You had to be happy with how you were moving the ball in the first quarter until you got into the red zone …
“Yeah. We got in sync pretty good. We had three drives of ten plays or more. Mix of run and pass was pretty good. I felt like we were starting to really get into sync and it was unfortunate. We’re not doing a good job of finishing drives. That’s our main focus for this week, particularly in the red area. This is not the first time it’s happened.”
Seemed like some plays were there to be made in the red zone, though.
“Yeah. There were some opportunities. There’s some opportunities, but it’s -- we have to run the ball better in the red area, too. I have just found in my experience as a coordinator that the best red zone years we had are the years we were able to rush the football for a touchdown probably about 60% of the time or better. That’ll really improve. It gets increasingly more difficult to throw it down there, obviously, because of the condensed field.”
Did you feel like Russell Bellomy was adequately prepared to be in that situation?
“Oh sure. But you can’t totally simulate that situation. That’s a tough situation. He knows the game plan and you teach him all those things, but it’s baptism by fire to jump into the situation. You’re on the road. You’re behind. You have a lot of things going on there. But in terms of his mental and physical preparation, he was certainly adequately prepared.”
Was the whole playbook open, or did you have to dial back when he went in or when things weren’t working?
“Well, when I say the whole playbook’s open, the whole playbook is open, but our approach is a little different when he’s in there. He’s not a runner like Denard, so you have to take a little different approach with him in there, but it wasn’t a heck of a lot different in terms of our thinking.”
What do you do moving forward to help him?
“First of all, you correct the mistakes. That’s the number one, so he understands -- he had some tough breaks now. He had a freak interception. I still haven’t figured that play out, and I’ve watched it several times. Another time the interception was when he got hit on a double move. The guy was open. And the third one was a bad decision but those are tough breaks, okay. But we need to correct the mistakes. Make sure he understands that an incomplete pass isn’t a disaster, and once you get to that point -- because he’s a smart kid and he digests what you tell him quickly. And as he gains more experience you’ll see a better quarterback. That’s really the approach. You can’t freak out, although you have to make sure he understands the importance of every decision he makes.”
“I didn’t [see] a lot of footwork flaws on Russell. He had a couple errant throws, and I think that was based on a little bit of footwork where he overstrided a couple times and the ball sailed on him, but it wasn’t like he was getting fidgety. He got sacked a couple times where he had to move in the pocket a little left, a little right. He actually stayed in his profile pretty good, make a couple good throws. All that stuff is things you’ll see will iron itself out as he plays more and more. He’s a very coachable kid.”
Hoke said Gardner was not considered at all?
“Yeah. He hasn’t taken a rep at quarterback in a long time. That would not be a smart move.”
What do you do differently when Bellomy is in the game? The offense seems to be so geared towards Denard’s strengths …
“Yeah. You just don’t do as much of that, but you still do that. Russ can run. Russ is not a wood man back there. He can actually get out of the way. So we just don’t do quite as much of that.”
Is it fair to say Bellomy wasn’t recruited to play this system?
“Well. Yes and no. He was recruited by other schools to run this system. He is capable of running this system now. You know the direction we’re going. We’ve made that clear, but there are certain things within our system he’s very capable of doing still.”
MGoQuestion: What was the conversation like between you and coach Hecklinski after the game regarding the receivers and their route running and ability to catch the ball?
“Well we have to do a better job of catching the ball. That’s number one. We haven’t made as many plays as we’d like to make. That’s one issue. That helps, you know, because -- the two things I think if I were to put my finger on them, the most difficult thing for Russ was we weren’t running the ball well and number two we dropped a couple of balls. That’s not good. That puts you in some bad down and distances. You see what happens where that wasn’t happening near as much in the first half with Denard in there. So that’s one thing, but we have to make some of the routine plays and help him out. We have to still improve our route-running and all those things. We go over every single play of every single game. We go over every single play every single practice. Everything that is done is critiqued. Talked about. The message is sent to the player.”
MGoFollowup: Is there a discrepancy between how they perform in practice and how they perform during the game?
“Sometimes there is. Sometimes there isn’t. I mean, the picture in a game is sometimes a little different than the picture in practice, not to mention magnifying the pressure of having to perform in those circumstances. I mean, press corner is a press corner. You have certain adjustments against a press corner. You have to run your route accordingly. You got corners off, you play inside, you have a certain way of running your route whether it’s practice or whatever. You just have to respond when it comes to it.”
The long pass to Roy Roundtree early?
“It was just too hard for me to tell. I don’t know, you know. I was just getting ready to call the next play. I was getting fired up. They overturned it. That’s officiating. They give you some and they take some.”
What did you see on Vincent Smith’s play that ended in an interception?
“I’m telling you to this day I still don’t know what happened on that play. I don’t know what happened. I haven’t heard anybody explain it to make me understand it. I mean, I’ve been coaching a long time. I don’t even remember saying that on any play. I don’t know what happened.”
What was the last time Devin took a snap at quarterback?
“I don’t know. It’s been a while. I shouldn’t say that. That’s not true. We’ve put him in a couple times, but I can’t put my finger on exactly when -- it’s probably been a couple of weeks. It hasn’t been since two-a-days or since we switched him, he hasn’t played at quarterback. [Ed: This last part was said very quickly, so I may have made a mistake in the transcription, but I’m pretty sure that’s what he said.]”
What made you come to the decision that you wanted him to make the full time switch?
“Because we wanted him to play wide receiver.”
So now that he’s going back to quarterback, how much do you balance that now?
“Well, we have to look at the reps and see where we can fit him. We see how the health of our quarterbacks holds up. But he’s got to do it now, because we don’t know what’s going to happen. Denard’s going to be okay, but who knows what’s going to happen the next snap? You have to find a way to balance whether you like it or not. I would prefer to keep it the way it is, but we’re just not afforded that luxury right now.”
Do you feel like you were playing with fire a little bit not repping Devin at quarterback?
“No, because how can you? It can’t be done. I’d do it in a minute if I thought you could do it. You can’t rep three quarterbacks and prepare him to play wide receiver, too. That’s impossible. There’s not enough plays in practice. You have to make a decision for how he’s going to help your team the most and go from there.”
Do you renew any cautionary advice to Denard about sliding and running out of bounds? It looked like he could have just run out of bounds on the play where he got hurt.
“Yeah, that was a weird one, too, because I don’t think it was a contact deal. I don’t know if he could have gotten out of bounds or not. He was trying to get as many yards as he can. It was weird. It wasn’t a contact injury, so … no. There’s times I look back on the play and say, ‘Get out of bounds.’ But that wasn’t one where I’d say he could have avoided that. If they had hit him and it had been an injury, then I might have a better case to say that, but I don’t think they did. I don’t think the injury was a result of contact.”
Hoke says Fitz has been “running hard,” but the ground game hasn’t been as productive as you’d like it to be. Where do you think the issue is?
“That’s one of them. Without a doubt. And because we are a running team, when we don’t run well we don’t play well. That’s kind of been the theme since I’ve been here. We’ve got to find a way to improve that against good teams. Against Big Ten teams. Teams that are going to try and take that away from you. Because the problem is if you’re not running the football well, you’re putting too much pressure on your quarterback. That’s at every level. Every level. It’s not just our level. It’s every level, pro football. When the team can’t run the ball, as good the passers those guys have, they generally render themselves ineffective eventually. You may get away with it in a game. You may get away with it in another game. Eventually it shows up.”
Can some of your issues be attributed to lack of depth, particularly on the offensive line?
“A little bit. A little bit. It’s attributed to so many factors. And again, I know the media, everybody always wants to blame it on one thing -- the depth, the quarterback, the playcalling, whatever it is. I heard Bill Parcells say this years ago. It’s never one thing. It’s always a bunch of things. As you go through, if you critique the tape and a game and you look at the playcalling, you look at the blocking, it bears it out … It seldom is the same guy making the error time and time again. I won’t say it never happens, but it’s usually a combination of issues that prevents you from succeeding, just as it’s usually a combination of issues that helps you when you do succeed. Depth, one issue. Not the only issue.”
Would you say it’s more the line or the backs?
“Again, I’m going to say the same thing, I think it’s a combination of everything. If I said that, that would be talking out of both sides of my mouth. There’s times it’s the line, and there’s times it’s the back. There’s times it’s the quarterback, and there’s times it’s the wide receiver. If you critique the tape, you’ll see. What I do, I go through every tape and I look at the play-kill charts. Why did the play not succeed? Who is responsible for the lack of the play? That’s what a coordinator has to do. And I’m part of that, now. Bad calls. Dropped passes. Missed blocks. Errant throws. Blah blah blah blah blah. It tells me, when we don’t play well and you’re asking all these questions, every number shows up on that chart at one time or another. It’s usually not one guy, but ten of them. It’s usually a combination of poor play.”
Rawls didn’t play again. Is he not at the point where he can really contribute?
“Well, again, I say it every week and I’ll say it again. We’re always looking for opportunities to get him in the game. Again it was just another one where we didn’t see it yet. We’ll play that game without commitment because I commit to nothing.”
When you don’t have a dynamic runner at quarterback, does that take away from what your running back can do?
“It can limit the quarterback run, but it doesn’t necessarily limit the running back. As long as somebody’s rushing the football, I said this in the past, it’s fine. It doesn’t matter that the quarterback’s gaining 200 yards. If you’re rushing the ball -- and our quarterback is a big part of running game. Just like in the old days in the wishbone, the quarterback is a big part of the running game. But when you’re not rushing at all, and that’s what happened, particularly in the second half of the game, now you got problems. You have to find a way to get somebody some yards somewhere for all the reasons I mentioned earlier.”
Have you been able to get a sense of the freshman offensive linemen?
“I think we got some really good young players that I think are going to make significant contributions before it’s all said and done, but freshmen are freshmen. A lot of times they just need some time to mature and learn your system and such, but I really like the kids we recruited.”
In retrospect, do you wish you would have burned some of their redshirts to give you more depth?
“No. No. No way. We went about it the way we should have gone about it.”
How was Russell after the game?
“He was okay. He was disappointed just like a couple weeks ago Denard was disappointed. But Russ is a composed kid for the most part. I’ve talked to him on the phone. He can tell you what’s going on. I never got the impression that he was shaken, you know. He’s just a guy who has to understand his position. You have to work out the stuff. Certain things in playing quarterback are game-specific. You can coach him all you want on the practice field. Talk about all the reads. Talk about the footwork. Talk about the toughness. Talk about the pocket presence. Talk about all the things going on. But until you get into the game and you see the bullets fly and you get hit a few times -- because we don’t hit our quarterbacks in practice, and that’s one thing that doesn’t happen at any other position now … no other position is not hit during the week -- and all of a sudden now, you’re live. Things are happening that haven’t happened to you, and you have to learn from those experiences. You’ll never, as good as you think some of the greatest college quarterbacks coming out of college are, they get into the pros -- and some of them are going through it now -- they are learning that it is a different game, a different scenario. A different dynamic once the lights go on.”
Brady said that Devin would have gone in only if Russell had gotten injured. Is that how you approached it?
“Our hand would have been forced, yeah.”
Will you take the same approach for the upcoming game?
“Well, we’re kind of playing this game -- we’re going to see. Denard’s going to play, but again you don’t know because of the injury, so we kind of have to prepare for any eventuality and we’re going to kind of compete for the backup if you will and see how that goes and go from there.”