“Well obviously you know this is a big week, and it’s a great, great football game and it’s going to be a great test for our defense, and just starting out I can tell you our guys are really excited. We as coaches are really excited, so we are looking forward to playing this game.”
How impressed were you with how Notre Dame played against Michigan State?
“Very impressed. They’re a very good football tam. They can run the football. The quarterback really impressed me with his ability to throw the football as well as he puts a lot of pressure on you when he takes off scrambling, and he can run. They’ve got some fast running backs. They’ve got a pretty good thing going.”
Is preparation for them different this year compared with last year?
“Uh, you know I don’t know if it’s any different prep. They’ve changed a little bit but they’re still Notre Dame. They want to run the football and they want you to make mistakes so they can hopefully get a shot on you and try to test your coverage with their speed and take shots down field. So I think it’s a lot alike. ”
How much does facing Denard in practice prepare your defense for Golson?
“Well I hope a lot. I hope a lot. Although if you’ve seen the first three games, we haven’t looked great if the quarterback has scrambled. But I know the speed at which we have to play against Denard -- puts pressure on you every day. I would think that would help us when you get into a game like this.”
Did you learn anything about your defense vs. UMass?
“Yeah. You know, I think the thing you learned is that they played hard all the way until the end, which is a credit to them. You’ve seen a lot of games where the game gets kind of out of control and it gets really sloppy, although the biggest thing we have to address still is technique. I say that every week and you probably think -- but nothing will become as good as we want it to until every player gets better at their technique. When we watched that film, I was pleased with most of the effort for most of the game, but I wasn’t pleased with the technique. When you get against really really good opponents, that will show up right away. But again, a lot of young guys played and played well. Some of them played very well. Obviously it’s not the Big Ten, but we have to do what we do. You know, we’re a work in progress. You can see that. And it’s not much different probably than last year after the Western game and after the Eastern game. You said, ‘Boy you got a long way to go.’ That’s how I feel right now. We have a long way to go. I believe the guys are headed in the right direction, and we’ll find out in this one.”
Did any of the young guys stand out to you in that game?
“I think a lot of them. I thought every young guy that played out there kind of reinforced what we believed. You see why technique is important. I think a lot of the younger gusy who have played now two games in a row understand the preparation that is necessary. When you first are a young guy and you’re going to play, you go out there and you just play. I think they find out that the things we tell them, the tip sheets and all the little things they should know come up in that game. I was kind of impressed with how a lot of our players -- the young ones -- kind of paid more attention to detail. And that’s a good sign.”
What memories and emotions do you expect to come back to you when you play at Notre Dame?
“That’s a great place. I spent eight years of my life there. My children grew up there. My daughter went there and played softball. All those things. If there’s any place you’d probably say was probably close to home for me in the coaching profession, that’s where it’d be because that’s where [my] kids graduated from high school, and that’s really what you look at. It’s still Michigan vs. Notre Dame and for me, it’s a big game because I want Michigan to do well. I’m looking forward to it. I really am. That’s a great atmosphere. That’s why when you talk about college football, you talk about Michigan, you talk about Notre Dame, teams like that.”
Is there one game or memory that stands out from your time coaching there?
“It’s so long ago. I think my memory’s gone. I really do. I was trying to think -- I mean that sincerely. I have a tough time remembering the last game, you know, because we’ve been day and night since this game was over with trying to prepare, and you just go into the next game. I really can’t -- nothing really I can say.”
At this point, what determines who plays between the older linebackers vs. younger linebackers?
“Well it’s practice. It’s obviously we see some good things, and you see some things that concern you. If those good things come up more for one guy than another in practice, then that guy will play more. If the concerns come up, that’s what practice is about. Our practices are so competitive. There’s a lot of physical play in there and things we need to get better at. I think that’s what you’re judged by. They’re all right there. They’re all right there if we need somebody to move ahead.”
J.T. Floyd was on an island often and didn’t allow a pass to get completed. How important is that for your defense?
“Well you need corners to be able to do that in our scheme. Now you don’t want to be doing that every game and you don’t want to be doing that against some of the talent that we’re going to be facing. I mean, that’s tough duty. I think you have to mix it up, but that’s what we expect our corners to be able to do in certain coverages and certain formations. J.T. did a good job.”
Raymon Taylor got tested a couple times on the other side. What’s your assessment of him?
“Raymon’s one of the guys that’s improving every week. However he played in that game doesn’t tell me everything -- I’ve noticed him in practice, and I said that to him before the game. He’s gotten better in practice. Every week it seems like he’s gotten better in practice. That’s what we need to happen with Blake going down.”
What happened on the long completion?
“He didn’t get his hand through the ball. In fact it happened two times to him. The one donw the sideline was a great throw and catch. He was right there. Now there was coaching that was done on that. When you see that and get your hand through his hands, you’re going to knock the ball away. And the other one they completed on him over the middle, that was lack of concentration. That was a young guy not keeping an eye on his guy, and he learned from that. He knew that right away and it was addressed right away … When they do something like that in a game, if it doesn’t cost you and you can get it corrected, then you’re really really ahead for the next one.”
Are there some things you can’t do schematically because of losing Blake?
“No. You know, obviously you can even do more, you can do less when you have veterans. There’s two ways to approach that. Sometimes you have to do more to help a young guy. And then sometimes if you have a guy that’s got a lot of experience, you don’t have to do as much because he can get it done by himself. So there’s kind of that gray area, and I don’t mean to skirt the issue, but there’s that gray area in there where you have to be careful you don’t do too much, but you gotta give them a chance. We always talk about you always want in our defense to give our players enough bullets in that gun, because if you don’t, now it’s going to come down to who’s the best player, and you can’t always go into every game going, ‘Hey, you’re better than that guy.’ ”
MGoQuestion: Guys like Will Campbell, Quinton Washington, and Ondre Pipkins sat out for most of last game. What was the thought behind that?
“Well because we were in sub the whole time. We were in our nickel defense and in nickel you usually try to get more speed on the field and try to get not as big of guys and you get a little faster player. I will say this, the one guy if you ask me to single out, one guy I was really really pleased with as far as seeing his technique really come on was Quinton Washington. When he went in there, he did some things that we have been trying to get done, and it was just the technique. I was real pleased with him.”
Is there anything about going to a place like Notre Dame that affects the defense?
“The only thing is allowing the atmosphere to lose your concentration because in every defense you have checks and you have adjustments. Sometimes if a young guy gets starstruck or not really concentrating, which I don’t believe will happen with our guys, that can lose your concentration, which on defense, like any other place, if you miss a call it can be a big one. If you miss an adjustment it can be a big one. We have to really communicate. We’ve mentioned this before, that’s a real big part of what we’re harping on. We’ve got to take care of each other. You can’t just signal. You have to talk and let your buddy -- assume he didn’t get the check. I think they’re getting a little better at that.”
You haven’t been able to generate turnovers very effectively. How do you address that?
“I think you have to get more hats on the football, number one. I think we have to get a lot more guys to the football, and we addressed that. One thing I think we have to do is play faster. We have to get of blocks better, and we’ve got to get more guys to the football. The thing you notice, and I think there’s been three or four times the ball’s been out there and we didn’t get it -- that’s something that we can’t keep doing. We’ve got to get that football.”
A month in, is your defense progressing as well as you’d like it to be?
“I don’t know that yet because kind of other than the Alabama [game], you’re kind of where you were last year. It’s the same thing. There’s always a good thing -- not enough good things. And then all of a sudden it starts coming together. And that’s what we have to keep progressing to do every week.”
You’ve been able to generate pressure in some situations but not sacks. How do you finish those plays better?
“Get the quarterback to hold the ball longer. I think the last game the guy got it out quick, and I think if the offense knows that you’re going to pressure, I think they’re going to try to ID what you’re doing and try to get the ball out quick, and I think that’s what we’ve seen.”
What kind of problems does Cierre Wood present?
“He’s fast. He’s a good athlete. I mean, he’s what you expect, and he’s a good football player.”
How much has their offense changed because of Golson?
“A little bit but not much. It’s still the same. It’s the head coach, he’s still going to run his thing and their philosophy and that’s what they’ve done. The thing that maybe changes a little bit is he has the ability to scramble if something isn’t there.”
MGoQuestion: It looks like your linebackers aren’t reacting well to pulling linemen. Do you coach that as a run key, or is there something else you have them look for?
“Yeah that’s one of your keys. You always key the back first and then you feel the linemen. That just reinforces where that play is going. You’re right, that should take you to the football a lot faster.”
MGoFollowup: Is that reflective of their inexperience?
“Yeah, and that’s something we’re working on right now.”
How much faster can you play if your technique isn’t 100%?
“That’s the key. You hit it right on the head. You can’t play faster until you get that technique that allows you to get off the blocks and allows you to step perfectly. It’s very simple. In defense, if you take a false step on a key, you’re behind in the race. If you don’t have your hands inside where they’re supposed to be, you’re caught in a block. All those things are the very basics of technique, and that’s what we’re working on daily.”
What sets this kind of rivalry apart from other rivalries like Florida-Florida State, which you’ve been a part of?
“This is as big as it gets to me. I’ve always believed that forever. It’s just when you think of college football, you think of Michigan and you think of Notre Dame. I can’t go with Florida State on that. I can’t go there. It’s just something with me, but I’ll tell you, this is a huge atmosphere. This is really football. That’s what makes it exciting, and that’s what makes you excited that you’re at Michigan. That you’re here and you get a chance to go in there and see what you guys can do.”
What sets it apart from in-conference rivalries like Ohio State and in-state rivalries like Michigan State?
“Well that’s a great rivalry. That’s big, too, because of the state, but this one here everybody in the country watches. They’re the first two teams that had TV. I can remember as a little kid, you turn the TV on, and whoa, it’s Notre Dame. That’s the difference.”