Sam Webb: Coach, looking back at the film, there were some things that your guys did well and some things that they didn’t and that goes across the board on offense according to Coach Nuss. Just from your own individual position perspective, kind of take me through what you saw when you look back at the film of the Utah game.
Jeff Hecklinski: “I think any time you go through a couple of games like Notre Dame and Utah, I don’t think you can say that anybody plays particularly well in those scenarios. Obviously, there are positive plays out there, but we just don’t have enough of them. It is never just one guy and I think that is the thing that people have got to understand. If it was just one guy you could easily just fix that, but it’s not because it’s always somebody different, it’s a different position. It’s different here, it’s different here. It’s about getting 11 guys on the field working together at the same time doing the same thing and that’s the beautiful thing about offensive football. When it is working, it is a lot of fun to watch. When it’s not, it’s hard to watch, because you start going and you start going and all of a sudden something comes backwards and you’re like golly. Come on we’ve got to pull ourselves out, we’ve got to pull ourselves out. I think from our perspective, the ability to make a play, we have that. We’ve got to make some plays and we’re making big plays. We’ve got to make some big plays that result in touchdowns now. I think that will help alleviate pressure. I think it will help everybody take a deep breath and relax a little bit because when you watch the film and you watch every day in practice and you go through it, the effort and the want to and the intensity is there. In fact, sometimes you feel like you’re trying so hard that you become counter productive a little bit. I think our guys can alleviate a lot of pressure and sometimes that’s just making the simple play. Excited to see them come out this week. I think we had a good week of practice and I think they’re ready to play.”
Sam Webb: Devin Funchess, he was back out there last week and it was pretty clear early in the game that he was not quite 100%, but he went back out on the football field. How gusty of an effort was that from him and what have you seen from him so far this season?
Jeff Hecklinski: “I think you’re seeing a young man continue to grow. Devin is a tough kid. Devin is a great kid. Devin is an incredibly intelligent kid and I think you’re starting to see it all come together. He cares about the guys on this team. He cares about Michigan football. He cares about his performance and he wants to go out there and help. It bothered him that he didn’t play against Miami of Ohio and that he wasn’t out there helping us putting us in a position to win the game. When you start to see that, you start to see...I mean that’s really everything coming together in a player and that’s right where he should be. He’s incredibly talented. I’m not saying anything that anybody doesn’t know. He’s incredibly talented. From that standpoint, you’re starting to see...he’s in his junior year, he’s in his third year. He’s played a lot of football and you’re starting to see all the pieces come together to make the complete player and I think he’s becoming that.”
Sam Webb: When you look at him, what’s different when comparing him to last year at this time, other than he is obviously a full time receiver now. What do you see different in him, physically, mentally. You’re his coach and you talk to him every day, kind of take us through that from your perspective.
Jeff Hecklinski: “Devin has a very unique ability to be able to be the type of player that he is yet be very thoughtful of the players around him. To be able to manage that, I think that is something at our position, receiver, a lot of plays are designed for guys like him. From that standpoint, what you see is his ability to say, you know what, I am a good player, but I also want to make the other players around me good players. If I’ve got to see somebody open on this play then I’m going to do that. That is what he did a year ago that nobody even realized. Jeremy Gallon has all those yards because Devin did a lot of the dirty work of being a team player and opening him up and so a lot of people were double teaming Devin and left Jeremy one on one, and Jeremy would win the one on one matchup. Where now, Devin is saying, you know what, I know I’m going to be double teamed, but give it to me – I’m that guy, give it to me. That confidence and that aura, I mean I think you see it when he’s out there on the field, it’s different. He has a different feel. We have a different feel. I know I do as a coach and I think the other players are starting to come to that level and continue to rise their level, which is what you want from a player like Devin. You want him to be able to raise the level of the other players around him and in our room, he’s definitely doing that.”
Sam Webb: You mentioned last year that he commanded attention that left Jeremy an opportunity to win one-on-one matchups. When you look at the guys that are there now, opposite Funch, as far as winning those one-on-one battles where are they in the process of being able to do that consistently?
Jeff Hecklinski: “Amara Darboh is one obviously. You saw it in the Miami of Ohio game where he is starting to come back. This is a young man that hasn’t played football in two years and the surgery he went through was a major surgery. What it was described to me was worse than an ACL because you’re dealing with a foot. For a wide out, your feet believe it or not are a very critical part of what you do. I think you’re starting to see him become more comfortable, become more relaxed, more confident in the fact that I’m healthy and start to get back in the rhythm of playing games. It’s different when you’re out there on Saturday as opposed to being in practice where it’s intense and everything, but now it’s real. I think you’re starting to see that from Amara. I think Jehu Chesson is providing us with exactly what we had hoped. Somebody opposite of both Amara and Devin and I think when those three are on the field together, it provides match up issues where you can say, okay how I am going to defend obviously Devin, but I’ve got two other players out there that I’ve got to concern myself with.”
Sam Webb: We’re starting to see this season a lot more Dennis Norfleet in many different ways, from catching passes, coming around and carrying the football and last week started to see Freddy Canteen a little bit more. You’re getting a little bit deeper in the rotation there.
Jeff Hecklinski: “We’ve got to. We’ve got to develop these guys. Dennis is somebody who brings a tremendous amount of energy to the game and you can feel it when he’s in the game. You aught to see him out at practice because it is even twice as much out at practice. Dennis is a guy that can not be on the field, yet still affect the game. He’s got a very unique ability to do that and obviously he has a lot of roles on the team between a kickoff returner, a punt returner, being a gunner on the punt team and obviously, as his role expands offensively that creates more pressure for him. We’re going to move him around a lot and he’s a player that can do a lot of different things and create excitement with the ball in his hands. So we’ve got to continue to find ways to do that. The development of Freddy. There is always a succession and I think with here being in the past, you’ve always seen that it has always been handed down. I think that’s what you’re starting to see us get to. It went from Junior (Hemingway) to Roy (Roundtree), Roy to Jeremy, Jeremy to Devin and Devin to whoever that next one is. Because at our position, you’ve got to have one that commands the attention. That’s the way it is in the NFL and that is the way I think it should be in major college football that you’re prepared for that. Like Funchess prepared for that. Jeremy Gallon prepared for that. Roy Roundtree prepared for that. The development of the young kids becomes vital in that type of succession. Does somebody like Freddy want to touch the ball more, yeah he does, but understanding I learn how to play the game. Because when you come from high school to major college football at the wide receiver position, it is a completely different game. Just like when you go to the next level, it is a completely different game. The preparation that these kids are going through right now, I think the future is very bright for what we have and what we’re recruiting. I think you’re seeing us get back to the Michigan receiver mold of big impact game day players.”
Sam Webb: One of the things that Coach Nussmeier has talked a lot about this season in the lack of consistency is saying, one of the ways to mitigate that as a problem is to get more chunk plays, get more explosive plays in the offense. I know that’s not just a receiver thing, there are other aspects of getting that done. From the perspective of your position, what do your guys need to do to make that process happen, to get more vertical, to get more explosive plays? How do you inject more of that into the equation?
Jeff Hecklinski: “I think two things, number one, from a running game perspective, those plays take place because of how you block down the field. We always put an emphasis on run game blocking and how physical we are down the field. I think we’ve got to continue that, we’ve got to keep our backs clean. The cleaner our backs are, the longer the runs, the easier it is to open up the pass game. I think from the standpoint of the passing segment of it all, I think yards after contact and yards after the catch become an extremely important statistic for us now. The object obviously is to get the ball in and out of your quarterback’s hands. Not necessarily as fast as you can, but as efficient as you can. The easiest way to gain explosive plays out of that is yards after contact. Obviously Devin is one of those individuals in his yards after contact and his yards after the catch are very evident. Now you start getting Amara, you start getting Jehu, you start getting Dennis, you start getting Freddy, you start to expand those guys and now all of a sudden in that one-on-one matchup, that 12-15 yard pass play becomes a 25, 35, 45 yard pass play. Now you’ve relieved a lot of pressure. You can still get the ball in and out of the quarterback’s hands efficiently. Everybody says get it out of his hands, throw it quick. Look, in today’s game, when you look at some of the great defenses, when you talk about Michigan State, talk about Nebraska, talk about Minnesota, when you talk about how these defenses are playing, even our defense, they’re not going to give you a lot of those throws because of all the press coverage that you see. So now you have to be able to win, not only winning the intermittent zone, but win after the catch and win after contact to be able to make them pay for those types of coverages.”
Sam Webb: You talking with the ball or without the ball as well, getting off the jam and down the field?
Jeff Hecklinski: “Both, both, but I think the one thing is that our guys are really good releasers. We work on it hard. Our DBs, I think you’ve seen the improvement in our secondary and our DBs, so from that standpoint we compete every day going after that stuff. When you talk about winning off of press, when you talk about winning off of jam, it is being their at the right moment, at the right time when the quarterback is delivering the ball and I think that’s what we have to do in terms of being efficient, we have to become better at. Once the ball is in our hands make it happen.”
Sam Webb: Talk about today’s opponent, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, most of the talk about them is their run game. They are a team that tries to pound you, but you guys are looking at the defensive side of the football. Give me an idea of what we will see when the Golden Gophers take the field defensively.
Jeff Hecklinski: “Their defense is the same as their offense. Jerry (Kill) was the head coach all the way back at Emporium State when I was at Central Missouri State. I’ve followed and been against Jerry Kill and his staff and that defense, a lot of those defensive guys for a while now and they’ve always been the same way. Their tough, hardnosed, competitive. They’re going to hit you, thump you. They’re going to get up in your face and challenge you. It has been that way since we’ve been here. It was that way when we were at Ball State and they were Northern Illinois. It has always been that type of game. I think last year it was 14-7 and I think we had one possession in the first quarter. One maybe going on two as the quarter changed. So that’s the type of game that you can expect and it’s a game the competitiveness of it is on the perimeter where we’ll have the opportunity to go one on one in a lot of instances and we’ve got to win those one-on-one battles. It’ll be a hard hitting game. It won’t be a game for the weak and timid, I know that, because both head coaches, between Coach Hoke and Coach Kill are tough hardnosed physical downhill football coaches.”