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December 13, 2014

Charles Huff

Q.  Start off with the kickoff at Illinois, what did you learn about the wind going up to that point in the game?  As you look back on it now, is there anything you could have done differently to bring guys up, with the ball dying in the air?
COACH HUFF:  Not so much you could have done differently.  That was one of those freak things.  You talk about when you're playing the way we've been playing, every mistake, every positive is crucial, those kind of things show up to be bigger.
It's a situation where you learn from it.  Nothing that we could have done pre‑kick, pre‑snap to kind of say, hey, if you would have done this then this would have happened.
What we did learn from it is just from awareness standpoint, from the up backs, not normally looking for the ball in a situation where we're playing in a windy condition, where the wind's gusting.  For those of you that were there, it wasn't a consistent wind gust.  It was kind of like, okay, Illinois is about to kick off and let's blow the wind now.
So we did learn from it just to have a little bit of awareness, if something like that does happen again, and there is a gust of wind or a sudden change, that now we've got to put ourselves in position where we just are going to recover the ball instead of necessarily return.
Even the next kickoff, you can see we moved our guys up 15 yards.  And Grant Haley still caught the one that died in the wind on his shoestrings.  You move it up any more and you'll be in on sides alignment and another whole new world.
Those are situations where you have guys out there that are new, that are young.  A situation where you love the guy to be a little more aware.  Nothing that was on anybody's part where he could have been better or should have been lined up here or should have been moved over here.  Just one of those things that happen.
We were in a position that we could bounce back from it.  We always talk about one play.  Usually it doesn't win or lose you the game.  But it's a combination.  It's a story.  That play added to the story.

Q.  Earlier Coach Franklin talked about players that stuck out to him, some second or third string guys.  Mentioned Joe Julius.  What did you see from him at practice?
COACH HUFF:  Joe Julius has done a good job of getting better each day.  The biggest thing for specialists, as you know, is consistency.  Sam can go out hit a 63‑yarder, can he do it 10 out of 10 times?  Joe can hit a 63‑yarder, but he can do it 10 out of 10 times.  The thing for those guys is to come out on a consistent basis and kind of improve each day.
We talked about improving, we're not necessarily talking about making all of his kicks but making sure his fundamentals are consistent so he has an opportunity to make all his kicks.  Making sure he's not rushing himself.
From the beginning of the year until now he's done an excellent job in improving on his consistency, really looking forward to seeing him perform in the spring, when attention is a little more on just him.  But up to this point he's done an excellent job.

Q.  When you do at the end of the practice you have those guys taking the kicks, the whole team watching, what do you try to accomplish with that?
COACH HUFF:  It's a little bit different.  Specialists are the ones that are kind of most of the practice kind of working on their own specific skill and the team will then get to see them.  So the team doesn't understand the true work ethic always of what those guys do do.
When you put them in front of those guys it puts a little pressure on them and allows the team to show these guys have some ability they can take advantage of opportunities, very similar that we do with one‑on‑ones with the "O" line and one‑on‑one with the wideouts and running backs, put them in front of the guys, give them an opportunity to show they're capable of handling the task asked.

Q.  How would you assess the kick return game this year?  What did you like, what have you not liked?
COACH HUFF:  We have not been anywhere near the mark that I expect or that I want.  But I am not disappointed or set back by it.  There's probably four that I can pull right now where if the kick returner stays up or a guy is slightly inside, it's a big return rather than a 20‑ or 30‑yard return.  Right now we are slightly ahead of where we were last year.
I say we, as in Penn State.  We're not where we want to be.  But that's a combination of things.  We don't have necessarily all the guys in the right spot because of injuries, trying to move some guys around.
We've been consistent, so we necessarily haven't said, okay, we're going to scheme up this team and change it this way.  What we've allowed our guys to do is understand the scheme and play fast.
I believe that explosion comes with consistency and when you're able to play the game fast.  That's when explosion comes.  It's not really, okay, look we'll draw it up this way and you're going to be explosive.
The more reps that Grant and the more reps the guys up front get the more explosive we'll be.  I think it's been magnified this year because we need to be a little more explosive and we're continuing to work towards that.
But I'm happy with where we are.  I'm not satisfied by any means.  But we go back and we look and there are flashes where we got a chance to be really good.

Q.  Now that you've had a chance to look at the Michigan State film, what happened on the opening kickoff?
COACH HUFF:  It was a combination of the guy went the wrong way, we got a seam.  We got a guy that's gotta come in and close that seam.
Michigan State does a great job of breaking four tackles.  We got to be a little more under control, a little more wrap, a little more fundamentally sound in our tackling.
Take it back a step.  Starts with a good kick.  Sam slightly missed the kick.  Now the ball's getting caught closer.  We're not as far down.  It's a combination of things.  It's usually never one thing or one guy.
But what we talk about our team is all the time is the snowball starts to roll.  Somebody has to stop it.  Yeah, it was not a great kick.  Okay, that doesn't mean the other ten guys take a knee and say, hey, Sam didn't do his job so I'm not going to do mine.
It's not a great kick.  So now I've got to make sure that my fundamentals of techniques are really sound now because it's not a great kick, it's not in perfect position, then we have a guy that goes the wrong way, and then we've got a seam.  That doesn't mean that we still miss tackles.  We have a guy going the wrong way.
It's a combination of things.  I would say for the most part throughout the whole year our coverage units have been playing very well.  And it just goes back to show when you stay consistent in your details and fundamentals you play consistent.
When those fundamentals slip for whatever reason, bad kick, bad read, wrong way, now you get a chance when you have a good opponent like Michigan State, then they usually get you for a big one.

Q.  Want to ask about Bill Belton.  He hasn't seen as many snaps the last two or three games as he normally does.  I want to ask you how is handling the lack of activity and snaps and what's your opinion of him wearing Zach's No. 28 for the last game?
COACH HUFF:  First question, he's handled it well.  One thing we've talked about, when we first got here, is that the guy with the hot hand was going to play.
And it's not a, okay, Bill, you're a senior, or Akeel, you're a junior so you don't have to play.  The thing what it is he understands that Akeel's had the hot hand.  One thing a lot of people don't see he's been probably Akeel's biggest fan and biggest mentor, hey, when you come off the field he's getting right to him, hey, it was a good job on that route there.  Hey, watch the safety blitz there they tried to play with it a little bit.  And he's handled it well.  But that's a true sign of a mature, older guy that's been through a lot on and off the field here and how he's handling that.
Like we talked about, I talk about with them all the time, opportunity is going to come.  You just don't know when.  And a perfect example of that is the Indiana game.  It was his hand.  It was his ball, it was his series to go in.  The thing split.  He took advantage of the opportunity.  And he's really understood that and then a good job of leading our room to understand that.  Especially at the running back position because you never know when that thing's going to open up and you gotta go 90 or when it's going to be tight and stick it in there and get two.
As far as him wearing Zach's jersey, that's another statement to how mature, how much of a leader he's been for us.  He understands it's not all about him.  It's not all about Bill Belton.  It's about Penn State.  He knows that Zach would probably stand on his head all night if he could play one more play.
As a senior the two guys have been together a long time.  They've formed a good bond.  I think it was special for him to do that.  Jordan Lucas ends up doing the same thing for Kaiser.  That just speaks for the time, the majority of the guys we have, the bond that those guys have formed being here, been through what they've been through as a team that really goes a long way.

Q.  For you, from the special teams perspective, what has this season been like for you personally with what you've learned, adapt to go the Big Ten, adapting, what are all the cases might be, what's it been like for you to see some of the struggles and some of the things you can benefit from and learn from going forward?
COACH HUFF:  It's been awesome.  I don't think there was anything that coming in that surprised us.  We knew kind of coming in this thing when you're playing with young inexperienced specialists, you're going to have some ups and downs.
We made some adjustments throughout the year to try and help those guys.  But as a staff, going back and kind of looking at the areas where we're really close and the areas where we've done some really good things, we're excited about the opportunity to move forward.  We're excited about the future.
We know and we've seen the kickers, especially the kickers kind of grow each week.  We've seen Sam kind of grow each week from the spring.  We've seen Gulla and Pasquariello kind of grow each week, which kind of gives you hope and excitement about the future.
I think back on the very first punt that Pasquariello had to where he is now.  He's made tremendous strides.  Is he where he needs to be, where we expect him to be?  No, but as far as strides from the first day he got here, that brings excitement to the coaching staff to the team and the rest of the fans that have seen him get better each week.  No different than Sam.  He's gotten better each week and better each year from where he started.

Q.  Going off to Yankee Stadium later‑‑
COACH HUFF:  I'm an Oriole fan, to throw it out there, born and raised.  But I do respect the history that Yankee Stadium presents.

Q.  You guys you must be excited, but how important is it playing somewhere where each week weather can be a question mark; you won't know what the weather will be like, how prepared are your guys to kick in the cold, and with Sam Pasquariello punting?  And also could a potential snowstorm could affect your game plan on the ground maybe running the ball more, how will weather factor in?
COACH HUFF:  We can't control the weather.  So what we do, we prepare as our normal day and our normal week, our normal practice.  We talk about controlling the things you can control.  We can't control if there's snow on the ground.  We can't control if the wind's blowing.  But what we can control are the fundamentals of techniques and that magnifies how much more that is important when you have to factor in the weather, the cold.
You've got to be that much more detailed in your fundamentals of technique.  We can't go out and say, hey, look it's going to be snowing so you gotta change the way you kick.  We'll make the adjustments on game day with our calls, but for the specialists, they've got to perform like on a normal day.
For the running backs, we can't control the weather.  So if Coach Donovan calls, 200 runs or one run, we've gotta perform the same way.
We try and block that out.  Because that's something we can't‑‑ it may be 80 degrees I heard, actually.  So we don't know.  So preparing for that you can't really change the way you prepare, because you don't know.  We try to control the things we can control.  That's the way we prepare from a mentality standpoint, from a technique standpoint from a fundamental standpoint.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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