“Fire away. Come on.”
Do you ever get to the point where you start beating your head against a wall?
“Oh yeah. Sometimes I do. I think everybody does with their job at one point in time. I’ve never had two back-to-back games playing so poorly. So yeah, absolutely. The one thing that you always have to do in my position is maintain your perspective and understand what you have to do to get better. This is – if you want to change the situation, change your attitude. Yeah, you might beat your head against the wall a little bit, but you can’t keep beating your head against the wall, because there’s another game to play …
“I don’t remember playing two [bad games] back to back. It’s bound to happen I guess at one point in time. WE have to think about what we’re doing next, not what happened last week. We have to fix what we do next by what happened last week as a reference.”
What’s the number one challenge you need to address?
“Right now we’re struggling to pass protect and run the ball. They go hand in hand. If you can’t run the football and you’re dealing with as many long down and distances as we are, it’s sharks in the water. You run into some issues. Any time we haven’t played well, any time we’ve struggled, it’s because it’s second and 12, second and 20, for whatever reason. You start looking at your play call sheet and go, ‘What do I call next?’ There aren’t a lot of third and 24 calls that are good calls.”
Do you find other teams using Michigan State’s defensive approach against you?
“To a degree. If you look back at our games, Indiana sent a lot of the same stuff we’re seeing in this game. The barrel crosses through the middle of the defense, the outside stuff. This isn’t a completely novel concept. If we don’t handle it, you know, then you just ask for more of it. And it shows up more. I guess, to a degree, yes, but it’s not like this is new. This has been really the whole season.”
MGoQuestion: Is it too late in the season to make more personnel changes?
“Well we’ve made so many. If we just keep changing, then you have new guys making new mistakes. Rather than guys that you think give you the best chance you have to win growing. You can change everybody, but it’s a recipe for disaster. We’ve done enough of that. We have to allow our football team to grow. With that, some growing pains. That’s just the way it is.”
MGoFollowup: For the interior offensive line specifically, you have four games worth of film on one group, two on another group, and three on this current group. Can you throw all that together and come up with the best personnel now that they’ve been given equal opportunity to prove themselves?
“Yeah. Pretty much. Yeah. We just judge who we think gives us the best chance to win, and that’s who’s going to play.”
MGoFollowup: Does that mean you’re going to stick to the current group?
“Yeah. Pretty much. Yeah. Until something changes. Injury or something changes in our evaluation. It’s always fluid.”
Can other guys have more of an advanced role though?
“That’s possible. Absolutely. Again, the flow of the game determines some of that sometimes. You have really good intentions sometimes, and sometimes the flow of the game doesn’t allow it, so we’re very noncommittal. We have people whose roles could increase, so we’ll see how that goes.”
How are defenses reacting to the plays that do work?
“Well the good defensive coaches put the fire out quickly. They stop the bleeding. If you hit them with something, generally there will be some type of thing done to overcompensate for that. What you need to do is be able to execute the counterpunch for that. That’s something that’s been an issue. We’ve seen some deals and we go back to the counterpunch, and because of our inability to execute the counterpunch, that puts us in bad down and distance situations. Everything we do, we document. Everything they do, we document. Hopefully you have a counterpunch to it, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t make any difference what your schematic is. If you can’t execute, it’s completely irrelevant.”
Is there a sense that you have the right personnel, but they’re not ready to run your system now?
“I don’t think there’s any question we have the guys here to run any system we want. But there’s a transitional phase now. We’re two years behind, really because we didn’t do it at the beginning. We have to start doing what we want to do. With that comes some growing pains, but at times it really looks like it’s got a chance. Also we tried to expand a little bit just so we could not be completely dependent on that. We’ve done that the last three or four games. We’ve got a direction we want to go, and that’s where we’re going to. When it does take, this program will be where we want it to be.”
So even though you’re struggling, you have to stay the course?
“Oh to a degree, otherwise you’re going nowhere. Particularly when you haven’t been doing it. Now, if you’ve done this from day one and you’re in this situation, you’re going to have to do some re-evaluating. But really this is the first year in its completion that we really got into some of the stuff that we plan on doing in the future. We’re still recruiting to those needs, too. That’s kind of the way it is right now. It’s tough. That’s tough for everybody.”
You anticipated growing pains, but have they been more significant than you anticipated?
“Yeah, this far into the season I thought that we would be a little … But like I said at times we’ve shown some real brilliance. I look back, and we’re always evaluating the tapes and looking at what we’re doing from the self-scout perspective, and I say, ‘Gad dog, we’re good at that!’ Our biggest thing is our consistency of play. A lot of ten-man football, a lot of turning guys loose or not being able to block them or missing a throw here or dropping a pass. So often it’s just not one guy. It’s more than one guy. It’s always. From my own perspective, not calling the perfect play, not giving them every play. It’s a joint effort when it works, it’s a join effort when it doesn’t. That’s just the way football is. It’s the ultimate team game.”
Do you think the interceptions early in the year have gotten into Devin’s head and making him unwilling to take as many risks?
“Oh yeah. And it’s an ongoing dilemma. At the end of the day, I’d rather he didn’t throw the picks. But we’ve got to find that delicate balance, where ‘Hey, you can still throw the ball away and not throw an interception.’ No, it’s been a great growing process for him. It’s been hard. It’s been hard for all of us. But this kid’s going to be a hell of a quarterback. I really believe that with all of my heart. He has the skills. He just needs to shore up his game. He knows where his deficiencies are. He’s a very coachable kid. In time we’re going to reap the benefits of a great football player, because he certainly has the skill set.”
What do you do when you realize you can’t pass protect or run the ball?
“Well, first of all you don’t mentally or strategically punt. You look at ‘How can that get better?’ Maybe it means simplify your run game, maybe it means throwing the ball quicker. We look at all of these options. We have to give him chances where the line doesn’t have to hold up forever, where we don’t have 20 runs, which we never really have anyway. Having to block a lot of different looks with a lot of different runs. All those things. We’re just trying to be as concise as we can in remedying this issue. Our experience helps in that. How we practice, how we go about all that, it’s going to be critical. And our mindset going into the game. All those things I think are a factor.”
MGoQuestion: Do you think lack of execution has made your play calling more predictable? One of the Nebraska players said he knew what the offense was doing the entire time.
“Yeah, part of that is post-game posturing. I heard that. Everyone’s got tendencies, but to say you’re calling out every play. I watched the tape. They’re not doing that, I promise you. I’d take that with a grain of salt. I’ve heard that twice now since we’ve been here. I could easily after several games say the same thing. I might be accurate, I might not be.”
MGoFollowup: Brady said the predictability thing was overblown, too, and that most offenses have elements that are predictable –
“Like I said, there might be a tendency, but I promise you they’re not calling every play. Because if they are, they were in bad positions on some of them, too. I would not take that too seriously.”
MGoFollowup: But is there something you can do as a play caller that goes above and beyond that normal level of predictability/unpredictability to help your players execute better?
“Oh yeah. All the time. We try to do that as much as we can. We run as many as 40 different looks at the defense in certain games. The biggest thing you’ve got to understand is it’s not about that, okay? That’s part of it. It’s about execution. Your ability to create successful plays that forces the defense to over-defend certain plays to run other plays. And we have not been very good that way, obviously.”