Captains this week are Chad and Abdul on defense, Brian Ferentz and Albert Young will be our offensive captains. Northwestern real quickly…The first thing that umps out is that they are high energy, high effort and are a hard working team. Snapshot moment, we did not play them the last two years. The moment that sticks out watching them on film was the Ohio State game last year. It was a night game, ESPN. We must have had a home game that day because I watched it. The way they played really impressed me and that is what we are seeing on film. Just a team that plays extremely hard and with great energy and confidence. The first statistic that you notice is the turnover margin. They are doing well nationally, and the big part of that is they are the second leading take away team in the country. These guys have 24, so they have done a great job of getting INT's and forcing fumbles, which has been helpful for them.
Offensively, they are extremely dynamic, very productive, very explosive and they have a lot of good players. Their receivers are talented, their line is doing a good job, they filled in a big void at running back this year. Sutton is doing a great job there as a true freshman. You have to start with the quarterback when you talk about their offense. Norm compared Basanez to Randle El in terms of what he did for the football team. Certainly two different kinds of players and offenses, but as far as how he impacts the team, a good comparison. He is tough and productive and competitive. He is a great, great threat. Then defensively, they are statistically not doing great there, but they are getting the job done. All I know is that they have five wins right now and are doing great on take aways. They are young in certain areas, but they have two veteran leaders in Caulfield on the line and McCarigle at linebacker.
I want to caution you, and I know that no one in this room is responsible, but in reading the headline of the paper today and one of the headlines was about our offensive team salivating. Gosh, I hope that is not true. That mentality gets people in trouble. It is reminiscent of 1986 where we were going to go down and trounce San Diego State, one of the publications in our state wrote a nice article to that effect. You remember what a dog fight that was. That kind of mentality is frightening.
My guess is maybe some people in East Lansing were experiencing those thoughts a few weeks back. Then they look at the scoreboard and its 49-7. Most of us would agree that Michigan State is a prolific offensive football team. That kind of thinking in sports can get you in trouble. I hope that no one in our organization subscribes to that kind of thinking. We are expecting a tough football game. It's like looking in the mirror; we are both 5-3 & 3-2. All of the games are important, and this one is important for both teams.
Q: You always preach about holding onto the football, but is there an extra emphasis on that this week?
Kirk Ferentz: It is important in each game and in key games. When you play a team like this, first of all you had better make good use of every possession. Preferably getting points, preferably getting touchdowns. These guys have a high octane offense. If you are not ready to go…then the turnover thing, yeah. You watch these cutups on these guys…Penn State, Purdue and Michigan State in the second quarter in all three, those guys are down big. Turnovers factor into that. When you watch cutups that jumps out. Those are three pretty good football teams and bang, they are down by a lot early. The other one that jumps out was their game against Wisconsin. It was a pitchers duel in the first half, then all of the sudden its 51 to 30 something in the fourth quarter. These guys are so explosive offensively, you had better make good use of every possession.
Q: Is it that Sutton is hard to find in the backfield? What makes him so good?
Ferentz: He is just a good back and their scheme is such where they really make you respect the throwing game. They get you spread out and they are a proficient running team. It helps to have a good back and they have had those and they are in a similar situation now. Sutton is really a good football player.
Q: Are teams that run the spread finding it easier to run out of those formations?
Ferentz: It puts you in a tough position when they spread you out. Again, you cheat one way to give up something in the passing game or cheat to cover it, but you have a guy that can run and they can block. Their package is…we had our first exposure to it in 2000, the year they went to it. They were prolific that year and they have done a great job of adapting to their people and vice versa. They are really doing a nice job with it.
Q: What does your defense need to do this week?
Ferentz: I would argue this; It's like playing any good offensive football team, you had better be solid on team defense, that is the only chance you have. Especially with a quarterback like Basanez. If someone makes an error, he is good at finding that mistake. He does not hesitate. If you make an error, which people seem to do against him which gets back to their system, he is good. It's one thing to blow something and a guy cant get the ball there, but he gets it there.
Q: What did Michigan do to limit Sutton?
Ferentz: Again, I think they just played good team defense. They played more substitution defense, the five DB package. Being able to control the line of scrimmage and getting off blocks and trying to contain a good football player. Athleticism helps. Michigan is an athletic defense.
Q: How does this game shake out special teams wise?
Ferentz: They are a team that will do some things differently. You saw their kickoffs the other night. They keep you on your toes that way. It would help if we could do that. In a perfect world, you don't want to score too fast, which sounds silly. I think you know what I am referring to on that one. That being said, it would be good to score any way we can, and we will look for any opportunity.
Q: Does it surprise you that Basanez is more accurate this year?
Ferentz: Again, we have only caught glimpses of him in the last few years. Last year, I remember against Ohio State and also against Arizona State, he looked pretty productive last year too. My guess it's a matter of the whole picture coming together. This guy is just a heck of a football player. He is not impossible to sack, but they have gotten him twice all year, which is phenomenal. He is extremely elusive and he keeps plays alive. In a throwing situation, the longer a quarterback can keep it going, the better off the team is and he has that ability. He will put the ball where no one else can get it.
Q: Is Basanez a league MVP candidate?
Ferentz: Someone just asked me that about running backs. I have not given it much thought, but if you talk about everyone in our conference, there are tough choices. But he is doing a lot for his football team and there are some other arguments that could be made. But he would be in the mix.
Q: Did Basanez play against you in 2001?
Ferentz: I think he had an ankle injury coming in. I think he played a little, but he did not look like he does now. I think he had a cast, but that was his true freshman year. He is different. In 2000, that was a great game. They had a great team and in 2001 it was an even game. 2002 they were down a little bit. But again, just watching him on tape, you have seen him climbing the fence. Last year the film exposures we had, they really looked good I thought. They are humming right now.
Q: Did the bye week help you?
Ferentz: We will find out in about five days. But I think so. No matter what happens, it was good for us. It gave everyone a break and step away to regroup. We will get back to work today.
Q: Are you surprised that Northwestern has stayed with their style of offense?
Ferentz: They keep tweaking, but they made that transition in 2000 and it paid off for them. IT was a productive move. That is pretty much what you are seeing now. Three wides, four wides, that type of thing. I think they have stayed philosophically where they are going to run and throw it. They can go no huddle and they have all those things at their disposal and they do a good job of executing. It's one thing to have all of that, but they do a good job executing.
Q: Does the Big Ten continue to surprise you?
Ferentz: There are a lot of good offensive football teams, but it's all week to week. You still have to go out and play. That is what I was referring to regarding Michigan State. I don't think many of us would have predicted that game the way it went. If you don't go into every game ready to go, you open yourself up. The key is that there are enough teams in our league that if you are not ready to go, you will lose. So you better go into each game knowing that.
Q: How do aches and pains play out? Are things better than they used to be?
Ferentz: It's like everything. Strength and conditioning has improved and evolved over the last 25 years, treatments have. You talk about aches and pains, just look at the difference of an ACL repair now as opposed to 15 years ago. It's night and day difference. It's fair to say that everything is…players have more chances to get back quicker now, or at least minimize some of the things they have to under go.
Q: Is the bye week as much of a mental benefit as it is physical?
Ferentz: It's good on both ends. I think it's good to limit reps for some of the guys that have played an awful lot both mentally and physically. You don't want to lose the conditioning, so it's a fine line. To me, it's like getting ready for a bowl game. You are always tweaking it.
Q: Next year with a 12th game, you are playing 75 percent of an NFL regular season. Is it becoming harder for university presidents to talk about amateur athletics with a straight face?
Ferentz: The reality is that there are revenue sports in college athletics. That is the reality. They pay the bills. It's the world we live in. I think it's a good world. I saw a petition for a humanitarian angle on the 12th game. Like I said last week, the players that I spoke with this summer, they were in support of the 12th game. They realize that its revenue to help everyone in general. No one has a problem with that, but they would like another week off which makes sense.
Q: Did you have a hot dog on Friday night?
Ferentz: Popcorn. Two bags. It was good. It was a great ballgame. Great evening, great weather and it was nice. Another great week of weather this week. We are stealing them right now, this is beautiful.
Q: Did your coaches get out to see anyone in state, and what does this year's in state talent pool look like?
Ferentz: As I said, we are still watching and waiting on some players in our state. It's not as strong in terms of division one prospects possibly, but there are a lot of good football players out there. We are still in the evaluation process on a handful of prospects at this point. It's another good year. I would not say it's the biggest year, but it's another good year. We are looking at a little of everything. We are not in the lineman market quite as strong, but there is a little bit of everything out there.