Head coach Ron Zook met with the media Tuesday in his weekly press conference.
Oct. 19, 2010
"It's good to be back, coming back home. You know we were home for a long, long time and I didn't realize how much you appreciate that until you are on the road for a couple weeks. Even though it was only two games, it seems like it has been a long time since we've been back. I know our guys are looking forward to coming back and being here at Homecoming. Obviously, as I told them, Homecoming is for the people who have already been here. Our job is to be a part of the show and put on the best show that we possibly can. As I said, we are halfway through the season. We've played six games and we've got six games to go. The way we are kind of approaching this thing, it's a six-game season. Starting with No. 1 being Indiana, the Homecoming game, and that's our first game. We've got to play the same way that we've played the last six weeks, except we've got to change the results. I think that's the one thing we have continued to improve and I am proud of them for that, but we still haven't gotten to where we've got to get to. They understand that. Our other thing is to keep doing the things that we've done and change the results. I think health-wise, we are probably as healthy as we can be. I think we're going to have everyone back with the exception of Corey Lewis and Supo Sanni. I think everyone else should be back for this week. That is pretty good considering the type of first six games that we've played. With that being said we are excited about it and looking forward to getting back home in front of the home crowd, playing the way we have to play."
Is there a chance Terry Hawthorne will be back in the starting lineup?
"Once again, I don't worry about who starts. You are going to need all of those guys, particularly with the team like the one we're playing this week. They are going to throw the football all over the park. All those guys are going to have to play and what you want to be able to do is keep them fresh. We are doing a little with Terry also is playing him on both sides. So you can keep Travon fresh. You can keep all of them, Justin fresh. The more guys you've got that can play, the better off you're going to be."
It sounds like Steve Hull is getting close to being back?
"I think so. He looked pretty good to me out there yesterday. He was running around pretty good. He is very, very, very close."
How did Terry look to you and could you tell he had some time off?
"Yeah, I think you could see (he's had) a little time off. But he played pretty well. That was his first game, the week before was 10 plays, (so that) was really his first game of the year. He will just continue to get better and better. He has been out of it for a while but he has had a great week of practice. I say great week, but last night he had a great practice. Of course, we threw the ball all over the place trying to emulate some of the things that they do. He is quick. He is fast. His legs are fresh. The biggest thing is there is no issue with his foot."
What is Fred Sykes' situation?
"Fred was sick this past weekend and did not travel. But he's out there, he's very good, he is OK. This just came up Friday morning, actually. That's the only thing he's missed."
How have you seen Indiana's quarterback develop through the years?
"If you look at just what he has accomplished, it is unbelievable. In my opinion, he's the best guy we`ve seen, the best quarterback we have seen this year. He throws it all over the place, he has two great receivers. He's hard to get to because he has such a quick release. A lot of times, you just can't get to him. With the timed routes, he has a very, very strong arm, he throws off his back foot, it doesn't matter. He is going to get the ball there. In my opinion, he is the best. We kind of talked about between him and the guy from Missouri being the best guys at running their offense. If you watch him, boy he is very, very impressive. Of course, leading the Big Ten in the pass offense, I think he is fifth in the nation in pass offense. He has only thrown three interceptions, he's got 16 TDs (touchdowns). He doesn't get rattled, as I mentioned, doesn't get hit. He is hard to get to."
Do you expect Indiana to throw more with their running back (Darius Willis) out for the year?
"You know what? I don't think anyone really noticed that the running back was out. They still run the football. What they are going to try and do is spread you out there, and what happens is that you get so caught up with either trying to cover or rush the passer, and all of a sudden, boom, they sneak a run in there. And a lot of times it's for big runs. I don't know that losing the running back has really affected their offense's output at all. It doesn't seem to have."
Are you sticking with Jarred (Fayson) as the punt returner?
"I think Jarred did well and Jack (Ramsey) hasn't dropped a punt (in practice) I don't think since the Penn State game. Terry (Hawthrone) is back there catching now, so I think we have three guys that can all be back there. Terry was catching a bunch yesterday. So once again, we have three guys that can do it."
Had he been healthy, would Hawthrone have been the guy to start the year?
"Probably. It probably would have been between him and Jack. Like I said, I went back and looked at every punt (in practice) after the Penn State game and, shoot, Jack did a great job."
On Indiana's offensive success:
"Just look at them against Michigan. Their quarterback is the real deal and those receivers are the real deal. As I said, he is hard to get to. You can say we are going to blitz him and you can't get to him because he gets rid of the ball so fast. He is very strong and very accurate and it doesn't matter if he is throwing across the field or if he is throwing short. He's got a great touch. They've got a great plan. I don't feel like it doesn't make any difference who they're playing. They're going to move the football and they are going to get the yards."
What's the best way to stop them?
"You try to mix things up and you hopefully they drop a few or he throws a couple bad balls. The biggest thing to do is keep the ball away from them as much as we can. I think that's the important thing. Offensively, we want to try and do the same things we have been doing, just get it in the end zone. The best way to stop that offense is our offense."
Do you see anything you can do to score more touchdowns in the red zone?
"As you look at the history of football, usually you are able to move the ball and the field gets tighter, seams are less. Probably a bunch of times we have hurt ourselves, with a penalty here or there. That's something that when you get down there and it's a big, big stretch, you have got to get points, but we have to get touchdowns. In particular when you are playing good football teams."
Have you talked about being able to be bowl-eligible just by winning all your home games?
"I'm talking about one game: Indiana. It does no good to talk about what's happened or what's ahead. This football game, I've been here five years and they've won three. So I don't think there's any question that we better be ready to play. The thing we've preached this whole season is we take care of us, and we can't get worried about anything else but taking care of us and continuing to improve and getting better, and I think we've done that to a certain extent. The thing we have to do, as I said, is change the results. If we can do that, then I think at the end of the year we'll look back and be happy with what we see."
Do you feel like your passing game is predictable by throwing mainly to two receivers?
"You've got to cover them. They're not the only 2 going out there. You go back and look at Indiana, they're predictable, the 2 receivers they got, it's hard to stop them two. So I don't think so, no. You look at where they've caught them, what they've done. I think if you look at most teams they're going to have a couple guys. You'd like to have them where everybody's got the same number of catches and 50-50 run-pass, but that's pretty hard to do too."
Is this a week where you have to lean on your leadership to keep guys focused?
"I don't know if we're favored or not. We're 3-3, that's all I know. Obviously, I think our leadership has been great. I don't think there's any question, I'm very, very proud. We've got some guys that have stepped up. These guys are hungry, and once again they're hurt, they're disappointed in where we are right now. It's like I said, we can play great and all that kind of stuff, but it's still about winning the game. You guys aren't going to write "well, they're playing good," but that doesn't matter. We have to win. And until we win consistently and that's obviously the goal of this football team. But I don't worry about that. You asked me on Sunday about, I forget the word you used, but that is not a concern that I have right now. Last night was our best Monday practice of the year. It really was. We've had pretty good Mondays, but last night was the best Monday we've had. They understand we've got to be the same way today, same way tomorrow, the same way Thursday, get ready on Friday and play on Saturday."
Is the Indiana defensive speed similar to ours?
"Yeah, it is. They've got the bandit there, they don't call it the bandit but the rush guy, linebacker guy, outside guy. Very, very similar. Lots of similarities. Get in to some 3-4 looks, odd looks, rush him, drop him, so there's a lot of similarities. The coverage scheme is a little bit different than what we're doing, but front-wise they're doing about the same thing."
Does your scheme allow you to use the same personnel group more than in the past?
"I think so. Nate's been in the secondary and, as you said, Travon has played the nickel spot, although Travon's pretty much playing at corner right now. We get into some substitution packages. But the substitution package has been more for pass rush and things like that than it is has been in the secondary."
On Derek Dimke:
"I'm very, very proud of Derek. Not only his accuracy but the way he's kicking off and they way he's handling his job. I mean, he comes to work every day, works extremely hard. The one thing we've had to do with Derek is kind of count his balls, he'll kick himself out a little bit, so you have to be careful with that. But great attitude, great confidence. He's gone in and done the things we've felt like he was capable of doing. Obviously, it's important. It's funny because the guy we're getting ready to play, this kicker here, I think he's only missed one this year as well. Both teams have got pretty good kicking situations."
The last two weeks, you've given up a couple of long passes. Is there something that you've seen that concerns you going into a game against a team that throws so much?
"Once again you said "only two," one of them could have changed the course of the game last week. Big plays are something that I think we've gotten better at, it's been a big stress. If you remember last year, it was kind of our Achilles heel. That's something you can't have and we have to get it corrected. Once again, it's new, it's a new system, new people in some instances and you can't give up big plays, there's no question. I think you continue to work that and continue to get better at it."
In the three losses, you've had really good first halves and maybe had letdowns in the second half. What do you see there?
"I don't really look at it as letdowns. I look at it as we've had opportunities and, just going back to Michigan State, we had opportunities to continue doing the same thing. Like I just mentioned, you can't give up a big play there. Michigan State, they went to doing some things that they hadn't done or done very little of going into that game. They were searching a little bit and had a little success. Offensively, we were doing some really, really good things. I was talking to A.J. (Jenkins) about it this morning, that's a play he's got to make. The fade down the sideline, those are plays he's got to make. As I said to A.J., his thinking has got to be why can't we put the game on his back, he's good enough. Not just Nathan, not just Mikel, not just the offensive line. He's good enough also. The plays don't care who makes them. The big thing is that we're prepared when the play shows up. Once again, I think the probably one of the biggest differences in practice last night was the way A.J. practiced. I was very, very happy and pleased with his intensity."
Do you expect this game to be a shootout?
"Well, I hope not. Obviously, the defense has got their work cut out for them. I don't think there's any question this will be a big, big test. The thing we've done defensively is we've risen to the occasion. The team we just played was obviously a very, very good running football team and we were able to go in there and slow that down a little bit. I think it's going to be important that we go in there with this team, and the sign of a good defense is a defense that can do the things that they have to do. To answer your question, I hope it's not a shootout but it very well may be. It's going to be important if it is, that our offense continues to do the things they've done. Which they've done a lot of great things, we've just got to get it in the end zone when we get down there."
Do the three interceptions concern you about your team's route running?
"No I don't think route running did. One thing that Nathan will sometimes do, he gets so excited. And this is once again a learning curve, a learning experience. Sometimes he'll telegraph his balls just like the guy at Penn State did. Sometimes that stuff happens and he'll continue to improve and get better from it. Coaches don't talk about the plays, a lot of times if you're watching a game, you don't see the plays, and maybe you do, that we missed. That will come with experience as well. It's easy to sit up there in the stands and see an open guy, why didn't he throw it to him, but there's a lot of things going on around him. You're going to see Nathan continue to improve. I think what he's done and what he's accomplished to this date is phenomenal and I think what he's going to continue to do is going to excite everybody."
What do you need to do to create more turnovers?
"You know, we talk about that. We talk about it, we talk about it, we stress it. We rip the ball out in practice and go get the football. Turnovers, sometimes they kind of come and go. A couple games ago, we get two interceptions, you get one for a score in the Penn State game. You'd like to be able to say "OK we're going to go get three or four." That's our goal, to get three or four turnovers in a game. We got one in the kicking game last week. The thing we've got to do is try to come up with more opportunities for the offense to have the ball and that's something we continue to stress and work on."
You said you limit the number of Dimke's kicks in practice, what number is that at?
"I have in my mind what I like for him to kick. What we do is when we kick as a team, when he's doing his individual and stuff like that which he does and we film it everyday so he's able to see. Our biggest thing with that stuff is that he's not getting in bad habits. Sometimes a kicker will get down there and he'll miss a kick. Well, you don't want to end on a miss, so he'll keep kicking and he'll kind of get into a bad habit. It doesn't take long. I don't profess to be the kicking guru or anything like that, but I can usually tell when he's out of his groove and when his leg's tired and we'll just say "that's enough." Particularly his kickoffs, if his kickoffs aren't traveling the way you want them to travel. A specific number, I can't give you a specific number. But we chart every kick and so after every practice I'm going to go back and I count them up at the end of the week and whether he's kicked too many or kicked more than normal. But he works extremely hard in the weight room as well. He's in great condition, he's in great shape, he's strong. But still, you can't go kick for two hours in practice, your leg will just give out. Just like a pitcher can't pitch a certain number of pitches. He's kind of learned that as well, finally. He's matured, he has a pretty good feel for himself, how he feels. That's important. That's the same with Anthony (Santella). Anthony knows when he's kicked enough and he'll tell me."
You've been around some pro punters. Is Anthony at that level?
"He does right now. I think the consistency that he's hitting...I don't put this on Anthony at all, he told me about it, but the one punt that they had - I think they had 10 yards on the return - was the one punt that he didn't punt quite as well and didn't have the hang time and so forth. We changed protection and he was trying to adjust to the protection and for the coverage, but as long as he keeps pounding them down there and gives the guys a chance to get down there and cover, it helps everything. His touch-to-toe's been great, his block point has been great. I've said this many times, I think Zak Pedersen, the long snapper, is critical. He knows where the ball's going to be when it's snapped and doesn't have to worry about moving, and that's big for those guys. The punter's the guy who speeds up your operation, not the snapper."
What can we expect from Zach Becker this week?
"A little bit more. I think you'll see more and more of Zach. Zach had 6 plays. Like I said this morning in our meeting, we need start having him in a back-up role on special teams a little bit also. The big thing is not getting him in there too quick."
How much can you increase playing time in a week? You can't really go much, can you?
"I don't think he has to. Terry went night and day. Once again I think it depends on him. The big thing is that he doesn't have any discomfort and that means it's fine. I don't think you want to get to point where you overuse it, that's usually how stress fractures happen anyway is overuse."
Is Jack Cornell fine?
"Yes, he was fine in practice yesterday."
So he and Hugh are kind of switching off?
"What we're trying to do is get a three-man rotation in there with Randall, Hugh, and Jack. Once again keep some guys fresh. He gets a few reps and tackles as well."
Is Randall (Hunt) getting less time, then?
"No, he's not getting less time. The reason that we started Hugh and Jack last week is, as I said, Randall only played I think nine plays in the Penn State game and Jack and Hugh did such a great job, we just felt they deserved to be the two guys to start. But I think you get in the rotation - you know, I know it's important, who's the starter - but I look at all three of those guys as starters. Obviously only two can start, but we look at them as starters. Randall's having a big year. Once again, I think the fresher they are, the better they're going to play."
At tackle, you've been pretty much set, right?
"Pretty much. Hugh's played a little bit there, but we've been pretty much with Jeff (Allen) and Ryan (Palmer)."