Coach, congratulations on the big win. What is your overall concept, or reaction, or your team’s reaction, to a win, one, over Michigan State, and second, the 900th win in Michigan history?
Well, I’ll be honest with you, you know, I don’t know if they realize the 900th win, you know? Maybe the two seniors had an idea, the two captains, of where we’re at, because we really, I didn’t – that wasn’t the point of focus for the week. It was playing a great rivalry game, a game in our division that’s important to win, and playing hard, and playing to represent the 133 years of Michigan football.
Can you talk about the contributions of Drew Dileo today?
You know, drew, he’s not the biggest guy, he’s not the fastest guy, but the one thing Drew is, he’s a football player. What he does for our football team in a lot of different areas, from, you know, an off returner in kickoffs, to holding on PATs and field goals, and I think you all would agree there were two field goals that were pretty important today, one at the end, that, you know, that’s a skill set. He’s just a tough, undersized, not fast enough, but he’s a football player. That’s what he is.
Once again, your defense seemed to really play well. Where do you think they’re at right now in terms of what you want to see?
Well, we really had a bad series in there, defensively, and you give your opponent credit, but you know, we didn’t do some things well in the start of the second half, and they went down and scored a touchdown, and you know, I think we’ll look at the film. I think we’ll look at some things we did well, and hope we don’t repeat those, but we’re not near the defense that we need to be to win a championship in this conference.
Denard, and really the whole offense, were kind of bottled up for most of the afternoon, but at the end, were able to come up with the job when they needed to. What does that say about Denard and his leadership ability?
Well, I think, you know, he’s an outstanding leader, and the confidence that he has, and his teammates have, is part of it. I don’t know if anyone on our sideline thought the game was over. The defense was playing well at that point. Get the ball back and see what happens.
Can you talk about the fake punt, but then still being able to hold them to a field goal after that?
Yeah, that was a very good play for Michigan State, and that was a smart play. They saw that we weren’t leveraging the outside, and that’s something that I need to do a better job with, as part of the punt return team coaching staff, because that got them some hope, got them in the game, but the one thing we told the defense was ‘keep them to a field goal. You need to keep them to a field goal here, and good things can happen for us. And obviously, that’s what happened.
Do you feel like this time, this year, you did a better job of matching their physicality?
I thought so. I think…yeah. I thought our kids, you know, wanted to play, wanted to finish everything we were doing. Blocks, plays, catches, runs, whatever your job is to do, you know, we wanted to finish, and we practiced that way, and I thought we did that.
You’ve talked to us before about Matt Wile, and having a big leg. What went into the decision to kick that, and obviously to put him out there instead of giving Brendan a chance?
You answered it. Bigger leg, you know, stronger leg. That’s one reason Matt kicks off for us, and you know, we had some wind with us, you know? That wind kind of changed, really right before the start of the game, so we felt that he would have the leg to do it, and he did, by kind of a lot.
What does Michigan State do defensively that’s so effective, somewhat of bottling up Denard the past three years, and not allowing him to get – ?
Yeah, I think they’ve done that to a lot of players, quarterbacks. I don’t know final statistics, but I mean, they have good plays. They play extremely aggressive. The things that they like to do can sometimes be high risk, high reward, but it’s a belief system they have. They tackle well, and they do what you need to do to play good defense.
Following up on what you said before, what do you feel like you guys need to do, then, to become that Big Ten championship level defense; and also, Ramon Taylor, what’s his status right now?
Ramone got a little boo-boo. He’ll probably be ok, most likely. Turnovers, you know, we need to do a better job of creating. We need to do a better job putting pressure on the quarterback, with four guys. I don’t think that’s a strong suit of ours, and that can help our secondary out. I think at times we’re playing too far off guys in coverage. So, that’s a start.
Gibbons seems to be a bit of a free spirit. When he’s in that –
What do you mean by that?
Last year, the Sugar Bowl, about the brunettes, and all those comments he was saying – not that I don’t agree with him, but I’m just kind of curious about – how do approach a kicker? Do you say anything? Do you stay away from him when he’s about to get a big kick? Are you superstitious? Is there anything, State calls that time out? I mean, where’s your mind at? Do you go up to him and say ‘hey, Gibby, we got this one’, do you stay away?
I didn’t – you know, I’m with those guys a little bit during practice. I’m no – I’m not a kicking coach, but it’s kind of like golf, which I’m probably a really good golfer, if I would do it. Those guys, they know what they need to do and how they need to do it. I think them going up to the stadium during the week is helpful, because the wind in there is a little different, especially with the new stuff up there. I think it’s a little different. You know, both those kids, we have a lot of confidence in. I think, like in anything else, when you show confidence, kids are going to respond. Not that you don’t rip them once in a while, but I just decided when they called the time out, I was just going to watch Gibby do his thing, and I don’t know, there’s no magic to it.
As well as Michigan State’s defense plays, some of those high reward plays you could have had, maybe a block and a screen pass, or the drop pass, were you a little disappointed in the execution there?
Oh, you know, I think you could go through every game, and there’s going to be execution – you know, we didn’t block down once on a run play that may have been pretty open, and we don’t block down. Why? I don’t know. You know, 113,999 or whatever it was, and you know, a good defense that you’re playing against; yeah, you want to see them all execute, but no one has ever played a perfect game. No one will ever play a perfect game. They’re 18 to 22-23 years old, you know? We’re going to try to prepare them, and remind them, and do all those things, and grow them right, and then go play hard.
You already sort of answered my question already, but I was going to ask – Dileo said on the radio that he actually thought the kick was heading toward the right upright, and then curved. What was your view of the field goal?
I watched those people sitting behind the goal post, because they’ll tell you. I’ll be honest with you, you can’t see it from there.
My second question, Kovacs said this is a monkey off the back for these guys, and I know you weren’t here for the 4 losses. You were here last year. Does it feel like that for this program, to finally beat Michigan State, and not let them get five in a row?
It’s not more meaningful than a ‘yeah’?
I mean, it’s an in-state rival. You know, we have bigger expectations.
The end of the game was pretty intense on that last drive. Did you feel that time out helped you or hurt you? Icing the kicker?
I think we were well prepared. Denard did a tremendous job spiking the ball. Our field goal team was there, Dan Ferrigno, our special teams coach, had all those guys right there, ready to go. I think it’s a strategy that can work, can’t work, you know, flip a coin.
I don’t know if you answered this or not, but did you say anything to Brendan when he went out there that last time?
And what made you go back to him?
Because it was his range. You know, we talked about distance, and it was his range. And he’s more consistent than Matt has been in practice at that range.