COACH TRESSEL: Good to be back with you. We have a lot of energy around campus and I think on a day like today that it was fun being in the locker room and in the weight room yesterday and listening to all the guys with their infinite wisdom talking about what should occur today on the national scene and it’s great to see them involved and great to see that they feel this is an important day because it most certainly is.
I also feel a similar type of excitement and energy for them getting back on the field. When you have a tough ball game and then don’t get to play the following Saturday and then get to observe some great games and some people playing down to the bitter end, that’s what football is all about.
I think our guys did take a good Saturday off, but it didn’t feel like a Saturday because you were squirming and dodging and darting with all those games along with your colleagues and I think our players were doing the same. Hopefully they had a chance to catch up on personal items and academic items, and health and we got to work a lot last week on fundamentals which is something that sometimes you allow to slide because you only have so many minutes on the practice field and you have game plans and things that you’re trying to teach them conceptually about what your opponents are doing so hopefully last week’s fundamentals will be helpful for us.
I know they’re anxious to get back into Big Ten play, and we head off on the road. I think our guys like the fact that it’s an early start because they get a chance to go on the road, wake up and go play a football game and not sit around and be nervous and all those types of things.
Related: Tressel’s Big Ten Media Conference Call – Nov. 4
So we’re anxious to get ready to go play a good Northwestern team that had an excellent road win, an emotional victory for them happening in the last play of the game, and an opportunity to move to 7-2. And what I’ve been impressed with amongst many things with Northwestern is if you watch them in the first half of a ball game, they’re much better in the second half of a ball game, which means that they’re glued into what’s going on in the game. They understand their system. They grow to understand what you’re trying to do against them. They’ve outscored their opponents in the second half like 111-50 or something and played excellent football.
Every film you watch, you can see that someone has maybe had something that works once or twice against them and they try it again in the second half and it’s snuffed. So they obviously know who they are and they learn who you are.
Their quarterback situation, you have to appreciate the fact that when the number two guy had to come in and win a big game on the road, he did it, he rushed for over 200 yards, and I would expect that we would see both guys in the course of the game. I would expect Bacher probably to return as the starter, maybe not, but I would expect that with all his experience and successes and so forth, but I would bet you that Kafka’s going to come in there and certainly be a part of what they do.
Their veteran receiver corps is excellent and they’ve seen every coverage that you can possibly do and they come back and catch the football extremely well. The running back position, they probably didn’t run the running back position as much without Sutton as they have in the past, and they’ll probably, in my mind, with Bacher in the game, run the tailback a little bit more than they would the quarterback and just the opposite perhaps with the second man back at the quarterback position.
Offensive line-wise, they’re simple. They know exactly what they need to do. They know that their zone blocking schemes and their pass protection schemes are paramount for them to have any success. Defensively I’ve been extremely impressed with their front. Those guys do a heck of a job, and Number 70 in there, I think, is one of the best inside guys that I’ve seen. He really works at it and every time someone throws a screen, it seems like he’s standing right next to the guy that they’re trying to throw a screen to, so he’s obviously an excellent diagnose guy from the inside.
From a linebacker standpoint, they ask them to do a lot of different things. They’re used to playing in space. They play in space every day in the spring when they’re all spread out. They do it every day in the preseason and every day in practice and I think they do a heck of a job from that standpoint.
Their safeties have been very productive. Obviously Number 4 made the big play to win the Minnesota game on the interception. He’s also been the guy that’s taken a punt back for a touchdown. 17 is a guy that fills the alleys extremely well and 24 seems like he’s been a starting corner forever and I think an excellent tackler. A lot of times you design things saying, well, let’s make their corners tackle. 24, I think, is an excellent tackler as you watch the film.
Then from a special teams standpoint, they have veterans back there, they do that little rugby punt, which is when they’re moving and he punts the ball low and he’s had excellent net punt. Their field goal guy is a veteran. They’ve changed up their kickoff man a little bit. They went the first eight games with one guy, the left-leg guy kicking, and then he’s had all those chip kicks and pooch kicks and you never know where he’s going to put the ball. And in the Metrodome the other day, they had the right-footed man pounding them in the end zone. So they made a little bit of a change there, so we’ll have to see how they come out after us.
Their kickoff return is obviously solid. The same guy that returned one for 98 yards and a touchdown against us last year is the guy returning them still and they do a good job, always have, from a special teams standpoint. So I think we’ve had a chance to get to know who they are, now we’ve got to make sure we become as good as we can possibly be at the plan that we put together and that begins this afternoon. I think our guys are anxious to get out there and I think our practice weather today and tomorrow is going to be significantly different than our game weather on Saturday, and I think we’ll get to some traditional November Big Ten weather when Saturday rolls around and I think our guys are excited to wake up early and tee it up. Questions?
REPORTER: Beanie Wells, I know you talked about last week, missed some practice time leading into the Penn State game. Was that a factor in maybe what we saw out of him in that game and how has he responded with this week off?
COACH TRESSEL: I think practice always can help you. I don’t think that you can negate the fact he had a very good defense he was going against, but you add all the factors together and it’s part of the sum, the results. The good news is he practiced the entire open week, which he probably got more practice last week than he’s had in the three weeks leading up to that and you’d like to think that that will serve us very well.
REPORTER: Does a bye week this late in the season help you focus on the last three regular season games or is it also troublesome because you have an extra week to think about what happened in your last game?
COACH TRESSEL: We haven’t had a bye this late since I’ve been here and we haven’t done wonderful with bye’s since we’ve been here, and Shelly reminded me I was 0-4 since I’ve been here, but I corrected her, we were 1-4, we won after a bye in ’02. Those were all early bye’s, it was August, we played Texas Tech, then we had an open, then we played again. So we had September and maybe early October byes, that’s different, I think, than a later bye. I don’t know if I can answer your question. Our performance will probably answer it. If we come out healthier and reinvigorated to enter the month of November and play the best football we can possibly play, it’s been talked about here for years and years. I don’t know if Coach Hayes used to say it, but Coach Bruce used to say November is what it’s all about, who you are as a football team is really decided by what you do in November and so I’d like to think that we can come into November with a little bit more rested and ready to go to play a Big Ten game on the road that perhaps we can answer that question that it was a good thing.
REPORTER: How have you seen Terrelle handle the time off since the last game? He seemed pretty down after the Penn State game.
COACH TRESSEL: I think we were all down after a hard fought battle and we came up short. That’s not the easiest thing in the world when you’ve invested a lot of time and effort. I’m sure some of the guys that have been here five years, it was just as deep or deeper. From a practice standpoint, all of them, Terrelle included, came out on Wednesday when we had our first practice and went to work and I thought really focused in on what we asked them to do, which was their fundamental work. We did a little bit of Northwestern work on Friday, but not a tremendous amount.
They were all anxious to get out of here Friday after practice. In fact, over there in that parking lot, I think all the cars were running while practice was going on because they knew we didn’t have a game and a lot of them wanted to go see their high schools play and all that stuff, but I thought all the guys, Terrelle included, handled that week.
Now, I thought they came back Sunday night and all we did was a little weight lifting and a little walk-through and that type of thing, but they all seemed glued in. Today’s practice — we didn’t practice yesterday. Today’s practice and tomorrow’s practice will be a bit more of an indicator, but the biggest indicator is what do we do at 11:00 Central Time out in Evanston.
REPORTER: Is it difficult to get a handle on the mindset of a team? Have you found historically that you’ve thought they had great practices and come out not so good or vice-versa?
COACH TRESSEL: Historically, the only thing I know for sure is that I’ve never known, because you can say, man, that was a great practice or, oh, that was the worst practice we’ve ever had and then we go out and play extremely well. I would say this, without ever having really charted it, if you had three poor practices in a row on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I don’t know if you’re going to have a good game. If you had a so-so practice in one of those three but the others were solid, you’ve got a chance. I think what happens as games unfold have more impact, if you’re prepared, have more impact than what went on earlier in the week.
REPORTER: Why do you think the team is so energized about this election? What’s your take on that?
COACH TRESSEL: A lot of them, it’s probably their first one that they’ve been a part of. I think there’s been unmatched attention given to it. Every football game you’ve watched on Saturday at every TV timeout there was something about the election and what was going on, whether it be statewide or nationally, so I — you had to really not be paying attention to not be a little bit more aware and I think — I think the one thing about young people in this day and age, they have a little bit more awareness because there are so many more stimuli. When we were going to college, I don’t know if any of us had TVs in our dorm rooms. Now they’ve got TVs on their phones. So I just think they’re more aware and they’re more excited. I think they want to be a part of, perhaps more people took notice and participated in this than ever happened before and they’re one of them. They just seem excited.
REPORTER: Last game, Ben Person did not dress, J.B. Shugarts did, what’s the status of those two guys or maybe the personnel being different this week?
COACH TRESSEL: Right now, Ben Person, we should find out in the next day or so, might have to have a slight surgery, so I would not expect him to be ready. J.B. Shugarts seems to be a little bit more ready. I don’t know if he could go in and give you 60 snaps. I don’t know if he’s that far back, but I think he could be there and spell for a bit. Injury-wise up there, other than that, Mike Adams is still out.
REPORTER: Right. Any adjustment in playing time or any other guys mixing in or will we see mostly the same five we saw with Penn State?
COACH TRESSEL: The same five worked. Andrew Miller has been working. Connor Smith did get banged a little bit, so I don’t know exactly, should know here in the next day or so, he got banged in one of those open practices, but it will be basically the same guys that have been in there thus far.
REPORTER: Jim, you said during the off week or bye week you guys were going to reassess where you are, maybe something you could hang your hat on offensively. What did you find out over the course of that week or maybe over the weekend that you didn’t know about your team offensively going into the last three games?
COACH TRESSEL: I don’t know if we found out anything we didn’t know. You get reaffirmed when you study it further that you need to be more consistent and that you have a chance if you do that, and I think that’s the case. I don’t know that we had any startling revelation that we’re going to — oh, we found the exact issue or whatever that we can do better and that’s going to have us take off, but I think just the fact that you have a chance to watch yourself a little bit more, both coaches and players, there comes a deeper understanding of just the fine line between being as successful as you need and coming up short.
REPORTER: Besides just trying to be the best team you can be, as you like to say, what’s out there now for this team? What’s the carrot that’s dangling for this team?
COACH TRESSEL: The biggest carrot is we’re going to play a 7-2 football team away from home and that’s a great challenge. That’s a carrot every time you compete, that’s a carrot of its own. Do we like to think about what the big carrot is down at the end of the road? Rather not. It doesn’t do much for you, and so I hope the biggest carrot maybe any of us can have is, you know, I’m going to go out and play better than I’ve ever played this Saturday and if I can do that this Saturday, maybe I can do that beyond and who knows what can happen. There’s been a lot happened in the first few weeks of November and into the course of December over the last few football seasons.
REPORTER: How impressed were you with Kafka as a runner?
COACH TRESSEL: 200 and some yards impressed. He’s a big guy and a lot faster than one might think. I don’t know for sure if they went into the game saying he was going to have a mega rushing day, but he had a couple broken runs and I think he got rolling with a little bit of confidence and he obviously knows their system because one of the things about a quarterback that comes up with big runs is that a lot of times they come from knowing the fact that, hey, there’s nobody open and I can go with it and that’s a good thing for my team. So obviously he knows their pass system and as it unfolded, it looked to them obviously that he could add a dimension as a runner as well and that’s all about knowing the strengths of your guys.
REPORTER: Since Pat Fitzgerald took over under tough circumstances, a young guy, what have you seen about the job he’s done?
COACH TRESSEL: The thing about Pat is no one could ever question the fact that his depth of commitment to Northwestern is — it’s unquestioned. And purple runs through his veins and it means a lot to him every day he goes to work. And he did take over a difficult situation and admittedly probably hadn’t experienced some things that he had to do. And I remember my first three weeks as a head coach, all those times I sat in those meetings and thought Earle didn’t know what he was talking about and then I was a head coach for three weeks and I said, Earle knew exactly what he was talking about, but you have to do it. So he’s had that experience and he’s got a good corps of guys that have fought through that same fight with him, the emotion of what went on, the transition, because no one’s the same, and here they are with good leadership. Their seniors up front, defensively, their receiver corps, they had the tough loss of Sutton which was a good leader, but Bacher, Kafka have been there. What impresses me, you go to the first half of the film, then you go to the second half of the film, they’re getting better. So there’s obviously an atmosphere of, hey, when we figure this out we’re going to be fine and I think Pat brings that confidence. And no one in the building, I’m sure, every day thinks that they’re working any harder for Northwestern than he is and it means a lot to him and that just permeates the rest of the group.
REPORTER: I wonder with the way your offense is going right now, not scoring touchdowns and then you watch football games on Saturday, there were so many extremely high scoring games, I don’t know what your impressions were, Purdue-Michigan’s 90 points and obviously Texas and Texas Tech, as you look at their offenses and reflect on the way things are going for your offense, anything pop into your head or what were you thinking when you saw all these points going on the board?
COACH TRESSEL: Well, there was obviously some good execution by the offenses. Perhaps it was some lack of execution by the defenses. There were some special teams and turnover things that contributed to a number of the points. So I think all of the above. I would love to roll it down the field every series, so would everyone else, but I don’t know that I sat there feeling like, oh, woe is me, everyone’s scoring touchdowns and we’re not.
REPORTER: Thaddeus Gibson seemed like he played a pretty good game against Penn State, can you talk about his development?
COACH TRESSEL: Thaddeus is an active guy. He plays both the end and one of those 30 front we call a viper, so there’s a lot of dropping a lot of blitzing, a lot of playing gaps and so forth. Going into the Penn State game, the question was, are you going to be able to hold up against a power-type group, and I thought he have very active and held his own from that standpoint. So the more he plays, the more he experiences and those kinds of things. I think Thaddeus is going to be a good player.
REPORTER: What have you noticed about that front group especially the last several games? What has been the biggest difference that you’ve noticed? They seem to be much more active, much more aggressive, much more effective?
COACH TRESSEL: Those guys over the course of years that I’ve watched Jim Heacock’s fronts, they do a great job in preparation. They really grow as the season goes on, that’s the mark of a good unit or a good team or whatever and they just keep banging. They’re relentless in what they do and I think they’re all getting a little bit older. I think they’re getting some excellent leadership from Nader Abdallah, and their habit is to just keep coming and they’re not going to ever stop no matter how well they’re doing, what the score is, what’s the situation, and they’re disruptive.
REPORTER: Talk about Corey Wooton, 99.
COACH TRESSEL: Yeah, he’s a good one.
REPORTER: What does he bring to the table that you’ve noticed?
COACH TRESSEL: He’s got great leverage. Obviously he does a good job creating problems with passing lanes. He’s a guy that they drop as well because of their zone blitz package, but he’s a powerful bull rush kind of guy and the key to playing defensive line is if they can get their hands on you, they’re in control, and he’s got the great hands and great power as he goes. For a 6-7 guy, has excellent lateral quickness and he’s been a great player since his freshman year. I think their defensive front is one of the big reasons why they’re giving up maybe 18 points a game or whatever and people like to talk about the things that are glitzy, but the difference between Northwestern right now is giving up 18 points per game compared to whatever it was in the past.
REPORTER: Coach, Brandon Saine got a couple passes against Penn State and what can he bring back to your offense that’s been missing?
COACH TRESSEL: Brandon’s been evolving more into playing the fullback positions and slot positions and some slot things. We think that he can do some of the things that a fullback needs to do. And so his evolution really is finding ways to get on field. He’s on some special teams and so what you hope is that he’s the kind of guy that can be on the field 25 plus plays a game because he can do a lot of different things and he is a threat as a pass receiver but yet I also think it’s not like you can say, well he’s in at fullback and they can’t run their “I” formation stuff, because I think we can.
REPORTER: You mentioned Ohio State’s record after bye’s. How much do you look at that and look at that as an aberration, you ran into good teams after those bye weeks or do you examine what do we do during those bye’s and how do we make it better?
COACH TRESSEL: You know, I really didn’t bring it up, it was brought up to me. I didn’t go back in history prior to 2001 and study that. I’ve had bye’s weeks for 20 some years as a college coach and we’ve won some games after and not won some games after. There are certain things that I think have to be in place and one of them, that is a time where you’ve asked a little less of your players because they do have some other things in their lives like school, that are pretty darn important, but on the other hand, you don’t want to lose momentum and all those kinds of things. But I don’t know — I suppose if I had to go back and really dissect the whys and the wherefores of anything, whether we had a week or two weeks to think about it, usually what you are thinking about as you enter the ball game is going to have more impact. If you happen to be thinking maybe the wrong things and the one that pops up in my mind in ’04, we were 3-0 and then we had a bye and I was a little bit concerned because I wasn’t sure we were playing like we were 3-0, but yet we’d been pretty successful for a couple years and the overriding feeling was, you know, maybe we’re good. And I was a little concerned about what we were thinking, but sometimes what you’re thinking can’t get squared away until you get punched in the nose and unfortunately we did, and then lost two more. So I think what you’re thinking during that open week is critical, but what you’re thinking from Saturday night until you play the next Saturday is critical as well, but that thinking, if it’s wrong thinking, can get expanded and make it more difficult.
REPORTER: Do you have to caution Terrelle to not try to do too much or to not try to press to move past a loss?
COACH TRESSEL: I think we have to face that, every one of us, individually. You have to evaluate what could we have done better. You can’t kid yourself and think that it was one thing you did or didn’t do that was the difference because that makes the assumption that you think one thing you did in a win was everything.
REPORTER: He did say after the game he felt he lost the game.
COACH TRESSEL: Well, that’s the way he felt after the game, I’m sure. Taking things personal is not a bad thing. Now, what do we have to do? We have to go back and we have to work on what we need to do better and all of the numbers and numbers of things that a guy has to do at every position, he’s got to make sure that we move closer toward doing all those things.
REPORTER: Have you found this year, have you had any time where you’ve had to counsel or whatever Beanie, just keeping his spirits up during the injury time or maybe after last week?
COACH TRESSEL: I think the biggest time was when he couldn’t play, it was really disappointing for him because he knows that a lot of what we were trying to do was with him in mind and he didn’t want to let people down and I’m sure that’s a lot of why Terrelle didn’t feel wonderful after the game is because he felt like he was letting others down and so with any of the guys, if a defense gives up a drive that ends up being the difference in the game, there’s the same emotions from that standpoint, but I think the time when he couldn’t play was the hardest for him, then when he started getting back and carried a dozen then carried it 20 and carried it 30, I think he was starting to feel a little bit better about what he was able to do for his teammates.
REPORTER: The last two seasons, this late in the season, you guys are right at the top in the national title race, do you sense anything different from the players just having two losses now? Do you think their mood is any different, just maybe that that national title thought is gone, for good or for bad, do you sense that the players are acting any different at practice or around each other?
COACH TRESSEL: I don’t think they’re acting any different. I’m sure when they’re outside of the confines of meetings and practice and all that and people are talking to them and reminding them that, hey, 13 of the last 19 BCS polls, you guys were Number 1 and you’re not anymore and all the little things that people love to talk about, I’m sure it is disappointing to them. How quickly you move back to what you need to be doing is the key. I don’t sense anybody that’s just wallowing in disappointment, but yet I would not feel good at all if there wasn’t a little bit of an edge to all of us, because we would like to be better off than we are now. Every team that’s got losses would like to have no losses.
REPORTER: Did you see this week’s BCS, Jim?
COACH TRESSEL: I didn’t. In fact I was asking Coach Bruce when he was over at the office, I said, I don’t even know who’s in the list.
REPORTER: Did it surprise you that Penn State didn’t move up at all?
COACH TRESSEL: Where were they?
REPORTER: They were three.
COACH TRESSEL: They’re still three? You know, that Texas Tech-Texas game was really — everyone watched it. I’m not sure everyone has had a chance to watch Texas Tech as much with — they’re not on our regional telecasts and so forth and they beat the Number 1 team. So did I have Penn State higher? Yeah, but I understand.
REPORTER: Who was the most impressive team you saw over the weekend?
COACH TRESSEL: The most impressive team I saw over the weekend? How about Northwestern. Tim was trying to trick me there, but he told me he was going to ask that question, so it helped.
REPORTER: I’ve got a Northwestern question. Three years in a row you’ve beaten them by 40 points or more. Is this a mental block you’ve got to say to your guys, wipe the slate clean, this is 2008, we’ve got to play the 2008 game, how do you get past your guys taking it seriously.
COACH TRESSEL: The biggest thing is you watch the film of them and us in ’08. The reality is, judges as you say, that there have been three of those games that haven’t gone the way they’d like them, and our guys know when our games don’t go the way we would like them, that raises our level, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be what we do and we’ve got to focus on what we do. But I think all those things are real.
REPORTER: We seem to be talking a lot sort of about where guys are mentally and what they’re thinking about at this point. In general, this year, the things that you’ve done well or haven’t done well, what have you thought of the mental — the place where this team has been mentally, their mental preparation for the games? Have you been generally pleased or some of the losses, maybe you look back and say, maybe we weren’t where we needed to be?
COACH TRESSEL: No, I’ve been pleased at what our guys have been thinking because they have high expectations. I think they have a pretty good idea of what you have to do to compete. There haven’t really been games where I felt like we went out there and we were, quote, flat type thing. So, no, I’ve been pleased with what they’ve been thinking. It’s a little bit different scenario after you have a league loss, without question. After you have a league loss. So maybe our thinking needs to take a different shape, but thus far, I can’t complain a bit.
REPORTER: This may sound really silly —
COACH TRESSEL: No, never, not from this room.
REPORTER: Has this season just been harder than you thought it would, with the bad loss —
COACH TRESSEL: Not at all. In fact, one of the things we talked a lot about beginning last March is that 2008 was going to be much more challenging than 2007. I mean, it wasn’t even going to be close, all the way from the schedule to the expectations to the individual expectations, all of those things, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
REPORTER: When you see a National Championship type Coach like Phil Fulmer take a hit, kind of what goes through your mind and what do you think about that?
COACH TRESSEL: It’s a competitive world. If you’re in the SEC or the Big Ten or whatever, everybody’s working 24/7, everyone’s getting good athletes, good facilities, great followings, and games, just the slightest little thing makes the difference in games and the slightest change in your thinking can have you move this way instead of that way, and so just a reminder that what we do, there’s only 118 or something of what we do in the whole country. There’s 118 right here in this little setting of what this group does. So I think it’s just a reminder of every day you get to spend doing this particular task is good fortune.
REPORTER: Do you think the SEC is tougher on coaches that way? I mean, Tuberville has beaten Alabama six straight years but apparently a segment wants him out? Do you think the pressure is less in the Big Ten than it would be in the SEC?
COACH TRESSEL: I don’t know that for sure.
REPORTER: Well, you’ve felt it, I guess.
COACH TRESSEL: I haven’t been to many high school games, but the high school games I’ve been to, you can hear every one of those idiots clearly and at least in our stadium, what they’re yelling is muffled. And then when we’re not in our stadium, we’re in the film room and I don’t hear a thing, other than a little country western in the background occasionally. But I don’t know. I think the expectations to succeed in every job, whether it’s president, head coach, high school coach, salesperson, whatever, the expectation to succeed at what you do is significant.
REPORTER: Do you get many emails from fans?
COACH TRESSEL: A few.
REPORTER: Just giving you advice and whatever?
COACH TRESSEL: Oh, absolutely. I’ve gotten some good advice. One of those third downs we didn’t make was an email I got and I thought that sounded like a good play and I tried it and we didn’t make it.
REPORTER: Did you call him an idiot?
REPORTER: Which one?
COACH TRESSEL: The one you sent. The second one you sent.
REPORTER: Coach, have any of the players talked to you about it being the Penn State fans closing down the Gameday —
COACH TRESSEL: That closed it down.
REPORTER: After game, it was the Penn State fans in the northeast end zone that closed it down actually rather than the Buckeye fans, did they talk about that at all.
COACH TRESSEL: Not until this moment. I don’t know what is a part of closing something down. We usually talk to or guys about don’t close things down. Go home before they close. But I didn’t know anyth