Pelini Talks About Defense, Michigan State

Posted by: Sports

Nebraska Football
Weekly Press Conference
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
Monday, Oct. 29, 2012
Pre-Michigan State

Head Coach Bo Pelini
On how he expects his team to come back after a physical game on Saturday

“That's part of the deal. That's part of football. Going into week nine, the stakes keep going up, and you have to be ready to answer the call. Everyone is sore this time of year, and you are getting to that point in the season where you have to be mentally tough, prepare really well and be ready to answer the call every Saturday.”

On Taylor Martinez's condition
“Taylor's fine. He's good.”

On his expectation for Rex Burkhead this week
“I'm not sure. It's day to day. We'll have to see how the week progresses.”

On wide receiver Taariq Allen's injury
“He'll have surgery on Thursday.”

On what the injury was
“It was his knee like I thought.”

On if Braylon Heard is available on Saturday
“Yeah. We weren't going to play him unless we needed to. He tweaked his groin on Thursday. He was available but with the situation with Rex, unless we needed him, we weren't going to play him.”

On his status
“He's good to go. He's 100 percent right now.”

On if he knew he'd have to lean on Ameer Abdullah against Michigan
“Ameer and Imani (Cross). Braylon was available, but like I said, we weren't going to use him unless we really needed to and Ameer felt good. Imani was able to go in for Ameer, so it was good.”

On how he's seen Abdullah improve
“He's a good football player. He's hard to tackle, he has great vision. I think he's still learning some things obviously, but I think he's a top-notch running back. He's a good football player.”

On what makes Michigan State's defense so strong
“It's not anything fancy. They line up and they do what they do. They play aggressive, they play hard, and they are physical up front. They challenge receivers on the outside in the secondary. They are well-coached. It's a good group.”

On if they have a tendency to blitz the quarterback
“Yeah they are going to blitz some. They don't go overly crazy. They are going to do enough to try and keep you off-balanced. We are still in the process of studying them and developing our game plan. I think our guys are looking forward to the challenge.”

On if the best game they played last year was against Michigan State
“I don't know. I thought we played pretty well against them. We left some things out on the field in every area, and I'm sure they would say the same thing. We'll have to see how it goes.”

On what David Santos brings to the linebacker spot
“I think he is growing. I've said all along I think David is going to be a good football player. He's starting to figure out the mental aspect of it, and he's getting more comfortable. As that continues, I think you'll see his athleticism. He can run, he's explosive, he can play in the open field and do some good things. Now he's to the point where he's not going to hurt us. He's really helping us and doing some good things. I think he'll really continue to develop. He's nowhere near where I think he's going to be in the future, but I think he's going to get better.”

On why the defense was able to get three interceptions on Saturday
“I told them before the game that they are going to have some opportunities and we need to catch them. Anytime you get a takeaway, it's a big deal and it's a big play for you. I think our guys understand that we let some opportunities slip through our fingers literally in the previous week. When you have the opportunities, you have to make plays. I thought that was a big difference in the game.”

On how to coach aggressiveness with so many bang-bang penalties
“We try to create awareness. I don't know how to coach it. That's the way the game is going a little bit.”

On how long it takes the secondary players to learn the level of commitment he wants at that position
“That's how I was brought up. That's my belief, that's our philosophy and how we play. We match routes. We are pretty aggressive in how we play. There's a lot of different ways to play. That's how we choose to play. We have guys that the more experience they get, the better they get at it, understanding where the help's coming from and how it all works within the scheme. It's nothing magical. It's really across the board. Playing good defense is doing your job. Handling your responsibility first. Having an understanding of what we're trying to get done and why we are trying to get it done. It requires great preparation in this day and age to play great defense. This will be the first game where we don't have a lot of quarterback run to play against. That's another whole level of responsibility in how we play. We haven't changed philosophically over the last couple weeks, but we've executed a lot better. I think our execution has gotten better, our understanding has gotten better, so therefore the results have been there. That's your challenge every week; trying to execute what you're trying to do game plan-wise.”

On examples of why they are playing better
“I think we've played pretty well up front the last couple weeks. We've gotten off some blocks, we've used blockers and for me in my world, it's kind of hard for me to not use the word 'execution.' We have done that well the last couple weeks. We've been in the right spots. We've been disciplined.”

On what's been different from a layman's perspective
“Guys doing their job. We haven't made a lot of big mistakes. Our mental errors have been few and far between. That's a big deal and a big difference. When you don't have mental errors, you don't create big issues for yourself. You eliminate explosion and people have to execute down the field on you. I think that's helped us. Maybe I've simplified it a little bit. Maybe I should say simplify, maybe I've reduced the amount of calls in some instances of what we've done in certain situations. I've altered what we've been doing philosophically a little bit, but not a lot. We've kind of stayed in the same structure and maybe limited certain areas of it and allowed us to play fast and aggressive and maybe with a greater deal of understanding.”

On elaborating on having to stop the run
“It's how you do it. It's interesting because a lot of the similar concepts we used against Ohio State we've employed the last couple weeks, we've just done them better. You maybe limit the amount of ways that you do it. Maybe that's been to a certain extent what we've done, but there's some give and take with that. To say we've committed everyone to the run game, that really isn't true. We've picked and chose the amount of ways that we've done it.”

On if he's given his safeties more running responsibilities
“Our safeties always have running responsibilities. That's always been the case. Like I said, we've used them to a larger extent a greater amount of the time than we have before. We've maybe limited the amount of ways that we've gotten where we've gone to. Does that make sense?”

On the second half defense
“I thought we had a good mix in the second half. I felt pretty good. We gave them some different looks. We dropped right once. We gave them a number of different looks, and I thought that helped us both pressure-wise and coverage-wise.”

On if the running game is different in the Big Ten than when he coached in the SEC and Big 12
“I think that period running the football late in the year is a premium. You need to be able to do that. You need to be physical on both sides of the football. I just kind of said it when I came in here, when you get pasy week eight, physicality is at a premium. Everyone is a little bit beat up and a little bit sore and fatigued not just physically, but probably more mentally. When I say that in their preparation you have to fight through all those things and you have to go. You have to bring your best every Saturday and to do that, you have to bring your best every week. Your preparation has to be good. You can't succumb to the human nature of 'hey I need a day off.' There are no day offs. You earn your day off in the summer when all this is done.”

On if Michigan State has the most physical defense in the Big Ten
“I think they do a good job physically. They are a tough group, I think they are physical. I think they are well-coached. I have a lot of respect for the way they play defense over there.”

On the defense for the next four weeks playing against more pro-style offenses
“You game-plan accordingly. It means you are going to be similar in some ways but different than you've seen in probably some different weeks. There are different challenges out there that each offense presents to you.”

On if he prefers pro-style offenses
“You've got to defend what they are going to put out there. I don't prefer one or the other to be honest with you. These guys have a good running back, a quarterback who is really talented I think, and can make all the throws. He's going to be an outstanding quarterback in time. They also have some good, talented receivers with some big, physical tight ends to add to it. They present a lot of challenges to you.”

On if the defense has more responsibilities
“No, not really. I don't know what you mean by decisions. Sometimes you maybe limit the amount of guys making those decisions and are making those reads. You contain it. That's about all I can say about that. Playing good defense is about reading and reacting and making the right decisions and that's our job to help them make the split-second decisions the right way more often than not.”

On what level of defense is most affected by it
“All three. It's a team game. It goes front to back, it really does.”

On if there was ever a time last year when he thought Sean Fisher wouldn't make it all the way back
“No I always thought he was going to get back, but I also had regard for the type of injury that he had. That was tough. Probably toward the middle or end of last year, I saw him getting back to where he was getting more comfortable, but he'd have to answer that question. I don't think he felt like he ever got all the way back last year. When I saw him coming back was in the spring time, and I saw him not necessarily playing that foot and doing the things that he'd done in the past.”

On what led to the decision to use him in more nickel packages
“First of all, he deserves to get more playing time. It's really easy with the Mike linebacker position to put one guy out there and let him get into a rhythm and let him go. In our defense, he's making a lot of calls and making a lot of adjustments and running through them. He's deserved some playing time. He's practiced well, he's healthy, and he's feeling good. We feel like that will make him better and that will make (Will) Compton better. It's tough to play every down. He played a fair amount of snaps the other day in base and did well.”

On how the team has bounced back since Ohio State
“I don't know. I've said all along that I like the character of our team. I thought they'd respond the right way, but we've got a long way to go. We made it hard on ourselves obviously at Northwestern and we played pretty well the other day, but there's still a lot more out there for our team. We've got a long way to go. The message right now is to stay the course and continue what we are doing day to day and get better each Saturday, because that's all that you can do. We're going to get challenged. We're going into a tough environment this week against a good, physical football team. The last two weeks are over with. That's all you can do.”

On how tough the task will be the rest of the year
“My message to the team is you get what you earn in this world. They are not going to give you anything. You have to earn it and you have to be ready to go take it. It's as simple as that. It's not going to just happen by mistake. It's not going to happen by magic. You have to put the work in and match the work ethic and the process with what you want to result to be. Us and football coaches and our team as a whole, that has to continue. We knew we put ourselves in that situation and the only thing we can control is to win out. The next one on our schedule is this coming Saturday and all we can control is how we prepare for that today.”

On if the defense's performance gives them a bounce in their step
“I don't know. I don't buy in to all that. I want to temper into that as much as anything else. Our team is confident. Our team believes in itself and what they are capable of doing. You have to have tremendous respect for the game and knowing that you have to do everything in your power to be at your best each and every single Saturday. That's what it will require this Saturday; to be a good, physical, well-coached football team in Michigan State.”

On if he's seen Prince Amukamara or Alfonzo Dennard in the NFL the last couple weeks
“Yeah I saw Prince a little bit yesterday. I know Fonzie had a pick a couple weeks ago. I saw Prince make a couple good plays in the game yesterday. I saw he got called for a bad pass interference call.”

On what he thought of the pass interference call
“They picked it up and they should've picked it up.”

On if he breaks down the technique when watching the game
“I thought he played that really well. I thought they could've called offensive pass interference rather than defensive pass interference. That guy was pulling on him.”

On how it makes him feel to have four guys getting consistent playing time in the NFL
“I give credit to those guys. They've busted their butt, worked hard, gotten better. I have a lot of confidence in what we do and how we do it defensively. We've been improving over the last couple years. Is it the only way? No. Absolutely not. There are a lot of ways to go about playing it. I have a lot of beliefs in how we teach it. I think it's worked well. I think we develop our guys well. I think we teach them how to play the game and expose them to a lot of different things. Secondary-wise when they get in the NFL, they are going to have some background in understanding the system. Hopefully they've learned some techniques and some things that are going to help them to have success at the next level. At the end of the day, those guys got themselves there, not me. Hopefully we helped facilitate that, but you've got to give credit to those guys for the work they've put in and it's paid off for them.”

On how many defenses mask routes the way he does in college
“I don't know. Probably not a lot. The extent that we do it and how we do it, I don't know. We visit with a couple people that want to go that way. Like I said, some people probably look at us and say we are crazy. That's their philosophy and we have ours.”

On Taylor Martinez's performance over the last three years
“I think Taylor has taken a lot of hits. I think he's done a lot of great things since he's been here. I think the best part about it is I think there is still a lot more out there for him. He continues to work hard. I think he's developing in a lot of different ways. I think he's maturing as a football player. I think there's still a lot more he can do to get better. He's not perfect by any means, but I think he's continued to grow and develop as a football player and as a football coach, all you can ask him to go is come out every day and try to get better each day. I think that's the philosophy he's taken. I think he's become mentally tougher through all the things he's gone through. I think that's made him better, but I think there's still a lot more out there for him. I really do.”

On how to stop Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell
“You have to get on him quickly. You have to be good up front and physical. He's a big physical back and you don't want to get him rolling. He's a good player. He's one of the better backs in the league obviously and he's a good football player. He can run the ball, but he can also hurt you in the passing game. He's shown the ability to catch balls.”

On his workload
“You better be a big, physical guy like he is. Obviously it lends to his toughness and their philosophy offensively. They believe in being physical and running the football, and it kind of starts there for them.”

On his opinion of refs controlling tempo
“I guess it's difficult. It can be pretty hard at times on you. The hardest thing to me is when they are changing personnel a lot. For the most part, the crews we've been up against have done a nice job of allowing the substitutions to happen and when they have subbed. I think it was in one of the earlier games when they were standing above the ball and we had to use a timeout on the second play of the game and then they fixed it. I think they should be allowed to play as fast as they can as long as they manage the substitution aspect of it and give you the opportunity to match. I don't think that's going away. I think that there are a lot of teams out there who are playing faster and faster. There is no rule against it, and I don't really know how you police it.”

On how long the referees should stand over the ball for substitutions
“As long as they don't allow a microphone to be in the area and you are able to communicate. I've talked to the refs at times and not only do you have to match, but you have to get the call in there communicated, too. It can't just be you standing there and letting the guys play. You have to understand the formation defensively and get your guys lined up and get the call. It can't be a snap thing where they expect that to happen in the blink of an eye. That's just the way football is. The offense gets their call and they know what you are doing defensively, they need a second. You are lining up to what the offense does. I think they have to keep that in mind. Sometimes I don't think they all quite understand all the things that go on there. I think it's going to eventually lend itself to you as a coach doing what the NFL does and being able to communicate to a guy on the field, which to me makes sense. The problem with the NCAA is probably the dollar and cents thing. Hopefully they'll continue to keep that in mind as they move forward.”

On how much it varies from crew to crew
“I think crew to crew, they are handling it better now. I think it's so prevalent. For a while there, you wouldn't see it and now you are seeing it week to week. They have a lot more experience in dealing with it where it's not as new as it was a couple years ago.”

On Fisher and Compton's cohesiveness
“Like I said, I think they are close. You throw (Alonzo) Whaley into that mix. In these position groups, you become close and I think they help each other. We have good character guys who are team guys. You look at Whaley and how he's helped (David) Santos and how the older guys have brought those guys along. When you are out there in practice and Compton is taking the reps or Fish is taking the reps, you see how the guys are talking with each other when they come off the field. That's an important part of the game and an important part of the deal. Regardless of who is out there, we are all part of the team and we are trying to play the best football that we possibly can. Whether you are out there or not, you are trying to help the other guy.”

On if he's had a chance to talk with new Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst the last couple weeks
“Not anything at length, but I've met Shawn. He seems like a tremendous hire and a great guy. Other than a 10-minute conversation, that's about it. I think he's been very respectful of the situation that he's in. Obviously Coach Osborne is going to be here until the first of the year, and I think he's had respect for that and kind of been in the background.”

On what was different about last week's preparation
“Your standards have to be very high in preparation. We continue to stress it and talk about it and challenge our guys to take that preparation to a higher level each and every week and to know every last detail of the game plan. That's the big emphasis that we have day to day. To a certain extent, they probably get tired of hearing me say it. They also have a pretty good understanding of what the truth is. You can usually tell on Wednesday or Thursday how the preparation is going to carry over to Saturday.”