Offensive line from the start of fall camp to now: where’s it come and in what ways have you seen it grow?
“I think the biggest growth’s been in the communication. I see our guys on a day-to-day basis getting more comfortable and getting better at communicating. We’ve talked about it still as a point of emphasis. I think it always will be. I think you see that in really good football teams. If you watch the line play, if you just watch the trenches and you watch an offensive line play for a really good offensive team you’ll see both the verbal communication that goes on and then all the stuff that happens after the snap with the nonverbal stuff and how they pass games [Ed: I think that’s what he said] and all that type of stuff. But pleased with where we’re at as far as our focus and where we need to go. Once again, consistency.”
As far as focus goes offensively moving the ball, are you frustrated? Sometimes it looks like you’re moving the ball well. There’s other times you’re not moving it at all. There’s other times where not moving it well at all is an understatement. Is there a level of frustration for you right now? Is this offense coming together as planned or is it behind schedule?
“I don’t—I guess that’s kind of a difficult question to ask. I don’t really understand.”
Are you frustrated? Is this offense where it should be in your eyes?
“No, I’m not frustrated at all. Shoot, you look out there at the field at times- I look out there during the game and when you don’t have Funch out there and you have Amara Darboh catching his first touchdown, Da’Mario Jones comes in and catches his first pass [which was a] big third-down conversion, you look at a true freshman left tackle, Devin in his third game in a new system, at times we’re playing Khalid [Hill] at tight end. You just look at the youth out there [and] there is going to be a growth process. Our kids have worked extremely hard and take great pride in doing things right. Now, has it been perfect? No. And do we have a long way to go? Yes. But the attention is there, the focus is there, the want-to is there and we’ve just got to continue to improve.”
Last week you mentioned infancy stages. For another baby analogy, would you say it’s crawling now?
“Well, we took another step. We took a step in the right direction. Still we know as a group the consistency’s got to be better but at times you see us do some things very, very well.”
[After the THE JUMP: Nussmeier summarizes the offensive strategy against Miami and gives his thoughts on tempo]
MGoQuestion: Against Miami the offense was far more under center than against Notre Dame, when I think you were in shotgun about 85% of the time. What was the thought behind that?
“Well, like I said before we’re going to try and devise a plan each and every week to give our guys the best chance for success, and when you look at Notre Dame when you fall behind in a game like that obviously sometimes it changes your backfield sets and some things you wanted to do. And there’s also different plays that maybe one week we feel better running out of maybe the pistol or shotgun than we do under center for various blitzes or things that we’re going to check or those type of things. So backfield sets, shotgun, under center will vary by gameplan.”
With Funchess being out, in terms of besides the obvious with him being able to score touchdowns and things like that it seems like one of his biggest attributes is as a bailout. If nothing’s really happening you can throw it up to him and let him hopefully make a play on the ball. When you don’t have a guy like that does it kind of set up the offense for…
Maybe that’s how mistakes can happen?
“I hope we’re not letting you coach the quarterback this week because we don’t teach just throw it up to Funch when things aren’t going well.” /laughs
I wouldn’t do that either. And I wouldn’t take the job.
“That was a good one there. I think the biggest thing [is] you can get played a little differently when you have a receiver of his caliber of play. It forces people to respect you on the perimeter. You get one-on-one matchups [and] it makes it awful difficult for people to play you that way whereas when you don’t have a guy like Devin it puts more pressure on the other guys, for sure, and you may see a little bit different box as far as the running game. You may get the extra hat down in there that maybe they don’t want to be so involved because they’re trying to get a double team on a receiver of his caliber.”
You always want to control the ball on offense but does that ramp up when you’re playing a team that loves to play uptempo and have a ton of possessions?
“We always say each and every week [that] we want to control the tempo on offense, whatever that may be. If we need to speed up and we want to play fast we want to be able to do that. If we need to slow down and take more time we need to do that. Now, I think you get in trouble when you start to look at your opponent and say, ‘If we don’t eat this much time on this drive…’ You’ve got to play aggressively and we’re going to aggressively take what the defense gives us each and every week.”
Is Jake Butt further ahead than you might have expected him at this point and what he’s able to do in the offense?
“I don’t know that I had an expectation for Jake. You just never know when a guy’s coming off an ACL. Knowing the quality of young man you’re talking about, the quality of character, just a phenomenal kid. His work ethic, his desire. I mean, from day one he said, ‘I’m going to have the quickest ACL recovery in history.’ When you know the kid nothing would surprise you. Obviously each and every day we’re trying to give him a little bit more. He’s a phenomenal football player and really looking forward to when he gets back to really being at full strength.”
How does he change when he is at full strength what you can call and what you can do inside your offense?
“Well, I think when you look at his ability to create matchups for you in the passing game and do some things like that. As you saw in the game we did a couple different things with him. He’s a guy that gives us another weapon on offense.”
Doug, after the turnovers there in the second quarter it seemed like you guys really made an effort to just keep the ball on the ground and pound it with Derrick a little bit. Was that one of those things that they were giving you or were you going to be careful because the offense was turning it over a little bit there?
“Well, I don’t know that anybody would say that after three games you’re minus-seven in the turnover margin [that] you’d feel good about where you’re at there. Obviously it’s been a point of emphasis [and] will continue to be a point of emphasis. We’re not going to play winning football if we continue on this pace so our guys understand that. We’ve got to get that corrected.
“As far as the gameplan goes, felt like we started fast. If you look at the flow of the game we get down there and put the ball on the ground in the red area. Second-and-three on the nine but we get three points to start. Defense does a great job, gets a turnover, [and] we go back and turn it into a touchdown and then we got into a little bit of shooting ourselves in the foot like we’ve talked about. As we came out [in the] third quarter [we] did not start as well as we’d like to in the second half. First two series were punts. Tried to dictate the run a little bit, and then I felt like our guys- you know, if you look at it, shoot, we averaged eight yards per carry I believe it was in the fourth quarter. Our guys really- when you look at how you want to play a game and you have the ability, if you’re going to run the football you’ve got to be consistent and you’ve got to stay with it. You can’t just- because you have a couple loss-yardage runs or because the run is not getting big chunks like you’d like or creating explosives you’ve got to stay with it, and I felt like we were able to do that.”
Coach, when you talk about explosives against good teams how much of that is on the running backs to break a tackle, make a safety miss, maybe stiff arm and are you getting enough of those?
“Well, you always try and get the back into the second level and we always talk about [with] the backs, when we get you into the second level of the defense you’ve got to make somebody miss. I think our wideouts have done an outstanding job in perimeter blocking but there’s always going to be one extra hat so we put it on the back: you get to the second level, you’ve got to make them miss.”
Doug, I’ve got two…
“Okay. You’re only allowed one.” /laughs
Is it fair to say Derrick’s your primary back right now? I mean, he’s double the carries I think DeVeon had.
“Well, I think Derrick did an outstanding job. DeVeon’s done a really good job too, and I think it’s just happened that way a little bit. Derrick is our starting tailback, he’s been the starting tailback. You know, I pointed out to our offensive team [that] Derrick had a phenomenal week of practice. Had his best week of practice last week and arguably had his best game of the year. The point to be made: how you practice is how you play. And just by chance, DeVeon’s done an outstanding job too and he’s going to get his touches.”
My other question is involving Devin Gardner and Shane Morris. A lot of people…you know the saying, “the backup quarterback’s always the most popular” and I didn’t follow your career carefully when you were played [but] are you familiar with that and what do you tell Devin? I imagine he’s not immune to hearing this stuff.
“Sure. You said it best. You know, the backup quarterback is always the most popular guy in town and Shane has done a tremendous job. I said leading up to the Notre Dame game [that he] had an exceptional week of practice. Had another great week last week. Continues to really get better and better and I believe Devin is too. You know, you look at Devin’s numbers and sometimes numbers can be misleading but you look at the numbers and you say the guy’s almost at a 69% completion percentage, he’s got five touchdowns, four interceptions. Yeah, a couple of errors that he’d like to have back and I’ve said it before, I’ve got to do some things better for him too. The one in the game the ball gets tipped, it gets tipped at the line of scrimmage so the trajectory takes off on him and it looks like it’s a bad throw but it got tipped. I think it’s unfair to say that this guy or that guy is the problem.”
Just because of Utah’s offensive numbers the conversation will be how they dictate tempo of play but [for] your offense how can you, maybe by sustaining drives and keeping them off the field a little bit, how can you dictate tempo?
“I’ve said it before. I don’t believe there’s ever been a direct correlation- I think when you look at pace of play and you look at snaps per game and yards per game I don’t know that you can draw a direct correlation between championship teams and the amount of snaps and the amount of yards they get. I don’t think there’s a correlation there and I don’t think every down’s created equally. We’ll continue to focus on the things we think are important: winning third downs, winning in the red zone, those type of things. And how are you doing with the snaps you’re getting?
Speaking of the backup quarterback, he had a couple balls dropped on Saturday but how’d he look to you in the game and has he consistently shown that ability to know when to tuck it away and run like he did on the one?
“I thought Shane did a really good job. Went in the game and we asked him to run the offense. You know, we didn’t back away from the way we were calling the game and he did a really good job and he continues to get more and more comfortable with the more snaps he gets.”
Utah has 11 sacks in two games. Your offensive line is still young. What do they have to do to be ready for this challenge and what have you told them to make sure they’re mentally and physically prepared?
“Well, Utah’s a very aggressive style of defense. Having been in that league and knowing Kalani [Fifita Sitake] and coach Whittingham, they do a great job and they’re going to be very aggressive in the way they approach the game so it’s going to be important that our guys really focus. We’re going to have to spend a lot of time this week in the film room making sure we’re understanding our protection schemes and how we’re going to block each and every look because they’re going to give us a bunch of different looks.”