- Cornerback play in Don Brown's system
- Shea Patterson's fast integration into the system
- Karan Higdon becoming a workhorse
- The backup quarterback situation
[After THE JUMP: Your kickoff coverage ain't got nothing on Rutgers]
Coach, can you talk about the discipline it takes to play cornerback for Don Brown, in man, and how Brandon Watson’s been playing?
“Takes a lot of discipline to play cornerback in this system, there’s so much man to man coverage. Also takes great athleticism to be able to play man to man coverage in the secondary. There’s really no plays off. Plus when they recognize that it’s run, they’ve got to get involved with the run. And it’s easier for a player when they know where they’re going, as opposed to a player that doesn’t know where their opponent is going. So, comparing a wide receiver to a defensive back, in terms of what that position, and the athleticism needed. Also, that translates to the linebacker position. When the linebackers have to play man to man as well as opposed to dropping into a zone, it’s much more difficult. It just takes a high level of discipline and athleticism to play linebacker and defensive back in our system.
And Brandon Watson’s play, so far this year
“Great, outstanding. You love the pick-six. What a great thing in a football game for our team I think we’re tied in the country with four pick-sixes. Lavert (Hill), Brandon and Josh Metellus. Four pick-sixes. My son Jack loves the pick-six.”
Who doesn’t, right?
Cesar Ruiz, can you describe his contribution on the field with the offensive line, kind of being the center, obviously. And describe his personality off the field
“Cesar’s personality is one that everybody enjoys being around. Very enthusiastic eevery day. Very gung-ho guy. Very popular with players, very respectful to the coaches and the staff. Really good, down to earth, genuine good person.
“Contributing a lot in the offensive line. The center position is one of leadership and making calls and adjustments and he’s been outstanding there. Offensive line played really well again in this past game against a team that was leading the country in tackles for loss. I think we had one tackle for loss for half a yard, one sack on a screen where the back wasn’t able to get over to the position where he needed to be and Shea tried to scramble, he ended up getting, technically, sacked. But other than those two, i thought it was outstanding that we were able to stay on schedule in the game and avoid the negative tackles for losses and the sacks. That was very good for us.”
With Dylan (McCaffrey) out, who is your No. 2 quarterback?
“We’ll see this week. Definitely Brandon (Peters) and Joe (Milton) will be competing for that spot.”
And is there any thought put into preserving Joe’s redshirt option when you’re looking at that?
“I think we’re on schedule for that. He’s participated in one game so he’s eligible to play in three more games and still have a redshirt.”
With that, do you take into consideration possibly postseason games, in terms of redshirt?
“Yes. Yes, we do. Interesting question. I imagine the answer would be it doesn’t matter if it’s a 12-game season or a 13-game season or beyond. It still counts as four games. Something to be addressed and asked. Could make the argument that the more games a team plays, there would be a percentage rather than just a set game.
If you had your way, would you keep Joe’s redshirt? Is that part of the plan, you’d like to have him at four and preserve that?
“Yeah, we’d like to have that.”
And then, back to the offensive line … the transition, or ascension, that Ed Warinner’s sort of orchestrated here, do you have anything to compare it to, in terms of growth?
“I think it’s been really good. Been a lot of good factors. You’d have to fact check this, I heard this on ESPN, I think we’re the only team in the country to have a back rush for 100 yards for seven straight weeks. Again, that was an ESPN comment. I think i heard it correctly. Karan Higdon deserves a lot of the credit there. He’s really running the ball hard and well. And he’s getting hit, too, and not fumbling the ball. He’s taken a lot of the hit where you don’t see the defender. Where he’s coming at an angle where the back can’t see the defender. Had a couple in this last ballgame — I can think of five. One time he had his facemask grabbed and torqued and was able to hang onto onto the ball. One time he got hit hard, a blind-side defender coming in at a non-aggressive angle from behind him. The kind of plays that usually, a high percentage of coughing up the ball, and he hasn’t. It’s been really good. Offensive line, they’re playing consistent, they’re playing well. A few missed assignments here and there but for the most part not many at all. The other thing you’d compliment the OL on, in my opinion, is the play without being penalized. I think there’s been three, maybe four, maybe five, all year. Maybe three procedures and one holding penalty or four procedures and one holding penalty. There’s no illegal chop blocks, no high lows, there’s no cutting down field. There’s no ineligible receiver downfield. Playing really good in that regard. Very disciplined football. I think coach Warriner has done a great job of instilling that type of play in the offensive line.”
Following up on that, we’ve heard a lot about the offensive line, obviously its improvement, simplification, things like that. How much of the improvement is that and how much is Ed Warinner?
“It’s all together. Each player playing has improved. Playing their best football, and they’re being very well coached.”
With Karan (Higdon), obbviously he’s seized control of that starting role throughout the role. In past seasons, it’s been by committee. Did you anticipate Karan being the lead back, or was it something that as the year went on — obviously Chris (Evans) had an injury — he seized that?
“Both, just him being a really good payer and Chris now coming back. Good to see Chris have a good ballgame, getting into the end zone and contributing the way he did. Feel like he’s back up to full speed. Tru Wilson’s also played extremely well. Happy with the backs. Karan the most, he’s playing at a really high level, as I said. Ball security has been A-plus plus. The yards he’s getting after contact are really good. Got a knack, on the short runs, blocked for a two-yard run, and he gets it to four. And the ability to break the long run. He’s got a real penchant for that.”
Devin Bush, we all see what he does on the field, but you see him all week long, what he does off the field, as a practice player. Talk about what you see from your captain
“Tremendous work ethic. Got great passion for what he’s doing. Resonates with people. It’s real. Good to see a youngster has a passion for something, has a plan for what they’re doing. He embodies that.”
Overall, how do you think special teams is doing. Will Hart, obviously, lighting it up as the punter. Talk about Quinn Nordin and Jake Moody overall
“I think our special teams has been doing well. This past game, the two stars were Ben Mason and Tyler Cochran. Ben Mason on the wedge, he’s able to break the wedge, he’s able to stay alive on the wedge. He’s penetrating, puncturing the wedge, especially in this past game. And Tyler Cochran, he’s coming from the other side and really cutting the field in half, the way he’s running. There’s others that are playing really well, but those two are really a force. With Ben Mason puncturing and Tyler Cochran cutting the field in half, been very good. Probably not quite as good as Rutgers’ kickoff. Their kickoff coverage is really impressive. One of the best in the nation. Ridiculous statistics in that regard. … Will Hart, kickers, specialists, really good. Now, Rutgers has a really impressive punter as well. Their specialists are very challenging, as are their special teams. It’ll be a good challenge this week.”
Tarik (Black’s) touchdown got called back, but he was out there running routes, blocking. Can you evaluate how you think he’s doing?
“Yeah, he’s looking good. Everybody’s happy to have him back. Been great for his morale and the rest of the team’s morale to have him back out there playing and in practice.”
What do you say to your players to avoid having them look ahead to games on the road or the College Football Playoff, all the things people are talking about?
“Well, it just doesn’t seem like a very good idea to look ahead. Concentrate on the ball game that we have. Take it one game at a time.”
Did you get a sense of how Rashan (Gary) played, how he felt Saturday, and just what does his presence give this team?
“I think it was really good for the morale of the team and for Rashan, too, to be back out there. He’s a tremendous leader on our team and somebody that everybody has great respect for. Played really well, too. Special player.”
What’s allowed Josh Uche to have so much success pass-rushing this season?
“He’s got a real knack to create speed off the edge and convert that to power when he needs it, but also has the threat of the speed around the edge. He’s highly determined and motivated. He’s a really special player as well.”
I just was curious about Shea (Patterson). Were you at all surprised how quickly he sort of made that transition. He got here in December, players seem like they gravitate his way.
“Yeah, the first thing I noticed was how intense he was in practice. How focused he was. And seeing it day after day, I’m not surprised the improvement has taken place. He’s getting comfortable playing in this system and, been all good from the first day that he got here. Really good this past ballgame. Third down pickups, it’s really giving our football team a big lift on those 3rd-and-6s, 3rd-and-7s. Doing well on third down conversions and that sets up another set of downs. He’s throwing the ball really accurately, too. Getting it places, taking care of the football great. Making the right decisions. Sees the field really well. Just all good. Been really good since the first day. Getting better.
You’ve described quarterbacks as tough as a $2 steak, all that stuff. How do you evaluate him in terms of his toughness? He’s got a high level of enthusiasm
“I think all quarterbacks are tough, in my opinion. That’s a physically demanding position. But there’s no question in my mind, he brings a level of focus and toughness, mental toughness, a level of intensity to the position that few do. Upper percentile of guys that are able to do that and have the enthusiasm that he does and the energy that he does. We ask him to do something and he delivers, over and over again. A great feeling to have a quarterback like that.”
And on Rashan, is he good to go?
“Yeah, you saw him play this week. I don’t have an update for this week.”
Real quick, was Dylan injured on the first run or second?
Is he out for the rest of the season, or is that gonna be —
“We’ll see. Probably.”
Did you agree with the reversal of the targeting call? Or is that such a subjective call that you never expect consistency?
“I don’t know the answer to that, what you’ll be able to expect consistency in that call or not.”
Did you agree with the overturn on that?
“I mean, it looked like a launch to the head and neck area. When the rule was first brought in, that was the thing they were most trying to rule out. They were trying to get it out of football. … So like you, I don’t know if we’ll have consistency in that call. Launching, leaving the feet, head and neck area, is it just a foul or what they were really trying to get out of the game of football?”
Looking back, what was the process of getting Shea here like? Was he sold on coming here right away? What were some of the hoops you had to jump through?
“They were just conversations, really, just to see if there would be a fit. For him and for us. It was, and it happened.”