Dec. 2, 2013

An Interview With: Coach Meyer and Coach Herman

COACH MEYER: Thanks for coming. Championship week here at Ohio State and very good gathering yesterday, practiced yesterday. We did not do champions this week. We just jumped right into a very good team, an excellent team, Michigan State and want to do the best job we can to make sure this team is prepared.

So obviously some things we’ve still got to work on but I don’t want to ever take away from a rivalry win, one that was a classic that, you know, this team finds a way to win and I’m most appreciative as a coach. It was a very purpose driven team that they care about each other; if one side of the ball is not playing particularly well, the other side has picked them up over the last two years, and this will be a very stiff challenge for us. Excellent, excellent defense and a much improved offense that’s scoring a lot of points.

So I’ll answer any questions for you.

Q: Do you feel like this team is equipped to handle that why do you feel so strongly about that?
COACH MEYER: The first thing is you feel pretty strong about the leaders on our team. I didn’t feel very strong about them back January, February, and I do, I feel very strong about them now. It was a very draining, emotional win. It’s almost like that three hour bus ride home or whatever it was, two and some change. It was a very good opportunity to let it all out of you and get back to work. That was on Sunday. I’m concerned about it but I trust our leaders.

Q: Now that you have a little bit of time to look at Michigan State, what are your impressions of them?
COACH MEYER: As fine a defense as there is in America. Very good players, excellent scheme, well coached. I’ve not studied their offense a lot. That’s usually on Tuesday. I listen to our coaches and I look at statistically what the running back and quarterback have done.

And from game 1 to game 11, they are the most improved offense, certainly in the Big Ten and maybe one of the most improved in America.

Q: You played a close game with Michigan State last year. Anything learned from that?
COACH MEYER: Yeah, I learned quite a bit. Just happened to walk out of the room and they are very good. They were not very good. I’m not taking anything way from Michigan State because they are excellent.

But we’re a much better offense than we were a year ago, but that was a street fight last year and certainly between the tackles, we have to be ready for that.

Q: And evaluating, again, the move from the way Ohio State played on Saturday, how much better does it have to be
COACH MEYER: Yeah, we won’t win the game. We won’t win that game this time. That’s just very simple. We have to play much better.

Q: What was
COACH MEYER: Pass defense surfaced again and lack of contact on the quarterback. We just had some guys running open. It’s a combination of if you could say it was one thing, I would say it was one thing and I trust that we’ll get it fixed, and I trust that these guys will be locked and loaded and have a good week of preparation.

Q: Obviously you want to stay in the moment and keep the focus on this game. How difficult is it to do that when they are there’s a lot of outside politicking going on. Auburn’s athletic director said it would be a disservice for Auburn not to be there. How difficult is it for you not to jump into the fray and defend your team?
COACH MEYER: For me? I’ll have a comment on Sunday. We play a game. And for someone to ask about something after this game, I mean, that’s cheating my football team, and there will be no conversation about what happens after this game until after the game.

We’ve got to go watch Michigan State’s defense and see if we have any comments about anything after this game.

Q: You talked throughout the season about how you wanted the offense to be 50/50 run and pass, seems you’re getting away from that is it a concern? Obviously you’re running the ball well.
COACH MEYER: A little bit of a concern, especially when you see who’s coming. We have a lot of respect for our rival’s run defense. If there is some vulnerability shown on defense it was actually on pass defense.

But Tom and myself got into a little bit of a rhythm as far as some formations and some ways we were running the ball out. So we threw a touchdown pass to Jeff Heuerman. But we felt like we’re getting some big yards per crack, and both Carlos and Braxton run the ball at a very high level. There was no other reason other than that.

Q: How important was it to have that complement of Carlos and what Braxton can do on the perimeter?
COACH MEYER: Carlos is pretty good on perimeter, too. And then Dontre and maybe J Hall, Jordan Hall; that won’t happen this week. We have to get some perimeter runs.

And probably, haven’t done the stat yet but I will at the end of the year but half our yardage is perimeter runs, too, and not just Braxton. This will be what you just mentioned, what I consider balance, outside, inside run game and obviously short pass and vertical pass and this week we have to be very balanced.

Q: The 50/50 down to 25
COACH MEYER: I want a W.

Q: Along those lines, have you gotten any word from the Big Ten about Dontre Wilson and Marcus Hall?
COACH MEYER: No. We are still in conversation with them and I know Gene is, and when I hear something, we’ll hear something.

Q: Quarterbacks go about it different ways but y’all I guess seem to have similar quarterbacks. What do you see about Braxton Miller that tells you he’s a championship caliber quarterback?
COACH MEYER: Well, the first thing we look at, and I actually learned this from Jeff Tedford when I was a young coach and I wanted to hear from a quarterback coach, what is the first thing you go look for, and No. 1 is competitive spirit. And that’s what I see out of Braxton Miller, he’s an extreme competitor right now. He’s always been a very good competitor and I think he’s crossed that threshold and is an extreme, extreme competitor right now.

Second thing you look at is toughness. He’s a tough guy. You can’t play quarterback at this level and with what we expect a quarterback to do. So without question, those are the two characteristics. I’ve coached a couple championship quarterbacks, and competitive spirit and toughness are the first two things you look for.

Q: On their team, No. 28, he seems to show up in a lot of
COACH MEYER: Fast athlete.

Q: Talk about what he brings to their defense.
COACH MEYER: Well, there’s a lot of key components. Their middle linebacker is a great player and you can tell he’s the coach on the field. They have a quick twitch on the defensive end that is their pass rusher. And this guy, the will linebacker is an extremely talented, fast athlete that runs down plays.

Q: Players always say after the Michigan game that they laid it all out and they didn’t have anything left. Are your players beat up a little bit? Are they spent from that?
COACH MEYER: I don’t think so. I didn’t get that feel. I got, you know, they are beat up on the defensive side. We gave up too many yards. I think it was a very physical game.

But we played I think Iowa, a team up north, and we’ve had some bruisers, because we’ve turned to that kind of style of offense, which is the kind of offense we want to be. I think they are sore and I have got to be smart this week what we do. But as far as energy and focus, and throw in the fact that it’s finals week at Ohio State this week, too, we have to be really efficient with our team with these guys.

Q: Along the same lines of finals week and the other distractions, if the Big Ten were to come down with some further penalties, how big of a blow would that be?
COACH MEYER: It would be a blow. But we functioned okay. We ran for 400 yards last week and we got good players and the next guy in. Very disappointed and angry that that happened. That’s not us. That’s not Ohio State and it’s not them. That’s the thing that, you know we’ve just got to move on and what happens, happens, and we fully support the Big Ten and we are good soldiers and go, and learn from it.

Q: With all the scrutiny that’s gone on here, of your past, of the off season, do you feel it’s a double standard case that seems to be worse than anything that happened in the off season with Florida State
COACH MEYER: I haven’t really followed do I feel there’s a double standard? I really don’t think so.

I think people get disappointed when they hear I don’t really read much and listen much and I go to work and I go home. I think when you’re in a position where your team is winning games and things are happening, you’ve got to be very you know, you’ve got to watch how your team behaves. You’ve got to make sure that things are in order, and I would like to think we do.

Q: Curious, we used to always hear coaches say defense wins games, and I know a lot’s changed, but did you ever think that was true and do you think it’s still true?
COACH MEYER: Yeah, 12 years I’ve been a head coach, I want to say we’ve always had the last two years have been because we’re growing, we had some personnel issues and new staff.

But yeah, you look at the Florida years that we won national championships, we were Top 5 in America in defense. At Utah we were always top teams in America on defense. And to reach the level that Ohio State expects, we need to play better on defense.

So absolutely we believe in that and we spend a lot of time devoting a lot of resources to our defense.

Q: Particularly since Michigan State has such a good defense, does that concern you?
COACH MEYER: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Q: Wondering about Michigan State defensively and Coach Dantonio, they seem to do a lot of different things and are very aggressive. How much of a mental game is this on Braxton and your offense?
COACH MEYER: You know, it’s not real overcomplicated. That’s where I think they do an excellent job. They make everything look alike, and they are very well coached as far as gap control and you don’t see many big plays against them. I want to say it’s been I don’t want to give you the number, because it’s probably wrong, but a very minimal amount of explosive plays against them.

It’s not so much the scheme. It’s the toughness and the fundamentals that the kids play in that scheme. That’s really like any someone could say, oh, the spread offense is hard to defend. No, it’s not. If you have really bad players that don’t play very well, it’s not that hard to defend.

This style of defense, I can imagine there’s been many, many people trying to copy it and that’s a credit to the coaching staff and the players, because they are at a different level right now.

Q: Braxton seems to be trending up; do you think he’s a Heisman calibre quarterback? We are down to the last chance to prove it.
COACH MEYER: Yeah, I think he’s got to prove it and this is a great opportunity for him. I think, you know I know he missed some games, seems like six years ago they hurt his knee, but I think he’s Heisman worthy. I can’t compare him to the other guys because his stats probably aren’t as good. I haven’t even looked at that. But I think I’ve been around a Heisman Trophy quarterback and certainly Braxton is in that conversation.

Q: Inaudible.
COACH MEYER: I have no idea. I have not looked at anything. I’ll probably do that next week.

Q: Urban said that you guys stressed trying to be 50/50 run and pass all year, and the last couple of weeks, moving away from that and favoring the run a lot more. Is that a concern or merely a product of how well you’re rushing?
COACH HERMAN: I think it’s a product of how well we’re rushing. It’s not a concern. I thought we threw the ball adequately against Indiana the week prior to that in some very adverse conditions, we did not.

And early in the game, I did not feel like we were throwing the ball extremely well. And it’s hard when you’re playing a team that’s very, very good on defense. I mean, this is a defense that we played against a team up north that was coming into the game, giving up 120 yards rushing per game through 11 games, and so that’s not a two game stat or whatever.

That’s a legitimate stat that they were a very, very good run defense and to see us run the football the way that we were against them just, I guess, led to you’re going to call what you’re confident in. And throughout the course of the game when you see the productivity of the run game and where that’s taking you, then you continue to call it more until, you know, something tells you not to, and throughout the game, nothing was really telling us not to.

Q: Do you have to fight the urge to throw it?
COACH HERMAN: Have you seen 34 and 5 run it? No, it’s hard. I think our staff does a heck of a job. I think our kids buy in. I think the definition Greg Davis, one of my mentors from when I GA’ed at Texas told me, balance is not having the same amount of rushing yards or the same amount of passing yards or the same amount of rushing plays versus the same amount of passing plays. Balance is being able to win the game either way dependent on how the defense what the defense is trying to take away, and I think we are a balanced offense right now.

And in the case of the game up in Ann Arbor, we were having success running the football so, it would have been probably against better judgment to stray away from that.

Q: Michigan State in six of their eight Big Ten games this year have not given up a point in the second half. When you’ve got a team that’s making adjustments like that, do you go in with a different game plan for the first and second half? Do you save something?
COACH HERMAN: I didn’t even know that stat existed until you just told me. No, no, you don’t. I think you go in, I think Coach Meyer has a great phrase where he says: “Preparation doesn’t stop until the foot hits the ball. And once the foot hits the ball, you’re in adjustment mode.”

And you’re constantly adjusting and adapting throughout the course of the game, whether it’s the first quarter, the first drive, the first drive of the second half, the third drive of the fourth quarter; you’re constantly adjusting and trying to figure out where the defense is trying to attack you and how they are trying to attack you.

So, no, I don’t think there’s anything to be saved for a second half, even if a team like this is having great success defensively in second halves of a game.

Q: When you look at Michigan State’s defense, what sets them apart? Are they continually gap sound or do they not get knocked out of their spots? What jumps out at you on video about them?
COACH HERMAN: Yeah, you said it. Probably the best coached defense we’ll have played in two years, including them last year. I think that they are like fine wine; they get better with age.

They know the strengths of their defense, they know the weaknesses of their defense. They try to compensate for it. I think they are extremely gap sound. I think they understand what you’re trying to do offensively and where the pressure points on their defense are in terms of the plays that you’re running and the ways that you’re trying to attack them.

And so, then they mix in a good deal of pressure, about a third of the time on first and second down, you’ll see some kind of pressure, especially if you start to get a little momentum. They want to try to keep you off schedule behind the stick, so to speak. And you know, I don’t know if there is a first team All American on that defense, maybe there is, and I haven’t watched them yet on film enough.

But they have 11 guys that know exactly what they are doing and they do it really well and they tackle well and they are always in the right spot. Like you said, they are about as sound a defense as you’ll see.

Q: When you look at Braxton Miller, what are the qualities that you think set championship quarterbacks apart from run of the mill or average quarterbacks, and do you see those in him?
COACH HERMAN: Absolutely. Leadership and competitiveness. I think there’s a lot of talented guys that have played that position that have never won a championship. You certainly have to have the pieces around you to win championships, too.

You can’t football is the ultimate team sport. It’s not basketball. It’s not baseball. You’ve got to have the pieces around you that are able to help you win that championship. And once the pieces then are around you, you’ve got to be extremely, extremely competitive. You’ve got to make the people around you better, and you’ve got to demonstrate great leadership qualities.

The answer is yes, I think Braxton has the qualities and traits that it would take to win a championship.

Q: They don’t play a lot of quarter press coverage

Q: aren’t they essentially, a, you know what, we’re going to find out if your X is better than our O. Does it put a lot of game plan on your receivers in the throw game this week?
COACH HERMAN: Well, I think there’s two parts to answer that question. The first one is, yes, the press quarters is kind of their trademark, and it allows them to get the two safeties involved in the run game and basically say that you’re going to play nine on nine football rather than 11 on 11.

So we have to try to take advantage of that and we have to see it as an advantage for us. If you look at it as a hindrance, then I think you’re kind of waving the white flag a little bit. I see that as a very positive thing for us, and how improved we’ve gotten at the wide receiver position.

That being said, the second part of that is, you can’t walk out there and throw 30 streak routes and say, well, they were pressing our guys and so we’re going to throw 30 streak routes to win the game. You’ve got to have other ways to combat that and help your receivers out a little bit.

But you certainly have to look at it as an advantage and say, hey, we are going to if you think your O is better than our X, we’re going to prove you wrong. But at the end of the day, the percentages tell you, you can’t just make a living doing that, either.

Q: Does it make it a little bit harder to run out there
COACH HERMAN: Not necessarily, no.

Q: Maybe the turning point of the game last year
COACH HERMAN: Yeah, he did, that was good. Our O didn’t beat very many X’s last year yes, he did.

Q: Is this kind of game fun for you as an offensive coordinator knowing you’re going against a great defense? Is that just find of fun for you?
COACH HERMAN: It’s miserable. I don’t know, fun? Have you watched that tape? They are really, really good.

No, and I say that jokingly; yes, this is why you coach. These are the games your competitive nature can come out a little bit and say, I’m going to have my offense, my checkers, my pieces are going to be more prepared and play harder and longer and with better technique and effort than yours.

At the end of the day, there’s only a few reasons to live this crazy life that we do. One of them is for the love and betterment of young men and trying to, again, turn boys into men.

And then the other one, I say it all the time, bankers don’t get to do this. They don’t get to go compete in Indianapolis against the No. 1 defense possibly in America and say, come out hopefully on top and say, my guys did that. That’s fun, it really is.

Q: How did Pat grade out?
COACH HERMAN: Really good. Pat was a lot better than maybe any of us had expected. Not necessarily because we didn’t think that he was capable of it. But maybe because of the stage and the limited amount of reps and preparation that your No. 2 offensive line gets. But he did a whale of a job in there. Did a heck of a job.

Q: Do you know Pat Narduzzi at all?
COACH HERMAN: I’ve shaken his hand a few times.

Q: How much while you’re game planning are you thinking about what you think he’s thinking about trying to do you try to get in the head of the opposing defensive coordinator?
COACH HERMAN: Yeah, I think you do every week. I don’t think it’s any different this week than any others. I think at first you look at the what, and then you say, okay, what are they doing, and then you try to answer the why; why did they just do that; why are they playing their end the way that they played their end on that play in this situation; why did they play that coverage; why did they blitz then; why did they blitz this guy then.

Again, first, you have to figure out the what; what are you seeing; what’s going on; what’s the coverage; what’s the front; what’s the situation in the game; and then figure out as best you can, the why.

And we’ve got great defensive coaches in here and we bounce ideas off them all the time: Why do you think he did this right here where other situations and other formations maybe or other areas on the field, he didn’t. And then, you know, yes, you try to figure out the why after you figure out the what.

Q: For the Big Ten Conference, obviously you guys just played a huge rivalry game, it was a great game. Going to Indianapolis, primetime game, national title implications in this game, two highly ranked teams that didn’t lose a game in the conference. What’s this like for the Big Ten as a conference to have this game with these two teams coming up Saturday?
COACH HERMAN: I hope it’s pretty good, I think. I never really had given it much thought. You know, we get a bit narrowly focused this time of year. The big picture kind of eludes us at times as coaches.

But I think it’s great now that you put it that way and I think it’s fantastic for the Big Ten to have this showcase, to have two Top 10 teams, like you said, that are undefeated in conference play. Kind of strength against strength a little bit on two different sides of the football. I think it will be a really good showcase for the Big Ten.

Q: Granted, some of the chess pieces are different than they were a year ago, but how much value does that take from last year’s game, have for you in preparing for this game?
COACH HERMAN: We’re a lot we’re different. The numbers on the jersey and the names on the back might be the same at a lot of positions, but we’re better. We’re better than we were last year, and they are, too, on defense. Let’s not kid ourselves on that, either.

So schematically, I think it helps a little bit. But I think the ways that if you were a defensive coordinator that you would have attacked us last year might be a hair different this year because of some of the things that we’ve improved upon and the ways that we have gotten better, especially individually across the board, have improved.

So I think it kind of harkens back to Doug’s point about trying to figure out the why. It certainly helps you to watch last year and figure out the what. But the why might be a lot different this year because of who we are and what our personality is on offense now this year, as opposed to last.