OPENING STATEMENT:Needless to say, we're all very pleased with the outcome of today. It's really been a difficult week for our football team. It was a very disappointing loss last week. We just didn't play the way we feel we can, not to take anything away from Purdue. We just didn't play up to our level. It's been a tough week for everybody. You factor in injuries; we've had a lot of illness in our building. It's been more than interesting. I just couldn't be more pleased with the way our guys gutted it up today and came through. They just pulled together here over the last 48 hours and just made up their minds that they were going to play a great football game. I can't say enough about our seniors giving us great leadership. They've done a great job all the way through their career. Their work is not done yet, certainly. But, boy, they led us today. It was great to see.
You got out of the gate fast today, too.
Yeah, we played a little quicker that way and a little cleaner today. The penalty situation was much improved. It looked like us on special teams again. We've been kind of losing our stinger there. We protected the football for the most part. We had that one turnover, but we rebounded from that. We came back and played a heck of a football game after that. Those were probably the only statistics that we came out on top of other than the points. But that's OK.
Was your clock management at the end of the first half a key to gaining momentum?
When Nate knocked that through...We figured he had a pretty good chance. And if you asked him, he had a 100 percent chance. That was enough for us to hear. For him to hit that like he did, that made the score more comfortable and that ignited the crowd. The crowd was great all day long. That really gave us a great boost.
Have you ever coached against a team that ran 97 plays?
Probabaly, but not won. Usually when that happens it's the other way around. You look up at the scoreboard, they had three (hundred) something (yards) passing. The big thing was they came out humming early in the run game. We settled down. We started playing after that. You look up the one time, and I think we've got both Derreck and Jared coming out. Guys like Jory Helms jumping in there, Tyler Luebke, it's amazing the way guys just have found a way. We had a lot of guys on special teams having to fill in. I can't say enough about that. The training tables have been interesting the last couple of days. At the team meal this morning, I'm looking over at Neubauer and Follett and they look like two mummies. We sent them home as soon as we got to the stadium. Rothwell comes down sick yesterday. I can't tell you how many guys have been sick during the week. Coming out for pregame warmup and Gallery is up there throwing up in a big bucket right by the door. It's just been that kind of week for us. But when the bell sounded today, our guys really answered.
What was the illness?
There's some kind of viral thing going around. C.J. Barkema, I think he and Reese were the first two on Tuesday. They called about six or eight players over later that night and had to give them antibiotics. They gave them to the coaching staff. There's a whooping cough scare going through. It was almost comical, but it wasn't comical. The flu or viral thing, whatever it was, kind of spread during the week. I don't know if we're done yet either. We'll find out. It was a little distracting. I don't mind telling you that we didn't look too good at practice Tuesday or Wednesday either. Wednesday night, I wasn't feeling so good about this one.
Is this the best total game that your team has played this year?
I really think so. First of all, we played an outstanding opponent today. Minnesota is a fantastic football team. They've been doing it against everybody. That was our first concern. Then the status of our team, we're a different looking team than we were five or six weeks ago. For the guys to gut it up and do what they did today, it says an awful lot about their character, their heart. It's just a tremendous tribute to our players.
Did Bob blitz a little bit more today?
We got him active a little bit, yeah, in certain situations. One thing about him, when he comes, there's a good chance that he's going to make something happen. That happened today.
Speaking of making something happen, Fred was returning kicks. What's up with that?
Well, we've would have liked to had either he or Jermelle back there or both of them. But we were waiting for the tailback situation to settle down a little bit where we felt like we had at least three guys; namely Fred, Jermelle and Marcus. We finally got to that point. So, it enabled us to get him back there. Jermelle is the other option. We're just not quite sure with his knee if that's the smartest thing yet. Fred certainly gave us a jump there.
Did you guys get some turnovers today that hadn't come but came last year?
Yeah. That certainly factored in. And we got points off of them. Not always touchdowns, but we were getting points off of them. To me it was a very representative win of the kind of football team we are right now. It was a great team effort defensively, offensively and our special teams. We protected the ball for the most part. We won the turnover battle. We didnt have the penalty problem. We looked like us on special teams. So, pretty much when we needed something, we got it. Boy, that's how we have to play right now. That's just it.
Sam got hurt late.
The report that I just got is that he's going to be OK. It looked like it might be something there for a minute. We'll know more here in a couple of days. Our plan was to pull the seniors out after that play. So much for that plan.
Some of the seniors got emotional when they ran out on the field to meet their parents. Your thoughts on what is your first recruiting class?
Senior days have been emotional every day since I've been here going back to the '80s right on through. Most of these guys are guys that we recruited, but there were special guys in '99 too. Anybody that can finish up as a senior at a Big Ten school...I can't tell you how demanding we are of them. It's something that they've earned. It's a great privilege. And then you look at the wins and losses. These guys have seen the 1-10, the 3-9. They've been a big part of us getting back to where we want to be. I can't say enough about these guys. It's a great group. We've got walk-ons out there. Some of them were highly recruited, but most of them are guys that we had some feeling for and they had feeling for us.
If your parents ask tonight which bowl you're going to, what are you going to tell them?
I have no idea. I haven't even been thinking about that one for a while. I just wanted to get us back to feeling good. It's all pretty basic. It's not real complex. We all felt like crap last week. There's no way to describe it. If you can go out and do your best, at least you can come off the field feeling good about yourself. That was the big thing that we wanted to do today.
Did you happen to peek at the Michigan State-Wisconsin score?
I saw that. It was a pretty good game plan. Sorgi can throw it. Evans can catch it and do something with it. I imagine we might see a few more of those next week.
How satisfying was it for you guys to really shut down the run?
They came out early and really had it going, but settled down. And then when they got behind, they had to throw more than they're accustomed to. It was satisfying. After the early onslaught, we settled down and started playing pretty well. if you look at who was in the game and what we were doing, that's pretty impressive.
You were down to, what, third-string defensive tackles?
We were getting a little low out there. Jory has been doing a good job all season long. he did that. Tyler obviously made some big, big plays for us. He's really been working more outside, but he had to jump in there and play inside today. And then, probably hidden behind it all is the fact that Matt and Howard had to play the full game. We've been used to rotating those guys. That's really where we've been losing out. Before Jonathan was hurt, we were able to rotate six or seven guys through. Now, it's a little different situations. So, those guys really gutted it up and got it done.
Did you have an inkling that Ochoa could be the player that he's become?
Yes and no. We've seen him do things in practice over the years. But just his spirit and his heart, I mean, he's all heart. When I think of Ramon, that's what I think about. The guy just loves the game. He loves being around his teammates. He's everything you would hope a football player would be in your program. It's great to see him in the hallway. It's great to see him anywhere. He's not a 4.4 guy, but he makes plays. He's fast and efficient.
Last year you were named coach of the year. This year people are saying that you're coaching better than you did last year with all the injuries and everything. What's your reaction to that?
The A.P. thing, it was nice, believe me. I was really honored. But it's a team honor. It really is. When you have a great season like that, those things tend to come your way. We said last year that the awards we got were team awards. That's not going to happen this year because we've got three losses, but I'm every bit as proud of everybody in our program as I have been from the ground floor up.