“ ’Sup. Where’s your glasses?”
I didn’t want to look cerebral today.
“It’s up to you.”
MGoYouAreStaringAtMeButIHaveNothingToSay: So. Norfleet.
“You’re not even going to ask me about my daughter first?”
MGoOfCourse: HOW'S KINDERGARTEN?
“She learned about caterpillars. And you know what the word of the day is? Metamorphosis.”
They haven’t gotten to bubble screens in kindergarten yet? [Ed: This was not me.]
“Psh. Bubble screens. No. They blow bubbles.”
Are you expecting a metamorphosis from last year’s performance against Notre Dame?
“I’m hoping it’s better than that. Holy smokes that was just awful.”
What didn’t go right early last year that all of a sudden clicked in the fourth quarter?
“Well we completed some passes. That’s the thing, when people are crowding the line of scrimmage like that, kind of forcing the issue. They were keenly aware of what Denard had done the year before. They restructured their defense to kind of stop him and force the issue with the passing game. We just weren’t early on completing many. We made a couple adjustments at halftime with the run game, and it helped us a little bit, but they played good, too. They came out ready to play and, you know, we were still so unpolished at that time -- not that we’re real polished now, but we did not play well at all and they played well.”
Would you say that passing remains the key on Saturday?
“Mmhmm. That’s the key to any game, with our quarterback particular because of his running ability, and if you look at the last two games, what’s the difference between the first game -- well obviously the opponents weren’t as good as Alabama, but if you just look at it from a production standpoint, the passing game was better, hence the entire offense is better.”
With the two Devins, it seems like the receiving corps is a little more diversified. Does that help combat some of the things Notre Dame is going to want to up front?
“Mmhmm. Yeah. I think so. You got two guys out there that can go get it. Any time you have that, you got some playmakers that can create some plays when everything isn’t perfect. It makes a big difference.”
Denard’s improved throwing -- do you think teams are going to respect him more?
“Well, to a degree, but they’re going to respect him running first. That’s always going to be -- I mean that’s the theme of every defense. If you talk to any defensive coordinator, there’s not many guys who will tell you, ‘Well we got to stop the pass.’ How many guys have told you that? Now you have to stop the pass -- it’s not that they’re not aware of it, but it all starts with the ability to stop the run. Just like in our offense it starts with the ability to run the football. In other offenses that isn’t always the case. With us it is, and then it goes back to what Brady Hoke talks about, the war in the trenches that usually dictates whether you win or lose.”
Taylor Lewan said the offensive line needs to be more angry.
“Yeah I think there’s something to that. I think though that playing with passion but playing with passion together because of so much with the offensive line -- the five guys have to work in concert together and know exactly what each other is doing. We’re getting better that way, too. We are. We’ve improved that part of our game here in the last couple weeks. So we’ll see if we can take the next step because these guys are certainly going to be a test. They’ve got a really strong front seven. It won’t be easy, but we’ll see where we are.”
Did you know in camp that your receivers, including Funchess, were going to shape up like they have?
“Well if you think about it, going into camp, I think that the perception was that we had lost some key players, yet we knew we were working Devin Gardner at that position because we had done so much of it in the spring, and then Devin Funchess kind of manifested himself. We knew was a good player, but we didn’t know to what degree, and he didn’t play much in the first game. But it became increasingly evident that he had to be part of our passing game, and as Devin Gardner developed more at the position, he would hopefully supplement some of the things that Junior had done. Plus with ‘Tree and Jeremy, they’ve been productive players all the way through, and the two of our slots, too. We were never up in arms about our receiving corps. And the way they’ve developed, it’s made it even more so. I think it’s become a position that could be eventually of strength.”
Where do you want the running percentage to be going forward between Denard and the running backs?
“Well you’d like to balance it out. I’ve been saying that from the very beginning. Now it’s not always going to turn out that way, but you’ll see, there’ll be a game where Fitz will get more yards and Denard won’t get any, and then everyone will ask why Denard didn’t get more yards. That’s the way it works sometimes. He’s going to run more in certain games, and he’s going to gain more yards in certain games, and it’s going to be the other way. A lot of it, you have to understand, is how their approach is. If people really really want to stop Denard and have the ability the do it -- they all want to stop him, but just simply can’t. They don’t all have the ability to do it. But if you have a team, like Alabama, who has the ability to do it, then you’re going to have to have another dimension that attacks the defense. Ideally we’d like them all -- both of them to get 100 yards and get 200 yards passing, and I sleep really well, but that just doesn’t happen every week and isn’t going to.”
Does Notre Dame’s front seven have the ability to stop Denard?
“Well, we’ll find out. We’ll find out. I can’t answer that righ tnow. I know they’re good. They certainly looked good against Michigan State. I think they looked pretty good, and they looked good against us last year. So we have to assume that we have to come in with a good plan, and they’re going to be formidable and do all the things right.”
MGoQuestion: Can you compare and contrast what you see on film between Notre Dame’s front seven and Alabama’s front seven?
“I wouldn’t -- I think they’re both good fronts, but I wouldn’t compare the two.”
MGoFollowup: Is there anything unique about Notre Dame’s front seven? What do they do differently?
“Well, the inside linebacker Te’O’s an excellent player. Very active, always around the ball. Their front is similar in that they’re both three-man fronts, eat up a lot of gaps inside, try to make it tough for you to run the ball inside the tackles, so they’re similar that way. Both of them are physical fronts that run well and, you know, will cause us problems if we don’t take care of business.”
Have you ever coached a game in their stadium?
“No. I never have. I’ve watched them on TV since I was a little kid. Catholic. Six, seven kids. My dad, grandfather were Notre Dame fans. I have to call my dad and ask him, ‘Who are you really rooting for in this game, dad? Tell me the truth!’ So.”
Are you looking forward to it?
“Oh yeah! It’ll be fun. I look forward to it. I’ve been there to the stadium before. I just never coached a game, so yeah, it’ll be fun. All these games. Notre Dame’s great, but they’re all great. Michigan is the essence of college football, and if you don’t play in some famous stadium this week, you’ll play in one next week, or they’ll play in yours. It’s a pretty cool deal.”
Do you think it’s possible that a player simply plays big in a game like Michigan-Notre Dame the way Denard has?
“Yeah. It’s interesting. I don’t know. He pretty much prepares the same way in my perspective. For every game, you know? He’s just had good games against Notre Dame. You’d probably have to ask him why, because I’m not sure why, and it’s because some of them haven’t been when I’ve been here. I don’t know.”
How much fun was it for everyone to see Roundtree catch a TD?
“Mmhmm. Your’e going to see him more. I think ‘Tree’s a good player. He does exactly what we ask him to do. I mean, you don’t have favorite players on the team. I try not to have favorite players, but if I did, he’d be one of them. He just, to me, is the essence of a team player. Blocks down the field. Our receivers have bought into that part of our game … because we’re not a big bubble screen team, we actually ask them to block some, you know. So. Although we’ve put some of that into our offense.”
Is it hard to evaluate the running game based on the competition last week?
“Yeah. You don’t really know. You have to get away from, ‘Well, we don’t think that was a strong opponent.’ You have to look at Michigan. Are we taking the right steps? Are we putting a hat on a hat? Are we fundamentally sound? Are we doing all those things? And if they are, I think we’ve made some headway that way, then we got better. If it was a stronger opponent, then maybe the score wouldn’t have been as lopsided, but as long as we’re doing the right things, that’s the more important thing. Does the quarterback have good footwork? Is the quarterback making good decisions because he can make bad decisions against any team. So you have to look at yourself and that’s how you assess it opponent aside.”
Do you think those goals were achieved?
“Yeah. I think there were some really good things that happened. We scored 63 points. That’s not all bad. I’ll take that every game no matter who it is, but yeah, I think we did. We did some good stuff. It was far from perfect, but there’s still quite a few errors that were at times disconcerting, but for the most part, we’ve had the last couple -- I think the execution’s improved.”
Did Elliott Mealer get robbed?
“You’re going to have to ask Taylor that. I never did see it. He had the ball? Because Heck said that. Heck said Mealer had the ball and I think Lewan, like, ripped the ball out of his hands. Somehow I’m not at all surprised.”
Specifically with Denard, have you seen improvements in his mechanics and decision-making that you thought you’d see?
“The footwork, yeah. Without question. Without question. And he threw an interception last game, but really he just threw the ball behind him a little bit. The guy was actually open. It wasn’t a bad decision. He probably should have gotten a little more depth because it was a boot. He probably should have gotten a little more depth and bought himself another step so he could step a little better with the throw, but I mean, I ask you guys, how many balls have you seen him throw off his back foot in three games where he’s lunging backwards, tossing the ball in the middle of the secondary? He didn’t do that all the time last year but he did it some, and they were usually catastrophic, but he doesn’t do that near as much. I’m knocking on wood. I never assume anything, but his footwork is like night and day. He’s pulling balls down now and working up underneath the pocket and taking off and buying beats. He had a play during the game and it was a zero blitz where he got underneath the rush, gave Vince a chance to chip off a blitzing linebacker and threw the ball to Devin for a touchdown. A year ago he would have run backwards, and they’d have chased him for about an hour, and he’d probably end up throwing it out of bounds. He understands better what to do. He’s posing a threat as a runner more, even within our passing game, which is always good. He’s a lot better. A lot better. Just understands so much better. And you guys have to there -- I guess you have to be in both last year’s dynamic as opposed to this year’s dynamic and be in the film room and listen to the feedback you get. It’s a different kid, and I think you’ll see more and more of that as you go.”
MGoButtIn: For the two overthrows--
“You get cut off more than any other … Go ahead.”
MGoSorryChantelYouShouldBeMoreAssertive: There were a couple throws during the last game or two where Denard zinged the ball over the head of an open receiver. What was the specific mechanical issue there?
“What happened in the one you’re talking about, what happened was there was a miscommunication on whether he was going to keep going or not. I think you’re talking about the shallow cross that he missed with Devin. There was a miscommunication on whether he was going to keep going or not. He flashed his eyes a little early, Devin. What he should have done was keep running through the zone and flash his eyes a little later, and Denard got a little mixed up, and what happened was he got a little misbalanced and the ball took off on him. That wasn’t as much of a mechanical error as it was a communication error. And I’m trying to think of another errant throw.”
MGoPrompt: There was that one to Gallon, I think against Air Force?
“Oh yeah. Yeah. Not against Air Force. On a naked bootleg to the left? Yeah it was a fundamental issue. Didn’t get his shoulder back. Didn’t get a good rotation on the throw. He flicked it and it took off on him. He has his moments. He still has his moments, but for the most part, those are becoming less and less.”
Have you thought about tweaking the offensive line?
“Tweaking!? Holy smokes. How much tweaking do you want?”
But but, you know, stuff and stuff. And I thought linemen were supposed to be angry. All the time.
“Well, that kind of comes from the top. Brady’s creating an environment in practice where I think we’re getting more of that. We have very physical practices, even during game week, you know, and that’s a demeanor and a mentality. It’s the play angry if you practice angry, you know? But don’t expect them just to show up and all of a sudden be trained killers on game day if their mindset isn’t right during the week.”
So do you call them names in practice?
“No. Well I can’t say I’ve never done that, but no.”
How would you assess the pass protection?
“The pass protection’s been pretty good. Has Denard been sacked? Maybe one time? Yeah. Pass protection has been good for the most part. For some reason people don’t give offensive line credit for any time the quarteback runs with the ball. I never have been able to figure that out. If the tailback doesn’t rush for 200 yards, then the offensive line didn’t play well. That’s hogwash. Other than the one time he scrambled and took off -- that was very much improv -- but we have designed quarterback runs where they’re giving him openings to run the football, so just because it’s not always the tailback running the ball. They could play better, but they have provided some opportunities for whoever to run the ball.”
You said Denard prepares the same every week. Is there something you do differently against a team that wants to test his arm? Does he and do you get excited about this kind of situation?
“It becomes kind of a challenge to a point, you know, where you tell him -- and some teams more extreme than others now -- but all of them come in with the philosophy that they’re going to make him throw to beat them, which most defenses will do that with a good quarterback. Even with a good [pro-style] quarterback they’ll say, 'We’ll make this kid pass to beat us, we’re not going to allow them to run the ball.' But some guys go to extremes, where they’ll play as many as eight or nine guys up there, 10 guys sometimes, and it because a little bit of a rallying point for our team and for him, where we’ll say, hey, this is the challenge, and this is what we have to do to win the game. The one thing you never want to do with Denard or anyone … [is] completely abandon running just because they’re all up there. You still have to run some. It just may be a lot tougher at times and you better have the counterpunch that makes the defnese play a little looser, and you better execute that counterpunch, because if you don’t execute that counterpunch, they’re going to take one step closer. Every time you miss a pass, every time you throw an incompletion, the safeties get a little tighter and a little more footloose and fancy-free … So it becomes a challenge and it’s a neat deal, you know? But we have to meet that challenge, because it’s not going to be just this week. It’ll be every week. Every week we play it’ll be the same thing.”
“There’s not that many people here today. What happened?”
They were all here for Mattison and left when you showed up.
“Oh. =( It’s Notre Dame though. I thought everybody would be here. But you’re here, and that's all that matters.”