Brady Hoke Opening Statement: “You know, it’s always an exciting week… believe me, I think on both campuses, both schools, both programs. The opportunity to play in a rivalry game that has a lot at stake, obviously, with us both being in the same division. They’re an awfully good football team. I think they’ve come a long way from early in the season as far as from an offensive perspective. I think Connor Cook’s done a nice job. Their whole offense has really taken off, and you can see it.You know, we pay attention, obviously, throughout the year. But really their football team, their defense is as good as any, and that’s going to be a big challenge for us. Playing up in East Lansing is always a bit of a challenge. I think any time you play away from home, that just is part of it making sure as a team that our focus and discipline, and all those things, have to be spot on for us to go out there and compete at our highest level. That’s what we need to do, and we’re excited. It’s going to be a fun week. “
Question: The level of aggression with which Michigan State plays, how do you get your team to embrace that level of physicality in a game like this?
Brady Hoke: “Well you hope your team does the same thing, but I think we’ve been inconsistent in that department. They all know, the guys who have been here – I think there were 27 of them who were there in East Lansing two years ago, which isn’t a whole lot, but they understand that it’s a physical next five weeks, and it starts with the physicalness that Michigan State will play with.”
Question: You talked a little bit about the stakes, in terms of the division, to win this game, to stay in the hunt to get to the championship game. Will you talk about that?
Brady Hoke: “Well, number one, the passion for this football game by Spartans and Wolverines is something that you – as a coach or a competitor, you understand that, and you look forward to it. The other part of it, the piece to the puzzle, is that it is an important football game when you look at where we want to be and where they want to be at the end of November.”
Question: When you look at this matchup, is there a specific area on your team that you thought most needed to improve to improve your chances to win against Michigan State?
Brady Hoke: “I think our special teams need to get much better. I don’t think we’ve punted the ball as well as we need to. I don’t think we’ve covered, at times, the way we need to. Big plays, defensively, can’t give up those big plays, and can’t have those lapses. From an offensive standpoint, you know, you always want to be able to have a running game, and count on the guys upfront being physical at the line of scrimmage, and getting fits, or whoever it might be in the backfield started.”
Question: The way Michigan State likes to attack those A gaps and blitz up the middle, I assume you’re going to find out what those two guards are kind of made of after this game, Bosch and Magnuson?
Brady Hoke: “I don’t think there’s any doubt. I think those two guys – and the good thing is, there are nine other guys out there with them, and believe me, there are some other guys who will be there for the first time in more significant roles than maybe they were before, so I think how we handle their defense, their front, their front seven, how we get off on a bump coverage and all those things, or as tight as they play, those are all things we’re going to learn. I’d like to know a little bit more before, but that’s not going to be the case.”
Question: How much does this game for you – a game that you’re going to learn a lot about your team, we talked about whether your team is going to be physical enough to match them – how much do you look and say, ‘ok, this is a challenge, guys, and I want to see who you are. Will you know after Saturday?
Brady Hoke: “I think it gives you a little bit of an idea. Will you know it for sure? I’m not sure. There’s no doubt that I think every part of this game, from the offense and defense, whatever it is, you’re going to find something out about your team.”
Question: Against a defense as good as Michigan State’s, obviously Devin Gardner will be a key factor, how do you get him to, obviously, pass or make plays, but not try to do too much? Because that would seem to be the key against their defense.
Brady Hoke: “You know, you can’t give the ball away, and I hate to lead the conference in turnover margin, and those kinds of things, but we have to do a great job of taking care of the football, great job of decision making. I think a lot of it, and you asked specifically about Devin, I think a lot of it for a lot of guys is the fundamentals that you play with, and the techniques, and not getting yourself out of kilter with how you’re going to play.”
Question: Can you talk about the running game and how important it is to run against them? They’re the only team in the country I believe who hasn’t given up (100 yards rushing) to an opponent?
Well, and if you watch them enough, you know why. Yeah, I think running the football opens up so much of your play action game, and I think that’s where, offensively, they’ve done a nice job, is running the football. They’ve done a great job with pounding it in there, with the power plays, the stretch plays, those kinds of things, and then the play action game has really helped from an offensive standpoint, so it’s important for both of us to be able to establish a running game of some sort.”
Question: I have two questions. The first one is, what do you think are the keys to Michigan State’s offensive improvement over the course of the season so far?
Brady Hoke: “I think their offensive line’s better. I think they’re playing better as a group, I think Langford is a back who’s very patient, and I think he’s come on. I think the quarterback situation is settled now, and there’s no ‘who’s going to play; who’s not going to play?”
Question: My second question is, given the propensity of their offensive coordinator to break tendency in a rivalry game, how do you prepare for that?
Brady Hoke: “Well, you have to prepare for what they do, and most teams are going to have four base running plays, four base pass concepts. You know, you have to be a little bit different in some ways, maybe in how you call a game, but at the same time, it’s the same plays, and getting all the looks you can at those plays are what’s going to help you.”
Question: Do you expect to stick with your same center and guards from the last game, and how key will they be in there to handle their blitzing that their linebackers seem to do up the middle?
Brady Hoke: “Obviously we’re going to have the same lineup; we should. Now, if from Tuesday on we’re not ready, then obviously Chris Bryant and Kyle Kalis we think are two pretty good football players, and they can have an opportunity, but as far as Erik and Kyle Bosch, I think they both have done a nice job since the last game we played and the two practices we had.”
Question: And the blitzing they seem to do up the middle –
Brady Hoke: “Well, you have to prepare for it, and they like it, and they do it well."
Question: You talked about this before the UConn game, but you have a young team going into a pretty tough road environment. Do you ever have to calm them down this week?
Brady Hoke: “I hope I have to, yeah. That would be fun, you know, to tell them not to be excited. No, I can’t calm them down. You want them to go out there and play. Hopefully within that excitement, there’s some poise that goes along with it.”
Question: This goes to the rivalry aspect. Mark Dantonio has made no bones about the fact that he has a problem with Michigan, and doesn’t like them much. How do you feel about them besides them being the top competitor in the Big Ten and in the Legends division?
Brady Hoke: “Well, we don’t necessarily like them, either. I mean, this isn’t an admiration society, and it’s a great rivalry. You have two teams about 45 miles apart, I don’t know, that might not be enough, but it’s what it is. “
Question: Is there a concern in that it certainly sounds like your players appreciate the need to be very physical in this game instead of knowing that they’re going to be the type of physical team that you –
Brady Hoke: “Yeah, I would say this in answering that. I think there are a lot of guys who have played a lot of snaps, and they understand. You know, there are some new guys, a couple true freshmen, that haven’t played in this magnitude of a game, but you look at the back half of our schedule, it’s all physical. Every game has to be a physical game, and I think from that standpoint, yeah, there are some guys who don’t know it yet, and I think they’re learning. I think they’ve learned in the last couple practices.”
Question: But how uneasy does that make you as a head coach, that you have to hope –
Brady Hoke: “I’m not hoping, it’s not hope. I don’t know if hope is the right word. I think it’s more of us educating guys who haven’t played in that environment.”
Question: How would you compare and contrast this rivalry with the Ohio State rivalry?
Brady Hoke: “I think they’re both important.”