“Let’s knock this out.”
What’s it like practicing against a Don Brown defense every day?
“It makes us better. It makes us better without a doubt. It really is a true test of our rules, you know, with the energy that they bring and how intense his defense is. It raises the level of our intensity as an offense.”
Where have you seen Brandon Peters get better from the start of the season?
“Well, Brandon’s still a work in progress. He’s only played in a portion of one game. Just like a lot of our young players, time on task, having more time on task has allowed them to improve. I don’t want to say that there’s not still a lot of work to be done, because there is. But he’s gotten more reps as of late and we expect continued improvement.”
What did he do to convince you guys to put him in the game? What’s he doing in practice?
“He had a better understanding as the season went on of the offense. More recently, once Wilton went down he had more of an opportunity to get reps with the first offense.”
Was there a play or two that stood out Saturday as impressive to you for a guy getting his first live action?
“Absolutely. Finding the checkdown. The play where we had a four vertical concept called in the red zone, he didn’t force it downfield, he didn’t force it to one of our tight ends that were running down the seams, he stepped up in the pocket, showed tremendous poise, and checked the ball down to Henry Poggi and that was a big play for us.”
[After THE JUMP: finding offensive rhythm with the guys you’ve got, more on Peters, and Mo Hurst: destroyer of games, wrecker of handoffs]
You say he’s a work in progress and everything. How did he perform as far as that was concerned actually getting live game reps?
“Well, I think that there was a great unknown going into the game. We had a lot of young players that were playing for the first time and practice is so different than games. I think Brandon showed pretty good competitive instincts. For quarterbacks especially, there’s no way to recreate the game environment; we don’t tackle our quarterbacks in practice. It was good to see him go out and show that calm and poise that he’s displayed since I first met him. But to go out and actually do it in the game, it meant a lot to our football team.”
I asked Jim this, but when you send him in for the first time, what was your feeling? Were you nervous or like, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen here’?
“I wouldn’t say nervous, but there was just a true sense of not uncertainty but let’s see how he responds in a game. For the most part, he responded well. He responded well against a team that we felt like we matched up pretty good against, but there were a couple plays that could have easily went the other way that we had a chance to watch film and evaluate and learn from. We hope to have that same continued progress going into our next game if he has an opportunity to play.”
After he hits the checkdown to Poggi, which I think was on his first drive, is that when you settle in your chair a little bit at that point and say, ‘Okay, [inaudible]’?
“I didn’t settle into my chair until I got home and had dinner with the family and had a chance to kind of decompress. It was—you can’t necessarily worry about the things that could go wrong on game day so much as try and evaluate how each of our guys—quarterbacks, receivers, running backs, tight ends—how guys are handling certain situations, then that’s how you decide on what strategy to use moving forward.
“He did the things that we need our quarterbacks to do, and that’s manage our offense, don’t turn the ball over, and if a play breaks down, mitigate: find a checkdown, throw the ball away, extend the play, run and get a first down, get five and slide. Those are the things that we need our quarterbacks to do more consistently.”
Why put him in against Rutgers? Why not put him in against Michigan State or Penn State?
“We didn’t feel like there was a need at that point in the season to put him in. I don’t think it had as much to do with Brandon or the opponent from last weekend as it did just where we were as an offense, and we felt good about John [O’Korn] being able to go in and execute that gameplan.”
Does he have the freedom to audible at the line?
“Each of our quarterbacks do.”
Don talked about Dylan [McCaffrey] and what he’s brought to the scout team. Can you talk about what you’ve seen from him?
“Dylan is… he has a really good football pedigree. Football is important to him. He has really good football instincts in that regard. Also, just as far as having an understanding of what the defense is trying to do, and with Don’s defense it’s real simple: they’re trying to hit the quarterback. But he’s responded well running our scout team, but it’s not as hard as it would be if he was playing in an actual game because the difference is we’re holding up a card saying hey, throw the ball to this guy. But still, it’s not easy to go out and do that. He’s responded well in the situations that we put him in.”
How did John handle the situation of being taken out of the game on Saturday? How did he react?
“He reacted the way we expected him to. He was disappointed but very supportive.”
What have been some of the missing pieces overall? Eight games through, what’s been missing?
“Continuity, consistency of execution, and you had a lot of players playing for the first time that are learning on the job. Unfortunately, attrition is part of our game and we’ve lost several big-time playmakers in our offense.”
Talk about Tarik as he’s one of them—
--and what a big loss that was for this offense.
“It was a big loss. Tarik, Nick Eubanks, Wilton Speight, losing those guys considering that they got the lion’s share of the reps in training camp and throughout the offseason, those are big holes to fill. But our young guys and guys that have stepped in, they’ve done a pretty good job. We’ve had times where we’ve sputtered as an offense but they’re working hard. They’re working hard. You wouldn’t expect anything less from a Jim Harbaugh-coached football team.
“And they’re learning on the job. You can’t teach experience, and football is a game that’s learned, not taught. If we give you guys the playbook you could learn the symmetry of the Xs and Os, but it’d be hard for you to go out and block Rashan or Mo Hurst or run a route against some of the really good defensive backs we see on a week to week basis in the Big Ten.”
Speaking of Mo Hurst, you’ve seen NFL-level talent, obviously. How does he measure up and where do you see him going forward at the next level?
“He’s a game wrecker. Our defense has to be one of the best in college football. I find myself at times just taking a break from trying to sort out what we’re going to do in the next series and just watching how intense and how physical Don Brown’s defense is playing, and Mo Hurst is the catalyst for our defense.
“You better be careful if you’re a center or interior lineman against our defense because he’ll be five yards in the backfield before the quarterback can hand the ball off. So he’s a game wrecker. He’s a very disruptive player and he consistently brings it from week to week.”
With some of the youth and injuries, have you guys had to peel back on what you’re doing offensively to some degree? Have you guys found yourselves peeling back on some concepts?
“Well, when you lose your starting quarterback naturally you have to give some consideration to the plays that the guys that are replacing the starters, the plays that they’ve had time on task. So yes, we’ve had to try and do some things that are of course specific to the personnel that we’ve had available. We’ll always do whatever we need to do to score a touchdown.”
You guys were able to get Chris Evans out on the touchdown pass on a wheel route. Is that more of what we can see from Chris, not giving away your entire gameplan obviously, but just seeing him in several roles?
“Yeah, it’s been a long time coming for us to get Chris matched up with linebackers and safeties coming out of the backfield. It just so happened that this was the weekend, last weekend was the game that we had an opportunity to get him matched up and take advantage of the many things that he can do well.”
Ambry Thomas told us last night that he’s working a little on offense.
“Did he really?”
He did, he did.
“He gave it away.”
He’s got some great ball skills. Are there other things you can do with him? Besides jet sweeps, which he also told us he working on?
“So… I think we’ve all had an opportunity to see Ambry with the ball in his hands, specifically when he was returning kicks, and he’s fast and he’s explosive. If in fact that ever happens, we expect that he’ll make some plays.”
When plays break down, it seems like Brandon does a good job keeping his eyes downfield. How much are you preaching when a play breaks down you’ve still got to make a play and get him somebody to throw it to?
“Yeah, we always preach that to all of our quarterbacks but their instincts under duress, they show on gameday. The fact that he was able to do that, that was a plus. We hope that when he has an opportunity to play, he’ll do that moving forward.”
Guys have been out and new guys have been in there. Do you feel like you’re in a spot now where you can maybe start to build and grow and do some things more things and expand what you can do through the air?
“I hope so. I think that’s just part of our game. Once again, attrition is part of our game. It’s our job as coaches to adjust and adapt and find a way to implement the players that are available to play. I think that a really important part of us having success as an offense is stabilizing the quarterback position, and I’ll leave it at that.”