Are you surprised at the way the offense has evolved using the spread and the no-huddle and things like that?"No, we did a lot of these things in the spring versus our defense and as you well know, it is a multiple-blitz defense. We had a lot of success in the spring going against those guys and doing a lot of similar things that we are doing now. I think it's the maturity of the team, and we are consistently getting better and better each week."
Would you be at this point if the running game had been successful?"The way we look at it, we look at the various teams that we are playing and what match-ups we have. How can we create match-ups? When they're playing seven guys in the box, it's hard to run the football when, at certain times, they bring eight people in the box; so it's a little difficult to run the football. Although we have to be able to run it some and when you're getting individual match-ups on the outside and zone coverages, you have an opportunity to hit windows and have a little more success."
Is spreading things out and running no-huddle the best fit for Jimmy Clausen?"At this point in time in his career, it's the best fit. It creates a lot of different windows. Going into the North Carolina game, the windows may be reduced because they have a tendency to drop the shades out in the coverages and play what we call a ‘P' coverage by having a three-man rush and dropping an interior lineman out. So it may reduce the window some, but there are still opportunities to run the ball and throw the ball."
How confident are you in Jimmy going to the line and having a lot of time to make a decision?"I think in the no-huddle offense, which we use, it provides an opportunity to see the defense and to understand what the checks may be. It may be a run-to-run check or a pass-to-pass check, but it provides him the opportunity to make the right call and put us in the right play."
With defenses dropping more guys off into coverage, does this affect the plays that you pick?"Every coverage in which they run and in every blitz which they run causes us to do different things on offense. It may be for protection purposes or it may be trying to get another guy in the route or it may be the route concepts that we use; we change every week."
How is Armando Allen different this year?"I think he is becoming more mature and understanding defenses better. When you are able to understand your reads before they happen, I think it makes you a better player. When you understand where your three defenders are, what guys are going to be blocked when they are coming in late, which wide-receiver is going to crack him, who do you have to beat to go get six, I think all those things from a maturity standpoint makes him a lot better player."
Armando said he was still working through the ankle injury last year that he had in high school. What did you see on his tape last year and this year?"I just think he's maturing and understanding the game more. He comes to me and says, ‘Coach, talk to me about this read right here; what can I expect?' Because teams are different, some teams are slow flow linebackers and some teams are fast flow linebackers. So you're going to get different reads by the angle that linebackers come into play. When you understand that and understand your reads a little bit better, it makes your cuts happen that much sooner. And that's what he's getting better at."
Do you think last year he was mentally limited by the ankle injury?"I don't worry about injuries. I don't know who's injured unless they come to me and tell me they aren't practicing. If they are practicing, it's full-go, let's go get it."
It looks like James is becoming the fourth quarter runner. Is this because of fresh legs?"Oh no, that's just the way the offense plays out. We may change the momentums of the game and that is when he goes in, when his series is called. He's doing a lot better."
He seems pretty low-key and accepts his role?"What one thing you look at is most kids come in here as big-time recruits and where they are coming from, they are probably one of the top five players in their area when they come in here. So when they come in here, everyone is looking to have a lot of success. But one of the things that we preach is – team, team, team. There are various signs around the building that say, ‘leave your ego at the door.' So when you put the team first and when you understand, ‘Hey, I'm going to do whatever it takes to make the team better,' and everyone is starting to accept their roles no matter what their role may be."
Do you joke with him a lot because of his personality?"I joke with him all the time. I joke with them all, all of the time. However, they understand when I step on the field and things start, it is all over. It's about business. My friendships, my relationships, don't carry over to the field. I can have you over for dinner every night of the week if you want to come over, but if you're not producing on the field, you're not playing and I really don't care. I'm sure it was difficult for guys in the beginning, but they understand that now."
What is Armando Allen like?"Armando (laughing) is a great kid. You can talk to him about anything you want to. When we're out there walking off the field, we're talking about family and about his Mother going to the game and talking about his Dad going to the game. I say, ‘I guess I'm going to have to call Mom tonight and see what is up and see if she'll bring me something to eat (laughing).' We have all these conversations. He's a great kid with great morals and great values and he does things the way you'd like your son to do things."
Is he low-keyed?"He is low-keyed when it is the right time, but he likes to have a little fun also. He's a professional. He comes to work. When you ask a young man to come to work every day and work, he comes to work every day to work. You don't have to say anything to him as he comes to work."
Is there anything special you have to prepare the offense for going into a hostile situation this week?"One of the things we talked about today in our team meeting, as an offensive team, we talked about embracing the atmosphere. There are 59,000 people at $50 a seat coming to this game. What can they do to harm you? Nothing. The only thing they can do is stand up in the stands and scream and yell the entire game. We talked about the different mechanics we are going to use in cadences. We talked about how we are handling the crowd noise. We talked about the cadences we use; about the formations and how we're going to handle it. We go out and practice them and execute them and come back in. You just embrace the atmosphere. It is an opportunity to go into their stadium and show them you are the best team on the field on that day. You don't have to be better than anybody else in the country; you just have to be better than North Carolina on that day. It's a great challenge for us."
How can you use positive emotion this weekend?"We're going in there through the enthusiasm. We're going to enter that stadium looking for a battle. We understand that we only have certain members of our organization in this foxhole and we're coming in there to fight. We're looking forward to the challenge. We're going to be ready and North Carolina's going to be ready and let's be the best team on that day."
What area has the offensive line made the most progress so far and what has Sam Young's role been in that?"I think the offensive line is getting better as a unit because the more they practice, the more unified they become. They are starting to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each and every player. When they understand these strengths and weaknesses, they know where they can help out. You're talking about ‘my brother not being too heavy.' So if I know a guy is getting beat over top because he has a speed rush on him and I can help out, I can kick back and then peel off and help him out. If I can't help out because of the protection call, I will let him know, ‘Hey, you're by yourself on this one.' However, at times they know that we can get a back over there to help them. They're understanding their strengths and weaknesses and playing to it. I think they are playing really well and getting better each and every week."
With all the young guys, what is the hardest part of going on the road this week?"Going into hostile territory and embracing the atmosphere – and snap counts. We're going to use various snap counts which we will have to, to be successful. Because if you don't, these guys on the line will just line up in a three-point stance and tee off on you and we can't allow that to happen."
What do you think is the biggest lesson these guys learned at Michigan State that they can take with them this week?"Ball security. You hold the hopes and dreams of your team in your hands every time you have that ball. If you turn the ball over, you are going to lose some points. We talk about ball security every day and in every meeting and I think it's really important."
For the young guys that have gone on the road one time, how beneficial is that?"I think it will be beneficial to them because they will go to their hotel and they won't be in awe. They'll go to the stadium and they won't be in awe. Once you do it once or twice, it's like a walk in the park because you get used to a routine. Once you fall into that routine, it's like clockwork. I think they will do really well and are looking forward to it."
In the Stanford game, the offense seemed to slow down in the second half. Was this by design to burn some time off the clock?"You want to burn some time off the clock because they weren't really moving the football very well. I probably made some bad calls during that period of time trying to burn some clock off. But we came back in the third drive and moved the ball down and scored. We were just happy to have to opportunity to play them and get out with a win."
Is it difficult to get a balance of turning the gas on and off?"You sometimes do it in practice. We did it today in practice, turning it on and off and going through different modems. I think once you start practicing it, guys get a better feel for it."
Do you think Stanford sort of stepped it up too?"They played well throughout the entire game. They didn't do anything different."
What do you do to make sure it doesn't happen again?"We practice it every day. We had different modems of tempo today. It basically is practicing for all those situations we may get into in a game."