Have you noticed any difference in Brady this week at all?
“Not really, no. I mean, it’s Ohio, so he’s fired up about that, but in terms of prep, no. It’s not just another game, but it is pretty much just the same preparation.”
How has the focus been?
“Well we haven’t practiced yet. We did a little bit Sunday, but it was off the charts. You can tell that there’s a little more pep in the step”
Was last Saturday as complete a performance you’ve seen from Denard this year?
“I think yeah, it would rank among one of the top ones. We’ve been encouraging him so much, and in this game particularly, to pull the ball down when guys aren’t open. And he did that, and it made a difference, so that helped us keep some drives alive. We’re going to continue to do that, but because the way they played their defense particularly … there were some opportunities to pull it down and run. He did [throw the ball], when there were open receivers … there were a couple throws that were a little ill-advised but for the most part he played a solid football game.”
What do you think has kept him from scrambling previously?
“Yeah, sometimes as a quarterback, and everyone I’ve had is like that -- they want to prove that they can throw the ball, but there’s a point where you have to use your skills. We talked about it before, I said, ‘You have to use your skills more. You have great skills. Let’s make these guys pay for some of this stuff.' He took it to heart. Here’s the delicate balance: you don’t want to turn down open receivers. If you start looking to run every time you drop back, you can’t pass the ball. You can’t do that. That has to be something that’s instinctive or just comes from a result from the receivers being covered. But you can’t drop back and say every play’s a quarterback draw and then if somebody’s open, throw it, and expect to have any sort of passing game. That’s absurd. I don’t care how good the running quarterback is. That being said, where does one start in the other end? But in this game we were a little more quarterback-is-going-to-be-the-check-down oriented. And we’re like that anyway.”
(more after the jump.)
You’re close to having two 1,000-yard rushers. How improtant is that, even for vanity purposes?
“Well, again, numbers. I’m telling you. I try as much as I can, unlike earlier in my career, to not be so obsessed with numbers. The thing about it is what we wanted to do, without putting a number on it before this season, and I think we’ve accomplished some of this, is balance the offense out a little bit. I mean, everybody wants Denard to run the ball every play, but we don’t want Denard to run the ball every play. He’s not going to make it through the season doing that. We wanted to find a back. Now it took us a little while to really find the guy, but Fitz surfaced, and now he’s flirting with 1,000 yards. I think that’s awesome because it takes pressure off Denard. But his numbers take a hit as a result of it. That’s okay. … To answer your question, we’re more balanced running with two guys able to run the ball and have those kinds of numbers, it just presents more of a threat to the defense.”
Why do you think it took you some time to find that balance?
“Well, no one had surfaced. What we just decided a few games back was that we were just going to keep him in there. Other than spelling him with Vince in some nickel situations and that type of deal, let’s just keep him in there and see what he does. Fitz had shown some flashes of being a really good back, but he had not really been consistent enough to say, ‘Okay, it’s you.’ And I think most people would agree with that if you watch us. He’s doing some stuff, but he’s not really … well we just said, ‘Let’s keep him in there, let him play, and see what happens.’ And he got stronger as the game went on, and like so many backs, like I’ve been pounding the table for since I got here, he’s that guy that I think can tote the ball 20 times and get over 100 yards. And it’s just helped us so much. I can’t even tell you. It makes such a difference.”
With the growth of Denard and the emergence of Fitz, does that make you look forward to the future?
“Sure. Yeah. Oh yeah. Absolutely. Particularly maturing in the offense and having those weapons on top of that. Now some other people are going to have to come to the surface down the road, but yeah, absolutely. Some of the goals we wanted are starting to really show up. Possessing the football, not turning the ball over, winning the turnover battle week in and week out, being able to score 30+ points, and hopefully help our defense as much as we possibly can. Defense is playing fantastic. The result is nine wins. That’s really the goal. The goal is not to go out and get 500 yards a game. If we get 500 yards, and that’s what it takes to win, we better do it. But the goal is to go out there and take care of that football, rush the football, have some balance, don’t depend on one player all the time. That’s our approach, right wrong, or indifferent. People can agree, disagree, whatever they want, but that’s how we’re going to go about it until the scenario dictates that we simply can’t.”
What’s the key to holding onto the football for 41 minutes?
“Fundamentals. We got some turnovers, too. Our special teams played off the charts, now. Danny [Ferrigno] did a great job of game planning. We had some turnovers, they lost some possessions, and we ran the football 61? 61 times. And not all of them were beautiful, but some were. When you can do that and convert on third downs, which we did pretty good. That’s another thing I mentioned -- you like to be around 45-plus percent third down conversions, and we’re above that this year. That keeps moving the chains. If you get stopped on third downs, and you look at the games we lost, that’s what happened, is we’re not moving the chains, we’re not getting more turns, but that’s how you possess the ball for 41 minutes. You get turnovers and third down conversions. Even if you don’t score points, you can still win a low-scoring game simply because you have the ball and they don’t.”
MGoSetup: You’ve been talking about the offense playing “10-man football” the last two weeks. Did you see any of that against Nebraska?
“A little bit, but not like it’s been. Our biggest problems the last couple weeks in 10-man football have been in the red area. We did not have but very little of that in this game. We were five for five in the red zone, and a lot of that went away. It’s not just in the redzone, but it shows up there the most. Those are the ones I remember -- the fans remember the most is when you get down there and you don’t score.”
MGoActuallyWhatIWantedToTalkAboutWas: There were a couple plays where a defensive tackle or a defensive end went into the backfield unblocked. It happened on the very first play …
“Yeah we had a bust. We had a bust on the first play.”
MGoFollowup: Whose assignment was it to block him?
“That’s not important who. It was a bust. I’m not singling anybody out. But yeah, we had a bust. And truth be told, it was a communication problem. It wasn’t just one guy.”
MGoFollowup: Later on, for Denard’s interception…
“That’s a fluke. The ball got tipped. We had a screen set up beautifully, too. I mean, it’s not a fluke, they made a play, jumped up and did it, but that happens.”
MGoFollowup: Was someone supposed to cut him or block him?
“Yeah we were supposed to hit and extend on the guy and slow him down. We want him close to the quarterback, now. Screens never work unless people are close to the quarterback. They have to be. But, you just have to drop it over the top of him, but he’s a big tall guy. You know, that happens sometimes. Again, I could throw all those screens out, but that wouldn’t be very smart, as unfortunate as it is. It’s a tough thing to coach too now, to tell a guy … throwing screen passes is either a basketball free throw or a dart, and it’s all dependent on how the rush shakes out. It depends on how the lanes are. He tried to drop it over the top, the guy tipped it, and, you know, it happens sometimes.”
Are you happy with your turnover margin this season?
“Well, I don’t know. What’s our turnover ratio?”
“Plus six. Most coaches would tell you they’re happy with that. Now I’m not happy with the interceptions. We’ve had too many interceptions. Again, that’s growth in the offense. Some ill-advised decisions, but it’s going to happen the first year. Our turnovers have not been so egregious and it for the most part hasn’t lost us two football games. It can always get better. If there’s one turnover, that’s too many as far as I’m concerned. That was a huge goal, because you know and everybody knows, if you can take care of the ball and get more turnovers than you give up, you have a great chance to win it. It’s one of those statistics that relevant to winning, which is the most important statistic. Total offense is irrelevant, really. It’s not irrelevant, but it’s not huge -- but holding onto the ball, converting third downs, rushing the football, all those things are things if you look at over the years, they’ve made a difference in winning and losing. So that is a relevant statistic.”
What have you seen from the Ohio State defense?
“This isn’t any coach speak here -- this team’s as good a defensive football team, if not the best, that we’ve seen. That’s a fact as far as I’m concerned, anyway. They play hard. They play tough. They keep their team in every game. They will be a huge challenge. They’re very well coached. They have made their reputation at Ohio State over the years on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve had good offensive teams, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t remember the last time they had a bad defensive team. I have total respect for the years I’ve had to coach against Ohio State, and they’ve always played good defense. They possess a package that can pressure you, they can back off and rush four and still get some pressure there. They’re stout against the run. They play with their hands real well. This team is real, defensively.”
You’ve coached in a lot of big rivalries in your career. Is there something special about this one?
“Oh yeah. This is awesome. This is, oh my goodness. I mean, this is going to be cool. I was in the Auburn-Alabama Iron Bowl four years, and they’re always arguing over there whether Michigan and Ohio State is bigger than Auburn-Alabama. Now first-hand, after I go through it, and I want to go through it a couple years before I draw any conclusions. I can find out, but I’m starting to feel what it’s all about this week. This is … this is why you coach. This is why you play. This is why you write.”
How have you seen Kevin Koger grow this season?
“Countless ways. Kevin Koger’s a solid football player. Good blocker. Very fundamentally sound. Coachable. He will try and do everything you tell him to do. When we’ve thrown him the ball he’s basically caught it with very few drops. He is what a coach is looking for: a guy you can count on. If you say, ‘This is your assignment, get the assignment done,’ there is a very very good chance the assignment’s going to get done. As he’s grown more and understood what we’re doing, he’s gotten better and better. We wish we had him another year, because you would see more productivity in our passing game.”
Is he the type of tight end going forward in your program that you want in this offense?
“Yes. Yes. Yes. Exactly, I would say. Yes. No question. He can move, he can play stationary, he can do it all. He’s a good kid, good leader, too.”
Denard said he can be a little excitable during games. How do you get him toned down for such a big game?
“I’m not going to throw water on him, but in a sense, you kind of have to let Denard be Denard. I really believe that with players. As long as they’re focused. Focused, that’s key. If they’re focused you have to kind of let them kind of be themselves, and as long as they don’t do anything to embarrass the team, he never does any of that. Let Denard be Denard. Let him prepare how he prepares. If he gets too excited, I’ll know it in warmups and I’ll talk to him. I’ve done that before. But don’t put the fire out.”
Is that a natural progression where you had to tell Denard to stay in the pocket at first, and now you have to tell him to scramble?
“Well your footwork kind of tells you how to do that. You drop back with the intention you're going to throw a pass. You have certain mechanical issues with your feet, and you can always tell what the guy’s thinking by his feet. His feet will tell you exactly what he’s thinking. They’re all fundamental issues. Then at one point, everything is trumped by your instincts. If you don’t see the throw, you don’t like the throw, we have structure within the improv, but sometimes I’ve coached that structure and some quarterbacks can’t get out of those messes. But his instincts have to tell him, ‘Okay it’s not there, this is my next move.’ There’s only so much of that you can coach, too, because he does some things, as I’ve said many times, that I don’t coach or anybody else has coached.”
You’ve worked with a lot of different quarterbacks -- has it been a challenge coaching Denard?
“A little bit. A little bit. Here’s the deal, when you’ve caoched what is in essence a prototypcal drop-back passer, there’s a certain style of play that goes with that. But I haven’t had all prototyical drop-back passers. Not all of them, now. Some of them -- none of them were like Denard because none of them were that fast -- but some of them had the same traits. When you coach a kid like that, you don’t want him A to be too robotic … [by saying] ‘It’s gotta look exactly like this, the ball’s thrown at exactly this time,’ but certain routes, yeah. You always want to time your throws, but a kid like Denard and a couple other kids I’ve had, we spoke more about him being the checkdown rather than a receiver being the checkdown because they do possess some skills that other quarterbacks don’t. You have to revert back to that thinking, and yes it can be a little bit challenging if you played with the same type of quarterback for a while, but I knew coming in he was a different kind of kid and would have to be approached a little bit different.”