Question: Can you talk about after you saw the film, you made the defensive changes for that game, reactions to those changes and what the guys did?
Coach Rodriguez: "I thought the personnel moves defensively I think were good for us in the short term and the long term, moving Cam (Gordon) down closer to the ball, I think he's more comfortable there. He's only been there a couple of weeks, but I think it is going to be a good fit for him. Ray (Vinopal) is just a freshman but just being the first time out there, he did okay. I thought the moves as you can imagine, all the defensive staff and myself are doing all we can to…that we have a unit out there that can get some stops. We've got to play a lot better and we all know that everybody is frustrated and the defensive staff. We'll work through our issues and keep working to get better."
Question: What have you seen from Illinois so far? It is supposed to be a rebuilding year for them and they are a win away from being bowl eligible.
Coach Rodriguez: "I don't know who called it a rebuilding year, because I never thought that way because I thought have six or seven starters back defensively, a lot of talented players back on offense, very athletic. They are probably as athletic as anybody in our league. If you look at the way they've played, opened up against a very good Missouri team, which they had the lead at halftime, it was close all the way to the end and they are playing at a very high level right now. They are probably playing their best football. I thought they were one of the most athletic teams we've played the last couple of years as well. It will be quite a challenge."
Question: How have they been able to turn it around defensively?
Coach Rodriguez: "I think they are playing with a lot of confidence now. I think some of the players, I don't want to see they've been in the shadows, but they have been in the program and have grown up and have learned a little bit and are now upper classmen and playing very well. They got some of the best athletes in the league on defense. I think they got a lot of confidence right now with the way they have been playing and believing what they're doing."
Question: There have been some rumors of a defensive staff shakeup; have you done anything?
Coach Rodriguez: "How does this happen….you all don't deal with rumors do you."
Question: We got to ask…
Coach Rodriguez: "…so you make sure that it's not a rumor, right. Yeah I don't know how these rumors get started. Like I said, everybody is frustrated on defense. Our staff is frustrated, but it is always a collective effort when you win and a collective effort when you lose. A collective effort when you play well and a collective effort when you play poorly, so we're trying to fix that. I'll probably spend a little bit more time on defense now than I'm accustomed to this week and the next couple of weeks just because…I probably should do that because we got more inexperienced players playing over there, but I'm not going to be able to wave a magic wand myself and fix some of the issues defensively. As I said before, some of the problems are not going to be fixed overnight. You cannot make a guy experienced just by practicing with him. You've got to play in games. They've got to experience things in games. They've got to grow up. They've got to get into the weight room. They've got to do a lot of things. Not just freshman, but we have a lot of inexperienced players playing defensively and we got to get them to play at a higher level and that's our job as coaches."
Question: Is it frustrating that it doesn't seem like there is improvement?
Coach Rodriguez: "There are spots of it, of improvement, not to the level that we need. Maybe again, I don't know how much improvement you're going to get during the season. Certainly, you want to get better, but the challenge is that every week is a different week. Every week you play a different style of offense, you have injuries. They are still going to classes of course, the school work. They are going to get into the weight room and get a little bit stronger, but they are not going to get a strong as they would in a whole offseason program. We got to get faster and more athletic defensively that's the first thing. I think that was the first thing that was painfully obvious to me after the film is that we're just not as fast or as athletic in certain spots defensively as we need to be to have success. That is development and that is recruiting."
Question: The losses have been without Mike Martin in the middle the last two games, does part of this have to play through the pain?
Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah. I think he's going to be okay this week. I'm hopeful today that he can practice. He's one of our best defensive players period and we think one of the better ones in the league when he is healthy. Not only playing, but playing when he is healthy is very key to us particularly because of the rest of the inexperience that we have. We've missed him, but the other guys have got to step in and assume that role that play as close to Mike as they could."
Question: Is there a specific area that you are going to personally going to work on?
Coach Rodriguez: "No, just being the head coach. I always pay attention to all three phases, but I'm usually more actively involved with the offense and special teams than I am with the defense. The obvious reason for me to go over there is that we have got more youth and inexperience playing defensively. Maybe just to help create a sense of urgency. Again, I don't have any grand magic wands to wave and say okay all of a sudden they're going to play better, because we're all trying as hard as we can."
Question: Have you ever had a year where you did get more involved with the defense like this?
Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah there has been other years in the past. I think looking from the outside in, I understand, you think, okay geez, go over there and fix. If I had that answer right now to fix everything, wouldn't I have already done it? It is not as simple as you think. Those other guys are playing pretty good. Penn State played really well. I think Coach Paterno told me that, they played as well as they have possibly played all year offensively. We probably helped in that. We didn't play as well as we could play. They had one penalty, no turnovers. It is hard to go a whole game with one penalty, but that's what happened."
Question: You said your search for answers on defense, you've moved players around and stuff, you are dismissing the rumors but do you have to look at everything…do you have to have a critical view of your staff?
Coach Rodriguez: "I have a critical view of every coach, every player, everything in our program every day. I'm not just saying that as coach-speak, but that's what we do. That's what head coaches do, you evaluate everything that goes on every day with everybody, whether it is recruiting, offense or defense or special teams. I'm not doing anything any other head coach wouldn't do. I'm more open I guess in that regards as opposed to…if I watch film whether it is an offensive play or defensive play or a special team play and if I have a question on whether it is a scheme or a technique or fundamental…I don't want two days later and say hey coach, what about this. To me it is kind of instant feedback. I'm not a big believer in the old time out. You know time out, we'll talk about it later, sit in the corner of the room. It is usually instantaneous and the players will probably tell you the same thing. If I see something in practice, they say why you yelling in practice, well were coaching. If I see something we're going to correct it. That's what coaching and teaching is and so I'm a little bit more…every head coach has a different style. Some of them say they will jot it down and wait for a quiet moment and talk about it the next day. Not me, it is usually immediate, I don't know if that is the best style, but that's our style."
Question: Just so we are not mistaken, you are not planning or making any changes on your defensive staff right now?
Coach Rodriguez: "No. I've just met with the defensive staff for the last couple of hours and we talked about some of our issues and talked about what we need to get ready for Illinois."
Question: Are you concerned that Jeremy Gallon has had some night returns but he has also coughed up the ball a few times. Are you concerned at all and are you thinking of using somebody else back there?
Coach Rodriguez: "No. You talking about the one kickoff, he misplayed that. That is just inexperience there. The ball is kind of sailing, he wasn't underneath it and it was going to be a difficulty catch and it came off his knee. I thought he gave us a little spark. Other than that one play, I thought he did a great job returning. I'm pretty happy with him back there."
Question: After making a bunch of the changes defensively on the field during the bye, are there any changes personnel wise that you'll make in the starting lineup or anything like that going forward?
Coach Rodriguez: "No. Injuries will affect some of it. I think the different packages that we do defensively will affect some of our moves, but we have what we have. If there is somebody that is sitting back there that is on scout team or on offense and we thought could move over and help us immediately, we'd have done that eight weeks ago. We're like everybody. We're looking at it. What we got to do as coaches is we got to do all we can to try to put these guys into position to make some plays and I think I told you all last week, when everything matches up right and we're fortunate to the have the right call against the right play and the play is there to be made, we've got to make it. I'm not a big stats guy but I look at them on occasion just to see what we need to work on and the third downs have been really tough and one of the stats that we've not talked about. You always talk about offensive turnovers but do you talk about defensive turnovers gained and we are almost next to last in the country or somewhere way back there in turnovers gained, fumbles or interceptions and those are big play momentum type of things and those are we were not at right now. We've got to get guys in position to make plays and then we got to make them. We got to change that stat to change our fortunes around defensively."
Question: How do you change that? Is it a player aggressiveness thing?
Coach Rodriguez: "A little bit, a little bit of that and a little of recognition somewhat. Again, some of that is experience. Probably most of the interceptions that you see and fumbles caused are usually by experienced players that kind of recognize something, get there quicker and make something happen. We've got to accelerate that process. We've got to get a guy who hasn't played a whole lot of football to react a little bit faster and be a little aggressive and then if it does not work out, don't go in the tank the rest of the game, respond back to it. I think we have got a bunch of good guys defensively and they'll play hard but we're almost overly conscientious sometimes and that happens with some inexperience."
Question: Are they worried that they are going to be beat by taking a chance?
Coach Rodriguez: "No worried about okay gosh what if they do this, what if they do that. We've got to get them to the point where you trust your technique, you trust your eyes and you just try to make a play. Sometimes you're not fast enough to get there or athletic enough to get there. We've got do to that in the development part of it."
Question: More on the defensive struggles…
Coach Rodriguez: "If it was just one particular thing, it would be easier to solve or try to solve, but it has almost been…or one particular guy. I wouldn't give you a guy's name, but it has been one guy or one technique sometimes or sometimes it was a call that didn't match up right that always happens. They called a good play against that defense or something like that. It is hard to pin it on one particular thing. The only thing to look back is, are we doing enough third down work and we do more third down work in practice than we ever have and we always talk about it. We talked as a defensive staff today, let us not wait until Wednesday or Thursday to start talking about third downs, we got to start talking about them earlier in the week. It is just making the plays getting them off the field."
Question: Have you had a season like this where you've struggled like this on third and long?
Coach Rodriguez: "There has probably been moments in every year, again I'm not a big revisionist. I couldn't tell you on particular year, but this has been the most frustrating from the standpoint that we like to try to control the game offensively and it is sometimes hard to get into a rhythm when you are moving the ball offensively, but they got to sit out 10 or 12 plays and all that. I feel that the offense is so in tune now to hurry up and get out there and make something happen and when we're giving up first downs, it is hard to get it to stay in that rhythm. That's the frustrating part. We're playing okay offensively but I think we can play even better when we have more of a rhythm."
Question: When you talk about those long drives by the opposition, what would you say to someone that argued for taking more changes defensively, trying to make something happen?
Coach Rodriguez: "Don't think we haven't thought about all those scenarios, but when you play a bunch of young guys in the secondary, do you want to play a whole lot of man coverage and leave them one on one or cover 0, one on one with no help, because if you are going to blitz people…you can do some zone blitzing, which we have, but it still exposes them a little bit. You have to mix it up. I think you have got to find that balance between not putting everything on your young players on the back end and go for it. If you have a couple of veteran corners that can guy everybody man to man and safeties that can guard everybody man to man and do that for 70 snaps a game, you can do whatever you want on defense, it don't matter. You're going to have success. We've got guys that can cover man, but we have to mix things up a little bit to try and help them out some. So that's where we are at with that."
Question: Do you think the quarterback at Penn State, because he is not inexperienced, did that warrant taking more chances?
Coach Rodriguez: "We did a couple of times and we got beat. He threw a couple of long passes, when we took a couple of chances. They scored a touchdown when we took our chances. He played pretty well. He's more experienced in the system, not in the games than (Robert) Bolden, but again he played very well. Now did we help him look good at times, maybe, but you've got to give him credit for executing. They really executed well and we didn't."
Question: How do you keep your team from not getting caught up because of what happened lat year? I know you do not look back, but how do you make sure that they don't get caught up and think here it goes again?
Coach Rodriguez: "You talking about last year."
Question: This year there is three losses in a row.
Coach Rodriguez: "I know what you mean. Last year is last year. Last week was last week. You all think about everything you did last year? I don't have to think about it, everybody else writes about it. It is last year. Last week was last week. Yesterday was yesterday. Everybody wants…it's natural. I'm not blaming anybody. I'm not blaming you all. Everybody wants to focus on the negative. Nobody everybody wants to talk about a positive. I guess that gets people's interest. I guess it sells papers, people turn on the TV, look there is a negative story coming on. The world is coming to an end. There is a bombing, there is something tragic, boy everybody…..if it is positive, it don't sell. That's why everybody watches reality shows to see who can get into cat fights. Jersey Shore or whatever you call it, they want to see two people get into an argument and boy if they get to the point where they actually try to swing at each other that's going to get great ratings."
Question: In the context of football, understand about all the reality shows and all that, but over the course of 30 games, I think what people are looking at is this is where we are. We seem to be at the same spot?
Coach Rodriguez: "Are we? Are we at the same spot? Wins and losses wise I can understand that, that's what everybody goes by, but are we better offensively. Are our kids closer as a group, are we making strides academically, are we making strides in the weight room, do we have a lot of young players that are growing up and playing at a pretty good level. Are we making strides defensively? No not like want. We got a lot of inexperience players in there. If you look at just bottom line, which I know a lot of people do, wins and losses, I understand that. This is our third year. Our offense has got a first time starter at quarterback, got a few first time starters on the O-line. Only got a couple of seniors that are starting, I think they are playing at a pretty high level. Are special teams haven't been great but they have not adequate and we can fix some of those issues in recruiting. Defensively, we've got a ways to go, but again, these guys that are playing young and inexperienced right, they won't be young and inexperienced a year or two years from now, so they are going to be a whole lot better. So I'm optimistic. I'm not happy, but I'm optimistic."
Question: On how much defensive improvement there has been…
Coach Rodriguez: "This year, again it has not been to the level that we want as far as getting better week to week but there had been moments. I think you have to probably watch the film like we do and have a critical eye. Trust me, we have a critical eye on it in looking at them. We see some steps with those guys getting better. Nobody is happy with the loss the last three games. We're still five to the good and three to the bad. It is not the world…I'm not going to have the players and I'm not going to have the coaches and I'm not going to have anybody in the program walk into Schembechler with their head down two days after the game, oh, woe is me. I don't believe in that and I don't think any coach would. You've got to learn from your mistakes. You'd better be mad about it for 24 hours at least and then when we start working on the other team, it is time to move on."
Question: Offensively, you didn't have a turnover this week for the first time; what were you guys able to fix during the bye week that maybe you focused better on?
Coach Rodriguez: "I thought we were pretty good most of the year. We had one fumble with Stephen (Hopkins) and Denard (Robinson) that was a technique thing than anything else with how he was taking the ball. The interceptions was more just being sure with your eyes before you throw it. I think that was Denard's deal with that. We've really been pretty good with that all year in practice and the games. I think our guys, just such a point of emphasis that we have no chance if we have turnovers. They did a nice job with that of course with the one time. I think Denard one ball that he would like to have back that he was lucky wasn't intercepted and then the one exchange issue with Hopkins, other than that they did a nice job with it."
Question: It seemed like Penn State hit you guys with the same plays or similar plays several times especially the screen pass. Is that just play recognition, just experience?
Coach Rodriguez: "A little bit, the recognition was certainly that. They are a big screen and draw team. They didn't do a lot with their fullback. They did more of it with their tailback. Either way it was a play that hopefully we would have recognized or reacted a bit quicker."
Question: Is that just experience?
Coach Rodriguez: "Somewhat, yeah I think somewhat experience. I think that's the frustrating part. We're standing back here and all the fans are watching, geez their they go again. They run just more than that one play. That's the inexperience factor. What you have to rely on is some of your experienced players seeing more. When an experienced player gets hurt…listen, I'm not making excuses, whoever is out there has got to play, but just for instance, Mike Martin is a really good player and a very experienced player. Adam Patterson is a pretty good player, but he's not every experienced. Whether you put a senior, a junior or a freshman in there, if a guy has not played a lot of football at a high level, it is different when they get out there. So there are a lot of times when you look out there and there are eight or nine guys on defense that don't have a lot of experience, and they're going to get it. That's why I'm optimistic that they'll keep getting better Every week is a different challenge. Illinois runs a completely different offense than Penn State. We've got new challenges for them, but we've got do our jobs as coaches to get them ready as best we can."