"They're a very confident ballclub that plays hard. They've got playmakers. Their offensive line seems to be a little more aggressive, playing tougher maybe than before. Good skill people – (Jerricho) Cotchery and (Bryan) Peterson and a couple other receivers gives them a fine receivers corps. They've got an outstanding running back in (T.A.) McLendon. Of course, the (Josh) Brown kid and (Greg) Golden are good players as well.
"They give you a lot of problems with personal matchups because they do some of the things that Georgia Tech and Maryland have done through the years – the tight end interchanging with the fullback and vice versa. You don't know whether you're getting two backs and a tight end or you're getting … they can change a lot of formations without changing personnel. And that creates a little problem for you.
"Of course, their quarterback is an outstanding player, Philip Rivers – tremendous poise, I've never seen him get rattled. He just makes plays. A lot of people talk about his delivery, but we don't worry about people's deliveries. It's like hitting a golf ball: If it's down the fairway or it's in the cup, it don't matter how you did it. He throws completions. He reads coverages well, makes adjustments, whether he has to throw it underhanded, lateral it, basketball shoot it, or whatever he does. He just gets it done.
"They give you a lot of problems as far as alignments and changes in personnel – shifting, motion – it's a little harder to focus in on what you're supposed to do when you're moving, when you have to make checks and adjustments and so forth. That gave us a lot of problems down here last year, especially the first half. The second half, we settled down and played better. But the thing they've got in addition to giving you alignment and assignment problems is they've got people that can hurt you running, throwing, and they do a good job of mixing their stuff up."
The defense seems to be playing with more passion since midway through the Wake Forest game than it had all season. What has changed?
"I think the biggest thing is we started playing team ball. Team means accountability – you've got to hold up to your responsibilities. I think in the past we were trying to make plays rather than doing our job – not as focused and playing with as much determination as you've got to. … It's easy to talk, but you've got to get out there and back it up too. It looks like we're flying to the ball a little bit better, making some things happen, playing with a little more reckless abandon, playing a little smarter – little things add up to big things."
Last year, it didn't seem like Rivers threw a pass more than 15 or 20 yards. What do you do against an offense like that?
"(Last year) they took us out of what we wanted to do with all that shifting and motion. They made us play a little more zone than we wanted to. Their receivers do a very good job of finding the spots – their offense is geared that way. They don't ask him to throw the ball 50 yards downfield often. The bad thing about it is when he does it's usually on target. But that's their offense, that's the way it's set up, to take advantages of those little weaknesses in the coverage. You don't get as many sacks like that because they're dumping the ball off before you get there. Against that type of offense, what you need is to have five rushers, about six underneath and about three deep – but every time we try to do that, they throw a flag on us."
"I think they're like most of our guys – they've gotten better as the year's gone on because they've worked hard to get it done. B.J.'s biggest problem is that he can't tackle during the week. He can't take Tuesday and Wednesday to work on the most important part of defense, which is tackling. He's got a bad shoulder and a cervical nerve or something, so he's in a blue (non-contact) shirt all week. But he's gotten better, he's playing smarter. He's very talented. … Being tall is an asset as long as you don't play tall at the wrong time. It's like being short. There's nothing wrong with being short as long as you don't play short. Being tall becomes a problem if you don't play with your knees bent and your shoulders down because you can't change directions. You're just a track man – you're just running straight lines out there, and there's not many plays where you run straight lines in football. But he has made progress.
McFadden has made progress as well. He had one game this year when he intercepted two passes (against Maryland) … and he had another big intercept Saturday. He had a chance to pick up a fumble, but he forgot that you can't advance a ball that you don't possess. When you're trying to score before you get the ball, usually you don't score, because you usually don't have the ball – whether you're intercepting or picking it up. The first thing we go over from day one is how you recover a fumble, whether you're in the open or in tight quarters. Whether you fall on it or whether you scoop it. I haven't done a good enough job of reminding him you've got to bend your knees, get under the ball, scoop it up, gain possession and run with the ball. He was too busy trying to pat himself on the back before he had any reason to pat himself."
I guess you re-emphasized that point in practice?
"Didn't have to … but we did – in a little harsher tones than we did on the practice field when we were teaching it. You can't miss opportunities like that. … We had already had a bad play. We weren't in the right gap, we had a safety miss a tackle, Leroy saves a touchdown, and on top of it he got the ball out. He gave us an opportunity to gain possession. Had we done it, they would not have scored on that possession. That could have possibly been a 14-point play right there. Certainly it was a seven-point play we didn't make. It gets back to taking care of the little details. And invariably it gets back to we probably didn't do a good enough job of coaching details."