Hey coach, how ya doin’?
“Better than last week, that’s for sure. It was good to get a win on the road. Glad that game is over with. Now it’s time to get these guys back at home and g et our seniors one of the last two times back in that stadium and play defense like we’re suppsoed to play.”
Can you talk about the early defensive effort in the game, particularly in light of having a new starter at quarterback?
“Yeah, I mean we understand the situation that we were in in that ball game, and we talked about it. That if you’re going to be a championship defense, then you have to do whatever you have to do to not let people score. It doesn’t matter how many times, what happens, turnovers-wise, where they get the football, then you have to stop them or you have to get the football back. And that takes everybody playing hard, everybody running to the football, and the biggest thing is you can’t give them big plays. You cannot allow in that situation someone to get a cheap one, and that’s what our guys preached. I was proud of them. Again, you hear us say this, we aren’t close yet, but they did do some good things. They did a really good job in the red zone. They did a really good job by the goal line, and that’s one of our big things is ‘Give me a place to stand, don’t let them in until they’re in,’ and we did that, but they shouldn’t have gotten there. That’s the thing we looked at. When we had a short field, we played pretty good at times, but when we had the long field, we let them get down there to make it a short field. We’ve got to get that corrected and we have to get that changed.”
MGoQuestion: J.T. Floyd has been criticized in the past for his run support, but he’s improved a lot recently. What has he done to step up that aspect of his game?
“Yeah, I mean he’s a senior. He knows what’s expected and he knows we’re counting on him, so you can’t have one phase be acceptable and another phase not be acceptable. You’re a total football player and there’s nobody on our field that you say, hey, he doesn’t have to be a run defender. In some of our schemes, that ball will come back there. I think he knew that and he’s been working very hard. He was tested and he’ll get tested again this week for sure.”
Almost two seasons in, how much of your defense do you feel like you’ve been able to install? Are there still things you haven’t taught them yet?
“Yeah … There’s always things that you can change. There’s always things you can tweak, you know. I don’t think in today’s football you ever want to go into a game and have everybody look at it and say, ‘I know they’re going to this. I know they’re going to align like this.’ Like I said once before, you don’t invent anything. Not in this game. You learn from everybody. There’s ways of changing defenses around that may look different but they’re really the same defense. I think we’ll always try to put our players in the best position, and if that means us tweaking things, we’ll do that for sure.”
What’s the biggest challenge that Northwestern poses for you?
“Well they’ve got great speed. I think we charted -- they have 20 runs of over 20 yards or more. I think they have 17 passes of over 20 yards or some number like that. It’s a classic example of if you want to be successful, you cannot allow big plays. They have very very fast players in their skill positions. Their running back, when he breaks, I mean, he breaks. You see some guys, they break and somebody runs them down. It seems every film we watch, we go, ‘Wow, they didn’t catch him.’ They’ve been very successful because of that. And the quarterback is a very very good football player. You make a mistake on him and he’ll make you pay. It’s not just with his feet, you know. It’s with his competitiveness, it’s with his ability to cut back and see the whole field, and then if you fall asleep, he’ll throw the ball in there for a big one. So this is going to be a real challenge.”
What kind of adjustments can you make to account for their speed?
“I think the biggest -- I don’t know if it’s an adjustment, but it’s a reminder -- the way you have to win is every guy’s got to play his position. It’s like playing old wishbone football. You better make sure you’re assignment-conscious, because if you don’t, if you fall asleep and you take what you’re not supposed to take, he’ll make you pay. So we have to be right on their A-game that way, make sure every guy is playing with great technique and great responsibility.”
You said you had some missed assignments a couple weeks ago. Did you improve last week?
“Yeah, we improved, but we still had too many missed assignments in this last game. It’s kind of frustrating because they all know what they should be doing. All you have to do is look at Jake Ryan. When the stripes on his helmets go back when the play is over with, you know he is hearing in his ears me saying, ‘What are you doing?’ He knows before anybody does. It’s being a fooball player. That’s not the worst thing. The same thing’s with Desmond, the same thing with any of our guys -- that’s the real plus. They all do know that that’s what they’re not supposed to -- it’s supposed to be done this way! Now we have to get them so in these big games, these games now, you have to make sure you’re doing it and taking care of business when you’re doing it.”
MGoQuestion: Minnesota couldn’t score in the red zone except on the one play when they looked like they took advantage of a missed assignment. What happened on that play?
“It was a man coverage. They were in an overloaded offense. They were unbalanced. The receiver that was supposed to be covered acted like he was blocking and acted like he wasn’t eligible and kind of snuck out the back side right there, and it was an example of us not taking care of an assignment. That’s what it was. There’s nothing that hadn’t been seen before. There’s nothing that if we ran that today, wouldn’t be covered. But at that time, at that moment, we didn’t do it. Those are the kinds of things that you can’t let happen.”
Does Northwestern play an offense where you’d put a linebacker over the slot?
“Their offense -- we’ll have the same package we’ve had for the last four weeks where we’ll be able to play sub a great deal for the speed on the field. We’ll also be able to play our bigger people for that purpose. Their offense isn’t one where we have to make these kinds of adjustments with personnel and that kind of thing. They make you make sure you’re doing your responsibility, whoever it is in there.”
What has Keith Heitzman been doing to earn more playing time?
“Getting better. Getting better, and again, it’s a product of practicing hard, going against our offense every day in practice, and a guy getting older. That’s what you want to see happen. You want to see guys right about now, ‘Boy this guy looks better, and this guy looks better.’ I think you’re seeing that in some positions.”
How do you feel about your depth on the defensive line?
“Well, I’d like to get a lot more depth. I’d like to have a lot more depth. I really believe that every guy that is in there that’s considered depth or is in there that’s considered starters, they’re giving it all. And they’re trying to get better. There’s not a guy in there that looks at himself as being a second stringer. That’s something you want to have happen is you want all of them to take ownership and know that, ‘I’m in there at a crucial time and how I play will determine whether we play championship defense or not, then I better make sure I’m ready,’ and that’s how we’ve always looked at it here.”
You say the defense isn’t close yet, but realistically how far away is it from being what you want?
“I mean, it’s a ways away. I mean, until we play error free, 100% effort, and great technique, you’re not there. There’s some real good techniques some times -- one thing I will say is the effort part of it, that’s been there. That’s been there. That part of it is there, and they know that’s the only way you play here. Now it’s got to be the mistakes and it’s got to be the technique. And you have to keep chipping away at that and keep erasing the technique mistakes and keep adding to the great technique, and pretty soon it’s there. And the good news is we still have time and these are big games to get it done, and that’s what our emphasis is going to be this week. We have got to play an A game, and I know they will.”
MGoQuestion: You emphasize watching film when preparing for opponents. Does it make it harder that Northwestern has had two quarterbacks and Kain Colter didn't play quarterback for a lot of the season?
“No, because we see enough film of him. You see plenty of film on both guys, so you know exactly what they have, you know what they do. No. It’d be different if he just came in the last few minutes of the last game. But we’ve seen enough of both of them, so that doesn’t affect us at all.”
Do you coach differently based on the way pass interference gets called?
“It might get you out of coaching faster, I tell you that. It’s unbelievable. It really is. It’s okay as long as it’s everywhere called that way, but that’s not my job to talk about the officials. We have to play better technique. And that’s what we talk to our guys about: [if] they called it, it was a penalty. We can’t have that. But that drives me crazy. It really does. You want them to be aggressive and you’ve got wide receivers nowadays that are 6 foot 4, 220 pounds, and you have a corner who’s 5-9, you know. What are you going to do? It’s like, roll a ball out on a basketball court and go for a rebound. What are you going to do? You’re not going to do it without touching somebody. We just have to get better at it. That’s the bottom line, and they know it. That’s the first thing I say to anybody that gets it. ‘Hey, it’s a penalty. We can’t have that. It hurts our defense.’ ”
Is seems like some of Minnesota’s wide receivers were able create some separation from your corners, but Nelson missed a bunch of guys. What was your take after watching film?
“Yeah. That’s been the whole year. I mean, it wouldn’t matter if our corners were fifth year corners that have started for four years. That’s something you always look at and that’s something they -- that’s why that’s a different position. You saw that. You may not have seen the three-technique get reached. Everybody in America sees that big, fast wide receiver get separation. That’s why it’s such an unbelievable position, and that’s why that guy’s got to play for us. And that’s that big play deal that we talk about that you cannot let that happen, however you do it, with technique, with alignment, with anything. We cannot let that happen in our defense.”
The sack numbers are still pretty low. Do you just say you’re not a team that gets a bunch of sacks and focus on something else?
“We’re going to get 15 in the next two games … Naw. We just keep doing what we’re doing. Keep trying. We’re pressuring as much as we have. We’re getting guys throwing it as much as they’ve always thrown it against us -- it’s not like nobody’s throwing against us. It’s just one of those deals where we haven’t gotten the quarterback on the ground. I’m always hoping. Each game, I’m saying, okay, maybe I’m going to break out of it this game. That’s a concern. I’d love to have a defense that’s leading the Big Ten in sacks, but I wouldn’t give up all the sacks if your defense doesn’t play Michigan defense. Sometimes when guys get a lot of sacks it’s because they freelance and they’re doing whatever they want to do and everything like that, and sometimes everybody sees the sack like we were talking about the wide receiver: they all see the sack, but they don’t see the times he got blocked or gave up a big run because he didn’t do his job, and that’ll never happen here. Our guys are going to play technique and play the responsibility and play team defense. And then as we get better, we have to get more sacks along with that.”
Does that change the way you call a game when you know your not getting a whole bunch of sacks?
“Mm mm. No. Not at all.”
At the same times, you are getting quite a few tackles for loss. Are you happy with the way you’ve been able to play behind the line of scrimmage?
“Yeah it just means the linebackers are getting great reaction. It means they kind of understand where the play is going. And it means the front is getting some knock-them-back. It means the front’s not back in our linebackers’ laps. That’s always a positive when you’re getting tackles for no gain or tackles for losses. That’s telling you your front is playing better football.”
Do you think Taylor Martinez is faster than Denard?
“No! Not even close. If they ran a race today, he wouldn’t even get in the medal round.”