“Thanks for coming out. We had a great practice last night. Physical, tough, lot of energy, which you usually have when you’re playing in a rivalry game but I thought what we got done from an execution standpoint was positive. It wasn’t perfect. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a perfect practice, but there’s some things we’ve got to clean up obviously and some things offense and defensively you look at and don’t want to do as much. So that part of it- I think we’ve responded very well from the bye. That is always important. If you’re playing with speed and playing fast I think that’s a big part of it and that’s one way to gauge it. I think obviously we have great respect for Michigan State. They’ve earned that from how they [were] Big Ten champions and how they’ve played. We’ve got a lot of work to do to go up there, and we will be prepared and we’ll be ready to play on Saturday.”
How much of this game is about matching their physicality and bringing the fight to them, and have you done that do you think in the past three years?
“Well, I think we played physical. At times not as much as we’d like, but I think in any football game if you’re a team and you’re a competitor there’s got to be a physicalness to it. Obviously there’s more emotion driven when you’re playing a rivalry game and playing an in-state rival who’s an hour and ten minutes up the road. I think more of that comes out.”
I think the stat on this game is 41 of the last 44 were won by the team that rushed for more yards. There’s probably stats like that for most games, but is there something specific about this game that makes it even more important?
“I don’t know. I think, like you said, I think being able to run the ball because it sets up so much of your offense is an important part of it. I don’t think that’s too much different than what this is. Every year I think we’ve talked about rushing yards by one team and so when you look at it, yeah, there’s probably something to it a little bit.”
Jourdan Lewis: five games in you guys put him in the starting lineup and he has your two secondary picks. What did you see as a sophomore to put that much trust in him?
“Yeah, I think consistency. Consistency and technique. His competitiveness out on the field and in practice with whoever he’s trying to defend. Obviously he’s got the athleticism and he’s got some length to him. He’s not the tallest guy but he’s long-armed and has a real knack for the football. The consistency that he’s shown week to week is really what’s kept him in the lineup.”
Was there a play or something in practice where you guys were kind of sold?
“No. No. I think coming out of the spring we were excited about his development and what Roy [Manning] had done with those guys. I think that started it. Getting into fall camp we had some veteran guys, some more veteran guys I guess, that he competed with and he’s been the guy.”
[After THE JUMP: identity vs. tendency, physicalness, rivalryness]
Jack [Miller] said on Monday when he was looking back at the offensive line’s play from last year that technique kind of went out the window and they played sort of chaotic. How important is that this week, sort of answering the bell after maybe their roughest performance last year?
“Yeah, I think it’s real important. I think part of that is when you look at sometimes when you get shocked a little bit you kind of [say], ‘Well, maybe I can do it better this way.’ So that’s where the technique gets haywire. I think that’s at every position. If a corner gets beat deep he’s got to have a short memory because he’s got to go back to the techniques and fundamentals. Same thing for the front. Your communication- I think we’re so much better this year than we were a year ago if we want to use that as a gauge, with the communication throughout the front and the more these guys have played together I think they’ve been much more consistent with what we want to do.”
Do you think that was part of it last year for the offensive line [where] some shock happens early in that game…
“I think there was. I think there was. You get a little deer in the headlights a little bit and some guys who were young- I think a true freshman started in that game, Bosch. That’s a different environment.”
Seems like we talked about this a little more last year, but the balance between having an edge in a rivalry game where there’s so much emotion but not going over that edge. How do you balance that? Do you kind of talk about that leading up to the game and then make sure it doesn’t spill over?
“In games like this there’s always high emotions and there’s emotions- I talked about how we practiced last night and I would expect the same thing today. There’s that emotion that’s just there because of the feel of the game and the opponent and the rivalry part of it. I think you always talk about playing through the whistle but having poise and composure. You’ve got to be able to do that, and we talk about there’s some dumb penalties that you can get that hurt your team and we don’t want to hurt our team.”
Speaking of penalties, you guys have done a really good job with that this year. Can you talk about the concentration in that aspect.
“I believe this, and I know it’s not always a true statistic, but championship teams don’t hurt themselves by having dumb penalties, bad penalties. The place where we’ve been really good I really think has been special teams. We haven’t had a lot of block in the backs, holds those kind of things where you get a good return and you get some good field position and then get knocked back. From the offensive line part of it, because you know we’ve had a couple false starts, those are the ones you don’t truly like. You’re going to have some holds. That’s going to be part of it and if you’re playing good defense you’re going to have some PI’s because that’s part of it. Pass interference, I don’t know if anybody really knows what it is anyway anymore.”
Drake Harris: is he back practicing with you guys?
“He’s doing more. He’s not full go. And that will be the only injury question that I’ll answer.” /laughs
You touched on this a little earlier, but when you look at the scope and the history of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry how would you characterize it besides being just a state championship? What else has gone into it?
“Oh, if you want to talk history we can back a long time. You can talk about- there’s a lot of history. I was here in 2001 when we got beat with a second left in the game from that standpoint. You can look back when Bo got here. You look before Bo got here at the great teams Michigan State had during that time and the good teams that we’ve had here. Some great endings. It’s competitive, hard-fought, physical. I think it’s exciting. It’s exciting to play in and coach in and exciting to prepare to coach in and play.”
MGoQuestion: On Monday you said that sometimes during a bye week coaches can tinker too much with their system and that you prefer to stick with your identity. At the same time, after the Penn State game you said that they came out and broke tendency in the first half and that was coming off their bye week. So I’m wondering how do you balance sticking with your identity and also breaking your tendencies?
“Yeah, well, we obviously looked at all those things and there’s some things we’d like to maybe switch up this week and will to some degree. You’ve still got to stick with what you do best. I think we’re still trying to figure that out a little bit from an offensive standpoint. We need to generate more- we’re good in the red zone, but we’re not good at getting into the red zone so some of those things are a part of that. Third down conversions; what can we do best there? First downs; have you been a run-run team or a run-pass team on first down. Second down, pass-There’s all kinds of data that you look at to see if you can maybe give somebody something different.”
It seems like your players really tempered their comments this week. Is that by design? Is that sort of what you want them- how you wanted them to answer?
“You know, I think any time you have an opportunity and a platform to speak and talk about your teammates and Michigan and what you need to do is what we’re going to try to do.”
But they made an express point not to really talk about things.
“Well, you know, they’re pretty educated guys.”
Because they listen to you?
“No, heh, believe me. You all know better than that.”
Coming off the bye week, was that maybe the first time for the backs really to approach the rest of the season without Derrick [Green] and change that mindest maybe a little bit of what it’s going to look at going forward? Having some time to actually kind of adjust-
“You know, I hadn’t thought of it that way but it’s a pretty good point. It really is, you know, where DeVeon [Smith] knows he’s got to be the lead back or is the lead back. I think Justice [Hayes] has done unbelievably well and had good practices. Yeah. I think that probably even though you had that one week that was three practices basically before the Penn State game. Yeah. I think this is something that he [Ed- DeVeon] thought about. We were walking up the tunnel and he was walking next to me after the game and he said, ‘Boy, I played terrible.’ He said, ‘I missed more holes that were there.’ And you know, it’s refreshing to hear a guy say that and it also is refreshing when he fixes it.”
What did you see from him this week?
“I think he’s had a very good week. I think he’s had a good week. He missed a power yesterday he should have taken in the A gap, but overall I think he’s had a good week.”
To piggyback on the question about the general message you guys have had, one of, it seems like, giving Michigan State the respect they’ve earned-
“Yeah, they have.”
-saying it’s a rivalry and then getting out of there. You guys are an underdog in this game. How much of that is protecting some kind of emotional advantage you might have with that?
“Oh, I don’t know. I think you can talk about underdogs, you can talk about those things. I think when you start talking about rivalry games I think things change a little bit to some degree. We just try and be pretty consistent as far as some of the things- everybody talks about, ‘Is the week different?’ Well, you want your consistency in how you prepare and when you do your goal line, when you do- as coaches you’re constantly, because you want your players to know the consistency of the week is there…now, do we add a dimension to it with the intensity and all those things? Yeah. So the good thing is it comes from the players. It doesn’t have to come from a coach.”
Not to beat a dead horse with the same point here-
“You probably will anyway.That’s ok”
I’m going to anyway.
“I like it when you guys preface things.”
Is that ‘this is a big one because it’s the next one’ attitude kind of new over the past few years? I’ve been hearing that phrase more and more. In your time coaching and playing in the game was that not as popular?
“You know, I don’t know. You can go back to when I was an assistant for eight years.I just know you knew it was Michigan State week. Guys may miss some class here and there to prepare a little more. I’m just being honest with you. To see more film or whatever in their preparation. From that standpoint who wouldn’t want to play in a game like this? Who wouldn’t want to get ready and prepare to go play your best football? As you know, we’ve been evolving as a team and that’s what we need to do every week, so when you say it’s the next game, yeah, it is but it’s a daggone important one because it’s a great rivalry.”