COACH ALLEN: Good afternoon. Welcome back. Just coming off our bye week. Thought we had a really productive week together. Set up three goals and felt like we accomplished those goals, and I stated those earlier.
Another big component of our bye week was to go out and recruit. That was a very important portion. So I was able to go out Thursday and Friday and do a lot of good in-state recruiting and see some games and get in front of a lot of coaches. And it’s very, very important. Got our staff out as well across the country and doing a great job building relationships and continuing to evaluate players during this process.
And it brings us to this week, and ready for homecoming. Excited to be able to be back home and have a great homecoming crowd. And I know our players came back, and one of the goals was to get them back mentally and physically refreshed and rested. And in fact, we actually practiced today a little more today than we usually do on a Monday. I thought it was extremely productive. And got another lift in today. So just like where we are as a team. Get some guys back and get a chance to focus our attention on Rutgers, the next Big Ten opportunity for this program. That’s where we’re at and I’m ready for questions.
Q. You talked during the bye week about how the byes broke this season up. As you talked to your players, what was the blend you wanted in terms of maybe them being able to use the bye to advance things schematically and technically, but also maybe use the bye from an mental and emotional perspective to rest up and really refocus on saying, okay, this bye gets us ready for this chunk of games and we’ll get ready for another one, and this bye gets us ready for that chunk of games?
COACH ALLEN: We did. We mapped it out for our guys and specifically talked about the next four games that fall into this next window before our next bye and what that looks like in terms of just the progression that you go through mentally and physically.
Definitely wanted to give our guys a chance to get a change of pace from the normal grind of the season. It was great to be able to have one after five weeks. You go through the entire fall camp, which can be very — a long period of time — it was a week longer this year than it was even a year ago because of our school schedule.
So that — I just think that those things take a toll, especially when you have a lot of young guys. And so just being able to get them out of that routine and get them refreshed and rested. And then just from a fundamental perspective, really think we were able to focus on those things.
You talk about some schematic things you want to emphasize and work on. And those three practices that we had, all those things were able to be accomplished. Obviously getting just with our offensive line, with losing Coy right before that, just continuing to solidify that and technique work and really kind of resting some of those guys that have got a lot of snaps.
And went through on both sides of the football and evaluated the guys that have taken a lot of hits already and when we went through the team periods we pulled them out and let the younger guys get most of those reps. They all did work during fundamental time, technique work. But let the younger guys get a lot of reps and the young receivers and offensive linemen and defensive linemen and DBs, and all positions really.
Just really tried to accomplish that and really mapped out, even this morning, talking about the next step and how it phases into the next bye and what comes after that. And so just try to be very proactive with our guys and very up front and honest and very accurate in what we see the future holds.
But our emphasis is very clear; that is, our number one objective is 100 percent focus on Rutgers and 100 percent focus, once we get to know who we have each week is to make sure we’re getting better. And that was the approach today, make sure we walked off the field a better football team. Did some fundamental in special teams as well.
We just gotta keep getting better every time we take the field and every time we strap it up on Saturdays, that we’re a better football team. And that’s the goal and it’s obviously something that everybody wants, but we have to have a great plan for that and our guys have to buy into that. So I think that’s what we set out to do and I feel good about the direction we’re going.
Q. I know when you guys signed Tiawan Mullen, you felt like he was going to be an impact player. A two-part question, first off, getting him in here and seeing him up close, what’s made him be an impact player so quick? And are you surprised he’s been able to impact this early in his career?
COACH ALLEN: Well, I thought he would be able to, but you really never know how a freshman is going to respond when they actually get to campus. And you see them play in high school and you see them compete and the different things you evaluate them with.
And I just thought he had a lot of natural ball savvy to him in regards to how to play the football. Watched him play in person and just saw those qualities in just being able to understand how you respond when the ball’s in the air and how you naturally play it. And some guys have a knack for that.
And I just felt like there was just a moxie and a swagger that he brought — very humble, doesn’t talk a lot. Isn’t a real loud guy, but extremely confident.
And I think he brought that with him. And I expected that, I did. But you never know how it’s going to transfer on the field. But I think this last game was where it really — he performed at the level that I thought he could. I really did. I expect him to come in here and be a guy that would play as a freshman, and he proved me right.
But he’s got to keep competing. He’s got to keep getting better. Technique work, needs to continue to improve because now he’s no longer a guy that people may not know as much about. He’s pretty much eliminated that. But at the same time just encouraged by when you see a guy on film and you evaluate him and you work so hard to recruit him and it took a whole bunch of guys on our staff to really do a great job convincing him to come here.
But I think you get a guy like that from an area that we love to recruit in, the state of Florida, and it just puts another — I mean, to me, we talked about this yesterday in our staff meeting, you’ve got guys several guys from that state. We even talk Michael Penix from Florida and the way he’s playing. And then you’ve got Matt Bedford from the Memphis area coming in as a true freshman, how he’s playing, an opportunity he’s been given and how he’s taken advantage of that.
I know it’s just been that one game, but a pretty big game. So you take these young guys, redshirt freshmen, guys right out of high school in areas that we recruit hard. And I could go on and on with those guys in those areas.
You take a guy like Tiawan and you go back and say, hey, you have a chance to come to the Big Ten and compete and play right away if you’re good enough. He wasn’t promised any playing time early, but he was promised the opportunity to come compete to play. And if you perform and deserve to be out there you’ll get your shot. He got his shot took full advantage of it.
He’s a special kid, he really is. His work ethic and attention to detail, he’s got a long ways to go with regards to being a complete Big Ten football player because there’s a lot to it. But he cares a bunch and works his tail off and does everything that we ask him to do. And he’s an awesome young man. Just a tribute to his family and the way he’s been raised and his high school coaches and everybody who has put in to help him be who he is.
Q. I know you guys probably don’t pay attention to who is favored or underdog, but this is a game against Rutgers where you guys are probably going to be favored. How do you guys handle that as a team?
COACH ALLEN: I think that the challenge is you’ve got to be a mature football team to understand it’s a Big Ten opportunity for teams. Been in this league long enough to know those things are irrelevant.
And they’ve got a unique situation they’re in right now, but we have no control over that. And all we can control is how we prepare. And I know that we’re playing a Big Ten football team all Saturday. We’ll have to be at our very best. That’s the absolute truth.
Q. Following up on that, did you watch the Maryland-Rutgers game this week knowing that they were the next two opponents —
COACH ALLEN: I did. I watched a lot of games. So it was kind of a nice change of pace to be able to sit there and watch as many as I could get in. I was going back and forth with several. Had them on, trying to flow through from noon until throughout most of the day. Just trying to watch as much as I can.
And you learn things and you go through, I watched situational things that teams put themselves in and how they answer those as coaches and evaluate things. And so, yeah, tried to watch as much.
I just love watching football in general. Watched all the teams in our conference and teams that we’ve got coming up and teams we’ve already played. But definitely took advantage of that.
Q. From observing Coach DeBoer the last few months, how has he communicated with players and how has that translated to execution on the field?
COACH ALLEN: He does a really good job communicating. He has a different personality than I do. He’s more laid back than I am. But he’s also fiery and I like that about him.
I think there’s a balance. I think offense is different than defense, personality-wise in a lot of ways. But he’s very cerebral. He’s a very, very sharp guy that — I sit in those meetings and listen to him communicate with the quarterbacks and communicate with the team.
He has a lot of confidence, has an extremely very strong understanding from top to bottom of every position. I said that from the very beginning. And I think that exudes confidence. He understands, he could coach all those positions. He understands it all. And really, obviously, it’s his system, but great, big-picture view of it that he communicates well.
Some guys can have it in their head that they can’t get it out to the guys that they coach, which that’s the key. It’s not what we know as coaches, it’s what our players can execute.
So I think just to be able to install a new system and see it adjusted each week to maximize what the opponent is giving us is what I see him doing. And being able to adjust to different personnel that we have, that fit in there based on injuries or whatever, and just being able to get the ball to our guys that can make plays and help us win football games.
So been very pleased with what I’ve seen from him and what I expected is what I’ve seen. So he’s done a great job.
Q. Mike Penix and the way that he has approached the games that he’s approached, just like the Michigan State game, being on the road for the first time in the Big Ten and throwing those two interceptions to start off against Ball State and the way he responded, when you have a young quarterback like that is there a conscious effort to develop some type of support system around him or was that kind of natural within the team?
COACH ALLEN: I think you do have a plan for that. We talked as a staff and we made a decision to go with Michael — was that he’s young and he’s going to be — some mistakes are going to be made. And you’ve got to help him grow, and you want to try to get him off — we talked about the way we wanted to start against Ball State.
And even just getting on the road, against Michigan State, his first true road game, definitely his first conference road game.
And so the crowd and how you handle all that and you try to — but at the same time you almost, you kind of got to take the training wheels off when it comes really down to it.
So you try and do as best you can. And I think more than anything it’s — even Peyton’s role in all this and the way he helps him and Peyton has been awesome in that regard, been a great teammate, and helping him mentally get ready and all the things that it takes and just being in meetings together and working through things that you see. And they talk a lot. So that’s a great thing.
But just more than anything it’s just try to take some pressure off him, say you don’t have to, you know, win the game yourself. You’ve just got to execute the offense, distribute the football, make good decisions. But at the end of the day he’s got to go out and do it. And he’s shown tremendous poise.
And I think we saw that in him, and I felt like that was one of his strengths for sure. But until you go do it and you have a chance to then evaluate it afterwards and you really know where you are.
So he’s still got things to continue to learn and keep getting better, stay locked in, stay focused. But I think there’s no question that you can see his growth. And it’s been very exciting to see what he’s becoming. But he’s just got to keep working like everybody else. We’ve got to keep finding ways every week to score points and win games.
Q. I think it was a week or so ago a piece of legislation in California passed allowing student-athletes in the future to profit off their image and likeness. Curious as to your thoughts on the legislation and the idea of student-athletes profiting off —
COACH ALLEN: I haven’t really talked to anybody officially about it. It’s not something that I’m in control over. So really focused on our task at hand. I’ll do whatever I can to support our guys. I just think those are decisions out of my hands, and I focus on things we can control which is getting ready to play Rutgers.
Q. Did you change anything defensively this week based on what you’ve seen through the first few ball games this year? In other words, did you make any adjustments to what’s been going on with your defense?
COACH ALLEN: Yeah, we continue to. I think even going into the Michigan State game, we made some adjustments. And then based off some things that we did there, good and bad, continue to make more, absolutely.
Really thought we had some very productive meetings as a defensive staff and me just going through — I rewatched the Michigan State game three different times and took three different sets of notes and just kind of — and then meshed them and just tried to go through and find ways to keep getting us better, because we’re not where I want to be yet defensively.
But we had some great time together because we had the time. We weren’t rushed to get ready for another game plan like you usually are after a game.
So I thought it was very, very beneficial, and Coach Wommack and I sat down and some of the other coaches. And just going through and just trying to — with the young group of guys it’s just continue to find what do we do best and what do we need to adjust to help our guys be more successful.
So just felt like that some things we definitely need to get better at and some things we changed. Yes, absolutely. But that’s a process of going through and getting everything the way I feel like it needs to be.
And very excited about our group of guys on that side. They play so hard and just gotta continue to execute better. That’s the key. We’ve got to execute better, and so we have to go through and ask some tough questions about why in those situations that we’re not. And that’s what we addressed and I continue to feel good about even just today things we’re working on in today’s practice. It’s kind of an off-growth of that conversation and those meetings.
But just was very, very thorough, yes, during these last, during this bye-week period.
Q. The next four weeks, including the bye, almost work out on paper, sequentially each week gets tougher, scheduling-wise. Is that perfect for what you need to see from this defense? And what is it specifically that you’re not doing well in your eyes, and how do you get there?
COACH ALLEN: Well, I think once again the schedule is what it is, good or bad. We don’t control it, so you just adapt to it and adjust to it. Definitely a good flow. You’ve got two home games, two away games.
And just gotta — to me, the whole focus is — and this is the beauty of being able to sit down with your guys and have some mature guys who understand the big picture, it is just one week at a time. There’s no doubt — we all see the celled. Everybody can look at it. But it is solely focused on get them off some blinders — Rutgers, that’s it; that’s all we see is getting better.
To me it’s a continuous work on run fits and just making those windows tighter. I think their running back, I went through and I’ve watched a lot of guys and next to the guys from Ohio State, this kid, No. 1, he’s the best running back we’ve played besides the kid from Ohio State.
And I just think that you cannot miss-fit things. That includes tackling. We continue to work on tackling. But to me, the run fits and the windows and getting tighter windows, and to me kind of just simplifying some things to help us execute.
Today it’s about execution. So, you go through and you say, okay, why are we not executing in these situations? Well, to me with the group that’s still young, you better make sure that the rep base is there to execute those key things at critical times.
I think it’s simplification in some ways, for sure, is one component to it. And to try to create as much carry-over as we can within the system. To me it still goes back to stopping the run and then we talk about situational. We really emphasize — we went through and did a study on two-minute situations. Did a study on third downs and red zone; those are the areas you’re focused on for the bye week for me, and to try to attack how can we be better in those three areas, because to me it’s situational football; that’s really what it comes down to.
But I just think that we’ve got to continue to simplify and execute better in those three key areas. But it also starts with stopping the run. That’s where I feel like we have to keep — thought today was very positive and just gotta keep working it, working it.
Q. Going back to Michael — I know you can’t just remove the Ohio State game, but absent the Ohio State, you have not given up a lot of sacks this year. And Simon said it’s about blocking and being ready there, but he feels like quarterback communication has been really important and it’s been really helpful whether it’s been Peyton or Mike back there. Just what have you seen as you break down the offense even as a defensive guy that has made pass protection work so well from kind of a whole unit perspective — again the Ohio State game being the outlier there?
COACH ALLEN: I think, first of all, I think Simon’s right; it is about communication. And we’ve talked about that, as a group develops working together in that position, their communication is critical.
But it’s really ultimately the quarterback, because we put a lot on the quarterback to be able to make those adjustments and calls. And the center has a big role in that as well. But as far as them trusting the quarterback, because he sees more than they can see, just from where he’s standing in the shotgun, and so I think that the ability to read coverages, which that goes back to coaching.
It’s a tribute to Coach Hiller, our offensive line coach. I think he does a tremendous job of just — he’s a great teacher and he’s got answers and he communicates. I sit in their meeting room, I sit in their last week or two different times, and just so thorough in every little thing. It just makes you realize how much they have on their plate. But communication is critical.
And then obviously the way the quarterbacks are coached. They go through and create videos and work on this all the time, about recognizing pressures and where is it coming from, and where we need to help to be slid to and matched up to, however we decide to do it. And at the end of the day, the quarterback has to be able to get rid of it and eliminate some of those.
So, a lot goes into it, for sure, but I think we have some veteran guys there and having a veteran center really helps a lot. I think that gives you a lot of — Hunter is a bright guy that works extremely hard and he cares so much. So he puts the time in, study as well. So those are all variables.
But then you throw in a true freshman replacing Coy, and so you really had a major drop-off from experience in reps. And I think that’s where it was even more impressive with what we were able to do against a really good front seven against Michigan State.
So, we’ve got to keep working. It’s going to give us a challenge. And I saw several games yesterday where there was a whole bunch of sacks in this conference, I mean a lot of them. So, these defenses are aggressive and there’s a lot of great athletes on the D line, and they’re bringing pressure, and they’re disguising stuff and trying to confuse you. Takes a lot of work.
It’s a full-time job just making sure that we get the protection right, because it’s all about protecting that quarterback. And defensively it’s all about affecting that quarterback. So that doesn’t change.
Q. Matthew Bedford obviously got in against Michigan State. How big was this bye week for him and how much of an opportunity was it to see the film?
COACH ALLEN: Very important because you think about the whole thing unfolded, where he was thrust into the playing opportunity against UConn, which we really weren’t sure he was going to play much in that one. And then all of a sudden now, he’s totally thrown into it, getting ready for Michigan State.
And so now you’ve got that whole week of prep that he was forced into, and now you add a week after that where he gets a chance to just fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals, and just now that he knows that he’s the starting left tackle.
So just the sense of urgency that creates, and now a whole — and a week to do it when you don’t have the pressure of a game, I thought, was really good for him. But he’s going to be tested. And he’s going to have to really rise up and study and dive into it and prepare at a high level.
But he’s got a great mentor. And one of Coy’s jobs will be that. And so that’s going to be — he and I will meet here soon, and he’s got a chance to come back from his surgery and he’s got his little scooter now; he’s out there with his cast on and everything.
But he’s going to be Coach Cronk here real soon. But just gotta help get these guys — and that’s going to be his new role, to motivate and to lead and to help coach the O linemen from a different position.
But he’s a team guy. He’s a captain. He’s a leader of this team. And he just isn’t going to be doing it on the field. But he’s highly respected and he’s going to play a big role in helping Matt Bedford’s development.
So I love that about Coy. And he’s excited about that. And that’s what leaders do. So he’s a special guy.