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November 18, 2014

Darrell Hazell

THE MODERATOR:  We will have an opening statement from Coach Hazell and then we will open it up for questions.
COACH HAZELL:  After our game two weeks ago against Wisconsin we had a chance to get some rest and get some guys healthy and took the week to let guys rest and didn't put them in any action at all and let them stand on the sideline so we can get 'em back for the final two games here and obviously we have a good, Northwestern opponent coming in on Saturday and I think it's a great match‑up for both teams as you look at the personnel and study the personnel, I think we're very evenly‑matched football teams and it should be a great time for our seniors in the furnace for the last time, so looking forward to Saturday.

Q.  Darrell, I guess the first question is when you look at Northwestern they've had impressive wins, including a couple days ago and disappointing defeats.  What concerns you and can you explain that inconsistency, which I know it's not your team but such a disparity in excellence and struggles.
COACH HAZELL:  You look at their football team and it starts with their quarterback.  I think he's an excellent player.  I think he's so efficient.  I went through the cut‑ups yesterday and timed the amount of time he holds the ball, it's less than 2.5 seconds that he has the ball in his hands, so that makes him really, really effective.  Teams don't get to him, they really don't.  You're hoping you get a four‑man pressure and you can't bring a fifth guy and he finds the open guy and it starts with him, then they got a nice freshman running back who is running hard, got some quickness in the hole and those two guys really make their offense go.  They're playing well defensively, there is no big names on the defense, but they play well with each other, and that's why they've been so effective in some of those big games.

Q.  When you face a quarterback that gets rid of the ball so quickly, is it the coverage‑‑ tight coverage, is that a key to contain that, since it's going to be tough to put much pressure on him?
COACH HAZELL:  Yeah, I think you can't give him open‑lane throws because he'll find 'em and hit 'em.  I think you do have to put pressure on the wide‑outs outside, but he does a good job of throwing it down the field with those back shoulder throws, so you have to be careful there as well.
I think it's very important to mix it up and makes sure he keys sees a couple different looks and we got to do a good job up front with those front four guys.

Q.  The game that Landon had, when you look at that, consider that, what do you need from him the rest of the way?
COACH HAZELL:  Perhaps his best performance, ever, since I've been here at least.  I thought he was extremely productive.  I think he had 52 or 53 production points, tackles for loss, big plays on a great back, a pick, a fumble recovery, a calls fumble.
Just a phenomenal game for Landon, he just needs to finish his career off the same way.

Q.  And lastly the ability to learn how to win, to know how to win.  Minnesota seems to have mastered that a little bit.  I know you talked before about being able to finish plays, is that what it comes down to, finishing one or two key plays?
COACH HAZELL:  That's the whole key is to have one or two guys step up in those last couple drives, whether it's offensively or defensively and you gotta make a play, and that's really what it comes down to.  Who is going to make the play at the most critical point in time at the end of the football game?  That's what matters at the end of the games to finish the games.

Q.  Darrell, as you look at the last two weeks of the season, coming off a bye especially when you get some time to think about things, you're looking at it from two perspectives, one, you want your seniors to finish on a high note.  If you could get these last two wins, I know you're only thinking about Northwestern but you could get to five, which would be a four‑game improvement from last year, create more enthusiasm, but, like I said, that's looking forward.  You're still in the here and now wanting your seniors to win.  Is it kind of a two‑pronged element as you go into the last two weeks?
COACH HAZELL:  I think it's always good to build momentum going into the off‑season but we owe so much to this group of seniors, these 17 seniors that put so much into that program and we want very desperately to go out and do the right things on Saturday so they can experience that success.

Q.  If that success comes, as I just said, you've got some things to show recruits in the off‑season, to show fans as they would look forward to next season.  If you could get these incremental steps, that's what it's all about in building a program, isn't it?  You have to take steps at a time?
COACH HAZELL:  It's always about improvement and we talk about that all the time.  That certainly shows improvement, but we've improved.  We've improved immensely and I think we obviously haven't‑‑ we're nowhere where we need to be but we're certainly on the upward trend.  I think this is such an important game for us for so many different reasons.

Q.  Lastly, Pete started to ask you about it, but in watching Northwestern this year obviously I would have thought they would have gotten your guys attention winning at Penn State and Notre Dame which go two of the most difficult venues in which to win and then they beat a great Northwestern team in Evanston, they've had some poor performances.  They've had an interesting season to say the least but they have had a lot of success in big games haven't they?
COACH HAZELL:  They really have.  I think their staff does a great job. I think they're in the right position to make plays and I think Coach Fits has done a nice job with that football team and you can see the young players developing, I think the quarterback's development over the course of the season has been really, really good.  I think it's a good football team.

Q.  Were there any players that you watched in particular during the bye week, letting them rest, any that you had your eyes on?
COACH HAZELL:  Our current players?

Q.  Yes.
COACH HAZELL:  Ra'Zahn was a guy we wanted to rest, Ryan Russell, obviously Frankie Williams is obviously a guy we needed to rest but there were a couple of other guys that we needed to sit on the sidelines and make sure they're healthy for the stretch.

Q.  What surprised you from Northwestern when they played Notre Dame?
COACH HAZELL:  Well, I think the thing that‑‑ you watch that film and the game live on TV, they continue to fight, no matter what the situation was.  There was quite a few times where you thought the game might be over but they never gave up.  They found ways too make plays.  The quarterback, he does such a good job of dropping the ball off, those guys were sinking into deep coverage and he was dropping it off to the back and being very patient.

Q.  Can you talk about Paul Griggs in particular, what are your thoughts on the progression he's made this year?
COACH HAZELL:  He's had a really good season.  We went into the season with two‑man kicking battle.  He won the job, and has taken off from there.  I got a lot of confidence in putting Paul out there he's done a phenomenal job for us this year.

Q.  Just to start off, could you breakdown Northwestern's offense for us?  Obviously they don't have a couple of important pieces to their passing game, but what did you see on film when they played Notre Dame from their offense that you have to concern yourself with?
COACH HAZELL:  I think the big thing with Northwestern's offense is they spread you ought, and they have a million different route combinations that they make you try to defend all of them and you gotta be careful that you don't try to put too much in your guys' heads opinion so they have all these different combinations, man routes, zone routes, and they do a good job with their front five protecting.  They do a lot of turn protection which doesn't let allow people to get to them and like I said earlier, he gets rid of the ball extremely fast, which keeps him protected.

Q.  Did you see something at Notre Dame that you didn't see prior when you watched the games before they played Notre Dame?  Because their numbers on offense aren't terribly impressive but did something click for them at Notre Dame?
COACH HAZELL:  I don't think so, but they hit a couple of big shots which allowed them to get down the field but I don't think they did anything differently previously from the six or seven games that we study on film.

Q.  They have been inconsistent in the past, I think their quarterback has thrown six touchdowns, ten interceptions, something like that.  Is that something you can potentially exploit?
COACH HAZELL:  I was surprised when I saw‑‑ I read the stat this morning, it's eight touchdowns, maybe someone else through two of them but I was surprised that they had not thrown just studying the film, more touchdown passes, not sure why, but as well as he throws the ball, as well as they catch the ball, you would have thought they would have thrown a few more touchdown passes, but they're an excellent passing football team.

Q.  Breakdown their defense for us, if you could.
COACH HAZELL:  Well, they're an even front, and they play a lot of zone coverage on first and second down, a lot of man coverage on third down with one high safety.  Again, they do a good job of rushing with their front four.  They don't bring a whole lot of pressure, they might bring a fifth guy in first and second downs, usually in third downs they will.  They play well off of each other.

Q.  They haven't from a numbers perspective gotten a lot of pressure on the quarterback.  Is that something that was probably an emphasis touring your bye week in terms of protecting the quarterback, considering some of the things that happened at Nebraska and Wisconsin?
COACH HAZELL:  Yeah, we were exploited a little bit in those is last two games in terms of protection so we had to make some adjustments, which I can't share with you but we did make some adjustments, we spent about 45 minutes last night talking about those adjustments and making sure that Austin can stand in there and not have guys run up the middle of the field, the formation, so that's one of the things that we'll have to make sure we do a good job of on Saturday.

Q.  Good afternoon.  When you look back in the off‑season and this senior class, how much did they help push this group forward just from a mental standpoint, in getting it into a different place than where you were a year ago?
COACH HAZELL:  These were a great group of young men, that football was very important to them, school was very important to them, their teammates were very important to them.  These are some special guys and you really‑‑ you know, you really have some serious administration for he these‑‑ admiration for these guys that are in your locker room, you'll miss these guys for sure.

Q.  You made it a point to sit down with every player last year but what did you learn from your senior group?
COACH HAZELL:  I think they care.  That's the biggest thing, they care about everything they're involved in.  You watch them go out into the community, they do that because it's important to them.  You watch them prepare for games, because it's important to those guys.  This is a group of young men who care about their surroundings and the people that are in their surroundings.

Q.  When you look at the last two games, you've made progress this year in a lot of areas, but do you need wins these last two games to validate the movement that you guys have made this year?
COACH HAZELL:  You always need wins, that's why we're in the business, to win the football game.  We're doing everything we can to make sure we give our guys the best opportunity to win, and obviously sometimes you fall short but we're in the business of winning and that's what we're going to try to do on Saturday.

Q.  If you don't get these wins does it slow your progress?
COACH HAZELL:  I don't want to talk about not getting those wins.  I want to try to get those wins, you know?

Q.  You're coming off a long stretch of not only playing good opponents but teams that ran the ball at you and that was their focus.  At least with Northwestern that's not really their focus.  Talk about the shift defensively or the approach you have to take defensively this week.
COACH HAZELL:  It's a unique style that they run, because they do run the outside zone very well, and we got to make sure we don't lose sight of that because they will shift No. 28 back into the backfield from an empty set and they run the outside zone probably as well as anybody we have played.  Obviously they don't have the back‑‑ he's a good back, not just like the guy we played but they do a good job of running the zone and we have to do a good job of making sure we get some batted balls against this quarterback about.

Q.  Why are they so good at blocking kicks and punts?
COACH HAZELL:  Because it's an emphasis for them.  I think they had this season they've had 12 rushed, to try to put pressure on them, 12 rushed and one block, but they do a good job and they overload sides and make sure that you're sound and you better not wiggle a little bit with the ball because they will be home and you'll be sorry about it.

Q.  After you had the two punts blocked at Nebraska, do you feel much better about the adjustments you made if you had to make any adjustments at all in that area?
COACH HAZELL:  Yeah, there is a couple of different solutions to what we had at Nebraska, so we made one of 'em last week against Wisconsin, and then we have even another one or two adjustments that we can make if we're getting a lot of pressure from teams.

Q.  Just from a wide receivers standpoint you got the freshman, Trae and Gregory a lot of snaps last week, as you look at this week how much will they be involved and does DeAngelo still have the same role going into this week that he had in prior games?
COACH HAZELL:  You're going to see those young guys probably more so and we'll put a gauge on it the rest of the week but right now if we were to play today we would start Trea and start Greg, but we will see how that goes throughout the rest of the week. 

Q.  What are the pregame plans for Senior Day?
COACH HAZELL:  We're going to have the young underclassmen take the field probably about 20 minutes or so prior to kickoff, then we will hold the seniors in the tunnel, we will have their parents out on the field and they will run out with a rose for their parents.

Q.  Akeem Hunt you talked about quite a bit this year but his maturation even in the last two years be since you've been here, his teammates talked about how he was a little bit of a "me" guy and he transformed into a "team" guy, have you seen that?
COACH HAZELL:  Oh absolutely.  Definitely, he's a different guy than he was last year, learning the importance of trying to move this program forward and people around him.  He's done a great job for us this year and like I said, I'm proud of and happy for his success.

Q.  You have so many key seniors obviously that are starting games and have started all season, Ryan Russell is a guy who has been a consistent starter.  I think a lot of pressure was maybe on him when he came in to be the next best defensive end.  How have you seen him live up to what your expectations have been for the last two years?
COACH HAZELL:  I think Ryan has done a really good job, I really do.  I think he's been hampered by injuries this season, but I think he's done a good job this season in the locker room and done a good job with his young defensive players trying to get those guys to be better and I'm pleased with the way that Ryan has helped us.

Q.  Has he been as consistent as you would like from a production or motor standpoint?
COACH HAZELL:  It all depends on, you know, if you look at consistency in terms of what we're asking him to do‑‑ a lot of times you play run teams he's not going to have the numbers that a lot of people like to see, there are two and three sacks, tackle says, all those thins but when you play good running football teams if you're holding the point and forcing the run back to help, that's his job.

Q.  He's done that?
COACH HAZELL:  He's done that, yeah.

Q.  You spoke about it but in terms of "buying in" for this senior class specifically did you see a shift for them at the end, maybe, of last year because the season was so tough they knew that they needed to get everybody on the same page?
COACH HAZELL:  I really felt the shift when we got back off Christmas break with this group of guys, probably in January when we started working back together and just, like I said before, just the importance of everything to these group of guys.  They've stuck to it, no matter what's happened, they have not wavered in their commitment and that's why you have a lot of appreciation and respect for these guys.

Q.  In terms of injured guys do you expect all of them to play this week, Frankie, Howard, Russell?
COACH HAZELL:  The only guy that's questionable right now is Danny Monteroso, he's the only guy that's questionable.  Frankie is probable, he's cleared his test and he not does not have any recurring symptoms.  We're going to keep him out of contact until probably later in the week.  But all those other guys should be ready to go.

Q.  What about the two offensive linemen, the tackles?
COACH HAZELL:  Those guys are beat up but they're going to be available to us but they're beat up, still, Cerm has a little bit of a groin and J.J. has two shoulder that he's dealing with.  Hopefully between the two of those guys we can get a full game out of them.

Q.  Knauf, do you know if he would be available this week?
COACH HAZELL:  B.J. is not available this week.

Q.  Considering Northwestern does the spread, is it possible we could see Frankie with Taylor and Landon at the same time?
COACH HAZELL:  You will see those three on the field together.  We're going to put Frankie back outside as a corner and play Landon and Taylor inside at the safety spot.

Q.  How do you think that Landon responded to being taken out of the lineup a couple games ago?
COACH HAZELL:  You know the answer to that question.  (Laughter.)  Obviously he had a very productive day at Nebraska, then came back and had a great day against Wisconsin, so the answer to your question is he responded very well.

Q.  I need you to answer that, though.
COACH HAZELL:  I understand.

Q.  What's Carlos Carvagal's progress now, looks like he did some things in practice last week.
COACH HAZELL:  He's coming along, I think he's probably three to four weeks away from probably being pretty close to 100%.  We're putting him in individual drills, no team activities yet but he's making some significant progress.

Q.  You need him back fully by the spring?  Is that the goal then?
COACH HAZELL:  We need him, we would like to have him back 100% by this spring, yes.

Q.  I only use the word "need" because‑‑
COACH HAZELL:  We're losing three good players at the tight end position so we're going to be tin had the springtime.

Q.  Anything different the with the helmets this week?  What's the uniform combination?
COACH HAZELL:  We're going gold‑black‑black and we were going to go black‑black‑black but at our last meal I talked to the seniors and they really, last chance potential to wear that gold helmet was very important to them.

Q.  Can you talk about the progression of Raheem since you've gotten here and what you've seen from him all the way up through this season?
COACH HAZELL:  Well, Raheem is a guy, another team player.  He wants to do anything he can do to help us be successful.  He shared the role as the tailback this year and he's obviously done a good job of returning kicks for us, but you can't get enough of those types of guys in your locker room, the guys that are around them are important to them.

Q.  We talked all season about how close this team is to putting a full game together.  Does it seem closer now than it may be was a couple weeks ago?
COACH HAZELL:  I think so, but it comes down to me‑‑ a full game together means being able to make those plays when you need to make those plays.  Now you played two very good football teams the last couple of weeks, which the harder the football team is, the harder to make those plays but we need to be able to do that going down the stretch, be able to play for four quarters with all three of our units playing lights out football.

Q.  Just with Frankie Williams probable this week if he can go, do you think he will be returning punts or is that something that you don't want to put him out there‑‑
COACH HAZELL:  We're going to hold him on the punt return duty for this week and use Landon back there as well as Miles and use Frankie at the corner spot.
THE MODERATOR:  Anything else for Coach?  Appreciate your time, Coach.

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