, how comfortable did you feel in the passing game? You looked more comfortable. Denard: “Oh yeah. I mean, we’ve been practicing getting it down with the receivers, and we were just on the same page.” How much you looking forward to going on the road? “Both of us are looking forward to that.” Smith: “I mean it’s just another football game, and that’s what we love to do. We just love to come out to compete, and it’s another night game.”
You guys have been putting up a lot of points. How does the team feel about this new offense? Denard: “We’re confident. I mean, we’ve been playing [well], and we trust Coach Al to give us the right play and make things happen, because we have some playmakers.”
Are there other things we haven’t seen that you might show us? Denard: “We can’t tell them that …” Smith: “Not that I know of.”
(more after the jump)
Misdirection plays were a big part of offense. Will we see more? “Maybe. It just is kind of the offensive package. It’s kind of, when you have a quarterback that threatens people because of his ability to run, that’s part of it. That stuff is like the old counter play, which you don’t see a whole lot of people running anymore. It’s a lot of traction one way and then going back the other way.”
Talk about Denard’s passing. Is that more like what you see in practice? “Yeah. The sky’s never going to fall. We’re going to make it through. He throws the ball well, and we like how he throws the ball. [He] set his feet well and we ran good routes and completed some balls.”
Talk about the intensity of tackling and sacks. “I think Jerry Montgomery has done a tremendous job with our front, and the pride that a guy like Van Bergen or Martin have in how they play is a big part of it. I think this whole thing is a process what the kids are going through and how you do things. I think it’s just one of the things that we emphasize and they really did a nice job on some of those things. As far as tackling goes, if you fit the defense right, and wherever the support is or the cutback player -- all those different intangibles you have to have on defense -- I think you tackle better.”
Talk about Denard/Devin formation. What kinds of problems can that create for defense? “They’re both pretty talented. I think who’s back there in the backfield with them have some talents. It’s just something that Al has had for a while and something that we thought would be a good thing to do.”
Talk about Vincent Smith. “He does everything you want him to do, when you look at him as a football player and how he prepares and his toughness. All those things that -- Vince is a guy that you can count on. If he makes a mistake or doesn’t do something as well, it’s not because of lack of effort or lack of toughness. He’s done a good job for us.”
How pleased are you at the 58-0 effort to start your Big Ten career? “It has nothing to do with my career. It really has to do with these kids and that jug, and keeping that jug in Ann Arbor. And us going out to play better football every time we take the field whether it’s tomorrow when we practice or if it’s on game day. Believe me we have a lot of mistakes from a personnel standpoint. We take a daggone penalty, and that’s my fault. We didn’t have a guy out there on the punt team. You can’t do that and win championships, and that’s my fault.”
Why did you choose this game to unleash all this offensive creativity? “You work on it during fall camp, you put it to bed for a little bit, but you work on it so the kids have a knowledge of it so when you bring it back out, it’s just something we thought was a good time to bring out.”
What was your reaction when Borges brought the 2-QB package, and is this the most complete game you have played this season? “Well Al and I have talked about that package in March? April? And believe me, Al Borges is very, very creative. So that’s not just that package. I’m sure his creativity will show up again. We played probably our best game to this point, but the schedule is -- we’re going away. We’re going on the road. We haven’t been on the road. They don’t know how we like to travel. And I say we as a staff. They have an idea, but there’s a lot of unknowns out there, and there’s a lot that we have to get better.”
Did you practice any jug security so you wouldn’t drop it, and does a game where everybody gets to play give you a boost in practice the next week? “I’ll answer the second question first. No question the morale of your football team -- those other guys, and I’ll use an example: Richard Ash, I don’t know how many plays he got, maybe four or five. But he goes down there on that look team and does a tremendous job down there and has the ability to come out there and play some. I would think he would feel pretty good about that. So I think that’s always important. You get guys live reps in games.
“Jug security is always at a premium.”
(more after the jump)
How did the game plan defensively change for you after you learned Marqueis Gray wasn’t going to play? Also, how did your defensive front do against Shortell? “We really didn’t change it at all. We do a lot of things by personnel groups, what personnel groups they have in. So all the calls were based on those groups. So they would have had the same calls if Marqueis would have been in there. So there was no change at all.”
Is the confidence level of players high enough where they expect to win a Big Ten championship? “I hope so.”
Are you eager to get this Michigan team out on the road, and will it give you and your staff a better indication of where they’re at? “We like playing at home. Now if Dave can do a 10-game home schedule, it would be wonderful. It’s pretty convenient. I’m kind of interested in seeing how we react. I really am. To see what we’re made of -- see our mentality, our mental toughness, see if we’re business-like in how we go about the work that we have to do, and the preparation and all those things.”
The defensive line wasn’t where you wanted it to be. Talk about progression? “I think they were disruptive. That’s what I like and that’s what you have to do if you’re a guy who plays up front. As you look at the schedule and you look at teams you’re going to play, I think there’s some offensive lines in this league that are pretty stout. We’ve got to make sure that we’re making our gains and our progression on a daily basis with great urgency and intensity.”
Three things: Troy Woolfolk looked like he was limping. What did Denard have done to his arm? How did Schofield play? “I didn’t notice Troy limping, so that’s new to me. Denard had a boo-boo. Schofield I imagine did okay in there. I can’t tell you for sure because of not [having watched] the film yet.”
Helmet numbers? “That was my decision, and we will have those numbers on there throughout the rest of the season when we get into Big Ten play because we want to honor the guys who wore those numbers before, and the 42 championship teams. And the guys who have represented Michigan. It’s important to us.”
McColgan was out. “He got banged up a little bit.” Is it serious? “Week to week, day to day.”
Did you sense more physicality up front? Also, how did Fitz Toussaint run? “I think, up front, you try and gauge yourself. Molk’s played a lot of football, and I kind of, being a defensive line coach, I like watching other defensive lines and how they play and how we block them. I thought there was football being played at the point of attack. And … why are you laughing at that? It was pretty obvious football was being played. But you could hear it. You could feel it and sense it. When you look at your line and you look at, if the back has to start making his decision and his cuts further back from the line of scrimmage, then you’re not doing a good job. And you could see when Shaw and Fitz and those guys were coming, they got more downhill, pressed the line of scrimmage more, and that tells you those guys were working hard. Fitz, I thought he ran well. He’s a tough little burger who did a nice job.” [ed-M: I doublechecked the video: he definitely said 'burger.']
Re: Two-QB formation. How much does that help that other teams have to prepare for it? Also, what’s that called? “Uh, you know, two quarterbacks, whatever. It doesn’t matter what it’s called. It really is, yeah. People have to prepare.”
Talk about your secondary and how guys like Avery and Countess are playing. “Well, you know. Courtney and Blake, and there’s Raymon Taylor, [who] is going to be a good football player also. Our young guys have done a good job. It starts in my opinion with Jordan Kovacs and his leadership and his directing traffic out there. I think they have a lot of confidence in each other. I think there’s a chemistry. I think J.T. has done a nice job. When he focuses in, he’s pretty doggone good. I think there’s number one, there’s some competition, because there’s a lot of guys in that room that all want to play.”
Talk about Thomas Rawls? “It was good to get Thomas some carries. He’s a freshman that’s learning the game of football at the Division I level. I think he’s got some skill sets that are pretty good. I think you saw some of that today. So it was good to see him out there.”
Gibbons was 3/3. “Someone has said that he’s kicked really good during fall camp. Ahem. Someone did. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him, and hopefully that injects even more confidence into him.”
Denard was 11/11 before his first incompletion. He’s a pretty confident guy, but how important is it to re-establish that confidence that he can be a succesful passer? “Yeah, because all he hears is he’s not. Not from us, but other people. (Ed: Looking at you, buddy.) I think getting off to a good start helps us with the run game so much. People want to put nine guys, and they played a lot of quarters, and they were doing a lot of good stuff with their safeties depending on where the back was. And then they changed during halftime, which is good coaching. Bill Miller’s a good defensive football coach. It was good, and being able to throw the ball was a big part to our offense.
Can you be successful in the Big Ten relying on Denard to get most of your yards? “I don’t think so. You become too one-dimensional. People are creative. We’re going to play a lot of good coaches and some teams with very good personnel. When good coaches give good personnel the game plan and scheme, they can be a problem. The ability for our running backs to do a nice job running with the football and the ability to do a nice job in the passing game is a big part of it.”
As a defensive coach, you must love a shutout. “Right.”What did you like specifically, and what can you improve on? “Yeah. They broke two runs that got outside that shouldn’t have. Then they fumbled. We got fortunate at the end [when] They fumbled the ball -- and the daggone end doesn’t squeeze when the tackle blocked … Just simple. Basic. Football. Stuff. That we didn’t do. As many times as we’ve done drills and as many times -- that’s unacceptable, because that’s a discipline that you have to have.”
Greg Mattison said during the halftime radio show, “An average defense comes out and goes downhill during the second half.” Were you concerned about a letdown during the second half? “I think we communicate with them pretty well. I think Greg and his staff -- I think we challenge them. This was a first step to what the goal of this football program is and has been, and that’s a Big Ten championship. You can’t go out there in the second half and slop around and not tackle well and not have an urgency and not have an intensity. That doesn’t get you any better. You go backwards, and I’m not a believer in going backwards.”
News bullets and other important things:
- Troy Woolfolk is, once again, fine.
- Ricky Barnum didn't practice yesterday. He's questionable.
- Cam Gordon is practicing a lot better but still trying to work himself in.
- Brandon Herron is also fine.
- Team hasn't started tapering physicality of practices yet.
- No decision on Justice Hayes' redshirt yet.
- Hoke is being all weird about the punting situation, but Will Hagerup looks better in practice according to all observers named Angelique Chengelis.
“We got a new table. It’s rusty --” Rustic. “It’s rustic.”
Opening remarks: “We had a very good practice yesterday. I thought both sides of the ball we had a lot of energy. I thought it was physical -- how we want to be physical during the course of competing against each other. I thought that was good. I thought game-plan wise I think they responded well to those different things that you do, so it was good.”
Are you going to be less physical now than you were in camp to keep players healthy? “Not really. Not too much. Not right yet. As you get into the marathon that a season is, you may lighten up a little bit later, but this isn’t the time for us to do that.”
Was Troy Woolfolk able to do everything? “Yeah. I think I was asked Saturday, and Sunday he did everything. And he did eveything yesterday.”
Ricky Barnum? “I’m not saying he’s out, but he’s trying to take care of that ankle.” Is he practicing? “Not today. Er, not yesterday, let’s put it that way.”
How much is Cam Gordon practicing? “A lot. He’s just working himself back into it. He did some good things yesterday. I think he feels better.”
How difficult is it to stay intense and also pick up new schemes mid-season? “Well the schemes -- they’re new to a standpoint of how you want to tweak your base things to take advantage of an offense. From a defensive standpoint, most of the offenses are different, but I think when you look at a guy like Cam. He had a pretty good spring. What he did during the summer was pretty good from what I can tell. Fall camp, until he got hurt, he was fine. He’s a smart kid, so he’s in tune with everything that’s going on. Learns well. So for him it’s maybe not as difficult as it is for someone else.”
Brandon Herron? “He did everything. He’s fine. He’s 100%.”
Thomas Gordon said Will Campbell needs to get lower. What does he have to do to take that next step? “I’m glad Thomas is coaching him up. I really am. Thomas is right. Will just has to -- and this happens with a lot of guys who are big guys, and they’re big in high school where technique and fundamnetals are taught and they’re important, but it’s just one of those things where he’s got to play lower. He’s got to be more consistent with that part of it. His get-off the football is something he’s got to be conscious about and make good habits with.”
You say Mike Martin plays with great leverage. Is that what you want Will to do? “Well yeah. But Mike, when he has a bad play in there, it’s usually because his knees start to lock out and they don’t bring their feet with them. This is a good conversation because it’s D-line play and that’s what I like to talk about, so I can do this all day. But that part of it with Mike, I thought, last week he did his best job with it. Will did some real good things in there. And he’s improving.”
Craig Roh’s good performance two weeks in a roh (do you see what I did there?), is that a better sign than just seeing it for only one week/flash in the pan? “Well I think you always have to be guarded, and you always have to make sure the consistency you want from your players is there. Craig takes it very seriously when he works and he prepares from the mental side of it to the physical stuff that we do.”
Is it harder to build consistency with front four than with an individual when you’re trying to get max effort? “Well it starts with that individual pride and ownership of who that guy is. We talk about that quite often. And then there’s always a unit pride that you want to have. I always think, and we always think that kind of permeates through that unit.”
Is this team better suited to play against a mobile quarterback because of Denard? “It probably helps. I think our team, facing Denard and Devin both, and Russell Bellomy -- I mean, he’s a little slippery. So when you look at it that way, there’s some familiarity with what we do, which is kind of a great thing because of what we do with the spread part of it and out of the gun to what we do with the I-back stuff. I think it really helps us as a team.”
What do you tell your defensive linemen when you play against a running quarterback? “I think gap integrity is always important in part. The critical thing to me is you have to chase the rabbit. You have to stay after it through the whistle because you see a lot of those guys make plays on cutbacks and those kinds of things, and you have to be a part of the 11.”
Are you going to look at other Big Ten games any differently now that divisions are in place? “You know, I was asked that once before. I don’t think so. Maybe I need to go back and look at it. But within the framework of the divisional play and crossover play, I don’t see much difference.”
Depth is a concern, particularly in the trenches. How does that affect you during the year? “It affects you in practice. It does. Guys you have to bring up on both sides of the ball. Guys who might be fighting for two and three in there who are down. They have to go over, so you take a good look from your look teams. That’s one reason we do so much against each other. I started doing that when I went to Ball State because of the competitive nature of going ones on ones, twos on twos, and the speed and all those things.”
What’s the situation at nickel? Two weeks ago you had Raymon Taylor but then last game it was mostly Thomas Gordon. “We’ll use both. Raymon’s a young guy who’s learning. Thomas is more of a veteran, obviously. We’ll use both guys, though. I think they both are doing okay. Not quite what we need.”
Are there any other freshmen that haven’t played at all that still could? “Good question. I hate to count anybody out because you never know. You get guys twisted up and those kinds of things and you never know when that’s going to happen.”
Is it safe to say that Justice Hayes will redshirt? “I wouldn’t say that yet.”
What’s punting situation? “What do you guys think?” Angelique only saw a couple yesterday. “I think they were both punting well yesterday.” Would you say one has a leg up on the other? “Not yet. That’s pretty good, I like that. You’re giving him good material, Angelique.”
Are you a stats guy? Mattison said yesterday he’s not much of a stats guy. “Huh uh. Why?” Well Idunno … “No no no. I’m not asking you why. My point is … no. I mean, the only statistic that's important is the outcome and winning. So no.”
Mattison also said he wasn’t pleased with Jake Ryan down the stretch. Is that because there were some one-on-one situations he didn’t win? “Oh, I think that’s part of it. I think we have a high opinion of Jake, and at the same time we have to remember he’s a redshirt freshman. He can do some good things. He can make plays, and part of that is he runs around the field and plays with good effort. He’s always not doing exactly what Jake should do in the framework of the defense, but he has an opportunity, because he plays hard, to make up for those things. That’s contagious, a little bit, and he’s got to keep growing with everything that we do.”
Have there not been enough carries for Thomas Rawls for you to properly evaluate him? “I think we gave him a pretty good look during the course of camp. And then he got banged up a little bit. Fred does a nice job of rotating those guys through, number one, to keep them healthy. Because we do compete against each other. I think the second part of it is trying to see where guys are at.”
Are you resigned to the fact that Denard’s your lead back? “You could say that probably. But he carries the ball. I know that. But I don’t know if I’d consider him a back, personally.”
Borges said if he has two backs running for over a hundred yards combined, he can live with that. Do you agree? “Sure. Sure. I’m fine with that. And again I go back to the statistic that counts: Winning.”
News bullets and other important items:
- Tailback will be committee of two (Fitz and Smith) as long as there is production from the position, i.e. >100 yards rushing.
- No comment on Marell Evans’ status.
- Going to help Denard’s passing by passing on non-passing downs.
- Ran inside zone against SDSU because SDSU wasn't expecting it (per Taylor Lewan)
“Is this a hat day or a non-hat day?”
How come you guys are perfect in the red zone? “Why do you say that!? Doggone it. It’s just like that kiss of death, okay?
“We know we’re certainly not efficient yet overall, but that part of our game’s been pretty good so far, and hopefully we can keep it going. We spend a lot of time working on it, too. It is a point of emphasis. There’s nothing more distressing than getting the ball down there and not scoring. And you’re not going to score a touchdown every time, but you’re not coming away with something. It’s an emphasis, but the kids have done a pretty good job of finishing drives once we get to that point.” But you have scored a touchdown almost every time. “Yeah. There you go again.” Do you feel a smidgeon of pride? “Oh yeah. Absolutely. They’ve done a good job down there. One thing I’ll say for this football team -- we are not perfect by any means, we are not there -- but we’ve got pretty good will. We have shown over the past four games: we overcame some bad plays in the second half of last game; we overcame tremendous adversity at the Notre Dame game; we started slow in the Eastern game; but the kids have demonstrated some will, and there’s something to that, because a lot of times teams don’t have a great will and you tend to fold. We’ve shown no signs of that. Not yet, anyway.”
Can you talk about Denard’s progress as a passer? “Well, it’s a work in progress with our offense. That’s the thing … because it’s different. Now part of that, too -- and I’m going to take the rap for that a little bit. I’ve got to get him some better throws. I’ve got to put him in position to complete some more balls so he can gain some confidence and gain some rhythm. Get in a little bit of a zone. He’s a capable passer, you know, but as a playcaller you have to consider everything we’re calling in terms of the passing game. This kid really threw the ball well in two-a-days and threw the ball well in spring. He did. All his numbers were better numbers than now. I think game situations are different. As he learns about how to do this, you’ll see progress. Because he does have a good arm, and he has an accurate arm when he’s comfortable. But part of that has to be my responsibility to get him in better situations to complete some throws.”
A year ago he was really accurate. Is there a reason why there’s such a big difference between this year and last year? “I studied the players, but I didn’t really study that end of it. Some of it was that he’s been in the offense more htan one year. That helps. You’ll see the difference in a year. Instantly. I had Cade McNown at UCLA. The first year he was tenth in the conference in passing efficiency. His second year he led the country in passing efficiency. How do you make that much of a quantum leap? Is it all of a sudden a magic wand touched you and you’re an accurate passer? No. It’s undrstanding the offense. And it’s not just his understanding, but it’s everyone else’s, too. It’s all the growing pains that go with it. With that said, we still have to do better than we’re doing. It’s not acceptable regarding the passing game.”
Do you like how he’s targeting receivers? “Not all the time, no. We made a couple of bad decisions in the game. But for the most part over the past four games, he’s been pretty much on the right guy, okay. He’s still got a couple of deals. Most of them, he’s pressed a little. There’s people around him and he’s got to make the decision quick and there’s a sense of urgency to get rid of the ball. But again, as he gets more comfortable -- and I can’t emphasize that enough, guys -- all the quarterbacks I’ve had, they are all better the second year. Well we’re in a microwave here. We’re going to get this fast. We’re just going to keep working at it and keep getting better at it. And you’ll see by the end of the season, if he stays in one piece, that he will improve his passing. Almost every kid I’ve had has."
(more after the jump)
News bullets and other important things:
- Weekly tailback musical chairs update: Fitz and Smith. No mention of anyone else.
- Cam Gordon still not 100%.
- Barnum is questionable for Minnesota at the moment.
- Woolfolk was up and running last night.
- Two of Denard's bad throws were the result of bad routes.
- Justice Hayes didn't dress because he had a "bump."
- Hagerup has to compete to get his position back. (I have a feeling this is nominal, but we'll see.)
Press Conference (filmed)
Opening remarks: “Again, as always, thank you for coming out. This is really loud.
“Ahem. It’s good to win football games. It’s bad to lose games, so it was good to win. I thought from a perspective as a team, I thought we played as well as we have to this point for the first quarter and maybe three quarters. Then I think we struggled a little bit for one reason or another from an offensive standpoint. You can’t turn the ball over four times. That does nothing for you as a team, and I thought defensively they hung in there and they played hard. I thought our front played probably their best football to this point of the year.
“It’s got to get much better as we get into Big Ten play offensively. Three-and-outs and turnovers in the third quarter -- time of possession affects your football team in a lot of ways … momentum and all those things. So we have to do a much better job executing and being more consistent blocking at the line of scrimmage. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.
“In the kicking game, I thought Matt Wile did a nice job punting the football, and I thought his kickoffs -- he really placed the ball well. He had one kickoff that was in the middle of the field, but everything else I thought he did a tremendous job. And that was a good sign of a guy that’s maturing as a freshman.”
Is Will Hagerup’s suspension over, and does he have to compete to get his position back? “They’ll compete. We’re going to compete in everything we do. I think that’s an important part of your development as a program. I think that’s how you improve as a program. They’ll compete during the week.”
Cam Gordon dressed but did not play -- at this point is it his conditioning or is the injury still affecting him? “I think he’s just not 100% yet. I think he’s just not where he needs to be yet.”
13 for 13 in the Red Zone. What makes you so successful there? “I don’t know if there’s a magical answer. I mean, I think part of it is always you have some pretty good luck. Things are going well. I think we’re blocking it decently. I think the different options that Al presents to some degree within the offense makes [us] a little bit tougher to defend.”
Denard’s incompletions. You said it wasn’t all Denard. When you look at the film did you see problems with other things, too? “It’s definitely not all him. I mean, route running -- we blew two routes. We didn’t convert on another route. That’s part of it. He’s got a lot of pride, and he’s going to also help himself with some of the technical and technique -- fundamental parts of being a little more patient with his feet and doing a good job with that.”
What led to strong start against SDSU, and how do you replicate that? “It’d be great to replicate it every week. I think we had a great week of practice. I think our preparation was good. From a defensive standpoint, they really did a nice job of preparation. I thought Greg did a nice job with the plan, and Al did too.”
(more after the jump)
Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen
Did you feel Mike Martin out there today? Van Bergen: “Oh yeah absolutely. Defensive line-wise, we probably had our highest production day. Obviously you have to watch the film to see how well we really performed. I thought Mike did a good job of getting after the quarterback, and when he wasn’t there, I was there, and then when neither of us was there, Craig was there. We did a really good job up front of getting to the quarterback. We didn’t register big numbers [in terms of] sacks or anything like that, but as far as QB hurries and pressures, I’d be interested to see that stat, because I felt like we were making him move his feet all day, which changed up some of his throws.
Is this the best you’ve played this year, and did you guys change anything in practice this week? Martin: “We didn’t change anything schematically. We had by far the best week of practice as a team collectively this week, and it definitely showed up on the field. I was interviewed earlier this week, and I said that the way we practice directly correlates with the way that we play. We started out fast on Tuesday, had a great day of work Wednesday to Thursday, then we tied it together on Saturday. It all ties together, and I’m glad we put it on the field today.”
A lot of sudden change situations in the fourth quarter. How did you respond to that? Van Bergen: “You know, we’ve been pretty solid on sudden change situations all season defensively. Not allowing a touchdown, holding them to a field goal when they get good enough field position for it. It’s something our defense prides ourselves on. We’re really intent that teams don’t get the best of us when we turn the ball over, because it’s going to happen. You’re going to turn the ball over, and the main thing is don’t let that translate into points, because that’s how you get beat. So our defense, that’s one of the things on our bulletin board. That’s on our wall. One of the things we have to be good at is sudden change situations. We pride ourselves on that.”
We’ve talked a lot about slow starts on defense. What was it about the first quarter that allowed you to get off to a fast start? Was it knowing the opponent better? Martin: “You know, that’s a part of it, but I like to say it was as simple as us coming out with the most intensity we’ve had in the first quarter this season. It’s something we have to remember that we did and build on that. It went right into the second quarter, and when half time came around, we made a few adjustments, but we came to play every single quarter. So we have to start fast and finish strong, which I think we did this week.”
Hoke said on Monday that the biggest aspect the team that he wanted to see improve was the play of the front seven. Did you agree with his assessment? Van Bergen: “Coach Hoke holds us to a very high standard. That’s something I said Monday at the Press conference. He’s going to have the highest standard of any defensive line in the country. We definitely don’t want him to lower the bar for us. I think Mike would agree with the fact that we haven’t played our best game up front. And I would probably go on to say this wasn’t our best game we could have played. We played better, but the standard is so high that any missed assignment, missed tackle, miscue, anything like that, or wrong alignment isn’t going to be tolerated until everything we do on every single snap is perfect.”
How were you able to keep Hillman in check and get two turnovers from him? Also, talk about forcing the fumble from behind? Van Bergen: “There’s a lot of parts to that question. [Hillman’s] a good back. We knew he was an explosive player, but I mean, when it comes down to it, we have the most explosive player in the country in my opinion in our backfield, so we get to play against Denard. So we’ve learned how to take angles to guys with some speed. As far as that call, Mike actually was the one who sprung me on that as far as they were running a toss to the boundary side, and we were running a stunt where Mike was supposed to come up to the field first and I was supposed to loop underneath him. He picked the guy that was supposed to block me, and I just took off on my horse, thinking, ‘I’ve almost caught Denard before. Maybe I can catch this guy.’ Our corner did a good job of turning him back in. We’ve practiced that all the time. Two months ago, spring ball, that might not have happened. I don’t remember who the corner was, but he made him turn back in. We all know in pursuit drill on defensive line -- if you catch a running back, you throw your arms around him as hard as you can and you hope that ball comes out. It was a good break for us because if they score on that possession, game might have gone a little differently. It was fortunate … Mike definitely set me up on that.” [Ed-M: Van Bergen(+1) for UFR-ing]
Did you think Lindley was a different quarterback under pressure? Martin: “Yeah, that’s something that we talked about as a D-line and as a group. We knew that if we got in his face and got pressure to him, press the pocket down on him, he would get happy feet and make missed throws. He’s a good quarterback. He can sling that thing around. If you don’t get in his face, he can throw it as well as anyone. We made sure that was a big thing for us ... to push the pocket and do whatever we can to get into his face.”
Did either one of you sense this was a tough week for Hoke? Van Bergen: “I didn’t think it was a tough week for him personally. I think that there was definitely a media factor as far as it was hyped up to the fact that it was his old program. But I mean, college football is a transitioning world. Everybody moves around, so it just happened to be that they were on the schedule, and he didn’t treat this any differently. He had some inside information as far as how they would play as far as personnel, but nothing to the point to making it any different than any other week. We had to have an intense week of practice, which Mike said we did, and then have a four-quarter game, which, defensively, we came along. I won’t say we had it, but we had a better week than last week.”
Coaches say the goal is to win Big Ten Championship. How much do they talk about that now that non-conference is over? Van Bergen: “I would imagine the intensity is going to pick up. We had some pretty intense practices, but the way Coach Hoke has been talking about even through fall camp and his first four weeks -- it’s always been about the Big Ten. Everything is in comparison to the Big Ten. We have to play better or we won’t compete against the Big Ten. We have to be better up front or we won’t be able to play in the Big Ten. The Big Ten standard is higher than any expectation. In order for us to be competitive in the Big Ten the way coach wants us to be, we’re going to have to step it up. We want to be Big Ten champions. We haven’t had a good record in the Big Ten, anybody on this team, since we’ve been on it. It’s a big thing for us. We’ve started off 4-0 non-conference schedule, but to come out in the Big Ten and have a strong showing, that’s a big deal to us. I can tell you all the guys in the locker room are very excited and hyped up to get started in the Big Ten schedule and see what we’re really about.”
Even though you’ve been downplaying this storyline, is there a sense of pride in helping your coach beat a team he left less than a year ago? Mike Martin: “That’s not something that was on our mind. Our bottom line was to win the game. We have to win the game no matter what so we can go into the Big Ten ready to go. We always want to win for coach. We always want to win for Michigan and this program. It’s what it’s all about. It’s not about coach, and he’ll say that. He’ll say that [about] himself. It’s not about him. It’s not about me. It’s not about Ryan. It’s not about anyone except for Michigan and this program.”
I know you can’t see what other guys are doing on defense, but Blake Countess had a really good game. Talk about him? Van Bergen: “I think Blake is one of those guys that -- as a true freshman you can get some guys that get wide eyes when they come on the field. But there’s also guys -- he kind of reminds me of Donovan Warren when he first came in. He was very focused. He has a swagger about him, and he’s very confident in his abilities. I think the more reps he gets, the more time he’ll see just because he’ll prove that he can play. I think the coaches are slowly getting more comfortable with him and rotating him in. Unfortunately I think Troy went down. I don’t know if JT came back or not, but we had some guys that went down a little bit, and he stepped up. And that’s something we have as a team is the expectation by position. It doesn’t matter who you are. That position is expected to be played a certain way. Blake proved that today. He did really well.”
To what extent are the turnovers a result of playmaking mentality, and how much is it is just constantly running to the ball and hoping for something to happen? Van Bergen: “You know, I think it’s just the emphasis. We have such a strong emphasis from Coach Mattison and Coach Hoke, almost to the point where you don’t want to hear them anymore. Just turn them off in practice because they’re always talking about running to the ball, that the ball’s going to come out. If you count it percentage-wise, you’re probably not going to get a ball out too often, but when it does, man, it feels great. When you buy in like our defense has bought in, all of a sudden the turnovers start piling up for us. I think everybody’s starting to take notice that we’ve gotten way more turnovers this year at this point than we did last year and the last couple years because of how much we emphasize it and how much we practice it and how much we believe that if we get 11 hats on the ball, good things are going to happen.”
Craig Roh and Mark Huyge
How complicated is Rocky Long’s defense? Did it give you guys problems? Huyge: “Well they basically stunted on every play. They were taking the defensive end and putting him inside, wrapping the nose around, bringing linebackers off the edge. They were twisting and stunting. It helps because we ran the zone a lot -- inside zone -- and that’s where everyone pushes to one side. When you can do that, it kind of negates it a little bit, but they got us on a few I know for sure.”
Can you take us through the sack/fumble play? How good did that feel? Roh: “With the sack, they were running hurry-up, so I just subbed in for Jibreel Black and just bullrushed and then ripped outside and got the ball. It was a good feeling. It’s always a good feeling when you get a sack.”
Do you take coach’s criticisms of the defensive line personally? Roh: “We take it personally every week, but we’re improving every week and I think today was a pretty good performance defensively, especially with the run. But we need to keep improving every week, and we’re not where we need to be yet.”
What was the attitude on offense when you turned the ball over, and how do you get past that and not allow it to slow you down? Huyge: “We know that we have to keep pushing past that. It’s been nice not turning the ball over, trying to sustain consistent drives. But when it happens, it’s just an obstacle. It’s football and we know that. Just keep pushing on. That’s what we keep telling ourselves. It’s what we try to do.”
What was the difference between the Ryan Lindley you saw today and the Ryan Lindley you saw on tape after you got inside his head a little? Roh: “We were getting real good pressure up the middle with Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. I think it just rattled him a little bit and he didn’t perform as well as we had expected. He’s a real good quarterback, and we just got pressure on him and got him rattled a little bit.”
How important was it to establish Denard as a runner early in the game? Huyge: “Like Craig said, the emphasis this week was to start fast. The last couple of games we started slow and eventually picked it up. Getting Denard established early -- I think that gives the defense problems, and they have to adjust and get on their heels, and that’s always a good thing.”
This is the third straight game where you’ve had a turnover in the red-zone. What about inside the 20 makes you guys play up and what’s it like when you can get off the field without giving up any points? Roh: “It’s just, ‘Give us a place to stand and we’ll play.’ Coach Mattison’s always saying that, and I think all of us have taken it to heart.”
Denard Robinson and Vincent Smith
Talk about getting off to a faster start on offense? Denard: “That’s the thing that coach was preaching to us all week. All the seniors were just like, ‘Hey, we have to start taking off fast,’ so Tuesday practice everybody came out amped and ready to go.”
Denard, the option play with Vince was new. Do you like that play, and how long have you guys been working on it? Denard: “We’ve been working on a lot, and I wanted to give the ball to Vince, but I saw the opening and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go.’ ”
Vince, talk about chemistry in running game. Smith: “With two backs, it’s a good relief off Denard, and me and Fitz pride ourselves in taking the load off him and helping this offense move down the field.”
Hoke said one of the things that surprised him was how much you guys like each other. Denard: “We all love each other. We enjoy being with each other. It’s like a family, so that’s what we pride [ourselves] on.” Do you guys talk about that with the new guys? “Oh yeah, that’s my brother, and we’re going to take you in. So when the freshmen came in, they knew that they had a family here.”
Did you guys see the defensive signal cards that SDSU was using? Denard: “We were laughing. Everybody was in that huddle laughing like, ‘Look at those things they got. They’ve got pictures of our coaches. That’s crazy.’ ” Smith: “Yeah, I was laughing as well.”
Do you feel like you need to take it up another level on offense to compete with Big Ten teams? Smith: “We know we just have to sustain drives and keep the ball flowing and get into rhythm.”
Fred Jackson has a reputation for benching running backs who fumble. What did it mean to you for him not to bench you? Smith: “It puts a lot of confidence in me, and I knew that I had to make up for what I did. Obviously I did, and he knows that I’m capable of doing that.”
Talk about run where you broke free. Smith: “The last one I scored on?” No it was in the first half. Denard: “He’s talking about the one you broke -- you kind of looked like you were stopped -- and I was like, ‘What?’ ” Smith: “It was a zone read, and I just pressed my gut, which coach J was stressing to us all through the week. It wasn’t there at first, but I was just patient on the read, and just squirted out -- it was a small, small hole, and I just squirted through it. I just kept my feet going and something good happened.”
What’s your frustration level with yourself in the passing game? Denard: “I mean, I’m not too mad at myself, because my teammates, they keep telling I’m going to be all right. Just keep going and keep fighting. They have my back, and I know they do.”
Did anyone show up to your birthday party after your tweet? [Denard bangs head on table.] Denard: “Oh man. It was a good crowd. We went out [to Colonial Lanes] bowling, having a little bit of fun. It was just … ” How many people do you think showed up? “I don’t know. I don’t know.” What did you bowl? “I bowled a 200 the first try. The second time I only went 160 and the next time I went 170. I did all right.” Why’d you just bang your head on the table there? “Because Twitter -- I don’t know if I want to keep tweeting. I don’t want questions coming up in here about that.”
Speaking of odd questions, did you switch helmet manufacturers this year? Denard: “Big Jon told us we had to wear a different helmet, and I got a different helmet. He just told me. I came in one day and he was like, ‘Yeah, you’ve got to get a different helmet.’ And I was like, ‘Ah, come on.’ ”
Why do you think you couldn’t get into rhythm passing? Denard: “[San Diego State is] a great team. They fly around everywhere. So you could say that, but still we worked on it all week and I just have to execute, that’s all. We have to get better as a team.”
Going for it on fourth and two, how big was it score before halftime? Denard: “Roy and the seniors were just like, ‘Man, look. We have to get this and we can’t slack.’ I was like, ‘All right, let’s go get it then.’ Coach called the time-out and he was like, ‘Let’s go and get the ball. Let’s go and get the first down.’ And that’s what we did. That was a big key to the game.”