News bullets and other important information:
- Kovacs ran around last night. Hoke says he's day to day. Van Bergen said Kovacs is expected back for Iowa. Who knows.
- Barnum injured his other ankle and is now "day to day."
- Lewan practiced. Has a knee injury on top of the ankle injury. Might get fewer reps in practice this week.
- Fitz Toussaint is -- surprise -- the number one running back.
- Desmond Morgan would have played more earlier but had a hamstring injury at the beginning of the season.
- McColgan is healthy but has been surpassed by Hopkins at fullback for those of you who were wondering. (Just me probably.)
Opening remarks: “Obviously we have a great challenge in going to Iowa City and play a very good Iowa team. Undefeated at home. That seems to be the way this conference is to some degree right now. They play awfully well and they’re a very well coached football team and have been for many many years. It will be the most physical game to this point for us as a team. When you watch them, personnel wise you look at Coker and what he’s done leading the league in rushing, and Vandenberg has done a tremendous job in there at quarterback. They have a great set of wideouts, but McNutt obviously gets a lot of the exposure because of what he’s done out there on the field. It’s going to be a great challenge for us and you play these last four, and when you get in November, you play for championships in the Big Ten conference, and that’s kind of how it’s been for many years. We look forward to it, we’re going to have a great week of preparation, and it’s going to be fun.”
How did the defense respond to the coaching during the off week, and where do you think you are on that side of the ball? “I think they responded well. When you look at it and you grade it and you look at it position by position, I thought up front the gap integrity that goes along with playing team defense and the appraoch that the guys played with and the demeanor they played with -- Mike, no question, was a factor in the game, not just in the middle but with his making plays down the field and those kind of things. Linebacker wise I thought we played downhill. I thought Desmond really did a nice job. I thought Kenny, I could feel those guys out there. Jake Ryan made some plays. Sometimes they’re unorthodox, but he’s a football player. In the back end, the two corners -- J.T. had the one penalty late that hurt us a little bit on that last drive, which was disappointing for us, but I think those two guys are settling in. Courtney’s done a nice job at nickel. Troy, for his first start back at the safety position, did some good things. I think there’s more that we can get from him there. I thought Thomas Gordon played up from where he did two weeks ago.”
What’s the status of Jordan Kovacs? “Day to day. He ran around, did some stuff last night, so we’ll see.”
How much of an adjustment did you have to make without Kovacs? “We didn’t do anything different without him to be honest with you. I think there’s some leadership there that he brings. I think there’s some football instinctiveness that he brings that is something that I don’t know if you ever make up for, whoever’s in there. He ran around and did things last night, so I was pleased with him.”
(mehr nach dem Absprung.)
How close were you to playing your best game of the year? “It wasn’t. I mean, we only got one turnover defensively. We had two interceptions that in tight games you can’t have. You have to create more opportunities for your offense defensively. Not getting in and scoring a touchdown at halftime bothers me. We got three, but those four points out there can hurt you down the road. We’ve got to do ourselves better there.”
Your defense has done a remarkable job of forcing turnovers and recovering fumbles. Is that luck? “I think you create your luck to some degree. I think our guys have done a nice job of trying to get 11 guys to the football, where you’re opportunistic to recover the fumble. We work strip drills and those kind of things during fall camp as much time as any or in an off week. Those things, you try and get back to those simple basics, which really are not simple, because that’s the game. I think there’s a couple examples out there: Van Bergen against San Diego State, knocking the ball out and ripping it out, and Thomas Gordon at Northwestern ripping the ball out of there. The drills are being taken from the practice field to the game. As much as anything though, it’s getting 11 guys to the football.”
Have you had a season where you’ve been able to force at least one or two turnovers every game? “Uh, gosh, that’s a good question. Not at this rate.”
Did you anticipate being in a three-way tie for the division lead? “Never even thought about it, to be honest with you. I thought about the month of November an awful lot. That’s when you win championships in this league.”
After Devin’s interception, we didn’t see Devin or that package for a long time. Did you and Al talk about moving away from that, and was it also to maybe preserve some of Denard’s rhythm? “No. Not at all. The other thing -- we had exhausted to that point what we wanted to do with the two-quarterback personnel group. So no. I think there’s a lot more that can be done from it.”
Can you elaborate why you think Iowa’s going to be the most physical game to this point? “Probably a lot of it is history. I’ve always loved, as a coach, watching Iowa on defense and watching Iowa on offense. When we get breakdowns, if there are similar opponents and we’re getting ready to play somebody that they’ve played, that’s the first film since I was here before that I’ll put on because of how they play defense. The physicalness that they play with, the fundamentals and techniques, and it’s the same way offensively. It’s a great challenge. Being a defensive line coach, you watch the offensive line and how they’re coached. Their fundamentals, their techniques, the attitude that they play with -- it’s awesome. It gets you excited.”
Mattison had Kovacs doing a bunch of stuff, especially in blitz packages. With him out, which safety - Gordon or Woolfolk - takes up Kovacs’s responsibilities? “It just depends how you’re setting your sub defense and really what you think can help from looking at a protection standpoint, whether it’s one of those pressures that are run pressures out of that. It just depends formationally how things end up.” (Ed: What?)
What are the most important elements of winning in November compared with the first two months? “I don’t know if our blueprint is ever going to be different. We want to run the football. We want to be able to possess the football. We want to take care of the football. Defensively, we want to stop the run, get bodies to the ball, create opportunities for our offense, and be sound in our special teams. Try and gain some field position because of special teams. I can’t tell you that’s going to be any different, but it’s how you have to improve on a daily basis so you can play your best football through the month.”
Can we now say that Toussaint is the number one back, and what did he show you last week that made you give him 20 carries as opposed to two? “I think he did, but I also think the situations of where you’re at in the game and what you can do to a certain degree. But I think he played tremendously. I think he had great vision, balance, the most exciting thing was, I thought, his burst out of holes. On the 59-yarder, he separates the safeties and has a tremendous burst as he does it. And the other credit -- our wide receivers blocked downfield like nobody’s business. He’s a guy that’ll start the football game for us.”
Does it make a difference for the offense knowing who the number one back is? “That’s a good question. I don’t know what it does besides the continuity of it, but I think they’re so interchangeable to a certain degree. Vince was a little beat up, so he didn’t get as many opportunities. Mike comes in and gives you a different gear to some degree, but Fitz will definitely be the guy.”
Can you update us on the status of Taylor Lewan and Ricky Barnum? “Ricky will be day to day. Taylor’s fine. He had an ankle a little bit and knee a little bit, but he’s fine. He did everything yesterday, too.”
Did Ricky reaggravate his ankle? “Other ankle.”
How important has Curt Mallory been in coaching the secondary on how to prevent homerun plays? “Curt’s a tremendous football coach, and he’s done a great job of the fundamentals of playing a coverage, whether it’s three-deep, two-deep, man-free stuff, and talk about angles, support, your pursuit on the backside of the football, whether it’s a cutback responsibility or chase-contain responsibility, or arc support, the last man knocking the guy out of bounds. I think the guys have done a nice job of understanding the concepts that you have from a defensive standpoint.”
How would you assess Desmond Morgan, and what did he do to beat out Brandin Hawthorne? “He’s been coming on. He would have played a lot more earlier, but he had an aggravated hamstring during the last week of camp. That set him back a little bit, but I think he’s a very instinctive linebacker. I think he plays downhill well, I think he also, for a young guy, is grasping the defense more conceptually and also the opponent and studying the offense.”
Hagerup’s punting seems to be a little off. What’s the deal there? “I think he had the one -- first punt was a good punt. The second punt, the inconsistency there -- he’s been consistent to that point, so we’ve got good competition because Matt’s still working on both [kicking positions]. So we’ll compete there just like we do every other position.”
You said you exhausted the plays out of the deuce formation. Do you go into a game with a set number of plays scripted out of that formation? “I wouldn’t say scripted, but there’s options out of it that we’ll have available.” How many times do you want to use that formation in a game? “I think it just depends to some degree on the game.”
Just to make sure one more time … Does Michigan have a definitive number one tailback or is it still an evolving position? “I think it’s Fitz right now. I don’t think there’s any doubt. I think he’s earned that opportunity.”
This has nothing to do with anything, but from when you played at Ball State to now, do you think that sportsmanship and respect has diminished in athletics in general? “I think there’s a lot of reasons why maybe it isn’t what it was. Starting at a young period, starting with what you see on TV and those things, what’s deemed accepted and not accepted … Is it probably worse? I don’t know. I probably wasn’t the nicest player when I played. I’ll say this, too -- you know about it now. With the 24-hour news cycle, there may have been things that happened before in games -- and I’m sure it did -- that no one knew about because of the news cycle and what you guys do.”
Have you ever been in a position to compete for a championship with so many freshmen on defense? “No. Probably not. I mean, the best players have to play. If we don’t play the best players, no matter who they are, where they’re from, what age they are, then we’re cheating the program. We’re not going to change the program.”
Are you relying more on the seniors to mentor the freshmen? “I’m hoping they’ve done that since day one. That’s the whole deal. They’re doing a great job since the day the kids got here in the summer. That relationship and that respect, and a lot of freshmen hit the wall sometimes. So far these guys have been able to persevere and keep learning and getting better from a fundamental and technique standpoint.
Does the NCAA rule change with scholarships the way you recruit? “All those things are so new, I haven’t even taken the opportunity … They’re complicated, there’s a newness to all of it, and I’m talking about the 2000 dollars, the APR. Our focus last week when they came out was Purdue. Our focus right now is Iowa.” Do you anticipate recruits bringing it up to you? “No.”
In a noisy environment, is there a way to adjust the snap count so the other team isn’t able time their A-gap blitzes? “I think that’s funny that it’s brought up. You’ve got a good point, but at the same time they (Ed: Michigan State, I think) were offsides three times. So timing must not all be there. To answer the question, yeah there’s different ways that you use methods you use from a silent to guy tapping a guy, there’s a lot of different ways. Two guys holding hands and one guy -- the guard -- drops his hand, the tackle knows it’s time to play.”
Devin had the opportunity to score on the bootleg, but it looked like he eased up at the end. Did you tell him that he has to try harder to get into the endzone on that play? “Yeah, he needs to run through that, and we’ve talked about it when he came off the field. He just needs to run through it. I think he thought he was going to hop in instead of just lowering himself and just going through.”
Denard took a knee on one offsides call. Probably wasn't supposed to do that, huh. “It’s some old training, maybe. We’d like for him to throw it to the Z, who was down the field.”
What do you like about Desmond Morgan and Jake Ryan? “What I like best about them is that they’re football players. They understand and my boy Jake can be -- what’s the right word -- he makes plays maybe unorthodox sometimes. An example of him making a football play was when he knifed through and tackled for loss. That’s a guy being a football player. That’s a guy saying, ‘I’m not going to set the edge because I’ll get knocked out. Now if I take the guy’s knees and go up through, now I have a chance.’ ”
Has the month of suspension hampered Will Hagerup’s punting? “No. He’s punted. He might be pressing a little bit, which I think he does. It’s like trying to kill a drive or an overhand serve.” I don’t know anything about those. “Nor do you punting.” (Ed: Zing.)
Are you going to rest Lewan in practice this week? “Eh, we don’t have that luxury to be honest with you. We’ll try and be smart and maybe take a rep here and take a rep there, but our depth at offensive line is probably as low as I’ve ever seen it at a university.”
What are you seeing out of Stephen Hopkins at the fullback position? “He’s a thick guy. I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far. I think he’ll just get better and better. He’s a tough guy. I think when you have a guy like that who’s a pretty good runner with the ball also, you start getting into some split back things out of the pro sets. It opens up a whole new offense to some degree.”
MGoQuestion: Is McColgan still banged up or has Hopkins permanently claimed the fullback job? “I think Stephen’s kind of moved ahead of him. They’ll both play, but I think Stephen’s kind of moved ahead.”
You said Iowa’s the most physical team. Does that include Michigan State? “Oh yeah. They always have been, in my opinion. That’s taken eight years ago or whatever it was. I was here before. I always thought they were well coached and physical. It’s a fun week. If you’re a D-line coach, it’s fun. I love this.”
How much do you have to play down the fact that Iowa lost to Minnesota to your players? “I think this, and we talked about it as a team yesterday: Minnesota’s a lot better team now than they were five weeks [ago]. A heck of a lot better. Jerry Kill is a really good football coach. The fundamentals and the techniques that he’s been striving and he’s been talking about. Gray looks like he’s starting to arrive as a quarterback. Then you’re playing for a rivalry game. Anything happens in those games.”
With this game being such a physical one and the depth concerns on the offensive line, are you going to give Elliott Mealer and Rocko Khoury more snaps this week? “Well they’ll have some more, but I wouldn’t say too many more. They’ll get their share, which they’ll need to have.”
Do you ever talk to your team about standings? Also, what do you think of Iowa’s pink locker room? “Yeah, I remember that part of it.” Do you think it’s stupid? “Hey, who am I to judge anybody? What was the first part?” Standings. “No, we didn’t talk about that. We talked about the opportunities we have before us. We didn’t sit up here and say, this has to happen. We just have to play our best football. Play Michigan football.”