Injury wise, we are pretty much sitting where we were the other day. For sure, Rafael Eubanks will not play. We will hold him out, he will rehab and we hope that he will be with us next Tuesday. The three guys that did not play last week are day to day at this point. For the most part I think we ware moving in the right direci0tn. I will know more in practice today and we will watch things this week.
Purdue was a good football game for us, a good win. Most importantly our team continued to improve and I was happy to see that. That is behind us now so we are heading down to Indiana to play them. They are coming off a very exciting win, a good win for their team.
The first thing that jumps out at you, is their skill people they put out there. You start with Hardy, the receiver. HE did a great job against us last year. He is going to be a challenge for us. He is a good receiver, has great size and has good ability. The new QB, Lewis, is extremely fast out there. He is a young and dangerous guy. Blake Powers is backing him up and he had a great game against us last year, too. That jumps out at you right away. Their running back, Thigpen, is extremely fast and an accomplished track athlete. I will come back to him in a minute, but he is a threat.
Defensively, they have been in and out of a few different schemes, so it's a tough preparation for us tying to get a handle on what they are thinking, but my guess is probably they will settle into what they did against Illinois and it looked like they were more comfortable playing a four down front and being active with their linebackers blitzing and dogging a lot against Illinois. They had success with that in that ball game and we imagine we will see that.
On special teams, the biggest threat goes back to Thigpen. The guy had ridiculous numbers, like 44 yards per touch right now as a kick return guy. The fact that he is an excellent returned and that our coverage has been less than consistent is not a pleasing combination right now.
The last thing I would say, the last two games, 2002 is ancient history to our team, I don't know if we had anyone on the roster, if we did I doubt they traveled, but last year, it was midway through the fourth quarter and its 24-21 fighting for our lives. The guys only have to look back to last year's game to know we have a challenge, and we are on the road and its another Big Ten contest. The challenge is for us to see if we can do a good job getting ready and be ready at kickoff. Q: What can you do differently on the kickoff coverage? Is it execution?
Kirk Ferentz: I think it's strictly execution right now. The thing that is frustrating about it is that we have been as good as you can get and then we have been about as bad as you can get. It's the same guys, same scheme. How we kick the ball affects that too. It's not solely one thing. We have had pretty good success traditionally, but our consistency is not where it needs to be an the kick return team is the same way. We have a lot of work to do as a team now and those are two areas that stand out where we have to make strides or we put ourselves behind the 8-ball.
Q: Are you guys facing the three best kickoff return teams in a row (Ohio State, Purdue and Indiana)?
Ferentz: I think that is a fair statement. The last two weeks have been extremely dangerous, guys that can do some good things. Thigpen has shown what he can do and how he has impacted games, he did last week.
Q: How much of Damian's success last week was him, and how much of it was the line play?
Ferentz: It's both. Damian is a very good running back. He is decisive, he reads well and he has a good motor and burst in there. He runs tough. The thing I think that people overlook from my point of view, Damian is not the biggest guy. I don't know if he is 190, but he runs in between the tackles. He is not timid at all and that is good to see. That's not always the case with guys that are his size, but he will hole it up in there. We blocked better Saturday than we have at any given time. The other factor is overall offensively, we were more cohesive during the game than at any time. Everything affects everything. If you are doing a good job of throwing and protecting, people respect that and it makes the run game easier and vice versa. Our whole thing has been balance. When it all works together, it's great. When its not, that is not so good.
Q: Is your next man in success a function of recruiting?
Ferentz: Yeah, that has been a real highlight of the season thus far. I am not sure we want to extend it much further, but it has been pleasing to see guys jump in and do a good job and take a guy like Devan Moylan. He walked on here, unrecruited and impressed us a year ago on special teams. What he did to start it out, then Marcus Wilson jumped in, Seth Olsen two weeks ago at Illinois. The other day we talked about the folly there at center, we didn't plan on using three centers. AJ Edds did a very nice job in there. I think it says something about recruiting, but a lot about the preparation those guys are putting in. It's like in class, until you call on them, you don't know if they have the answer. You really don't know about a player until they get in the game. All the guys I mentioned the way they played demonstrates they have been working and not wanting to let your teammates down. They care about each other a little bit, too.
Q: Is it unusual to see so many young quarterbacks playing in the Big Ten (Painter, Juice Williams, Ellis for Indiana).
Ferentz: Yeah, it is. For whatever reason. Indiana and Illinois are both new coaches if you will, I think they are making a commitment to the future and playing some guys that have not been around an awful lot. This is our best chance to win now nad long term. I don't know that, but it appears that way. Henne led Michigan to the Big Ten title his first year as a player. We tied for the title in 2004. Chad was a first year freshman, and Drew was a second year guy and a first year starter. I will never forget Brooks Bollinger in 1999, a redshirt freshman that led Wisconsin to a title and they started 0-1 in the league. It can be done with the right guys and the right cast.
Q: Is that a product of high school teams getting better, or is it still the exception, because there are a lot of young guys nation wide making an impact.
Ferentz: I think one thing that has changed through the years, the kickers have camps and there are a lot of quarterback camps that are popping up all over the place. Quarterback tutors or gurus, then you have a lot of 7 on 7 competition nationally, it's a big thing in each state right now. Just like kickers are kicking the ball more, and the explosion of soccer in our country the last 30 years has added to that. People are throwing the ball more. High schools are throwing the ball more than they did 25 years ago. All that factors in. Kids pick up balls and throw them, that type of thing. The ones that are not playing Nintendo, or game station or play station or whatever the hell they call that stuff. Video games. I know that. X-Box.
Q: Klinkenborg made a good block 80 yards downfield on that interception return. Is that good coaching?
Ferentz: Yeah, good coaching by Coach Parker. It was a great effort. We teased him that he showed a burst there at the end. I think that is like we are talking about guys being prepared. We have done a good job of turning interceptions into offensive plays. We have not had as many chances this year as we like, but the first pick this year was Humpal laying out. The guys did a good job of turning it into an offensive play. We have done the same on blocked kicks, but we have not had those this year. If you can do that, it not only becomes a positive, but a double positive. You change field position and sometimes score, so that is a great thing. That is coached, the defensive guys do a great job with that.
Q: Are you happy with your special teams play as a whole?
Ferentz: We are OK on special teams. We have been better. Andy Fenstermaker is punting extremely well. The other day, I don't think they had a return yard. The ball was up there, and that is the key thing. We were scared to death a few weeks ago. He is getting that ball in the air. That is the best way to help your coverage. You have to start there. But we are playing OK, but we are not making a difference right now, overall.
Q: Has there been a lot of turnover on those units?
Ferentz: Injuries affect everything, and we have had those. There is a trickled down effect. Moylan was a great special teams guy. You get thin at a position, so you get reluctant to throw a guy in there on certain units. Where we are right now, we need new guys to step up. A guy like Chris Rowell who is coming back from an injury might be able to give us a boost. This is his first week of really practicing since early August. Then some guys that are on the special teams, hopefully we can get more juice out of those guys too.
Q: So have special teams been a push for you?
Ferentz: I think we are OK, but we are not a factor right now. That is not good enough for us. Some teams can get by with that, but I am not sure that we can.
Q: Back to Indiana. You are the first ranked team they get, and at home. How concerned are you that going into a game like this, they are gearing up towards this? It can make a season for them.
Ferentz: We have been in a few of those already. You can just anticipate that every week. I worry about every game. We saw that at Syracuse. It was their home opener and they had been beaten around publicly, and we caught a great effort from them. We walk into those, and I am sure its not exclusive for us. At least we have had practice at it, but I hope a part of that is that our guys realize, especially in league play, there is nothing easy. If it ends up being that way, it's a surprise. There is not much easy.
Q: You are midway through the year. What kind of grade would you give your team?
Ferentz: I haven't given out a grade since I taught English. That is not true. I used to give grades as a line coach, but I never gave them to the players. All they would have done was talk about grades then. We are 5-1 and we are improving and that is all that counts right now. What we do the next six weeks is important and what we are concerned about.
Q: If it's real windy, will you think twice about the coin flip?
Ferentz: I tried that once too. Sometimes you outsmart yourself. We did that at Michigan State and they drove it 80 yards and it was 7-0. I think to answer that question, where I am at, unless its one of those winds that is blowing sideways, like Illinois a couple of years ago, we will take the ball if we get that chance. No one else seems to want it, so there is a good chance we are going to have it at the beginning.
Q: What happened during the Wisconsin-Indiana game (lopsided affair in first half)?
Ferentz: It was one of those days, I guess. I am going back into ancient history now, like 2001. it was the other way around at Wisconsin, where Randle-El, it was one of those games where it looked like one team had it all and the other team could not do anything right. The tape is not doing us much good. There is not a lot on there that will carry over. To me, it's one of those days. I am sure that Coach Hoeppner has had his challenges, and that has affected things, too. That can't be easy.
Q: Are they running the same type of offense they ran at Miami?
Ferentz: Similar. What we saw last year is what we will see. A lot of guys out wide, this quarterback will run it more and he is a faster guy, but probably fair to say that last year's guy threw the ball a little bit better. Powers threw it real effectively against us. I am not sure that Lewis has that consistency yet he is a young guy. You worry about a 6-7 receiver. I think we will see more running and shorter passes.
Q: What is it with those 6-7 receivers. You have one of them, too.
Ferentz: Who is our guy? Chandler? We moved him in. This guy is a little faster. You go back to Carmichael, years ago with the Eagles. It's a great advantage. You throw those jump balls up there, that type of thing. You saw that last year. He has some new guys to pick on this year.
Q: Can you do anything against that?
Ferentz: You just have to play your position and try to be aggressive to the ball. It's like some of the passes we have been beaten about in the past. Braylon Edwards against us; the guy Walker, I think it was. It seems like we are talking about the entire Michigan team. This year, Blythe caught us in that right end zone. Sometimes you have a guy defended and you have a good quarterback and a great receiver, and it doesn't matter what you do. That is true at every level. If it's a good throw to a great receiver, its tough to match up unless you double cover it, and you know what that means somewhere else.
Q: You have not scored any points on your first drives in games, and just 10 points off of first drives in the second half, yet you are 5-1. Does that throw those adages out the window?
Ferentz: That one hurt. We wouldn't mind seeing that turn around. The good thing Saturday, if I picked one thing out, we have done a fairly good job in the past, even thinking back to Michigan State in 2000. We did two good things that day. We had a great opening two drives. We scored initially, we had fumbled it out of midair going in on the second drive. Then the other thing we did that day was hang on. That is something we have done a decent job, and this year, for whatever reason, we haven't. Saturday was the first time that we were moving good early. We were taking it down there and turned it over, but we had something going. Hopefully that is a sign for the future.
Q: If you had your choice, would you score right away, or the first drive of the second half?
Ferentz: I can't choose both? I am not allowed to choose both? I like to score first, given the choice. Hopefully we have our momentum going here a little bit.
Q: Have there been any big picture surprises in the Big Ten thus far in your opinion?
Ferentz: To me its way too early still to say. We have all played three league games, or two or three. To me, we are three or four weeks away before we start seeing. I will say this, Ohio State is pretty good. I will confirm that one. I have heard rumors, but they are good. Outside of that, there are a lot of teams I have not seen on tape yet.
Q: Is this the best group of running backs that you have had?
Ferentz: Yeah. I am not even going to stop and think, but without thinking, yeah. If I did think about it the answer is still yes. I will stop saying anything, because I don't want to jinx us. We have great confidence in all three of those guys and we have confidence in Sam.
Q: What impact did Tom Busch and Champ Davis have on the running game?
Ferentz: It's a nice part about it. We have two veteran fullbacks. Those guys fit in perfectly. The ball that Tom caught the other day, I don't know how he caught it. That was a bullet at close range. He catches the ball on the JUGS machine each day and I always wondered why. Now I know why. It's really nice. We have a couple of veterans. As young as we are wide, we are veteran there and tight end. It helps balance things a little bit.
Q: Talk about Busch changing positions.
Ferentz: He came in and we had a need with Edgar graduating, so we approached him about that. He was totally unselfish and willing. He did both in high school, and made the move for the benefit of the team. I think he is happy that he did it. It's indicative of being unselfish. That starts with recruiting. We try to find guys that are team oriented. Those positions are comparable. He felt like it was the best thing for him and he has done a nice job.
Q: Anything OL did different sat, or just doing what they are supposed to do better
Ferentz: I would go back to the earlier point. We did everything better offensively. Everything affects everything. That sounds generic or mundane, but it does. We had a good week of practice, things went well and we responded well during the day in all regards. The team responded to situations pretty well, the coaches made good adjustments during the course of the game. You always get a few things you didn't think you would see, and they gave us a few of those. But our coaches and players adjusted well and things seemed to be in synch. Sometimes that happens.
Q: Would you like to have a bye week right now, to get healthy?
Ferentz: If we had a bye week, it would be great. Drew pronounced that last week was a must win game, I read that somewhere. He slipped that one by me. That being said, it was a very important game. And to sit out the guys that we did, four guys that were starters for us, that is not a real comfortable feeling. But one thing about injuries, they are like discipline; its unrelated to what time of year it is or who you are playing and you have to deal with those things as a separate entity. If a guy can't go, he can't go. That was situation last week with the guys that sat out, with the exception of Eubanks. He was cleared to go. The other guys, we could not see them going and I am hoping that I can say something different on Friday or Saturday, but I am not sure. If they can't go this week, I hope like heck they can go next week because the clock is ticking right now. You have to do what is best for the player. That is why bye weeks are good if you are hurt. In 2002, we were unscathed the whole year and not having a bye week was good because we stayed in the flow.