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October 28, 2014

Darrell Hazell

COACH HAZELL:  We had a bye last week, took some time off, much needed.  We have been going since August.  I thought our guys needed a little bit of a break.  We went out basically Wednesday and Thursday, cut back practices several periods, and went out Friday for a special situation practice, a little two minute, four minute from overtime situations.  I gave them Saturday off.  Came back on Sunday and had a 15 perfect practice plays for Saturday's practice.  I thought they looked fresh.  I thought they looked rejuvenated and ready to go and play a good Nebraska team on Saturday, this coming Saturday afternoon.

Q.  Obviously you played Nebraska, you guys played against (indiscernible).  What made him so dominating this season?
COACH HAZELL:  He's an incredible running back.  Absolutely incredible.  He's got unbelievable patience.  He's quick through the hole.  He's got great balance and he's strong.  You watch him from quarter to quarter and he just gets better as the game goes on.  He's just, in my opinion, he's a phenomenal running back.

Q.  Nebraska's offensive in the second in Big Ten and 6th nationally, and in points scored and in total offense.  With Armstrong at quarterback, what kind of problems does he face?
COACH HAZELL:  Well, you've got to defend both of those guys.  And I think that's the key.  If you try to key on one of them you're in trouble, because the other guy can beat you with big plays.  Both of those guys compliment each other so well, and they can throw it.  That's what makes them also very special.  No. 80, he's a good player.  They do a great job with the combination blocks and their offensive line.  It's a very formidable offense, they've got it rolling right now.

Q.  I know you've been working to shore up the secondary.  What do you need to see from the secondary and in particular what do you need to see from Landon?
COACH HAZELL:  I think the big thing from our back end and they can't give up those big plays in the passing game.  That's what hurt us two weeks ago against Minnesota the third quarter, we gave up three big pass plays over 30 yards, 40 yards.  You can't do that.  You've got to make them earn every single inch when they're on offense.
We've got to be better in the back end in terms of eye discipline.  And they have to come up and support the run, especially this week.  We've got to be able to put an 8th and the 9th hat into the box to make sure we're able to stop those two ball carriers.

Q.¬† You do that obviously to expose the back end a little bit, you feel confident in your ability to defend one‑on‑one, if necessary?
COACH HAZELL:¬† Yeah, you've got to mix it up.¬† I think against these guys.¬† You can't play all man‑to‑man coverage, because you don't want to turn your back on No. 4 and No. 8, playing man‑to‑man coverage.¬† But also you have to be able to put those extra hats in the box.¬† Sometimes you have to be able to drop those safeties down and be maxed up on the one‑on‑one on the outside.¬† You've got to have a blend of both man and zone coverage again these guys.

Q.  In particular with Landon, what do you want to see from him?
COACH HAZELL:¬† Landon, he's still dealing with some back issues.¬† But he's just got to be ‑‑ able to be physical coming downhill, and be able to make those tackles at the line of scrimmage, that we're asking him to make.

Q.  What did you want to accomplish during the off week?
COACH HAZELL:  Well, a couple of things.  I thought we needed for get fresh again.  I thought we needed to rest our bodies.  We were a little beat up going into the bye week.  But also clear your minds a little bit and take a step back and kind of evaluate where we are and as a football team, where you are as an individual.

Q.  When you evaluate, where do you see where this football team is right now?
COACH HAZELL:  I absolutely see us getting better, but we have to make sure we continue that process.  We've got to take the next step in all those close football games that we're getting closer each week.  You've got to be able to take that next step and be able to finish those games.

Q.  Any one aspect of the game that you really wanted to focus on this time?
COACH HAZELL:  It's always third down.  We did a lot of third down emphasis on Thursday, I believe it was.  But you can't get enough third down work.
The other situation is two minutes.  You see it come up so often, week in and week out, with so many different football teams.  And the teams that can control that two minute situation is usually the team that comes out ahead.

Q.  Obviously you've gone against Langford and Cobb the last two games, what did you learn from them to help you prepare for this one?
COACH HAZELL:  Well, I think each of those backs are pretty special.  But I think he's really, really good.  I think he's, in my opinion, I think he might be a little bit above some of those other guys that we've seen so far.  I just think he's got the top end speeds as well as the quickness.
So to help ourselves we have to do a great job of gang tackling.¬† We can't expect our guys to go one‑on‑one with him.¬† We've seen him embarrass some guys in the open field.¬† You've got to be able to get more guys around the ball when he's got the ball in his hand.

Q.  What's the state of the linebacking group and is Ja'Whaun oncoming along?
COACH HAZELL:  Ja'Whaun has done a great job.  He gets better each week.  He gets a little bit more comfortable.  He's speaking up a lot more.  And I think those other guys are doing a good job, Jimmy Herman and Danny E, are doing a good job.  We're not very deep, which is a concern, but I think they're continually getting better.  I think Coach Freeman is doing a good job with them.

Q.  How do you address the late game turn over problems?
COACH HAZELL:  You always talk about the most important thing is taking care of the football.  We did an emphasis with the quarterbacks, which is probably something we hadn't done a whole lot of with the quarterback protection on Sunday, because we're running it a lot more with those guys, they need to have the emphasis of taking care of the ball, as well.

Q.  Can you talk about the back half, and the defense playing better, not giving up those big plays.  Do you need some more pressure up front to maybe help the secondary out a little bit?
COACH HAZELL:¬† Yeah, I think so.¬† We're not getting as much pressure as we had early in the season, playing better people, that's one of the issues you're dealing with.¬† But we have to beat one‑on‑one matchups.¬† We've got big offensive line you're going against, and we have to be able to create a little bit of pressure, make the quarterback uncomfortable, make him slide in the pocket.¬† So there's that fine line.¬† Do you bring linebacker pressure?¬† Do you bring secondary pressure, then you leave other guys vulnerable.¬† It's that balance you have to find.

Q.  Not that you're going to give away the whole game plan, you saw some zone read against Minnesota a couple of weeks ago.  This is a zone read team, too.  Do you have to approach it the same?  What do you guys do this week compared to two weeks ago?
COACH HAZELL:  Well, I think we have a big emphasis today on that, because they do a great job.  He rides the tailback.  And he waits for that end to squeeze down or waits for the linebacker to flow and then he pulls it out.  We have to do a good job.  It's like playing option football.
You'll see us practice today some periods without a ball, because it's about the assignment that you have with the defender.  If you have the quarterback, you go tackle the quarterback, he doesn't have four eyes.  If you have the running back, you better go tackle the running back and that's it.  You can't have your eyes on two different places when you play assignment football.

Q.  With the defensive ends that you have, is that what you're talking about, each play could be different as far as their responsibilities?
COACH HAZELL:  Absolutely.  Sometimes they have the quarterback, sometimes they might have the back.  And with have different calls to make sure they go to right guy.  And they have to do exactly what we're asking them to do.

Q.  Before the bye week your offense is on a pretty good roll from a momentum standpoint.  Signs in the bye week that that still is the case, that you feel like you still have that momentum in the offensive?
COACH HAZELL:  I think the big thing about the football team is your offensive line.  They take on the characteristics of your offense line.  Our offensive line continually gets better each eek week.  You saw last week in the bye week, you watch them, even the two's level is getting better, their pop off the ball is much better.  Our offensive line can continue to improve week in and week out.  You'll like the progress that we make with the entire offensive.

Q.  Speaking of the offensive line, dealing with Randy Gregory, how do you approach that this week?
COACH HAZELL:¬† He's unbelievable.¬† He's a great player.¬† I've watched ‑‑ one of the problems that you have with the bye week as a coach is you get to study too much film.¬† So you watch all this year's opponents and then you go back and watch the 2013 opponent when he was wearing a different jersey, No. 44.¬† He's just an unbelievable player.
We have to make sure we do some things.¬† They try to move him around, keep him hidden.¬† You can't hide that guy, he's 6‑6 and 235, 240 pounds.¬† He can run.¬† We'll have to do some things to make sure that we know exactly where he is.

Q.  Have you ever been to a game in Nebraska?
COACH HAZELL:  I've never been to a game there.  We visited their staff when I was back in Army back in '98.  But I've never been to a game.

Q.  Danny E has kind of bounced between rusher and linebacker, is that a position you see him next year and beyond that you like where he's at right now?
COACH HAZELL:  We had a chance to talk about that in our recruiting meeting the other day.  Where is he going to fit in next year's class.  We're not exactly sure yet.  We think he could be a rush guy, because you lose those two seniors, but we're also pretty thin on line backers.  It's nice to go have the flexibility to put him in either place.

Q.¬† You did, I guess, kind of like a self‑scout last week, when you said evaluate, is that essentially what you mean?
COACH HAZELL:¬† Self‑scout of our personnel, not of our schemes.

Q.¬† I guess what did you learn offensively, specifically, what you guys are doing well and ‑‑ at this time of the season do you focus on what you're doing well, kind of move forward with those things and not do other things that you're not doing as well?
COACH HAZELL:  I think the biggest thing for us right now is we feel like we've created an identity for ourselves offensively.  And each week you have to add to the game plan to make sure teams don't catch up with you.
So that's one of the things that we're continually talking about.  What are the next two or three wrinkles that we have to put into the things that we're doing well now.

Q.  Because you guys do so much personnel groupings, why does that matter, if you're a defensive coach and you see your offense, why does that matter?
COACH HAZELL:  I can't answer that.  I know the answer, but I can't answer that.  Or I won't answer, correct.

Q.  Has your offensive philosophy changed the last year and a half?  Did you envision being something when you first came and you're not that now?
COACH HAZELL:  Well, we were buttoned down pretty good last year, a lot more two backs, and two tight end formations last year and probably didn't have the guys moving around as well as we'd like to up front to be able to knock people off the ball.
But I think what we're evolved to right now is probably the direction we need to head in and continue to do well at, just being able to spread people out, be able to still zone block people.  Every once we'll hit a power, not very often, but we'll run some calls and be able to do all the misdirection, eye disciplines, eye candy things that keep some guys rocking the wrong way.

Q.  You had key guys in defense that didn't practice, whether it was Frankie or Howard, or Russell didn't go on Friday.  Where do those guys stand now?
COACH HAZELL:  That was by intention to make sure those guys get the rest they needed to get.  All three of them, Ra'Zahn and Frankie and Ryan Russell, and we're going to even taper them off a little bit today, because specific things that they need to be able to get in today's practice, making sure the guys are ready to go.

Q.  With Mostert, after he got removed as a starter a few weeks back, didn't have very much productivity those couple of weeks after, but sort of has rediscovered his niche a little bit and role.  Are you happy with sort of how he has come back from that and find a way in which to impact the team?
COACH HAZELL:  Well, I think he's been a team guy, I really do.  He moves early.
Raheem has been playing extremely well.  And we said last week that we need to get speed on the field.  And we can hit those six or seven yard plays or he can misread them once or twice or three times.  But the timing that he reads it right, potential touchdown.  That's what happened against Minnesota.  There's no substitution for a guy that can run as fast as he can run, if we can get him to the second level and I think that's where he's done a nice job for us.

Q.  Him not being a starter or not getting as many snaps on offense has allowed him to play more special teams.  He's proven that either in coverage or kickoffs or whatever, that he can be an impactful player there?
COACH HAZELL:  He's our best cover guys on punt, and that's helped him be fresh on that unit, as well as obviously the kickoff return team.  He's accepted all those different roles and niches that we put him in.  He's done a very good job.

Q.  What more do you need or what do you need differently out of your outside receivers to help spur the downhill passing game a little bit more?
COACH HAZELL:¬† Obviously the big thing is you've got to be able to uncover yourself.¬† Anytime you get man‑to‑man coverage, we've seen for eight weeks, press coverage on the outside.¬† We're going to continue to get pressed.¬† They have to continue to develop and play hard without the ball in their hands.¬† That's the No. 1 thing for receiver.¬† You have to play hard without the ball in your hands.¬† Meaning before that ball is thrown to you you've got to work to get yourself open.¬† And that's where we have to develop some of those young guys, and that will help them cover themselves free.

Q.  It sounds like that could be relatively easy.  It's harder this application, though, than what it just sounds?
COACH HAZELL:  It's much harder in application.  It's about technique.  It's about patience, and a lot of times young guys don't have patience at the line of scrimmage.  They think they're getting press coverage, so they have to rush, that's not the case.  A good receiver will work the defender and get himself open late.  You don't want to get open early, you want to get open late.

Q.  You mentioned the personnel meeting you had in regards to recruiting, what did you come up with, what are some of the priorities, looking at the big picture now with guys coming in and guys coming back, what do you need?
COACH HAZELL:  We look at a roster right now, we have 17 seniors on scholarship and six open spots to get you to 23.  You're always going to have some attrition.  So we're thinking a class of 25.
You look across the board, we need some defensive linemen.  We need some linebackers.  Obviously.  And those are probably the priority positions right now.
But also we're young at the offensive line.  We've got two guys that will be seniors next year in cube letter and head land, so the other guys are all young players.  You can probably go a little bit lighter there in terms of numbers.  But you have to get a stud wide receiver in this class.  And obviously we need to take some backs, because you're losing all those backs that you're taking.  And we need a little bit of everything, but there's certain positions that you need more of right now.

Q.  Both Joe and Sean now had their surgeries?
COACH HAZELL:  Sean had his this morning.  Joe had his I think two weeks ago.  Sean went home to have his this morning, so he should be out of the operating room by now.

Q.  Has it gone well?
COACH HAZELL:  Joe's went very well.  I have not talked to anyone about Sean's, but I'm assuming they did a good job.

Q.  Need to ask you a couple of questions about Nebraska.  Just to start off, you already kind of touched on the challenges that Ameer Abdullah presents.  Can you elaborate on him and what sets him apart?
COACH HAZELL:  He's a complete back.  You can see on film how unselfish he is.  When the quarterback pulls it he's jumping around and supporting those guys.
He can block.¬† He can catch it out of the back field.¬† He's an unbelievable ‑‑ for 190 pounds he runs like he's 225.¬† Very physical.¬† And he's got great quickness.¬† He gets in the open space he really breaks people down.¬† He's a pretty special player.

Q.  What about the run game in general, what makes them really good systematically?
COACH HAZELL:  They don't do a whole lot of different things.  But what they do do is they run a lot of zone read.  And they give the quarterback the option of giving the ball or pulling the ball.  And he's a good runner with the ball.  Obviously he's not the same as 8 is, but he's a really good runner with the football.  And he knows how to make those yards that he make.

Q.  It seems like Armstrong is pretty effective in the option game, and a big arm.  How big a challenge is that that you have a quarterback like that?
COACH HAZELL:  You have to take one thing away and make them as you one dimensional as you can.  Obviously if you can stop the run, which is a formidable task, as you watched the course of the season, if you can stop the run and make them one dimensional, it helps your chances.
Again, you've got to go back to committing guys to the box to be able to do that.

Q.  Seems like they, or most of the people that cover them, say they really like to pressure with their front four without doing a lot of extra stuff?
COACH HAZELL:  That's very accurate, too, they really feel good about their front four.  No. 7 is a great inside player.  No. 4 is a great outside player.  And those guys get action, and they're twisting.  On third down situations, look for No. 4 at the line in a lot of different places to try to keep them protected.  They are very athletic up front.
You know they do very well, I think, more so than the teams that we've played before, is they play this max zone coverage in the back end, which means that it starts looking like zone at first, and all of a sudden everybody is manned up, and they do a great job of switching off the crossing routes and the up the field routes.

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