The Borgias. Has anyone watched this show? Is it any good?
How much of the better running game was getting Derrick some snaps, and how much of it was coming up front?
“I think it was both. We gave them a chance to go. We had several plays we pushed the line of scrimmage really well. That’s been most of our issues, is we’ve just had trouble getting our backs started, but in this game there are very few times we got the ball and got clobbered. We came off of combination blocks. Some really fundamentally good-looking football plays almost through the whole game. Our issue this game was third down conversions. If we could have gotten third down conversions, we would have had a hell of a game. But that’s part of the game. It kept us from scoring more points.”
How much more advanced is Derrick?
“Oh he’s come along because he’s had a chance to play and rep and do some things. I told you guys at the beginning that pass protections and stuff, that’s a thing that always concerns me with young backs. But he’s still learning that. He’s still a work in progress. He’s learning where to run, how to run, all those kinds of things. It’s different in college football because the defense is faster and more challenging. He’s learning that. He did a pretty nice job now. Hopefully if we keep doing what we’re doing we’ll spring him for a long one.”
MGoQuestion: Northwestern seemed a bit more passive on defense than the previous two teams. What did you do that made them play you more honestly?
“They really weren’t as much as you think. We charted all our blitz takes. What they tried to do early in the game was exactly what … the first play of the game was a snake curl [Ed-S: I think this is a zone blitz where the safety (snake) comes and they drop (curl) a DE into a zone on the backside] right through the middle of the defense just like what everyone else was doing. But as we got into the game more, some of that went away because we were handling it so much better. We were throwing the ball quicker, we were picking the blitzes up. We practiced all week pressure defense even though Northwestern is a semi pressure team. They’re not really like … they’re a little like Nebraska was, but Nebraska, because they did better, they kept doing it. We just overkilled dealing with it with our schemes and blocking it. After a while, some of it went away. But they still blitzed. They were playing quarters one snap or bringing some kind of zone pressure about every third play. It didn’t seem like it was much because we were moving the pocket, throwing the ball faster, things that may have kept them from looking like they were blitzing as much or doing as much as they planned to do had it worked better.”
Iowa’s not really a heavy blitzing team. What do you expect to see from them?
“That’s a good question. We’re going to prepare for every eventuality. We’re not going to assume anything. We overkill blocking blitzes a week ago, we’ll probably do some of that again this week. But Iowa’s a team that plays sound defensive football. Always has. I mean, they play blocks as good as anyone you’ll play as well as anybody you’ll play. They get off blocks as well as anybody you’ll play. They run hard to the ball. They do all the things that defensive coaches are looking for in defenses. They have a blitz packages. It’s not like they don’t. They have a lot of the same pressures we’ve seen in the last few weeks. How much they use them? I don’t have any idea, but we’re going to assume they’re available to them and they’ll be coming, so we’re going to practice them.”
In the second quarter, you went to the air more. Was that a wind thing?
“Well that had something to do with it. We talked a lot about the wind considerations. We wanted to see how we were throwing the ball against or to the wind. We were doing okay, but the whole idea is to keep yourself balanced as much as you can. Sometimes you start pounding and pounding, and it’s a good time to throw a play-action pass. Well, if you’re running so well, why don’t you keep running? I say, well, when do you throw play action? When you’re not running well? That’s not a good time to do it. Sometimes we did [executed well] and sometimes we didn’t. We killed a couple drives with a dropped ball or some bad throws, but we’ve kept some drives going with some good catches and some great throws. It’s all about execution.”
It’s not a big secret to what Iowa wants to do in the front seven. Does that help with your targeting?
“It can. Yeah I guess. But what are they trading off? Maybe they don’t want to pressure as much as other teams, but they work another 10 minutes on good technique, so you’re dealing maybe with not as much targeting issues, but then you’re dealing with a guy who really knows how to play his responsibility, and that’s the way they’ve always been. It’s a little bit of a tradeoff. Both of them are good, and both of them work.”
Was last game the best targeting from the line this year?
“Yeah I think so. It was the best in terms of our come-off-the-ball combination blocks and not turning people loose. We’re in game 11 now. The young players are starting to get the idea of how to do some of this stuff. Once they learn it, you get some chemistry, backs start getting free all of a sudden. Where was this before? Well, understand there are so many different things and so many different snaps. A lot of things happen, but I think they’re getting a better feel for it.”
You’re having trouble on third down. Have you pinpointed the problem?
“We had some manageable ones. It was disappointing, because a few weeks ago and the last couple years, we were the top team in the country in third down conversions. We were 49 percent. It has deteriorated. Again, a lot of it is protection-oriented. That’s got something to do with it. Protection doesn’t just factor whether you complete the pass, but it also affects your quarterbacks’ ability to scramble. You haven’t seen him do as much, but there was some at the end of the game when the protection was better. That’s been part of it, because you’re going to get some improv plays there. I think that’s been the biggest part. If I were to pick one thing, we’re just not protecting as well as we’ve protected in the past, and that’s reflected by the third down conversions. But they’ve done a good job of covering us, too, but there’s not enough to have that much of a drastic disparity so quick. We’re doing our darndest to shore that up and get better and improve the ability to stay in manageable third downs, because we had a few in this game. It wasn’t like – the last few games were a play caller’s nightmare. You just don’t have a lot of third-and-15 calls on your chart that will get you first downs.”
Why was it better in overtime?
“We were more rhythmic. In overtime we started getting good down and distance situations that were manageable. We were running the ball pretty good the whole game, but we were hitting those passes and protecting better. We weren’t earlier in the game. I don’t know any other way to explain it. Some of the same plays came up, to be honest with you. But we had a bit of a rhythm going. The guys were feeling pretty good. Every time we went out there we felt like we could put it in the end zone. We felt like that the whole game, but we kept stalling in the third down situations. You know, we had 27 first downs. That’s a lot of first downs when you consider only three of them were earned on third down. That’s moving the ball, but the two things we didn’t do was we didn’t create any big plays, and we knew because we were going to throw the ball a little quicker, that was probably going to be the residual of that. But the inability to get into third downs. That’s really what hurt us. But 27 first downs, I’ll take that every game.”
Was there a helpless feeling on that last-second field goal?
“Oh no. We practice that play – you have no idea, guys. That was no shot in the dark deal now, but we practice that play every week. Hurry-up field goal. Brady knew exactly what he was doing. I didn’t notice it as much in the game, but when I watched the video, as soon as Gallon caught the ball, he’s like a traffic cop. Okay, let’s go. Somebody said Dileo slid in? My wife said that, but I have not seen it. I don’t really watch the special teams tape, but it was no accident that that happened the way it happened. We practice that every week, we executed every week. Brady does the countdown. He’ll stand over the ball, and he’ll be the clock. When the head coach starts ripping off numbers, that tends to get a sense of urgency in guys. And Gibby did a heck of a job. I told him the Penn State game was an aberration, and he proved it. We have great faith in him, and that’s why.”
You mentioned the short routes. Was that because of something you saw on tape from their defense or something you wanted to do anyway?
“A little bit of both. They weren’t as much in press quarters as the last two teams we played, so they were giving us some short throws. But we were going to throw some balls we knew we could get off fast. You still can’t live in that world all the time. There’s a point you have to take that ball and take it down the field. We have lived in that world for a while in being able to take it down the field. Just because of the problems we’ve had, it’s been a little scarier.”
MGoBadgering: You’ve done some interesting things this season with the offensive line in terms of moving tackles over, going unbalanced, etc. How effective has that been recently?
“We haven’t done as much of that recently, and a lot of that is because of the simplification of the schemes. We lost our tight end in a game, and we used some of that because of that. Trying to compensate for certain things during the course of the season. Our whole thing for this game, because you go two games with minus yards rushing? I haven’t had that happen in all of my coordinating. You have to go back to some basic concepts. Something’s going wrong, and it’s not all the players’ fault, it’s not all the coaches’ fault, but we have to look at it and rein it all in and do what we can do. That’s what we did this game. We ran X amount of plays out of X amount of looks.”
MGoLeadingQuestion: Is it harder to execute when you have all those complicated blocking schemes?
"Oh yeah. The more you do, the more you have to practice, and yeah. But those types of things, when you get extravagant offensively is when you're confident. When you're feeling good, you're moving the ball, you go, 'Hey, let's try this!' But when you're struggling, you don't want to throw all your creativity out. We ran 42 different formations that game. Little variations with offset backs and such. We still have that variation, but we reined our schemes in, particualry in the run game. And in pass protection, too, for that matter. We had to at this point, with the young inside players and such. We had to."
How did the short passing game diversify things a bit?
"Well it helps. I preach every day, it's all about balance. To beat all the teams you want to beat on your schedule, you have to be able to run and pass. It doesn't have to be exactly the same amount of times or exactly the same yardage. But you have to pose the threat of both. If you don't pose the threat of both, eventually it's going to come back and get you. I believe that. Always will. I don't care what kind of team you are. I don't care if you throw the ball 40-some odd times a game, you better have a running game, because eventually that's going ot haunt you."
How do you handle snaps between three backs?
"Fitz got hurt during the week and hardly practiced at all. We'll re-evaluate that this week. We still haven't honed down exactly how we're going to do that."
Did you see a different Devin Gardner in overtime?
"Devin, you know, he made some crucial plays in critical times ... Ran for a first down on a fourth down, turned around and converted a curl on another fourth down. Ran into the end zone for a score on the last touchdown, ran a two-point conversion in. He was dynamic. He had his bouts where he wasn't as good. He'll tell you. But he was dynamic when we needed him to be dynamic. That's a sign of a quarterback who's grown. It's been hard for him, now. It's been hard for him because we've been [sacked] 19 times in the last [few games]. You don't understand how tough that is for a quarterback. But a guy that will stay mentally tough and continue to trust the protection, still be able to compete and not blame anybody, he's been phenomenal that way. So there's a great quarterback in there that's about to come out."
Jake Butt's contribution? Justice Hayes?
"Justice we had moved to wide receiver but because Fitz got hurt, we needed to get him back out. Justice is smart and diverse, so we said we're going to use you in some protection schemes. I don't think we got him a carry, but we had planned for that possibility too. I think we threw him a screen. But he did a good job. Hit the ground running. Didn't miss a beat. But he's smart and he's tough, and he knew we needed him in a certain role and he adjusted quickly. That's not easy to do.
"Jake made a great catch at the end. Made a couple of catches. And Jake Butt is -- we didn't expect Jake to be doing as much as he's doing. We expected Jake to be doing what he's doing now next year. But because of our tight end situation being what it is and moving Funch out to wide receiver some, he's been forced into more duty than we had anticipated, and I think he's accepted that duty and done a pretty darn good job. And these freshmen, the Bosches and Butts and the Greens. They've been tossed into the pool. Especially when you get into the Big Ten schedule. It's not easy to do. These kids have done the best they could do, and in some situations have done a great job."
When you know the protection isn't there, how does that affect your decision-making in calling plays?
"You have to change the throwing. You have to throw a screen -- here's the deal. When your'e not holding up in protection, you find yourself grasping a little bit. I threw a middle screen they defended the hell out of. They were all over it. Well, I could have not thrown it. But at least they know we'll throw a screen in there, maybe it'll slow the rush down a little bit. You're going to have some calls you wish you had back, whereas when you're protecting well, you just call what's on the sheet. You move the pocket every so often, throw it a little quicker every so often, make it so that it's not always the same spot. When you're not, it gets a little bit tougher. That's really how you change it. Within our third down offense, we have several different ways to protect and several different ways to move the pocket, just so they don't always know where the quarterback's going to be. A couple screen passes that are always feast or famine plays, where you hit and everybody's excited or you don't and it's a terrible call. It gets easier if you're holding them out."