When you were considering coming back here, was being able to play in this rivalry game again part of your decision-making?
“No. Honestly I can’t say that. I mean, I’d like to say yeah. That goes with coming back to Michigan. If you coach at the University of Michigan, playing this game is the biggest rivalry in college athletics. But I don’t think you think about that and say 'I’m going to come back so I can coach in that game.'”
What memories of this game stick out to you?
“Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I can remember this game probably better than any other game. I had the opportunity to play them six times, five times here. They’re a good football team. There’s no question about it. It’s what college football’s all about, this game. You always remember those games.”
Everybody talks about scheme, but tackling is the foundation. How do you tackle well?
“By getting a lot of people to the football. I think if you watch any defense and you see one person trying to make a tackle, you’ll see a team that’s not a very good tackling team. But if you see a lot of people around that football, then you see teams that do well tackling. The big thing is, it closes the space. It closes the opportunity for a running back to cut.”
Is that effort or scheme?
“I think most of defensive football is effort. Wanting to get to the football. We talk about it all the time. When you look at somebody pursue, you always have to talk about ‘Why are you pursuing?’ Are you pursuing because that coach says you’re supposed to run to the football or are you pursuing to try to go make a tackle? I think that players understand that after a while that ‘Hey, my job is to tackle the football, so I have to pursue to get there,’ and that’s effort.”
(more after the jump)
Was playing against Taylor Martinez good preparation for Braxton Miller?
“There are some similarities. I never look at the team you’re going to play, how does that compare to the last week, because everything we do is off of breakdowns, everything we do is watching them. But if you did look at it, they had a very mobile quarterback, they had a very good running back, they had a big offensive line, but I don’t think the offensive scheme is as much -- I think Nebraska was a lot more option even though this game will have a lot of option in it.”
How blown away are you by the defensive transition from 108th in scoring to 6th?
“I’m not a stat guy, and I said that the first day. You have to believe me on that. When you coach defense, the number one thing that you always have to put as a priority is scoring defense. I mean, that is something that -- and I wouldn’t be able to tell you where we are or anything like that. All I do is look up at that scoreboard, and one touchdown is too many. But that’s how you judge a defense. We’ve all been part of defenses where they go up and down the field, but if you can play great red zone defense, if you can give me a place to stand and not let them in the endzone, then you have a chance to be a good defense. Our guys have bought into that. There’s a lot of factors that go into that, too. Probably the biggest factor is big plays. I’ve always said this: it’s hard for teams to score if you make them go 80 yards. You start giving guys 50-yard chunks, now they get in there pretty quick. Or if you start on a short field, you’re not quite as good a defense as you were if you started on the 20-yard line. Whatever the stats are, they are. The only stat that matters is this next game. That’s the only stat that matters. After the season’s over, we’ll evaluate where we were, how we did, where we have to get better, and that’s kind of where stats come in. You can kind of look and say, ‘We’re not as good here as compared to the best.’ I never look at it compared to the league. I always look at who ended up being the best. Now, that’s what we’re shooting for, so we have to get this up here, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Have you ever had a defense that’s so tangibly improved week to week?
“Well, I hope that every defense you’re ever associated with gets better every week. This defense, it’ll go down -- you’ll probably remember this defense more than any other defense because of how they have bought in. How they have come out. I’ve said it all along. These kids come out everyday and every meeting to get better, and everything you talk to them about and every drill they do, they try to get better. They’ve done it all year, and I’m happy for them that they’re having some success because it shows that it’s worth what they’re doing.”
Bo Pelini said something about using injury delays to slow offenses … do you have a comment on that?
“I better not talk too much about that … The only thing I can tell you is I never have and we never will have somebody fake an injury. For somebody to even say that to me is absurd. But I guess if that’s what people feel, then that’s fine, but you’re talking about Jordan Kovacs, I think, who missed three weeks or two weeks, who a lot of places wouldn’t even be on the field, and played a great ball game. And Jordan Kovacs would never do something that was not ethical or was not part of what Michigan teaches. Whatever a guy wants to comment, a guy can comment. I don’t care about that.”
Do you teach them to lie down so that the refs see them and stop the game?
“Yeah, now that’s something you do tell your players. If a guy’s injured and he’s trying to limp off the field or he’s trying to drag a leg to get off the field, don’t hurry and hurt yourself more doing that. That’s part of the rule. If you don’t feel like you can get off fast, we don’t substitute for Jordan Kovacs. He’s never raised his hand and said, ‘I’m tired.’ So he was hurt. I mean, that knee or whatever it was, he did the right thing. And we tell every one of our players that. Do not try and run off the field if you’re injured. You could hurt yourself worse.” (Under his breath) “It’s amazing.”
How hard is it to prepare for someone like DeVier Posey?
“Well he’s a great wide receiver. He’s a great talent. You know, it’s funny to think about wide receivers and they all get lumped in. But the really good ones are really good. The other ones are just guys. But he’s really good. It’s somebody that you know you have to pay attention to every time. I think he’s just a very very good wide receiver.”
What do you see in Braxton Miller?
“Well he’s very very explosive, and he’s a very competitive quarterback. He’s not timid in any way. He has the ability to take off at any time. He also has a very strong arm. Watching him throw, he’s a real talent. We respect him. This is a guy you’ve got to make sure you do a good job on.”
What kind of a challenge will he face being a true freshman starter in the Game?
“I don’t know. I think everybody’s different. I think my first Michigan-Ohio game was … I know one thing, it’s as big as I’d ever been a part of. Other guys it might be different. It can be the sixth or seventh Michigan-Ohio game, it’ll be as big as it’s ever been. This game is football. This game is college football. I don’t know how he’ll react. Our whole concern is how our guys will react. That’s what our job is.”
When you face a dual-threat quarterback, is your first inclination to take away his arm or take away his feet?
“Our approach in everything we do no matter who we’re playing is always stop the run first, whichever way it comes. And obviously we’ve got to get off the field on third down. To be a good defense, you have got to be good against the run. There’s no gray area in that at all. So that’s the challenge that we have. Their running back has posted some pretty good numbers against Michigan. I mean, he’s a very very good running back, a hard running back, and he’s got some explosion, so that’s always a test for a defense. Because no defense that really believes in what you should believe in as a defense, and that’s toughness and all that -- it all goes back to stopping the run. You always want to take that into the game and say, ‘That’s what we’re going to do.’”
How do you keep your players focused on this game and this game alone rather than the frustration of the past few seasons?
“We just look at this game as being the next game, and it happens to be the last game. These guys have done such a great job, you know, we don’t have to go in and talk about anything. They know. They wouldn’t have worked this hard all year if they didn’t want to get to this game and do what we hope we’re going to do in this game. We don’t have to talk about it at all. This is business as usual. When we get done here, there’ll be some players trickling in here for some individual attention on film, then we go to the installation and then we go to practice and go right on. This is a different group. I don’t know if it’s different than anything else, because I don’t know what the other ones are like, but this group has become a very very invested group. We don’t worry about them.”
Van Bergen said the mood was intense and focused. Did you detect a difference in their attitude?
“It was very business-like, but it was also very upbeat. It wasn’t doom and gloom. It wasn’t guys acting like, ‘Oh boy…’ It was guys coming in and going, ‘Okay coach, what are we going to run? What are we going to do?’ And ‘Okay let’s watch some tape,’ and ‘We might watch tape longer than we usually do.’ It was very upbeat, but it was very businesslike also. But that’s the way they’ve been all year, though. You say is it going to be different? I don’t know. I mean, these guys, like I said, everytime you meet with them, they’re [like], ‘Okay, what do you want us to do? What do we have to do?’ ”