Got any big birthday plans?
“Oh come on. Daggone it. I thought that was a secret.”
Word of the day?
“Uh. Word of the day? ‘Improvement.’ How’s that?”
MGoQuestion: What kind of improvement did you see from the offensive line?
“No turnovers, number one. That’s the offense, not the offensive line. I’ve said it before, when the turnovers go away, a lot of the problems go away. They don’t all go away, but a lot of it, because you get possessions. That’s the key. You get to keep your possessions. You get to take advantage of them, because they’re precious. That’s really as much from an offensive perspective the reason we won the game as any.”
What inspired you to split Devin Funchess out wide?
“Well, a couple of things. We’ve done that all the way through. It’s not totally new. We did a little bit more of it in this game. We got Jordan Paskorz back. He played a little bit. He’s a good blocker. We used him in some situations that we would have used Funch. But just, you know, packaging him kind of like we’ve done all along. Try to move him around. Still not getting him out of the tight end mode. He’s still playing a lot of that and a lot of what we call the U position or the H back. His role is expanded a little bit but it’s still pretty much in line with what we’ve been trying to do with him since he’s been here.”
MGoQuestion: How did the interior line grade out?
“Not too bad. Taylor [Lewan] was really good. Mike Schofield played pretty well. Graham Glasgow played pretty well. Chris Bryant, for his first start, he had some first start stuff that I think any guys would experience, but he played hard. Kyle Kalis, he got hurt a little later in the game, came out, but I think he was for the most part healthy through the game and he played fairly solid. They weren’t too bad. We were better. We were technique better. We did a lot of things better. The rushing statistics don’t reflect but it’s all a result of only 53 plays run. That’s very deceiving. We were about 60-something percent running efficiency, which means four yards or more or the ability to get a first down in a short yardage situation. So we ran the ball pretty efficiently although we didn’t have any long runs so the numbers didn’t reflect it that much. And we only ran 53 plays. I think there were 56 in the chart with the penalties, but a low volume of plays reflected probably not as good running numbers. But I’ve been saying all along. Statistics can be read any way you want. But that’s a very deceiving statistic. We ran the ball better than it showed in the statistics …
“I think it is an improvement. It’s a point of emphasis. The thing we wanted to do in the off week, Brady said it best. Number one is fundamentally get better at every single position. Offensive line, quarterback, wide receiver, every position. We really did go back and start over with some things that we did during fall camp, because I don’t know if we’d gotten away from it … but we were going to go back and confirm what we felt was the most important. Number two was be cognizant of taking care of the football. That was a number one, I should have said that first. That’s number one, was make sure we took care of the football. That’s really our approach going into the game.”
Was it part of the game plan to keep Devin in safer positions?
“Yeah that was part of the plan. Absolutely. What happened in the UConn game was a playcaller’s nightmare. We were in so many bad down and distances it was just horrible. It was second and long, third and long, whatever. Like I say all the time, that’s not always the players’ fault. I have to do a better job getting them in better down and distances. I told you guys a year ago, when you get a bye you get a chance to look at everything you’ve been doing. That means personnel wise, playcalling wise, game plan wise. As a coordinator I took two days. While a lot of the other coaches were out recruiting, I was allowed to stay in and take two days and just turn things upside down and see what we needed to get better at. The coaches came back, we sat down, and we addressed all those things. Personnel, schemes, all those things. I think we took a step in the right direction. We’re not anywhere close to where we want to be. But part of the thing was we wanted to take pressure off the quarterback without taking the ball totally out of his hands, too. He can be a very dynamic playmaker, and when he uses good judgment he can be as good as anybody.”
Do you think his judgment was better? He didn’t try to do too much?
“I don’t think a defender touched a ball this game. If they did, it may have been one guy tipped one. But in 17 throws, I don’t remember a defender putting his hand on the ball. Or if he did, he barely did. So there were not a lot of high-risk throws. There was one ball he threw off balance, but it didn’t really come close to a defensive player. He stood in there and threw a lot of balls. Devin was adamant about improving his footwork. He was as adamant as I was coaching him through it. He did it. You watch the tape and you’ll see, he’s stepping through his throws. A couple times he wasn’t right on the target, but he’s always around the target, so he gave his guys a chance to make a play.”
Is that out of the ordinary for you to go into bunker mode during the bye week?
“No we did the same thing a year ago. We do it all the time. When you get a bye, you usually give your coordinators a chance to really do some hard evaluating of where we are, what we’re doing well, what we’re not. It’s not unusual to do it all the time.”
You called only runs during the first drive. Did you script all those to take pressure off the quarterback?
“Yeah. Part of it. Plus the runs were hitting good. We were down inside the red area, and we wanted to get the line a little inertia, get them off, get them going. I think it’s the first time I’ve been coordinating that I haven’t called a pass play in the first quarter. But I think that’s just the result of us not running very many plays in the first quarter. There would have been one called eventually. Yeah, that’s just the way it turned out.”
You were able to give Derrick Green some carries early.
“That was really the plan from the beginning. Here’s the deal with that, when you have a young back. You’re going to play him earlier if you’re going to play him. If the game’s close, you’re going to get scared. This was another thing we evaluated. We had to take a little pressure of Fitz. Fitz was carrying too much of the load. Fitz is in fabulous condition, but even at the end of the UConn game, he was starting to run out of gas -- I think anybody would. So we said we have to get Derrick in the game and get him in early before it gets tight. If the game gets tight then we get scared to put a guy in there that maybe doesn’t understand our blitz pick up as well or maybe is going to do something that any young guy would do. It’s not Derrick. It’s any young guy. We just decided, we’re going to put him in early, we’re going to make sure he gets some pops and hopefully if it goes as smoothly as we want, we’ll just keep playing him here and there and we did. That worked out pretty much the way we wanted, but only because we kind of committed to doing it.”
What did Derrick do to earn that during the bye week?
“Well, he’s a work in progress, so as he does more and understands our offense better like anybody else, he makes less mistakes. You feel more comfortable putting him in there in every situation rather than situations where you’re just going to carry the ball. One time he did a great job. We ran a play-action pass. We lost a guy at the point of attack. He stopped and picked the guy up. He saw color flash through the hole and he blocked it. A lot of young guys say, ‘okay, I got this guy. If he doesn’t come, I’m going to slip out for a pass. He didn’t do that. That’s awareness now. But I’ll bet you anything he wouldn’t have done that if we had put him in the first game in that situation. So it’s all a matter of just getting some experience, getting your feet underneath you, and getting comfortable with everything at the position.”
What’s Derrick’s biggest asset? His size?
“Yeah. He’s a load. I mean, he’s a big strapping kid that can run. He has great feet for his size, and he’s not easy to tackle. He’s just a powerful guy. But he’s a good athlete. He’s big. You have not seen the best of him yet. The more he carries the ball, the more comfortable he’ll get. You’ll see why we recruited him more and more. I think you’ve probably seen flashes of it already. He’s a highly skilled kid.”
Is part of it just figuring out how the game works at the college level?
“Yeah. Where to run. Because the first thing with a running back when they get here – it’s every guy, not just Derrick – they think they can do something that they got away with in high school that they can’t get away with here. So they start trying to cut back prematurely or race for the sideline. Those are the two most common things that young running backs do. In high school they can outrun the defense or they can get the defense to flinch a little bit and take it back a little bit. College defenses are much more disciplined. If you don’t give the point of attack a chance and then see how the cracks develop in the front and then hit the crack when you see the crack. If you run away from it before that time, you’re not going to succeed. People are going to get you. As he learns more and more how to do that – he’s still learning how to do that – he’s gotten better and better. He will. He doesn’t have bad vision. He can see where to run with the ball.”
He had two longer runs and the rest were pretty short. Were you pleased in general with his production?
“Oh yeah. He didn’t have big numbers. He had a couple of nice runs. He powered the ball in there inside the two-yard line, which was good. It was a good starting point against a Big Ten opponent where he got a few carries. It wasn’t like playing the first game when you put him in there and the game was still kind of – there was no real pressure. In this game there was pressure and this was a good starting point for him. He’ll just try to continue to build on it. It’s just a shame. We had a couple three and outs that if we could have kept those drives going a little more, we could have gotten more carries for our backs. We lost some turns in there, and that hurt us a little bit.”
If the game is going the way you want it to, is 10 carries what you want to see?
“Yeah, but I don’t commit to that. I don’t know. Sometimes – if he’s rolling, you might give him more than that. I’ve always liked the feature back, but problem is we were almost over-featuring Fitz because of the way games were going. To get another kid in there and see what he can do, particularly a talented kid like that, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I won’t put a number on how many carries he’s got to have.
Does Graham Glasgow grade out better when there’s more on his plate at center?
“He’s a smart guy that plays very, very hard. That helps. And the fact that he had been playing center – I won’t say this was a seamless transition, but it wasn’t a tough one. He’s been playing center all the way through. He and Jack have been battling at that position and playing left guard when it was alternate reps. For him to jump in there and play center was not a big deal for him. But he’s a kid that’s kind of a self-made lineman. When he came in I wasn’t sure he’d ever play here, but he’s worked his tail off and he’s earned everything he’s got, and he’s become at this point, knock on wood, pretty solid.”
Why didn’t you think he was going to play?
“Well he was a freshman. He was running into people, not knowing who to block. A walk-on kid, he’s got to get your attention. That’s what’s unfortunate about being a walk-on kid is to get in the lineup, you have to get the coaches’ attention. We’re always looking at the guys we recruited first. It’s a credit to a walk-on kid to get into the starting lineup because he’s done something to really get you thinking he can play.”
When did he first get your attention?
“I think spring football after his first year. And it wasn’t like he was going to take the world by storm, but he had made some drastic improvement in so many ways. He worked hard in the weight room. It’s important to him. That’s all a coach asks. If it’s important to you you’ll do all the right things to get you where you need to be. If that’s good enough to play, then great.”
How do you coach confidence back into a quarterback?
“Well I know this coaching Jason Campbell when I was at Auburn. When I came in there everybody wanted to replace him. They said, this kid, he’s not confident, he makes bad decisions, let the other kid play. Same old deal. The backup’s the best player until the backup plays and they don’t want him to play anymore. But with Jason, I said I want you to go out there and let it rip and I’ll correct your errors. If you make any mistakes, we’ll just fix the mistakes. But I don’t want you to be scared. I want you to use good fundamentals. I want you to use good judgment. These are all things I told Devin Gardner. You can’t go out there and think, ‘Oh my God, if I throw there I’ll throw an interception.’ Just know what your references are. Don’t throw the ball late over the middle. Don’t dangle the ball when you carry it. You’ll be fine. Don’t go out there and be apprehensive, either.
“I learned with Jason that if you showed him that you believed in him and that if he did what you told him to do, that he would succeed, he had the best year of his career. I don’t think it was any earth-shattering coaching deal. It was just making the kid believe that he was still the answer when a lot of people didn’t think that. I think at this point with Devin going through a rough patch -- I promise you after [the first] two games, yeah he had thrown a few interceptions, but people weren’t thinking he wasn’t the answer. But after [the second] two games, people started having their doubts. The guy coaching him is the same way. Start scaring him and he’ll go out there and play so guarded you won’t get anything out of it. There’s got to be that delicate balance between keeping him aggressive and using good judgment and making sure he understands what you want but not turn the ball over.
“That was a hell of an answer, wasn’t it? That’s the best I’ve done. I didn’t even think about that. I just pulled it -- I thought it was pretty good, okay? Say what you want. Chantel, what’d you think?”
It was good.
“Thanks. Okay. Ask the women, they also confirm.”
What kind of growth have you seen from Jehu Chesson?
“He’s getting more and more involved. I think the quarterabck’s getting more and more confidence in him, getting more balls thrown at him. He’s made a few more plays. I like him . I think this kid can really be a good player. He’s still counting his steps on his square outs and doing some things … you talk about letting it rip. When he lets it rip, he can run with the wind. He’s got good hands. The best is yet to come with him, I think. But it probably won’t happen overnight.”
Do you think Devin lost any confidence in the protection he was getting?
“I don’t know about that. I don’t think so. I think you need to look at the first two games and then the next two games. He was very productive in the first two games, and then the next game wasn’t. Sometimes you feel a lot of pressure. It’s a question better asked to him than me. But sometimes you feel like you need to do more than you need to do. I know Denard went through that a little bit, too. Hell every quarterback I’ve ever coached went through that at one time or another if you play long enough. As long as you play within the realm of the offense, you’re usually okay. But where it really gets a little dicey is when the guy’s a really good playmaker. You want to give him a chance to do it, because some of those plays are helping us win. It’s just where to cut your losses.”