You’ve been in here before and you’ve talked about Thomas Gordon and he’s obviously been a part of six turnovers for you guys. Is there a good explanation for why he didn’t see the field defensively on Saturday?
I think the flow of the game. He and Troy are in a battle for who’s going to be that safety, and Troy had a better week of practice, and that’s the way it’ll always be at Michigan, is that the guys who have the best week of practice are going to play. And as the game went on, you felt like, you know, the guy wasn’t tired. The guy wasn’t hurt. The guy…you know, so keep going with what you have out there. And yeah he has been a part of some turnovers, but there’s other things on film also, that you may not see that we as coaches have to make a decision on who plays, and that was our decision.
On Saturdays, though, he’s been really productive. Is that a tough thing to pull a guy who’s been that productive, and not play him at all?
You know, getting turnovers is a big part of the defense, but sixty plays of how you do, is what we as coaches do. And we watch it, and evaluate, and our job is to decide who has the best chance to help you win, in a certain offense, and in a certain scheme, and that’s the decision that we make.
How’s that competition going this week?
Good. There’s a lot of competition. In fact, there’s a number of other guys that had really good practices today, so that the way it’ll always be here. It’s always going to be – and we talk to them about it all the time – that Tuesday, that Wednesday, that Thursday, that’s where you’re going to make the team. There’s a lot of guys that are real close and that’s what we make our decision on.
So to clarify, is it Troy’s spot now, and Gordon has to win it back, or…?
Everybody has to hold their spot every week in practice. Nobody is given a spot, and says this is your spot, it’s yours. And that’s the way it is with every player on that defense.
When Countess took the job from Troy, was it a similar situation, where you looked at those 60 plays and you said, this guy…
That’s what we do. That’s what we do. That’s what we do until twelve o’clock at night. That’s what we do after we’re done here – we’ll go up there and we’ll watch every play of this practice and as a coach, your job is to make a decision, who’s going to help you win that football game against this opponent. You know, some opponents are different than others, and that’s what we do. Blake doesn’t have that position locked. Ryan Van Bergen doesn’t have that position locked. Craig Roh doesn’t have it locked – it’s what you do every day in practice.
Last week you talked about the linebackers and how you weren’t happen early in the season with them. Did you start to feel better? Did Kenny Demen play his best game for you guys?
Kenny Demens showed a lot of heart and a lot of toughness, because Kenny Demens played throughout that ball game with a hamstring that was really bothering him, and I’d venture to say there are a lot of players that probably would have tapped out right there, and he made some really really good plays inside the box, but you could see as he was going to the football, that that speed was not there, and he played with something that maybe a lot of guys wouldn’t have played with.
Was it hurt before…because it seemed like maybe on that cross route with McNutt that you almost see when he came up the lane – did he hurt himself there or did he hurt himself before?
Well, it’s been tender, you know, and our trainers do a great job with him, and it’s been tender, and you never know in the course of a game when it gets worse, or when it gets better. But he - I respect the heck out of him – for him to go out and play as hard as he did, and again, if you watch all the plays, the 59 plays that were in that game on defense, you saw him make some really really good hits inside, and there were other things that I know he wishes he could have done over, but I don’t know if he physically could to them over.
Has Kenny had to become a little more of a leader now that he’s playing alongside two freshman?
Yeah, but I think the thing is, that Kenny’s done is, he’s kind of instilled, or the linebackers have figured it out that they all have to be leaders if you’re going to play that position, and so a guy like Desmond is starting to talk more, and he’s starting to make checks more, and that’s what you expect when a guy gets thrown in there, and now all of a sudden he starts to feel comfortable with the defense, you know, and he's another young man that had some great hits in that game – made some really good plays inside, that maybe we haven’t had before this year, you know, during this year. I thought they improved.
Are there certain spots that are more prone to change or more prone to the competition? Can you share? You talked about how in practice there’s some close competition…
Yeah, yeah, I mean, let’s be honest I mean Mike Martin is a Michigan guy that’s played here forever, and for me to sit here and say Mike Martin’s job is in jeopardy every practice, that, you know, I’d be lying to you. Mike Martin, if he went out there and didn’t practice like he should I’d bring him in my office right away and say maybe if you do that again you won’t start, but other guys that haven’t played a great deal, and haven’t really, if you look at the grades of these guys all the way through, you’d say man that really isn’t really a good enough grade in some instances to win with. But we won, you know, so we’re saying you got to get better, you got to get better, and then all of a sudden another guy – this guys grades are a little better, he did better in practice, and so it isn’t always what you see out there. It’s not always the one great play, or the one really good play. It’s the game, you know, and it’s what happens time and time again you know, is it good or is it bad and if those things don’t get better, and if you feel like there’s a liability at times, and I’m not saying there is with Thomas, but I’m saying any time you make a change, that’s what your job is as a coach, to, in your best estimation, put the best guys on the field that you believe can win, and that’s what I always try to do.
Illinois, I mean, we’ve heard they’re very athletic, and a lot of those positions. What does that do for your defense? Do you have to adjust things personnel wise or scheme wise because of that?
They are a very very athletic offense. They’re one of those offenses that will really test this defense because they can get on the perimeter, which you know hasn’t been great for us throughout the year. They can run the option. The quarterback is very athletic. They can also throw it and they can also run power offense. I mean, it’s like four different offenses that they’ve done and been very successful with at times in games, so you know, it’s going to test our defense to see if you can make an adjustment from one personnel group to what they do in that personnel group to the next, to the next, to the next. So this is going to be a real test for us. And it’s on the road, you know. Them having a week off, all those kind of things, I don’t know if that helps them or not, but you know, those are all things that this is going to be a big test for us.
You had Mike Martin, at points, off the line, standing up. I’m assuming you’re not trying to convert him into anything other than a defensive lineman. What exactly are you trying to…what’s the game there?
Well you got a 295 pound guy who’s the strongest guy on your football team that’s one of your faster guys blitzing. And therefore if somebody isn’t in the right position you would think that he has a better chance of beating a guy on a blitz. When you blitz, they aren’t always going to be open, so somebody has to beat someone one on one, and as a coach again you look at, who on your team can beat someone one on one, if you put them in a position where you have a chance of beating somebody. Rather than doubling him and him having two guys doubling him the whole game, stand him up and see if we can’t get him freed up one on one on somebody. We did it in the spring. You’ve seen us do it before, and we’ll always try to do whatever we can to try to get pressure in those situations.
Is that all your call or is that as he sees and makes that decision?
No that’s my call all the way. Mike is playing good but he doesn’t draw up defenses, so no.
Was there any specific coaching up of Desmond at the half, because it seemed like a tale of two halves for him, struggled in the first but was played a lot better in the second?
You know, I felt that same way, in fact like you guys are saying, I don’t always see it all either until you look at the film, and there was a point in that game where I thought you know Desmond’s not playing like he should be, and we put Hawthorne in for four plays. When you look back on the tape, he made one play you really were counting on him to make that hit and he missed it, and as a coach you go he’s not playing good and all of a sudden you look back and he’s playing pretty darn good. I think with young guys too no matter how much you practice, what you think they’re going do and what they do, it’s always faster out there, and sometimes it does take a younger guy a little longer to just really feel good about it, you know, and he's got a long way to go, but he’s taken huge steps to get there. I’m real excited about him.
Coach I’d like to ask you about two plays in the first quarter just to see what you saw there. The first play – Iowa’s third drive – was an inside zone that bounced outside the end, Roh - Craig Roh actually dived inside the tack. Was he supposed to do that?
No, and that would be me, and again people change. In coaching Craig and watching everything they did all I know – I know exactly what you’re talking about – every game that they’ve played so far this year they’ve brought the tight end in motion and then he blocked out on the end man, ok? Well when that tight end is in Craig’s area right there, most times you have him attack that tight end. Well they kind of wanted you to do that in other games, so now the tackle has an angle and then he can knock you out further. So I just told him, I said, Craig, don’t mess with that. When that guy comes over in motion just attack the tackle and hold the edge on the tackle. And looking back on it, I told him straight out, I said Craig they changed, they did the same thing Michigan State did and they hadn’t done it all year. They kind of influenced him to keep him from being able to attack that tight end – and that’s not him, that…
And was Desmond Morgan supposed to scrape over and cover that?
Well Desmond Morgan’s supposed to stack behind him – he's not running outside of him, and because Craig didn’t play through the tight end like he probably thought he should have, and I wish I would have told him to do that, the guy got knocked back a little bit, and it kind of got in Desmond’s way, and he got caught up in the trash. That’s what happened on that one.
Sorry, one more question. There’s another play I think in that same drive on the crossing route with Keenan Davis where I think Kenny Demens ended up chasing him all the way for like 45 yards. What happened on that play?
That was cover two, and Kenny Demens doesn’t have him all the way to the sideline. Kenny Demons has him to the hash, and we should have had a corner that should have rolled up on that.
Was it Courtney Avery’s?
No, he was the nickel. He was running on the vertical. When you’re playing that coverage, anytime number two runs up the field he has to run with him, so it comes all the way to corner who the corner’s the flat defender, and he turned his back trying to be physical with that guy, and the guy was by him by then.
First touchdown drive there was a two play span where 60-some yards – the second touchdown drive there was a two-play span where there was 40-some yards gained. You’ve been very good on not giving up the big plays this year, but when you do, how do you, as a defense, how do you get back in the mindset and calm yourself down?
Well, I mean, that’s something we preach constantly. You can’t be a great defense if you give up those kind of plays. You’re not good enough to give a team 40 yards at one shot or 20 yards or 30 yards or whatever it is. And again, usually what it comes down to is tackling and everybody getting around the football. They had a scheme and that scheme probably where there was somebody one on one and we had to get a tackle. When you play better, the thing you’ve got to understand now, when you play better teams, you aren’t just going to slam the door on them and all of a sudden walk out of the game and say ‘we held them to 50 yards.’ I’m here to tell you, that isn’t going to happen right now. Someday maybe it will, but right now it’s not and right now what we have to do is make sure that aren’t giving the 40 yards. You know? There are going to be some 12 yarders. There are going to be some of those. There are going to be some crossing routes. You can watch every football game. The NFL, they’re supposed to be the best in the world and how many times do you see that happen? And no, I don’t like it. The thing I’m the proudest of our guys, they came out today and practiced probably the hardest that they’ve practiced all year. You know, so, am I happy with us losing that game? No way. Could we have played better? Yes. And, the reason I say that so emphatically is they’re practicing hard and they’re working hard. Can I do a better job coaching? Yes. That’s the next thing you look at and that’s why that game hurt so much is that we could have gotten that game. We could have gotten that one and that’s why I’m proud of these guys. They came out today. It hurts. It hurts them. They came out today and got ready to practice today, and we’ll move forward.
Coach, watching him in practice and watching him play, Fitz Toussaint, does he remind you of a classic Michigan running back? How he runs the ball?
I don’t watch our running backs very much. To be honest, I don’t. If you’re a running back at Michigan, then you’re a typical Michigan running back. I don’t watch them. I’ve got a whole bunch of guys I’ve got to watch, and it certainly isn’t at running back.
Coach, you guys have struggled this year with some of the bigger receivers, is there something, without giving too much away, is there something you can do to compensate against a guy like Jenkins?
Yeah, I know what you’re asking, you could probably double him, and you’re going to put single on two other guys, you know, and when teams do that and have the ability to do that, usually, you’ve got a lot of other guys that can do it and I don’t know that we’re ready to do it right now. We’ll always do what’s best for the best scheme and we have some things that we have in mind for ‘em, but for me to tell you, are we going to double him or take him out of the game? I wish I could say yes to that.
Is he a bigger challenge than McNutt?
McNutt was pretty good, you know, but the one I gained a lot of respect for McNutt was the fourth down where we pressured. We came completely free and we didn’t get there fast enough and they just threw it and he made the one handed catch, I mean, right on the sideline. That was a fourth down play. You stop them right there and they don’t get that touchdown. A lot of little instances right there that a game’s made up…McNutt’s pretty good.
How do you feel about matching up a specific corner with a specific wide receiver? If you had someone like Charles Woodson or Leon Hall or Marlin Jackson…?
I love that.
Would you do it with a kid like Blake Countess that’s starting to play really well or J.T. Floyd? Do you have an idea of like, hey I’m just going to put one guy on Jenkins the whole week?
Well, you can do that, but you better be a real sophisticated secondary, because now all of your rules and all of your schemes that involve all four of them get compromised and there are a lot of chances for you to make a big mistake because of everybody. You’d almost have to do that every single play and now you’re saying, well, we’re going to play man every play and we’re not ready to do that. Someday, what you’re what saying with Charles Woodson, I was here when we did that, and you know, that day will come.
What’d you think of Blake last week matched up with McNutt?
Made some really good plays. Made some really good plays. There are a couple plays that I wish he had back, but he made some really good plays. He’s a young freshman that went in there and did some good things.
Is that kind of a growing experience for a young…
Oh yeah. Yeah. I think when you’re a corner, that’s a tough job out there now and for him to compete, and I’ve said this all along, the one thing about him that you feel like he’s got a chance to be pretty good is, he doesn’t have a conscience. You know, that play’s over with him and he’s ready for the next play and that’s what the great ones all have.