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October 7, 2014

Darrell Hazell

THE MODERATOR:  We will get an opening statement from Coach.
COACH HAZELL:  Real quick, recap the game from last Saturday, I thought our team played extremely well.  I thought for the first time for four quarters they fed off of each other, offensively, defensively and special teams, and we made a lot of plays that we had to make.
I was real proud of our football team and the energy they brought, especially going on the road, Big 10, first time going on the road in the Big Ten this season, I thought they did a great job of finishing that football game coming out of the locker room in the second half and playing with a lot of heart, so I was proud of our football team.
As you study Michigan State, very good football team in all phases,  they're very sound and physical and they know how to win.  We're going to have to do some things to make sure we take advantage of some of the things they give you but we cannot make the mistakes we have made in the past if we're going to be a successful football team on Saturday.
We're looking forward to this contest, our guys are ready to get back to the field and they have been in the office studying for the last couple of days.

Q.  Darryl, I guess the status on Sean Robinson?
COACH HAZELL:  Unfortunately Sean hurt his knee late in the football game.  The MRI was not good, and we're going to try to take it week by  week to see if we can get him back at all.  We're not sure we can or not but that's where we are with Sean.  It's unfortunate because we are getting thin at that linebacker spot and we will have to do some juggling to move people around.

Q.  What kind of juggling?  Who needs to step up?
COACH HAZELL:  We're going to put Ja'Whaun Bentley in as the "Mike," we'll play Jimmy Herman's skill at the "Sam", move Danny E.  to the "Will" backer, Andy Garcia to the "Will" backer and try to figure out which one of those guys can perform the best when we're in base package.

Q.  When you look at Michigan State, you talked about them but with Connor Cook he has developed into an outstanding quarterback, what attributes make him so effective?
COACH HAZELL:¬† You're absolutely right.¬† I thought at the beginning of last season he struggled and you can see his progress getting better and better and right now studying him this morning he's accurate with the ball, he throws a great route, he gets it out of his hands and doesn't take sacks very often, once in a while he will get a little rattled back there, but most of the time he cuts it loose, gets it out‑of‑bounds and makes good decisions with the football and he really has developed into a very, very good passer.

Q.  They have a receiver, Tony  Lippett, who I believe leads the Big Ten in catches, basically 21, is he going deep all the time or breaking tackles?  What makes him dangerous?
COACH HAZELL:  He's got a little bit of everything, he really does.  He's got patience in the route, you see him set defenders up, and he's got ability after the catch and he's a big guy that can run pretty well so we're going to have to do some things to stifle him a little bit.

Q.  Is this the Big Ten's best defense you will be facing?  I know your numbers are skewed from the Oregon  game but is this as formidable a defensive team you're going to play all year?
COACH HAZELL:¬† I haven't studied all the defenses in the conference but I would be hard fought to find a defense as good as these guys, they're excellent, they play typical 4‑coverage where they're going to play man‑to‑man, nine guys in the box, they have great eye discipline, typically you will see guys peeking to see what the play action is, they have unreal¬† eye discipline and their safeties are linebackers, they're down in the box as soon as the quarterback takes the snap.¬† This is a sound defense when they get you in third and long watch out because here comes something.

Q.¬† Darryl, you mentioned just a minute ago about finishing a game.¬† Your second half was by far probably your best of the year.¬† Just in terms of game‑to‑game with young teams, it's hard‑‑ I think the two times you've been disappointed this year were after victories, the Central Michigan game and offensively the Iowa game.¬† How does a young team learn how to grasp the momentum of playing well and carry it from game to game?
COACH HAZELL:  I think it's very important that you show them where their shortcomings were in those games.  If they can see that and you educate them there, that helps them understand here are the areas of improvement that we need to make.  I think our team's a very educated team right now.  I think they're smart and I think they're learning and I think they're only going to get better because of the education process that our coaches take them through.

Q.  And the fact that Michigan State is highly ranked in tradition last couple of years, players usually say you don't need any extra motivation when you're in a game like this, this is why you play the game, to play the great ones?
COACH HAZELL:  Every game is its own separate entity I say that every week and that's the truth in college football.  You look across the country and the landscape of college football Saturday after Saturday and I will assure you our team will be ready to play on Saturday at 3:30.

Q.  Going into the season, a lot of questions about the offensive line and in some respects just because they hadn't played together or hadn't played that much but tremendous rushing effort at Illinois and she seem like they're getting better, Jordan Roos, a guy who has played pretty well, a sophomore.  Could you talk about how that development of the offensive line, moving forward, could be a key to the rest of the season offensively?
COACH HAZELL:  I think that group really has probably been the best surprise as a position group through six games.  They're really starting to gel.  They did an unbelievable job on our zone scheme last week.  We ran a lot of zone plays and they did a great job at the point of attack on the double teams, and then getting up to the second level and be able to hit those big runs was because  the running backs only had to hit the safeties and the corners, had nothing to do with the linebacker and the front people so if they can continue to get better because they still have a lot of growth, a lot of things we need to do better but those guys need to continue and get better and they're going to be pretty good when it's all said and done.

Q.  You mentioned the team managed energy and how they were feeding off each other earlier.  How can that be more controlled in the future, moving forward?
COACH HAZELL:¬† I think anytime the offense is able to respond when defense gives up a touchdown and anytime the defense can get stops, I think that is what feeds into team football.¬† That's what was happening on Saturday.¬† The defense was coming up with fourth down stops and blocking field goals and the energy goes over to the offense because of those things and same thing when the offense responds and gets a touchdown after defense gave one up, they're high‑5ing on the sideline, I think there is nothing like that.¬† There's just a great feeling on the sideline.

Q.¬† Do you have long‑term objectives that you can meet toward that?
COACH HAZELL:¬† Well, it's something you talk about all the time, about playing for each other, and that's something you always‑‑ you try to stress that as much as you can because it is a team game and it's‑‑ it takes all of us, everybody that's on the trip to win the football game.

Q.  Do you have any comment on Appleby's  play?  Did you expect him to play so well?
COACH HAZELL:  I watch him in practice all the time and he's quite capable of playing that way, obviously he provided energy that we needed coming off the bench and he was very calm and relaxed.  I thought he made some really good throws and created some things.  The big run that he had was a huge lift for us on the quarterback draw.

Q.  What are you doing offensively to prepare for a Michigan State defense?
COACH HAZELL:  There are a few things that Michigan State does that we can attack.  I don't want to go into great detail on that but there's a few things they do.  We have seen this defense for the last seven years, since he's been there and we'll do some things.

Q.  What can you do to continue big play success on offense?
COACH HAZELL:¬† I think it's about doing your assignment.¬† It really is.¬† If you can do your assignment, do your blocks and get what we call touchdown blocks on the perimeter by the wide‑outs, I think those create big plays.¬† Also you have to break tackles and you saw Danny Anthrop's run, he broke one tackle and the safety took a poor angle and he was able to out run the guy but you have to get big plays.

Q.  What's the status on Landon's injury, Landon Feichter?
COACH HAZELL:  I'm not sure Landon had an injury.

Q.  I had no idea, either.  Is Raheem Mostert in line for more touches in the backfield after Saturday?
COACH HAZELL:¬† Akeem is running the ball pretty well right now and you only have one football so you try to give it to the guys that you can‑‑ will make plays and Raheem obviously can play plays for us so we obviously like him to be ready to go and we'll see how many touches he gets on Saturday.

Q.  Coach, Big Ten, obviously had some great defenses through the years, some of which you saw at Ohio State, where do you think that Michigan defense rates?
COACH HAZELL:  I think they're outstanding, their defensive end, No. 89 is different, he's a different player, so athletic for a big guy,  he's 6'5'' 350 lbs, and he comes off the edge.  We're going to have to do some things to make sure he doesn't get in the backfield, but I think what makes them so good is they do very few things but they do them exceptionally well and they know exactly where all their help is and their weaknesses are just as they know where their weaknesses are as well and they can compensate for those.

Q.  Losing not only a good player like Sean but the emotional leader, how big of a blow is that?  Not just on the field but in the locker room.
COACH HAZELL:  It's huge  because he is a great leader.  Sean is a great leader and he gets guys lined up.  He is the calmness among the defense, he's a calm guy and he calms everyone around him down because of his knowledge and how much he studies the game, so we're going to have to draw on Sean in other avenues as a guy on the sidelines and a guy in the meetings but that's a big blow for us, he's one of the best players on our football team.

Q.  And Michigan State's defense, what they did against Abdullah last week is extraordinary.  Do you have to get creative to try to run against them?
COACH HAZELL:  Yeah, I think you got to be creative but I think you also got to block 'em and that's part of it.
If you can sustain blocks, not take negative plays, and try to establish some consistency, then you got to be good on third down so you have those additional plays that you need to have against a team like Michigan State and you gotta keep their offense off the field because their offense is better.  The defensive gets all the "pub" but their offense is pretty good offense.

Q.  Where are your wide receivers now in their ability to beat the man coverage by Michigan State?
COACH HAZELL:¬† We're going to have to help them.¬† B.J. outside wide, he will get matched up, and you have DeAngelo outside wide and their whole plan, "they" being Michigan State is to play nine‑man football, take those two wide‑outs out of the game like they're not on the field and play with the safeties down in the box so we're going to have to do things to help our wide‑outs get cut free.

Q.  What makes them so hard to run against?  Their personnel?  Their style?  Their emphasis?  How would you characterize it?
COACH HAZELL:¬† They have good personnel, very good personnel, but their scheme is we have nine guys to play the run and all their eyes are on‑‑ when this ball is being handed off their eyes are glued on the running back and they're running to the ball.¬† So you have to be able to do some things to take advantage of that.

Q.  If it were that simple, wouldn't everybody do it?
COACH HAZELL:  Certainly.

Q.¬† Their personnel‑‑ they seem to have the corners that make that possible.

Q.¬† From an offensive standpoint they have the big‑play receiver and a running back who has been very good.¬† Is it a challenge to cover all your bases?
COACH HAZELL:¬† Yeah, they can, they're a little bit different than the traditional Michigan State team which used to lineup in "I" and two tight ends and run downhill, they're starting to run sweeps, spread you out, play‑action pass off the speed sweep, they're doing reverses, they're untraditional for Michigan State.

Q.  You did not get Connor Cook's best day last year.  What do you see in him that's made him so effective?
COACH HAZELL:¬† Like I said earlier, he does a great job of getting rid of the football but his accuracy has improved immensely from last year.¬† I think he's in‑‑ in zone coverages, he rarely misses.¬† I think he's a little off versus man covers‑‑ not off but he doesn't strike it as well but in zone coverages, he will find the guy and hit him.

Q.  Can you just maybe put the victory against Illinois in context of what it means for the program?
COACH HAZELL:  Well, anytime you get a victory like that on the road and you know, two evenly matched teams in my opinion, I think there are certain validations you get out of that and it provides energy for your program to continue to work hard at the things that you know you are doing the right things but all of the sudden it's confirmed.  So I think that's where you see it the most.  The guys came in on Sunday, they were so upbeat, we ran on Sunday night just to flush the body a little bit and get some conditioning in, but the whole mood is so different when you get a win like that.

Q.  Austin said after the game it was not the Rose Bowl but it's the first one.  And you had to get the first one.  Is that what you're talking about, building the momentum, hopefully?
COACH HAZELL:  Everything is about building.  You know, it's about improvement every single week and making sure our guys understand that and that this week has nothing to do with last week, it really doesn't.  It's about preparing for Michigan State and making sure we put ourselves in the best position to be successful on Saturday.

Q.  You said after the game we're just scratching the surface.  Can you expound on that?  Were there certain elements that you saw Saturday that you hadn't seen?
COACH HAZELL:  Like I said earlier, it's the energy on the sideline when the defense makes a play or the offense makes a play where there is so much support across the ball.  I think that's the thing that's become very evident when you start to do those types of things, and I think that's where you gotta keep building and the special teams, that last punt by Thomas Meadows, that was such a big play that's sometimes overlooked but those are the plays that you have to make against good football teams.

Q.  Austin has been pretty vocal about the fact that he's been the best quarterback since he's been here, pretty much.  Have you seen him waiting patiently for his opportunity?  How would you describe him and what he's been like to get to this point?
COACH HAZELL:¬† Austin is a team guy, and he's been very supportive of his teammates, offense, defense, and I'm just happy for his success on Saturday.¬† I thought he was‑‑ he did everything we asked him to do and then a little bit more, and I was just proud of how he played on Saturday.

Q.  There were a will the of reasons why I'm sure you guys didn't try to go down field against Illinois, the wind and your run game was doing well.  Is that something you have to try to do more of this week?

Q.  I kind of walked into that!  (Laughter.)  What are the challenges for him, he's still a young quarterback, second start, going against a defense like this that can bring pressure or a few different things?
COACH HAZELL:¬† I think the big challenge for Austin this week is not to try to do too much and play within the scheme.¬† There are some great things within the scheme that could perhaps take advantage of some of the things that you give‑‑ they give to us, but he can't feel like he has to take the snap and try to run around and make a play like he did last week.¬† He can't play that way, that will get him into trouble.¬† As long as he stays within the scheme of the offense, he will have success.

Q.  You talked about guys having to step up and that's something for the linebackers that they're going to have to do but was it nice for them to see him get this opportunity and seize it?
COACH HAZELL:  Austin?  Yeah, you never know how a guy is going to perform until he gets out there, but he rose to the level that you want him to.

Q.  You are making tweaks to the helmets this week with the yellowish.  Why?  What's the importance with the "Hammer Down Cancer" week?
COACH HAZELL:¬† I think it's our way of showing our support for all cancer survivors and we will wear‑‑ I'm not sure what the colors‑‑ I've heard lime green, lime yellow, I'm not sure what the specific color family it comes out of but it's about us being able to support and show how important that is to us.¬† We will be wearing our white jerseys, white pants, black helmets with the lime green.

Q.  With your linebackers, how do you arrive at the point of putting them in this position, moving forward?
COACH HAZELL:  Where we are right now?

Q.  Yeah.
COACH HAZELL:  Well, the thing that we needed to see is how many guys did you want to move?  We were cautious about moving too many guys but we felt like our best player right now is Ja'Whaun Bentley.  He has to play, we feel, "Mike" backer for us.  So we didn't want to make Jimmy the "Mike" and move him, as well as move someone else, so  put Ja'Whaun at the "Mike", leave Jimmy at the "Sam", so you don't have two switches there, and then we gotta figure out who the best "Will" is for us.

Q.  Did Sean tear his ACL?
COACH HAZELL:  The MRI says he has a significant injury to his ACL, yes.

Q.  With Sean, trying to get him on the field down the road, guys have done this before, played with a torn ACL, is that what you see down the road as a potential situation for him?
COACH HAZELL:  That's the best case scenario right now.  I think that right now he's very swollen and you're going to have to take a week or two to see what happens after the swelling goes down.
His mind has to be in the right place to be able to do that.  There are guys that have played on torn ACLs and hopefully he comes back after two weeks and feels good and wants to go for it for his last four weeks, we'll see.  Obviously you wouldn't pressure him into doing that and it's going to be his decision all the way, 100% and we'll see where he is in two weeks.

Q.  As you've studied Michigan State's defense and teams that have had success against them, what have you seen?  Where have teams exploited them if that's the right word against that defense?
COACH HAZELL:  I think the team that did the best is Oregon and some of the things they did.  They spread 'em out and did some things.  You gotta get the ball out of the quarterback's hands because they're good up front.  They have a good pass rusher, but they created some situations offensively that allowed them to get some plays, positive plays and, again, they broke some tackles and got some guys in space.  They don't want you in space, Michigan State does not want you in space so they got some guys in space and they were able to reap the benefits because of that.

Q.  Do you show your team what you did against them defensively last year?  They only scored one offensive touchdown against you.  Is that a reference point you bring up this week?
COACH HAZELL:¬† No, but yes.¬† Obviously you watch the film from last year, always, you study the film, what you did well, didn't do well, but, again, every‑‑ people have to understand every week is a different week, every year is a different year.¬† You can say, yeah, we did this against 'em last year so it should be‑‑ no, it's not like that at all.
But you do reference how you fit gaps, played coverage, all those different things, what formations you might see.

Q.  I believe that was the second game, you were in your new defensive system with some of your new personnel.  And they had some success that game, at least keeping them out of the end zone.

Q.  Big picture question.  You're at the halfway point, you have had an up and down first half.  What are you looking for these next six games?  Big picture, what's the one thing that you want to see the second half of the season?
COACH HAZELL:¬† I think it's continual improvement from each guy and I think that's happened pretty consistently.¬† If you look back to‑‑ in my estimation you look back toward the Notre Dame game and how we started to play better and each week was better.¬† Now, we were missing some plays here and there, Iowa was better, we were missing a couple of plays, but I think we're playing better football, more sound, I think we're playing with a greater intensity level and we just need to keep improving and things will take care of themselves.

Q.  Your players gave you the game ball afterwards, is that something you will keep?
COACH HAZELL:  Oh, I will keep it, but it's not about me.  It was a great honor, they handed me the game ball, but, again, it's never going to be about me.

Q.  Was Austin able to keep the game ball at all?
COACH HAZELL:  I have no idea what Austin did with that ball?

Q.  Is he allowed to keep it?
COACH HAZELL:  No, I'm taking it from him.  We need that for practice.  (Laughter.)  No, I don't know what Austin did with that game ball.

Q.  A schematic question, I guess.  If you don't see what you like at "Will" linebacker, are you capable of playing nickel, primarily against teams like Michigan State and Wisconsin and some teams you will face down the stretch?
COACH HAZELL:  That's the concern.  You start playing five defensive backs and two linebackers against teams that are going to come out in 21 and 12 personnel to beat personnel, can you hold up?  That's the question you have to ask.  Now, if Michigan State comes out in a lot of 11 personnel, we will be in a lot of quarter package, which is your five defensive back and four defensive linemen.  But it's that fine line, can you hold up versus power and outside zone and inside zone and isolation with your five defensive backs on the field.  You gotta get that third linebacker on the field to help you.

Q.¬† This is probably going to come a time where you would have to play base four‑three?
COACH HAZELL:  Yeah, you got to be able to play base.

Q.  You have joked and been serious about Ja'Whaun Bentley not talking a lot.  What challenges does he face if any moving now to middle linebacker for you in that regard?
COACH HAZELL:¬† He's got to talk now.¬† He really has to.¬† Our linebacker is the one that sets the front and everything is based after that front call that he says and we need him to be much more vocal and really demonstrative about setting the front so we can get Ra'Zahn and Jake Replogle lined up quick and that was part of the issue last‑‑ their last touchdown, I believe.¬† We didn't have guys lined up when Sean went out of the game and they were able to quick snap us and run the ball in for the touchdown, so we need to have gentleman Juan step up verbally and make those calls.¬† If that's all he says, that will be good!

Q.¬† Are you more comfortable at this point‑‑ obviously you don't want to have to do this but with moving him to that spot now rather than having him move ‑‑
(Cell phone ringing.)
COACH HAZELL:  That's me!  (Laughter.)

Q.  Rather than on early on in the season having him have to move?  Are you more comfortable with how he's playing now to do this?
COACH HAZELL:  He's comfortable, but you're asking him to change, so will that disrupt his comfort level?  I hope not.  I hope not but we'll see.  We need him to get comfortable quickly making calls, because right now he's the only one that can do it.  Obviously you can put Jimmy inside and there is no role that says the "Mike" backer makes the front calls, you can have the "Will" do it I'm not sure if they can do that I don't think Danny E.  is ready to make those calls and I don't think Andy is either, so Ja'Whaun is probably best suited at this time to make those calls.

Q.  Do you like how Herman has come back from his injury?
COACH HAZELL:¬† He's done a great job.¬† He's a guy‑‑ when he came into the season‑‑ you knew he was athletic, you knew he could run but you were concerned about, will he be that physical guy he needs to be, and he has stuck his face in and made physical plays for us since he's been back off the injury.

Q.  Update on Miles?
COACH HAZELL:  Miles is going to practice today, it was not a torn ACL.  Really, the MRI didn't show any structural damage at all so we're going to try to get some practice out of him today so that was good news.

Q.  What's been different in Akeem Hunt this year?  As the lead back last year he struggled and maybe that was a product of your team struggling a little bit, too, but what's been different to allow him to play this year, better?
COACH HAZELL:  I think he studied game and that's where it starts.  There are so many tips before the ball is being snapped that allow you to be more successful when the ball is snapped, so I think that's one step he he's taken, but I think he's been much more decisive when the ball has been in his hands.  Before last year he would do this squirrel around, spin thing and try to bounce everything outside and now he's putting his foot in the ground and he made a lot of good runs that you may not appreciate, that you appreciate as an offensive coach, where he would get hit for 3 and you look up and it's second and 4, and he would get those hidden yards that you're talk to the running backs about, you gotta find those hidden yards.

Q.¬† Coach, last year going into Michigan State, different situation, they weren't ranked, nobody knew about them.¬† Is there any extra motivation this year, coming off the win, a top‑dog in the Big Ten, any extra motivation?
COACH HAZELL:  We don't look at rankings, so much, we look at the team itself, we don't look at first, eighth, tenth, any of those things, we take it, prepare as hard as we can and try to find those things that can help you win the football game and then you go.  They're going to be prepared for this game, the next game, doesn't matter what game it is, they're going to be prepared and I hope we don't need any extra motivation.

Q.  Are there any players on the team that have been affected or have family members that have been affected by cancer?  Does this game mean a lot for certain players?
COACH HAZELL:¬† I'm sure there's been guys on our team that has been affected, it's such a wide‑range disease and I'm sure they will be very deep‑rooted in some people, more than others.¬† I'm sure, yeah.
THE MODERATOR:  Thanks, Coach for your time.

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