Nov. 21, 2011
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An Interview with:
COACH Luke Fickell
COACH FICKELL: Obviously an opening. The most important thing this is Michigan week. That’s where we’re focused. That’s what we want to talk about. That’s what we want our guys to understand about. It’s always been about a one game season regardless of the records.
And that’s probably the biggest thing we came in Sunday and made sure we reiterated to them: Who cares what the tides are, what the records are. Just like we’ve always said, it’s been a one game season and it’s going to continue to be a one game season. That’s what we need to focus on. Our guys, everything else behind us. The season is what it is right now but it’s always been about this week.
And we’re excited about that. I know our guys are excited about that. We had the band come out Sunday night and was probably something we needed every bit as much as they did. But it really got our guys going and it got us into that groove of Michigan week.
So any questions we can go – we can start there.
Q. Of course playing Michigan, that’s enough of an incentive, but what else can you tell your team that you have to play for that’s still out there, in terms of, well, whatever?
COACH FICKELL: The most important thing, one another. I think that’s what it’s always been about. That’s what it will always continue to be about. Those who are involved in sports understand that. Those who are involved more so in a team sport like football, there’s no greater team sport known to man.
You can say the different sports are team sports, but you’ve got as large a group like you have in football, that’s where really the power is.
It’s believing in one another. Playing for one another. We said the other night we’ve got Buckeye Nation. Love the fans, love all the former players. Those things are all extremely important.
But those 110 guys that are sitting in that room that have been through what they’ve been through, been through the ups, been through the downs, that’s what it’s all about, those guys looking around, that’s what they play for.
Q. Do you also mention you can have a winning record, you play for a better bowl game, other things that go with it?
COACH FICKELL: No. No. It’s been about Michigan. It will be about Michigan. It will be about one another. Those are the things we talk about. Everything else is out of our control. We kind of had that focus from the beginning of the year.
This is who we are. This is what we want to be about. To me, that’s where the power is, is when you can look at the guy next to you and believe in one another and fight for one another. And everybody’s got different things outside families they play for, different little things they play for, but ultimately deep down you gotta care about one another and play for one another.
Q. I think over the years Ohio State players have felt like this game has defined them. Do you feel that is still true today?
COACH FICKELL: It’s still the Ohio State/Michigan game, still the greatest rivalry in all sports. We wouldn’t attack it any other way. That’s what is remembered. We understand that. We know that. Our guys have understood that regardless of what the situation has been in the last 10 years that I’ve been here or even the five years I was here as a player.
When you come here, you know what it’s about. That’s why I’d say 70 percent of our guys are from that 250 mile radius, been grown up, born into it, and know more about what this rivalry is all about than most.
Q. Luke, what do you remember about Michigan week as a player? Do you have any specific memories of unusual things or funny things or something that sticks out in your mind about when you play?
COACH FICKELL: No. There’s not a great memories back when I was playing I guess you’d say. But I think it started with that band coming over Sunday night. Some of those things I forgot as I stood there with Coach Vrabel last night and he reminded me that he was the guy that actually got to dot the I when the band came over Sunday night when we were seniors.
Those are the little things: The buzz on campus, whether you’re a freshman and the band coming around and getting everybody out of the dorms, just that excitement behind it all.
I grew up here. Knew about it. But never truly, truly was a part of what that really was throughout an entire week until I came to school here. And those are the things you remember.
Q. Michigan’s clearly peaking. You guys have lost two straight. How ready do you feel you are for this game?
COACH FICKELL: We’ll you’ll see that on Saturday afternoon. We can sit here and talk until we’re blue in the face. We know what it’s about. We know when it started. That’s what it’s always been about. We said it from the get go; it wasn’t going to change, our foundation hasn’t changed regardless of how you’re playing. It’s about playing on Saturday afternoon. You could be all up or you could be all down.
We could sit here and talk about it, I could say this is what we’re going to do and this is how we’re going to do. But you’ve got to tune in and you’ve gotta see and that’s what we believe in, and our guys know that.
And so we’re excited about Saturday. And it’s not a whole lot of talk and tell you what I’m going to do, but our performance is going to speak.
Q. Luke, with that in mind, what have you been able to put your finger on that’s led to these slow starts at least on the scoreboard the last several weeks? Is there anything you guys, as you peruse the film on Sunday that you saw, the button you didn’t push or whatever; what have you come up with?
COACH FICKELL: It’s probably a couple of plays here and there, and that’s probably just like all football, it’s a game of momentum. And if you don’t get yourselves rolling with a little bit of momentum, I think with the team we have right now, we need some things to happen. We gotta make them. We’ve got to create some things.
In the last three weeks really we have not done that. And it’s put us a little bit behind the eight ball, we were good enough to get out of it maybe against Indiana. We obviously weren’t quite good enough to execute to get out of it against Purdue. And this past week we weren’t quite good enough to get out of it when you got down 10 0.
Hopefully those are all things you learn from throughout the year, hopefully we learned from in the past three weeks, we learn more about ourselves each and every week. But we know we have to make something happen and make something happen early.
Q. I know you might not know for sure until the end of the week, but what’s your gut feeling on Andrew Sweat, do you think he will be play in this game being his final game, being the Michigan game, what’s your gut feeling there?
COACH FICKELL: Don’t know. When you’re dealing with the head, it doesn’t matter what game it really is. Obviously he wanted to be out there last week. And if you would have given him a helmet, he would have been out there last week.
But you ultimately gotta look at what’s best for him. And there’s some things you just can’t mess around with. If it’s a bad knee or a bad ankle or bad whatever, something else, you know, I promise you he’d be out there. But when you’re dealing with the head, we’re going to have to leave that to the doctors.
Q. You said it’s questionable at this point?
COACH FICKELL: He’s questionable.
Q. Your Michigan counterpart refers to your employer just as “Ohio.” Have you noticed that, first of all?
COACH FICKELL: I have never been in the room when he I’ve never actually heard Coach Hoke speak. I’ve heard that. And it is what it is. We all get our guys ready in different ways. Whether they get that from however Coach Bruce or Coach Hayes used to not refer to the team up north or whatever that is, hopefully that it’s no disrespect to Ohio University, they are Ohio, but it is what it is.
We might refer to Michigan in different ways, too. But the thing is it’s still a football game. It’s about a football game. There’s a million different stories. There’s a million different story lines. It’s not about me. It’s not about Coach Hoke. It’s about the greatest rivalry in all of football, their team our team and the history of the traditions.
Q. Your team is like a touchdown underdog or something. This series has a history of having teams that were not thought to have a chance to pull an upset or to make the game close or to make the favored team uncomfortable. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that. Why is that? Is it just the heat of the rivalry? Why is it that teams that seem like they’re under dogs maybe aren’t necessarily?
COACH FICKELL: That’s just underdogs are sometimes, those are just maybe media way, Vegas way of saying what they expect. In a rivalry like this, a lot of those things go out of the window and records go out of the window, and a lot of things are going to be scrapped. There’s going to be unbelievable passion on both sides of the football because of what this means. I think those are the things that obviously overtake a lot of those.
Obviously when I was in school, when I was on the opposite side of some of those, so to speak, underdog upsettings, but it still comes down to the passion of the game, the will for the game, and that will be defined on Saturday.
Q. Obviously a team game, but having a freshman quarterback playing in The Big House, how do you think he will respond to this situation?
COACH FICKELL: I think that Braxton will continue to do what he’s done. He’s a competitor. And sometimes the best thing you can be as a young guy and not realize exactly the magnitude of some different things. And I think that was kind of obvious this past week with Ryan Shazier going in as a linebacker, obviously different position.
But sometimes them young guys, they’re almost oblivious to the different things that are out there and around there to them. So hopefully that’s the way he continues to attack it.
It’s still a football game. He knows what the pressures and we’ve talked about it. But when you’re a competitor, that’s what you look forward to.
Q. Michigan’s resurgence, do you think it’s what’s gotten them here? Has it been Greg Madison’s defense because they were so bad under Rich Rod, where have they picked it up the most?
COACH FICKELL: I think it starts with momentum. And adversity creates some toughness and some different things. And I think that’s one thing you might have seen through what they’ve done. And I’m not saying they didn’t do a great job, that Coach Hoke hasn’t done a great job, Coach Madison hasn’t done a great job.
But the ability to have some older guys and some seniors that have been through some tough times, have been through a lot of ups and downs, only makes you stronger in the long run.
I think that’s what you’re seeing a little bit from them, as well as momentum. Football is a game of momentum. You can get yourself on a roll and get some momentum, great things can happen and I think it’s a combination of all those.
Q. You’ve got so many young guys who haven’t played in this game. They know when they come here how important it is. But do you really emphasize to them and what do you do to emphasize to them just how important it is?
COACH FICKELL: I think you’ve been here long enough to know that every day there’s something, whether it’s on the wall, we don’t need to reiterate it, we don’t need to talk about it. But when you start recruiting a guy, whether he’s from South Florida or Columbus, Ohio or Cleveland, Ohio, when you recruit them, you talk about this game and you talk about the magnitude of this game and the excitement behind this football game.
When it starts at that type of age, when it starts wherever they’re from, from the time you recruited them, they realize when they walk in here. And if they haven’t, that’s why 70 percent, 75 percent of these guys being from a 250 mile radius have lived it since the time they were young kids.
Q. There’s one theory in fact in that Civil War book you talked about, your boy Lee felt like if you were facing longer odds, you took longer chances. Much of this series has been risk avoidance from both teams. How do you feel being unpredictable in a game this big?
COACH FICKELL: Maybe you’re referring to Joshua Chamberlain. I don’ t know. That’s a different book. That’s one I read in fifth or sixth grade. Okay. We believe in ourselves, we believe in what we have. Does that mean we don’t need to be aggressive? No. We have that plan every week. We know we need to create some momentum. We need to make some things happen.
So whether that means take some chances or not, it still comes down to making plays and making, getting that momentum, getting that ball rolling.
So we don’t see ourselves as a big underdog. That’s not the way we approach things. Whatever people want to say. We believe we’ve got a great football team. We believe we haven’t performed as well as we could in the last several weeks, but that’s what Saturday is for. We’re going to continue to attack it that way and play with confidence and not think we’ve got to do something hokey or crazy to win this football game. No pun intended.
Q. As far as the game goes, adversity, highs and lows, that’s kind of is that what you expect and what you have to work through during the game?
COACH FICKELL: That’s always. It’s been one of the things we’ve gotta do a better job of is having that poise to be able to handle the ups and the downs and the adversity. We’ve been through a lot. Whether it’s off the field or on the field. And the way you handle those things is the sign of a great football team. The ability to go down 10 or the ability to give up a big play. Stop them at the one yard line and give yourself a chance.
So we saw some of those things. We didn’t see enough of them. We haven’t seen enough of them in the past three weeks, but that’s what we’re building upon.
Q. Luke, just straight up question, are you disappointed profoundly in your offense? It’s ranked like 106th in the nation, passing game is 118th, what just hasn’t happened there from your vantage point to get the thing going this year?
COACH FICKELL: I’m disappointed right now in the way we’ve played the last three weeks as a team. Not pointing the finger at anyone. Every bit as much as the position you put your offense in is what the defense does. If you put them in a hole and give them, on their own 4 yard line and the wind’s in their face, they don’t have a great chance.
With the type of people we’re dealing, with the youth and the different things we have and what our strengths are.
You can’t just point a finger. I know stats are something you’ll always look at. At the end of the year you evaluate that, take a peek at that. But it’s still a team sport. When one side is struggling or one person is struggling, somebody else has to pick them up. That’s one thing we have to look at, because we can all find a stat that we look good at and we can all find a stat that we need improvement at. It’s just that, they’re stats.
The number one stat is obviously the wins and losses. And that’s a team effort. And that’s why the turnovers and those kinds of things are such a big importance in everything that you do.
Q. Can you just talk about the problems that Denard Robinson poses and keys to handling a guy like that for you Saturday defensively?
COACH FICKELL: He poses a lot of problems. Any defensive anytime the quarterback’s got the ability to keep plays alive, running the football, it makes you struggle a little bit on defense with some things you can do and the chances you can take.
You’ve got to be aware of those things. Obviously a guy like him, the thing I think that’s dynamic about what he does is his ability to handle hits. The guy was the second leading rusher, second leading ball carrier in our league last year. I think only behind Lesueur from Illinois. When a quarterback can carry the ball that many times, you know he’s tough. He can take the hits. He can take a pounding. He can keep going no matter what his size is.
I think that’s the thing, when you look at what he’s done, is his ability, a lot of quarterbacks have the ability to run; but do they really have the ability to withstand some of the punishment that defenses can give them if they are running.
Q. When we talk about a guy like John Simon or players like that, seems like a guy’s motor, the ability to go play after play and not take a play off is a thing that pops up. At this point in the year, maybe specifically with a guy like John or just for anybody, what does it take in a player to just, maybe after a long year at the end of the year, tough year, still have that in them? And do most guys have that or is that unusual to be able to do that through a long year?
COACH FICKELL: It’s the mental side of things. I told them on Sunday night that to me when you’re 18 to 22, 23, 24 years old, your body can pretty much handle whatever it’s put into. It’s the mind that has a hard time handling those things.
To me when you get tired it’s the mind that gets tired. I think that’s where it starts. And so when a guy is strong willed and is strong, tough in the brain, in the head, as John Simon is, is where he has his ability. So as they get older, maybe like coach, Mr. Lechey, as he got into those upper years in the NFL, maybe it wasn’t quite the mind, the body started to break down a little bit. But for us, for guys like me that only played through college, the 18 to 22 year olds, to me the most important thing is the mind, what the mind can handle I think the body can handle.
Q. Where is the confidence of your team right now? A couple of your guys on Saturday were pointing out that this is sort of unprecedented for them to be heading into this game with five losses.
COACH FICKELL: It is and that’s the thing, but that’s a part of life and that’s the part of adversity. And you have to have confidence in what you do. You have to believe in what you do and that’s what we keep pounding them on. I try to tell them on Sunday night, last week’s game was not much different than Iowa the year before.
There’s not much difference than Iowa last year. And the difference is we made it fourth and 11 I think against Iowa last year and then three plays later hit Posey in the corner for a touchdown to win the game, with 45 seconds to go.
And this week it just didn’t happen. And it’s been like that a little bit through the year. So don’t doubt where you are.
Michigan State is 12th in the country. You play them to 10 to 7. And Nebraska is 13th in the country and you play as good a first half and quarter and up. And you turn you don’t win the games, but there’s a fine line between good and great.
And you can’t lose your confidence because those balls haven’t bounced your way, you haven’t made the one play. That’s what hasn’t happened around here in the last nine years that I’ve been here, is all those games have come down to that situation and that time, I can’t remember one that we haven’t won. And that’s the difference.
Now, is that making excuses? No. But you’ve got to believe that, you’ve got to have that confidence. You’ve got to know that you’re that close to one play here or there from being completely on the other side of the ball.
So you can’t lose confidence in what you do. You can’t lose confidence in the guy next to you. That’s where it all is going to stem from.
Q. You’ve been here on both ends of this rivalry the times when it seemed like Ohio State couldn’t win and at times when it seemed like Ohio State couldn’t lose. Wonder if there’s a difference in the approach, if you saw anything about the preparation before the game or anything you’ve learned from those two things that might help you in this case?
COACH FICKELL: I mean, everybody’s going to point the finger from the time coach was here, Coach Tress, that is, that there was more of an emphasis. It was talked about, it was stressed, it was something like that.
But it still comes down to the players. Yes, it’s understanding what the rivalry is all about. I think that’s why it’s been such a great tradition here. And I know it will continue, that when you recruit Ohio, when you’ve got these kids that are within 200 miles of Columbus, Ohio, they’ve grown up understanding what the rivalry is all about, have seen it from the time they were five, six, seven, eight years old when that’s the crux of your team, you know, you’ve got a lot better chance. And when all of a sudden you start, if the leaders and the different people on your team are not from this area and maybe you’re just trying to teach them about the rivalry, you want it to be deep rooted.
You want it to be understood from the time they were a kid. Doesn’t mean you don’t have people from outside. But our crux of our team has grown up around this rivalry, understand what it’s about whether they’ve been in school on the winning side or been young kids and been on seeing what the other side is maybe when I was in school. They understand what it’s all about and that’s the most important thing.
Q. Among the many things that you inherited here was a long winning streak against your biggest rival; do you feel as the caretaker of that winning streak any extra pressure to keep it going or keep it alive?
COACH FICKELL: There’s enough pressure in everything you do. There’s no more pressure than wanting to win the Michigan game. Now, was it that much different if you had won seven in a row or if you had lost six in a row, I can’t tell you that.
To me, you put enough pressure on yourself, there’s plenty of pressure. But pressure’s what makes you great. And being able to handle those things is important.
Q. By the same token you have players who have never lost to Michigan. Coach Hoke has players who have never beaten Ohio State. Would you as a coach use that as a motivation on either side of the situation?
COACH FICKELL: You use it to the best of your abilities. And it doesn’t like I said, the most important thing is the mind. And what the mind believes, the body can achieve. And to me that’s the thing you’ve got to get through. Whether you’ve won seven in a row or lost seven in a row, getting through to the minds of guys that are 18 to 22 years old to understand what it’s all about, the pride and the will to play the football game and that’s where it’s decided.
Q. You came into this position under extraordinary circumstances. Heading into this last final regular season game, can you sort of reflect on what coaching this year has meant to you?
COACH FICKELL: I don’t think this is the time to reflect. Not to not answer your question. But from the time I’ve had a chance to step into this role I’ve not had a chance to step back and even think a whole lot about it. That’s kind of the way I attacked it from day one.
I figured that after the season, when things, when you had some time to actually relax a little bit and reflect, you’ll do that. That doesn’t mean I haven’t taken notes on every situation and every decision that I’ve made, good or bad.
But to sit back and reflect on what it’s meant to me, that’s not what it’s about right now. It’s about Ohio State. It’s about Michigan. It’s about the greatest rivalry in all of sports.
Q. I know that you guys had several guys in for recruiting visits over the weekend. You’re continuing to contact recruits. Sounds like some decisions are coming down any day on a couple more critical guys. Just what is the message that you guys as a staff have to kids right now about Ohio State? I assume you’re selling the university, the program, your experiences and other things, what are the things that you guys can say to kids to kind of keep that ball rolling right now?
COACH FICKELL: That’s what it’s always been about. That’s what I’ve sold for 10 years since I’ve been a coach here. It’s about the special place, it’s about the place, the guys in the locker room. I don’t know how many times we’ve said it in here but that message wouldn’t change no matter what the situation is.
I’ve told guys to me don’t come to a place because of me. And sometimes you initially, when recruiting them, they get to know you. They like you. They say I can play for that guy. But when they get here, I tell them it’s not about me. Things change. Facilities change. All different kinds of changes. They can build whatever. But the people in that locker room won’t change. The foundation of the place won’t change. And that’s what you sell.
And that’s what they have to believe in, that’s what they have to see with their own eyes. And when they feel that, that’s why the past few years I think we’ve had, I don’t know if we’re allowed to say, X number of visits and signed almost every single one of them because of the place, not because we’ve sold them on something about playing time, about a position, but they get around our guys.
They feel it’s a connection, and that’s a part of their life.
Q. Is there one thing in their two losses that have stood out to you watching game film that you can borrow from say maybe we can use this and slow them down?
COACH FICKELL: Turnovers. I think both Michigan State and Iowa, the thing is they battled and battled and got turnovers down in the red zone, made some plays. And it’s a balance act.
They’ve done a great job of moving the football. They’ve done a great job in all those games. Iowa, I think, stopped them on the last play of the game. But also got maybe two or three turnovers. I know two of them down in the red zone.
So that’s a big part of what it is. It’s not a mystery to a lot of games when you look at the turnover margin. But it’s an offense that’s done a great job at moving the football. And maybe the only thing that stuttered themselves is maybe when they turned it over.
Q. With so many new faces all across the board, like on defense right now, you’ve got 10 new starters compared to this time a year ago. Were y’all going to pay a price on the field like you talk about from a confidence or maybe an execution standpoint, having that many new players around?
COACH FICKELL: We don’t give them that as an excuse. And that’s the biggest thing. We knew there was going to be a learning curve but that’s part of the game. You’re going to have injuries and those kind of things. By the end of the season you can’t keep referring to them as young guys.
Obviously you can refer maybe to Ryan Shazier as a younger guy because last year was his first real time, or even the week before.
But even with that the experiences he’s had the first nine, eight, nine games, special teams wise and the different things, that’s what they’ve got to build on. So won’t allow ourselves to have those kinds of things for excuses. That’s just something as a coach you’ve got to know going into the season and a lot of things that you maybe have done in the past and some of the things you could put on their shoulders that you can’t do. So it’s that balancing act.
Q. On the flipside, as a veteran how valuable will Boom Herron be in this football game?
COACH FICKELL: He’ll be as valuable as he’s been all year. His passion, his emotion is what really we need. We have a few guys back that can do a very good job carrying the football. But I don’t know if there’s a whole lot of people that bring the same passion and will that Boom does. So every bit as much as what he does carrying a football obviously gives us confidence as a coach, as an offensive line, as a quarterback. He has that same ability with his personality and his passion for the football game, to give it to us in the locker room as well.
Q. The fact that you weren’t as successful as you would have liked to be in this game, in the Michigan game. How much does that stick with you and how much do players carry this game specifically with whether they’re successful or not successful, with them throughout their pro careers or the rest of their lives?
COACH FICKELL: It’s always something you remember. The people around here always remember it. That’s what they talk about. Right wrong, or indifferent. You know that when you come here, you know when you sign up for this. You know that when you become a coach here, it doesn’t matter. That’s what you’re measured on. That’s what it’s going to be about. And that’s when you’ve got to play your best football. So that’s where we’re focused.
Q. Could you give an injury update on guys like Philly Brown, Christian Bryant, any others?
COACH FICKELL: I don’t know much about Philly right now. I think he’ll be okay. Christian Bryant is probably right now still a little bit questionable as far as anything more it’s Monday. We’ve got to see how that goes on Tuesday and Wednesday to be sure. But right now I’d say probably both those guys are questionable.
Q. Throughout the season, both on and off the field, with Braxton Miller, as a true freshman, how much do you feel like you’ve had to or tried to sort of protect him from things just being a new guy in this situation and how much in the end, no matter how old a guy is, do you end up throwing him in there and say sink or swim?
COACH FICKELL: It’s difficult in both. You can talk about the things you’ve tried to have him handle in the team meeting room with the offense and those kinds of things that you can control. And you can see where his growth and his maturity is as far as a coach what you can put in and what you think he can’t handle.
It’s the things outside when they leave this facility that are most difficult, I think, for young guys as well. The situation that a lot of those guys are in, what they hear, what they think outside of the walls of the facility to me is what is tough on young guys, whether they’re in the dorm, whether they’re being praised or told they’re the greatest, signing autographs, this that or the other thing, that’s the thing I think that’s most difficult sometimes here at Ohio State is the maturity to be able to handle all those things outside of the football field to still have your ability to know you need to grow and get better at what you do.
Q. Obviously we know you have the defensive background, but have you spent much time one on one with Braxton just because he’s a young guy in that high profile spot, do you spend extra time with him just talking about things?
COACH FICKELL: As a person, yeah. But trying to coach him fundamentally in different things as far as quarterbacks, no, I haven’t had a whole lot of chance to sit down with him as much as that.
But just as a person, just as watching his demeanor the way he handles reactions, different things like that, that’s about the extent of what our relationship has kind of gone through.
Q. I believe I’ve heard you say that the OSU/Michigan game was the first Buckeye game you’ve seen live?
COACH FICKELL: It was the first game I actually was on the field. As a little kid I was back in the concession stand. I don’t think I ever got to come back.
Q. Has anything about the rivalry changed from then till now?
COACH FICKELL: Like I said, you don’t really know. As a kid you grow up and you hear about it. You see it. You see all the different things about it, whether your parents are passionate about it or not, it’s a part of it.
But until you get here, whether you’re a student on campus, whether you’re truly involved in every day the week of it, it’s still there’s a lot of learning about it. And that’s the thing that’s exciting about it, is you can grow up in Columbus, Ohio and think you know all about the rivalry; and like we talked about with the recruits, they’ve been around it. Those guys are from Ohio. They understand what it’s about, but they learn so much more when they get here. So it is still a process.
You can’t lose sight of that. That’s why you talk about it from the day you come into camp until this week.
Q. What would be your final instructions, just, so to speak, to Braxton before he takes the field Saturday, a freshman playing in this game, what would you tell you want from him most?
COACH FICKELL: The same thing I’ve seen: The passion, the drive, the courage to go play, to do what you do. We don’t need anything superhuman, we just need you to be who you’ve been and have some confidence in what you do. And I think that’s the key. That’s the key across the board, no matter what happens, the most important play is the next play and continue to battle.
Q. This might be tough for you to answer immediately, but I was just wondering, what is the most remarkable performance you’ve ever seen from a player from the Ohio State side in this game that just sticks out to you to this day, a guy being, summoning something he hasn’t shown all year or in his career, besides the nose guard back in the mid 90s, who is somebody that sticks out with you?
COACH FICKELL: The guy that ended up with one tackle and half an assist. There’s probably a lot more. It’s hard to say. Your big players have to step up in this game. And I’ve heard stories all the way back from Coach Tuck telling us about defense guys Marcus Merrick, 13, 14, 15 tackles whatever it is. I can remember obviously Troy Smith’s performance in ’06. But that wasn’t like it was unexpected.
So your great players gotta play great in the Ohio State/Michigan game. That’s what it’s about.
Q. How have you insulated yourself and how will you insulate yourself this week from all the coaching chatter that surrounds you and the university here in this final week?
COACH FICKELL: The same way I’ve done it for, what is it, 12, six months, whatever it is. Do what you do. And you live in a bubble, so to speak, in some ways. And I told you if I get a chance to go home, if my kids are up, then I play with them.
I spend time with my wife. I don’t turn the TV on. If it is, it’s probably “Animal Planet” or something that the kids are watching and just try to get yourself away for a few minutes.
But you don’t have time to do those things. And for me it’s not been a big part of what I care about, and even more so this year, and that’s why even times I don’t watch football games. I focus on what we’ve got to do and give all my energy to that and everything else God willing will take care of itself.
Q. Not to focus too much on the past, but obviously the guy before you had a pretty good, pretty phenomenal record in this game. And you had a front row seat for that. Do you do anything as far as try to take a couple of pages from his playbook the way he approached this week and tenor, or do you just set your own course?
COACH FICKELL: We have a foundation that’s been set. We knew going into the season that in the situation we weren’t going to change a whole lot of things. Not that I would change a whole lot of things. Obviously it’s been very successful. It comes down to the mental side of things. Our guys have to understand. And they know what the game is all about. They know what it comes down to.
We stress it and we talk about it, whether it was in camp. Whether it was a bye week. It doesn’t matter. It’s something that’s always there and talked about. You just gotta believe in it.
An Interview with:
COACH Jim Heacock
Q. Jim, after the game you were kind of baffled about what had gone wrong upon watching tape, what’s your assessment?
COACH HEACOCK: Consistency. It was interesting from the standpoint of a lot of plays were very, very good. And a lot of plays were very, very bad. And so that’s the hard to explain, I think we had a lot of we had some breakdowns, mental breakdowns. But you know, it is what it is. It’s probably been pretty consistent throughout the year. We’ve had some good quarters and some bad quarters and good halves and bad halves and just haven’t been able to put together a complete game the way we like to.
We did, Michigan State I think defensively we played a pretty consistent game. But I think our goal is to try and really play every down. And we talk about one 11th and everybody’s gotta do their job, and when one guy breaks down the whole thing kind of falls apart.
So I guess that would be my evaluation. I think there were times when we dominated the line of scrimmage and times when we got dominated. So here again you watch through it and it was wow that’s really good. And that’s not so good.
Q. Michigan’s favored by like a touchdown but Ohio State’s been favored big in this series, too. Does this ever address, say, hey there’s people who don’t respect you, you’ve got to prove to people that there’s a lot of people out there that don’t think you’re going to win this game? Do you make a point of that?
COACH HEACOCK: You know, I kind of I think we kind of take Luke’s follow what he’s kind of saying. This is my, what, I guess this will be my 16th one 17th. I actually coached at Washington, we played them one time. So actually 17 times.
And I think the thing about this game to me is records don’t mean a whole lot. Past doesn’t mean a whole lot. Where you’re at, it’s just who is going to perform from the time the kickoff to the end of the game who is going to perform on the field. Not so much who talks about it, but who gets it done.
But I think it’s a I mean it’s an unbelievable rivalry. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of it and really looking forward to this year.
Q. I asked you about Shazier after the game. He was the Freshman of the Week I think in the Big Ten this week. And when you went back and looked at it he was very productive, what were some of the things you saw in his performance that stood out. I’m sure there were some freshman mistakes there, but on the whole what did you think about what he did?
COACH HEACOCK: He’s a talented football player. Great explosion. Gets from point A to point B as quick as I doubt if there’s any linebackers that we have that get there a whole lot quicker. He has instincts that are phenomenal. He makes plays. He’s active. He’s going to be an unbelievable linebacker at Ohio State. There’s no question about that.
Yeah, he made some mistakes and he’s going to make some mistakes and he’s a freshman and you kind of expect those things. But at least he was going 100 miles an hour and he wasn’t really worrying about the mistakes and that’s what you want, you want him to go out and play fast, fearless; if you make a mistake you, make it, but go hard. He’s a very good football player. He’s really talented, talented linebacker.
Q. Jim, with the things you’ve been talking about with this defense, once you lost Nathan Williams you’ve only had two senior starters this year and with Sweat out only one senior out there. How much in the end is that part of what’s going on with this defense, it’s just not a lot of these old guys?
COACH HEACOCK: I can’t answer that. You always would like to have I’d love to have eight seniors out there like we did last year, nine. It’s always better to have some mature guys out there that know what they’re doing, been through it and can do some adjusting on the field, and you can maybe be a little more complex with them.
But it is what it is. And I think we’ve got great kids. I really think they’re outstanding young men. I think they’re going to be an unbelievable group, but we’re having fun. They practiced hard. They prepare hard. Attitude’s unbelievably good. They work extremely hard. They watch film, prepare, do all those things that you want them do.
So from that standpoint it’s a very fun year for me because I know how much it means to them.
Q. The things we were talking about with Ryan Shazier, especially against a guy like Denard Robinson, could he play a big role in trying to keep an eye on a quarterback like that?
COACH HEACOCK: You know, he’s got he’s got the ability to get to him. And he’s got the ability to make a play in space against him, which some players don’t. There’s just some guys just don’t move well enough that they can get that done. So I think I don’t think there’s any question it’s nice to have a guy of his caliber and his speed and acceleration and explosiveness in the game, that he can get to the ball and gives you a chance. And if you know Denard’s going to run and you feel like he’s got a chance to at least get in his face and slow him down.
Q. You obviously have to be so careful with head injuries, I think that’s ben a move across football regardless of the level. Andrew Sweat, does he have any history of concussions or was this his first one, to your knowledge?
COACH HEACOCK: To my knowledge, I haven’t heard of any other ones. I think it’s his first one. But you’re right, we’re very cautious. Everybody is very cautious of that.
But I don’t know of him having a history of concussions at all.
Q. It’s got to be tough. I know look said it’s obviously going to be the doctor’s call but I’m sure Andrew is going to want to play. It’s the Michigan game but at the same time you’ve got to look out for his future?
COACH HEACOCK: It’s all about him. I mean, it’s what’s best for him. And you’re never ever going to put a kid in jeopardy. I’m never going to. And that’s the last thing in the world we’d want to do is hurt him in any way. So the doctors are very good here. And they’ll check it out very carefully. And Andrew’s a smart kid. He’s not going to do something stupid.
Q. Two questions, number one, how much do you all miss, have you missed Andrew out there the last two weeks, just from a senior leadership, getting guys lined up right, reminding people of their gap responsibilities, whatever it is that the leaders do on the defense, how much have you missed him the last two weeks?
COACH HEACOCK: You know what, we’ve missed him a lot. There’s no question about that just from a leadership he was kind of supplying the leadership for us. John Simon, a junior, also gives us a little bit of leadership.
But probably the guy that I think Nate Williams, I think losing Nate Williams probably hurt us schematically as much as anybody, just because we had high hopes for him to be the opposite side of Johnny Simon and felt like we’d have two guys that could get off the edge and could give us some pretty good pass rush. Nate always gave us that opportunity to drop somebody in the coverage and did a good job of that.
So I think probably losing him and Andrew, I mean, you lose a little bit of leadership. And hopefully guys that would play better.
Q. As you watch Michigan, how much fundamentally different are they offensively in their approach this year or have they tried to meld the old with the new? I guess specifically what did you see different about them last week against Nebraska, if you’ve gotten a look at that tape? Have they done a pretty good job of bringing Denard back into the fold as a runner?
COACH HEACOCK: I think what we see is I think probably early in the year they were trying to install their offense, a little bit more two back stuff and a little bit of a pro style offense. And I think within the last probably, if you watch each one of their games through the season, each game they got a little bit more into their quarterback running the ball.
And now right now Nebraska, they’re almost back to what they were doing last year when we played them in the zone reads and the quarterback run the football an awful lot.
Q. Any read on the slow starts the last few weeks, as you’ve looked back, can you put a finger on what’s happening early in games?
COACH HEACOCK: I wish I could. You know, you try and look back, look through it and you I don’t really have an answer. I wish I did. I could tell you something. But there’s other things we’re trying to search out and trying to see. And you think out to the Nebraska game, I thought we came out of the chutes pretty good and played pretty well in the first half, and then didn’t play so well in the second half.
So it’s just a little bit of inconsistency. I’m not sure ten points, you know, in the first quarter and I’m pretty familiar with all that. And certainly we’re just trying to sort it all out. And really trying to hold these guys together and get them ready to play that last game. And it’s a big game for us and for them and we’re probably, I mean we sit around quite a bit and try and figure out why anything goes wrong.
We like shut everybody out and you sit around trying to figure out why you can’t. I really don’t have answers.