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October 7, 2014

Tracy Claeys

Q.  Coach Claeys, what do you think is the key to making this defense as good as you've been when you have your opponent backed up in their own territory this year?
COACH CLAEYS:  We've kind of kept the pressure on as far as, possible, in the past, sat back and played more zone when people were on their way out and played it more safe and I think we have been a lot more aggressive with our back to the wall a little more because we've given up a lot of field position in the last two years when we have had people pinned down deep so I would say that's the biggest reason.

Q.  On the reverse of that, when you look at the shorter yardage situations you've been in, has there been something you have noticed where the defense has struggled to lock in?
COACH CLAEYS:  I think a couple of fade patterns, we made a couple of plays on a couple of fade patterns, people completed more balls on us in the red zone than what they did a year ago.

Q.  What's the health of your regular players, including Wells?
COACH CLAEYS:  I don't know if Coach went over stuff, I don't know.  Like I said, I will know when we get to practice today, if he practices or not.  We will see if he practices well this week.  He will play, but I don't find out until Tuesday when we get to practice who is going to go.  I know he's going to work out with Ed and see how it goes, and besides that I think everybody else is good to go.

Q.  Offensively what particular challenges does Northwestern present?
COACH CLAEYS:  They move their receivers in a bunch of formations and the tight end, they move 'em all over and it makes it hard to get matched up with them and at the same time the last two weeks they've gotten better at running the ball.  I think that's why they've been successful, they ran the ball a lot better here the last two weeks so they try to lull you into the fact that they're going to throw the ball but they do an awfully good job of running the football so we will have to make them one‑dimensional or they will be hard to stop.

Q.  Last year Colter got hurt and I think he was hurt a little bit going into that game too, do you see a difference the way he played that game to especially the last two?
COACH CLAEYS:  Actually the biggest difference is they have been able to run the ball so much better.  I think he's the same.  They do a nice job with their route combinations and things like that when you try to‑‑ when you play zone coverages and things like that.  He's been in the system long enough he knows what he's looking for so if he struggled early on because of be not being able to run the football and keep people honest, here the last two weeks they have.

Q.  With your freshmen defensive linemen, to lump 'em all together real quick, if you had to compare where they were week one to where they were at Michigan and maybe now, can you compare that?
COACH CLAEYS:  They're just so much better and part of it's getting used to the physical part of the game because each week you play a little bit better team and I think that even though we didn't play our best, we didn't play terrible at TCU but the young kids really played pretty good at TCU up front, and I think that gave them confidence by the way they played at TCU.

Q.  Given the changes you have made has this defense exceeded your expectations in some regard because you have had to adjust on the fly?
COACH CLAEYS:  I think up front with the young kids they played a lot better, but in the back end, I thought we would play well and we have.  We've gotten better at linebacker and I think that's shown with how well they've played.  I still think we have room to improve so, we had a good week of practice last week, and focused on fundamental and so on, and looking forward to another challenge.

Q.  How much has Damien Wilson meant to this defense?
COACH CLAEYS:  You have three of them, we played a lot of nickel so extra DB, but Jack Lynn and De'Vondre and Damien, all three of them, they're good players in space, they've tackled well on the run, so that's one of the reasons we've been able to play as many DBs as we have and still play well against the run because of how well they've done.

Q.  With the young group especially up front do you wonder how well they handle success against Michigan or was it good to have a bye‑‑
COACH CLAEYS:  I think it was good to have a bye, let everybody enjoy it for a couple of days and we came back to work, practiced awfully well.  We still have problems and they understand that and it's just one game in the Big Ten, so far, so there's a long ways to go.
They understand that.

Q.  How far has Gaelin come specifically?
COACH CLAEYS:  Same thing, it's just the physicalness of it, that's the thing you gotta get used to once you get into the intensity of the conference games.  So‑‑ he's made some big plays for us and he's still learning, all of them are, they're still learning.

Q.  Across the board you had guys you didn't expect the beginning of the year.  Is that one of the biggest surprises, they've overcome‑‑ not just the line but the secondary?
COACH CLAEYS:  Mainly in the line.  You lose three down linemen in the very first ballgame that you play, and you're awfully young, don't know how deep you're going to be, that was a huge concern.  So we are getting back healthy, except for Scott, so we've got everybody back, now it's turned into, in certain situations there is a lot of depth there to use that probably wasn't counting on at the first of the year.

Q.  I know we talked about turnovers, a lot, but 15 in five games when you looked at this group going into the season did you think this was a type of unit that could create turnovers like that?
COACH CLAEYS:  Anytime you play fast and physical you have a chance of doing that, and I think we haven't gotten as many sacks up front but the ball has come out quicker and I've always said if you're playing the secondary linebackers, the faster the ball comes out, the easier it is to defend and I think that's given us the opportunity to make those turnovers, because of how fast the ball has come out.  We've tipped a few of 'em up front to people, so, you know, anytime people spread the field, like I say, so much comes down to athleticism and how athletic we are is probably as big of a deal as anything with regard to the turnovers opinion.

Q.  Do you feel like the pressure is there, and you're getting the kind of pressure you want?
COACH CLAEYS:  We time the ball and how quick it's coming out and except for a handful of downstairs this year we've gotten the ball out awfully quick and where it gets frustrating for the "D" linemen is the faster the ball comes out the easier it is to defend and I think those guys up front have done a good job of getting the ball out quick.

Q.  With the intensity on defense, when you're building a program is that one of the toughest things to teach, intensity from down‑to‑down?
COACH CLAEYS:  Yeah, when we got here, I think I told you this before, a lot of people told me I shouldn't come because they had a new "D" coordinator every two years for however many years it was and when you come to a place that's not used to playing defense it takes a little bit of time, but it still comes down to good athletes that love the game of football and‑‑ the thing you have to do is you have to sell kids on the fact that what happened in the past has no affect on the last game.  If you get yourself ready, play hard, you got a chance to be successful.  If you sit around and rely on the past all the time it's going to get you in trouble.  I think that's the thing of getting kids to do their work and prepare every week and don't compare scores, I think that's the challenge we all have, especially when you haven't been very good.

Q.  Do you anticipate Alex Keith having a bigger role this week based on what you saw last week?
COACH CLAEYS:  We will keep playing one week with the hot hand and we're going back to a "no huddle" team so we'll probably try to rotate guys in there a little bit more.  They're all capable of playing‑‑ he will get his opportunities to make plays like the rest of 'em will but Mike has played well and T.C. has played well so we will stick with our regular rotation and go in and see what happens.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, coach.

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