Question: Relying on big plays throughout the year. The last couple weeks you triumphed a little bit. What are you going to do to get back to, obviously, connecting with [Jeremy] Gallon and [Devin] Funchess downfield and creating those big plays you’re probably going to need on Saturday?
Brady Hoke: Well, number on you’ve got to create the separation [and] protect the quarterback. You’ve got to set those things up by a good running game so the defense has to respect that part of it.
Question: Devin [Gardner] seemed to take last game pretty hard. He blamed himself. What was your response to him after the game?
Brady Hoke: You know, he’s got a lot of pride and if there’s a bigger critic on Devin than Devin, I don’t know who it is. I’d rather have a guy be that way than point a finger somewhere else. But that’s not the truth. I mean, we’re all in this together. We all battled through 11 games; good sometimes [and] bad sometimes. So he knows we have a strong faith in what he can do.
Question: You mentioned how important it’s going to be to eliminate negative plays; over 100 [and] at least ten in the last four games. What are the keys to eliminating those for this game?
Brady Hoke: Tackles for loss, the keys are the line of scrimmage; making sure that if you’re combination blocking [then] you’re combination blocking, getting movement. If you’re supposed to come up on a linebacker, make sure if he’s a blitzing linebacker that you see it and get a hat on a hat. I’m not saying it’s that easy but that’s what it is.
Question: Are you seeing more ability to identify blitzes at this point?
Brady Hoke: Yeah. I think that group is, and we think that group, is coming along. You know, the two tackles have been solid; really good. Taylor [Lewan] has played his best. He’s played his best in trying to “mother hen” and lead some younger guys at the same time.
Question: Brady, you mentioned you’re all in this together. But you’re the face out there. You’re the guy that’s out in the public and deals with the slings and arrows. Have you felt the heat or the noise this year at all as things have kind of gone poorly the last few weeks?
Brady Hoke: Not really because I don’t listen very well. I had a problem growing up because of that. But no one knows but the guys in that building and the people directly with the program how they’ve practiced everyday [and] how they’ve come out and worked. All those things, I think, are a positive. You see the progress; the Willie Henry’s. You see some of those guys coming along. So, people are going to have opinions. They’re going to say what they want to say.
Question: Do you understand in a four loss season that there were higher expectations?
Brady Hoke: Well, I would hope there’d be higher expectations. It’s Michigan.
Question: Do you feel like this is a little bit veered of the [track] or the larger picture where people wonder, “Is the program still on track”?
Brady Hoke: Well, no matter what I say, they’re going to have their own opinion. So, I know that this is going in the right direction. But what am I going to say, it’s going backwards? I mean seriously. I feel very confident in what we’re doing and how our kids are responding.
Question: Where does that confidence come from when the results aren’t on the field?
Brady Hoke: Because of every day. The everyday stuff.
Question: You mentioned consistency has been an issue in games. Is it more difficult or maybe less difficult or is it any different for a big rivalry game to get that consistency to show up on the field on Saturday?
Brady Hoke: I don’t know. Obviously every guy in Schembechler hall understands this is the greatest rivalry in sports and I believe that with all my heart. Will that make them be more consistent? I don’t know. I just don’t know if that’s what makes it better. I would hope not. I hope we want to be better and consistent every game.
Question: Brady, how hard has it been over the last month to keep everybody mentally on track given everything that’s happened and as bad as it’s been?
Brady Hoke: Hard. You know, there’s enough self-pride that I don’t think that’s been a hard thing to be honest with you. The one thing, we bang this word all over the place, the consistency we have to have as coaches daily is a big part of it. That they understand that we’re going back to work, we’ve got to improve this and they do it.
Question: Have you once worried about them veering off? Teams kind of do that sometimes.
Brady Hoke: Some teams do. This isn’t one of them.
Question: You see things every day. You feel like you’ve got the program on the right track and the whole thing. Do you see it, I mean when you talk about results, do you see it paying off in 2014? I know you don’t like to look that far ahead but do you think this is going to be a Big Ten championship team in 2014?
Brady Hoke: I don’t know. I wouldn’t go there. That’s a hypothetical. We’re worried about us getting ready for this Saturday and that’s it.
Question: So why did you practice today? I know you said you’ve done it before but was it a reason why?
Brady Hoke: Well you know what, I like it. And I might like it even more and do it more often. Because it was a great way to start the morning. We had a staff meeting at 5:30 and team meeting at 6 and you start you day. It gave the coaches and it gave the players some time to reflect and get back to it.
Question: Have you done that anywhere as a head coach?
Brady Hoke: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve done it in both other places.
Question: How much stock do you put into time of possession? And I know you said the defense has to stop people now matter what. But how much of a toll does it take if you’re not moving the chains consistently on offense?
Brady Hoke: I think time of possession; we have five goals and that’s one of them. So we put a lot of stock into it depending on how you measure or use statistics. You play good defense when you’re watching your offense on the field. I believe that. So I think that’s a big part of it.
Question: Brady, talk about the defense as the season has gone on has gotten better. Do you think you can say the same thing about the offense?
Brady Hoke: I think we’ve struggled here and there. I don’t think we’ve made the consistent jumps that the defense has. But at times I see the line of scrimmage at Northwestern getting moved and those two young backs doing a good job. Fitz [Toussaint] came in last week and gave us some good plays. There’s points where I think it’s coming along.
Question: How’s [Thomas] Rawls?
Brady Hoke: Rawls, he’s got a slight MCL. We’ll see. He would be the only guy right now, I think, would be probable. How do they use that in the NFL?
Brady Hoke: Less than probable.
Brady Hoke: Yeah. There you go. I don’t cover that. You guys are gamblers. That’s why you look at all that stuff. (Laughter)
Question: What do you think Taylor Lewan has gained from coming back for a final year at Michigan?
Brady Hoke: I think he’s gained a lot. Obviously there’s been some adversity that I think he learned from. I think he’s a better player. He’s a better technician, fundamentally. I think those things are huge. We have people come and grade guys and look at guys and every one of them say he’s much better this year.
Question: How about leadership wise?
Brady Hoke: Well, I think that’s helped him.
Question: How so?
Brady Hoke: Because I think he’s identifying what leadership is and how to be a leader.
Question: Those are NFL scouts you’re referring to?
Brady Hoke: Yeah, those are guys who come in and evaluate.
Question: Was last game Frank [Clark’s] best game?
Brady Hoke: Frank, he was pretty active. He did a nice job at the point of attack. [He] got off blocks against a pretty good left tackle. I think [Raymon Taylor], Frank, Jake [Ryan], Blake [Countess], those guys all did a nice job.
Question: There’s a concern that a lot of Michigan fans are turning in a lot of their tickets [and] and a lot of Ohio State people will be buying them. How disappointing would it be to see that stadium?
Brady Hoke: Oh, it would be disappointing. You’ve got 18 seniors who are playing their last game. There’s a bunch of them who have been a big part in a lot of good things that have been accomplished on campus [and] on the football field. There’s a lot of them. It would be amazing. I don’t have a number [but] a lot of them have already graduated. It tells you a lot.
Question: It wouldn’t shock you though if you saw a lot of…
Brady Hoke: People are fickle. That’s just the way it is. That’s the world we live in.
Question: After that Northwestern game, do you want to DeVeon [Smith] more carries or any carries in this one?
Brady Hoke: Yeah, we did. It didn’t work out with some personnel things. We’ve got to make sure we get that done.
Question: Is it something about the game itself, the competition, that you like the best? Is there an element that doesn’t exist in other games on the field?
Brady Hoke: You know, this game being here coaching in it eight years before coming back has always…the respect that the two universities have for each other and the two teams. Even though you want to hit them harder than you do anybody else, [this game] has always been a hard fought clean football game. I think that is how it was coached for years. The intensity level is always ramped up. I think the practices, like I said we went this morning, it was intense.
Question: As someone who clearly loves the rivalry, do you feel the pressure as a head coach to keep up Michigan’s end of the bargain?
Brady Hoke: I don’t think you feel the pressure. You want those seniors to go out the right way. I think that is it as much as anything. Because when you get in these different reunions you get to and you talk to guys, one of the things [you are asked is], “How’d you do against Ohio [State]?” That question is asked.
Question: So why won’t you bring up trying to ruin their perfect season? Two perfect seasons, really.
Brady Hoke: Because it’s not about them, it’s about us and that’s the way it’s always been.
Question: So you don’t use that as motivation at all?
Brady Hoke: If I have to say something like that to motivate the guys in our locker room then those guys shouldn’t be in our locker room.
Question: A question about the offense. Coming into this season Brady, did you…I think everybody had pretty high expectations because of Devon and the two seniors. Did you temper your expectations knowing what the offensive line was going to be like?
Brady Hoke: I’ll be honest with you. I try not to have expectations any year because every year is different. And in saying that, I don’t know if that sounds…
Brady Hoke: I don’t know what that means so you’re going to have to tell me. No, I’m kidding. But, no. I just think that every year is different and every team’s different. So are the expectations to win the Big Ten championship? Yes. Flat out. So, do we have high expectations? Yes.
Question: But knowing you personnel. That’s what I meant. Knowing what you had with three young offensive linemen.
Brady Hoke: I don’t think that’s fair to say. People should expect more.
Question: You said you like this team.
Brady Hoke: I do.
Question: When you say you like this team, does that mean you thought this team could contend for a Big Ten championship?
Brady Hoke: Yeah. The ball’s got to bounce a little bit for you. But we’ve just got to worry about getting ready for Ohio [State].