Weekly Football Press Conference Transcript
Nov. 21, 2011
An Interview with:
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
Q. Your Michigan counterpart refers to your employer just as "Ohio." Have you noticed that, first of all?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
Q. Could you give an injury update on guys like Philly Brown, Christian Bryant, any others?
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?
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?
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?
Q. Has anything about the rivalry changed from then till now?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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:
Q. Jim, after the game you were kind of baffled about what had gone wrong upon watching tape, what's your assessment?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.