We had a great football game this past weekend with Purdue. They're an outstanding football team and it was really a great Big Ten matchup. We were fortunate and came out on top in overtime and look forward this week to playing in the 100th game in the rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan. Obviously Michigan has an extraordinary football team, and it's going to be a great game.
Q on assessment of the UM secondary and how important it will be to pass the ball
Well they have a great secondary. They have great athletes. What I think about them - they tackle so well. They not only play the pass, but if you are fortunate enough to complete one, they're right there to make the hit, and also, they do a great job with their run support... They're very well schooled, as is their whole team. How important will it be... I think if you're playing against a great team and you're not two-dimensional, you're really going to have a problem. They have an outstanding run defense, they have an outstanding pass defense, and that's why they're one of the best teams in the country.
Q on the two QBs (Navarre, Krenzel) and his thoughts on the criticism they've taken:
I'm not sure how many quarterbacks in the country have won more games than John Navarre and Craig Krenzel. That's, in my mind, how you measure a quarterback. They're both excellent leaders; you can tell they're both very smart. I'm sure John Navarre is an outstanding student just like Craig Krenzel is. They've led their teams to extraordinary feats. Exactly who they get criticized by, I don't know, but I think they're both darned good ones, and it's a neat matchup, both being seniors.
Do they have the physical attributes you look for in a quarterback?
They're both big, strong guys; they're both tough; they both throw the ball extremely well; they're smart about what they do. I don't know what they don't have that you would look for.
Are you players used to the hype or is it a little bit more hyped up then normal?
This is game number one for the players at Ohio State and Michigan. It's what they look forward to and the last game of the year. They have such great respect for one another from a program and a talent standpoint. Obviously, whichever venue it's played in, it's the largest audience of the day. It's just a special game. I think it's hard to describe; it's one of the cleanest toughest, hardest-hitting. The respect we have for the Michigan staff is something special, and we hope the same likewise. It's just a great privilege to be part of this game.
Talk about the play of Will Smith, who was named a finalist for the Ted Hendricks award last week.
Yes he was. Will Smith is an outstanding football player. I think he's multi-dimensional; he's a good pass rusher, plays the run well, he can drop and play coverage. He's an excellent leader; he's one of our captains, works hard in the weight room. He just does all the things that you would want, and he's got a lot of talent along with all of that.
Question on offense this year:
I don't know that we've been nearly as efficient as we'd like to be. Early on in the season, we were fighting a little bit of the injury bug, got over that a little bit in the latter half of the season, and at the beginning of the Purdue game, we had a couple guys in and out with injuries. So, we really have not been as consistent as we would like to be on the offensive side, but the thing I appreciate about our guys - they keep working at it and they're trying to do the best they can.
Q on the mental toughness after all the off-the-field distractions and getting every team's best shot:
"I think they're a mature group. We have a large number of seniors... they've been through the highs and through the lows. Anytime you're somewhere for four or five years, you're going to have some great days and some days that aren't so much fun. They've really helped the rest of us handle the ups and downs and the difficulty in the situation at times. I really have to point to the leadership of our excellent senior class.
Q on how he ranks the UM receivers, particularly Braylon Edwards, as opposed to what he's seen this year:
The trio of receivers that they bring at you most of the time are extraordinary. They're the best group of receivers collectively that we've seen. Braylon Edwards is the leader, he's the veteran of the group, he's the big play guy, the go-to guy; he's an excellent blocker. The thing I like about all three of those guys -- not only are they great receivers, big play guys and competitive, but they really do a great job blocking. Chris Perry has gotten a lot of yards because of that great offensive line and because of his great ability, but I think part of the credit has to go to the great downfield blocking by those receivers.
Q on relationship with Lloyd Carr:
I've known Lloyd Carr for quite some time. He's been at Michigan probably close to 25 years. Many times, when I was coaching other places, we would go visit and watch Michigan practice in the spring. Lloyd and the rest of the staff, even when he was an assistant, were always very open to helping coaches and help their programs. I've had some guys work for me that had worked for Lloyd and used to talk a lot about the great detail he has and the great discipline he holds. They have outstanding teams. I know him obviously from being in Big Ten meetings and sharing a few moments here and there in various times, but most of my respect is from afar, and I certainly highly respect the job he's done.
Q on Steve Breaston and what concerns him:
I'm concerned about him whenever he's on the field, as a punt returner, kick returner, or receiver. He's an outstanding young player; he can turn the game around in a heartbeat. He's a competitive guy... those wide receivers do a tremendous job blocking. He's just an outstanding player... He loves to win and he loves to compete, and he's certainly a big time player.
Did you recruit him at all?
We tried to and unfortunately didn't have success.
"We're looking forward to hosting a great Ohio State team and the renewal of the greatest rivalry in college football, the 100th edition of this game, and I'll take any questions."
Q on the significance of the uniform number 1 and how that number is given out:
We're looking obviously from a standpoint of the significance of the number; I think somewhere along the line that number has, across the country, attained a significant status. Personally, I don't hold any particular reverence for it; I just think it's another number. But that's not always true for the players, and Braylon, when we recruited him, asked me for that number. Of course, we had another guy wearing it at the time, and I told him that if he came in and earned it, I'd be happy to give it to him.
Considering how much the teams have achieved, are these two quarterbacks held up to too much scrutiny?
That depends on your point of view and your expectations, I think. In both programs, that position with the change that we've had in technology in the last 10-15 years has certainly exposed them to a play-by-play, nationwide analysis. A lot of times, they get criticized when the protection breaks down or the receiver runs the wrong route. There's a lot of things that go into being to a quarterback, and part of that is being able to withstand the scrutiny that goes with it. I think you have to be extremely tough mentally to play those positions because certainly you're going to be held to a high standard and just have to either surrender or fight, and I think they both fought very, very well.
Has it in a way made them tougher?
I don't think there's any question that if you can survive it, it gives you an experience that very, very few people have to endure, and certainly I think in the final analysis, it makes you stronger.
Q on what it's like to have Bo Schembechler around and how much he interacts with the coaches, players, and recruits:
It's a blessing to have Bo around. Of course, my relationship has changed dramatically with Bo over the years. He hired me in 1980. Like everyone else, I was awed by him and scared by him. Over the years... my admiration and respect for him grew with the years that I was with him, and of course, he's become not only my mentor but one of my very best friends... The wonderful thing about Bo -- a lot of people everywhere in those situations, sometimes they don't always want you to have success. Bo loves the university, loves Michigan football and wants to win as badly now as he did when he was coaching. I've been very fortunate to have Bo around, and we talk very regularly and certainly during the fall when he's here, he comes out to watch practice occasionally, and he's been a big asset to me and a great friend to me.
Is your team right now peaking or playing as well as you would like it to play entering a game like this?
I don't know about peaking. We'll find out Saturday if we've peaked or not. I think we have played well in some phases of the game better than others. But I think on a week to week basis, you're always trying to improve, and there's certainly things we need to improve on this week.
Looking at Ohio State's defense, in recent memory, is this about as good of a defense as your team has gone up against?
I think they had a great defense a year ago, and I think defensively they may be quicker in the secondary than they were a year ago. It's a great defense, they're great athletes, they're very well-coached, they play very, very hard, and they play very well together, and I think that's why they're where they are.
Q on the '98 team and if they found themselves taking teams' best shots and how tough it was to coach through that:
I think, you know, it's been my experience that Michigan teams normally get their opponent's best shot. I think certainly defending the national championship puts a bigger target on your back, and certainly that's one of the very, very commendable things about this Ohio State team -- the way they've handled the defense of their championship.
Did you get the sense in '98 that it was even tougher?
I think obviously... I know that we had the challenge of opening with two outstanding football teams in Notre Dame and Syracuse. I think that certainly motivated those two programs, but how much, I couldn't answer.