Sam Webb: Coach, a lot of transition it seems and development is about what stage you might catch a guy at. I look at some of your other stops, A.J. McCarron, you get him and he still has two years left. You go to Washington and you get your quarterback in his first year. How much more challenging is it when you catch a guy in his last year of his development?
Doug Nussmeier: “It is very different. Then you also look at what type of system, what type of background is the player coming from. Any time you talk about a quarterback, there are different levels of when they “get it” as I would say. Some guys get it a little bit faster, some guys it takes a more repetitions and you never know when that is going to happen. Some guys grab it real quickly, some guys it is a little bit foreign and it just takes more time. You’ve got to work through things and part of having a relationship with the quarterback is also learning the player, learning how they process, how they see things, so that you can be on the same page.”
Sam Webb: Is it tougher to craft what you want to do when a guy maybe has learned things a certain way for so long?
Doug Nussmeier: “I don’t think so. I’ve been fortunate to coach some great phenomenal players and they’ve all embraced the situation, every situation that we’ve been in and then coming here with Devin, the way he has embraced what we are doing. He’s really bought in 100%. I can’t say enough about his work ethic, what he has done to prepare week in and week out. The results haven’t always been what either of us had wanted or looked for. The way he’s prepared, the way he’s approached the games, we continue I really believe to do things better and better each week, although at times it may not show.”
Sam Webb: One thing that has gotten better and better each week going back to last week with Maryland, you guys have run the football much better as this season has gone along. What about the progress of the offensive line, it is not something that is talked about a lot outside, but you see it every day. What are some of the things other than they block better, what have you seen, break it down for us.
Doug Nussmeier: “It goes back to what we talked about, consistency and performance. We’ve talked about it all season and what we see in our offense. Playing 14-19 kids that are freshman or sophomores. They’re young and the growth that we’ve had by individuals players and also by individual position groups. The offensive line when we got here, the emphasis was to 1) secure the line of scrimmage, 2) establish a running game and to protect the passer. I think you’ve seen over the last couple of weeks we’ve been able do to that better. Our running game is really coming on. We’ve protected the passer well. We gave up two sacks. We got stuck in a 0 blitz last week and then on a naked, we had a missed assignment. The week before, we had zero sacks, the week before that we took one sack on a coverage sack. We’ve done a better job of that. That group has really improved and I believe that is the foundation for long term success when you start looking at how do you become a consistent offense football team that can play well week in and week out.”
Sam Webb: One of the things philosophically that you talked about early in the season is hey, when you do 10, 12 play drives, you’re the type of offense that is error prone. So you wanted to get more chunk plays. As the season has gone along, has your philosophically involved and say, hey we’re going to lean more on the run and maybe not try to force things down the field as much. Have you changed in that regard?
Doug Nussmeier: “Not really. We’re always looking to generate explosive plays. We chart them every day. We look for how many we’re getting. Are we developing the ways within the scheme to get them, to get the right guys in the right positions to get them. Obviously, we don’t have enough explosive plays. We need more explosive plays. Usually when you can establish the running game, you can force people to commit to the box and now you can create more explosives. The focus last week with Maryland was our lack of passing yards and in reality, I think we threw for 108 yards. Devin rushed for I believe 78-80 yards on quarterback scrambles because of the looks that they gave us on the passing game. We’re looking at ways to always try and generate explosives, we need more. I’ve said that all along. We need to get more explosive plays. We need to score more points.”
Sam Webb: Listening to what you just said there, when you’re not necessarily attacking down the field as much as people would like, that’s more of a function of what the defenses are doing as opposed to risk aversion?
Doug Nussmeier: “It is a two-fold thing. Number one, if you’re going to take shots down the field in the passing game, you’ve got to be able to protect the passer. You’ve got to look at the defensive front, how much pressure you’re getting. If you look at last week, we try to take a shot down the field, had a designed shot play down the field to Funchess. Devin scrambled because of the way their front four played and got a big play. He ended up running for a large gain. You can’t necessarily say always say we’re going to throw the ball down the field. The other thing is when people see the way you play, their going to do things in coverage to try and keep the ball in front of them and I think some teams, Funchess demands a lot of attention from the defense. We’ve seen a lot of double teams and a lot of high corner defense as we talk about and doubles with the safeties and the corner and the way to try and prevent us from getting the ball down the field.”
Sam Webb: I was going to ask you what teams were doing to Funchess and you just laid it out. On the other side, other guys, the development, is that Amara Darboh, are there any other guys that maybe we haven’t seen that you’re seeing in practice that wow, this is another guy that is going to be able to step up and maybe take some of that pressure off of Devin Funchess?
Doug Nussmeier: “Like we said, Funchess is seeing a lot of double teams, almost everywhere he goes, there is two and you’ve seen the emergence of Amara and really is a young player that has gotten better each and every week and I think he is going to continue to grow and grow. Freddy Canteen is a young player that we’re looking to take the next step and Freddy has gotten better and better each week. He hasn’t quite emerged as we would like him, as we would say yet, but he’s getting there. I think Jake Butt and everybody talks about the expectation for Jake this season. He comes off the ACL and it is one thing to be cleared to play. It is another thing to be really being played at such a high level and I think Jake is such a battler. He’s battled all year long. I think that he’s just going to get better and better as his legs get back underneath him sort of say.”
Doug Nussmeier: “Obviously, the situation surrounding that start and everything that happened with that. Shane had took a week or so to get back and then we got him going again and have really been pleased with his commitment and his preparation. Obviously, his arm talent is second to none. He can flat throw the football and part of the thing with him is once again, a young player, first year in the system, teaching the system, making sure his feet and eyes are in the right place at the right time, and pleased with his progress. I still think he has got another step to take. I know he can take another step and he’s pushing to make that step.”
Sam Webb: If you could single out an aspect or two of his game, where you say, he’s really gotten better at or these things. What would that or these things be?
Doug Nussmeier: “I think his command and we’ve talked a lot about it is one thing for the quarterback to know the system but it is another to be able to project it to the team that you’ve got it, you totally understand it and that you’ve got a complete understanding of what we’re trying to do. I’ve been happy with him from that aspect.”
Sam Webb: What about Wilton Speight, how has he come along?
Doug Nussmeier: “I think Wilton has done a good job. He got a chance to play two weeks ago during our bye week. We had a little rookie scrimmage and let those guys play and the positive thing there was you saw growth from where I thought we ended fall camp and then what he did the other day. A lot of times, it is really good to go down there and be on that scout team and see the speed of that rush when those defensive lineman and those linebackers blitz when you’re playing against the first string defense every day. It helps you to make that next step to speed yourself up, to speed your feet up, to speed your decision making up. I think he has done a good job.”
Sam Webb: You’re no stranger to the rivalry games, you’ve made the rounds and this is obviously to a lot of people the biggest one in college football. Ohio State has a lot to play for. Defensively, when you look at them, break it down for me. When you look at the Ohio State defense what are the challenges that they present.
Doug Nussmeier: “Well, their extremely athletic. They’ve got great length, so they shrink the field on you. They’re long, they do a good job of redirecting. They’ve got really good team speed up front. They get after the passer, Joey Bosa, a very, very productive player. The biggest thing for us is to get out…from a schematic point, they’re going to play a four down front, jump into some odd and do some things on third down and they’ll move Bosa around so it creates some issues with you in protection when you’re trying to identify where he is. It is going to be a very challenging game for us.”
Sam Webb: You talk about the evolution of the offensive line. You guys have gotten to the point where it seems like you can flow seamlessly into zone blocking, do gap scheme stuff. When you watch film, is there a particular approach that has been more successful against Ohio State. Do most teams that have success zone them or can you move those big guys around and do some gap stuff?
Doug Nussmeier: “Oh their challenging. As in any defense that you play, you’re going to find a play here or a play there that maybe works, but you look at things that they consistently may be exposed to and it is hard to find those with this defense because they are so athletic. They do a great job, great coaches. I’ve known Luke for a long time and have a great amount of respect for him and Chris and they do a great job…when you do do something on them then they make an adjustment to try and take it away. It’s going to be a challenging game. I know our guys are really excited about it. We’re looking forward to it.”
Sam Webb: How much do you look at last year’s game tape? Do you just focus on them this year or do you look at what Devin was able to do against them last year and try to incorporate some of that?
Doug Nussmeier: “Any time we play an opponent that we played the year before, we always look at the film and sometimes you’ll even go back years beyond that and look at different things that maybe have worked in certain situations and those types of things or what tendencies have you created that you may be able to break those types of things. They’re playing a little bit defensively different than they did last year and obviously, you have personnel changes with guys leaving and those kinds of things. You always look it and you always see if there is something that you can find. We’re always looking at tape trying to find one little nugget that may give us a competitive advantage.”
Sam Webb: We won’t get a chance to talk to you right after the game, but when you look back after this season, win or lose, what do you take away from your experience this year. I’m sure there has been your share of challenges, but even within all the struggles that you’ve seen, I imagine there has been a great deal of satisfaction with some things you’ve accomplished as well, can you kind of highlight some of those things?
Doug Nussmeier: “It teaches you a lot about life, a lot about a lot of things when you’ve had the type of season that we’ve had and faced the challenges and the opportunities that those challenges create. I go to the resiliency of young men and to watch the way our kids with all that’s happened and transpired through the season, the way they’ve come in every week, eager to learn, eager to get better, wanting more, wanting to get better, wanting to play better each and every week. As a coach that gives you the motivation to do everything that you possibly can to give them the best possible position for success and then to see when you have young players to watch them grow and to watch an individual do something that maybe they couldn’t do the week before. That gives you a satisfaction in what you’re doing. We’ve just got to put it all together and hopefully that’ll happen today.”