“Ah. How we doin’?”
“Got a full house today! Wonder why’s that?”
You draw a crowd.
“I’m being Elvis.”
Speaking of a full house … what is it that you call your formation with Denard in the backfield?
“We call it, ‘Denard in the backfield.’ How about the word of the day? We have to take care of that.”
What’s the word of the day? [Chantel Jennings would like to point out that this is not an MGoQuestion.]
“Resolve. Heiko, any technical questions?”
MGo: Uh …
“The finer points of attacking quarters coverage, maybe?”
MGo: Actually, yeah.
“That was stupid. That’s the stupidest thing I could have said. Go ahead.”
MGoQuestion: Virginia Tech’s aggressive quarters coverage made it hard for you to run the quarterback last year. Do you see that as a problem against Ohio State?
“They play totally different than Virginia Tech. Their structure is different defense. Really is. Now they may take a little bit of the same mentality, but from an X and O perspective, it’s a different.”
MGoFollowup: But in terms of having aggressive opposing safeties, does that make you hesitant to run the QB at all?
“Nope. Nope. Nooo.”
How many possibilities can there be having both Denard and Devin on the field?
“I don’t know.”
Legitimately you don’t know? Or do you just not want to answer?
“I don’t want to answer.”
How much time did you spend on that package?
“We did some of it last year now, guys. This isn’t completely new. But with Denard getting injured kind of forced the issue a little bit. We did some of this stuff a year ago.”
That was only a couple plays a game, though.
“Yeah, but like I said, the injury forced the issue more. We were a year ago constantly putting in plays together for our deuce package. In some games we used it more than others. But it isn’t a copletely novel concept.”
How much more ready is Devin for this role now than a year ago?
“Well, he’s a lot more ready because he’s played three games. That makes a huge difference. The more the quarterback plays, the more he experiences. It’s like anything. You just grow in the position, and as you grow in the position, you tend to minimize your errors. Sometimes that’s not always true. I’ve seen 15 year veteran quarterbacks throw four picks in a game. But for the most part, a lot of the things get ironed out. The growing pains get ironed out as you play more. I told you guys before: so many things, particular with the quarterback, are game specific. You won’t always see the error all the time in practice, and then all of a sudden he makes the error in a game, and you may have talked about it, but he didn’t really what I call ‘body learn’ it.”
How much does the loss of Fitz change your game plan?
“None. Not really. Thomas [Rawls] will just step in and pretty much satisfy that with a little help from a couple of the other backs. That’s not going to -- that shouldn’t affect us too much.”
Denard played in about a third of the plays. Is that how much he’ll contribute --
“You’re going to try and ask the same question another way, aren’t you?”
“It doesn’t work. I’m not addressing that issue. I refuse to. The best thing is don’t even try anymore. As far as that package goes, that’s game plan stuff and I would never [talk about it.]”
Can you talk about how you devise a package like that?
What about Devin has impressed you the most the last few weeks?
“His composure as much as anything. Because last week, somebody asked me, was I surprised by his accuracy? Not at all. All his numbers in practice have shown you that he’s an accurate passer. But again, so many things are game specific. Things can go wrong, and then being able to deal with those things -- but the biggest surprise is how composed he stayed. Not that I didn’t think he would, but you don’t know. Nobody knows. Until those lights go on and those bullets start flying, you just never know.”
As far as coming up with this idea 18 months ago, was it one of the first things you thought of?
“No. Not really. Because I didn’t know a lot about Devin Gardner, to be honest with you. I knew a lot about Denard Robinson once we did our homework, but I didn’t know a lot about Devin Gardner.”
When did you learn about him?
“Just through spring football. I could see through our first spring that he was pretty skilled.”
You’re a self-described football junkie. You scribble plays on napkins and stuff --
“That just means I have no life, actually. It doesn’t make me smarter or anything like that. I basically have no life, so that’s what I do.”
But as an offensive coordinator, isn’t it fun calling a play like that?
“Oh yeah. Yeah. That’s fun. Yeah. Sure it is.”
But is it fun coming up with these plays?
“I just said it’s fun! You want me to elaborate, and if I elaborate, I’m going to get into some of the intricacies that I don’t want to talk about!”
Have your creative juices been flowing the last few weeks?
“My creative juices are flowing all the time. Depending on the game, I’m considered creative or idiotic, but they’re always flowing. That’s what kind of makes this game fun for coordinators. Defensive, offensive -- there’s so many things that you can do with 11 guys. It’s like no other game. You can scribble so many things. Half of them are good, half of them are bad, and the half that are good, you have to time them out right when you call them, because if you time them wrong, they won’t work out as well as you hoped. That’s one part of it that makes it fun. The kids are what make it the funnest. Being able to work with young people can keep 57-year-old men fairly young. But the schemes and all that. That’s what’s fun about being a football coach, see if you can get it taught and stay off the hot seat.”
Was the triple reverse something you’d seen somewhere before?
“Oh yeah, yeah. I’ve seen it … Michigan ran that play years ago. I think they ran it against us when I was at UCLA.”
Are most of these concepts things you’ve seen before or are they completely from scratch?
“Some yes and some no. When you coordinate an offense for what seems like 100 years, you run a lot of plays at one time or another. I like researching football. When you look at not just what you do and then go ahead and turn around and look at what other people do, no one has a patent on offensive plays. Consequently, there’s a lot of copycating and thievery. I’ve had plays stolen from me and I’ve stolen plays from other guys and tweaked plays to make them hopefully fit for what you’re doing. You can go back. I had a situation when I was at Auburn, when I had Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams, they were both tailbacks. It didn’t seem like a fit, but if you could do enough homework to figure out how to get them both back there, there were ways to do it. We made it work. You take what you got. Hopefully you can devise some kind of schematic to explore their skill set. Hope you call it at the right time, and then go man go.”
Is it a more difficult challenge to do it with Devin and Denard than it was with Brown and Williams?
“No, I’d say they’re pretty much the same. It’s just different skill sets. Pretty much the same. The biggest problem you have is if you don’t have talent. Trying to devise schemes when there aren’t players that can do some of the things you want … But when you have some guys who can, it’s a little easier.”
Did you look at the inverted wishbone at all for inspiration?
Do you think Devin has an innate sense of when to scramble on third down?
“Yeah. Good instincts. Good instincts. And what’s kind of cool, and Denard and Devin both, is sometimes you don’t call it perfect and he can improv you into the next first down. That’s a really neat deal because the key is to keep the chains moving so you can call more plays. When people are complaining about, ‘Well, how come this guy’s not touching the ball more? How come this guy’s not touching the ball?’ Well generally it’s because you’re not getting first downs. You don’t get the turns. You don’t get the calls out. What Devin’s done a good job of is, when it isn’t there, creating something to get us more calls. Get the receivers touching the ball more. Get the tailback touching the ball more. There’s just no way you can call everything perfect. Can’t do it. So what’s going to happen when you don’t?
“I know when I started studying what is commonly known as the West Coast offense -- you don’t hear me use that [term] very often -- and I talked to Bill Walsh, God rest his soul, I asked him, ‘What makes a good quarterback and what makes a great quarterback?’ He says, ‘The third play.’ So what do you mean the third play? He goes, ‘Well, the system quarterbacks can run the first two plays and complete the pass or hand the ball off. But on the third play, when something breaks down, when I didn’t call the perfect play, when a receiver falls down, when the protection breaks, when they just flat cover you, what does a quarterback do? Does he create so I get more calls or does he just simply go down and get sacked so that we punt? And the great quarterbacks can make the third play whereas the systems quarterbacks usually make the first two.’
“That was a good answer, didn’t you think?”
It was a great answer.
“You weren’t even listening.”
How far do you think Devin is from making that third play?
“He’s been making the third play quite a bit. The delicate balances is trying to make the third play before the third plays really should be made, and that means turning down open receivers and running, which you don’t want to do that either, but every phase in the three games -- and including that one -- has gotten a little bit better.”
You got to experience this week of preparation last year for this game. What’s the feeling in the building, the intensity …
“Ooh. It’s Ohio State week. Make no mistake about that. Brady, everybody. We haven’t even practiced yet, but you can feel this game is different. It was last year, and it is this year. And I think it’s going to build a little bit to a crescendo as the week goes on. This is a game here that -- I’ve only been here a year, so I do not even pretend to have the appreciation for it as some of the people who have been here for a long time do, but I am gaining it quickly. This is a big deal. This is a big deal, and we’re going to pour our guts out as coaches, as players, as a whole Michigan football family into winning this game. We’re going to leave it all out there, and it’s going to start today. It started actually yesterday.”
MGoQuestion: How much self-scouting do you do this week?
“Every game we self-scout just to make sure that -- we look at what they’re looking at. First of all, we have some raw data. I think raw data only takes you so far. What I need to do is to go back and look, as the week progresses later, look more and more. Like last game, we sat in our meeting the other day, and I told the coaches, ‘Okay watch this film and tell me what you think they’re thinking.’ So you know, we’re constantly trying to get into the minds of the people that have to play against us, and they’re probably doing exactly the same thing.”
Is there any consideration to saving plays for this week?
“No. No. No. We play them one at a time. No. Absolutely not. We had to beat Iowa, and that was our approach.”
Is it good to have Ohio State thinking about more things now?
“Well, you always want them to be forced to defend you as much as they want. That’s always good. But they create enough headaches defensively that they got us doing the same thing, so it’s not like it’s a one-way street. They cause some problems with their schemes, just like I’m sure they’ll probably tell you we do too. This game is, at the end of the day, we all want to think that we’re George Patton, orchestrating the battle and all that, and we do to a degree, but this game is won or lost by the players. Our job is to try and put them in the best position to succeed knowing that sometimes it’s not going to work, but this is, particularly this game -- I think all of them are like that -- but particularly the Ohio State-Michigan game, this is about the players rising to the occasion and overcoming the adversity if they’re playing on the road. All those things that go with that.”
Do you script plays?
Do you do it more with Devin?
“No. The approach hasn’t changed in 27 years. I script less plays than I used to. I script about 25. Now I script about 17 or so.”
“Yeah. But there’s nothing new to that. When I did it before, I used to get a million questions on it, but now every coach does it now. That’s not new. And they do it on defense, too. They’ve learned to counter what you’re doing by throwing you a curveball.”
MGoQuestion: Against Iowa, Denard could carry the ball only in his left arm. Does that concern you at all?
“I’d only be concerned if he fumbled it. There’s a couple different schools of thought on carrying the ball. And depending what coach you talked to, the purists always says carry the ball under your outside arm. But then there’s a large contingent of coaches that believe you should carry the ball in your dominant arm because you can secure it better. Depending on what your philosophy is, both can be correct.”
MGoClarification: So for Denard, it’s his non-dominant arm, and he’s not switching?
“You said it.”
How many points of pressure?
“Five points of pressure! As long as you’ve got those, it doesn’t really matter where you carry it.”
Unless you’re Walter Payton.
“Well, yeah. When Walter got close to people -- he did all that when he was away from people. When he got close to people that ball came in where it belonged.”
Are we overstating how unique it is to have Denard and Devin in this kind of offense?
“I think so. I think you are. Yeah. I mean, it’s different, I guess, but like I said, we’ve done it a little bit already. I’ve done it in the past as a coordinator, so I don’t think it’s as big a deal as all that. It’s probably fun to write about.”
Louisiana-Monroe had two quarterbacks on the field this year. Did you see that?
Yeah. Did you watch that at all?
It was pretty cool.
“Send me that DVR.”
So is it the deuce?
“That was more last year. This is two backs in the backfield. Two quarterbacks in the backfield.”
I thought it was called Denard in the backfield.
“No. I know you want a cute name --”
Deuce Part Two?
“Heiko, think of a cute name for that.”
MGo: On it.
It’ll be next week’s word of the week.
“Next week’s word of the week? … Yeah! Chantel, she doesn’t say much, but when she does, you should really listen.”