Red zone: how much of a concern is that that you aren’t getting more touchdowns in those opportunities?
“I thought both teams played really good red zone defense today. Good. We had the right calls on at the right time, pushed them back out of the opportunities to score touchdowns and they held the line as well. Hats off to both teams for really good red zone defense.”
Talk about the challenge of having to switch gears on defense for a team like this and how your guys responded defensively.
“I thought we responded really well. For the most part, with the exception of a few drives. I thought we shut them down well and I thought we won all three phases. They play a brand of football I really like, which is you just keep jabbing away and you don’t make mistakes, you don’t turn the ball over, few penalties, and you get first downs… push the opponent back in field position. They make you go beatcha. They don’t beat themselves and it’s a good brand of football. Our team was able to make plays offensively, defensively, special teams was a huge factor in today’s ball game.
“Donovan’s punt return was fabulous. Our kickoff coverage was excellent all day, and right on down the line. Punt protection was really good as they were bringing 10; we got the all-out rush and we were able to block it up. Each phase. And the standout was Quinn Nordin and the snapper, Cheeseman, Garret Moores, the holder—that whole battery. And the field goal protection was outstanding. Tied a record, Michigan record, for most field goals in a game. Really proud of the way our special teams played. Offensively, defensively, special teams: thought we won all three phases.”
Rhythmically, where do you see the offense going and specifically with Wilton and Donovan, looked like that could be a connection. How do you assess that?
“Yeah, it was good to see Donovan go and make a big play offensively. Made the big play special teams-wise, so great to see him a factor in the third game of his freshman year. Just terrific. Like Tarik has done, one of those freshmen that are playing in their third ballgame and are huge factors in where we are, 3-0, and the ballgame we had today.”
[After THE JUMP: getting RPS’d, the kicking battery, jamming it in in the red zone, and how to use DPJ]
Nordin is off to such a good start. Has he been consistent right on through camp and everything?
“Yeah, he’s been very good. And you’ve got to point to the snap, the hold, the kick. Two of those three have got to be on the mark, and today all three were on the mark, and the protection as well has been very good. He’s in a great place. It’s great to see him kicking confidently and just knocking them through with room to spare no matter what distance you put him at.”
Wilton said that they do a really good job of disguising their blitzes, especially in the red zone. Was that one of the unique challenges you guys faced going against them in the red zone?
“Yeah, they definitely called the better play on some of our red zone throws and runs. We were in an RPO and they disguised it well and really did a good job. Well done on their part. They had a better call than we had most of the time there down in the red zone.”
Are you happy right now with where the offense is three weeks in as far as the consistency and the way they’re moving the ball?
“Yeah, I am. There’s—the run blocking, the protection has been really good. That was a big question coming into the season, coming into the camp, with what our offense would look like, what the offensive line would look like replacing four starters. I think that’s been really good.
“The backs have been strong. Quarterback’s been strong. I mean, he’s quarterbacking the seventh-ranked team in the country to a 3-0 record. He’s quarterbacking the winningest program in all of football, the history of it, so it’d be good to be Wilton Speight. So we just keep forging ahead and keep making improvements. Like where our team is at this point.”
One-for-ten in the red zone at this point: that’s not a concern for you?
“Yeah, I think we addressed that earlier. Definitely we’d like to score more touchdowns in the red zone. Think that’ll come and our team is moving the ball, that’s a fact, and I think the red zone touchdowns will come.”
Along those lines in the red zone, do you ever get frustrated as a playcaller like, ‘Okay, we’re just going to jam this in. It’s fourth down, forget the field goal,’ or do you have to hold yourself back in making those decisions and saying, let’s lean on our defense since it’s playing so well.
“We’re trying to score touchdowns. Do you mean late in the game?”
Not necessarily late in the game. When you miss out on a third down and you’re set up on fourth down and you’ve got a decision: Well, I could go for it or kick the field goal and get points, but your defense is playing so well. Do you ever get frustrated or have to keep yourself from making that kind of decision?
“I’m playing the percentages, playing having a good call fourth-and-eight from the eight. Do I ever lose my mind and say, Just jam it in or call the play, the just-jam-it-in play?”
“I keep a steady hand on the tiller. Play to win. Yeah, we’d like to have scored more touchdowns in the red zone. We’ll keep at it.”
Talk about fourth-and-one in the first quarter. What gave you the inclination to challenge that play when it looked like on the replay it wasn’t conclusive enough to be overturned?
“Saw the replay board and saw they had a good shot down the line. That’s a big play. A big play. It’s worth the timeout. It’s worth the challenge to get the ball back on downs, so it’s by percentages.”
With Donovan’s success returning punts, have you given any thought to him returning kickoffs?
“Uh, yeah, we could. We’ve given a lot of thought to using Donovan in a lot of ways. I mean, you see him, he made the play—and remember, Donovan, this is his third game. Third game as a collegiate football player. What an outstanding thing for the fifteen or so guys that are playing as true freshmen. Just a testament to their ability, to their talent, and to their effort. But I think you’re going to see, yeah, grow, grow, grow. He’s been plus, plus, plus. Great to see his mettle today. I feel like great things will happen for Donovan Peoples-Jones.”
You’ve had a chance to change some momentum with your punter. Is Brad Robbins still an option there and is he in the mix still? Is that an open competition?
“Yeah, he’s in the mix. We’ll play the best player, but though the one we made a mistake on was late in the game there where he kicked it off to the left. We were in a one-step punt and we called for a directional punt with the all-up that they had. I think the one-step, we’d be better off kicking it right down the middle of the field and go cover it. But we’re not dumbing it down, either. This is a true redshirt freshman punter and he’s doing directional kicking out there. He’s been doing a fine job. I think at that point in the game we could have called for a better call. Yeah, he’s doing a good ball. He’s not dropping it and he’s getting it off. He’s doing good too. It’s his third game as well.
“I feel—and that was a concern, too. What’s a new snapper going to look like? What’s the new field goal kicker gonna look like? What’s a new punter gonna look like? What’s his protections gonna look like? Lot of new guys in there. Been pretty darn solid. No question about it, we won on special teams today and that’s gonna be a good confidence builder and good momentum going forward. We’ll need them for Big Ten games.”
Sort of like the earlier question, but when your defense is playing so well, does that affect in your mind what you do offensively? Like you said, not go crazy per se because your defense is playing so well.
“We try to move the ball, try to get first downs, we’re trying to score points, put points on the board. That’s what we’re trying to do the entire game. When it gets down to seven minutes left in the game and I’m thinking last long drive that ended up in the field goal attempt that was missed took seven minutes and there’s 6:48 up there on the clock then we’re going to play not—to give our defense good field position, not turn the ball over, run the ball, and it was great to see our offense in with the ball, and that ball ended up in the end zone. That was good.
“We had some tight ballgames last year that we weren’t able to win… you know, when the pressure was on to move the ball or get the stop. Good to see this year’s version of the ballclub not only win but pull ahead in those situations were you’re up nine or ten points. So fell good. Feel great. Very happy for the win. Move on with humble hearts and get ready for Purdue.”