“There’s Heiko. What’s up? … Where’s your glasses?”
I left them in Minnesota.
“They’re cerebral. That’s why Heiko wears his.”
“That’s why I wear mine. Put glasses on and makes you look smarter. I’m just a dumb guy with glasses. What’s up? I’m sure you guys don’t have any questions, so.”
Did you vote today?
“Of course I voted! That’s a ridiculous question. I won’t go into it, but I am very politically minded, okay.”
When did you know Denard wasn’t going to play?
“Kind of right up until we played, because we kind of nursed him along all week just to see how he’s doing, so we’re going to give him a chance to take it all the way to game time. He deserved that. The team deserved that.”
Did you see something in warmups?
“Yeah, warmups. We just hoped that he would improve to a point, and it just didn’t work out.”
Do you look at Denard’s situation differently now that you know you have a capable backup in Devin? Are you more likely to play it safer with Denard?
“Yeah, when Denard plays, we do certain things. When Devin plays, we do a lot of the same things, you know. Both have individual skill sets which caters to different thinking.”
I mean, in terms of being in a hurry to get Denard back, can you wait longer now that Devin can handle it?
“There’s only three games left, you know? You don’t want to wait too long. The kid’s a senior. If he’s ready to go, I want to give him a chance to play, and I know he wants to play. I don’t think we’re thinking that way.”
You’ve talked about Devin’s preparation for quarterback in the past. He said he prepared last week like he never has to before --
“Well he kind of had to do it anyway, but when you’ve been playing wide receiver all that time and all of a sudden you get thrust into that role … And he’s good about prep now. He’ll spend the time on the video regardless of what position he’s playing. And he’s a bright kid that picks things up quickly. Yeah. So he did. He got thrust into a situation where you require somewhat of a cram course. Not that he was at a complete loss because he’s played so much quarterback -- he knows the mechanics of the position. He knows the footwork. He basically knows the reads. Just a few things we’ve done differently since he’s played quarterback, but not many. He hit the ground running pretty good. A little rusty at the beginning, but after he got his feet underneath him, he did fine.”
Would you say you went into last week preparing as if Devin would start?
“We went in preparing for any possibility. Anything could happen. Because we didn’t know right up until the time he played. But I think he thought that way. I think you have to. I think the third quarterback’s got to think that way.”
Was it more enjoyable for you to be calling a game where you spend more time under center?
“Not necessarily. I like calling a game that moves the ball the best without being prejudiced by what my favorite style is. So whatever it takes, it doesn’t make that much of a difference.”
Who is the third quarterback now?
“Well that’s still pending. Depending on how things turn out with all these guys, we can make that decision, but that has not been declared yet.”
Is it easier for any quarterback to get ready to go when they have a strong feeling that they’re going to be the guy as opposed to maybe a second string guy behind a well established starter?
“That’s another one of those questions that’s probably better for the guy that’s doing than it is for me, but I would think -- the one thing that we do, and I’ve always done coaching this position, is as much as you possibly can have the kid understand that he has to prepare like he’s the starter. Now is it easier or not? I don’t know. You can ask them. But they have to think that way. Because if they don’t think that way, they’re just a play away from being in the game, and if that surprises you, you’ve got issues now. You have problems. It’s going to be enough of a rude awakening to just be in there all of a sudden without having the mindset that is right for that situation. It’s tough, guys. This position now. I’m just telling you. This position’s hard to play. To me, it is probably the most rewarding position to play when you’re successful, but it is hard to play because everything’s kind of different once you get out there as much as you try and train them and give them all the scenarios and help them understand that when this happens you have to do this and when that happens. It never happens exactly -- or I won’t say never -- but it seldom happens exactly the way you do it. Sometimes it’s instincts, some of it’s just making a play when you have to make a play, which Devin did a few times in the game. So it’s hard. It’s a hard position to play, but it’s fun. I love it, but it’ll test you mentally, physically, and emotionally.”
Was Devin more prepared because he had more game experience or time in your system than Russell?
“I don’t know if that’s the case. I just know that he has been playing quarterback in our system longer than Russ has, other than he’s played some wide receiver. He had been with us a little longer. He had a couple spring balls to prepare for it. I think that helped, you know.”
Did you feel like Devin got a lot of help from his wide receivers?
“Oh yeah. I thought the wide receivers played good. I thought they did a nice job. They made some plays out in the perimeter, you know. And that helped. That really did help, so I think that was part of it.”
Were you surprised by how good the timing was between Devin and the receivers considering he only had a week of practice?
“No. Not really. I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t real surprised by -- I was surprised by a couple things happening in the game, but not a lot. I knew that Devin was capable. I knew that our wideouts were capable. You know, assuming you just kind of get the rust off. Once that takes hold, I think we’re good to go.”
What were you surprised by?
“Oh, I don’t know. I’d have to think about that, but I’m sure there was something. There’s always something.”
Taylor Lewan said Elliott Mealer makes the first call and then he makes the second call. Is that normal? Last year Molk made all the calls.
“Well, the center generally sets the point. He kind of starts the whole thing off, and then calls come off those calls, you know what I mean? But sometimes there are calls within the offensive line that are not geared to the center, so I think that’s a lousy answer to that question, but the center does kind of set the point. He sets what’s going on. And then off that, based on what we decide we’re targeting, the other guys make their decisions on who they’re going to block and how they’re going to block them.”
Has Elliott done a good enough job of that in the running game?
“Yeah I think so. Yeah, he has. He hasn’t played the position much, but there’s some transition and growing pains that go along with all that, but Elliott’s a smart kid. He’s on it pretty good. And he wants to do it. It’s like any other spot. When you haven’t played the position a lot, something seems to come up every game that hasn’t happened before, you know. You said, ‘Oh God, well he’s played six games, he should know that,’ but some scenario might have happened that didn’t happen the first six games. So that’s any position, but the center, being in the middle of the offense just like the quarterback and the tailback, anybody in the middle of anything, any error tends to be magnified, you know what I mean? When the quarterback throws an interception or the running back fumbles. Center, if he doesn’t set the protection right or target the front right, it can be a bad place.”
MGoQuestion: Would you say that the interior offensive line’s struggles against Minnesota were mostly mental errors and maybe lack of preparation, or do the issues go deeper than that?
“Mental ... I would not say that. We didn’t have a lot of targeting issues, missed assignments and such. We’ve only had one game where I thought that was an issue, and that was Notre Dame, but since then -- you always have a couple, and everybody always has a couple. But I don’t think it was mental. I think the biggest thing we have to do a better job of is finishing our blocks. We’re getting bodies on bodies for the most part, and I’m talking more about the running game than anything else, but getting through and winning that gap. We always talk about winning gaps. You’re responsible for knocking this guy out of that gap or moving him enough so that the back can read it -- we have to win that gap. We just have to do a better job of winning those gaps, getting those plays started, and giving our tailbacks a chance to go.”
What do you see out of Northwestern’s defense?
“Good run defense. Extremely sound. Coach Hankwitz, I’ve coached against him before at a couple other schools. He’s a great coach. Does a wonderful job. Seldom out of position. They play very very hard. That’s kind of been the way Northwestern’s been for a long time, is they do things right. Try and make you run a lot of plays to beat them. It’ll be a good test for us. It’ll really be a good test for us.”
Does Devin’s progress at quarterback make you reconsider using the deuce package?
“Michael. You don’t really think I’d answer that question. You had to try, is that it?”
I had to try!
“No. I’m not answering that one.”
Maybe a better way to ask the question is does that open up more possibilities than what you showed last year?
“Nah. If you can run and pass that opens everything up. That’s a general coachspeak answer, but that’s as far as I’m going with that one.”
What did you think of Devin’s decision-making?
“Well, other than the naked bootleg, the first decision was a bad decision, but I didn’t -- we have three grades, basically. Footwork grade, read grade, and throwing accuracy grade, and then some general comments that may go over and above that. I think in terms of decision-making with regard to reading the defense, he may have had two or three. That one was the worst, obviously because of the interception, but his decision-making was pretty solid. His footwork was pretty solid.”
Is it amazing with the limited practice time he’s had?
“I credit him for it. But our expectations are such that he’s going to play the position right. So amazing? I didn’t use that word with him, but he knows this. We’ve talked about this. He has not arrived. He has a lot of rust, a lot of little things that weren’t done as well as they could have been done. He’s keenly aware of it. He will remedy that situation. Some of our tracks and our footwork was not what it could be in the run game, but for the most part, I mean when you consider he hadn’t played the position, I thought he did a nice job. Helped us win the game.”
Is splitting the carries between running backs the way it’s going to be going forward?
“Yeah. Pretty much. Pretty much. We want to give these kids a chance to continue to do what we’re doing for the most part and see which guy’s running hot, but give him enough carries to find out. That was a good thing last game, was we didn’t get a ton of yards -- although we weren’t terrible. We rushed respectfully, I’ll say. Not great. But the tailbacks got the ball. They got a chance to carry the ball some and for obvious reasons. Our quarterback situation -- the tailbacks will have to carry the load in that situation.”
But Fitz wasn’t the only guy anymore …
“No. And that was by plan, too. Because the quarterback wasn’t going to carry the ball so much, so there’s a method to our madness.”
If Denard ends up starting, would Fitz get more carries because of the plays that they run together?
“Could be. Could be. Yeah. Again so much of it is game time, battlefield decisions, but yeah, it could end up similar to that. That doesn’t cancel Rawls either, because if Denard’s playing, you don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re just business as usual if Denard’s playing.”
Are you guys more back to square one like you were last year in terms of the running back situation since there’s less separation?
“No. No. We know so much more about our team now. We’re a long way from square one. But yeah, we’re pretty much going about our business the way we’ve gone about our business, knowing that we have to prepare for any possibility, okay, whether it’s Devin, whether it’s Denard, whether it’s whatever. It’s not easy, because preparation-wise, when everything is set in stone with regard to personnel, it’s a lot easier to put the pieces together in our game plan, but when you’re not completely certain, there’s a lot of possibilities and you have to be ready to shift gears if the occasion arises.”
With Devin in there, were you happy with the balance between the two backs?
“Yeah, I mean, to a degree. I always favor having a guy, but yeah. Like I say, the thing that was good about it was both kids got some carries. I mean, they did. They got some carries. Finally we finally cracked the rock at the end when Fitz broke through there for the long run. Sometimes that’s what happens. Sometimes it takes a while to wear them down for somebody to get through there, but I was happy that both got opportunities.”