As far as preparation, you’ve been through Michigan State weeks before. Pretty similar?
“Yeah, you know, obviously it’s a rival game. They’re a great team, great program. You’re really focused on improving you as you go through the season so the best version of who we are shows up on Saturday. Guys have been focused and working hard.”
You look at Zach Gentry and how has he developed into a great tight end, what’s it like coaching him?
“Like anything else, you want to see players develop and attack his problems and then not only attack it but bottle up and continue to do the things he’s doing well. Zach’s been really focused, been working really hard, came off a very good summer, has started a way that we felt good and so we’re going to see how it goes the rest of the way and if he continues that journey.”
MGoQuestion: What stands out to you on film about Michigan State’s defensive line?
“Oh, very good. Active. There’s a mold to what they develop and what they do and these guys certainly fit. They’re strong inside, fast on the outside. It’s a tough, great scheme. Ranked very highly and so that stands out the most.”
Where did your tackles improve during the improvement week? What did you guys work on?
“Really the biggest thing as we went with the front, the offensive line and the tight ends, is continuing to identify potential issues. These are great coaches that we face week in and week out in the best football conference in America and so they dissect you. Whether it be a stance or leaning here or slow hands or whatever it may be and so what we try to do is identify some of those things and correct them, and if they don’t need to be corrected just continue doing them.
“But really just focusing on each individual and the role they play and how they do it and seeing if we can tweak something here, get a little more efficient there, maybe take a false step out, something like that and that’s what we’re looking for as we move through improvement week, watching film, getting ready for the game.”
[After THE JUMP: Growing Pains (non-sitcom edition)]
How do you feel Nolan’s [Ulizio] progressing and acclimating to his starting position?
“He’s working hard and Nolan cares a lot, so any time you’ve got a young man who cares and is willing to work, it’s fun to watch that. And so there’s been obviously some really great moments and then there’s been some we had to correct and continue to learn from, and so Nolan’s really attacking that process.”
With the sack numbers and TFLs in general, where do things from a consistency standpoint need to happen to eradicate some of those issues?
“Well, the biggest thing as you go through it as an offense a lot of times it gets broken down into statistics and I understand that but the reality is we’re an 11-person offense. There’s 11 guys on the field, so in order to avoid a sack, in order to have a big run or score a touchdown or whatever we have to be working together. If you get off schedule a little bit things happen, and that’s really what we’re trying to keep everybody working, jelling, on schedule, understanding their role to the play whatever play’s called. And so that’s really, as we go forward, the emphasis.”
Is that part of a growing pain thing with young guys across the board or all 11?
“I don’t think it’s a young guy thing, I think it’s a football thing. Like I said, we face some outstanding defensive coaches day in here and day out obviously as we go into conference play and open with Florida and all that; those guys are very good at what they do. I think it’s just a common battle amongst offenses in football: being on the same page, finding out what you do well, finding out what the talent of the player is, getting him involved. Then of course as you go through other little adversity hits and you have to figure out ways to continue growing from there.”
How long does that take?
The growing pains.
“What do you mean?”
You just mentioned that--
“Oh, I think it’s a week-in, week-out, play-in, play-out. You can’t do anything about the past; that’s there, it happened. What you can do is learn from it, and if you continue to learn, continue to grow, hopefully the growing pains become less and less but what the beautiful part about sports and athletics and why people love it is every play, every person you play against is different.
“Every pass rush is different, every ball thrown is different, every read is different. Could be just something as simple as a guy stumbles and it changes the timing of everything, so that’s really—you’re trying to breed confidence in what we do, you’re trying to eliminate the little things that can screw up the timing, and when you talk improvement week I think that’s what we attacked very well.”
How do you keep guys from being discouraged, especially early in the season when maybe they don’t have the wealth or prior experience to fall back on?
“It’s like anything else in life. If you’re focused on the past, you’ll get discouraged. If you’re focused on what you need to do to do your job at a high level or the highest level you’re capable of then the discouragement becomes more educational and that’s what you want it to be, you want it to be education. Hey, I made a mistake, let’s continue to grow.”
Have they been able to approach it that way?
“I think so, yeah.”
You’ve been in the Big Ten a long time. What’s been your impression of Michigan State as it’s grown under Dantonio over the years?
“Well, and I go actually back to the Big East when I was at West Virginia and South Florida they were at Cincinnati, but they’re wonderful coaches. They’re very good at what they do and they have a system they believe in that has worked as proven, and so it’s like I said, they’re a very good staff, very good football team. They’ve been that way for a while.”
They’ve done a good job stopping the run. What have you seen from them?
“Well, that.” [laughs] “We’re seeing it too.”