Thursday, September 26, 2013

Improvement on defense, and a look ahead to Western Michigan

By Brian George
Defensive Coordinator

At the start of the year, we realized we had some good players coming back from last year's defense, but we also had a number of guys to replace. With that, our focus since the beginning of the season has been to get better from week to week. As coaches we have needed to do a great job of teaching and helping our young players get through the learning part of playing defense.

Last week at Penn State there were some real signs of improvement, particularly in the back half of the defense. That was an important progression for us to continue to take steps forward with that group. We need to keep getting better up front, and that's going to be even more important now that we have a few of those guys up front who are a little banged up.

With those injuries up front, there will be a greater sense of urgency on everyone from the linebacking corps to the corners and safeties to take on a little bit more of the load in terms of making plays and understanding where they need to be.

We are spending a lot of extra time working with some of our more inexperienced players to help them get ready for that extra work load. And the players who are filling in for the guys who are injured up front, we've been telling them all along that they never know when their time is going to come. They need to prepare every week like they are going to be the starter. Over the course of the last couple of weeks, we have several players who haven't played a ton in the past who have had to step in to bigger roles. I think the guys who have been asked to do that have done a very respectable job.

All of this has forced some players to learn, and that's good. We have a lot of guys who don't have that experience of seeing things over and over again. Now they are getting that opportunity, and it's going to make us better in the long run.

Even in practice, there were a lot of times last year when we had so many experienced seniors at key positions that we only had to show them something once. That's where we have to be different this year as coaches. Now we have to show our younger guys something over and over, and we have to do it in a way that is going to get them to the game fresh and ready to play. We spend a lot more time walking through things and talking through things. I think that will pay off. One of the results we saw last week was that we played a little better. We aren't where we need to be, but we are taking steps in the right direction.

This is a week at Western Michigan when we need to keep taking more steps in the right direction. It's our fifth game, and it will be against an opponent where we should be evenly matched. This game will give us a real good look at where we really are as a defense right now. 

When I look at Western Michigan, I see a very talented core group of players who are learning a new system. They are in the same boat we are in to a certain degree, in that they opened their season with three Big Ten opponents and an FCS school with some pretty good players. They had similar results to what we had against the BCS teams, and they played a close game with an FCS school where they were on the losing end of a close game and we were able to pull a win out at the end.

Games like this always come down to a couple of key things. No. 1, we have to stop the run. No. 2, we have to prevent big plays. They are going to take their shots down the field. They have a couple of fast guys at wide receiver, so they will take their shots and throw it up to those guys. They are going to test us vertically, so we have to be good in those situations. 

We have to have great eyes in the back end and we have to be able to create pressure with the guys we bring. Whether it is a three, four, five or six-man pressure, we have to get pressure on their quarterback, get the ball out of his hands and throw off their timing. In coverage, we have to do a great job with our eyes and feet to be in position to make plays.

This will be a good test for us. I know our players are excited to get back into conference play and see where we are in terms of taking another step forward.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

On playing in front of 92,000

By Paul Haynes

Head Coach

On Saturday we go to Baton Rouge to play at LSU.

Games like these are different for players and coaches. I was asked recently about how we are preparing players like freshman quarterback Colin Reardon to play in front of 92,542 fans at Tiger Stadium, and honestly I don't know how much that is going to bother him.

Once the ball is kicked off, I think players like Colin block all of that stuff out. You never know until you get there and see how guys react to it.

Personally, I get more into these games. I get more into it, both as a player and as a coach. I haven't changed. I wear my emotions on my sleeve when I get out there, and I take it personally. The louder it gets and the rowdier the fans get, the more I got focused and the more I was inspired to do good things.

My first game like this was as a freshman when we played Craig "Ironhead" Heyward at Pitt Stadium in November. It was the last game of the season on that old turf. It was a great atmosphere.

I was about 160 pounds soaking wet, and Ironhead was about 250 or 260. I hit him. I don't know how much damage I did, but I hit him. 

The awesome thing about that was later in life I ended up recruiting his son Cam to Ohio State. 

I try not to get too hyped up, even though I know a game like this is a crazy environment. The reality is that you are talking about a lot more people, but it doesn't really impact what goes on between the lines. The louder they get, the more we have to be focused. If that's the case, then you want them to get louder because we'll concentrate and focus even more.

We have tried to simulate the noise with some speakers at practice this week. You can do that, but you can't simulate the atmosphere. Until you see 92,000 in the stands with pom-poms and going crazy, you can't know what that is like. The only way to simulate that is to go out and hire 92,000 actors to come in here to Dix Stadium. 

This is part of the fun of playing college football. This is why you play the game.