Who is the mostly highly recruited guy of your defensive starters?
I think Abdul had us and Auburn. Our secondary is the best. We beat Kent State for Jovon. We beat Vanderbilt to get Antwan. Hofstra is still mad about us taking Paschal. And nobody is too mad about Considine. Nobody wanted him. If you look at it, it's kind of interesting. It's just a bunch of guys playing football.
The perception nationally is that you're doing more with less. Do you think that's a slap in the face to your players?
Nah. Believe me, Marcus knows it was us an Hoftsra. I think he's glad he's here. We all know how we got here, I guess. It doesn't matter how you get somewhere, it just matters wwhat you do once you get there. That's kind of the attitude all of the guys have taken.
The credit goes to them because they're not worried about the other guy's resume out there on the field. I'm talking about the opponent. They're just worried about playing well and playing together. That gives you a chance.
With four second string redshirt freshmen as second-team defensive linemen, what does that do to the way that you handle things in practice?
The key thing for those guys is to really get involved in the game plan. They have to because they're one play from going in there.
But even if they're not getting the reps during the game, they've got to study the game tape afterwards just as if they were one of the guys that had played. If they do that, they can really move forward.
We try to get some developmental work in with those guys. We'll kick that in in December, especially. But we pick our spots during the fall.
Are you concerned abou Kyle Schlicher's confidence?
Not at all. I really thought that he was good the other night. I thought he was focused. I thought that he was aggressive. Even after his misses, coming off of the field, he looked good. He didn't look like he was shook up.
He's starting to come. I really feel good about Kyle Schlicher. I'm afraid to say that publicly because you shouldn't say that about a kicker. But he's really starting to get some confidence. And that's great. That's what you look for out of that position. But you've got to earn it. And he's starting to do that.
Are you guys playing better in the back end than you have in your six years?
I think we are. Collectively, this is probably as well as we've played defensively. We've had out moments. We played pretty well in 2002. We didn't play bad last year. But the idea is to improve. And we all knew coming into this year that's where our experience was. The guys have continued to step it up every week. For us to be successful, that's critical.
Penalties were kind of a common theme early in the season. You guys have done a better job with that.
We're quietly doing a little better there. I was looking at that this morning. We're not killing ourselves there in Big Ten play. And we're not killing ourselves with the turnovers. Those things are really coming into play for us. We're playing a lot smarter as a football team. For us to have any chance at all, we've got to play smart.
The last game that you played at Minnesota, is that all kind of just a daze to you the whole postgame thing?
Ah, it was embarrassing. I've got to tell you it was embarrassing. I've never been in that position. But I wouldn't mind trying it again if we ever get that opportunity.
But it was a great day. That was a great week. I knew going out to practice in Tuesday we weren't going to lose that game just because of the way the seniors were. We had such a strong group of seniors. Those guys were on track.
As coaches, we were almost on auto pilot during the course of that game. Our guys just went out and won the game. It was one of those games. And you don't get many of those in your career.
Was Brian on the sideline for that one?
He had had knee surgery, so he was in the stands.
He didn't get arrested jumping over the stands, did he?
I don't think so. I think the kids' moms had them. They were all staying in the stands.
Wasn't that silly? The damn whistles, I guess I was out of there by that time. My wife told me about it. She said all they had to do was ask them to leave, and then they put the whistles on and ignited a riot.
But they're not used to dealing with that kind of stuff. It's a pro stadium. They're more used to drunks, right? Drunks and fist fights in the stands? That's pro ball, right, drunk guys getting in fist fights? Pittsburgh-Cleveland, the best action was in the stands, always.
Do you worry about that karma (from the celebration) coming back to get you?
I don't think it's related to this ballgame.
Do you worry about your goal posts coming down against Wisconsin?
I hope not. Well, they can't get out goal posts. We're two steps ahead on that one. I don't have to worry about that.
With all the things you guys have gone through this year, from your dad to Norm's son to the injuries and everything else, how have you kept it going?
It's just a credit to our kids (KF starts to well up before pausing and catching himself). Strike that. Not kids. Our players. I hate that word. It's a credit to our players because they've been able to stay focused.
We're not out of the woods yet. We still have two games to go. But so far, very little has rattled our guys other than when we got rattled. The biggest pothole we've hit was down there in Arizona State. But that turned out to be a positive. At least it has so far. Other than that, our guys have been straight ahead.
Where does that come from?
Ultimately it comes down to the kind of individual you're coaching and working with. By design, you want to get guys to stay the course. But nothing is 100 percent. But ultimately, we have a lot of guys that have the right stuff inside.
Reese said something last week about your kind of guys. I would think that a certain percentage of the recruits you grab are your kind of guys.
Guys have to qualify academically. You hope they can run faster than I can. But ultimately, it really comes down to does a player really love football? If he can't live without football, then that's a good starting point. It's important that they think in terms of others, too. Self-centered guys, this is a bad sport for that kind of an individual.
There are those out there. In fact, I think one went down on Sunday. Maybe that guy in Philadelphia is going to win a championship. We'll see. Sometimes you win it because of guys and sometimes you don't win it because of guys.
When you're recruiting guys, how to you figure out who's really into that?
You do all of the homework you can do, but you're never 100 percent. When I go back and look at it, I say who has done well here? I always start with the '80s when I was here as an assistant. You look at our four trophy winners. It's a pretty good illustration. I always like to throw Bob Sanders in there, too, because he played on the same level as those guys. You get the intangibles.
Who is a better guy than Brad Banks? If you don't like Brad Banks, then there's something wrong with you. The guy was an awesome guy. And you can go right down the list. When your best players are your role models, it's a pretty good thing.
Has a guy like Ben Cronin, who has had to be patient, ever come up to the office and said, "Hey, what the hell is going on here?"
Not to me. And every player has that opportunity. They can say whatever they want as long as they don't mind hearing whatever I want to say. That's the only rule.
No, he's been great. He's just been a consummate team guy, and a very popular guy with his teammates because of the way that he is and the way that he works.
Do you think that Mickens will play again this year?
Oh yeah. There's a chance he'll play this week. If he can't, I feel great about next week. With Marques Simmons, I'm not optimistic about the regular season due to the cutting. If it's dicey at all a week from now, why even do it? And then, he missed the next six or seven weeks.
Is this your most gratifying season?
Ah, it's too early to say yet. I'm enjoying every week. When we're done, I'll look back.
How is Damein Sims coming along?
He's coming along. It's just been a little tough because, as I said, every play has been so critical. Every series has been critical. So, we're realy careful about what we do and what situations we get him into.
But he's coming along great. He's got a great attitude and he's working hard.
What a rotten break he had on that kickoff. But he did a great job and a smart thing by recovering the ball. That could have been disasterous.
Are there certains aspects of the game, like pass blocking, that maybe Sam does better than Damien right now?
Pass pickup. Knowing the assignments and being able to do it. Those are probably the hardest things for any back coming on campus, any freshman back. That's the biggest thing he's working on here. His running skills and his ability to know the plays and all of that kind of stuff is fine. But right now...especially with some of the blitzes Purdue was throwing at us, those were things that I'd never seen before. It's really tough for a first-year player to pick some of that stuff up.