“ ’Sup? What are you shaking your head about?”
I’m laughing at your “Giants and Tigers, it’s on” thing.
“It’s on. I’m fired up.”
Are you a baseball fan?
“Yeah, but not as much now as normal. Just a little more focused on other things, but I’m like anybody else. I like watching Sportscenter.”
What’s the word of the day?
“The word of the day? God. Good question. What’s the word of the day … Hmm. ‘Ear confection.’ Yeah. ‘Ear confection.’ It’s two words, actually. She has an ear confection. That’s what she said. And I’ll be darned if I’m going to correct her. It’s too cute listening to her say it.”
What did you see from the Michigan State film that you liked?
“Oh, certainly wasn’t flashy. But there were some good plays. We played a very close-to-the-vest football game offensively. It was by my own admission conservative. The nice thing about it, as much as we failed inside the red area -- or we could have been better because there were some chances there -- but our quarterback took care of the ball. Other than when it was in essence a meaningless interception at the end of the half. He did play pretty smart. It kept us in the game although it wasn’t flashy. That part I liked, which has shown, the last three weeks particularly, is his growth. About being conscious of taking care of the football, making plays where there are plays, and not trying to create something that’s not there. That was good, and that will help us in the future I think.”
How much of the conservative playcalling was their defense, and how much of it was you playing to your defense?
“Um, probably a little bit of both. We don’t want to get into too much of that, either, where we have to depend on our defense every single game. That’s not fair to the team. But by the same token, you can have what happened at Notre Dame and put them in predicament after predicament. So there’s got to be a balance there somewhere, where you’re still taking your shots and trying to -- and to their credit, they have a great defensive football team. They’ve proven that the last year, the year before, since that regime’s been there, they’ve been a good defensive team. I think it’s a little bit of all of it.”
Getting a couple big running plays -- was that enough to satisfy you?
“No. We needed to run the ball even better. We had some nice plays in there. The biggest thing we had in this game -- I don’t think we’ve had too much of it -- was we had too many tackles for loss, and a couple of them were just simply an inability to block the opponent or safeties crowding the line of scrimmage a couple times or bad play calls. A couple times we ran uphill into a couple plays. Those types of things are always like anything else. The combination of several different things if you just assess the film for every play. We have to eliminate the tackles for loss, because if we’re still working in normal down and idstance, we’ve always got a chance. We’re a good third down team so long as it’s not third down and ten, which we had too many of this game. That was one of our goals was to stay out of that situation as much as we possibly can knowing there were a couple.”
Fitz had lost 16 yards rushing. Was that a combination of those circumstances?
“Yeah. A lot of zone reads. The power reads, they soft played it and bounced back outside and kind of fooled us a little bit and you got tackled. Yeah, and that’s kind of part of the play. That can be kind of a feast or famine play. If they go too outside, the quarterback ducks under and makes a big play, which has happened several times. And then the same play later on, Vince Smith had a long run on [it]. It’s one of those deals. Any time you’re optioning defenders, sometimes if for some reason they fool you a little bit, or they just make a good play, you subject yourself to a little bit of that. It’s well worth it in the end because the big plays can be very big plays.”
MGoQuestion: On Vince’s run from the inverted veer that got 12 yards, was that a designed cutback?
“He ran against the defense. What happened was it was a power read where the end played it soft. He just came back. No, it was not a designed -- it was an instinctive cutback, which is built into the running style of every player.”
MGoFollowup: When Vince cut back, he had Denard as sort of a lead blocker for him. When you looked at how that worked on film, could you consider making that a designed cutback?
“No. With Denard as a lead blocker? No. He was just being a football player.”
What did you do against Nebraska so effectively last year? How do you expect that to translate to this weekend?
“A couple things came up in the game. Number one, our special teams provided us with some turnovers. That was huge. And then our defense did the same. So we got to play on a short field a few times, which is always -- oh God, I can’t tell you how much that helps. And we get some big plays in the passing game. It seems like any time we do that, we’re very productive offensively. Our point totals are up. It makes the defense play honest generally. The residual is your run game is better. I think that combination, the turnovers, the big plays, the passing game.”
There are times on defense when Nebraska looks really good, and sometimes not so very good. From what you’ve seen on film, is it because they have a lot of missed assignments or because they run a high-risk, high-reward style of defense?
“I don’t think they play a high-risk, high-reward type of defense [Ed-S: According to the one Bo Pelini clinic I watched it's a funnel D--only high-risk if the designated tackler gets run over. Think Michigan D circa 2002.] I think they’re like some defenses. You get yourself out of positions at times. They’re schematically a very sound football team. This head coach is an excellent football coach. He knows where they should be, you know. But just like anything else, we design our offensive plays a certain way. Doesn’t always happen that way. We put ourselves out of position. We don’t block somebody. Somebody makes a play. That’s probably happened to them a few times, but I can promise you from a schematic perspective, they fit all the runs the way they should. They’re basically in the right position most of the time. Their coverage is sound. They don’t do anything that you look and say, ‘Oh my God, we can take advantage of that.’ That’s really not very smart. They don’t do any of that stuff. It’s the way the game goes, is they don’t always do what you tell them to do. We don’t always call the perfect play, so …”
You took some shots against Michigan State. Are those plays that you really need to make in order to be a championship level team?
“Yeah. It’s when you’re a running team, which we really are, there’s always points in the game where you have to have some bombs land or at least put the fear of the good lord in them that they have to play looser. Sometimes maybe it doesn’t even hit, but otherwise it just gets tougher and tougher to run the ball. It becomes a simple numbers game. It doesn’t take a math major to figure out that seven guys can’t block eight, eight can’t block nine. You always have an extra guy in there, and the way you get that guy out of there is to make him play looser because there’s a passing game. When we’ve played best, we’ve done that.”
MGoQuestion: It looked like Michigan State anticipated the conservative playcalling and was sending a lot of run blitzes at you. Were there times when Denard audibled into a better play?
“No. No. We were pretty much going to stick with the plan. There was not going to be a lot of audibling in this game. There was a couple instances where that could have happened, but to say on a consistent basis -- we had designed the plan to block up to handle most of what they did, so we did not want to turn this into a chess game on the line of scrimmage. Because then we’re going to start throwing more passes maybe than we want to throw or put ourselves into more second and ten situations and all that stuff. The plan just wasn’t set up that way. Other plans are. Other plans are different, but not this game. When we’ve lost to this team in the past, and we only have one game, but I think it probably goes beyond our game a year ago, but it was getting sacked, throwing incomplete passes, tackles for loss, you know. So we set our plan up although not as flashy as everybody wants, so that that simply didn’t happen. And it didn’t happen. That’s one of the reasons, one of many reasons -- not the least of which our defense played great -- that we won the game. Now it may not be as pretty as everybody wants, but we are going to do what it takes to win football games here. And if it’s not as pretty as everybody likes, well so be it. That’s how we’re going to coach football. Some games are going to be better than others.”
There was very little rotation with the running backs. How come?
“Yeah, playing in big games, you know. We’re still -- don’t get me wrong -- we’re still looking for opportunities to play Thomas. That’s still on the shelf. But I just think -- and Fitz was running pretty good. He popped through there a few times and darn near broke one. Did break one, didn’t quite take it all the way, but he was starting to feel pretty good about it and we wanted to give him every chance to break another one.”
Are you confident the offense will be able to maintain its composure on the road?
“We’ll find out. We’re going to practice that possibility, put our kids in crowd noise situations, which we do every week. We even do that for home games. We practice crowd noise for home games. But truth be told is you really can’t create that the way it really is. So we’ll find out. We’ll go down there and some adversity will hit, I’m sure, because it does every football game, and we’ll preach to them about how important it is to maintain your composure, and hopefully it’ll take.”
Have you ever been to Lincoln?
“I’ve been to Lincoln twice, but not coaching there. I’ve been just visiting there. I visited their staff when I was at UCLA. I think we had a recruit there a few years back when I was at Boise, so I’ve been to Lincoln. I’ve been around the facilities. I knew the coaches of the former regime. I know some of the coaches on this one, too, but I’ve never coached there.”
Do you think it will be harder than coaching in South Bend?
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I haven’t been there. I’ve been in so many hostile environments, what with coaching here and coaching in the SEC. It really doesn’t matter. It just matters how our kids respond, you know. But they're seasoned now. We’ve been around the block on these things a little bit, and the quarterback, some of the key positions, have been around the block, so hopefully we’ll handle it well.”
It’s not easy to win games without scoring a touchdown, but what does it say about this team that you did that?
“Well, it’s like I said, it goes back to simply you do what it takes to win the game. Sometimes it’s just not as pretty as you want. It happened in the Sugar Bowl. Same thing. We didn’t play well at all. But we found a way to make a play when we needed to make a play, and that’s what happened the other night. I can just remember a lot of games like that. I remember when I was at Auburn, we beat Florida back in -- I guess it was ’06 or ’05. I don’t remember anymore [Ed-S: '06] .We didn’t score a touchdown, but we ran 70-something, 78 or 79 plays. They ran 50-something plays. It wasn’t very pretty. It wasn’t ugly, but it wasn’t very pretty. We didn’t score a touchdown. I think we returned a punt or blocked a punt for a touchdown. I don’t remember. But we did what we had to do to win the game, and we converted some key third downs. We held onto the ball. It doesn’t go with the trend of football now. The trend of football now is get on the line of scrimmage, go as fast as you can go, run as many plays as you can, get 500 yards, and see if you can outscore your opponent. I said last week, we haven’t bought into that here. We’re going to play the way we play because we want to have a nice, balanced effort. So it’s not always as flashy as everybody would like.”
Does that perception reflect reality? When you look at the top five, three or four of them don’t run up tempo offenses…
“But some of the fast tempo teams are winning, though. Oregon’s pretty good. But it’s how you decide you want to play. How do you want to win? No one says you can’t win doing it that way. You can. But we aren’t going to do that here. We feel like we can recruit and coach good defense here and recruit and coach good offense. We don’t need to play that way to win. And that’s what we’re going to do. That being said, we can facilitate up tempo offense. We can do that. Be able to do that within our scheme, but it’s just not how we choose to go about it. There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat.”
MGoQuestion: How would you evaluate how you ran the two-minute drill at the end of the game?
“I thought they did an outstanding job. Outstanding job. We always go over that again and see where clock management or were there any issues, and we didn’t really see anything. The only thing [is] I wish we wouldn’t have caught that one pass, you know. We had to use a timeout, but all the instincts of the player is to catch the pass, and I understand that, but that aside, I think we got into a second down and when we threw the route to Drew, and then we killed the ball with … how much time was left when he kicked it? 11 [seconds]?”
“Nine? Yeah. So it turned out pretty good for the most part.”
What about your little guy Drew. He had a pretty good day.
“Mmhmm. What’d I tell you guys?”
You said you could eat soup off the top of his head.
“Well I can. Gallon, too. There’s somebody else -- oh, Norfleet. I forgot him. He’s another one. They heard the press conference and all of them reminded me of all the short guys on the team. I told you the other day, if you want something done to send Drew. Because Drew tends to get it done. And he got it done in this game. He made several clutch catches. That’s just him. That’s what he does, and we ask him -- he has a role within our team. He just executes it usually pretty good. He nags [Ed: Maybe I misheard him, but I think he said ‘nags’] at the other team not necessarily by making a lot of big plays, but by making a lot of little plays. I’m a baseball fan so I compare him to David Eckstein. You remember David Eckstein? What does he do? He hits when you need hits. He doesn’t bat very high, but he helps his team win. So he’s kind of the David Eckstein of football. To me, anyway. That probably doesn’t make sense to anyone else, but it makes sense to me.”
So who ya got in the World Series?
“Where am I from?”
Where do you live?
“Where am I from? Territorial loyalty. I grew up with Willie Mays. Willie McCovey. Orlando Cepeda. Gaylord Perry. Juan Marichal. I think that answers that question.”
How many games?
“No predictions. I won’t give you predictions here, and I won’t give you predictions there, because you’ll hold me up as soon as I do. I do like the Tigers, though. I will say that, but not in this series.”