“Anybody? You guys are always slow on the trigger.”
How hard is it to game plan when your offensive line is so young?
“It’s not hard to game plan. You just need to put the pieces together and hope like heck that under pressure your young players can perform. A couple weeks ago against a lesser defensive opponent, we did a pretty good job. But like you asked me a couple weeks ago, ‘Did you gain any confidence?’ I said, ‘I’ll tell you after this game.’ Well this brings you back down to earth on where you are against teams that you have to play – the margin of error against really good defensive teams is small. We had just too many errors put us in bad situations. And it wasn’t always the younger guys. The middle of our offensive line is young, and things come up sometimes.”
What’s the frustration level when the shots downfield are open but you don’t have time to get the ball off?
“Yeah. That is. It’s really frustrating. When you set it up that way, you know what I mean? And your protections are such that your blocking with seven guys, and in some instances you have six guys. It’s very frustrating you don’t get at least – and they’re going to get you sometimes. I don’t care who the team is. But by the same token some of your bombs have to land, too. Now a couple did, but not enough, obviously.”
You talked about avoiding disasters. But it seemed like there were a lot from the blitzes up the middle.
“Not just up the middle. A couple different spots. We didn’t have the disastrous play that put them with a short field, but we had some disastrous individual plays that put us in terrible down and distances. And again, I don’t care who the defense is, if you do that, that’s just not good. It’s tough on the play caller, it’s tough on everybody.”
Brady said Fitz is your better pass protector of the running backs. Did he just have a bad game?
“He’s always a willing participant knows what to do. With the younger players doing that now, it’s tough. When you put them in that situation – I told you from the beginning, the slowest thing to come for a young running back is protection. Targeting the right player and the right technique that comes with that. Fitz, we just felt like was the most reliable entity in there doing it. A couple times he did a great job, a couple times he didn’t. But for the most part he’s always willing. He never turned it down one time. So we just felt he was the best candidate to do it … I’ve never had a freshman running back be able to understand all the blitz pickups. They usually don’t totally understand it until the second year. And when you have a team like that coming from different angles, if you put a freshman in there you’re just setting him up to fail.”
Do you think Fitz missed any holes in the running game?
“I think he ran when there were opportuniites, he ran well. I think he’ll tell you there were a couple he’d like to run through. But it wasn’t like we were opening huge crevasses he was blind to see. I don’t think that was a blatant problem.”
Devin got beat up pretty good. Is this a game where those running backs really need to turn the corner?
“To a degree. But our plan was to throw the ball on first down more than we had, or at least more than we had against Indiana so we can efficiently run the ball during the game. Our approach was not to throw the ball up and down the field. The idea was to pick your shots and pick them at times that were less pass-predictable downs. What happened a lot of times, we got into some bad down and distances because of that, and the running game, no matter who it was, just never got going. The statistics are just flat ugly. A lot of those sacks, a bad snap, that’s a little deceiving, but we didn’t run the ball well.”
MGoQuestion: What kind of benefit does this kind of game give you moving forward as you prepare for defenses that are similarly disciplined and aggressive?
“Well, it helps the guys – hopefully they learn from a lot of what went on. That’s what helps moving forward, in terms of just the experience gain. That’s the biggest game. This kind of game can help a guy three or four games down the line. Maybe the next game, to a degree, and years to come. Because you’ve already seen something and didn’t do it right, now because that happened, that’s experience. A product of your experience is good and bad. So I think that’s how it will help them.”
Is Devin Funchess strictly a wide receiver now?
“No, I think we’ll just do like we’ve been doing. He’s been playing wide receiver the most, but we still package him in certain instances to play tight end and still use him as a blocker as a tight end in situations we know he can succeed. So we pretty much do as we’ve done. Because Jehu Chesson’s done some nice things in the game. Jehu’s not catching the ball, but blocking, too. Jehu’s a tough guy who’s mixing it up.”
What do you like about Funchess, and what would you like to see out of him?
“Just keep providing us the ability to make the big play, take pressure off Jeremy Gallon. That’s huge. Knowing that certain games, it’s going to be one or the other. Some games, maybe both. But that’s really it more than anything. Provide the type of threat we need to balance out our passing game, because that’s what he’s done since he’s come in. And he’ll continue to learn that. He’s still not quite there, but he’ll get there. He’s a smart kid and he’s tough and he’s very coachable.”
Were you restricted on what you could call because he was getting beat up late in the game?
“Not really. No. He was – let me tell you something. He was a warrior. He stood in there and threw that sucker. Some of the things I think people were ridiculing him for early in the year, the last three or four games have pretty much gone away. And this game more than any game. He stood in there and threw that ball. Defied the pass rush and was unperturbed a lot of times. He got rocked. But as a quarterback, you’re going to have a game like this. You’re going to take hits and it’s going to test your mettle. You’re going to find out if this is really the position you want to play. He came through. I was so proud of him when it was over. You’d love it to have gone differently, but in terms of courage under fire, you couldn’t ask for more.”
Derrick Green got only a couple snaps. Have you seen him progress?
“Yeah. And a lot of the reason for that was because of the pressure. You just put too much on him. He would have gotten more snaps if we had been better equipped to run the ball. But he’s made good progress. He’s going to be a good back. We just have to find a way to get him into games when the game is in balance and put him in a position to succeed. That was not one of those games.”
Would you like to see the backs get more involved in the passing game?
“Oh yeah. Sure. As we progress. And we had it a little bit in the season, where Fitz was getting some balls. You always like to see that, as much as you can. Get everybody involved if you can. But the problem you’re dealing with is when you’re sending backs out, you’re sacrificing pass protection.”
Did you sense frustration from Devin throughout the game?
“Not really. No. Not really. He was good. I talk to him every series. He was fine. When you go in a game, the way it was set up, we were going to take some balls down the field on them. The quarterback was going to take some hits. But we weren’t counting on that. But he was ready. He knew what we had to do to win that game offensively. It wasn’t going to be a clean jersey at the end of the game. We just can’t have that happen to him in that game or any other game.”
How does Nebraska’s defense compare to other defenses?
“Some similarities to MSU but not as tight [with the] safeties, but similar coverage. They’ll pressure a lot, they’ll blitz in certain situations. Their MO is a little different. They play some tight match zone, which MSU does too but not really the same way. So it’s a similar approach but not exactly the same. It’s a little different.”
What allows you to rebound after tough losses?
“Our head coach sets the tone for that. The one thing, working for as many guys as I’ve worked for, I’ve got a pretty good feel for how guys are. The team will react a lot the way the head coach reacts. The head coach sets the tone. The key to not losing a lot of games, in my opinion, or not going into the tank, is not overreacting. Reacting, don’t get me wrong, that game was not played well and there has to be a reaction, no ifs ands or buts. But not overreacting so much that you do something that pulls the team right in the tank. And he’s as good as anybody I’ve ever seen about making sure mistakes are fixed but not dwelling on it so much that the next opponent will beat you, too. That’s all of us. Don’t get me wrong. But the head coach sets the tone. That’s why working with him for five years, I’ve just seen him do this more times, and he’ll do it again. He’ll bring the team back in again. That’s just the way he is, and that’s the way he expects us to be.”
What specifically about him?
“Just his personality. The way he is. Do you want your leader to freak out? Do you want George Patton to go crazy in the middle of a battle and get everyone killed? No. He had a bad temper, and Brady does, too. So do I. But if cooler heads prevail at the end of the day – you can have your explosions – but at the end of the day when everything settles, if your leader shows a leadership composure … then generally they’ll recover. But if you go in the tank or overreact or do something, the players will follow you right into the tank. This job is a lot of ebb and flow. I mean, it is. Last week, what did we have? 700-and-some odd yards. This week? You can count on one hand. That’s this job. That’s how it is. How you react when you don’t do as well will determine how you do next time. If you panic and do a bunch of stuff that isn’t conducive to getting yourself back on your feet, you can lose a lot of games. I’ve seen that happen a lot, too. I’ve been a part of that.”
How did you react during the game? Did you ever despair?
“No. When you’re not protecting, it’s always hard. And then they’re crowding the box, too, so it’s hard to run. That can be frustrating. The thing about playcalling, and again, you have to keep your head as level as possible, otherwise you’ll do what I was just talking about. You’ll start panicking and start guessing at plays. Every series, you have to sequence what you have to do next, see what they’re doing, and hope that the kids are accounted for. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. You can’t lose your head. Hell, everybody gets frustrated. Several cuss words came out of my mouth during that game, but to be honest several cuss words came out of my mouth during the Indiana game, too. But that’s the job. If you keep your head level and not let your judgment get clouded, it gives you the best chance.”
If you could take a game like Saturday’s and take your young offensive line and fastforward two years, how different would it be?
“Oh it would be 100 percent different. A kid that’s played this game two years later? You’re looking at a completely different team. You’re looking at a completely different player. We went into Florida when I was at Auburn and started three true freshman offensive linemen and beat Florida. But they didn’t know what they were doing, they were just playing hard. Those same guys four years later won a national championship. That’s the difference. That position particularly – and all of them, don’t get me wrong – offensive line is so much learning and chemistry. Screwing something up, fixing it, working with the guy next to you. So many things. That’s why as much as we didn’t like having to shuffle these guys all year, you have to find the five that are doing the best job. Until you do, you’re doing the team an injustice if you’re keeping a guy in there that’s not doing the job.”
So you’re still set on those five?
“Yeah. We’re going to approach it just like we’ve done the last couple weeks. We could fire them and start all over again, and you’re asking for more problems. But if the same issues occur, we will put another guy in there. But you have to give them a chance to develop a little bit.”