How do you feel the Stanford offense has evolved under Harbaugh's direction?"They're competitive and they play hard. They run the ball well. I think they have a quarterback that makes good decisions overall."
Are they a tougher and better team now?"Yeah, but you expect that with Jimmy. I know Jimmy personally and they are a tougher team. I have watched that team grow, say from the beginning of last year to the end of last year till now, so they probably are what I expect."
What is his personality and has the team taken this personality on?"It looks like they have. I'm just watching them on tape, of course. It looks like they play hard and try to execute, kind of what you expect from a team that he coaches."
How do you know him?"We know each other from way back. We played in a league against each other. We've talked and been at camps and that sort of thing; so we've got some history."
There has been a lack of sacks; what is going on with this?"There are times when maybe we don't do things as well as we should. The ball is coming out quick. At the same time, we aren't getting the sacks but we are getting off the field when we want to and that's the most important thing. Whereas you could say, man, you want 20 sacks, but I would much rather look at, on third downs they aren't getting conversions; that sort of thing."
With a defense that is predicated on pressure, is it a problem not getting sacks and if so what are you doing to improve?"Not a problem. It's a result of what is happening on the field. So if we are bringing pressure, the quarterback has two options – he can hold onto the ball and get his wig knocked off or he can dump it off to the first available guy. Sometimes that's a back in the flat or we tackle him for little or no yards. Sometimes it's a receiver that is short of the sticks and sometimes it's further down the field. What we want to do is come and make sure we have all of our bases covered. Then if he throws it to one of his outlets and we get the guy tackled, we get him down. If we get a quarterback that is saying, ‘Okay, I'm going to hold onto the ball,' it's our job to get in his face, flush him, we got to strip sack him; that sort of thing. There have been some times where we have been back there doing different things where you say, ‘Guys, if you do this different, okay, he's going to be on the ground. If we do this, he's going to have to hold the ball a second longer and this guy is going to make a play.' So there are things that we have done on our part that have kept us from getting a sack, but at the same time, we are getting the end result. We just want to do it a little bit better."
How close are you getting to doing it better?"To polishing it up? We're close. I would say each week it gets better. It gets better each week and sometimes it looks like we're coming and sometimes we aren't coming as much as it appears. I'll say that."
The opponents are completing 53 percent of their passes. Do you have a target number?"No. If they start at the nine; our target is at the eight or less. So you could actually come out with a quarterback being at 70 percent, but at 70 percent he is walking towards the sidelines because it's fourth and one; fourth and two."
So the third-down conversions is the important stat, right?"That's the biggest thing."
Harbaugh was outspoken about the Michigan academics. Did you ever discuss this with him?"Yeah, (laughing) I'm not going to go down that road. Jimmy and I've got a good relationship. It's been discussed but that was like a year ago and honestly I have forgotten what was said. We are both live wires so you can probably figure how that went."
Brian Smith is doing well. Is there more that you can do with him?"There's always more you can do with guys, but like I said, you have to crawl before you walk; walk before you run. What we want to do now is shore up a lot of the things that we are doing as opposed to moving on. We want to get better. We don't want to let them run into the end zone on third and whatever like we did last week. We don't want to give up the long one. Sometimes, where we have guys that we should really stone them in the backfield, we don't want to give them anything. But there are still some things we need to clean up. But that's really on any team that you're on, there's always room for improvement; always things you can get better at."
Has Brian adjusted well?"He's adjusting well. I would say he's adjusting pretty well. He's like the centerpiece; he's got to do well."
Why is the defense doing better in the red zone than it is on other areas of the field?"I think our defense is better because we are creating turnovers in the red zone and we're not giving up touchdowns. They're completing some passes but they are short passes. So anytime you can come up with stops in the red zone, especially if they come away with no points, that's big. When you give up touchdowns, that's a whole different deal."
Are you okay with the bend-but-don't-break?"I don't want to say bend-but-don't-break. I would much rather not even get down there. But when they do get down there, it's when it's really time to step up."
Is there anything specific you can point to for this improvement in the red zone?"I think we are doing a good job preparation-wise. I think we are doing a good job explaining to our guys and showing our guys some of the things that can possibly happen. Then when they do happen, applying your rules and being where you are supposed to be; forcing the ball to your help; playing to your strengths. I think we are doing a better job overall in that category. And we have done a lot of competitive stuff this fall. They kind of have been in that situation a lot; a lot more this year than they have."
Although the stats don't show it, do you think Ethan Johnson is making a good impact?"Like I have said, stats sometimes can be misleading because if you look at it and you have a guy that is penetrating in the gap, then all of a sudden, instead of a guard blocking him solo, all of a sudden the tackle has to come back on him, the fullback has to come and help where they have to slide to a guy and that frees up somebody else. So sometimes stats can be misleading, but if you're demanding attention and the offense is showing you focus and they have to help, that is a good thing. I think that's his case."
Does he demand attention?"I don't know if he's demanding it because he's a little kid right now, but he's doing a decent job of what we are asking him to do."
Do you feel that you are getting enough pressures but they don't show up in the stats?"Honestly, without really going in depth, because if I go in depth everybody knows exactly what we are thinking and what we are trying to do, I can say that for every action there is a reaction. Then if we do something then they have to do something; that's just how we like to play the game."
How is Raeshon McNeil progressing?"He's been competitive. There have been teams that have challenged him and come at him and he has made some plays. In the Michigan game, I think he made three third-down stops on his own when the ball was thrown directly at him. He's a conscientious guy. He knows what's going on and he competes. I think he has had a relatively good transition up to this point."
In the spring, you said he was a sound football player. Do you still say the same about him?"Yeah, because he works at it; he works at his techniques and the things you ask him to do. He hasn't gotten complacent without browbeating him. He's kind of done it on his own. You still have to give him some reminders, but I think we have a history where we have good lines of communication so he's done okay in that regard."
How would you assess the play of Harrison Smith so far?"He has played well. He has stepped up. He has given us some flexibility in the things that we can do. He's done a decent job."
You mentioned Stanford's two good running backs. What do you want to see from your defensive front against them?"I want to see when the first one is out there, they stop him. And then when the next guy comes out, I want to see them do the same thing to that guy. They have to control the line of scrimmage and dictate the tempo and the pressure. You say what you want, but all running backs run the same when there's no hole. When there's no hole or the holes are small, it's harder for them to be effective."
What do you expect from Pat Kuntz?"We need him to be a tough guy. I'll say it like that; I have to watch my words. We need him to play hard and kind of be disruptive in there. He's the oldest guy out there for the most part. When he's out there, he needs to be a problem."
Can he be disruptive on a regular basis?"He can; he just has to do it. He has that ability, yes."
What do the Stanford running backs do well?"They see the hole well. They run with good balance. They're strong. When they were playing Washington, they hit them flush in the hole and the linebacker was knocked out and the running back was running up the sidelines. We've got to do a good job tackling. So we'll see. I'm tired of giving guys too much credit, you know, trying to be like nice. So we'll see."
Does Robert Blanton's practice performance match his game productivity?"It's close. Like anybody else, there's things he has to work on. He's done some things well. He pays attention to details, but at the end of the day, he's like a lot of young guys, there are still a lot of things for him to learn. He's got a lot of room to improve so that's a good thing."
Are you trying to get him in more game situations?"We're trying to get him in there. We're comfortable playing guys and he's one of those guys. We're just trying to put him out there and see if he can make some plays because he does that. He's got a knack for making plays."