What’s the secret to moving the ball against this Michigan State defense?
“Uh. Well, the first thing you have to make sure is you don’t give it to them. Same deal, because they’ve done a great job of feeding off turnovers, either creating opportunities for offense or literally scoring themselves, which is amazing how many times they’ve done that. So that’s the starting point. Take care of the football and minimizing the damage, if in fact there is damage. Making what could be a bad play not into a disaster. That’s number one. Number two is getting your bodies on their bodies, making sure your plays get started, so you give your skill guys a chance to do what they do best, whether it be in the open field or around the line of scrimmage. Those are really key points. If you’re getting hit in the backfield as soon as you hand the ball off, you’re not going anywhere, and they’ve done a lot of that.”
What transfers forward from the Indiana game?
“Just efficient play, you know? Having open receivers, throwing and catching in the passing game, getting all your plays started offensively with your run game. Those types of things. You’re going to have a certain amount of plays during the course of the game that are going to be a little ugly, as much as you like to think that everything’s going to turn out exactly as you planned. Make sure those plays, A, don’t put you in such bad down and distance situations that you’re always fighting the chains, and that you’re not creating an opportunity for their offense by turning it over. That’s what we did on that game as much as anything. We had opportunities and we took them. As our offense becomes more and more efficient and understands more and more what to do, I think you’ll see more and more of that.”
Have you picked up any tendencies from their defense after playing them the past couple years?
“Oh, you study all you can, but he’s going to mix it up to where there’s not going to be a true, ‘Oh here it comes.’ You have to, as an offensive coach, make sure you take care of all the things they could do to you. If you don’t call the perfect play, can we still handle what they’re doing. I learned years ago, ‘What’s the contingency plan?’ If we can still handle what we’re not expecting at times – and again, if it’s not perfect, minimize the damage – then we’ll be okay. You just can’t put yourself in bad situations where they disasters, you know what I mean? They’ve fed off that all year. If we do that, they’ll feed off it against us. We had to be smart with the ball.”
You talked about getting run plays started. How have Erik Magnuson and Kyle Bosch stepped up this week?
“They’re developing. But the test is going to be much greater. There’s really to me not a great deal of carry-over from what we just played to who we’re going to play. This team plays a similar style of front and a similar style of coverage, but it’s much more a sic’em mentality where they’re trying to take everything away – short passes, long passes, as well as the run. It will be a completely different test in a completely different environment.”
Michigan State likes to pressure up the middle. What can you do to help your guards and center?
“Oh it’s a huge test.”
What do you do?
“I’d never tell you, but we always have a plan for it. That’s all I can tell you. We’ll have a plan for it. That said, it is going to test the core of our offensive line?”
Is that an area where Devin needs to be conscientious and not panic?
“Oh yeah. Like I said, minimize damage. If someone does make a mistake, just minimize the damage.”
You’ve talked about the battle at the line of scrimmage. What about the perimeter? Their corners are aggressive. How important is it for your receivers to get free?
“Oh that’s huge. You have to, because there’s going to be some instances where you’re singled up, and you’re going to have to get free. If we’re not able to do that, then we’re going to have to hold the ball longer than we want to, and generally something bad happens after that. It’s a joint effort, you know? Yeah it’s offensive line handling the A-gap blitzes or whatever, it’s the quarterback – it’s everybody involved. To beat a team that’s that good defensively, you need a stellar effort from your entire offense. Not just certain positions, because when a team’s good defensively, it’s because they can exploit a lot of different things. It’s not because they’re good at one thing. We have to play well at every position, play aggressively at every position, and handle the adversity of being on the road and all the things that come with it.”
What does Michigan State do to discourage teams from spreading it out and having to force it back up the middle?
“They don’t change a heck of a lot. If you spread or play tight. They’re going to pressure receivers, try and implement their blitz package and do all that, they’re a little further from the ball, but they’re still thinking the same. They’re going to stop the run and take your wideouts out of the game with their corners.”
Taylor Lewan talked about the physicality of this game. How do you ramp up the physicality without taking penalties?
“Yeah. That’s a delicate balance. You have to be smart, but then you don’t want to go in with the idea that you’re going to get pushed around. This is a figurative street fight. You want to go out there and match and exceed the intensity of your opponent. That’s the only way you’re going to play games like this. These aren’t finesses games, to me. There may be a little finesse here and there, but when push comes to shove, the winner is going to be the guy that’s most physical and won’t back down and still be smart and not throw punches when you might be tempted to throw punches. Whatever. It’s easy to get caught up in that stuff, but that generally doesn’t win football games. That loses football games, to be honest with you. There’s a composure that comes with your emotion that helps you win the game. But you do want to play with some emotion. Not going to erase that. Especially in rivalry games.”
When a game is as physical as this, is that all on the players to take it to them, or is there something you can do as a playcaller that puts them in position to do that?
“Oh yeah. At the end of the day it’s the players. I haven’t hit anybody in 40 years. So it’ll come down to giving them that opportunity, and when they get that opportunity, take advantage of that opportunity. But physicality, particularly offensively, being physical has to be matched with technique. Just coming off trying to kill somebody doesn’t usually work. There has to be technique, there has be fundamental issues that go with your physicality. I think when you do that, you really give yourself a chance.”
How much leeway does Devin have to make changes at the line of scrimmage?
“It’s just like any other game. There will be scenarios when we will. There will be scenarios where we’ll be locked into certain plays. It’s like that every game. It’s not anything different.”
You lead the country in yards per completion. Is that a function of Devin, your recievers, or something else?
Is it by design?
“It’s everything you said. It’s by design, who we have [catching], and who we have throwing the ball. To a degree that’s the nature of our offense. But we’re not a completely push the ball down the field kind of the team. We still throw the ball underneath the defense a little bit.”
Big plays may determine the game …
“Any game, just like Indiana, it wasn’t any different – some of your bombs have to land. But to depend on that the entire game is a little scary. If you’re just trying to heave the ball over the guy’s head all the time, sometimes it doesn’t work out. You’ll be in second down and longs. But there’s got to be some of that just like there is in every other game.”
Will adjusting to the level of physicality be an issue for Devin Funchess when he switches between tight end and receiver?
“Well it’s good for him. He’s been in tight and he’s been out wide. The physicality shouldn’t bother him any. He’s used to it. He doesn’t really – he’s played more tight end in the box than he has out wide.”
Do you need to worry about Jeremy Gallon?
“No. Jeremy Gallon will show up. I’ll promise you that. He’s exactly the demeanor you want for a game like this.”
Are you pleased with the way practice has gone the last two weeks in terms of intensity and execution?
“Yeah. It’s Michigan State. You can feel that. Kids looking forward to playing the game. And they’re going to compete. I don’t have any doubt about that. They’re going to come out there and compete. With all respect for what they do, we’re going to come out and compete.”
Do you simulate a street fight atmosphere?
“We do our best. Heh heh. Sometimes we literally have them.”
How’s Kyle Bosch doing with that?
“Bosch has no trouble simulating the street fight atmosphere. Heh. Taylor Lewan. That’s easy for them. It comes natural. But you know, you play a team that you know you’re going to have to play that way against, and the message is being sent loud and clear by everybody involved. Usually it’s kind of reflected on how you practice, whether it be hitting after the whistle a little bit. As long as it’s during practice. We can monitor that. We have to be smart when it counts.”
Do you and Mattison throw punches at each other?
“No. No. Are you kidding? We’re a little too old for that. I always tell the guys I have one fight left in me, and I’m not going to use it on Mattison.”
Do you like this?
“Oh yeah. I love it.”
You’re known to be more of a finesse guy.
“I don’t think so. I think it just depends. If you look at my background, there’s years we’ve thrown the ball more, there’s years we’ve run the ball more. It’s all been based on personnel. But at the end of the day, I love mixing it up and I like all the other stuff, too. I said this before. I think good offenses are the perfect mix of finesse and physicality. Not too much of one or the other. But as a competitor, as a human being, I love these games. I love it. This is why I coach. Just personally. And I think all our guys feel that way. I don’t think it’s just me. I don’t think everyone feels that way. These are fun games to play.”
What are you looking for from the tight ends who have to make up for AJ Williams’s absence?
“We have the next guy up. You kind of treat it like he got injured, and you just move on. We had that happen early in the year and he missed a game. This isn’t a completely novel concept. Can’t make too much of that. I feel bad for the kid. He made a mistake. He knows he made a mistake – he made a bad decision, not a mistake. And now he’s paying for it, and we’ll move on from there.”
Will you move Funchess inside more?
“I wouldn’t tell you if I was. Would you tell me [if you were me [then I’d be you, and I’d use your body to get to the top]]?”
“It’s fair to ask. But I’m not going to answer that.”