Dymonte Thomas, De’Veon Smith, Wilton Speight
Wilton, a little bit sloppy there in the second half, would you say, and were you a little bit disappointed with that? Not you, but the team.
“Yeah, it starts with me, but yeah, it’s obviously something we need to look at on film and figure out how to not come out with a three-and-out or a turnover here and there and not give the opponent any sense of life. We’ll learn from that and build on that.”
Dymonte, what was going through your mind as you had that interception at the end of the first half?
“First thing that went through my mind is it’s about time. I knew that my teammates—every day they make fun of me: ‘Dymonte, you can’t catch. You don’t have no hands.’ So, after I caught that interception they all said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna let you breathe. I’m gonna let you go. About time you caught it.’ It’s an exciting feeling. I was pretty happy, pretty pumped.”
Dymonte, your team held Illinois without a passing yard in the first half. What was key in doing that, especially against an inexperienced quarterback.
“We just knew we had to bring pressure. He was getting the ball out pretty quick, pretty fast, and we knew that. We just had to tighten up on our coverage and we knew some of the things, their tendencies, on third down they were going to do, short-yardage game. We just made sure that we kept that in perspective and played tight defense and allowed our defensive linemen and linebackers to blitz and create opportunities for us.”
Wilton, I know some of you guys had time off last week, but for you specifically, was there one thing you tried to work on last week or that you wanted to get better at going into the second half here?
“Yeah. So, I watched all of the six games, every snap, and just took a lot of notes on what glaringly needed to be better and also little things. So being able to throw with guys like Grant [Perry], Jehu [Chesson], in our time off—you know, we didn’t have the couple hour practice with pads on and everything but we were still able to go out there like we did this summer and throw certain routes. I just wanted to focus on—I can make every throw, in my opinion, but sometimes I was short on passes or when a guy was open I’d miss him. That’s what I wanted to focus on the second half of the season was eliminating that.”
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Was that the glaringly obvious thing to work on?
“Yeah, probably. Yeah, yeah.”
De’Veon, you guys are rotating a lot of backs. Has that helped you stay fresh this late in the season heading into a big game? Feel pretty good?
“Yeah, definitely. The way we rotate, the way Coach Wheat’s system is actually going right now, it’s actually helping every single running back in our room just stay healthy and making sure our bodies are fresh every down. Like, you can switch every play and you know you’ve got a fresh running back in there, and that kind of keeps the defense on their toes.”
Dymonte, fill us in on what happened on that fourth-and-three pass breakup, how that all happened.
“So, the play before the tight end kind of did like a little fake block like he was trying to chop me and then he got up and tried to release into the flat and then I just had good eyes and stayed on him. So then the next play I figured they’d do something like that and we played one of our zero coverages, and as our D-line and linebackers took off to blitz I realized that the tight end was just staying in and blocking, so then the first thing I looked for was where was Ben [Gedeon] and where was the running back, because I knew that one of our linebackers had to cover the running back. And then as I looked back I see the running back kind of fade in, and that’s when I realized I had the chance to make another play and I just got a PBU and it was just great coverage by Ben, slowing him down and everything.”
Just talk about the pride you take in the secondary and across the defense in your pass defense.
“Each and every day if our scout team catches a ball on us or they catch a ball in one-on-ones, not only do our coaches get mad but our DBs get mad as well because we know in the game you can’t have things like that. And, you know, once you start practicing that, not letting your teammates catch a ball on you, then when it comes to the game it’ll be a lot easier for us.”
Wilton, I’m curious, you guys have gotten out to such a hot start over the last couple of weeks, offensively and defensively, where is that coming from as far as coming out and executing and not stubbing your own toes?
“It’s just being sharp Monday through Friday, taking every practice like it’s a championship practice—Coach Harbaugh always preaches that—and just getting in the film room. As far as the wide receivers and quarterbacks go, I know I can speak for those guys because we work together every day with Coach Fisch. Just being sharp; mentally sharp, physically in shape, and just having the mindset that we’re going to go out and try to dominate the opponent every snap.”
De’Veon, can you talk about getting a shot to play Michigan State after that finish and loss last year?
“All I can say is really those last couple seconds, they’re still boiling. We still taste it in our mouth and we’re going to give Michigan State our all this week.”
Wilton, that first drive had a number of, I guess, trick plays: you had Jabrill at quarterback and running back, there was the fake jet sweep. Right out of the shoot, when you see those play calls on the first drive, how do you approach a drive like that when there’s so much, I guess, trickeration?
“Uh, I mean, I wouldn’t really call it trickeration. I think a lot of people see when Jabrill comes onto the field, whether it’s as a quarterback or wide receiver, they see that as trickeration. That’s just a really good athlete playing the position like a running back would or wide receiver or the dual-threat quarterback would. I don’t really look at it as trickeration.
“Then when it comes to the train play that we have where we line up in an I and then break and everyone goes to their places, that’s probably a little bit of trickeration. But it’s pretty simple when you break it down and rep it all week, so it’s nothing to freak out about or anything.”
Wilton, getting Kekoa, Eddie you mentioned, throwing with the receivers, getting comfortable in your guys’ ability to play young receivesr, what have you seen from them these past couple weeks and throughout the season?
“They’re stepping up big time across the board. Jehu and Amara, those guys are older and they know what it’s like to get through a whole season, so when Coach watches their reps during the week, that gives opportunities for guys like Drake, Moe [Ways], Eddie, Kekoa, Grant, all those guys, to get more reps and develop that chemistry. Not only did we do that this summer, but throughout this bye week and this week leading up to Illinois, they’ve all been stepping up and embracing the role.”
Does it excite you to have so many options?
”Yeah, definitely. Jehu and Amara won’t be here next year, they’ll be playing on Sundays. It’s good to know those guys are stepping up and they’ll be ready when they’re the leaders next year.”
WIlton, De’Veon already tspoke to it, but this is a game where you just enjoy it for the night or have you already started to peek ahead?
“Yeah, no, we’re definitely moving on from this. Coach says we’ll go back to Schem and eat our ice cream and enjoy this win, and then probably come 9 or 10 o’clock tonight we’ll watch some of the ballgames going on today and get our mind right for next week, which is nice. This isn’t a game that you have to motivate yourself to get up for. This is Michgian-Michigan State. I personally haven’t experienced a win versus those guys—I don’t know if y’all did before I got here or not—so we’re hungry for that. This is a big game.”
De’Veon, you had 14 carries in the first half. Was that something you were prepared for and planning on doing, and how helpful for other backs is it when you’re grinding down defenses like that?
“Honestly, I didn’t know how many carries I had in the first half. I mean, however many carries Coach wants to give me, it doesn’t really matter. Sure, it probably does help that I’m beating down defenses, but I feel like to any running back in our room, it shouldn’t matter, really.”
For all three of you, since you’ve sort of touched on Michigan State, what are your recollections of those last 10 seconds? De’Veon sort of touched on it. And how much have you looked forward to playing this game?
WS: “Those last few seconds, we all thought the game was wrapped up, so it was shock. I remember that night I went home and was with some teammates and we didn’t really know what to say or what to do because we all were just kind of in shock.
“It’s not like we had this game circled. Coach does a good job of making sure that the next game is the championship game. This next game is Michigan State, so it means a little more since it’s a rival but it’s just the next game up that’s the championship game.”
DT: “Yeah. I was on the field when that play happened and just couldn’t believe what took place, and then we had that bye week after and during that whole bye week it was the only thing I thought about. I couldn’t think about anything else. I just couldn’t wait to get revenge, and next Saturday we’ve got our chance and our opportunity. I’m ready to go out here and play with these guys. I love my teammates and I love the way that we’re playing together, and it’s going to be fun playing next Saturday, especially since it’s a rivalry game.”
On the same note, it looks like you’re playing so well that there might not just be the expectation of settling the score next week but maybe make a statement of dominance, particularly given the way the two teams are going. Is that a fair thought for all three of you here this week, that you want to do more than just win but really make an imprint that’s rather indelible?
WS: “I think every time you go out, every Saturday, you want to give the impression of domination. That’s any team in the NCAA, so… they haven’t been playing as well this year, but it’s a rivalry game. When it’s a rivalry game, no matter how either team is playing, that all goes out the window. The energy’s higher, the adrenaline’s pumping a little harder, and it’s just football, so yeah.”