Barry I think last year or maybe the last couple of years you guys have not been able to stop teams on third down as much as you would like. This year there is clearly some improvement and particularly in the fourth quarter. Can you pinpoint or do you know what's been the difference this year other than just making plays?
"Yeah, that's what it boils down to. I don't think we were ever very happy with how we played the previous two years, in particular with the third down, and now we're getting some plays. I thought on the fourth down play before our last drive, it was just the way you drew it up and Jonathan Welsh coming out, we have a zone blitz on, and he backs out of it and recognizes where the route is coming and he's able to get a tip down and break up the play. Basically that's a turnover. So it's just executing, making plays, and the guys are a little more mature."
Some people say that coaching football has passed Joe Paterno by. You're a head coach and I'm wondering if you can answer that. Do you think it has passed him by?
"I don't. I just think that's kind of part of the territory. Everybody is looking for a chink in the armor. Anyplace you go, whenever someone loses, they go after the coaches, they go after the players—they're not any good, ‘what's wrong with this, what's wrong with that,' that's just the nature of the sport. Look at any team and any level and people are disgruntled when you lose. They said three years ago, when Penn State was having a rough go there, the same thing. He couldn't recruit and recruiting had gone by him and you look at last year's draft and you have four in the first round, a couple in the second round. Everybody is quick to jump and everybody is quick to criticize. Joe Paterno is sharp as a tack and all you have to do is watch his teams play and see the quality of the athletes and how sound and how well coached they are. I think coaches recognize that. Laymen may not recognize that. People just know wins and losses. So no, I think the game has not passed him by and I think he's on top of every phase."
Barry, how often do you guys use that zone blitz look and is there a particular type of lineman who it works well with or better with a guy that can drop back in coverage?
"Well that's the best one because it's not just moving back and being stationary. The ideal thing is to have a lineman that can move a little bit and react to a throw and react to a back or a receiver running full speed into a zone and then anticipating where the ball is going to be. How much do we use it? Because of all the shifting and what Illinois did last week—the first game against Missouri they did a lot of shifting and every time someone shifts and changes strengths, you have to change your strength and communicate through a lot of people what you're doing. So when you have blitzes on and you shift to it, it really makes it particularly hard. That was somewhat of a deterrent for us not to blitz as much, or we checked out of some blitzes because of the formations they were giving us and the strength changes they were giving us. We went into the game planning on doing more than what we did."
It sounded like Lee Evans was having his way with the defense in the first half on Saturday. No catches in the second half. Was that your guy's decision to try to establish the run or were they doing something that prevented you from throwing to him?
"We threw to him whenever we wanted to throw to him. We looked on the long pass to Brandon (Williams). They were overlapping him, they were giving him special attention. The one throw he had in his hands but there were two guys over the top of him. We didn't attempt too many passes in the second half. If you take a look, I don't even know how many we attempted. I know we didn't attempt—maybe one, the one that went to (Matt) Bernstein that went down as a lateral on our last drive, but we were having success running the ball, I didn't want their team on the field, I thought we were wearing them down and I chose not to throw."
Obviously Barry with all the great running teams you've had, does the team you have now have the potential to compare to some of your best and what do you like best about what you're doing right now on the ground game?
"I like the fact that we have three backs that have proven they're game-worthy and effective in a game situation. I tried to mention that last week that that was quite a story in Booker (Stanley). We were down to Booker. It wasn't like were alternating him in. Our top two tailbacks were down for the entire second half and he rushes for 119 yards against North Carolina. We've never been in that position before where our third guy could go in and do that. That was really his first extended playing time so that was pretty impressive. Then to see Dwayne (Smith) come back this past week and have the day he did. I really thought when you watched the film and studied the film that he made a lot of yardage after contact. He was very physical and really into the game. Where this team is—we've had some pretty good rushing teams as you know, and the one thing we don't rely on Jim (Sorgi) as much as a running quarterback. I think that puts a little bit more pressure on a defense yet we probably throw it better and he probably throws it better than any other of the offenses we've had. So I think there's a tradeoff there being able to throw and not incorporating your quarterback into the running mix. Although you still have to defend him and you still have to respect him, you know as you saw with him getting two touchdowns last week rushing the ball and quite frankly I didn't see where he stepped out on the one long run. He toed that boundary and watching the film, the angle we had it didn't look like he stepped out. I thought that was quite a run."
Not that Jim (Sorgi) didn't already have the trust and confidence of his teammates, but it seems like quarterbacks, when they have a good or great season, they have that moment or two or the play or two that kind of stamps that in their teammates mind. Did that play where he came back after an injury and threw the long pass to Brandon (Williams), does that have the feel of one of the those kind of big time moments and was there any hesitancy of having him throw when he was there?
"No, we weren't hesitant in throwing. He showed that he could throw on the sidelines. I think football players always respect teammates who have been injured and then respond, or who have been hurt and come back in and play effectively. I think that's something that's been pretty consistent and guys do that. Your teammates understand and realize that you're playing for the team and that you're a tough guy and a guy that you can count on. So I think it's important. I really thought it was important for him to come back and play, and play effectively."
Barry, with all due respect to Joe (Paterno) are you surprised that he has not been sanctioned by the Big Ten publicly? A year ago at this time he ran after an official, this year he's done it again. Are you surprised that the league hasn't kind of made a statement in that respect?
"You know what, I didn't see run after anyone in this past game. I saw him questioning a call, adamantly questioning a call, and rightfully so. A head coach—you work so hard and you know how hard the players work, and when you see a call that's going to or can potentially effect the game or a wrong call against your team that's part of your responsibility to let the official know and to fight for your team. Now, you have to do it within specific guidelines, naturally. I don't think we all know the situation last year. I think it came off maybe a little uglier. Kind of like the year they had Lou Holtz with the official in the headlock, and that was a picture and that was all you saw but yet there was a little more to it then that. So I don't know. I don't know whether he should have been punished or not. I don't know. I wasn't there and I don't know the situation, particularly last year."
Barry, a great deal was made last week about the ACC and Notre Dame. Can you talk about your thoughts on whether the Big Ten should be pursuing Notre Dame or whether they would be a good fit in this league.
"I don't think anyone denies it would be a good fit. I think they have to show interest. I think a few years ago they were close. And from what I understand they were never actually invited or had an invitation to join the league, but they came out publicly and said that they did not want to join the league. Unless they want to come in, I don't know why we would actively pursue them. I think they know that they're a viable team and it makes sense for us and probably them, but that's up to them to make that decision. I think Jim Delaney has had open talks. I don't think he's spoken with them the last time I've talked to him when all the other stuff when Miami was jumping leagues and Virginia Tech. I don't know whether they talked. I think he would have been open to listen."
Barry, a couple of weeks ago you said that you didn't even know when the staff would take a look at Erasmus James again. Do you have any update there? Has the staff reached a decision about whether he's even going to try and play again this year?
"I do have an update. We're going to have an MRI today just to see where he is and there's a possibility he could run tonight. Apparently we had to wait a specific amount of time before we even looked at it, before the doctor's even looked at it. So we should have an update, I don't think it's till later this evening, we should have an update tomorrow morning of where he is."
There were some questions about your tight end position coming into the year. How do you think (Tony) Paciotti and (Jason) Pociask are doing and are they giving you what you need there?
"I think they're playing well, and you throw Owen (Daniels) in the mix. Paciotti has blocked very well. You don't see the corner getting knocked off or getting penetration on the corner. For us to be successful running the ball our tight ends have to block well. I think Pociask is getting better and better and getting a better feel for fitting in, in motion. He's been a very pleasant surprise. We thought he could be a good, solid player. He's got all the athletic ability. A year ago, I just think he may have lacked some confidence, but the more he plays the better he gets. And then we've got someone in Owen (Daniels) that can split the zone and is a very good receiver. So, I think that position has turned into a positive for us and a strong position for us."
Barry, you mentioned earlier committing a lot more coaches to special teams to help improve things. Can you comment on how you've felt things either have improved or you had continued problems this past Saturday?
"We had continued problems. We had one play, really, when you break it down. You know, R.J. (Morse) drops a snap, I mean that isn't coaching, or that isn't anything else, maybe lack of concentration, but other than that we covered the kicks pretty well, how we kicked them. We had one breakdown and you go back and take a look at it—we had two guys void their zones and run around. I call it water. In football you have to cross faces and you have to go against pressure and water runs around pressure, and that's what we did. We had a couple guys run around blocks and open up a seam, but I think we can correct it. I think just what we did was the right thing having more guys being more involved and giving one-on-one coaching, and I think we can improve that way."
You brought up (Kareem) Timbers and (Byron) Brown for starts in special teams. Do you expect more shifts, more players…?
"You know what—we are going to reshuffle some guys. We've got a couple that we'll let compete. Guys that haven't had a chance to be on the field much that we think have some ability. We'll let them compete this week and see who does the best job or who we think performed the best as we practice and we'll move him in there, but we want to give some guys an opportunity."
Barry, given the apparent success of the press coverage that you used against Illinois, is that something that you will continue to use? Is it something that you will evaluate and use depending on the opponent? How will that work?
"We won't press all the time, but I think what it did was gave our defensive backs confidence that they can go up and play press with not a lot of help behind, maybe one free safety back there. Now, the fact that we've shown it, we can line up there, we can stem in, stem out of it. It give us another option. But I now feel that our coaching staff, as well as the players would feel comfortable doing it."
Barry, I know this Penn State team isn't that good, but how dangerous…
"—Wait, wait, wait, wait. I beg to differ with you. Their record is not that—It isn't what they'd like."
Right—I'm talking about the record. How dangerous could they still be on Saturday and what concerns you about them the most going into the game on Saturday?
"Well, you take a look at the football team itself. Defensively, they're loaded with tremendous athletes. They lost those three great defensive linemen last year as well as a couple other players, yet they have a good nucleus back. They're very athletic, they're very fast on defense and physical. No one gets anything cheap on them. Although, (Boston College) got a couple seam routes, they hit early and got a little cushion, but everyone else has had to earn everything that they get. Offensively, they're talented. This young freshman tailback gets better every week. They've got a quarterback—from what I understand, (Michael) Robinson's going to start and he's a guy that they've tried to get the ball in his hands because he's such a good athlete and he's such a threat. He threw the ball pretty well against Minnesota, so he presents a lot of problems and basically, you're adding another runner into their running game. So, I think they're a good football team. Their record does not relate to me, or anyone else that knows football, how good they are."
Barry, with (Joe) Stellmacher's situation, you're now two players deeper into that depth chart in the backfield than you were last Wednesday. What does that do, and obviously, your freshmen have stepped up and played pretty well, but now you're deeper.
"Well, we've got to start working the freshmen in, and we have. The good thing about that is Roderick Rogers and Johnny White have been getting practice time with the twos. Even though they haven't had a lot of reps during a game, they've been getting reps during practice. Now, as we move into the season, you hope that you see progress because they're talented. You just don't want to put them onto the field until they're ready. But, I think they're getting closer and we're going to have to use those guys."
Can you tell us about Stellmacher?
"He broke his leg. I don't know whether they're going to have to operate on it, or just put it in a cast. I was over there yesterday and I didn't get a report today on what they've decided."
Barry, back to James for a little bit, Erasmus. For a guy like that who's been out so long, and if he is clear to run, as you say, with the MRI, how long does it take a guy to get back into football shape where you can put him on the field?
"Well, you'd probably have to use him as a situational guy for the first week. Maybe pass rush situations since he's a very good pass rusher and allows you to keep some people fresh. Within a couple weeks I think he could be an every-down guy."
Can Dontez Sanders help you on defense? He seemed like a guy in camp you thought you might get something out of him on defense this year.
"Yeah, you know Dontez is a guy that we try to give every opportunity to. But in defenses you have to read keys and you have to react to what the offense dictates. And he just wasn't as consistent as he needed to be in reading a key—it's not backyard ball where you just run around and chase the ball around. You have responsibilities and everything else bases on it and if one guys doesn't do it then the whole defense breaks down."