News bullets and other important things:
Desmond Morgan and Richard Ash should return this week. Stephen Hopkins seems probable, Brennen Beyer is questionable, and Brandon Moore will be out.
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“Thanks for coming. It was good to win on Saturday, obviously. We have a lot that we need to keep doing better. I think we did some things better than we did a week before, but we’re still growing as a team in a lot of ways. We have to improve every week if we want to be the team that we want to be. So we just have to keep making progress from fundamentals, from techniques, everywhere across the board, do a better job up front on both sides of the ball. You’ve heard that many many times before, and you’ll probably continue to hear it. That’s where the game is played, and that’s where it starts, and for us going on the road playing a Notre Dame that’s 3-0 and has played very well -- they’ve been in tight games. They played in East Lansing well, they had a tight game with Purdue, won the football game at the end, so you look at them as a team and their front seven on defense is playing real well together. Disruptive. And offensively I think Everett Golson has done a nice job running the offense, managing it, a lot of tight ends involved, and they’re a good football team. We’re going to have our hands full, and we need to get a lot better as a football team.”
Can you talk about the test the offensive line will have against Notre Dame’s front seven?
“Well I think it’s going to be -- seeing how far we’ve come from game 1 to game 4 is exciting. There’s no question that’s going to be a test. They’ve been very productive as a football team, as a defensive team. We’re going to have to block the line of scrimmage. We need to do a great job with protection.”
Where would you assess where you’re at with the wide receiver position right now?
“You know, the one thing last week is I think that’s probably one of the better positions on our team from a depth standpoint. Last week, watching them block on the perimeter, I thought that was exciting. Most people don’t get excited about blocking, but I do, and I thought they did a nice job on the perimeter. I think Devin and his progress is coming along. I think Gallon is a tough guy and Dileo, not the biggest guys in the world, but they’ll go out and block anybody. That part of it was good, and the depth at that position is probably better.”
Your top two tacklers are your two safeties. Is that by design or do you need to get more from your linebackers?
“Well I think I’ll always tell you we need to get more from our linebackers, but when you play Air Force, your safeties have got to be guys who make a lot of tackles. I think the last week, Thomas was a little more involved, and it was good to see him because I think he can be a real playmaker for us. Has that ability. But I think some of it’s by design depending on what coverages you’re playing, and some of it, obviously, we’d like to see the second level guys and the guys up front get off some blocks and make some plays.”
Denard spread the ball around to lots of receivers. Does that speak to his improved ability to make the right reads?
“Well I think you know, number one, I thought he really threw the ball well. He had really two bad throws. The one he kind of, you know, darted out there to Devin on the one play instead of just throwing it. He kind of aimed it. The interception he was a little bit behind the receiver, but I thought he threw the ball well. I thought his decision making was really good, and probably when you look at it, it was good to see him put that and running the ball together.”
Denard’s not running the scout team, but will it help the defense that they’ve faced Denard when they’re defending against Everett Golson?
“Yeah I was thinking about that while I was watching the tape. We see a guy like that every day. We do enough live stuff one-on-one against each other that hopefully will be some similarities there that our guys are a little bit used to the speed, but you never know until you get in that environment.”
Are you expecting Moore, Morgan, Beyer, and Ash back this week?
“Um, Beyer, I’m not sure. Morgan should be. Ash should be.”
On the offensive line, how do you balance continuity with making changes?
“What we have determined to be our best five are playing. If someone else was better, believe me they would have stepped up, and that’s one of the things you want to see is that competition level keep going on so that there is a great competition at all those positions, but our best five are on the field.”
Can you talk about how much of a surprise Gardner and Funchess have been?
“Yeah. You know, I don’t know -- Devin didn’t really surprise me from an athletic standpoint or surprise us. We wouldn’t have moved him if we didn’t think he had the ability. I think the progression has been good. When you look at him block, he’s a quarterback, he never had to block. And now the toughness that he’s showing there. The other thing -- Funchess. He’s an athlete and can make some catches that maybe some other guys couldn’t make and also he’s a little bit of a mismatch.”
You’re finally playing a team that you saw last year in Notre Dame. How much do you rely on your experience with them from last year vs. looking at them on film this year?
“You know, you always personally, I think you always look at what they’ve done lately. It’s like anything else. They’re a different football team than they were last year, just like we are. There’s some similarities in some guys they’re playing, but at the same time from an offensive standpoint with Everett in there, could be a little bit different from when Tommy was in there. So that part of it, the first two games, they didn’t have Cierre Wood. He’s a definite playmaker. They had him last week. You’ve got to take what you see right now.”
Was last year’s game a difficult barometer because of all the turnovers and stuff?
“Well that’s the thing that they’ve done a nice job of. I think they’re plus four. Last year, the game before us, they were minus five. It’s one of those things where they’re doing a good job with the football, we’re not getting the football much right now, and that’s got to improve.”
How do you counter the fact that Notre Dame’s game plan will be to slow down Denard? Do you add new wrinkles to the offense?
“Well, you know, they obviously have some answers. They had some answers the first three quarters of last year, because we didn’t do anything if you will remember offensively and didn’t play really great defense. Al always does different things week to week that he puts in the game plan.”
How do you see Norfleet’s development in the backfield?
“You know … we’ll see, to be honest with you. He ran a couple jets in there. He’s a good athlete. We’ll see.”
You’ve been pretty critical about run blocking. How would you assess pass protection?
“Yeah we’ve got a couple issues, you know, a little bit more vs. Air Force probably. Maybe a little against Alabama, but for the most part, they’ve done a pretty good job.”
What’s your most vivid memory of playing in South Bend?
“Being up I think 14-3 at halftime and getting beat 28-24. Pretty vivid.”
Is there one thing you can point to on the defense that you can do to increase turnovers?
“Well I think there’s three things. We’re practicing the same way -- you do turnover drills and all that stuff, but we have to play tighter coverage, whether it be man coverage or zone coverage. You have to get pressure on the quarterback, and you have to get 11 bodies to the football. Those three things.”
What does this Notre Dame game mean to you personally, and how special is it to play in that stadium?
“This is a great national rivalry. We’re fortunate at Michigan because we have three great rivalry games. The storied history of both programs, on and off how this series has gone, I think it’s special. I think it’s one reason why you come to Michigan. To play in that rivalry.”
How frustrating is it to see UMass fumble the ball and not be able to recover it?
“Well I think there’s always pursuit and effort things that you look at and you evaluate. On that particular one, it kind of came right back to the guy, but at the same time, you’re always trained to evaluate that.”
What do you think of the venue of playing at Notre Dame? How intimidating is it or is it more about the players on it?
“It’s always about the players, I mean no matter what. Now you can always play on the road and being Michigan, you’re always going to get everybody’s best, and I think for us, it’s a night game, a home game for Notre Dame. There’ll be some things that will be loud, and we have to do a great job managing our communication and what we want to do.”
Why was Brandon Moore chosen to wear Ron Kramer’s number?
“Well because of his leadership. Brandon has done a tremendous job when you look at recognizing somebody like Kramer. There’s a lot of him being a great athlete here and obviously going on. I was a Packer fan, and I can remember watching him play, but for Brandon, he was a guy who we all thought as a staff really is a kind of guy that, you know, exuded kind of that leadership and character that you want.”
What is Stephen Hopkins’s status?
“Uh, he may be ready. ”
The new NCAA rule allows you to have four grad assistants instead of two. How does that affect your program?
“You have two more coaches on the field.”
Are you using them any differently?
“No. We have two more coaches on the field.”
In favor of the rule?
“Yes. I think it helps develop young coaches, too.”
Amara Darboh played some special teams. Is he working his way into the offense?
“You know, he’s done a nice job -- he had two tackles on the kickoff team the other day. He’s played some at wide receiver. He had a great block. I think he improves every week.”
What’s the biggest memory for you from last year’s Notre Dame game?
“I would say just how our team on the sideline was great throughout the game, communicating, believing in each other, all those things.”
What have you seen out of the tight end group to use them so much, and is this what you’d like to do with them in the future?
“I think with the development of the two young guys and Mike Kwiatkowski doing a good job, and I give Brandon Moore a lot of credit, because he’s been a real teacher to them, he’s done a good job with the young guys.”
What have you seen from A.J. Williams?
“A.J.’s a guy who’s mainly on the line of scrimmage. He’s learning how to play college football. Learning how to block and fundamentally and technique, and that’s a big part of it. He’s got great hands and he can run.”
How do you go about getting more sacks and QB pressures?
“Right now, and you gotta look at the Air Force game and you gotta take that one out of the mix, to be honest with you. I thought we had very good pressure against Alabama at times, with a four man rush. Obviously we want to be better with pressure. We’d love to have more sacks. We’d like to have more negative plays, tackles for a loss and those kind of things. I think it’s just like anything else we’re doing right now, it’s a little bit of a work in progress.”
How important is Frank Clark to your pass rush?
“Well I think him, I think Mario Ojemudia, he probably played as well as anybody up front last week. But him and Jake, when we put him down in our sub packages … Craig Roh adds a dimension in there, and Jibreel Black -- we have to count on all those guys.”
You went with Jibreel Black and Craig Roh on the interior a lot. How come?
“That’s something we’ve done since day one. Craig would play a little more outside because you had Mike [Martin] inside a year ago and Ryan [Van Bergen]. But Craig’s more of an inside guy because you’ve got Ojemudia, because you’ve got Frank Clark, Jake Ryan, and Cam Gordon.”
What do you think of Craig Roh’s play so far?
“I think he’s doing fine. I think we have to do a better job getting off blocks and holding the point better, but I think he’s doing good.”
Transition for Courtney Avery from nickel to corner, how is he doing?
“I think he’s a smart football player. That’s one of the best things Courtney has is football intelligence. I think we still use him some in the nickel situation as an inside guy, but competition on the outside with him and Ray will continue.”
Can you talk about Raymon Taylor’s progress?
“Ray is making progress, let’s put it that way. His technique’s a little better, his fundamentals are a little better, his eyes are little better, which are a big part. You play defensive back with your feet and your eyes, and I think he’s learning that.”
MGoQuestion: Will Hagerup has been booming punts these days and it often seems like nobody on the cover team is near the return man, which opens them up for big returns. Is improving punt coverage something you’re working on?
“Yeah. And I think the one that really last week was the first one when we pooched it. Matt pooched it down there and both of our gunners -- and they doubled both gunners -- which means someone else should have been clean. We’ve got to do a much better job covering. And the other one he drove, you’re not going to have great coverage if you drive a punt 60 yards.”
MGoFollowup: What can you do to improve it?
“Well I think you want to look at net punt, and number one is you get the ball up high enough, it allows some guys to get down the field, and it’s just getting off blocks.”
Is that an underrated part of losing Blake Countess?
“Blake is one of those guys that’s a starter for us. I hope we have a guy step up and Delonte does a pretty good job. He did a good job last year for us. Joe Reynolds is doing some of that for us. Furman. That’s a real pride thing. And it depends what kind of return you’re facing also. They were being double-teamed. They doubled both the gunners, that means it’s a six-man box, and you have to have someone in better position.”
UMass head coach Charlie Molnar developed his offense at Notre Dame. Does it help playing UMass before Notre Dame?
“I think they’re both different. There’s similarities in some plays, but personnel groups are totally different.”
How much of a challenge has it been to face so many different styles of offense this early in the season?
“Yeah. You know I don’t know if it’s a challenge. The Air Force one was the biggest one that challenges you, but you’re still playing blocks, you’re still, I think, setting fronts, and I’m just thinking out loud about rules and how you do things. It’s not that big a deal.”
You have countdown clocks for Ohio State and Michigan State. Do you do anything for Notre Dame?
“We talk about the series. We talk about the legacies of it. But there’s no clock.”
Would you like to see this series continue now that Notre Dame has joined the ACC?
“You know, I don’t know. They’re going to the ACC. They’ve got to do what they need to do for them. If it continues that’s great. If it doesn’t, then we’ll move forward.”
What do James Ross and Joe Bolden bring to the linebacking unit?
“A lot of inexperience and youth, but also two guys who have pretty good instincts.”
Where do you see that inexperience and youth the most?
“It varies from play to play to play-action pass.”
How important is the defensive line to allowing the linebackers to make plays?
“I think it’s really important. How you play blocks and how you demand blocks.”
You’ve mentioned work in progress week after week. At what point do you hope that you have to stop saying that? With all the young players, do you like that you’re shaping something for the future?
“Well I don’t know. I don’t know how much I look at it that way. We just have to get -- we have high expectations, and we have to get better a little quicker maybe.”
Is the middle linebacker spot more of a timeshare now between Kenny Demens and Joe Bolden?
“I don’t know that. They’re both going to play.”
Is that package-based?
What are your thoughts on the linebackers’ hair?
“I have more important things than hair to worry about.”
Are you getting a sense that your players are getting to where you want them to be?
“I think we’ll know more about us as a football team in the next two weeks.”
Are they responding to you saying that they’re not good enough?
“I think they are. I think when we meet with the seniors on Sunday and Thursday, I think they talk about some things that are encouraging.”
Knowing that you have next week off, are you going to be more physical this week during practice?
“We’re going to be kind of like we have been. We were physical last week, and we’re going to be physical this week practice-wise.”