News bullets and other important things:
Vincent Smith has earned a start at RB
New NCAA rules mean that Rawl's redshirt is not completely burned yet.
Herron and Cam Gordon are expected back next week, but must compete for their jobs.
Gallon might get time as kick returner, but not because V. Smith is slow.
Hoke tried getting Dave Brandon to buy out the SDSU game.
Raymon Taylor played in nickel because Woolfolk got beat up a bit, but did not necessarily surpass Courtney Avery.
Taylor doesn't have the Desmond patch.
David Molk hates people in general, not just the press.
Press Conference (filmed)
Did you talk to the players about being in the rankings? “Does it matter?” Well, no. “Exactly.”
Opening remarks: “A couple things about last Saturday. It’s good to win a football game. I thought we started a little slower than we’d like to. I don’t know if there’s a magic answer for that. We talked about that as a team. The first six possessions offensively, I think we were three-and-out three times. We were driving the ball and then we threw an interception. That hurts you when you look at tempo and fluidness you want to have offensively. And obviously your defense is back on the field. We struggled a little bit with the jet series plays, but after that I think our guys really made some good adjustments on both sides of the ball. I thought the kids played fundamentally maybe more sound. The time of possession, obviously, became a big factor. We play good defense when we’re watching our offense, and we were able to do that in the second half a little more.
“The running game, I thought, came on as I saw it. We still don’t want to run Denard 26 times a game. That’s a good way to get him beat up and hurt. So we have to keep plugging away. With Vince’s production, [and] Fitz gave us some good runs in there, it took a little bit of load off [Denard], but we have to make sure we’re a healthy football team as we continue forward. We need to complete a couple balls if they’re going to load the box and play man coverage, which they did, and that’s smart. We have to be able to complete a couple of those things to loosen some people up.
“Defensively, Thomas Gordon made a critical a play in the game with the interception and the fumble recovery. Both of those were hustle plays. On the interception it was Thomas doing his job. [He] didn’t get fooled, didn’t get sucked in, and I thought that was a nice play by him. We felt our defensive front during the course of the game a little more. Craig Roh played his best football of the year so far. Jibreel played a pretty productive football game. You could feel Mike [Martin] a little more in there. I thought Will Campbell gave us some really good snaps.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us with a very good San Diego team coming in. They’re undefeated. They’re 3-0. Beat Washington State last week. Very talented team, a team that’s going to play with a lot of toughness and a team that’s well coached. We have our hands full.”
(more after the jump)
How did a Midwest guy with Midwest ties end up at SDSU, and how much does it help that you know their personnel so well? “People may make a big deal about it. It’s really -- they’re a travel team, there’s 70 guys coming … San Diego State playing Michigan, and it’s really all it is.
“It was the right opportunity at the right time.”
Since January, have you talked with Rocky Long about this game? “We’ve talked some, but we talk more about families and more about what’s going on. We don’t talk a lot about the football aspect of it besides how spring went and those kinds of things.”
Does this get any emotionally different since you know their players and recruited them? “I don’t know if it gets into that, really. It’s two football teams competing. Their staff will compete like heck. They’re very competitive, and we’re very competitive. It’s about the 60 minutes on the field. Yeah, they [have] great kids -- there’s no question -- but we’ve got great kids here, too.”
Who’s starting RB now? “I think Vince, probably, right now has earned that right [with] his performance and his production … When you look at Fitz, I was really encouraged by him coming out with some toughness and running the ball hard, coming off that shoulder. I was pleased with that.”
Were you involved with scheduling SDSU and Michigan game? “I was involved in scheduling it. Scott Draper and Don Oberhlemen from San Diego State and myself -- I don’t know if Dave or Bill Martin, it may have been Dave, I’m not sure. So I was involved in it.” Why did you want to schedule this game? “I think this is just a great place to come play a football game. I thought we’d have a pretty good competitive team.”
Denard has been 1/7 with 2 INTs in the first quarter last two weeks. What do you need to do better with him? “There’s no question as coaches we need to do a better job maybe making him a little more comfortable with the throws -- depending on what you want to throw. The second play of the game, we were going to throw the X screen, and they dropped the [defensive] end. They zone-blitzed and dropped the end, and [Denard] made a great decision not to throw the ball and get what he could [on the ground]. But I think we can always see from our vantage point what we can help him with, and then we just have to make sure we set our feet a little more.”
After two slow offensive starts in a row, you moved away from under center snaps. Is that in the game plan or an adjustment? “It’s always in the game plan, but both offenses have been in since spring ball, since January. That’s always in it, and it just depends on how much of it you get to, and what’s going to help you win.”
Do you chart success rates of under center vs. shotgun? “Oh yeah, Al charts all that stuff.” Have you been pleased/displeased with success under center? “I’ve been okay with it. I tell you one thing: if we can hit a couple throws under center -- because of what people want to do defensively in loading the box -- you take a couple shots, it’s going to help.”
You’re plus-6 in turnover margin. What’s key to maintaining that? “I think pressuring the quarterback, when you talk about from the interception standpoint or whatever that is -- tight coverage, pressuring the quarterback, effort, and guys getting to the football. Those four components usually turn into turnover opportunities. Jibreel chased all the way from the back side and did a tremendous job to punch the ball out. Tom Gordon was on the front side and had been blocked, did a good job of hustling his butt down to cover the ball.”
How different is SDSU compared with when you left it? “Well there’s always different guys. There’s a lot of returning guys. Four of the offensive linemen are returning starters. Three tight ends, a quarterback who’s a daggone good player and great kid. The running back Hillman’s a tremendous player. Defensively, [Miles] Burris and [J.J.] Autele and Jerome Long, [Leon] Macfadden -- there’s a lot of those same guys who are there. We’re going to see a lot of good football players.”
Does it help the game plan to know strengths and weaknesses of their key guys? “I don’t know if they have weaknesses, to be honest with you. I’ve watched three games from their offensive perspective, and they lost two receivers, but Colin Lockett and Dylan Denzo have come in and done a great job. Colin was a corner a year ago and has done a great job of being a part of their offense.”
How did you tell those guys you were leaving? “Never do it the right way. They were on fall break so no one was there. The guys in San Diego -- you sent a text because you couldn’t get them all together. There was a time element and everything, obviously. We had a full team meeting when I left Ball State, my alma mater. That was hard to leave and hard to leave those kids. So we were fortunate to be able to do that [at Ball State]. We couldn’t [at SDSU].”
Gallon has been doing a good job as a punt returner. Will he get an opportunity as kickoff returner as well? Because Vince isn’t very explosive, i.e. he’s slow. “Well, I wouldn’t say that. I think Jeremy’s done a tremendous job, but to say Vince isn’t explosive, you may have the wrong Vince. But, you know, if we get one block in the kickoff return -- what’s funny about it is they had punted always to the right all year to set the protection. They changed it and we had a good plan, they punted everything to the left. Jeremy did a great job because he got the ball all the way back out. We make a block we don’t want to make in the back. Same thing with Vince on the kickoff return because of how their coverage was going to go to our right if we’re the return team. The first one, if there’s one block secured well enough, he’s out at least to midfield. Gallon’s doing a great job, and could be a guy we put back there. He does both for us.”
Did you want to try to get out of SDSU game? “I told Dave Brandon, ‘Let’s buy that one out.’ Yeah.” Obviously it didn’t happen. “The game’s scheduled and you gotta play it. It would have been way too hard for both teams to find new opponents and do all that kind of stuff. It’s going to be a great game with two schools that have a lot of pride in what they’re doing with their football program.”
If you start Vince at RB, would that change whether you put him in as kick returner? “Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, at the end of the day you have to make sure your best players are on the field. He’s one of our best football players.”
How do you think SDSU players' motivation would be affected by going against you? “I don’t know. That’s not for me to answer.”
Gibbons hit his first field goal since UConn. What was his demeanor like coming back to the sideline? “He’s great. He’s been great all fall. He worked hard over the summer, and I think he mentally has himself in a good place. He’s been very consistent over all of fall camp and to this part of the season. I like the mechanics, to everything, from the snap to the hold. I think Jared [van Slyke] has been doing a great job there. I’ve been impressed with him. I’m very confident in him.”
Did you see any effects on Denard’s body from getting hit so much this game? “He didn’t say anything. You know him, he’s not going to say anything. He comes in Sunday like they all do to get checked out by the trainer and the docs, and he’s in fine shape. This is a marathon. The season is always a marathon, and you want to try and protect him the best he can so he’s not getting too many daggone hits on him.”
You mentioned Ronnie Hillman. Explain what makes him so dangerous? “Ronnie has very good vision. He’s got tremendous speed. As a true freshman a year ago, I think he rushed for 1,500 or something like that. He has an innate ability that good backs have -- their vision is good, their balance is good, and he has a burst. I haven’t seen him in a while obviously, but he’s a very dangerous guy for them, and he’s playing very confidently.”
Roundtable (not filmed)
Break down what makes Ryan Lindley special. “Ryan Lindley -- he’s got a very strong arm. He’s got a great demeanor, and he’s got a tremendous work ethic on studying opponents. His coach is a guy named Brian Sipe, who wasn’t a bad football player in his own right. [Lindley] has a lot of the intangibles. I think Brian has been able to really feed to Ryan. The kid’s a tremendous kid, a tremendous leader. Has a great sense for the game.”
How big of a challenge is play-action for your safeties, and what do you tell them? “You have to have your eyes on the right thing, whether it’s quarter coverage or it’s the tight end side. Is the tight end downblocking or is he releasing in the stand NCAA routes? But that’s the biggest thing is your eyes -- your initial alignment, your eyes, and then what you do with your feet. That’s critical. Different coverage is a little differnet. If you’re Tampa 2 or something like that, then they should be back because they have to be the last one on the run play to the ball.”
Talk about SDSU linebacker Jake Fely. “Very instinctive, very physical for not a very big guy. In that defense, he’s perfect because his quickness and his ability to react … tough kid. Real tough kid.”
What did Vincent do Saturday to allow him to have success? “I think a couple things. Number one, I think he played good with his vision on where to go and listening to Fred, as we go through the game, about pressing the ball more in the line of scrimmage, and then reacting off the center’s tail end -- let’s put it that way -- on where he should cut. Vince has been a tremendous pass protector. We missed one third down -- I think it was the second drive, third drive -- where we had him isolated on the linebacker and should have gone to him early with it, but he does a lot of things very well. He’s doing a lot of things well.”
Good rushing numbers -- does that mean O-line playing well? “I thought they played pretty well when you look at it. A couple times we got knocked back, which we don’t want to do, but I thought for the most part we got on the right guys. I know, talking with Darrell [Funk], there are a few cuts on the backside we should have made that we didn’t for one reason or another that we have to fix.”
Do you have any reservations about Vince being an every-down back because he’s smaller? “He might be smaller, but he’s put together. I’m sure you’ve seen him. His mentality is that of a tough guy.”
Al has said he doesn’t want tailback by committee, but is that what you have to go with right now? “It might be. And neither one of us -- we don’t want it that way, but I think we’re there at this point in time.” Did you want to try to get Rawls in there more? “You know … yeah … I struggled with that a little bit because I never felt real good about the game. I know Fred probably would have liked to get him in, but I wasn’t feeling as comfortable where we were as maybe other people were.” Is his redshirt burned? “The rule changed -- it’s until game 6 now, so there’s a lot of stuff that’s different. But the best player’s gotta play.”
Is there a sweet spot for number of carries with Vince? “I don’t know if I can answer that honestly.”
Do you anticipate Cam Gordon and Brandon Herron coming back? “Yeah.” Could either of them have potentially played last week? “I think Cam was probably closer than Brandon.”
If Herron comes back, how intense is comeptition with Hawthorne? “It’s going to be intense. He’s got to earn it.”
How sincere were you about buying out SDSU game, and why? “They’re good.” They’re what? “They’re good!” Okay, so it’s not sentimental or anything? “No. No. They’re good.”
Do the Michigan players understand how good SDSU is yet? “Oh they will. Believe me, they will. All you have to do is watch them.”
Will they be the best team you’ve played so far? “They’re pretty daggone good. Yeah, I’d say. As good as anybody we’ve played.”
Do you have an SDSU countdown clock? “I’m going to make sure you remind me of it.”
You said you texted some players when you left. “I texted them all. Just a mass text, yeah.” Did you have a more personal farewell with any of them? “No.” Talk to any of them since? “No. No.” Is it because you said there’s no good way to go? “I don’t know how you’d tell people. We were on a little bit of a schedule, timewise.”
TV guys said you were running zone reads, but looked like you were gap blocking. “You are, to some degree. Depending on what front and what they’re trying to do behind it, yeah we’ll gap some of those and run the power and run the read with it.”
Would you schedule Ball State? “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
When Will Hagerup comes back, what does that do for punting competition? “That makes good competition. It enhances our competition.”
If you could pick one area that would improve substantially in the game leading up to the Big Ten season, what would that be? “That’s a good question. I would say our front seven defensively, we’ve got to play better.”
Two games ago the frontrunners for starting RB were Shaw and Fitz. What about them made them better than Vince? “If you remember though, we said Vince would be the third-down back. Vince was never not in the picture.”
Shaw hasn’t been getting many carries. What does he have to do better? “He’s just got to perform better, and he is. He’s conscious about what he needs to do. And then you get a guy who gets a little bit hot, that hot hand kind of takes over a little bit.”
Did Raymon Taylor leapfrog Courtney Avery? “No, Ray played nickel when we got into nickel.” … Woolfolk got hurt, so Thomas Gordon moved into nickel. Wanted to play a better cover guy, so [we] used Raymon Taylor … “Ray missed two weeks, you know. We thought Ray would be on the field -- special teams, maybe nickel corner some going into the year. He just got healthy.”
What does he give the defense? “He’s physical. He’s a good athlete.”
Raymon doesn’t have the Desmond Howard patch. Does he have to earn that? “I guess.”
Did you talk to the players about being in the rankings? “Does it matter?” Well, no. “Exactly.”