Desmond Morgan and Joe Kerridge
Joe, can you talk about being able to touch the ball, carry the ball and what a thrill that is?
“It’s really- over the years, looking at the fullback position it’s a lot of blocking- a lot of blocking- and so getting to touch the ball every once in a while is an awesome thing for us fullbacks. Sione’s been doing a great job. It’s a different twist in the game now and it’s something we really like to do.”
You guys probably haven’t had a lot of practices yet, but has there been an early message from Jim about how to prepare for this game? You guys have been moving up the rankings, people are talking College Football Playoff- how do you not let that get to your head?
DM: “After the game on Saturday we addressed it being a trophy game and being a big game for us, but as far as that we meet this afternoon in probably about thirty minutes or an hour. We’ll get more down to it then.”
When do you recall the countdown clocks coming down, and what do you think about that?
DM: “I don’t remember exact dates or anything like that. As far as thoughts on it, I think the whole mindset this year’s just been approach the next game, just go out and try to win the next game. So, for us in terms of countdown clocks or to count down to a certain game, it’s just basically been the next Saturday.”
Your thoughts on Jake [Rudock]. The steadiness obviously has been kind of a theme for him. This is a big game. Just your thoughts on having a quarterback who seems pretty level-headed through six weeks.
JK: “Yeah, Jake’s done a great job. He’s a student of the game, for sure. I try to get around him as much as I can. He’ll come up to me in the locker room after practice, he’ll already have watched the practice and come up and give me some pointers or something like that; he’ll critique something, or something like that. He’s shown great strides and it’s great to see a quarterback that loves the game as much as he does.”
[After THE JUMP: Jake Butt and Jourdan Lewis]
Desmond, when you consider what college offenses are today and all the spreads and everything you see, how impressive is three straight shutouts in your mind considering everything defenses have to deal with now?
“Yeah, a lot of teams are scoring a lot of points, right? Especially with the move to spread offense. I think coach Durkin touched on that a week or two ago, I saw. But with teams scoring as many points and kind of the up tempo stuff, shutouts are definitely something that are impressive but for us it’s kind of continuing to improve and get better week after week. I mean, yeah, we’ve had three straight now but the message and the goal for next week is to improve on that, clean up some of the stuff we didn’t do well [and] become a better defense.”
Desmond, Michigan State has had a really good run against you guys. How important is it for you to finish out your career with a win against them?
“Yeah, I think it’s always a big thing for the seniors, but I think as a team as a whole [as well]. It’s an in-state rivalry game. Michigan State’s a great program, a great team that’s proven themselves year after year here, so it’s something for us. We know we have a tough challenge ahead of us Saturday. We know it’s gonna be a big, physical football game but we’re excited to play it.”
Desmond, can you just talk about Connor Cook’s ability and how important it is to knock him off his spot and pressure him and maybe get him mobile a little bit to try and disrupt his rhythm?
“Yeah, disrupting a quarterback’s always a goal and an emphasis. Connor Cook definitely is a good quarterback; makes smart decisions, knows how to work their offense and really move the ball down the field, so we know we have a great challenge ahead of us with that. But for us it’s kind of playing our game, being able to wreak havoc and get pressure and kind of mess up some of the things they’re trying to do offensively, so that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Joe, you mentioned your contribution and the fullbacks’ contribution. 18 different receivers have caught a pass. Was there a point in fall camp where you realized they were going to spread the wealth like this? Could you even imagine this much contribution from this many different guys?
“I think it all comes back to competition, and everyone’s working to make each other better and so you see that level of competition rise so when you’re going into a game everyone’s competing still. You see it in the wide receivers, tight ends, running backs, fullbacks, everyone and so I think just the competition that’s been at practice through fall camp into the season has been great and that’s why you’re seeing so many people contribute.”
Can you explain to someone who hasn’t been paying attention how has this team turned things around and looked nothing like it did last year?
DM: “Yeah, it’s an interesting question. I think for us the biggest thing is we’re playing with confidence, we’re playing together, and we’re playing for each other in a lot of ways. I’ve noticed a lot of guys kind of rallying with a lot of the other guys. Mario Ojemudia took a big hit against Maryland, going down. I know that’s something a lot of guys took personally, and that’s something I think that kind of describes this team is playing for one another more than themselves. I think that’s just continued to grow and strengthen as the season’s gone on. We’ve gotten in some tough spots or a guy’s had to leave a game for a certain reason, and guys are really kind of building off that.”
JK: “I think just it goes back to what Des was saying, the energy and enthusiasm and playing for each other, playing for this team. The past is the past and you look at one game at a time now each week. Just to see everyone together so close now, it’s something special. It’s really shown and it’s something that the energy and enthusiasm has really helped us.”
Pat Fitzgerald said that the volume of offense that you guys have is really impressive. How much have you installed and how much have we still not seen?
JK: “That’s kind of a loaded question there, but we try to do whatever we can week by week. Coach Drevno, coach Fisch, coach Harbaugh do such great jobs at the specific positions and there’s always a great gameplan going in week to week. It may be small, it may be big; just depends on who you’re playing.”
Going back to the previous, I’ve got to ask then, did you guys get away from playing for each other more than you wanted to in years past or why is it different now? You kind of highlighted that, so why is it different?
DM: “Yeah, I mean, it’s always tough to compare teams just because I think you get different guys each year, you get kind of a different attitude, a different feel for your team each year. So, to compare last year to this year isn’t something I think I’m able to do. Just one thing I really have noticed this year is guys building off momentum and one another. Things get a lot easier when you start winning, too.”
You fellas are both fifth-year seniors, I believe. Normally in a bragging-rights rivalry [game] it lasts for a year, but when it’s your last shot it’s like the rest of your life. How much more importance does this game have for you guys based on that?
DM: “Yeah, both of us are from the state of Michigan, too, so it’s a real personal thing. There’s no question about it. I know growing up on the west side of Michigan I have a lot of former high school classmates, guys I played high school football with that now attend Michigan State as students, things like that. So, whichever way this game ends up going I usually hear a lot about it. That’s something for me I know that I kind of take personal.”
JK: “Like Des said, growing up in Michigan lot of high school teammates and classmates have gone to Michigan State, and being on the football team or in class you always hear about it. Coming into this week it’s always that big game. It’s just something to look forward to, and like you said for fifth-years it’s something special because you’re going to live on with that one for the rest of your life.”
Coach talked about the past can hurt. Do you guys use that? Do you use the pain when you’re out there playing this year?
DM: “Personally, I think the past is the past. I mean, you move forward from it, you learn from it, and you try to grow from it but at the end of the day we’re not going to play the game on Saturday this year in spite of anything or any games that happened last year; we’re going to play the game on Saturday in an effort to improve the record and improve the ability of this team this year.”
Desmond, you mentioned with Mario going down just how that forced people to step up. When you looked at Royce’s film how did you think he did, and then with James [Ross] missing the first half this weekend who do you expect to step up, mentioning what you’re saying about guys just rising up right now?
“We’ll see how coach addresses that in terms of we’re going to meet here in a little bit. But yeah, with Mario going down, he was a huge player for us. He did a great- he’s a great football player and guy that was a leader as well being a senior. Royce has stepped up. I know he got in a lot more this week with coach Mattison, worked on a little bit more film. I think on Saturday he played pretty well. Obviously there’s always going to be things to clean up, but he did a good job of stepping up when the team needed him defensively. Again, it’s just continuing to- all across the board continuing to improve.”
Jake Butt and Jourdan Lewis
Jourdan, how much more does this one mean for a Michigan guy?
“It’s just- we take it one game at a time. Every single game is our big one. It’s doesn’t matter who our opponent is. We know Michigan State is a great team, but it’s just taking it one game at a time.”
Jourdan, when you watched the film did you notice that Delano was out in front of you blocking and Royce was out in front of you blocking, so there was three Cass Tech guys going into the endzone at the same time?
“It was an amazing picture. That’s one of those lifetime pictures. You only see those in centuries. That was just amazing. Just to capture that moment, it was just beautiful.”
Talk about the matchup you’ll have with their receivers and their quarterback and what a challenge that will be?
JL: “I mean, every game is a challenge, honestly. We know that Connor Cook is a great quarterback. He’s won a lot of games. They have great, dynamic receivers who we have to gameplan for, and we know they’re a serious competitor and you just have to prepare for that.”
Jake, have you noticed- it seems from a layman’s eye that there have been more breakdowns in Michigan State’s secondary over the last couple weeks. Have you noticed the same and, if so, what do you think the reason is for that?
“We haven’t really watched film on Michigan State yet. We’re still trying to roll through what we did this past Saturday, but they’ve historically had a great defense. They have a great defense again this year, so we’re going to have to find some holes and just prepare the same.”
Having both these teams ranked high and people out side the state- College Gameday, etc.- do you hear about it more on campus?
JL: “Honestly, it’s just our preparation. Honestly, all that, the media hype and all that, can’t affect our performance. We have to perform at our highest ability no matter who’s watching. If anything that’s our mindset going through it.”
JB: “We just have a lot of guys so focus on our main goal of just succeeding each week we’re just going to prepare how we have been. It seems to be working so far. We’ve been working as hard as we can every single day, and that’s not going to change this week.”
At the same time, you’ve got to notice the national buzz around the program. How do you stay humble when you’re getting all the clippings?
JL: “You don’t. You don’t. You’ve got to keep working. You can’t buy into the hype because once you do it’s all downhill from there.”
JB: “And it also helps having a great leader and great leaders in all the coaches that we do. They’re not going to let us get a big head. They’re just going to keep us working as hard as we can every single week.”
I know you went to Cass Tech. I don’t know if you played Harrison, but you probably saw Burbridge in 7-on-7. How far back do you go with him, and how do you think his game has-
“Not really far back. I played them our junior season. They blew us out, too. That was actually humbling. We really don’t have that much history but I know he’s a great player and we just have to gameplan for him.”
Do you see much improvement in him?
“He was a great player when he came out of high school, so I really don’t know. We’ll have to watch the film.”
Your coach says that he likes this team because of how it likes to prepare, how it likes to work. What has been different about the preparation under these guys that has made you so effective this year?
JB: “I just think these guys just know how to win. They’ve won just about everywhere they’ve been. I know offensively we’ve got a run game coordinator, a pass game coordinator, and coach Harbaugh, who oversees it all. That’s just such an advantage for us. Whatever we need to do on first down, second down, third down, we’ve got guys that are specializing in those areas.
“And then they’ve gameplanned against NFL teams. NFL teams are going to be really good at disguising what they’re doing. When you go up against something as hard as that it probably makes it a little bit easier to understand the college level and communicate to us what we have to get done.”
Jake, what was it like on Saturday to see AJ [Williams] have that type of game? Obviously you’ve been with him for three years and he’s worked really hard, but career high in catches and yards.
“I was smiling from ear to ear for him. I mean, that was so cool to see. I think he was our leading receiver. AJ does a lot of the dirty work, the blocking, the unglorified role where you don’t get a lot of love but seeing a lot of those passes for him, he was excited. I think everybody was excited to see that for him.”
The other guys said confidence is what’s different from last year. Was there like an ‘Aha’ moment when you were with the coaches, with yourselves on the field, whatever, where you were like,’Oh my gosh, we are good. We are doing this. We are better than what we’ve shown in the past’? Has that happened at all?
JB: “I think it’s just…we started realizing- it just started back in camp. We just knew we weren’t going to accept losing this year. Since the end of last season we’ve just had a worker’s mentality throughout all the winter workouts, the summer workouts. We had guys coming in and doing extra things. As the season’s went on obviously we’ve built a little more confidence because we have such a good thing going for us right now.”
Jake, Jim Harbaugh talked about the ascension of the offensive line. Can you just talk about how far they’ve come and what they’re doing better now?
“Oh yeah. They’ve just taken huge strides each week, and it helps, too, when you play together. We’ve played some really good defensive lines. Northwestern had the best ranked defense in the country, and we still had a lot of great plays running the ball. We had a pretty easy time running the ball versus them, so it just helps their confidence. And we’re starting to jell as a group.”