Fitzgerald Toussaint and Devin Gardner
Fitz, how did you feel out there physically and mentally? You walked over to the spot you got injured last year. That was probably a meaningful moment.
Toussaint: "I would say physically, I feel great, but it was never really about the physical point. The mental point overtook all of that. I would say I feel really good mentally and I'm ready to play some more football."
Devin, there was a little bit of a hiccup with that interception, but otherwise you had a fast start. How important was it to get off to a good start?
Gardner: "I mean, it was very important. That's what the game is about early. Coach Hoke always talks to us about special teams and starting fast. You don't want to get behind, and you don't want to give a team like Central confidence where they would give you a really good game. They were a good team, but we kept on pounding away so they wouldn't have an opportunity."
[Rest after the jump]
What are your personal impressions of how the first game went?
Gardner: "It felt great for me. We ran the ball well, which was our biggest emphasis over fall camp. Fitz ran well. All of our running backs ran well, and it felt great for me to be able to see that."
Toussaint: "I would like to start by giving credit to the offensive line. Another word I want to use is 'chemistry.' I think we built that throughout fall camp, and I think we did a really good job sticking together. I think that's what we put the emphasis on, and we came out here and played good football."
Devin, how did it feel to be coming out of the tunnel and know that you were "The Guy"?
Gardner: "I mean, it was amazing. I can't even really describe how I was feeling. My heart was racing. I was like, 'Don't fall by running into the banner.' I really can't describe how it felt. It felt great."
Ten true freshmen played today. What was their mood like today on the sideline? What was your impression of the other running backs?
Toussaint: "I would say when you're the older guy, it's kind of more 'anxious' over 'nervous.' With the young guys it's 'nervous' over 'anxious.' So the other guys were anxious and a little bit nervous just waiting for their opportunity. When the opportunity came, they showed up really well."
Gardner: "We talked in camp about pressure, how you can't touch it, you can't feel it, you can't smell -- it's not tangible, so it doesn't really exist. I feel like the freshmen took that on their backs and ran with it. They were really confident. They ran well. The DBs, I love watching those guys because they were giving me headaches all during camp, so I knew they were ready as well. It was amazing to see those guys, like little brothers, get opportunities so early, to contribute and do well."
How do you think Shane Morris looked?
Gardner: "He looked fine. He made the right checks. You guys watch quarterbacks, you don't see all the inside things, like all the different checks you have to make and get us in the right play and things like that. I think he did very well. Obviously you have to watch the film to see the small things that he might have missed or that he did get, where he might have gotten plusses and things like that. You have to watch the film to see for sure."
Fitz, can you elaborate on the emotion of coming back? What did you feel like you wanted to show today? Did you feel like you had something to prove?
Toussaint: "I just want to say it's an emotional feeling. I just want to say I want to contribute any way I can for this football team. Protecting Devin, running the football hard. All that just goes out the window when it's time to come off the field. My confidence just steps in and my preparation steps in and I'm just ready to play football."
Was it a long road to recovery?
Toussaint: "Yeah it definitely felt like a long road, but I knew if I prepared right, that something good would come out of it."
Devin, what did you feel like you did well today, and for both of you, is this the kind of game you needed to have with Notre Dame coming up next week?
Gardner: "I felt like I managed the game pretty well. The two things I didn't do well was throwing the two interceptions, but aside from that, I felt like I was pretty efficient. Getting us into the right plays and making the throws that are there and making opportunities for myself when things break down. I felt I did well in those aspects. I just have to take turnovers away. I felt like those were like rust throws. I feel like this first game was a good opportunity to knock the rust off, because I'm pretty sure everybody knows the test that we have next weekend. We'll be ready."
Toussaint: "I would say, 'game spasms,' you know, just going out there and doing something you're not coached to do. I know that's going to come up and you try to eliminate that and play fast. I think that will be the key to winning."
Devin, were the two interceptions due more to decision-making or rust?
Gardner: "The first one was execution. I didn't execute at all. I made a bad read and threw a -- it was a decent pass but a bad read. The next one, I got hit while I threw it, so it kind of went far ... you can kind of control that, but not as much as you'd like to. Now I wish I had them both back, but they're done now. We're on to next week."
Do you enjoy making plays when things break down around you?
Gardner: "I mean, for me, I just like to stay calm, so when I'm running around, I'm pretty calm. My face is pretty straight. I'm not chaotic, and my head's not spinning or anything. I feel like my calmness allows me to help my teammates be calm. When they see me running around calm, like, 'Is he scrambling or is he not?' It's probably refreshing for them. When they get open I get the opportunity hit them, and if they don't, I just run."
Three new starters on the offensive line. How do you think they performed in the run game and in the pass protection?
Toussaint: "I think they did really well. Just like I said before, they really did well in fall camp. I think that really built chemistry. It takes [Michael] Schofield and Taylor [Lewan] to bring the guys inside together. I think they did a really good job with that."
Gardner: "Yeah I think they did a really good job. I don't know how many yards exactly we rushed for, but I feel like we had a pretty good day on the ground. Through the air, I had a lot of time to throw the ball, and I made the throws I was supposed to make. The way [Central Michigan] was playing, our linemen responded, because it wasn't what we saw on film as much. They showed a lot more pressure on second down and long distances. They didn't do that this game. [The linemen] adjusted. That's one thing that you might be scared of when you have three new interior linemen, when you adjust on the fly, when you don't see exactly what you've seen on film. They did a really good job of giving me time to throw the ball."
Trust between a center and QB is very important. Talk about your first game with Jack Miller as your center?
Gardner: "I mean, it went well. No exchange problems. Those are big deals. They're pet peeves of the coaches. You can't even start the play because of an exchange [problem], and we had no problems like that. Our protections were on the same page, [whether we were] changing the protections or keeping them the same. I feel like it was a great opportunity for us to show that we have a lot of chemistry."
The offensive line gave Devin a lot of time in the pocket. Can you talk about that?
"Yeah I feel like that comes with practice. We've been working with those five offensive linemen -- the starters -- a lot. It's just gelling and knowing what the protections are and who to pick up and who to leave for the back."
How encouraging was it to see Fitz Toussaint in live action?
"That was great to have him back. He's a leader of this team. To come back from a leg injury, he's probably one of the best running backs -- obviously, because he's starting -- so it's great to have him back."
When do you start thinking about Notre Dame?
"Oh, I'm from the ChicagoLand area so everyone there is a Notre Dame fan. I'm just so happy. I can't wait for next week."
Did you start thinking about it when you got taken out of the game?
"Yeah, kind of when I got taken out of the game, I started thinking about how the Big House is going to look next week under the lights and with Notre Dame playing."
This is going to be the last time they're here for a long while.
"That's going to be huge. That's going to add to the atmosphere after the game."
You got 242 rushing yards. Is that the identity you wanted to establish?
"Yeah, that's what we want. We want as an offensive line to be a dominant rushing team and try to get more running back yards than quarterback yards. When we had Denard, we had more quarterback yards, but we wanted to get more of those running back rushing yards."
You were next to Kyle Kalis. How was he for his first start mood-wise?
"He was nervous at first, but everyone's nervous for their first start. But he definitely played pretty well for his first start out there. He helped me out on a couple turn calls on pass protection, laid some people out, so he looked good."
Did you get a sense for how this team will be different from last year's team?
"Like I kind of mentioned before, last year we were running with Denard. We're trying to focus on the running backs now, get those guys moving the ball."
MGoQuestion: How do you think the other two guys on the interior line did?
"I was really impressed with all three. All three of their first starts -- I know you're nervous and you kind of can tell during the first series they're kind of freaking out, but as the game went on, it was just football. They started just playing football."
Notre Dame has one of the best front sevens in the countries maybe. Was this game a big confidence booster for the younger linemen in preparation for Notre Dame?
"I think it definitely was, to be able to start off with Central Michigan and next week with Notre Dame. It's definitely going to help them out.
How was Devin in that first series? Did you sense that he was fired up a little more than normal?
"Yeah. It's his first game of the season. You're excited to play. We've been hitting each other all camp. It's the first time you get to hit a new team."
Did you notice him settle down?
"Kind of. Yeah. After maybe the third series he started to calm down and started being more like Devin."
Devin seemed most effective out of the shotgun. Did he seem more comfortable there?
"I don't know. I don't really pay attention to that much at all. I'm just blocking."
Do you feel like you've struck a balance between shotgun vs. under center?
"I think we definitely did, trying to balance it up and trying to keep teams guessing."
You had three running backs get a bunch of yards. How good is it to have that kind of depth?
"It's great. To not just rely on one guy to run the ball every play and get beat up. Now we have three guys, four guys, whatever it is to run the ball. You kind of take hits off each other."
MGoQuestion: A couple weeks ago I asked you if you guys ever tried pulling tackles in the run game. You said it really wasn't part of Borges's offense. Today Taylor pulled twice --
"Yeah we did that a couple times. They added that part I think the day after you talked about that, so ... it is a part of our offense now!"
Do you think Heiko was responsible for that?
"Maybe ... maybe!"
MGoFollowup: So what went into the conversation about running those sorts of plays?
"We ran those plays before last year. We just brought it in. It's not really a new play. We've done it a couple times last year and the year before that even."