It’s great to be back for another season of Pirate Football. Obviously, we’re really excited about the opener with the opportunity to go and play in an iconic venue like The Big House in Ann Arbor. It’s going to be a great opportunity for our program, players and coaches. I think everyone knows what kind of team we’re encountering. Most experts will tell you on paper that Michigan is the most talented team in the country this year. They return a lot of experience from a College Football Playoff team over the last two years. They’ve done a great job building a tremendous program.
We’re very excited about our group. It’s been a solid preseason camp, as we’ve discussed, the guys have been preparing for Michigan for about a week now. We did a simulated game on Friday with all the situations and scenarios that can come up and things like special plays. It was as clean and smooth as I’ve ever had one go and that’s really a credit to the focus, character and intent that our current roster has.
We had a short practice on Sunday and today is our heavy workday along with tomorrow. We’ll be getting in all our padded work before sharpening up on Thursday with all our late-game scenarios and special teams to iron out the game plan and get ready for the trip on Friday. So excited about the opportunity to go up there and compete and looking forward to 12:00 on Saturday.
On managing the adrenaline and staying focused for the season opener
That was the message I shared with the team on Sunday and it’s one thing we have to be conscientious of is that everybody’s going to be excited on Saturday, the players are already excited. They’re going to be highly motivated. We’ve got to focus on our individual roles and focus on playing our position, playing our part, playing within the scheme, and not trying to do too much.
I’ve watched all their films from last year and you see games break open because someone gets outside of their wheelhouse of what they should be doing, or they forced something, and it turns into a big mistake. That’s kind of how they made their living last year was taking advantage of their opponents’ mistakes. We have to focus on playing as clean of a game as we can and executing at a high level in all three phases. We’ve laid out the things that we really need to do in order to maximize our opportunity to go up there and come away with a win.
On getting his team ready to play in a big venue
Well in those past games, we were playing in big venues. We played in front of 80,000 fans at South Carolina and I think that our players from the start in those games, didn’t let the surrounding environment impact them. They stayed really dialed in and that’s the reason we’re going to the stadium on Friday. We want to check off the box of this, one of the largest stadiums in the country, and there’ll be 110,000 in there but you’re playing on the same dimensions with the same rules and you’re playing against 11 guys.
It’s about keeping the focus on doing the things that we do every day in practice and just not letting the environment be too big for them.
On avoiding the outside noise leading up to the game
No matter what anybody thinks on the outside, it’s not going to impact what we do on game day. The external expectations can never drive our internal motivation. I’ve heard the talking heads say stuff like that and then they have to eat their words after the game. It’s their job to entertain audiences. Our focus is on our players, our coaches to control what we can control and that’s doing a great job to make sure the Pirates are ready to play on Saturday and get after it.
On the importance of special teams and field position
It’s going to be very important. We talked about it this morning whether it’s your kicker, punter, coverage units, protections, we have to do a great job of trying to create as long of a field as possible for them on each possession. The more we can give them a long field to drive in order to capitalize, the more successful we’re going to be. Conversely, the better job we can do to give our offense great field position throughout the day will help our percentages as far as scoring on each drive. So, controlling the field position through special teams is going to be critical on Saturday.
On the offense handling the crowd noise and environment
Fortunately, we’ve got a lot of experience playing in loud environments. I don’t think anything will ever compare to the Fargo Dome up in North Dakota and I’ve been to The Swamp. I’ve been a lot of different places. BYU was very loud last year. When you’re preparing for venues like that, we try to simulate that in practice during our team periods, by adding so much noise that it makes it hard for the kids to communicate, because that’s what it’s going to be.
When it gets loud in that stadium and it’s hard for us to hear on offense, we’ve got to focus in on being able to communicate without verbal words. Our offensive staff has a lot of experience handling stuff like that, and we’ve been working on that for a few weeks.
On having higher expectations with an extra week of preparation for Michigan
They should have figured out how to function last week and that’s the first week that you exchange scouts. It’s challenging for those guys. You have a freshman that comes in here or you have a guy that’s been in the program for a year or so. Everybody’s trying to make the travel squad and suddenly you’ve figured out that this year you’re going to be early starting out because it changes and is fluid throughout the year. You start out on the look team and that messes with your psyche a little bit. That’s just human nature so we try to work through all that last week. The difference is now it’s game week and I don’t have time to worry about anybody’s feelings right now. We’ve got to go out there and get work done.
Everybody has a role, everybody’s got a job, everybody’s going to be committed to the common goal, which is the Pirates getting a win. Everyone has to go out and they’ve got to do what they’re supposed to do on a daily basis. Today’s practice is fully padded but I am trying to be conscientious that I want us fresh on game day.
We’ve made it about as short as you can possibly have on a Tuesday which means every rep today is critical. We don’t have time to repeat a play or a look because somebody’s not focused. Our focus today at practice is critical and I do have very high expectations for it.
On the importance of ball control on offense
I think it’s more about staying away from the big mistakes that give your opponent something that they didn’t have to earn. I think that’s the biggest thing from an offensive standpoint is just staying away from the big errors.
It’s okay to throw a ball away every once in a while, and it’s okay to punt. It’s not okay to lay the ball on the ground at the 10-yard line or throw a post route into post coverage and give up a cheap interception. I think that’s the bigger thing especially early in the ballgame because you do have all those juices flowing. It’s going to be about not making the big mistake that gives them momentum and staying in the game early because after that everybody will settle down and it comes down to playing the game.
On naming starters for Saturday
We’re going to have 70 guys get on that plane Friday and head up to Ann Arbor. When we take the field on offense, there’ll be 11 out there and it’ll be the same way on defense. I’ll tell you that every year that goes by you’re always looking to evolve. If you ask me to put together a depth chart, there’d be so many names on there and I couldn’t really tell you who’s starting or who isn’t.
There might be a guy that’s listed on a depth chart as a two but he’s going to be out there for the first snap so technically, he’s a starter. We’re going to play a lot of guys on both sides of the football and we’re going to play a lot of guys on special teams that have critical roles.
We know who’s going to take the first snap and everybody else will find out on Saturday.
On his confidence in the offensive line rotation
I think we found five guys that are working together well right now for the last couple of weeks. We’ve moved some guys around and I think we found our next two or three guys that we’re going to use in the rotation. It’s going to be a fluid process throughout the year, but I think we know who our group is going into this game now.
They’re going to be challenged as much in this game as in any game they’ll have this year. They’re facing arguably the number one defense in the country with eight of its 11 starters back from that team last year. You’re facing a great challenge, which is fantastic, but you find out exactly what you are.
I think that the coaches have done a great job in terms of putting together a game plan that’s going to allow our guys to have success and allow our team to go out there and compete. The big thing I want them to do is to play fast and not be hesitant.
On the depth of his roster and the importance of the defensive line
It’s a blessing to have the depth on this roster that we have. I think a lot of guys have earned the right to play. Number two, I think it’s going be a necessity when you get in these ball games and you’re facing a line that has the size that we’re going to see on Saturday. If you don’t play a lot of guys, they’re going to wear you down.
Fortunately, we have quality depth on our defensive front, and we have a lot of guys that have experience. Our goal is to get those guys into the second half fresh so that way we can play at a high level throughout the game.
On making any sports movie references to the team this week
The whole point of bringing up “Hoosiers” was like I said earlier, we’ll try to check the box about the venue on Friday so that way it’s not an issue on Saturday. You’re playing at an iconic venue on Saturday and it’s one that we all grew up watching games on TV and seen some of the great matchups in this venue. We just want to check that off on Friday and that way our kids are solely focused on playing the game on Saturday.
On Michigan’s coaching situation for Saturday
I’d rather them sit some of their players out. You know what they have coming back? I don’t think it will impact their scheme at all. They have an experienced play-caller that will call the game on Saturday. We know him a little bit and I’m sure that they’re coaching the team throughout the week. They’re going to put the game plan together. They just have to get a couple of guys implemented on game day, so I think it’ll have a minimal impact.