“Another week. How are we doing?”
What was the biggest takeaway after reviewing the film?
“Well, individual breakdowns. We had a lot of individual breakdowns that caused a lot of three-and-outs, you know? Too much 10-man football. It’s the same story. When we don’t play well, we don’t get in sync, and a lot of individual breakdowns that caused that to happen. At this point in the season, there’s just way too much of it. We’ve got to go back to work and see if we can get something fixed because we’ve got the biggest game of the season coming up.”
Brady implied that it’s a different guy every time?
“Yeah. It is. It’s a lot of – it’s different guys. When you go through the play kill list, a lot of guys are popping up. We’re just not playing in sync, and that’s my responsibility. We’ve got to find a way in this football game and whatever games are left to get back in sync. There’s a good offense in there. There’s a darned good offense that hasn’t shown up in a while.”
Is confidence gone in a lot of guys?
“I don’t know that the confidence is gone. If you’ve gone the whole season and you’ve never done anything to believe that you can do something, then that type of stuff can happen. But this team believes they can move the ball. As long as that’s intact, you’ve always got a chance.”
Devin was extremely emotional after the game. Do you have to rework his thinking?
“Oh yeah. We talked a lot today. So much of what you do goes on the quarterback, goes on the play calling, and goes on everything. That goes for the job. You sign up for that, you know what I mean? So you have to be strong and be able to deal with that, but it’s certainly not all Devin Gardner’s issue. We’ve got a lot of individual breakdowns that are keeping up from being the type of team we can be offensively.”
Have you seen a common reason for why the offense is out of sync? Any underlying issues?
“No. I wish. If there was, you could address it right away, but it’s a lot of individual breakdowns, and it’s coming from different areas. A guy goes left when he should go right, dropped passes, I mean everything you could imagine. We found a way to mess up a lot of things. That’s usually it. No, there is no common deal. And believe me, as coaches, we tear it up one side down the other to find out what it is because you can directly address that by pulling out a player or completely changing a scheme. Bottom line with us right now is we’re just not in sync. We’re not converting third downs. We played half the season, we were 49%, one of the top in the country a year ago. We could score in the red zone. We were one of the top 10, top six or seven a year ago, and we were doing that type of – and somewhere we lost it. It’s my job to figure out where and get it fixed. We have the biggest game of the season coming up.”
Do the individual breakdowns that happen in games happen in practice?
“Some do, some don’t. Some are game-specific. In general, it’s just a lot of inexperienced players. They’ll do it right in practice, but they get in a game and panic or do something that you never would have thought would have happened. As guys become more experienced, those things tend to go away. But some of them are happening in practice, yeah. But some of them aren’t. As a football coach, that’s very difficult to deal with because you want to believe you can correct the errors before they can happen, but then sometime in a game you have to – you see something that you never guessed would have happened. That happened several times last game. You go, ‘Oh my god, where did that come from?’ I hope I answered that question.”
With Devin, you said earlier this season that he rarely makes the same mistake twice. At this point in the season, is he starting to repeat his mistakes?
“Some of it has been trying to make a play. As a play-making quarterback, which he is, and I’ve said this before, you just need to be able to use good judgment. Give the play a chance, know when to check the ball down, know when to not take a hit that you may not have to take. And he’s still kind of learning that. Every quarterback is always a work in progress. But he’s not making a lot of the same mistakes. It’s just every week it’s a different scenario, it’s a different game, and different people are attacking you differently. There’s a lot of on-the-job learning, and he’s had to deal with that quite a bit. At times, when the protection hasn’t been as good, that has an effect on him, too. I think it would on any quarterback.”
Is he a better quarterback now than he was at the beginning of the year?
“In some ways, but in other ways, no. His understanding of the game has improved, but we’re not getting the performance that he would want or anybody or want. He’s understanding the offense better than he ever has, but you know, we just need from his position and every position a more consistent performance. That’s keeping us from being what we can be. It’s really an interesting thing. So many of the things that we had done well we’re just not doing well. You know, you have to give the other team a little credit, too, but some of this stuff is not being defended as much as it’s us being inefficient at times. We just have to keep plugging away and do what we know is the best thing to do. We work our butt off and correct each mistake and keep our head up and know that there’s more games to be played.”
Have there been other seasons when your offense has regressed like this?
“Never four games in a row. I don’t remember exactly. I’d have to look back. But no. I don’t ever remember us going like this. You have better offensive years than other years, because never do you have exactly the same amount of talent every single year. But we’ve sputtered so badly in the last four games that I don’t ever remember it being like this.”
Greg was saying that he tunes out what fans say about the coaching staff. How do you approach that?
“Some of the same way. If I internalized everything fans said, I’d slit my wrists. You can’t do that. This job is about being thick-skinned. We win games and people still complain. That’s the nature of the job. That’s why they pay us, and that’s why we do what we do. We have to be beyond all that. We have to be stronger than all that, you know? I just know – and with experience, and Greg’s done this a long time and I’ve done this a long time, I promise you that other places I have been that my first name’s been a cuss word, this isn’t the first place where that’s been like that. That’s just what goes along with the job. You’re never going to make everybody happy, but you do your best to help your team win. That’s all.”
During the Northwestern game, it seemed like the offense was taking a step forward. What happened this week?
“Well we did not do as good a job in this game. It’s just that simple.”
You changed the lineup a bit …
“I don’t think that was it. I just don’t think we were very efficient. I don’t think we were always technique-sound. I just think we had some problems up front and in a lot of different places. It wasn’t just them. It was a lot of different things. That’s pretty much it.”
Is the negativity too much to avoid?
“I just don’t read the paper. I’m sorry. I don’t. I haven’t since 1993 when I was at Boise State. I used to read the paper all the time, and then in 1992 we weren’t very good. I had been a coordinator for about seven years, and it had gone pretty well. I didn’t mind reading the paper. But when we were there and weren’t very good, I remember my papers piling up in my pantry, and I wouldn’t even look at them after a while. I haven’t had one since 1993. I don’t listen to talk shows. Off-season I will, because I like baseball, but during football season I don’t listen to that stuff. If you want to be miserable … People are passionate. That’s what makes it great, though. I did an interview for a book about coaching and the guy asked me, ‘Why do you think people are the way they are?’ Because it’s important to them! They care! That’s why Michigan’s great. People care, and they’re always going to care. That’s what you want. You want them to care. But with the caring, comes the passion, and with the passion comes the criticism, and that’s just part of the job. That’s the way it goes. You sign up for that.”
Devin has taken a lot of physical hits throughout the last month. Has his confidence taken a hit?
“You know? I don’t think so. I don’t really think so. I watched him last week. He’s battling until the end, now. If his confidence is gone or lost or anything, it sure isn’t showing up when he plays. He’s still aggressive and competing and doing all those things. I mean, ask him, but I don’t – if I thought his confidence was gone, I’d put another quarterback in.
Disconnect between practice and game performance?
“Things are moving so fast. Things move so much faster in a game than in practice, and all of a sudden that scout team wasn’t moving quite as quick as the guys you’re playing against, and something you’re supposed to do, you don’t respond. And again, it happens more to players who haven’t played as much. Players who have played a lot, they just respond better. It’s natural with experience. But with players who haven’t played much, it tends to be, ‘Oh god, you did something and I didn’t expect you to do it that fast.’ Something happens, and that’s usually it.”
This late in the season when you don’t have a championship to play for, are you focusing more on player development?
“Not this game. We’re going hell bent for leather to win.”
Has there been in the past few weeks?
“No. Not really. We don’t play for the future. We’ve always got our eye on the ball. Whoever the opponent is, we’re going to put in the best players to help us win. That’s it. If it develops guys, great. If it doesn’t, we’ll develop them later. That’s our number one goal, and everything we do is toward that end.”
Is the offensive line developing?
“Yeah. Again, it’s a work in progress. Just like so much of it. There’s been so many guys in there. It’s an unusual season. And that’s reflective of our performance. It’s an unusual season. I just don’t remember being this late in the season and still playing different guys on the offensive line. Why don’t we just put five guys in? Because five haven’t established themselves yet, or goodness gracious we would. We have every other year we’ve been in here. And everywhere else I’ve been. We certainly don’t like playing this shuffling game at any position really, but least of all the offensive line. But that’s been part of our problem. It’s been a big part of our inability to run the ball.”
You obviously don’t know how a season will play out, but what did you envision for this season?
“Well you’re always cautiously optimistic. We’ve had reason to be, because we had games where we had one hell of an offensive team in there. But our inconsistency just killed us. As we’ve gotten into November, it showed up more, and during the games you really need to play well, we just have not played well. We put too much pressure on our defense. At the beginning of the season, we were very optimistic, for very good reasons. Still optimistic, believe it or not. You can call me the eternal optimist. I believe we can come out the last couple games and play great offensively because I believe that’s what we’re capable of. It’s not like we’ve been terrible in every football game. In fact, at times, we’ve been prolific. It’s there, we just have to get it back. It’s that simple.”
Does the situation on Saturday lend itself to more risk taking?
“Whatever it takes to win. We take risks, we don’t take risks. Whatever it takes to win. At this time you’re just trying to find a way to put a plan together that we can execute and beat the opponent.”
Has Brady become more involved in the offense as the year has gone on?
“Brady is always involved in the offense.”
Has he been more involved? Has it changed?
“Not really. No. He monitors. We sit down every week and we go through the plan, we go through personnel. Brady’s involved more on the defensive side of the ball because that’s his background, but Brady touches every player on this team in some way, shape or form with regard to motivation and understanding what it takes to get the job done. He’s very very on top of what we do offensively, personnel-wise, scheme-wise, because we’re constantly communicating. To say if he’s doing more now than before? I don’t know. It’s pretty much the same.”
You simplified your schemes for Northwestern. Have you scaled down the number of calls?
“Oh yeah. When you’re not executing, to get more flamboyant is probably not a very good idea. You don’t want to be so doggone simple that it’s simple for the other team, and that’s where the delicate balance comes. But you have to be able to play fast. And if we’re not playing fast, we’ve got to find a way to play fast. The only way I really know to play fast is try to keep it as simple as you can make it so the kids will come off the ball and do the things you want them to do.”
Why does Michigan have a chance to win this game?
“Because anybody can win this game. That’s been proven. And we’re not a bad team. We’ve played poorly at times. I’ll be the first one to tell you that. But if this team wants to show up and go, I think we can play with anybody. We’re playing at home in front of our crowd, our kids are fired up to play this game, and if we do what we’re capable of doing, we can win this game. I don’t think we have to talk ourselves into it. I don’t think we need any of that. We just need to go out and do what we’re capable of doing.”