Oct. 16, 2006
On whether this game has a special meaning because of his friendship with Buffalo Head Coach Turner Gill:
"I think we're so tuned into wanting to keep getting better, taking games one game, trying to improve and getting ourselves a winning streak going that any of the periphery that surrounds this game is taking a back seat. Turner and I are really good friends, and I have a lot of friends on that staff. We have a lot of guys on our staff that know them as well, not just myself. There's been a special relationship between a number of people over the course of years. That all kind of takes a back seat to wanting to get things going well for your program and getting your kids ready to play their best game. It doesn't seem any different to me than preparation for any other game."
On having to deal with similar situations in the past:
"I really don't have any conversation with them leading up to the game. That friendship has been there in the past. It will continue to be there when this game is in the books, but you can't dwell on the fact that there are good friendships there and build anything more into it."
On the unique situation of coaching against a former player and former assistant coach:
"Unique is a good way of putting it, (smiling) but I don't really have any friends leading up to a game. I think most people in this business operate that way. In order to be in this business, and stay in it for any length of time, you better be a very competitive person. When it comes time to compete you expect your team to focus in so you need to focus in and put your energy into developing game plans, and not let anything surrounding the game even creep into it. There is a uniqueness about it. I appreciate what Turner is all about. He was an excellent player at Nebraska. We were on the staff with Coach (Tom) Osborne together, and he was on my staff so I've gotten to know him as a student-athlete and a coach. He's a great person. Our friendship is built on a very strong base so it will certainly continue long after this game and long after our time coaching here in the MAC."
On Turner Gill taking the Buffalo job:
"I knew for some time that Turner's goal was to become a head coach. Certainly, anytime that you have a chance to take a head coaching position you need to look strong and hard at it because they don't open up to you every day. There are a number of guys in this profession that have the dream and the goals, and really have the ability to be great head coaches that will probably never get a chance to be a head coach. It's just the way it is. There are that few jobs and that many people vying for those jobs when they do open up. In some ways, he's going into a situation that is somewhat ideal. It's a building situation and certainly there's not a lot of pressure immediately. I think most reasonable people wouldn't expect them to come out and go undefeated. Getting a chance to rebuild a program can be special, and I think it's a great opportunity for a coach. People up there are supportive of what he's going to be doing, and if you get the support then you have all you can ask for in terms of a chance to get your job done. I think he felt comfortable with that after visiting with those people, and the decision apparently became somewhat easy for him."
On the special teams' performance at Illinois:
"We've had our moments on special teams, and we know that the potential is there. We've been working hard at trying to get to where we have an advantage in every special teams area in every game. Sometimes that hasn't quite materialized the way we'd like it to, but we've had our moments. In this game, there were many bright moments. We had a roughing the kicker penalty that gave them a second opportunity and there were a few other things that transpired in the kicking game that weren't what we were after, but all in all, it played heavily into us winning that football game. A lot of players stepped up. Matt (Lasher), of course it's obvious what he contributed to the game. You don't have to be a football fan to sit in the stands to see his contribution and get that one figured out. When Chris Garrett got his injury and didn't play in the second half, now Mark Parson is returning punts. Everybody looks long and hard for guys that can catch a punt with guys bearing down on you. I thought he responded extremely well in that situation. Josh Abrams had some big, big plays in special teams for us. A lot of guys responded. We knew going in, that when you look at it statistically, we had an edge in almost every special teams category. Making that work and having it be in your favor on paper can be two different things, but it was great to see our guys step up and do the things necessary to win a lot of the special teams area."
On what he was thinking when the roughing the kicker penalty was called in the fourth quarter:
"I can't tell you (laughing). We were jumping up and down when Josh (Abrams) blocked the punt. That was huge in that game. You want him to block punts, but then you don't want him to hit anybody. Sometimes that doesn't work out. You're going to have a few of those. The risk is a lot of times worth it. I know this, if you're not giving great effort like he did and putting yourself on the edge as far as getting to the block point without making contact with the punter, if you don't put yourself in that position, you're never going to get anything blocked. It can come with the territory. We just took it as it was. He did so many great things in that games special-teams wise that it way overshadowed that one play."
On the increased production of the running game:
"If you're going to go into a game, and you're underdogs in the game, you have to have certain things. One, you have to have your special teams step up and get field position, but you also have to be able to establish some kind of a ground game. If you don't you're not going to win football games. We've been working hard to try and establish the ground game. You're always concerned about generating enough offense with the ground game so you can build off that. Kalvin (McRae) got some creases so there were some good blocks up front, but he got a great number of yards after contact. He did some special things to make things work on some plays. I thought it was a great game for him. It's good to see him on top of his game. It gives everybody that much more encouragement to do their part and maybe get him some more creases."
On the difficulty of keeping the players focused on the game rather than looking ahead to where the team may end up at the end of the season:
"I think we're coaching them in a manner that they understand what we're telling them. We're not a football team that can step on the football field and automatically win games. We have to be at the top of our game. We have to have everybody contributing in order to get it done. There's not a team on our schedule that can't beat us if we're not playing well. On the other side of it, there's not a team on our schedule that we can't beat. Those challenges are there for us, and I think we're smart enough as a team to know that looking down the road is not what we're after. We'll prepare for every game that we have left on the schedule, hope we can stay healthy and play our best football, and see what happens."
On the importance of the Illinois victory:
"I think it was big. We keep talking to our players about wanting to become a blip on the radar screen, and the way to do that is to step up and win some games that people don't see as even match-ups. That was somewhat the case there. It was just as big for the Western Michigan game. We were coming off a loss to Bowling Green, and it would have been very easy to start sliding. They didn't let that happen so that game was huge at that time for this program. It's the same with this last game. It was huge to get a win over Illinois. If we hadn't done it, it wouldn't have torn this program apart. We would have been a step back, but we would have been able to re-gather and get ready to go again. That is the good thing about our football team right now - they're pretty resilient. They're believing in themselves. They're playing with confidence. They're making plays at the end of games to win, and you only do that if you have great confidence in yourself. We're doing some good things, but we're not good enough to think that we can step on the field and not play our best football and come away with wins."
On Matt Lasher's confidence after Saturday:
"If you look at it, it's probably not fair to say he's been down for four weeks and now he had a great game. He's done great things in every single one of those games. He's doing so much for us that sometimes if a field goal gets blocked and he's kicked the ball too low, or he doesn't get a kickoff that carries into the endzone and they get a great return, well you look at those things and think he didn't have a great game. Then you look up and see he's averaged 40 yards on punts and maybe 38 net. So he's getting the ball placed right and getting a lot of hang time on it. He's just doing some great things that aren't noticeable to everyone necessarily. I think he's had an excellent season so far. He's had some individual things along the way that if he could do over again he'd certainly want another shot at it, but he hasn't let any of things set him back. His mindset is such and he's got the personality that you look for in kickers. We're just happy he was able to step up and have the kind of year that he's having as a senior for us."
On the challenges Buffalo presents:
"They're scary in that they have the ability to win football games. They're believing that they can do it. They're stepping on the field and playing at a level that's kept them in games until the end. They may not have come out on the positive side of it, but they've had to do a lot of good things to be in position in the fourth quarter like they've been in most games. I see them as a team that is putting a lot of points on the board. They've got some athletes that look like they can cause you problems on defense, and they match up with us very well in special teams. If you look at the special teams categories, if we're high in one, they're right there. They may be looking at this as a great match up for them in this game as to what they can do and how it can work for them. We'll have our hands full."
On Buffalo quarterback Drew Willy:
"He's a 61-percent right now as a thrower. He made some big plays against us last year to bring them back in the ball game. We had separated ourselves and were on the edge of winning that game convincingly, and he made some plays to bring them back and make it a close game at the end. I think he's doing the same thing. When you complete 61 percent of your passes that means you're getting some things done in the throwing game. I know they have two or three excellent running backs. They have a pretty good combination of things right now. He's a young player, and he keeps getting better and maturing as those young players do. I'm sure they like what they have in him and what he's able to do for them offensively."
On how Buffalo has improved from last season:
"Offensively, they're making plays so they're putting enough points on the board to keep them in ball games. I think they've devoted a great deal of times to special teams because their special teams are playing well and that just doesn't automatically happen. That happens because you have good personnel on your football team and you're able to get those people placed right. I think that has been a big improvement."
On the similarities of the two teams given the common background of each staff:
"You can see the background of the coordinators and where that's coming from, but everybody adds their own little recipe to it. There is some differences, but there's also a lot of similarity there, especially from the defensive side of it. I think both systems offensively open the game up more than the system that was at Nebraska."
On this week's injury report:
"He (Chris Garrett) has a chance. We're anxious to see him run around a little bit today to get a good feel for how that injury has responded over the weekend. When we left the locker room at the end of the game, the feeling was that he would have a pretty good shot of being ready to go this game, but we'll have to see. Jordan Meyers is still questionable for the game. Tyler Russ, high-ankle sprain, had to come out, but he went back in. That's sore and there's some swelling so it's somewhat questionable there. He's a tough kid and can play with some pain as demonstrated by his ability to go back in. That was a good sign, but I think he's still probably questionable."
On Michael Brown's recovery:
"I think he's going to be able to get out there and start running around with us, but getting him to playing speed may be a couple of weeks away."
On Tyler Russ' play: "Tyler has been around the ball all the time. He's having a great year. He's a captain. His leadership has been shown through his play as well as his actions and verbally what he's all about. He's really the kind of leader you look for."