You said the other day that you thought Mario [Ojemudia] would most likely miss the season with an Achilles [injury]. Is that the case, and who do you look at to step up obviously with him being out this week?
“Yeah, that’s…that is the case. Look at- look within our roster, look within our defense. It’s a…don’t know exactly who yet, but I mean, you know the guys.”
How long have you known Pat Fitzgerald and could you talk about any background with him?
“Yeah. Great competitor. Background would be starting with I was Stanford, he was at Northwestern. First crossed paths on the recruiting trail. Sized him up and said, ‘This guy’s a fine, fine coach and great competitor.’ He’s done a fabulous job. He’s a great coach.
“And got to know him this summer. Came to our football camp and did a tremendous job talking to the campers and sharing football lessons and life lessons with them. Thought it was fabulous. And his football team is a tremendous football team, so, you know, everything you look at with Pat Fitzgerald is really good. Admire him.”
Watching them on film, what impresses you most about their defense?
“Athletic. Mike Hankwitz does a great job. They react as athletic and fast as anybody we’ve seen. No. 18 [Anthony Walker] is as good a player as we’ve faced, so all those things. Really good scheme. Great team defense. Leading the country in points allowed. I think that’s the thing mainly is this team reacts and flows to the ball as good as you’re going to see in college football.”
Going back to the reference of sizing up Pat Fitzgerald, with the defense of Northwestern No. 1 and you guys right behind them, have you given this a lot of thought as far as [being] a battle of the defenses? Is this a big game in your mind for both defenses, yours particularly?
“Well, that’s part of it, yeah. Offense, special teams; all equal parts of the game.”
But given the ranking for both defenses, do you feel like it’s a bout or-
“No, the two defenses won’t go against each other. They won’t face each other, so look at it the way you always look at it: it’s three phases, and you want to win each of those phases.”
[After THE JUMP: “I’m paraphrasing here, but how many hits can you take and keep coming back? So pull up that clip. Sylvester Stallone did it well.”]
When your defense is performing like it is, does that effect how you run your offense? In other words, maybe not taking as many chances [and] playing to your good defense? Is that kind of a strategy?
“…uh, what kind of strategy would that be?”
Keeping it a little bit tight to the vest since you know your defense is good enough that you don’t necessarily have to take a lot of risks on offense.
“No, I wouldn’t characterize it that way. But, I mean…that seems really simplified.”
So, in other words, with someone like Jake Rudock-
“We’ve got to move the chains. Score points. And…ultimately you’ve got to put more points on the board than your opponent.”
Stribling and Smith: do you expect them to be back?
“Yeah, I expect they’ll be back in some form or fashion today, and we’d like to progress through the week and see how that goes.”
Speaking of Stribling, you made the trip without him and yet there wasn’t any big drop-off in terms of production defensively. Could you talk about some of the depth that that secondary’s developing?
“Yeah, doing a really good job individually, collectively, playing as a defensive unit. Can’t say enough good things. It’s been impressive. Congratulations, and now we’ve got a tremendous opponent this week.
“Very good around the football. That’s a team that runs it 70% of the time, throws it 30% of the time. Averages somewhere around 12, 13, 14 passes a game. Quarterback that’s a very good runner. Extremely good running back. [Bwaha, Draftageddon vindication –Adam] Knows how to run the football and throw it and keep you off balance with both the passing game and the running game, so it’s a tremendous challenge for us there again this week.
“But yeah, Jourdan Lewis [is an] ascending player. Jabrill Peppers- just his versatility and goodness, the way he can line up at corner and safety and nickel. I haven’t seen too many things like that, and also in the punt return game he’s been extremely valuable and really good. I mean, really good. So he is…there’s really good individual effort. Clark, again, another interception. Doing a fabulous job, and others. Stribling’s a very good player. Channing…really felt like we needed him. We wanted him out there. He’s an ascending football player, and our hopes are it was just a one-week type of injury and our doctors and training staff and coaches can manage that, and he can manage that to get back on the field soon.”
With Mario, it’s the fifth game so I just wanted to be clear: does that mean he’s done career-wise? It’s too late in the season to have any eligibility left? Too late in the season to salvage anything [in terms of a medical redshirt]?
“Yeah, to my understanding.”
How would you evaluate Ryan Glasgow’s play up front this season?
“Just really good. Better than solid. It’s been outstanding. High motor all the time, and you see it in practice every day. I’ve never seen him take a play off, and it shows up in the games. It’s the way he practices, the way he plays. Really asserted himself from the first day we got here in the spring. I know he was a good player before that, but I’ve just seen day after day after day of being a really good football player.
“Mo Hurst, Willie Henry, they’re doing the same thing. Matt Godin, really good too. Willie Henry and Mo Hurt probably had the best of game from a defensive line standpoint when you talk about tackles for loss or sack, disrupting plays. Ryan’s been outstanding all year.”
I believe we saw Tyree Kinnel in the game Saturday. What’s he done to earn that?
“He’s been extremely physical. We have a scrimmage every week for some young players; he’s stood out every single week, and felt like we needed to get him on the field his development as a football player and being able to help our football team.
“Saw some issues where Jehu Chesson was just playing so much, [so much] on his task list: special teams, playing wide receiver, blocking the way he was. Wanted to try and take…get somebody else to carry some of that water. Thought Tyree Kinnel would be a good candidate, and others too; thought of seven or eight others.
“What day was it…Tuesday? Monday. It was Monday. Said, ‘You guys, we’re having a race.’ Race ‘em at the end of practice. We had a Monday race last week, and Tyree was first of all the candidates to play that position on the kickoff. Competed for it, won it.
“Furbush was another who jumped out, surprisingly, in that race. Was right there in the top three.
“Yeah, he just seemed like a guy who was screaming to ‘get me on the field, Coach.’ Not in the vocal way or coming into the office like, ‘Hey, I need more playing time’ but in the best way: with what he did on the field and how he was competing in practice and in competitions. So, I listened. We listened.
Are there any other true freshman-
“He was screaming, ‘Count on me, Coach. I can help this team!’”
Are there any other true freshman-
“Again, he didn’t say it, but did it in the best way.”
Are there any other true freshman that haven’t played this year that you think will see the field yet?
“Now’s the time. We truly believe there are no more freshmen. When they go through a month of training camp and four games, when you’ve played four games, a third of a season, nobody is a freshman anymore and now’s the time…if they’re gonna show that they can contribute as a freshman, now’s the time to do it.
“It’s always been my feeling that those who can as true freshmen ultimately become the best players. You get better at football by playing football, and the ones that are mentally and physically ready to do that as true freshmen end up having better careers, college careers, pro careers.
“Now, I have not done a study on that, but it’s just my own personal experience. It’d be a good study for somebody to do: how many guys are playing in the NFL that did or did not redshirt their freshman year, not including quarterbacks and offensive linemen. But that’d be an interesting study for some cracker jack analytic out there.”
So now’s the time-
“Yeah, now’s the time. I believe that they have a chance to do that. Right now Tyree Kinnel, Grant Perry, Keith Washington, Reuben Jones are all- Shelton Johnson’s also close to being able to do that. Karan Higdon is another. Those come to my mind right away as the closest to contributing. I’m leaving out the offensive linemen and the quarterback because those positions, they’re usually better in their fifth year than they would be in their freshman year. Anyway, sorry to get off topic, but hope that answered your question.”
Just going back to Jake Rudock, obviously week one with the three interceptions. He’s had three since then, so your assessment of his comfort, your comfort with him and just how everything’s going with Jake so far.
“Good. As you know, ‘comfortable’ is never a word we associate with football. But, uh, played good. His job is to win football games. That’s what he’s doing. Heard John Harbaugh say that to him in the locker room after the game, that he’s doing a good job and that’s his job, win football games. I concur. That’s how I feel.”
Do you feel satisfied-
“Satisfied is another word I just do not associate with football. I don’t know. It’s on the list of words— ”
Do you like that he’s only thrown three interceptions since throwing three in- I mean, that has to be an encouraging sign for you, right? To see that he’s taking better care of the ball?
“He’s taking better care of the football. Going through decision by decision, he’s taking good care of the football. He’s making good, accurate, appropriate throws. When he did get an interception it really, you know, hit Sione [Houma] right in both hands and he…coached not to throw back against your body. Yeah, we do coach that, but then, you know, guy makes that play and gets a completion and you’re happy he did it. But that one, football gods got us on that one.
“Loved the way he ran. Looked like Russell Wilson [or] Colin Kaepernick there. I had a flashback of those two guys when he took that ball and got us a first down and cut across the grain and was heading toward the endzone and got tackled about the 12 [or] 13 yard line. That was a big play in the game. So doing a lot of good things. He’s played winning football, and that’s what we’ve asked him to do.”
MGoQuestion: When you were scouting Maryland on film, what did you see in their defense that led to calling a number of screens to open the game?
“Uh…well, we just thought we could- the first one?”
“The first play of the game we had a screen called that didn’t go as far as we would have liked it to, but then the tight end screen to Jake Butt went a lot further than we thought it would, and the touchdown to Drake Johnson was a great call. Fortunate that we got the all-out blitz that we got, and we were able to get a touchdown out of it.”
Jim, is N-
“I always thought of those kind of plays like different pitches in baseball. You know, you’ve got a fastball, you’ve got a curve, you’ve got a changeup. You want as many different pitches in your repertoire as you can. We’ll always have some screen game in the game plan in some form or fashion, whether we think it will work or not. It’s there for a purpose. In case you do get an all-out blitz.”
You’re facing the best team you’ve faced since Utah.
/blank stare and silence
Is Northwestern the best team you’ve faced since Utah?
“Well, yeah, you can compare anything, you know. Team to team. No doubt this is a heck of a good football team.”
Just wanted to ask how much more prepared you thin your team is now than you were in that opener to face this type of team?
“Um…as I said Saturday, good. Like what we have. Like our team. Like the way we prepare. They get better. They’ve gotten better and made improvements each week. They give everything they’ve got. That’s all you can ask for as a coach, and want to keep building on it. Think we have. And build.”
/SID points to next person with microphone
“Think that’s about as close as I can get. I saw you smile there. Is that-?”
Yeah, I’ve got something to work with there.
“Sometimes, just let me know- just let me know what you want me to say, and I’ll try to accommodate. [/laughs] Sometimes you come with the story already written. Probably save us a lot of time-”
Do you think you’ll win?
“Do not have a crystal ball.”
When you talk about the defense, you’ve been talking about position groups and the highlights of different position groups. Is there a point when, as they grow, the synergy between them- does that grow in terms of different units and the team week by week?
“Uh, sure. Yes. Teamwork is what we call that.”
On the defense especially. Do the linebackers get more comfortable knowing what the defensive line’s going to do and the secondary? Does that grow through a season?
“Uh, yeah. I mean, it has a chance to. It has a chance to improve and get better and it also has a chance to not depending on the guys you have. You know, team attitude, a unit attitude, a position attitude. Competitive, not self-centered. That definitely has a chance to grow, and a lot depends on the attitude.”
Earlier you said about the-
“You can have a selfish attitude or you can have a team attitude. You can have a good attitude or bad attitude. So yeah, that definitely has a chance to get better.”
You talked about the higher ceiling on Saturday, that there was room to grow. Where is that area?
“It’s all of us. That’s our goal. Name a way, that’s what our team’s attacking. So, you never do get satisfied. You always feel that there’s ways to improve, and you’re attacking every little thing.”
You said the last couple weeks you wanted to ease Drake Johnson back into the game. Do you feel like after the game last Saturday he’s capable of handling and maybe even being the lead back and getting the work?
“I do, and he has. It’s already happened. That was weeks ago. We were talking about the glide theory of coming down the runway and taking off.
“Yeah, he’s up and going and we’re really impressed. The way he accelerates into a tackler, the way he can drop his shoulders and, you know, just feed that shoulder pad to the defender is really impressive. I would think you would want to tackle him maybe a couple times a game, but not too many more after that. Think he does a great job of accelerating through contact, to and through contact in a way that is explosive and is able to feed pads to the defender. I’m really impressed by that.”
With Ty [Isaac], he had the fumble and the roughing the kicker penalty also, and the fumble that he recovered. Does that play in a running back’s head, and what do you do if that’s in his head, the mistakes, how do you coach him out of that if it’s a bit of a funk?
“Yeah, well, didn’t have a good day. Tomorrow’s a new day. Sometimes life hits back. The game of football hits back at you, and go to Rocky…what was that, Rock IV? Rocky V? Go to the speech of Rocky to his son: ‘Life’s gonna hit back. Life’s gonna knock you down. Nothing hits like life.’ I’m paraphrasing here, but how many hits can you take and keep coming back? So pull up that clip. Sylvester Stallone did it well.”
You mentioned your brother a minute ago and also on Saturday, and a number of your assistants have also brought up influences from the NFL. How big of an influence have pro- whether it’s schemes, positions, things like that- been on your team this year?
“Yeah, it has. I don’t know the percentage but it has. It’s there. Also high school tape, college tape. Other football. NFL tape. Enjoy watching it as a coach. You don’t feel like it’s stealing; it’s research. But yeah, there are a lot of good ideas that come from high school coaches, college coaches, pro coaches.”
From the group that you inherited last year to now and going into a top-25 game, do you see a group that maybe is kind of feeling a little differently about itself than all the uncertainty previous to now? Back in the spotlight, back among the nation’s top teams?
“I don’t know. Hope they’re feeling ready to work. Get back to work. Work and don’t worry. Impressive, congrats, next. Hope that’s our mindset.”